Columbus: Warren Johnson pre-race notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet National Trail Raceway Edition 1. WJ's First Columbus Race - 1975 Race Car: 1975 Chevrolet Camaro Performance: WJ Qualified Thirteenth, 9.139 seconds Defeated Scott Shafiroff and Wayne Gapp ...

WJ's Wrap Sheet
National Trail Raceway Edition

1. WJ's First Columbus Race - 1975

Race Car: 1975 Chevrolet Camaro

Performance:  WJ Qualified Thirteenth, 9.139 seconds

Defeated Scott Shafiroff and Wayne Gapp
Lost to Bill Jenkins

In Warren's Words:

"It was an interesting time for Pro Stock, simply because the fields were so varied. The regulations were based on pounds per cubic inch, and the NHRA had to tear their hair out trying to keep the playing field as level as possible. They would make adjustments to the weight factors almost on a weekly basis.

"We were running a big-block Camaro, which wasn't the favorite combination of the time, but it was all I had in my arsenal, so I had to make it work as best as I could. Most people were using small blocks, so I was one of the rare ones with the big block, but we had it running well that weekend."

Notes of the time:

* This was Warren's first NHRA national event of the 1975 season, and second race in his NHRA Pro Stock career.

* This marked the 11th edition of the annual NHRA race at National Trail Raceway, which was at the time was known as the Springnationals.

* Warren scored the first two elimination round wins of his career at this race, defeating Scott Shafiroff and Wayne Gapp in the opening two rounds.

* WJ's wins came in impressive fashion, as both came on holeshots. In the first round, WJ's 9.18-second pass bested No. 5 qualifier Shafiroff's 9.11, 147.29 mph run, while his 9.13-second, 149.50 mph run in the second round trailered No. 1 qualifier Wayne Gapp, despite Gapp's quicker 9.10-second effort.

* Gapp was the No. 1 qualifier with an 8.94-second time, while Roy Hill anchored the field with a 9.15-second run

* WJ's Camaro featured a big-block "rat" motor, which was a 427 cubic inch engine destroked to 390 c.i.

* Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, who edged WJ in the semis, went on to win the race, defeating Roy Hill in the final. It was the 11th win of Jenkins' Pro Stock career, which at the time was the most ever by a single driver in the still nascent category.

* The varied Pro Stock field consisted of Chevrolet Vegas and Camaros, Ford Mustangs, Mavericks and Mustang IIs, Dodge Darts, a Plymouth Duster and an AMC Hornet.

* This was the first NHRA event with sponsorship from Winston, marking the beginning of a 27-year relationship between the sanctioning body and the title sponsor.

* Other winners that day included Marvin Graham over Shirley Muldowney in the Top Fuel final, marking the first appearance of a woman in an NHRA professional final round, and current team owner Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, who drove his U.S. Army Chevy Monza to the win over Raymond Beadle in the Blue Max Mustang II in the Funny Car final.

2. WJ's First Columbus Final - 1976

Race Car: 1975 Chevrolet Camaro

Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 8.84 seconds, 155.17 mph
Defeated Wayne Gapp, Larry Lombardo and Bob Glidden
Lost to Wally Booth

In Warren's Words:

"I was still racing my Camaro, which I had nicknamed 'The Incredible Hulk'. Funnily enough, I don't remember anything specific about our performance that weekend. However, any time you can reach the final round, it's a good weekend, so I guess we weren't doing too bad."

Notes of the time:

* This was the second career final round appearance for WJ in nine career starts, and came on the heels of his first championship round showing at the previous race the 1975 Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL.

* Although WJ ran his quickest elapsed time of the weekend in the final at 8.81 seconds, it was not enough to hold off Booth, who posted low elapsed time of the event in the final at 8.74 seconds.

* Warren did set Top Speed of the Event in the final with his 156.25 mph top speed.

* Booth was the No. 1 qualifier at 8.82 seconds, with Rich Simone rounding out the sixteen-car field with his 9.25-second clocking.

* Once again, the Pro Stock field consisted of a mixture of cars, with Chevrolet Camaros, Monzas and Vegas, Ford Mustangs, Pintos and Mustang IIs, a Plymouth Duster, a Dodge Colt and Booth's AMC Hornet.

* Other winners included Shirley Muldowney in Top Fuel, who defeated Bob Edwards in the final and Don Prudhomme over Tom McEwen in the Funny Car final, in one of the classic "Snake vs. Mongoose" confrontations.

3. WJ's First NHRA Columbus Win -- 1985

Race Car: 1985 Olds Calais

Performance: WJ Qualified Third, 7.644 seconds, 181.52 mph
Defeated Sam Giannino, Gordie Rivera, Butch Leal and Bruce Allen

In Warren's Words:

"I raced some very good drivers that weekend, but compared to the all-star line-up I had faced in my first Columbus final, I had a somewhat easier road to hoe. The Calais I raced that year was my first small car, following the Cutlasses, the "Flying Boxcars, which were built with a miter saw and a square.

"The Calais was smaller, albeit not that aerodynamic because of the notchback rear window. However, it presented a smaller frontal area, which made it a competitive package. I came up with the mini shifter levers because the standard size wouldn't work with the new Funny Car roll cages we were using. We also used the pneumatic push button system because it allowed me to do something to the Lenco transmissions that the competition didn't pick up on for several years."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 12th NHRA national event win of WJ's career (in 17 final round appearances), third of 1985, and came in his 72nd career start.

* Ironically, Warren won in the first two rounds despite fighting a miss in his engine, which forced him to change batteries, fuel regulators and ignition as part of his between-rounds maintenance.

* WJ's Calais was equipped with a new set of Hurst "mini-lever" shifter levers, replacing the air-shifter buttons normally seen on cars of the time, as the introduction of the Funny Car-style roll cages to the Pro Stock category (another WJ innovation) prevented them from using the normal sized levers.

* WJ defeated then-rookie Bruce Allen in the final, who was in one of his early Pro Stock races with the Reher-Morrison team, replacing the legendary Lee Shepherd, who was unfortunately killed in a testing accident earlier in the season.

* Bob Glidden was the No. 1 qualifier with a 7.568-second elapsed time, with Jerry Eckman capturing the sixteenth and final qualifying position with a 7.790-second clocking.

* Two other current Pro Stock competitors who attempted to make the field were Rickie Smith and Mark Pawuk.

* The Pro Stock field was made up of Old Calais, Pontiac Trans Ams and Firebirds, Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Thunderbirds.

* Winners in other categories that weekend included Bill Mullins, who defeated Gary Beck in the Top Fuel final, and Kenny Bernstein, who edged current Texas Motorplex owner Billy Meyer in the Funny Car final.

4. WJ's Most Recent Columbus Win -- 2001

Race Car: 2001 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am

Performance: WJ Qualified Fourth, 6.959 seconds, 199.52 mph
Defeated Kurt Johnson, Brad Jeter, Jeg Coughlin and Mark Osborne

In Warren's Words:

"That '01 race was a pretty good one. It was the first year of the Grand Am, and I believe I was still racing the Don Ness-built car in Columbus. Later on in the year, I switched to the Haas car when we got to the really hot tracks, which proved to be an advantage. Overall, the selection of vehicles played a major role in our winning the championship that year."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 84th win of WJ's career, as he closed in on Bob Glidden's record of 85 career wins.

* This was the third of six national event wins for WJ in 2001 en route to his sixth NHRA Pro Stock championship.

* Warren set both the low elapsed time of the event in the first round with his 6.907-second pass.

* WJ also captured top speed of the meet with his 199.52 mph run in qualifying.

* George Marnell was the No. 1 qualifier with a 6.935-second elapsed time, while Mike Edwards anchored the field with a 6.983-second run.

* Ironically, WJ's first round opponent on this Father's Day race was his son, Kurt.

* The field consisted of Pontiac Grand Ams and Firebirds, Chevrolet Cavaliers and Camaros, Oldsmobile Cutlasses and Dodge R/T's.

* Other winners included John Force in Funny Car, who edged Del Worsham in the final, Larry Dixon over rookie Darrell Russell in the Top Fuel final, Angelle Savoie in Pro Stock Bike and Bob Panella in Pro Stock Truck.

3. WJ's National Trail Raceway in a Nutshell --

"The old race date prior to this year was not a good choice weather-wise, as it was always hot and usually rainy. Historically, it has also not been the most well-groomed facility on the circuit. However, they have improved the facility a bit recently to make it somewhat acceptable for a national event. For example, they have paved the pit area so that we no longer have to bring our lawn mowers to clear our spot.

"They also resurfaced the pit area a few years ago, so it is a lot smoother. However, you have to bear in mind that it has to endure the ravages of winter weather, so we never really know what we're going to have until we get there."


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Bob Glidden , Don Prudhomme , Bruce Allen , George Marnell , Rickie Smith , Gordie Rivera , Mike Edwards