Baytown: Warren Johnson preview

WJ Ready to Celebrate 20 Years at HRP with a Win GM Performance Parts GXP racer has history of success in Baytown Sugar Hill, Ga., March 26, 2008 -- This weekend, Houston Raceway Park will celebrate its 20th year in the NHRA's POWERade ...

WJ Ready to Celebrate 20 Years at HRP with a Win
GM Performance Parts GXP racer has history of success in Baytown

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 26, 2008 -- This weekend, Houston Raceway Park will celebrate its 20th year in the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series with the running of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. Many things have changed in the two decades since that inaugural event. For example, the opening race was held in October. Pro Stock Cars were covering the quarter-mile in 7.27 seconds at just over 190 mph, three quarters of a second and twenty miles per hour slower than they are today. Mike Dunn, the first Houston winner in Funny Car, is now a television analyst working with the ESPN crew covering the race.

However, one constant that remains from that first race in Baytown is the participation of Hall of Fame racer Warren Johnson, whose six wins in seven final round appearances are the most by any Pro Stock driver at HRP. Returning for this year's edition armed with a new GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP, the six-time champion's drive and determination are just as intense as they were 20 years ago, when he qualified second and was the runner-up to long-time rival Bob Glidden.

"Whenever we go to Baytown there is always the potential for record-setting performances, so you had better be on your game when you get there" said Johnson. "It is not an easy track to race on, from either the driver's or the crew chief's perspective. On one hand, the sea-level air will give us a significant power increase over any of the tracks we have raced on this year. However, the racing surface at Houston Raceway Park is pretty rough and bumpy, making it extremely difficult to apply that extra horsepower, while drivers will have their hands full trying to keep the car straight.

"Fortunately, we've had our share of success in Houston over the years, and certainly hope to continue that trend this weekend with the GM Performance Parts GXP. We have complied extensive notes on this track, which should help us. We'll just have to see what we have to work with when we get there, and do the best we can to adapt."

A quick check of Johnson's activities in the few days since the last race shows the depth of his pursuit of speed. After capturing the No. 1 qualifying position and setting top speed of the race in the new car's first outing two weeks ago in Gainesville, FL, The Professor and crew headed directly to the General Motors' Aero Lab in Warren, MI, where they worked with GM engineers to explore the aerodynamic tendencies of this sleek new design. Armed with this additional data, he returned to the team's shop in Sugar Hill, GA to continue work on other projects designed to raise the Pro Stock performance bar.

"The last few weeks have been like any other for the GM Performance Parts crew," said Johnson. "In other words, we've been working non-stop trying to make our program even better. Our first outing with the GXP in Gainesville showed it certainly has some potential, but there is still plenty of work to be done to get it to perform to the level we want it to.

"For example, we learned a few things in the wind tunnel that we hope to apply in the near future. In addition, we have a few engine issues we've been working on that we're confident will help pick up the pace a bit. Finally, we're not totally happy with the chassis set-up we have in it right now, which we essentially transferred from the GTO, so we'll need to do some additional on-track testing to see what this car needs. Overall, we're in a pretty good position, but we have to play error-free ball."

However, before he heads west to the Lone Star State, The Professor will head north to New York City, joining NHRA announcer Bob Frey for the finals of the 2008 National Automotive Technology Competition. This event, which is held in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show, pits the top high school automotive education students from across the country as they compete for scholarships and prizes totaling $3 million, with every entrant looking to capture the title of The Nation's Best Automotive Technician.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the competition up close and congratulating the winners," said Johnson. "I always enjoy interacting with these exceptional young students. After all, they are the future of the automotive industry, as well as the next generation of crew chiefs and, quite possibly, drivers. Who knows -- may be one of them could eventually be a part of our GM Performance Parts crew."

-credit: j2r

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Warren Johnson , Bob Glidden