Baytown: Kurt Johnson preview

Kurt Johnson looks to stay hot in Houston. ACDelco Cavalier driver intent on improving on last year's runner-up finish. Sugar Hill, Ga., April 8, 2003 - The NHRA's Pro Stock division is arguably the most competitive in all of motorsports. Each...

Kurt Johnson looks to stay hot in Houston.
ACDelco Cavalier driver intent on improving on last year's runner-up finish.

Sugar Hill, Ga., April 8, 2003 - The NHRA's Pro Stock division is arguably the most competitive in all of motorsports. Each week, as many as 48 cars compete for one of only 16 spots in Sunday's final eliminations, with the entire category covered by mere hundredths of a second. The competition is equally fierce on race day, as the "factory hot rods" scream down the quarter-mile as if welded together, with the margin of victory often measured in fractions of an inch.

Over the last two races on the POWERade Drag racing tour, Kurt Johnson's ACDelco Cavalier has been the class of the field, with a win last month in Gainesville and a runner-up finish in Las Vegas three days ago. Despite this impressive performance, the driver known by competitors and fans as "K.J." remains hungry, and heads into this weekend's O'Reilly Spring Nationals focused on earning his second win of the 2003 season.

"We're looking forward to Houston and hopefully getting our ACDelco Cavalier back in the winner's circle," said Johnson. "We've done well recently, following our win in Gainesville with a good outing in Vegas. You're always looking for the maximum amount of points, and we were one step away from doing that.

"Everything is just clicking right now. The car keeps going down the racetrack, the motors have been strong, and the crew has been doing a great job pulling it all together. But we're not letting ourselves get too excited, preferring to keep plugging along, and concentrating on the task at hand."

Naturally, teams are constantly working to find an edge. One aspect receiving constant attention is the starting-line reaction time, which measures the car and driver's ability to leave ahead of their opponent.

"These cars are so close that the driver has got to perform, and reaction time is one of many areas this ACDelco team keeps working on," explains Johnson. "On the race car, you can change things such as the air gap, or the geometry in the linkage to get the car to react faster.

"You can also reduce clutch slippage, but when you have well over 1,300 horsepower moving 2,350 pounds, you have to have some amount of slippage to get the car off the line. Engine rpm's are also a factor - the higher they are when you leave, the better your reaction time will be.

"Naturally, there are practice trees for the driver to work with, but his main job is to stay focused on leaving the starting line first. Obviously, you have good days and bad, but the main goal, as it is with everything else, is to be consistently good, which will be the difference at the end of the year."

This weekend, the straight-line circuit makes its way to Houston Raceway Park, a potentially fast but tricky race track. This also marks the first time this year the NHRA's professional categories will compete on consecutive weekends.

"The track in Houston can be fast, but since it's sitting on a bed of water, it's constantly shifting, and this year it's supposed to be a little rough," opined Johnson. "But it's not economically feasible for the owners to grind the surface every year, and it's the same for everybody, so we'll just deal with whatever it throws at us.

"This is the first of our back-to-back races this year, which takes its toll on everything from the car to the crew and our families by the end of the season. As much as I love to race, I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy my weekends at home with my wife and three kids. But, since the race is on the NHRA schedule, I'll be there, and while we're at it, the ACDelco team is going to do everything it can to win."

Facts on Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing Team entering the O'Reilly Spring Nationals:

* KJ at Houston Raceway Park: This will be Kurt's sixteenth appearance at Houston Raceway Park, where he has one win (in 1999) and one runner-up finish (in 2002). In addition, K.J. has been the No. 1 qualifier twice at HRP, in 1998 and 2000.

* Flying the Stars and Stripes: At the request of their sponsors, Kurt and his father Warren Johnson have replaced the Chevrolet and Pontiac logos on the roofs of their race cars with the American flag to honor America and show their support for the troops.

* Record Run: Kurt has reset the Pro Stock track top speed record at the last three NHRA national events (202.30 mph in Phoenix, 203.71 mph in Gainesville and 201.73 mph in Las Vegas), while his father Warren Johnson established a new national top speed record of 204.91 mph at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, CA..

* One Year Ago: KJ qualified tenth with an elapsed time of 6.857 seconds and a top speed of 201.28 mph, and defeated Tom Hammonds, Greg Anderson and Warren Johnson en route to his runner-up finish.

* Winning streak extended: With his win at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Kurt has now extended his streak of winning at least one race a year to nine years, encompassing his entire Pro Stock career.

* POWERade Points standings: After the fourth of 23 events, Kurt is in second place in the 2003 POWERade point standings, 63 points behind current leader Greg Anderson, and 38 ahead of his father, Warren Johnson, who is in third. Kurt finished 6th in 2002, his tenth consecutive Top Ten finish.

* Winning percentage: Kurt's .633 elimination round winning percentage (307-178) ranks 11th among all active NHRA professional drivers.

* National event wins: Kurt's 24 national event victories ties him for 18th on the all-time NHRA professional win list. Kurt's most recent win came at the 2003 Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.779 seconds, Reading, PA. 2001

* Career best top speed: 204.57 mph, Pomona, CA. 2003 (the fourth fastest in NHRA Pro Stock history.)


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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson , Tom Hammonds