Baytown: Warren Johnson pre-events notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Houston Raceway Park Edition 1. WJ's First Houston Race -- 1988 Race Car: 1988 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 7.282 seconds, 189.91 mph Defeated Morris Johnson...

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Houston Raceway Park Edition

1. WJ's First Houston Race -- 1988

Race Car: 1988 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass

Performance:  WJ Qualified Second, 7.282 seconds, 189.91 mph

Defeated Morris Johnson Jr., Joe Lepone and Tony Christian
Lost to Bob Glidden

In Warren's Words:

"We were only five thousandths off of Glidden's performance, so we must have been pretty competitive. We obviously had to be pleased making it to the final with a new car, and, even though we didn't win, it was a step in the right direction.

"If I recall correctly, the track was new, but still fairly bumpy, simply because it was built on a swamp. At the time, they had yet to install adequate drainage, so about three or four o'clock in the afternoon, you could actually have little water geysers spurting out of pores in the track. It was a bizarre sight to say the least.

"When they repaved it a few years later, they did it right, putting a layer of rock, a layer of petromat and a layer of asphalt, followed by another layer of petromat, topped off by asphalt. Since then, other than an occasional bump, it's been pretty decent."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 30th final round appearance of WJ's career.

* This marked the sixth time in his career that Warren had advanced to the final round in his first race at a particular track. (The others were Gainesville, FL, Fremont and Irvine, CA, Reading, PA and Dallas, TX.)

* WJ drove a Cutlass in this race, but had actually started the year in an Olds Ciera GT. Ironically, his opponent in the final, Bob Glidden, was also driving a new car, with his Probe replacing the Thunderbird he had campaigned prior to that race.

* The field consisted of an Oldsmobile Cutlass and Ciera, Pontiac Trans Ams, Chevy Berettas and Camaros, a Dodge Avenger and Glidden's Ford Probe.

* The field was the quickest in Pro Stock history, starting with Glidden's national record 7.277-seconds and ending with Frank Iaconio's 7.374-second run, breaking the mark set in Reading, PA only three weeks before.

2. WJ's First Houston Win -- 1990

Race Car: 1990 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass

Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 7.234 seconds, 189.67 mph
Defeated Steve Schmidt, Gordie Rivera, Kenny Delco and Bruce Allen

In Warren's Words:

"It takes a minimum of one round of good luck to win a race, and that day, we were fortunate enough to have two, with both Rivera and Delco red-lighting. Although I don't have any specific recollections from our winning that weekend, for some reason, I do remember Pawuk setting the record. However, we were fortunate to also have a very fast and consistent race car that weekend, and we came away with the win."

Notes of the time:

* This win was the 21st of Warren's Pro Stock career, and came in only his second Houston Raceway Park final round appearance.

* No. 1 qualifier Mark Pawuk, who had edged WJ for the top spot with a national-record e.t. of 7.220 seconds, was upset on a holeshot by veteran Rickie Smith in the first round. Darrell Gwynn, who had reset the Top Fuel record in qualifying with a 4.90-second, was also eliminated in the opening round.

* With his 7.234-second run in qualifying and 7.241-second pass in eliminations, WJ recorded two of the three quickest runs in Pro Stock history, trailing only Pawuk's 7.22.

* Johnson's performance advantage played a significant role on Sunday, as both Gordie Rivera and Kenny Delco left the starting line early, giving the automatic win to "The Professor".

* The field consisted of Olds Cutlasses, Chevy Berettas, Pontiac Grand Prix and Trans Ams and a Dodge Daytona, a Buick Regal (driven by current Barry Grant crew chief Buddy Ingersoll) and Bob Glidden's Ford Probe.

* Current Pro Stock regulars also competing that weekend included Bruce Allen, Mark Pawuk, Jerry Haas, Larry Morgan, Kenny Koretsky and Jim Yates.

* Other winners that weekend were current Larry Dixon crew chief Dick LaHaie, who beat Gene Snow in the Top Fuel final, and John Force over Bruce Larson in Funny Car for the sixth win of his career.

3. "The Grandfather of All Staging Duels" -- 1994

In 1994, defending Pro Stock champion WJ, behind the wheel of the GM Performance Parts Olds Cutlass, was involved in a bitter championship fight with the "Dodge Boys", Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion, with each time these three would meet on the race track turning into a war. Never was this more evident than in the final round of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.

Having already eliminated Alderman in the semi-finals, WJ squared off against Geoffrion (who ironically drove for Johnson in 1991) for the win. In what has become one of the most talked-about staging battles in the category's history, neither driver would stage first, sitting at the line idling until they were sent to the "penalty box" by then NHRA starter Buster Couch. When they returned to the line, WJ was able to defeat Geoffrion for his second win at HRP, 7.071 to 7.101.

In Warren's Words:

"I believe that still stands as the best staging duel ever. Wayne County (who campaigned the Dodge entries at the time) had a book on every driver in the category listing whether they staged first or not. I plainly told Geoffrion that there was no way I would stage first.

"I went up there with the engine dead cold, knowing I was not going to stage first. In fact, we had ice in the motor to keep it cool, knowing we would be there a while. After the burnout, the engine temperature still wasn't above 90 degrees. I don't remember who pre-staged first, but I went into pre-stage and we both just sat there until Buster got excited and put us in the penalty box, making us wait until everyone else ran.

"After all the other cars had run, they pulled us back up without giving us time to cool the motors down. I waited long enough staging that there was steam coming out of the Dodge, and I believe he blew the head gaskets out of it, and we won. I guess you could say our plan worked."

4. WJ's Most Recent Houston Win -- 2001

Race Car: 2001 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am

Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 6.845 seconds, 201.37 mph
Defeated Greg Anderson, Jim Yates, Bruce Allen and Mark Pawuk

In Warren's Words:

"For some reason, the line-lock didn't work, and I darn near red-lighted in the final. If I remember right, Pawuk always had to stage last, because if he went in first, he typically was late off the line. Therefore, I made a pre-meditated decision to somehow have him stage first no matter what.

"I think the line lock broke when I tried to stage, because the brake pressure gauge did not move. I knew I was in trouble, and had to stage last because if I sat there without a line lock, I could have just as easily rolled backwards out of the lights as I could forwards, resulting in an automatic loss in either case. Fortunately, he went in first, and we just got by with one."

Notes of the time:

* This win was the 83rd of WJ's career, as he closed in on Bob Glidden's mark of 85 national event victories, which he would surpass in Denver later that year.

* This was Warren's fifth win in six final round appearances at Houston Raceway Park, and second consecutive win there.

* This was also the 131st national event final round of WJ's career.

* This was also WJ's third win in his last five races, dating back to his 2000 win at the fall Houston race.

* WJ's 6.830-second pass in his first round elimination of Greg Anderson set low elapsed time for the event.

* With his line-lock failing in the final, WJ knew his only chance of winning rested on Mark Pawuk's staging first, which he did. After that, WJ rolled in and posted a lightning-fast .411 reaction time to leave on Pawuk by over five hundredths of a second and never looked back, riding a 6.844 sec., 200.98 mph pass to victory.

* The Pro Stock line-up included Pontiac Grand Ams and a single Firebird, Chevrolet Cavaliers, Darrell Alderman's solitary Dodge R/T, and a Ford Mustang piloted by Robert Patrick.

* Other winners that weekend included current ESPN TV analyst Mike Dunn, who eliminated Larry Dixon in the final, and Del Worsham, who edged John Force in the Funny Car final.

5. WJ's Houston Raceway Park in a Nutshell --

"If we get any sort of a break in the weather, we could see some very quick times. Of course, I've been there when it's been 100 degrees, and I've been there when we had an ice storm that postponed the race.

"Otherwise, the atmospheric conditions in Houston are quite similar to what we faced in Gainesville. It's so close to the Gulf, Barry Bonds could hit a home run into it from the race track. Even though the track was basically built on a swamp, they do a good job of maintaining it, so the racing surface is usually pretty good, other than an occasional bump here and there.

"The only thing that we're not particularly fond of is the Friday night qualifying session, simply because it gets so cold that dew forms on the track and fogs up the windshield. The air may be great, but the racing surface just doesn't hold the performance under those conditions.

"Overall, it's not a bad facility, and we usually get a good crowd, so we enjoy racing there."


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Robert Patrick , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , John Force , Greg Anderson , Larry Morgan , Bob Glidden , Bruce Larson , Dick LaHaie , Bruce Allen , Kenny Koretsky , Darrell Gwynn , Barry Grant , Steve Schmidt , Rickie Smith , Jerry Haas , Gordie Rivera