Madison: Warren Johnson preview

WJ Hopes to Boost his Midterm Grade in Madison GM Performance Parts GTO team aims for third win at Gateway International Raceway Sugar Hill, Ga., June 21, 2006 -- The 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season will reach its midpoint this weekend...

WJ Hopes to Boost his Midterm Grade in Madison

GM Performance Parts GTO team aims for third win at Gateway International Raceway

Sugar Hill, Ga., June 21, 2006 -- The 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season will reach its midpoint this weekend with the running of the O'Reilly Midwest Nationals in Madison, IL. As such, it offers drivers and teams the opportunity to look back and critique their performance in the first eleven races. For Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Racing team, the past four months have been a series of highs and lows, highlighted by their stirring win from the 11th starting position in Phoenix.

However, as the long-time standard by which success in the highly competitive Pro Stock category is measured, Johnson tends to be his own harshest critic, and is not satisfied in any position but first. Entering this weekend in the ninth position, he arrives at Gateway International Raceway determined to move up and end the first half on a positive note.

"I may be a little stiff on grading, but it's for a purpose," said Johnson. "This is not a social event, it is how we make a living. Therefore, I have to be pretty critical of all our performances, because everyone in this organization contributes to the effort. We all have to work together to get the job done."

"We're currently in ninth, and since grading goes A, B, C, D and F, with F being the fifth position, you can pretty much see for yourself the grade I would give us for the first eleven races. However, I believe last week's race in Englishtown may have been a turning point."

"We finally got some data acquisition that we've been looking for over the last two years so I can make heads or tails of some of the functions of the car. As a result, after the first two rounds of qualifying a week ago, we were able to turn our GM Performance Parts GTO's performance around, picking up the pace to where we were the fourth quickest car in the final qualifying session, and right in the thick of things on Sunday. I'm really optimistic as to where we can go with this, but we have to be somewhat cautious, because making wholesale changes can be disastrous. But, based on what we found in both (son) Kurt's and my cars, we should be able to increase the performance significantly in the very near future."

Founded primarily on his distinctively painted GTO's recent improved performance, Johnson's cautious optimism is buoyed even further by his prior record of success in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the arrival of an NHRA national event at the multipurpose motorsports facility, and from the very start, "The Professor" has left his mark, defeating Jim Yates in the final round to win the inaugural race.

Having added another victory in 2000, he enters this year's edition as one of only three Pro Stock drivers with multiple Gateway wins. As such, he is well-versed in what it takes to succeed on the Illinois quarter-mile, information that could prove particularly useful in light of this weekend's afternoon and evening format. With atmospheric and track conditions varying from session to session, the team that best adapts will have the best chance of taking home the trophy, and, with three decades of experience under all conditions, Johnson likes his chances.

"With the incessant heat and humidity in St. Louis at this time of year, we have to be concerned with the comfort of the fans, so we're obligated to race in the late afternoon and evening, and we do so willingly," said Johnson. "The changing atmospheric conditions may present a greater challenge, but the fans are always our top priority, because without them, we wouldn't even be here."

"The racing surface in Madison has never had an abundance of traction, and when it gets hot during the day, the surface temperature skyrockets, reducing the amount of available grip even further. Therefore, you're constantly balancing the variable amount of traction with the available power, which is also changing with the shifting atmospheric conditions. It's a proverbial juggling act, including gear ratios, clutch, engine tune-ups and suspension settings."

"Fortunately, we've had some success there, but then again, I've raced under those conditions before, so it's not something totally foreign. Based on our results last week in the heat in Englishtown, where our GM Performance Parts GTO was the only car consistently under one second in the first sixty feet, I think we can take what we found to St. Louis and build on it, seeing if we can pull that grade up a little higher going into the second half."

-j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson