</pre> NEXT RACE: NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, September 1-4 TV: TNN, Sept. 4, 4-6 p.m. (ET) BACK HOME AGAIN When Warren and Kurt Johnson raced at the U.S. Nationals for the first time, they pitched their...
</pre> NEXT RACE: NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, September 1-4 TV: TNN, Sept. 4, 4-6 p.m. (ET)
BACK HOME AGAIN
When Warren and Kurt Johnson raced at the U.S. Nationals for the first time, they pitched their tent in a corn field across the street from the track. Now the Johnsons are camping out regularly in the Indianapolis Raceway Park winner's circle.
The Johnsons have scored seven victories in the last eight editions of drag racing's biggest race. The first family of Pro Stock has been represented in every final round at Indianapolis Raceway Park since 1992. Is it any wonder that the Johnsons are looking forward to spending another Labor Day in Indianapolis?
W.J. kicked off the Johnson clan's U.S. Nationals hot streak with four consecutive victories in 1992-95, and Kurt added back-to-back wins in 1996-97. Warren missed extending the string to seven straight by 11 hundredths of a second when he lost to Mike Edwards in the final round in 1998. Last year W.J. came roaring back in special Superman livery, defeating his former crew chief Greg Anderson in the final round.
"Why have I been successful at Indy?" Warren asked rhetorically. "I was born and raised in the Midwest, and I learned how to race in the same conditions that we usually encounter in Indy. Maybe it's luck, maybe it's preparation, or maybe it's some small kernel of knowledge that accounts for our success in Indy.
"Indianapolis Raceway Park is one tricky race track," Johnson declared. "There is not a discernible difference between the lanes except at certain times of day - and you have to learn which lane is better at any given hour.
"Because of its altitude and its age, Indy is not a race track that is going to yield great performances," he continued. "There has never been a 200 mph run in Pro Stock and I hold the track elapsed time record at 6.920 seconds. It's tough to race under those conditions, so my experience may give me a slight advantage over the competition.
"The U.S. Nationals is unique among national events because it is the only race with five qualifying sessions," Warren pointed out. "Historically the first session on Friday night sets the field. If you don't make a good run in that session, it can be very difficult to get in the show in the daytime sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The ideal strategy is to secure a qualifying spot on Friday and then use the remaining four qualifying runs to get ready for race day.
"At one time, the U.S. Nationals paid bonus points, but now a win at Indy is worth the same as a victory anywhere else. We have a considerable deficit to overcome in the championship race, so all we can do is attack Indy the same way that has brought us success in the past. I've been fortunate to win there six times. We'll go back to Indy with the same game plan that has worked for us before."
INDY BY THE NUMBERS
Warren has dominated the performance statistics at Indy for decades. He has qualified in the No. 1 spot eight times, including the last two years. He's run the Low E.T. seven times, and posted the Top Speed 11 times. W.J. was the fastest Pro Stock driver at every U.S. Nationals in the '90s except 1997; Kurt ran the fastest speed that year, giving the Johnsons a sweep of Top Speeds throughout the decade. Warren holds the track elapsed time record at 6.920 seconds and the top speed mark at 199.82 mph.
THE WAY IT WAS: U.S. NATIONALS NOSTALGIA
This year's edition of the U.S. Nationals will mark the 25th time that Warren has competed in drag racing's most prestigious event. W.J. is not one to dwell on the past, but the Professor does harbor fond memories of three of very special Indy victories.
Johnson notched his first U.S. Nationals title in 1984 when he defeated Bob Glidden in the final round, 7.638 to 7.659. Glidden had won Indy five times and was making his eighth straight final-round appearance at his home track when he faced W.J. and his huge "flying boxcar" Hurst/Oldsmobile.
"Winning at the track that Glidden had dominated for so many years was really a milestone for our team," Johnson recalled.
Johnson's confrontation with teammate-turned-rival Scott Geoffrion in the final round of the 1993 U.S. Nationals is regarded as one of Pro Stock's greatest races. W.J.'s margin of victory was 1/1000th of a second. "It was so close at the finish line that I had no idea who won," Warren noted.
Johnson turned in a superhuman performance last year to win his sixth career U.S. Nationals title. Racing with his car and uniform decked out in special Superman colors, Johnson flew back to his shop in Georgia between qualifying sessions to repair a damaged cylinder head. He qualified No. 1, set the track speed and elapsed time records, and defeated his former crew chief Greg Anderson in the final round.
"My most memorable Indy victory was the one last year with the Superman logo on the car," Johnson said. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To capitalize on that with a victory is a race I'll never forget."
Johnson is a finalist in the Pro Stock Driver category for the 2001 Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team. The winners will be announced at an awards banquet at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis on September 2. Membership on the elite team is determined by votes cast by the readers of Car Craft and a distinguished panel of selectors.
Johnson has previously won the prestigious Pro Stock Driver award six times (1992-93, 1995-96, 1998-99). The editors of Car Craft named him "Person of the Year" in 1993. <pre> LAST RACE:
Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, August 20, Brainerd, Minn. Qualified: No. 15 at 7.004/197.62 mph Finished: Lost to Kurt Johnson in first round.
POINTS RACE: (After 15 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6 1,290 2. Kurt Johnson 3 1,010 3. Ron Krisher 2 1,007 4. Warren Johnson 1 927 5. Troy Coughlin 0 805