COMMERCE, Ga., April 15, 2009 -- This week's 29th annual Summit Racing NHRA Southern Nationals will in essence be a "home game" for Kurt Johnson and his ACDelco teammates, and as they prepare for the first round of qualifying on Friday at Atlanta...
COMMERCE, Ga., April 15, 2009 -- This week's 29th annual Summit Racing NHRA Southern Nationals will in essence be a "home game" for Kurt Johnson and his ACDelco teammates, and as they prepare for the first round of qualifying on Friday at Atlanta Dragway, they do so knowing there will be no long lines at the airport, no delayed flights, no rental-car shuttles, and no extended hotel stays. For this event, the longest trip the ACDelco crew will make is the short 30-minute drive east up I-85 from their race shop in Sugar Hill to a race venue they know very well.
"Racing so close to home makes it lot easier on everyone as far as traveling," Johnson said. "We don't have to go to the airport, we don't have to go to hotel rooms -- a lot of the stuff that's been difficult lately. This is the one time during the season when we can get up in the morning, leave the house and go to the track.
"There may be a few distractions, but once you shut the door on the racecar, you're 100-percent focused. You can have some friends and family running around and having a good time, but that's what being at the races is all about."
Atlanta Dragway is the de facto home track for Johnson, who has been a resident of Northeast Georgia since 1981. He's been coming to this venue for more than 30 years either as a competitor at the Southern Nationals, testing, or as a crew member on his dad Warren's Pro Stock car.
"We've been coming here since 1979 when we first had fiberglass doors on race cars and we shed the outer skin on our '76 Camaro at 180 mph," recalled Johnson. "We ripped the laminate off right at the finish line."
Johnson knows this racetrack as well as any on the circuit, and he's made hundreds of laps down the strip -- an accumulative distance that could probably best be measured in a multitude of miles. But he doesn't necessarily feel the extra time on the track gives him any sort of performance advantage.
"The texture of the track is always changing a little bit, so from a performance standpoint, there's not really an advantage to playing at your home field, so to speak, but the fact that the shop is just down the road, that certainly helps."
Johnson's lone win at Atlanta Dragway came in 1996 when he defeated Jim Yates in the final round. He was runner-up in 1993 to his dad, and in 1997 he was runner-up to Jim Yates.
Following the ACDelco Gatornationals in March, Johnson spent a pair of days testing his Pro Stock Chevrolet at Atlanta Dragway and was pleased with the results.
"We tested there a couple of weeks ago and hopefully we'll have a decent setup that will get us close right off the bat," Johnson said. "We felt we ran pretty good here in March, but this week it's going to be a completely different scenario with different compounds of rubber on the race track. Hopefully we can take what we learned and adapt."
As Johnson heads into the sixth race of the season, he is eighth in the NHRA Full Throttle points standings and has one final-round appearance on his 2009 scorecard that was recorded in February at Phoenix. A strong showing this weekend at Atlanta Dragway could move the ACDelco Chevrolet driver back into the top five of the Pro Stock standings.
"This would be a nice race for us to get back into the thick of things," Johnson said. "We need to go some rounds. Everybody's trying to do the same thing. Things haven't been going well for us the last two races, but I feel a big turnaround coming on."
"We're going home. We've tested at Atlanta, and run well there this year. I honestly feel like it's coming together."