Commerce: Warren Johnson pre-race notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Atlanta Dragway Edition 1. WJ's First NHRA Atlanta Dragway Race -- 1981 Race Car: 1981 Oldsmobile Starfire Performance: WJ Qualified Seventh, 8.583 seconds, 157.34 mph Lost to Bob ...

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Atlanta Dragway Edition

1. WJ's First NHRA Atlanta Dragway Race -- 1981

Race Car: 1981 Oldsmobile Starfire

Performance:  WJ Qualified Seventh, 8.583 seconds, 157.34 mph

Lost to Bob Glidden

In Warren's Words:

"The only reason I attended that race was because it was right in our back yard. At the time, I was concentrating more on my IHRA program, coming off consecutive championships. However, I had already developed a small-block Olds program, so I decided to go out there and see how it fared. Obviously, it wasn't that far off.

"That Starfire was a pretty good little car. In fact, that was the car I used to make the first 180-mph Pro Stock run in NHRA history. I ran the heck out of it for a number of years."

Notes of the time:

* The 1981 race was the first year of the NHRA's Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

* This was WJ's first race with his new Olds Starfire, which featured a small-block 340- cubic inch V-8.

* This was Warren's first NHRA race of the season, and only the 34th of his NHRA Pro Stock career, as at the time he was also competing in the IHRA, where he won the Pro Stock championship in 1979 & 1980.

* The field for final eliminations was only eight cars, with 17 making a qualifying attempt, and featured legendary names such as Lee Shepherd, Bob Glidden and "Dyno" Don Nicholson, as well as current Mike Edwards engine builder Frank Iaconio.

* Shepherd was the No. 1 qualifier with an 8.403-second pass in his '81 Camaro, one of four Camaros in the starting line-up. In addition, there was WJ's Starfire, Glidden's Ford Fairmont, Nicholson's Mustang and fellow Minnesotan John Hagen's Plymouth Arrow, which qualified on the "bump" with an 8.602-second e.t.

* Professional winners that day included Lee Shepherd, who defeated Iaconio in Pro Stock, Tripp Shumake, who edged Kenny Bernstein in the Funny Car final, and Shirley Muldowney over Terry Capp in Top Fuel.

2. WJ's First NHRA Atlanta Dragway Win -- 1986

Race Car: 1986 GM Goodwrench Performance Parts Oldsmobile Firenza

Performance: WJ Qualified No. 1, 7.533 seconds, 184.80 mph
Defeated Don Beverly, Don Coonce, Bruce Allen and Bob Glidden

In Warren's Words:

"Much like this year, there were a lot of competitive racers in Pro Stock back then, so to win was a real accomplishment. At the same time, it was a win at our home track, and our first with GM Performance Parts, both of which made it that much sweeter.

"Of course, I had a single in the final, because Bob (Glidden) had decided to do barrel rolls and cartwheels over the top of the guardrails in the semis reminiscent of Allen Johnson's deal in Gainesville a few years ago. That's when we had the steel guardrails, so he was very lucky to get out unhurt.

"We started videotaping our runs in 1986, because we wanted to verify what the computer was telling us. We had also installed the first Pro Stock computer data acquisition system in 1986, and there was a difference of opinion over what the computer was telling us versus what I felt versus what people were seeing on the outside.

"This occasionally produced three different opinions, and the videotape allowed us to come to some sort of conclusion. It was just a means to verify what was going on out on the racetrack."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 13th win of Warren's career, which came in his 19th final round appearance (and first in Atlanta).

* WJ's No. 1 qualifying effort was the 11th of his career, and third straight at Atlanta Dragway.

* Warren's 7.533-second, 184.80 mph pass in qualifying earned him low elapsed time and top speed of the race in Pro Stock.

* Although the record books show WJ defeating Glidden, he actually had a single run in the final, as Bob had crashed and heavily damaged his Thunderbird after defeating Butch Leal in the semi-finals, preventing him from returning for the championship round.

* This was the first year that General Motors Service and Parts Operations (GM SPO) began their sponsorship of WJ, who carried the GM Goodwrench Performance Parts colors and logos on his Firenza, and this was their first win together.

* WJ was one of the first to install a computer in his race transporter, which he did in 1986, allowing him to enter the data following each run, along with current weather and track conditions. In addition, his wife Arlene started taping every run with a video camera, a practice that is common among all teams today.

* The only other current Pro Stock racer to compete in this race was Bruce Allen, who qualified third and lost to WJ in the semis. Mark Pawuk had attempted to qualify, but did not make the 16-car field.

* The Pro Stock field was comprised of Oldsmobile Firenzas and a Calais, Chevrolet Camaros, Pontiac Firebirds and Ford Thunderbirds.

* Pro Stock was the only professional category to be completed on Sunday, as rain delayed the final rounds in both Funny Car and Top Fuel until Monday. When racing resumed, former NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini defeated veteran Gene Snow for the Top Fuel crown, and current Ron Capps crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch in Funny Car, who defeated Jim Head in the final.

* A notable entry in the Funny Car field was John Force behind the wheel of his Castrol GTX Chevy Cavalier Funny Car.

3. WJ's Most Recent Atlanta Dragway Win -- 2003

Race Car: 2003 GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am

Performance: WJ Qualified Sixth, 6.849 seconds, 201.85 mph
Defeated Terry Adams, Kurt Johnson, Jeg Coughlin and Greg Anderson

In Warren's Words:

"That was a good day at the office. It was one of those rare days where everything worked in our favor. The car, the crew and the driver all did their jobs, and we ended up winning the race, capping it with that holeshot in the final.

"Greg had been quite outspoken in the local papers in the week before the race, telling anyone who would listen how he was coming to our home track to beat us. Naturally, those remarks only served to make us elevate our game even further. Although we didn't hear it until after the race, he even repeated this statement on ESPN after the semis. All in all, it just made for a very good win."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 90th win of WJ's career, and fifth at Atlanta Dragway.

* This was the second of what would be four wins for Warren in 2003.

* After being the beneficiary of a Terry Adams red-light in the first round, Warren used a combination of excellent driving and a fast race car to advance to the 140th final round of his career. In the second round, WJ used a starting-line advantage to score the hole-shot win over his son Kurt, while his 6.867-second pass in the semi-finals proved more than enough to defeat a slowing Jeg Coughlin.

* In three of the four elimination rounds, Warren had reaction times in the .01 zone, culminating with his .018 in the final, which allowed him to trailer Greg Anderson with a 6.853-second, 201.46 mph pass, despite Anderson's quicker, but losing 6.839 sec., 202.94 mph run.

* Anderson was the No. 1 qualifier with a 6.821-second pass, while Mark Whisnant anchored the field with a 6.872-second pass. Among the notable DNQs were Ron Krisher, Troy Coughlin and Larry Morgan.

* The Pro Stock category now included Pontiac Grand Ams, Chevrolet Cavaliers, Dodge Neons and Stratus, and a Ford Escort ZX2.

* Other professional winners included Larry Dixon in Top Fuel, who defeated Darrell Russell in the final, and Tony Pedregon, who edged Johnny Gray for the Funny Car crown.

4. WJ's Atlanta Dragway in a Nutshell --

"The track surface at Atlanta Dragway which was reworked about three years ago, is pretty good. It's smooth enough and not that old that if it's properly prepared, which I expect it will be, it should be pretty good to race on. Given the altitude and proper atmospheric conditions, you could see some fast times.

"We've been fortunate to do well there over the years, but, contrary to public opinion, I don't feel we have an advantage in Atlanta, even with the amount of testing we have done there. Over the last three years or so, the track really hasn't changed. It's been there over thirty years and doesn't develop any new bumps like other tracks we run on because it's built on such stable soil.

"With the concrete having been installed about three years ago, and the new asphalt a year later, there really shouldn't be any surprises. Once you get a decent amount of notes on it, which everybody has, you're in good shape. Basically, everybody's in the same boat.

"Over the years it's been a pretty decent facility, but it's in dire need of some maintenance. For example, there could be better and more extensive paving in the pits. We seem to have a pretty good record on the better racetracks that we run on, so our success at Atlanta follows suit."

Did You Know?

* WJ has qualified in the top half of the field in Atlanta in every start except last year, when he started from the ninth position. In 19 of the previous 23 starts before then, "The Professor" was never lower than third.

* Warren also won at Atlanta Dragway in IHRA competition, defeating Roy Hill in the final of the 1979 Winston Nationals.

-j2r-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Shirley Muldowney , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Larry Morgan , Bob Glidden , Bruce Allen , Terry Adams , Allen Johnson , Johnny Gray , Mark Whisnant , Dan Pastorini , Mike Edwards