Columbus: Warren Johnson heads for Ohio, st. Louis

NEXT RACES: Pontiac Excitement Nationals Presented by Summit Racing, June 15-18, Columbus, Ohio TV: ESPN2, June 18, 5-7 p.m. (ET) Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 22-24, Madison, Ill. TV: ESPN2, June 25, 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET) While scientists...

Pontiac Excitement Nationals Presented by Summit Racing, June 15-18,
Columbus, Ohio
TV: ESPN2, June 18, 5-7 p.m. (ET)

Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 22-24, Madison, Ill.
TV: ESPN2, June 25, 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET)

While scientists are worried about global warming, Warren Johnson is more concerned about global cooling. Unseasonably cold and damp weather in Chicago found the defending Pro Stock champion out in the cold with first-round losses in the Holley Dominator Duel and the Prestone Route 66 Nationals. One week earlier, Johnson had scored a runner-up finish in Dallas in the heat and humidity of a typical Texas summer. Evidently Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac is a heat-seeking missile.

"I'm going to start praying to the weather gods for a heat wave because I believe we'll do well when it's hot," Johnson joked. "If it's 50 degrees when we arrive in St. Louis, I'll know something is definitely wrong with the ozone layer.

"We're all dealing with the same conditions, and it appears that our competitors have a better combination for a cool track than we do," Johnson conceded. "We've had significantly cooler weather this year at national events than we've had in the recent past, and that has hampered our race day performance."

W.J.'s global cooling theory will be put to the test at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, on June 16-18. National Trail Raceway is famous for its challenging Midwestern climate. "Columbus is one of those tracks that no one really has a handle on," Johnson explained. "Given the weather that we typically encounter in Ohio, the Pro Stock cars should run a lot faster than they do. National Trail Raceway is an anomaly - we're consistently a tenth of a second slower than what the computer predicts that we should run. I'm confident that we can do well there if we get the kind of heat that will help our combination to thrive." Johnson and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac dominated last year's Pontiac Excitement Nationals. W.J. qualified No. 1, set the track elapsed time and speed records, made the first 6-second Pro Stock run ever recorded at the venerable Ohio facility, and defeated hometown hero Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final round. "We didn't leave too many scraps on the table," said Johnson with a grin. As Johnson celebrates his Silver Anniversary Season in Pro Stock, he can look back at 24 previous races at National Trail Raceway (he missed the 1980 edition). W.J. achieved two career milestones on the Columbus quarter-mile: He recorded the first of his 177 top speeds there in 1976 (156.25 mph) and the first of his 120 No. 1 qualifying positions in 1978 (8.63 seconds).

The Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis stands out as the only points-paying night race on the NHRA national event tour. While adverse weather has occasionally delayed final eliminations until after dark at other events, teams can plan on racing on Saturday night in St. Louis.

With the early qualifying sessions taking place in late afternoon, Johnson and his GM Goodwrench team will have to prepare for two different tracks. "The conditions we qualify under may be altogether different than the conditions we'll be racing under," W.J. observed. "Even if the heat is on in St. Louis, the track surface won't be in direct sunlight during eliminations. I expect a close, competitive race because the track should not be a significant factor."

Although there are still 14 national events remaining on the NHRA schedule - including the postponed Spring SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J. - Warren is already thinking about next season.

"We're finally getting back on course after the structural changes we made to our cars over the winter," Warren reported. "Kurt's car is coming around quite well, and its performance is definitely giving us a direction to take with next year's cars.

"We're doing a lot of R&D this year because we will have some significant changes in store next season," Johnson continued. "The playing field will be much more level. I am hoping that we'll see more vehicles and manufacturers represented in Pro Stock. More brand rivalries would certainly increase fan interest."

Warren's record in NHRA Pro Stock competition is well documented, but his years on the rival IHRA circuit are shrouded in mystery. In addition to his five NHRA championships, W.J. also won back-to-back IHRA titles in 1979 and 1980. From 1978 through 1989, he won 13 IHRA events in 24 final-round appearances.

"It was a simple matter of economics," Johnson recalled. "That was the era of weight breaks in NHRA Pro Stock, and my rivals were constantly complaining about the supposed advantage of my big-block Chevrolet. Every time I ran the top speed at an NHRA race, the rules changed and I had to add weight.

"My IHRA program prepared me for what it takes to be competitive at national event level," Warren explained. "I really learned how to race in those years. Under the IHRA 'Mountain Motor' rules, I was racing against 788-cubic-inch Fords with my little 552-cubic-inch Chevy. My engine was more efficient, and the performance of the cars was about equal.

"There wasn't much pressure to perform because media coverage and sponsor involvement was almost nonexistent. The only pressure on me came from within." LAST RACES: Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals, May 21, Englishtown, N.J. Qualified: No. 5. at 6.849/201.37 mph Finished: Event postponed to September 9 due to rain.

Castrol Nationals, May 28, Dallas Qualified: No. 2 at 7.001/197.10 mph Finished: Runner-up to V. Gaines

Prestone Route 66 Nationals, June 4, Chicago Qualified: No. 12 at 6.898/199.91 mph Finished: Lost to Jeg Coughlin Jr. in first round.

POINTS RACE: (After 9 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6 861 2. Warren Johnson 1 595 3. (tie) Ron Krisher 1 548 Troy Coughlin 0 548 5. Jim Yates 0 490 6. Kurt Johnson 0 473

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher