THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol, Tenn., April 27-29, 2001 JOHNSON STEPS THROUGH TIME WARP AT THUNDER VALLEY Students of the history of NHRA Pro...
THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol, Tenn., April 27-29, 2001
JOHNSON STEPS THROUGH TIME WARP AT THUNDER VALLEY
Students of the history of NHRA Pro Stock have discovered a mysterious gap in the racing career of Warren Johnson. Although the Professor has been a fixture in Pro Stock for more than a quarter of a century, he competed in only two NHRA national events in 1979 and 1980.
So where was W.J. during these "lost years"? Intensive research has unearthed the answer: He was honing his racing skills on the IHRA "Mountain Motor" circuit at tracks like Bristol Dragway, the site of the upcoming NHRA Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals on April 27-29.
Although NHRA hasn't hosted a national event in Bristol, Tenn., since 1967, Johnson won a handful of International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) titles at the Tennessee track, including three straight IHRA Spring Nationals victories in 1979-1981. Warren's triumph over Lee Edwards in the final round of the 1979 IHRA Spring Nationals was the first major win of his career. Johnson's success in Thunder Valley propelled him to back-to-back IHRA Pro Stock championships in 1979-80 - titles that predate his first NHRA championship by a dozen years.
"When you compare the Bristol track that I raced on in the late '70s with the facility that exists today, the only thing that is the same is the address on the mailbox," Johnson laughed.
There have been big changes in Johnson's race cars as well. Twenty years ago, he campaigned an unsponsored Camaro powered by a big-block V8 of prodigious displacement. Today he drives a sleek GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac that is limited to a 500-cubic-inch engine by the NHRA rules.
"I still have one of those 560-cubic-inch IHRA engines stored under a workbench in the shop," Johnson recalled. "It would probably run 6.60s in my Grand Am, but I don't think it would withstand the scrutiny of the tech inspectors!"
The Professor's notes on Bristol can be condensed to two words: altitude and trees. "Typically Bristol is hotter than you would expect, given its elevation and location," Warren observed. "We've raced there many times with the temperature in the 90s and 100s. The absolute performance numbers aren't very fast, but considering the atmospheric conditions we usually have to contend with, Bristol is a very respectable race track. With its elevated grandstands carved out of the side of the mountain, there isn't a bad seat in the house."
Johnson's brief sabbatical from NHRA Pro Stock competition played a crucial role in his eventual success. "The years I spent match racing and running my IHRA program prepared me for what it takes to be competitive at the national event level," he explained. "You have to understand how to win; winning doesn't happen by accident. The Mountain Motor circuit was a great place to learn how to race because there wasn't a lot of media exposure and pressure to perform. The only pressure I felt came from within."
Warren scored his last IHRA victory at Bristol Dragway in 1989 when he beat Darrell Alderman in the final round. Now W.J. will apply the lessons he learned decades ago in Thunder Valley when NHRA championship drag racing returns to Tennessee.