THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Performance Parts News & Notes for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Phoenix, Feb. 22-24, 2002 Johnson Counts On Experience In Phoenix Title Defense Motorsports, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.
THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Performance Parts News & Notes for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Phoenix, Feb. 22-24, 2002
Johnson Counts On Experience In Phoenix Title Defense
Motorsports, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. Perhaps no pair in the Pro Stock pits is more unlikely than the silver-haired duo of six-time champion Warren Johnson and consultant Buddy Ingersoll.
Johnson and Ingersoll have a total of 84 years of experience in drag racing. They will certainly have to tap this deep well of knowledge when Johnson defends his Pro Stock title at the CSK Nationals on Feb. 22-24 at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.
Both discovered the quarter-mile sport as young men, racing their souped-up Chevys on obscure tracks. While Johnson was learning the rudiments of racing in Minnesota, Ingersoll was perfecting his racecraft at drag strips near his home in Ziegler, Ohio.
Like Johnson, Ingersoll often chose the path less traveled. He terrorized the Super Stock classes in the '70s with an oddball Oldsmobile, then campaigned a turbocharged four-cylinder Pinto that horsewhipped the big V8s in Modified eliminator. Next came a turbocharged Buick that outperformed contemporary Pro Stocks despite having a six-cylinder engine with less than half the displacement of a Pro Stock powerplant.
It is a measure of the intensity of the competition in Pro Stock today that the self-reliant Johnson would enlist Ingersoll as an advisor. While Warren remains firmly in charge of his GM Performance Parts team, he relies on Ingersoll for valuable input during a race weekend.
"As the competition becomes keener, you need more eyes to monitor the racetrack and atmospheric conditions," said Johnson. "The more knowledge you have, the better your chances of success.
"Between the two of us, we have nearly nine decades of drag racing experience," W.J. noted. "We've seen all of the ways you can lose a race -- and we're probably guilty of most of them."
Ingersoll, an accomplished mechanic, driver and crew chief, is content with his new role as observer.
"Warren and I laid down the ground rules," he recalled. "My job is to keep my hands in my pockets and pay attention to what's going on with the racetrack.
"Warren has so many obligations at the track that he doesn't have time to deal with all of the details," Ingersoll said. "He tunes the motor, does interviews with the press and meets with his sponsors. My assignment is to stay on top of the setup so the car can use W.J.'s horsepower. I love what I do, and now Warren has a chance to breathe between runs."
Johnson selected Ingersoll from a long list of drivers with Pro Stock experience. Their animated give-and-take in the trailer is based on mutual respect.
"I wanted somebody with experience in both driving and tuning," Johnson reported. "It's difficult to communicate exactly what the car is doing to someone who has never driven a race car. Buddy is a racer, and we speak the same language.
"If we disagree on a change, each of us explains the reasons for his position," Warren continued. "That forces you to examine all of the evidence, and that's the key to our relationship. We're gaining confidence in each other's decisions, and we're also getting input from everyone else on the team. There are simply too many variables for one or two people to analyze correctly."
Is Ingersoll intimidated by working alongside the most successful driver in Pro Stock history, a man who is renowned for his take-no-prisoners attitude? Hardly.
"Warren's a pussycat," Ingersoll laughed. "So far we're getting along just fine."
The Firebird International Raceway quarter-mile will be a supreme test of the pair's newfound friendship. Johnson endured 13 fruitless years in the Arizona desert before he scored his first victory in Phoenix in 1998. Last year he defeated Brad Jeter in the final round to claim his second career victory at Firebird.
"It's a surprise every time we go to Phoenix," W.J. observed. "We never know what to expect from the track. I think that's the reason why we struggled at Firebird for so many years.
"I feel very comfortable with the new GM Performance Parts Grand Am we debuted in Pomona," he continued. "We were competitive in the car's first national event, running a 6.81 in the first round with a broken rocker arm. Then we ran the top speed of the meet in the second round with our back-up motor.
"I'm encouraged that we're going the right direction with our chassis program," W.J. said. "This car has shown no tendency to shake the tires. We made significant changes from last year's chassis, and immediately following the Phoenix race, we'll start work on the next iteration."
The excitement that is evident in Johnson's voice as he describes his plans for yet another chassis echoes the enthusiasm that he must have felt when he first bolted a pair of slicks on his '57 Chevy. For seasoned racers like Warren Johnson and Buddy Ingersoll, the prospect of quicker elapsed times and faster speeds is an elixir that keeps these silver-haired racers forever young. <pre> WARREN JOHNSON'S FIREBIRD INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY RECORD
Year Qual. Result 1985 4 Semifinal 1986 4 Second Round 1987 4 Semifinal 1988 2 Runner-up (to Glidden) 1989 2 Semifinal 1990 2 First Round 1991 2 Runner-up (to Alderman) 1992 4 Semifinal 1993 1 Second Round 1994 3 Semifinal 1995 1 Second Round 1996 1 First Round 1997 1 Runner-up (to Yates) 1998 1 Winner (over Yates) 1999 1 Second Round 2000 6 Second Round 2001 3 Winner (over Jeter)