"Iron Ranger" Warren Johnson returns home on a mission GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver looks for fifth Pro Stock win in his home state SUGAR HILL, GA., August 11, 2003 - For many of the participants in the professional categories at the...
"Iron Ranger" Warren Johnson returns home on a mission
GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver looks for fifth Pro Stock win in his home state
SUGAR HILL, GA., August 11, 2003 - For many of the participants in the professional categories at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, this weekend's visit to Brainerd International Raceway will be just one of the stops on the 23-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing circuit. A few may take time to enjoy the attractions this Minnesota resort town has to offer, playing a round of golf or doing a little fishing. Even so, for most competitors the significance of this event will come only from their success on the racetrack.
However, for GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver Warren Johnson, this race marks an annual opportunity to return home. Born in the northern Minnesota town of Virginia, Johnson grew up in the area know as the "iron range" near Aurora, before moving to Fridley in 1965. After trying several professions, his career path took a decided turn in the early 1960's when he packed up his wife Arlene and their infant son Kurt (now himself a 27-time NHRA national event winner) in the family car and drove to a dragstrip located just north of Minneapolis in Coon Rapids.
"My first exposure to organized drag racing was at Minnesota Dragways," recalled Johnson. "It was a facility that was ahead of its time. They had a forerunner of today's 'Christmas Tree', which was a traffic light suspended on a cable above the lanes, as well as a concrete starting line, paved pits and spectator parking. Every weekend, they would have fields of approximately 500-600 cars, and the grandstands were usually filled to capacity."
"My first race was an NHRA divisional event there in 1963, and I competed in Street Eliminator. My race car was the '57 Chevrolet that I drove on the street every day. I was the runner-up to Lutz and Lundberg and their A/Gas car, who were the national record holders at the time. The rest, as they say, is history."
Although his pursuit of drag racing success led him to leave the Gopher State in the 1980s in search of year-round racing conditions, Johnson still has ties to his home state. For example, many family members and friends remain in the northern plains, and are expected to be in the stands at BIR this weekend.
But there will be little time for reminiscing or family reunions, as the GM Performance Parts crew can expect another stiff challenge from a tightly packed Pro Stock field. An additional obstacle in their path to the winner's circle is the racing surface at Brainerd International Raceway, which has been totally redone since last year's race.
"They've done a tremendous amount of work to the racing surface in Brainerd, so we won't know what we have until we get there," explained Johnson. "I know there was a lot of thought put into the process, with an eighth mile of concrete and the rest being asphalt with aggregate made from taconite tailings (which ironically is mined in an area near Johnson's childhood home), which are as hard as can be. If it was done right, it will be as good a racing surface as we will see all year. Due to the elevation, it's not a particularly fast track, but the conditions will be the same for everyone."
"Coming into the last third of the season, our program is definitely headed in the right direction. Our GM Performance Parts Grand Am has shown itself to be an improvement over its predecessor, and I already have ideas on how we can make it even better in the off-season. But for now, our focus is on the balance of the year. The way we see it, we have eight races left to win, starting with this weekend in Brainerd, where a trip to the winner's circle would be a great location for a Johnson family reunion."
Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals:
WJ is at home in Minnesota: This will be Warren's 22nd NHRA Pro Stock national event appearance at Brainerd International Raceway, where he has four wins in five final round appearances, with a 32-13 elimination round record for a winning percentage of .711.
Warren's Qualifying Stats At BIR: In his 21 previous races in Brainerd, WJ has four No. 1 qualifying efforts. Warren's average starting spot in Minnesota is 3.9, having qualified outside the top half of the field only twice.
One year ago: WJ qualified seventh with an elapsed time of 6.901 seconds and a top speed of 200.29 mph, and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Winning Streak: Warren Johnson has now won at least two races in 18 of the past 22 years. In addition, his current streak of winning at least one race a year for 22 consecutive years is the longest in NHRA history.
POWERade Points standings: After the fifteenth of 23 events, WJ stands fourth in the 2003 POWERade points standings with 978 points, 359 behind leader Greg Anderson, and only four points behind third place Jeg Coughlin Jr.
No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 91 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him second on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came last month at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, CO.
Career best elapsed time: 6.715 seconds, Englishtown 2003
Career best top speed: 205.69 mph, Englishtown 2003