Phoenix Preview Pro Stock

MORE VICTORIES, ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP GOALS FOR JOHNSON IN 2000 CHANDLER, Ariz. - As Warren Johnson sets his sights on claiming more awards and record-breaking performances in NHRA's Pro Stock category, his humble beginnings as a determined ...

MORE VICTORIES, ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP GOALS FOR JOHNSON IN 2000

CHANDLER, Ariz. - As Warren Johnson sets his sights on claiming more awards and record-breaking performances in NHRA's Pro Stock category, his humble beginnings as a determined part-time racer from Minnesota nearly a quarter-century ago seem only a distant memory now. His state-of-the-art race shop near his hometown of Buford, Ga., houses some of the most sophisticated equipment for preparing race cars. It also serves as the base for Johnson's team, a full-time staff of machinists, mechanics and other technical specialists. It is quite a leap from his tiny workshop that served his family-staffed efforts back in the mid-1970s.

"Life was simpler then," Johnson reflected. "We had one engine, one transmission and we worked out of a garage in my backyard. We had no sponsorship money and nothing to fall back on. In retrospect, I had no choice but to make it work."

My, how he has made it work.

Johnson, 56, has amassed five NHRA Winston championships, 79 career victories and 117 No. 1 qualifying awards. In addition, he owns national records for elapsed time (6.822 seconds) and speed (202.36 mph). Indeed, the 'Professor' of Pro Stock racing has been busy during the last 25 years.

The GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird driver will continue to seek racing perfection at the 16th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Feb. 24-27, at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.

The $1.5 million race is the second of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series for 2000.

Johnson's goals for his Silver Anniversary season are simple. The checklist includes another championship, acquiring more performance records and event victories. One particular goal stands out: With seven victories he can pass Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden to become NHRA's all-time win leader.

Johnson is currently third overall, with Glidden's 85 at top, and Funny Car king John Force in second, with 81. He just missed getting No. 80 at the NHRA season-opener in Pomona, Calif.

Johnson, who qualified a disappointing 12th, suffered a close loss to Jeg Coughlin in the final round.

"The outlook at the beginning wasn't very favorable, but we were fortunate enough to go the final," said Johnson, a winner at Phoenix in 1998.

"When you look at the big picture, we're actually 20 points ahead of where we were at this point last year. We completely reworked the white car we ran last year, and I feel it will be superior to the car I used at Pomona. We'll do some work and be ready for Phoenix." One major change for Johnson this season is a switch from Goodyear to Hoosier tires. While many felt Johnson's poor qualifying effort at Pomona was a result of the switch, Johnson says he's confident in his decision.

"We know that this Hoosier tire program is going to come along -- I think after two or three races, we'll be in excellent shape," Johnson said. "I'll bite the bullet for a race or two in order to get the data we need. It's a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain."

And in a season that's expected to be very competitive, he'll take an edge where he can get it.

"I expect more teams to be competitive and the points race to be tighter," Johnson said. "That's great for spectators, but it's hell on competitors."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , John Force , Bob Glidden