2000 was a learning year for the Professor of Pro Stock. After winning back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999, Warren Johnson finished third in the championship race behind Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his son Kurt.
Johnson, a lifelong student of the science of acceleration, celebrated his Silver Anniversary Season in 2000. He won twice in six final-round appearances, raising his total of NHRA career victories to 81. Many drivers would consider that a successful season - but Johnson expects nothing less than excellence.
"I'm not happy about losing the championship," Johnson conceded, "but I am happy about the progress we made this year.
"This season wasn't what we wanted it to be, but that's why they call it racing," he observed. "There is only going to be one winner at every race and there is only going to be one champion in a season."
When Jeg Coughlin won six of the first seven events, the championship race was effectively over. Johnson shifted into full-time testing mode, devoting the second half of the year to chassis development. This strategy proved successful in 1994 and 1997 - R&D years that laid the foundations for future championships.
"I congratulate Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his team," Johnson said. "Given the level of competition in Pro Stock, winning ten races is a remarkable feat."
HATFIELDS AND McCOYS REVISITED
The ongoing rivalry between the Johnson and Coughlin clans continued to simmer in 2000. Although Jeg dominated the first half of the year, the Johnsons evened the score in the second half. After the mid-season break in July, the two-car Johnson team won seven national events and 48 rounds of racing while the Coughlin brothers won four races and 41 rounds. The Johnsons also outscored the Coughlins in total Winston points in the second half, 1,776 to 1,633.
"At the beginning of the year, a lot of our wounds were self-inflicted," Warren reported. "We had an unexpected parts supply problem and it took until June to get our engine program back on track. After we fixed that, Kurt and I were back to our previous performance level. If you look at the win/loss record, we did a better job as a team than our competition in the last half of the season."
The Johnsons topped the performance statistics in the 23-race series with a total of nine No. 1 qualifying positions and ten Low Elapsed Times. Warren and Kurt were again the unrivaled speed kings in Pro Stock, recording the fastest speed in 16 events.
THE PROFESSOR'S NOTEPAD
* Average qualifying position in 2000: 5.73 * Average rounds won per event: 1.48 * Average e.t. in 55 rounds of eliminations: 7.033 seconds * Average speed in 55 rounds of eliminations: 194.91 mph * Win/loss record in 2000: 34/21 (62 percent average) * Johnson won twice on holeshots In 55 rounds of racing, and lost three times on holeshots. He redlighted once. * W.J. lost once due to mechanical breakage - a broken fuel regulator in the first round of the U.S. Nationals. * Warren has now won at least one NHRA national event for 19 consecutive years - the longest active winning streak in NHRA drag racing. * W.J. finished in the Top Five in the championship standings for the 19th consecutive season - the most Top Five finishes among all NHRA drivers. * Warren topped 200 mph 26 times in 2000. He has produced 106 of the 252 Pro Stock runs over 200 mph (42 percent) recorded in NHRA national event competition.
Johnson is upbeat about the prospect of racing his new GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am in 2001. He has a pair of new Pontiacs under construction - one at Don Ness Racecraft in Minneapolis and one at Jerry Haas Race Cars in Fenton, Mo. Both chassis shops are also building identical ACDelco Cavaliers for Kurt, marking the first time since K.J. began his driving career that the Johnsons will campaign similar race cars.
"I am definitely looking forward to next year with our new cars," Warren said. "The Firebirds we've raced since 1996 are relatively short and wide, so they are especially sensitive to track conditions in the first part of a run. The Firebirds were fast in the back half, but we still had to deal with the large frontal area and the aerodynamic drag it created.
"The Grand Am has a narrower body, a longer wheelbase, and better aerodynamic balance," Johnson explained. "I believe it will be a better overall package than the Oldsmobile Cutlass we developed in the early '90s and a significant improvement over the cars we raced this year."
Johnson has planned an aggressive testing schedule that will see his new cars on the track before Christmas. "We'll test wherever we can find warm weather," he reported.
* Johnson has run the five fastest Pro Stock speeds in NHRA history, ranging from 202.36 to 202.11 mph. He has run the Top Speed at 183 of the 362 NHRA events (50.6 percent) in which he has competed in his career. * Johnson set track elapsed time records at three stops on the NHRA tour in 2000 - Gainesville, Fla. (6.849 seconds); Richmond, Va. (6.838); and Sonoma, Calif. (6.896). * W.J. set four track speed records in 2000 - Atlanta (201.37 mph); Englishtown, N.J. (201.76 mph); Sonoma, Calif. (201.16 mph); and Brainerd, Minn. (197.62 mph). * Johnson has raced 117 opponents in his NHRA Pro Stock career. He has a winning record against all but 11 of them. * Warren has competed in 946 rounds of racing in his career, compiling a 678/268 win/loss record (71.7 percent winning average). * Johnson was the No. 1 qualifier five times in 2000. With 122 career No. 1 qualifying positions, W.J. has started on the "pole" in 33.7 percent of his races.
<pre> LAST RACE: Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Pomona, Calif., Nov. 12 Qualified: No. 13 Finished: Lost to Jeg Coughlin Jr. in semi-final round.
POINTS RACE: (After 23 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 10 2,054 2. Kurt Johnson 6 1,604 3. Warren Johnson 2 1,481 4. Ron Krisher 2 1,392 5. Mark Pawuk 1 1,214
NEXT RACE: AutoZone Winternationals, Pomona, Calif., Feb. 1-4, 2001