Defending BIR Pro Stock champ Kurt Johnson talk about the upcomings Lucas Oil Nationals BRAINERD, Minn. -- Defending Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals champion Kurt Johnson heads back to Minnesota for his 17th appearance as a Pro Stock competitor at ...
Defending BIR Pro Stock champ Kurt Johnson talk about the upcomings Lucas Oil Nationals
BRAINERD, Minn. -- Defending Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals champion Kurt Johnson heads back to Minnesota for his 17th appearance as a Pro Stock competitor at Brainerd International Raceway, still looking for that elusive first victory of the season.
"We want to win, and that hasn't happened so we're digging as fast and as hard as we can right now to put this ACDelco Chevrolet in the winner's circle," Johnson said. "I honestly feel we're getting close and that our first win of the season is just around the corner."
Johnson's personal on-track success at BIR is well documented. The driver of the ACDelco Chevrolet has won more races at this event (1997, 2000, 2005, 2008) than any other on the circuit, and he was runner-up and No. 1 qualifier at BIR in 2003. In addition to capturing his 39th career victory at last year's contest, the native Minnesotan (and current resident of Buford, Ga.) set the track-record elapsed time at BIR for the Pro Stock category at 6.648 seconds.
Since making his Pro Stock debut in 1993, Kurt Johnson has 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in the final points standings, and he has also won at least one race every year since 1995 (the longest current streak in NHRA Pro Stock). Johnson's 515 career round wins are second only to his father, six-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Warren Johnson, among full-time, active Pro Stock drivers. The NHRA Rookie of the Year in 1993, Johnson has averaged a 4th-place points finish over the last 16 years.
It's been more than 25 years since you lived in Minnesota, what do you remember about growing up there? -- "They had a great school system and I made a lot of friends. The winters could be a little rough, and that was the only downfall, but Minnesotans are pretty tough and you adapt to it pretty quickly. In the summer time you had mosquitoes so big they could carry away a small cat -- I grew up to be a mosquito-swatting specialist. They have pretty good control of the mosquito problem up there now and it's not as bad as it used to be."
Where did you go to high school? "I went to Fridley High School, which was over by Moore Lake (near Minneapolis). There were about 400 kids in my graduating class. I met my wife, Kathy, in chemistry class during my senior year and that worked out well. We're still going strong with three terrific kids so it must have been good chemistry.
"When I was in fifth and sixth grade I missed as much as 49 days in a school year -- which is something they wouldn't let you get away with now. But I would go with mom and dad as they raced around the country, so the experience and education of that was invaluable -- and my teachers understood that. The teachers would give me the required make-up work, made me do a lot of reading and after that I just enjoyed the country. I had an opportunity to go places where other kids my age didn't, and if you could jump in the truck and go out to California or Florida, and be back in a week and a half, they were all for it. They were pretty lenient in their time."
What has the team been working on since the Western Swing? -- "I think we're a win waiting to happen -- we're so close we can taste it. It's matter of getting the right breaks, but we're going to have to make our own breaks. I feel with the right run we can qualify No. 1 -- it's getting so close that every run makes a difference right now. We're picking up the pace and can't wait to get that 40th trophy."
You have a pretty good book on Brainerd -- "It's a decent racetrack since they resurfaced it. It's fairly smooth, and the new owners have come in and done an outstanding job. Last year we had an exceptional day on Sunday, and it's been awhile since we've experienced that -- it's been a year and we've waited long enough."
Getting to 'The Countdown' -- "Even if we didn't win a race and still won a championship, that would probably make up for it. At the same time, we have a win streak going of 14 consecutive years, and that's a priority right now. That would be a huge boost to this race team. It's not like we've thought about it in the past, and we probably shouldn't focus on it too much right now, but all we need to do is go out there, do our job and win a race, and the rest will fall into a place. If we can put some round wins together, the streak will continue, and then hopefully we'll have a shot at this championship. We're positive, that's for sure. We feel we have a winning car, one that hasn't won yet this year, but one that is capable. We're making steady gains each race, we're qualifying in the top half, and that's what it will take -- lane choice going into first round and keeping it for four rounds. We're not relying on luck. We want to carve it out, dig it out and make it happen ourselves."
What are you doing during this extra week to get ready for Brainerd and beyond? - "We're fine-tuning -- that's about it. Hopefully we'll get a chance to test some more parts that we feel will benefit our program over the next few races. We made a decent run in Sonoma on that last run and felt like we could have tweaked on it enough to get a win light out of it, and maybe win the race. We left a little on the table there, but we tried some parts that panned out. We're looking at the last six races (The Countdown) as if like if we get our program together, and get the car to pick up -- we're not talking five hundredths, we're talking two-hundredths -- if we can make that happen then we'll have a car that can win the championship."
This is a busy time of year for the Johnson family - "There's all kinds of stuff going on. Conner and Erin are starting at a new school this fall, and that's actually a good thing because it's closer to where we live. Conner's been at football tryouts for the last couple of weeks -- it's the first time he's played football so it's pretty exciting to go out and watch him practice. He looks pretty good. He's a good athlete, as are all of our kids. He's running, and throwing, and hitting, and sooner or later, he's going to get his bell rung and get a taste of reality, but he's loving it. He played soccer the last couple of years, was invited to play on a travel squadron this summer and was at the top of his game there. When Conner puts his mind to something, he has an attitude that gets the job done -- just like racing."
Do you have a favorite year at Brainerd? - "Any time you can pull off a win there it's exciting. Last year was a great race for us. We ran well, I drove good enough to win and had a lot of good competition throughout the day that we got by. We made four good runs against Yates, Edwards, Coughlin and then Connolly in the finals. We had to be on top of our game, we left first on all four runs. That's what we'll have to do this year."
Any advice for first-timers to BIR? "You have to go out to the 'Zoo,' check it out and have some fun. Bring some peanuts for the animals and something to wash it down with."