GEORGIA-BASED PROFESSOR OF NHRA PRO STOCK DRAG RACING BACK IN VICTORY LANE AFTER EXTENDED SABBATICAL; SEEKING MORE SUCCESS IN ATLANTA COMMERCE, Ga. -- Warren Johnson filled the highlight reel for the latest episode of NHRA's "Turn Back the...
GEORGIA-BASED PROFESSOR OF NHRA PRO STOCK DRAG RACING BACK IN VICTORY LANE AFTER EXTENDED SABBATICAL; SEEKING MORE SUCCESS IN ATLANTA
COMMERCE, Ga. -- Warren Johnson filled the highlight reel for the latest episode of NHRA's "Turn Back the Clock" reality show, the must-see hit of the 2010 racing season.
At 66, Johnson raced to the Pro Stock victory at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis and continued his claim to the title as the oldest winner of a Full Throttle Series event in NHRA history. It was Johnson's 97th career victory.
With the win, he joined 61-year-old John Force -- a three-time winner this season and current Funny Car points leader -- in recent headlines as past NHRA dominators who are experiencing a revival of sorts this season.
Johnson, who at 58 also became the oldest to ever win an NHRA world championship title in 2001, earned his nickname "The Professor," for giving regular on-track lessons to all of his Pro Stock opponents for many years, and in the process winning six series crowns.
During the past four seasons, however, Johnson and son Kurt, who drives a second car for the team, have struggled. Prior to last weekend, the elder Johnson's last victory came in 2006. He hadn't been to a final round since the 2007 season.
But for some reason he found magic in St. Louis. After beating first round opponent Ron Krisher with a holeshot start, Johnson then took the next three round wins when each of his opponents suffered a variety of mechanical problems. He said in all his years of racing, he's never had a weekend quite like that one.
"I've had a few strokes of good luck once in a while -- but not three in a row," Johnson said. "It was one of those phenomenal things where everybody else did something wrong and we were just out there cruising. Every so often it goes your way; a lot of times it doesn't. You take the good days with the bad."
Johnson, whose shop is based in nearby Sugar Hill, Ga., will work to add victory No. 98 to his resume at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, May 14-16 at Atlanta Dragway. Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
With five victories at Atlanta Dragway, Johnson is the winningest Pro Stock driver in the history of the track, his last win coming there in 2003. He says the recent win in St. Louis will be a great motivator for his team as it prepares for the one race of the season near his home and race shop.
"There's no such thing as a bad win or a good loss," Johnson said. "To win one at least gives us a direction to go in, though performance-wise (we're) still not where we need to be. But sooner or later, we'll be back on top of it. We can see the corner. We just can't see which way it is going right now. We're four- or five-hundredths behind, but we can fix that. We have a direction to go now."
In recent seasons, former Johnson crew chief Greg Anderson has been the force in the class, racing to three world championship titles in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. Anderson's teammate, Jason Line, also claimed a championship in 2006. Last season Edwards emerged as the driver to beat in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP and he's continued his impressive performance this season, racing to four victories.
"A lot of the other guys have picked up significantly in performance and we were off a little bit," Johnson said. "Part of that is we tend to probably experiment a little too much. But that's the learning curve."
Johnson, who is 12th in the series standings, five points behind 10th-place Shane Gray, says he can finally see light at the end of the performance tunnel now, and is convinced that his team will be back in the championship mix sooner than later.
"It's like anything else, if you're diligent enough and you keep your nose to the grindstone, it's going to happen," said Johnson. "It's just a matter of finding your way back. We're slowly crawling our way back."
In Funny Car, Force is once again on top of the world, winning races, earning No. 1 qualifying positions and leading the point standings in his familiar Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. A strong contingent of pursuers is trailing Force, a seven-time winner at Atlanta Dragway, including Matt Hagan, who raced to his first career victory in Houston in his DieHard Dodge Charger. Hagan teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, defending world champ Robert Hight, who also won in St. Louis, and Force's daughter, Ashley Force Hood, who earned a milestone victory at this event in 2008, are also a few of Force's toughest challengers for the season title.
Three-time Atlanta winner Larry Dixon leads the series standings in Top Fuel. He has raced to three victories this season in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster and holds a 41-point lead over another three-time track winner, Cory McClenathan, who pilots the FRAM dragster. Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, Brandon Bernstein and defending winner Lucas also are among the favorites in Top Fuel for this event.
Defending world champ Hector Arana is leading the Pro Stock Motorcycle field once again on his Lucas Oil Buell. Past Atlanta winners Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines and Karen Stoffer will be in the mix this year, as well as Charlotte winner Matt Smith, St. Louis winner Michael Phillips and rookie LE Tonglet, who advanced to his first career final in St. Louis.
* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on May 14 and 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on May 15. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals. For tickets call NHRA at (800) 884-6472 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, May 15. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 10 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 16. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 16.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on May 14. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on May 15.
* GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA's newest touring series will make its third start of the season at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals. The series features some of the world's fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.