W.J. Goes for the Gold in 25th Anniversary on NHRA Tour Pomona, Calif. - Warren Johnson, the silver-haired "Professor of Pro Stock," is celebrating his Silver Anniversary Season in 2000. He will begin his quest for a sixth gold championship...
W.J. Goes for the Gold in 25th Anniversary on NHRA Tour
Pomona, Calif. - Warren Johnson, the silver-haired "Professor of Pro Stock," is celebrating his Silver Anniversary Season in 2000. He will begin his quest for a sixth gold championship trophy at the season-opening NHRA AutoZone Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., on February 3-6.
Twenty-five years ago, W.J. set out from his one-man shop in Minnesota to pursue a career as a professional Pro Stock racer. He had a homebuilt race car, a limited budget, and boundless energy. Now after a quarter-century of competition on the quarter-mile, Warren Johnson stands at the head of the Pro Stock class as one of the most respected racers in the sport.
"Life was simpler then," Warren recalls. "It was just me, my wife Arlene, my son Kurt, and the family dog. We had one engine, one transmission, and we worked out of a garage in my backyard. As the saying goes, the longest journey starts with a single step.
"We slept in the truck and took showers in our friends' hotel rooms at the races," Johnson remembers. "At least we brought our own towels!"
Today Johnson operates a multi-million dollar racing operation out of his top secret headquarters in Sugar Hill, Ga. His wife and son are still integral members of the team, which has expanded to include a full-time staff of machinists, mechanics, and computer specialists.
"We had no sponsorship money and nothing to fall back on in 1975," Johnson admits. "In retrospect, I had no choice but to make it work!"
Johnson's relentless work ethic and tireless determination to succeed have made him the dominant driver in drag racing's most technically demanding class. W.J. was the most successful Pro Stock racer of the '90s, winning five NHRA championships, scoring 59 national event wins, and setting records at tracks from coast to coast with his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac. With 79 career victories in 123 final-round appearances, W.J. has the most wins among active Pro Stock racers. He is within striking distance of Bob Glidden's record 85 career victories.
Since he joined the national tour in 1975, Warren has qualified in the Number One spot 117 times and run the fastest speed at 173 events - the highest totals in NHRA history.
Johnson wrapped up his fifth career Pro Stock title in 1999 with a typically powerful performance. In 22 national events, he had the most wins (7), the most final-round appearances (9), the most No. 1 qualifying positions (15), and the most Low ET's (13). He became the first driver in NHRA history to run the fastest speed at every event in a season, topping the speed chart at all 22 events on the schedule. He was the only Pro Stock driver to qualify for every national event in 1999.
With his victory in the Fram Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in June, Warren became the only driver who has won at least once at every track currently on the NHRA circuit (except the new Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of the inaugural Las Vegas Nationals). In September, Johnson captured his sixth U.S. Nationals title and was honored as the "Pro Stock Driver of the Year" on the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team for the sixth time in his career.
Warren has won at least one national event for 18 straight years and qualified for 241 consecutive races since 1987 - the longest active streaks in NHRA competition. W.J. has finished in the Top Five in the championship standings for 18 straight years, the most Top Five finishes among all NHRA drivers.
W.J. set the national elapsed time record twice and the speed record four times last year, finally establishing the marks at 6.822 seconds and 202.36 mph respectively - the quickest and fastest Pro Stock runs in NHRA history. He holds the speed record at every event on the NHRA schedule and the e.t. mark at 13 events.
Johnson regards drag racing as the ultimate mechanical challenge, a test of both his engineering ability and his mechanical skill. "I enjoy coming up with the combination, making the power, and figuring out how to make the race car an efficient package so it can achieve the performance level we want," Warren explains. "That's the part I really enjoy."
Setting new performance standards is all in a day's work for Warren Johnson. He was the first Pro Stock driver to break the 180, 190, and 200 mph barriers in NHRA competition. Recognized as the reigning king of horsepower, Johnson has topped 200 mph 79 times, recording more 200 mph passes than all of his rivals combined.
In Johnson's view, the sport of drag racing is a science - and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac is his laboratory. "We work 365 days a year at the shop and at the race track to make our cars faster," he reports. "Our racing program is focused on long-term research and development to maintain and enhance our competitive advantage."
True to his word, Johnson has completely revamped his championship-winning Firebirds for the new season. The extensive chassis modifications are concealed by new bodywork that features silver stripes on a black background in celebration of W.J.'s silver anniversary.
In spite of the long hours and the nonstop pace, Warren relishes his role as a professional racer. "I'm having more fun that one person should be allowed to have," he declares. "Racing is my livelihood - but the challenge of preparing a winning combination and out-thinking the competition is what keeps me going.
"I learned a long time ago how to pace myself," Johnson reports. "I work at a steady rate, and I don't burn myself out. I've worked as long as four days without sleep because I simply had to get something done. When I take on a project, I'm stubborn enough to see my way through it.
"My work is my hobby, and I'm making a decent living doing what I love," W.J. explains. "I'm creating things and I'm doing something new every day. What more could I ask for?"
Warren anticipates that the already ferocious competition in Pro Stock will become even more intense in 2000. "I expect more teams to be competitive and the points race to be tighter," Johnson predicts. "That's good for spectators, but it's hell on the competitors."
With his steel-blue eyes fixed firmly on the future, the best days are still to come for Warren Johnson when he kicks off his Silver Anniversary Season at the Pomona Fairplex.
WARREN JOHNSON FAST FACTS
Owner/Driver: Warren Johnson Team: Warren Johnson Enterprises, Inc., Sugar Hill, Georgia Race Car: GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Residence: Buford, Georgia Date of Birth: July 7, 1943 Birthplace: Virginia, Minnesota Family: Married, wife Arlene, son Kurt
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS (through 1999 season)
NHRA national event victories: 79 Final round appearances: 123 Runner-up finishes: 44 Number One qualifiers: 117 Low Elapsed times: 116 Top Speeds: 173
ACCOMPLISHMENTS * Five-time (1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999) NHRA Pro Stock champion * Eight-time runner-up in NHRA Pro Stock championship * First NHRA Pro Stock driver to break 180 mph, 190 mph, and 200 mph barriers * Holds NHRA Pro Stock speed record at 202.36 mph * Holds NHRA Pro Stock elapsed time record at 6.822 seconds * Six-time (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999) "Pro Stock Driver of the Year," Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team * 1993 "Person of the Year," All-Star Drag Racing Team