Atlanta - The Warren Report

Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals W.J.'s SOUTHERN WAYS No one needs to tell Warren Johnson the way to Atlanta Dragway, the site of the upcoming Advance Auto Parts...

Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals

W.J.'s SOUTHERN WAYS

No one needs to tell Warren Johnson the way to Atlanta Dragway, the site of the upcoming Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals on May 14-16. The track is just 40 miles from W.J.'s top secret "skunk works" in suburban Sugar Hill, Ga. In fact, Warren's transporters can probably negotiate the route to the Commerce track on autopilot, since the Johnson team tests there frequently.

The Johnson family emigrated from frigid Fridley, Minn., to Georgia in 1981, the first year of the Southern Nationals. Although Warren has been a resident of the New South for 18 years, he's remained true to his Yankee roots. There is no trace of a Georgian accent in his speech, and he's more likely to eat bratwurst than grits.

W.J. has competed in all 18 editions of the annual race in his adopted home state, notching three wins, six final-round appearances, and seven No. 1 qualifying spots. The Johnson family has been represented in four of the last six final rounds at the Southern Nationals.

In spite of his familiarity with the Atlanta quarter-mile, Warren discounts the notion of a home field advantage at the Southern Nationals. "After NHRA grooms the track for a national event, the racing surface is not going to be the same as when we test there," Warren asserts. "About the only advantage we have is knowing how to set up our transmissions to avoid gear changes on the bumps."

ATLANTA ANNIVERSARIES

* Fifteen years ago, Warren Johnson gave the GM Drag Race Competition Engine (DRCE) its baptism under fire at Atlanta Dragway. Working in conjunction with Oldsmobile Special Vehicle Operations, Johnson developed the new powerplant specifically for Pro Stock competition in 1984. The DRCE big-block became the foundation of GM's successful drag racing program that has captured the NHRA Manufacturers Cup 15 consecutive seasons.

"We had ten days to make the patterns for the new block and heads," W.J. reports. "We didn't have time to test the engine on a dyno, and we fired it for the first time about three hours before we went to the track. I qualified No. 1 at Atlanta in my first race with the DRCE, so I guess we got it right."

* The 1993 Southern Nationals marked the first father vs. son final round in NHRA history. Warren squared off with his son Kurt in a Johnson family intramural contest. W.J. defeated Kurt, 7.179/193.05 mph to 7.226/193.00.

The Johnsons dominated Pro Stock in Kurt's rookie season, winning a total of 12 races, combining for 19 final round appearances, and finishing 1-2 in the Winston championship.

W.J. DOES DALLAS

The Castrol Nationals, held in Dallas, Texas, on April 25, was the scene of W.J.'s 74th career NHRA national event victory. It was a typically dominant Johnson performance: He qualified No. 1, set the event e.t. and speed records, and won the race - his fourth win at the Texas Motorplex in nine final-round appearances.

Johnson overcame a .024-second holeshot by his final-round opponent, Mike Edwards. "If I'm within a half a car length of my opponent at the at the 1/8th mile, I can usually run him down," Warren explained.

"Most of the guys we race really accelerate hard to the 1/8th mile and then tend to fade after that. We've found how to accelerate the car to the 1/8th mile as well as anybody, but it doesn't fall off in the last half."

DEFEAT PHOBIA

Some people have a fear of flying or suffer angst about heights. Warren Johnson's greatest phobia is his fear of losing.

"I never get tired of winning, but I hate losing," W.J. revealed after his Dallas victory. "If we lose, it's because we did something wrong, whether it was my driving or making the wrong decision on the setup. As a team, we pride ourselves on trying to do everything right every time."

SPEEDING CITATION

W.J. set the national speed record for the second time this season, raising the bar to 202.24 mph during qualifying for the Pennzoil Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park. W.J.'s record-setting run eclipsed the 201.37 mph mark he set in Gainesville, Fla., in March. The track near Richmond, Va., was also the site of Johnson's historic first 200 mph Pro Stock run in April 1997.

Johnson has now held the NHRA Pro Stock speed record continuously since July 31, 1992, when he set the mark at 194.51 mph at Sears Point International Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. - a span of seven years.

Near-perfect weather conditions produced a barrage of 200 mph runs in Richmond. Nine different drivers reeled off a total of 18 runs exceeding 200 mph. Warren topped 200 mph four times, increasing his career tally to 43.

"The tires starting shaking as soon as I let out the clutch and kept on shaking halfway through second gear," Warren recalled after his record-setting 202 mph pass. "The car moved out of the groove in second gear, but I brought it back and it ran the last 1/8th mile faster than we've ever run before. That's just pure power.

"I knew I had run over 200 mph, but had no idea how fast it was," Warren confided. "I looked at the tachometer, but the engine rpm can vary 100 to 150 rpm at the finish line, depending on whether the tires are spinning or locked up. Judging by how much e.t. we lost in the first half of the run, I think the car could have run as quick as 6.78."

Warren's son Kurt left Richmond with the national elapsed time record at 6.840 seconds - the first time since March 10, 1995, that Warren has not held the e.t. record.

"The record is still in the family," W.J. observed. "The certificate has Kurt's name on it, but the power came from Warren Johnson Enterprises. There is a good possibility that someone can set the record again at Englishtown if the weather is cool. If it doesn't happen there, then we'll probably have to wait until autumn for another opportunity."

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

Warren's four-year winning streak at the Pennzoil Nationals came to an abrupt end when he was upset by No. 15 qualifier John Nobile in the first round of eliminations. W.J. ran 200.32 mph in a futile effort to catch Nobile after encountering severe tire shake as soon as he launched off the starting line.

"Our wounds in Richmond were all self-inflicted," Warren said with a laugh. "It was one of those 'go for the gusto' kind of races where common sense should have prevailed. There was really nothing wrong with the race track; we just had too much power and we didn't back the car down far enough. We'll just put that in our memory bank and try to remember never to do that again."

Warren was philosophic about his first loss at Virginia Motorsports Park. "Nothing lasts forever," said the Professor, who now trails his son by 95 points in the championship race.

THE "OTHER" JOHNSON

The Pennzoil Nationals was the fifth straight race with a Johnson standing in the Pro Stock winner's circle - but it wasn't the Johnson that most people expected. After Warren's surprising first-round defeat, Kurt Johnson lost to independent Dodge driver Allen Johnson in the semi-final stanza. Allen "the Other" Johnson defeated Richie Stevens in the final to post his first career Pro Stock victory.

"Allen and his father Roy were making absolutely flawless runs in Richmond," Warren observed. "I looked at Allen's tires tracks, and they were just about perfect. They had a handle on that race track, but whether they can repeat that on a consistent basis remains to be seen."

W.J.'s SOUTHERN NATIONALS RESULTS Year Qual. Finish 1981 7 First Round 1982 4 Second Round 1983 4 Second Round 1984 1 Second Round 1985 1 Second Round 1986 1 Winner (over Glidden) 1987 5 Second Round 1988 2 Winner (over Christian) 1989 2 Second Round 1990 3 Runner-up (to Morgan) 1991 4 Runner-up (to Glidden) 1992 4 Second Round 1993 1 Winner (over K. Johnson) 1994 1 Runner-up (to Geoffrion) 1995 1 Semi-final 1996 2 First Round 1997 1 Semi-final 1998 2 First Round

NEXT RACE: Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals, May 14-16, Atlanta, Ga. TV: Fox Sports, May 16, 5:00-7:00 p.m. - check local listings.

LAST RACES:

CASTROL NATIONALS, April 25, Dallas, Texas Qualifying: W.J. qualified No. 1 at 6.904/200.22 mph Eliminations: Round 1: Defeated John Nobile Round 2: Defeated Richie Stevens Semi-Final: Defeated Rickie Smith Final Round: Defeated Mike Edwards Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.904 seconds (event record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 200.22 mph (event record)

PENNZOIL NATIONALS, May 1, Richmond, Va. Qualifying: W.J. qualified No. 2 at 6.843/202.24 Eliminations: Round 1: Defeated by John Nobile Low ET: Kurt Johnson, 6.840 seconds (national record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 202.24 mph (national record)

POINTS RACE: (After 6 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Kurt Johnson 2 582 2. Warren Johnson 2 487 3. Troy Coughlin 0 330 4. Jim Yates 0 319 5. Allen Johnson 1 314

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Nobile , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Allen Johnson , Rickie Smith , Mike Edwards