Warren Johnson Houston Preview

THE WARREN REPORT: NHRA PENNZOIL NATIONALS EDITION * WARREN'S WORDS "Now that they've smoothed out the moguls on the top end of the race track, if we can keep the rear tires glued to the pavement and get a little cooperation...

THE WARREN REPORT: NHRA PENNZOIL NATIONALS EDITION

* WARREN'S WORDS

"Now that they've smoothed out the moguls on the top end of the race track, if we can keep the rear tires glued to the pavement and get a little cooperation from Mother Nature, we'll run 200 mph in Houston. But these cars are finicky -- you better have all the square pegs in the square holes and the round pegs in the round ones if you want to run 200."

* GREATER GATORS

Johnson scored his second straight win of the season at the rain-delayed Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 14. W.J. is now the winningest driver at the Gatornationals with seven career victories.

W.J. won the Gatornationals in 1992 and 1993 -- and then went on to win the NHRA Pro Stock championship in both years. Could Warren's victory last weekend be a sign of things to come?

* 200 mph MACHINE

Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac made six consecutive 200+ mph runs in Gainesville. At the start of the third round of the Winston Drag Racing Series, only two 200 mph Pro Stock runs had been logged in the NHRA record book -- both by Warren Johnson.

In his two qualifying runs and four rounds of eliminations, W.J. ran 201.11, 200.62, 201.20, 200.44, 200.66, and 200.66 mph. His 201.20 mph pass in the first round set the national speed record.

* BIG PAYDAY

Johnson hit the jackpot in the final round at Gainesville Raceway. Not only did he defeat arch-rival Jim Yates for the Gatornationals championship, but he also set the national Elapsed Time record at 6.873 seconds. W.J. parlayed the 20 bonus points for setting the record into a 16-point lead over Yates in the championship race.

Warren also picked Yates' pocket for the $25,000 bonus posted by the MBNA World Record Club. Yates had set the record earlier in eliminations at 6.877, but the big bucks go the driver who holds the record at the end of the day -- and that was W.J.

Johnson has pocketed a total of $52,500 in MBNA World Record Club bonuses. He earned $12,500 at the 1997 Winternationals when he set the mark at 6.927 seconds, and $15,000 at the 1997 Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., when he ran 6.883 for the record.

* NUMBER ONE JINX?

You can understand why Warren Johnson might be reluctant to be the quickest qualifier at the Pennzoil Nationals. He's qualified on the Pro Stock "pole" five times at Houston Raceway Park -- but he has never made it past the second round of eliminations after a No. 1 qualifying performance.

If W.J. qualifies in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot, the competition may be in trouble: He's won twice and scored one runner-up finish from those positions.

* A RACE TO REMEMBER

Houston Raceway Park was the site of what many consider to be the most dramatic Pro Stock race of the decade. When Warren Johnson squared off with Scott Geoffrion in the final round of the 1994 NHRA Slick 50 Nationals, the race became a test of wills. Johnson's Oldsmobile and Geoffrion's Dodge sat motionless at the starting line for nearly a minute as both drivers refused to stage. As the drama built, the cheers from the grandstands drowned out the roar of the engines.

After both drivers received stern instructions from starter Buster Couch, Warren finally moved first into the staging beams. Johnson's horsepower advantage determined the outcome: 7.07 seconds later, W.J. scored his 45th career NHRA victory. After the race, the two former teammates exchanged harsh words -- and a Pro Stock rivalry was born.

Johnson has no regrets about that night in Baytown. "I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "When I went to the starting line, I knew exactly what the Dodge team had instructed their driver to do. I figured we'd play it out as long as we could. It wasn't a 'burndown' -- it was my way of combating their method of racing. I staged when I was ready, and that was all there was to it."

* RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF FAST TIMES

Houston Raceway Park has produced some of the quickest runs in Pro Stock history. In 1993, Johnson set the national e.t. and speed records at 7.027/195.50 at HRP. In 1995, he set the records again at 6.948/199.15. Surprisingly, W.J.'s two-year-old 199.15 mph mark still stands as the HRP track record -- it's the oldest speed record among the 19 tracks on the NHRA tour.

* MARCH MILESTONES

Kurt Johnson, driver of the ACDelco Camaro, will celebrate his 35th birthday on March 23, the day after the Pennzoil Nationals. A national event trophy would make a fine birthday present . . .

* WARREN'S RECORD

Warren Johnson's year-by-year results at the Pennzoil Nationals:

     Year           Qualified      Result
     1988           2              Runner-up (to Glidden)
     1989           5              Second Round
     1990           2              Winner (over Allen)
     1991           1              First Round
     1992           6              First Round
     1993           1              Second Round
     1994           3              Winner (over Geoffrion)
     1995           1              Second Round
     1996           1              First Round
     1997 (Spring)  1              First Round
     1997 (Fall)    2              Second Round

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Scott Geoffrion