Warren Johnson At The Season's Halfway Point - GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am POMONA, Calif., July 2, 2001 - Like he has so many times in the past, GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am driver Warren Johnson has battled his...
Warren Johnson At The Season's Halfway Point - GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am
POMONA, Calif., July 2, 2001 - Like he has so many times in the past, GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am driver Warren Johnson has battled his way to the top of the Winston Pro Stock points standings. With 12 races down and 12 races to go, the 57-year-old "Professor" of Pro Stock is working hard to build on a tenuous lead as the series embarks on the beginning of an arduous summer stretch that includes four stops in five weeks. The points lead in the NHRA Pro Stock class has already changed hands seven times this year following the completion of a national event. Johnson knows that keeping his Grand Am at the front of the pack will not be an easy task.
Thus far in 2001, the five-time Winston champion has visited the winner's circle on four occasions including back-to-back victories at the series' last two events in Columbus and St. Louis. He put the exclamation point on the win at St. Louis by tying Bob Glidden on the NHRA's all-time list for victories by a Pro Stock driver with 85.
The Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals presented by American Racing Custom Wheels on July 5 - 7 is the 13th race on the 24-event schedule. Qualifying highlights will be telecast on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 6, starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, July 7, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern.
How would you evaluate your season at midyear? "Most of the teams out there are in the same boat from the standpoint that we're all dealing with new cars. We should've had them completely figured out by now, but they still throw you a little bit of a curveball here and there. A lot of that is dictated by the fact that NHRA has gone back and made a lot of these tracks better, so your notes from a year ago or two years ago aren't really valid anymore. Plus they've changed the type of spray they use on the track so we're not talking about the same racetracks that we had a year ago. We're in here with new cars, Grand Ams and Cavaliers, and new racetracks. You look at some of the cars out there that used to not have a problem getting down the track and this year they're having some problems. We're trying to find out how big of a window we have to operate in with these cars, and every so often you overstep the bounds and the result is a run that isn't what you expected."
How do you measure success? "If you go by the total scorecard, obviously we've been more successful than the majority of the racers out there, but at the same time we haven't been as successful as we think we should be. We take pride in having a well-prepared operation and team. When the result isn't what we anticipated or what we prepared for, then obviously we've got shortcomings."
Do you feel you constantly have to raise the bar to stay motivated? "No, I'm a self-motivated person. We have to raise the bar as far as what our performance expectations are, but our motivation to win races is still the same."
What will it take to maintain staying on top in the points race? "Consistency first and foremost. You have to win rounds to win races, and you have to win races to win championships. Consistency is what does that. Obviously, you have to have the performance level that's competitive to start with. You can consistently have the slowest car out there but you're not going to win. You have to have a car and team that has the performance level to win races, and then you have to remain consistent in winning those races."
Compare the Haas car to the Ness car? "The Ness car has its particular areas where it operates in. At the cool tracks and extremely good tracks it's a fast racecar. Once we get to the hotter tracks, it gets out of its comfort zone, or we don't allow it to get into its comfort zone, whatever the case may be. What it boils down to is we tested the Ness car in pretty good conditions in December in Florida. It had a bigger window to operate in under those conditions. We started noticing when the tracks started warming up we didn't have that window. So we went out to Atlanta when it was relatively hot prior to Columbus, unloaded the Haas car and found that under those conditions it had a pretty big window to operate in. It's just a matter of using the right tools, at the right place at the right time. The Ness car is a cool, high-traction racecar and the Haas car operates better under hotter conditions and slightly marginal racetracks. Right now we have Jerry working on a car that operates well at intermediate tracks that aren't real hot and not real cool, and we're going to test that before Indy. I can envision having two, three or even four cars for different conditions next year."
You tried that back in '97 didn't you? "We did that to see what chassis characteristics seem to work best under different racetrack conditions. What our goal was then was to try and get a chassis that was the best average under those conditions. We also saw that you couldn't have a chassis that would be ideal under all the conditions. You could end up with a better average chassis, but you wouldn't have the awesome setup in all of the conditions. That's apparently what it's going to take. Look at the NASCAR racers. They have a superspeedway car, intermediate car, short-track car and a road-course car. We're approaching that arena right now. If that's what it's going to take to stay on top, then that's what we're going to do."
Do you envision going back to the Ness car when it starts cooling down again in September, October? "Absolutely. Unless this intermediate Haas car shows some promise under those conditions. When we get to the cooler conditions we'll unload whatever weapon we need to win."
Do you and Kurt share information when you're racing each other? "Absolutely. When we have to race each other, assuming it's not in the final round, one of us will advance to the next round. We obviously are in different lanes, which may have different characteristics, so we share that information on what it takes to get down each lane the best. If we have the best idea of what's going on at any particular time, that also furthers our knowledge for building better cars for the future."
What do you enjoy most about racing? "Everybody knows that driving the car is the least most important part to me. Figuring out the combination on what it takes to go quicker and faster than anybody else is the challenge for me. It's just like when they have cooking contests, where they have different chefs with the same ingredients, and they try to decide who ends up with the better dish out of the deal. That's what were in. We've all have the same parts. GM provides the same parts to everybody, and to me the challenge is to come up with the most amount of reliable horsepower to get the job done. The driving part of it just comes with the territory. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, we will find someone that can drive the way I want it driven. There's a lot of people out there that think they're racecar drivers but they don't have a clue. They can let the clutch out, but they will probably smack both walls before they're at the eighth-mile. At the same time today's arena is completely different than it was five or ten years ago. Driving the racecar is probably the least important part of it. Media coverage, ability to transfer information to the team, along with other things are stuff that people don't think about when it comes to being a driver."
How would you grade yourself as a driver? "It all depends on what part of the racetrack people are talking about. Everybody thinks that if you let the clutch out first that makes you the premium driver out there. In some cases that's applicable, but at the same time there's another 1,319 feet that needs to be negotiated. Under those conditions I seem to have an advantage and maybe that's from experience. It may be that I learned how to race at some of the most marginal racetracks out there - I learned how to race at non-national event racetracks and maybe that's a part of the equation. I don't rate myself as a racecar driver in relation to everyone else. The only thing I can look at is the win/loss record and the amount of wins we have. That's the only yardstick I go by, and maybe that's pretty crude but it's the only thing I can go by."
As a racer what do you want to accomplish before you end your career? "I guess (Vince) Lombardi said it best when he said 'winning isn't a sometimes thing, it's the only thing.' That's what it amounts to as far as my standpoint as a racer. We're there to win, not to be social butterflies. It's our job and what we're being paid to do. Our focus is to win the races and if we don't, then we haven't completed our mission."