WARREN JOHNSON GRABS MOMENTUM HEADING BACK TO BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. (August 13, 1998)--As the NHRA tour heads east for three very important races at Brainerd, Indianapolis and Reading, three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson has started to...
WARREN JOHNSON GRABS MOMENTUM HEADING BACK TO BRAINERD
BRAINERD, Minn. (August 13, 1998)--As the NHRA tour heads east for three very important races at Brainerd, Indianapolis and Reading, three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson has started to pick up momentum at a time in the season when it is absolutely essential if he is to secure his fourth NHRA Pro Stock title.
Johnsons GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird has been the car to beat all year, picking up wins at Phoenix, Gainesville, Houston, Richmond, Sonoma, and most recently at Seattle on August 2. In a sport where winning rounds is a key ingredient to any legitimate championship bid, the "Professor" of Pro Stock has qualified at every race this season, one of only two drivers to do so, and advanced to no less than the semi-finals at nine of the first 14 races on the schedule.
"When you get on a roll and get in that zone, it looks really simple, like everything else," said Johnson. "When its going right, it always looks simple. Its like hitting a home run, putting a piece of wood on the ball. It may look easy, but it isnt."
Over the course of a career that spans four decades, the 55-year-old Johnson has won 69 national events while racing in 110 final rounds. In addition to his three Winston championships, Johnson has finished second eight times. He is second on the NHRAs list for all time wins by a professional driver.
"Last year, and the year before in 1996, we looked at where our program was going and where the other teams seemed to be getting to as far as their performance level," said Johnson. "We felt that we would have to sacrifice a year to rebuild our team, learn different methods of getting these cars down the race track, build different cars and run them differently. Last year, we were more in an information-evaluation gathering mode, as far as race cars were concerned. Now, this year weve been able to apply what we learned last year. I think it shows in our performance level."
Johnsons return to the North Star state will be a homecoming. It was in Virginia, Minn., on a farm in the Mesabi Iron Range that he grew up, developing a passion for cars and racing that has made him one of the most recognized and respected individuals in the history of the sport. At the Visionaire Nationals, he has experienced tremendous success winning in 1984, 1993, and 1995-96. Without a doubt, Warren Johnson knows the way down the Brainerd quarter-mile better than anybody else in the class.
Last season at the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., Johnson became the first NHRA Pro Stock driver to break the 200 mph barrier when he covered the quarter-mile at a speed of 200.13 mph. Earlier this year at the Gator-nationals in Gainesville, Fla., Johnson reset the national speed record at 201.20 mph and the elapsed time record at 6.873 seconds. In addition to his performance pinnacles, Johnson has registered the top-speed at every national event this season.
"Weve always approached racing to getting there first and not really caring how fast were going when we get there," explains Johnson. "If you can maintain a relatively high acceleration rate over the full course, instead of just the first eighth mile, then yes, youll get a better elapsed-time along with the speed.
"If some of the other cars could figure out how to get that last four hundred feet of the race track where the car kept accelerating, they would be running the same ETs and speeds that were running. Since its an acceleration game, weve got 1320 feet to acceleratelets accelerate for the full course instead of a thousand feet."
The 17th Annual Visionaire North Star Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on August 20-23, is the 15th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Same day television coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 23, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.
"To have our GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird at the front of the pack is gratifying to a certain extent, but really that is where we expect to be," said Johnson. "All the people we have at the shop, and everybody involved in our program have the same focus of trying to be the best we can possibly be at any given race.
"Sure, youre going to have some races where youre not absolutely sterling. But thats a combination of a few glitches here and there, or lack of parts in some cases, and some teams being able to hit on all eight cylinders. Its just another example of how the competition level right now in Pro Stock is absolutely ferocious."