THE WARREN REPORT: 1998 Season Review
Warren Johnson received applause, accolades, and a $125,000 bonus check at the NHRA Winston Championship Awards Ceremony at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on November 17. After runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997, Johnson was crowned the Pro Stock champion for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
"This trophy is almost taller than I am," Johnson quipped as he accepted the prize. "What a difference a year makes. I knew we had the nucleus of a winning team this season if we were willing to make the commitment and sacrifice. The crew at the shop gave us the parts we needed and my crew chief Mike Stryker let me concentrate on driving. GM Goodwrench Service Plus, ACDelco, GM Performance Parts, and Pontiac provided the consistent support that we needed to win consistently. I also have to thank my wife Arlene and son Kurt for putting up with me when I got too focused on racing."
Johnson's 1998 campaign was one for the record book. The Professor was at the head of the Pro Stock class in every performance category. In 22 events, he had the most wins (9), the most final-round appearances (12), the most No. 1 qualifying positions (13), the most Low ET's (13), and the most Top Speeds (21).
WINSTON FINALS WRAP-UP
Johnson obliterated the Pomona Raceway track records in qualifying for the season-ending Winston Finals. He posted the first 6.8-second elapsed time and the first 200 mph run in the track's history when his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac stopped the timers at 6.891 seconds and 201.02 mph in the first qualifying session. Warren eclipsed the two-year-old event e.t. record by .066 seconds and bettered the event speed record by almost three miles per hour. He now holds the speed record at every event on the NHRA circuit.
Johnson defeated Troy Coughlin in the first round of eliminations and Tom Martino in the second stanza. He advanced to the semi-final round for the 16th time in 1998 where he faced Jeg Coughlin, Jr. Coughlin won the race on a holeshot, 6.946 to 6.932.
"I don't know whether we've got a bad batch of clutch discs, but we can't seem to get them to function like they did earlier this year," Warren reported. "Now we've got a couple of days off before the new season begins, so we'll get it figured out before we come back to Pomona."
THE KURT CHRONICLES
Three was the number for Kurt Johnson at the Winston Finals. Kurt came to Pomona Raceway aiming for his third win of the season, and qualified his ACDelco Camaro in the No. 3 spot at 6.914/199.55 mph. "We won this race last year, so we know we can do it," said Kurt, "but there are 15 other guys out there who want to win, too!"
Kurt set the pace in the first round of eliminations, defeating John Nobile with the quickest e.t. of the round at 6.928 seconds and the fastest speed at 199.64 mph. In the second round of racing, K.J. was upset by Richie Stevens, 6.959 to 6.965.
"We just made a poor run, and Richie made a good run," Kurt confided. "You've got to give him credit." Rookie Stevens went on to defeat Jeg Coughlin in the final round to score his first national event win of his career.
A loss by Jim Yates in the second round assured Kurt of his second consecutive third-place finish in the points standings. Kurt has finished in the Top 5 in the championship for six straight years, and his Camaro will carry the number "3" again in 1999.
"Well, at least we don't have to put new numbers on the car next year," Kurt noted.
POMONA POST-RACE NOTES
* Warren topped 200 mph on three of his four qualifying runs at the Winston Finals. He has now posted 25 of the 28 Pro Stock passes at over 200 mph in NHRA history; no other driver has broken the 200 mph barrier more than once.
* W.J. ended the season with the 17 fastest Pro Stock speeds, ranging from his record-setting 201.34 mph run at the Texas Motorplex to a 200.40 mph pass in Gainesville, Fla. Ray Franks has the 18th fastest speed at 200.22 mph.
WRENCH OF THE YEAR
Mike Stryker, crew chief for W.J.'s GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac, won the Parts America "Mechanic of the Year" award in a runaway. Stryker earned 182 points in the season-long competition, the highest total among crew chiefs in NHRA's five professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Bike, and Pro Stock Truck). He received a check for $62,500 at the NHRA Winston Awards Ceremony.
"I want to thank Warren for having confidence in me," said Stryker, "and I thank my teammates for all their help. I also have to thank my wife for letting me go to the races all year!"
Jeff Perley, crew chief for Kurt Johnson's ACDelco Camaro, was third in the Pro Stock "Mechanic of the Year" standings with 82 points.
* Warren and Kurt Johnson dominated the Pro Stock division in 1998. In 22 races, the father-and-son team tallied 11 wins (50%) and made 17 final-round appearances. The pair squared off in final rounds in Seattle and Memphis; W.J. won both intramural contests.
* The Johnsons claimed a total of 16 No. 1 qualifying spots (73%) and notched 15 low elapsed times (68%). W.J. horsepower monopolized the Top Speed chart: Kurt had the fastest speed at the VisionAire NorthStar Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. Warren was the fastest Pro Stock driver at the other 21 races on the NHRA tour.
* Warren competed in 69 rounds of racing in 1998, posting a 56-13 win-loss record (81% winning average). He won two rounds on holeshots, and won three rounds when his opponent redlighted. He lost twice due to breakage and red-lighted once after a clutch malfunction. W.J. lost three times with a quicker e.t. than his opponent - a significant improvement over his 13 holeshot losses in 1997.
* The Johnsons were the only Pro Stock drivers to qualify at every event in 1998. W.J. never qualified lower than eighth; his average qualifying position was 2.27. Kurt's average qualifying spot was 4.41.
WARREN'S WORDS: LOOKING BACK
When did Warren begin to think that he could win the championship? "I thought we had a shot at winning the title after we tested in Tucson before the start of the season. We knew we had a fast race car that had the potential to produce a championship."
What was the highlight of his season? "I never look at any one race as being more significant than another. Every round pays the same points. If you win four rounds, you win the race. If you win enough races, you win the championship. We bring the same intensity to every race regardless of the results."
Did the year go as he expected? "I predicted at the beginning of the season that we would have problems when the weather turned hot and steamy. That's pretty much how it worked out because we didn't have any data on how to run this car under those conditions. At the race in St. Louis, we clearly had the car to beat, but we broke an air line fitting. You have no control over those kinds of things."
What are Warren's plans for 1999? "Rick Jones will refurbish the car that won the championship, and we'll have a new Jones car for next season as well. Our plan is to compare the two cars in the GM wind tunnel and then test them both in Tucson before the start of the season. We'll show up at the Winternationals with what we think is the best race horse."
What will W.J. concentrate on during the off-season? "We're hot and heavy on trying to build more power so we can get serious about this. Engine development has taken a back seat over the last two years while we've worked on chassis development. The engine I ran this season was originally built in 1995. It's got the same cam and cylinder heads that we ran three years ago.
"Now that we have a race car that can handle the horsepower, we can go back to work on the engines. We also have 1,320 new transmission gears in process which will give us a wider selection of gear ratios for various track conditions." What will he have to do to repeat as champion in 1999? "We have to be better than we were this year - in all areas."
W.J.'s 1998 RECORD Warren Johnson had a winning record against every Pro Stock driver he faced in NHRA competition in 1998:
Opponent Won-Lost Alderman 1-0 Allen 1-1 Anderson 2-0 Benza 1-0 Collins 1-0 Coughlin, J. 6-5 Coughlin, T. 2-0 Edwards 2-2 Gaines 2-0 Geoffrion 1-0 Grant 1-0 Johnson, K. 3-0 Krisher 1-0 Marnell 2-0 Martino 6-1 Morgan 2-1 Nobile 3-0 Osborne 4-1 Patrick 1-0 Pawuk 3-0 Schmidt 2-1 Stevens 2-0 Thomas 1-1 Williams 1-0 Yates 5-0
NEXT RACE: AutoZone Winternationals February 4-7, 1999 Pomona, Calif. TV: ESPN2, Sunday, February 7, 9:30-11:30 p.m. Eastern
LAST RACE: NHRA Winston Finals November 15, 1998 Pomona, Calif.
Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.891/201.02 mph Kurt Johnson qualified No. 3 at 6.914/199.55 mph
Eliminations: Round 1: Warren defeated Troy Coughlin Kurt defeated John Nobile Round 2: Warren defeated Tom Martino Richie Stevens defeated Kurt Semi-Final: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. defeated Warren Final Round: Richie Stevens defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr.
Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.891 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 201.02 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: FINAL PRO STOCK STANDINGS (after 22 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 9 1973 2. Jeg Coughlin 4 1533 -440 3. Kurt Johnson 2 1416 -557 4. Jim Yates 1 1390 -583 5. Mark Osborne 1 1066 -907