Dallas: Warren Johnson Q & A

DALLAS (October 12, 2000) - The NHRA returns to action next week at the Texas Motorplex for the 15th annual O'Reilly Nationals. Five-time Winston Pro Stock Champion (1992-93, 1995, 1998-99) Warren Johnson will be looking to duplicate the success...

DALLAS (October 12, 2000) - The NHRA returns to action next week at the Texas Motorplex for the 15th annual O'Reilly Nationals. Five-time Winston Pro Stock Champion (1992-93, 1995, 1998-99) Warren Johnson will be looking to duplicate the success he's experienced here in the past. At last year's event Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird set both ends of the national record with an elapsed time of 6.822 seconds and a top speed of 202.36 mph. The e.t. record stood until the series' last race in Memphis when Scott Geoffrion reset it with a run of 6.809 seconds.

Johnson's achievements at the Texas Motorplex are well-documented and factoring in results from the four previous spring races, he has won a national event here six times. At the last seven eliminators at the Texas Motorplex, Johnson has won four, and advanced to the final round six times including the Castrol Nationals last May when he advanced to the title heat before losing to V. Gaines.

In 2000 "The Professor" picked up his only win of the season at Gainesville. Last month at the Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa., Johnson advanced to his fifth final round of the year before losing to Kurt Johnson in a classic father-and-son shootout. Johnson's objective for the remainder of 2000, like always, is to win. But at the same time he has one eye focussed on 2001 when he hopes to win a sixth Winston Pro Stock championship.

The 15th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec on October 19 -22 is the 21st race on the 24-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Qualifying highlights can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, October 22, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Final-round coverage can be seen on October 22 starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

What "grade" would you give yourself on your performance this year?

"Obviously, we've only had one success and that was winning Gainesville. The rest of it, based on our performance, I'd say it's about a D-. We got behind the eight ball early on with the parts supply program. It just didn't work out right, and we never got back to the power level that we were acclimated to until late June, and then we decided to run halfway decent. Up until then, the first half of the year we struggled just to qualify, let alone race halfway decent. We're getting back up to speed now. It's just one of those things that everybody goes through. Not everyone can win the championship or there would be no sense in racing. One person's going to win it and a plethora of people are going to lose it. All we have to do is get back on course for next year - that's what we're doing right now."

With your previous success at the Texas Motorplex do you feel that you have an advantage racing there?

"I don't know if we have an advantage going into that race, we've just been relatively successful there. For what reason, I don't know. It's like at Gainesville, we've won eight races there. It's just one of those racetracks that has worked in our favor as far as our power level and the way we run the cars. That's not to say that it's going to work that way every time, but we've just been relatively successful there. You take those successes when they're there and if they're not there, you analyze why you weren't successful and try and rectify those problems."

If the conditions are right in Dallas, do you think another national record could be set?

"Oh yeah. According to our calculations, if we'd gotten down the racetrack in Memphis successfully, based on the atmospheric conditions, in reality we all should've been around a 6.74 to 6.76. It's just that none of us made very good runs. You never test in those kinds of conditions because those conditions only crop up every 10 years. So you don't have the proper setup to negotiate the track efficiently. If you look at the qualifying in that race, the people that qualify in the bottom half of the field or don't make the field were the people that were up in the top half of the field. It wasn't a power problem, it was just that we had too much power for the existing setups on the cars."

Is the national record something you'll be shooting for in Dallas?

"Not necessarily. It would be nice to get the 20 points. That would help us get into third place in the point standings. If we can get the record it would definitely help us. I think we're two rounds out of third place now."

Have you ever taken the time to look back on your career and what you've accomplished?

"No. I look at it as you are only as successful as your last race. For whatever has transpired in the past, that's just the way it is. If we've been rated as being successful then so be it. But I don't dwell on stuff like that at all."

How is the NASCAR team coming along?

"We're working on it. It's one of those things that I'm not going to jump into neck deep. I'm going to make sure we're doing everything correctly. We're going to start testing some this year. I'm real excited about it. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. The right opportunity came along for me and it's something I look forward to. It's not something that is going to take away from my drag racing program in any stretch of the imagination. It's going to be something that I'm going to run in conjunction with my drag racing program for at least the next couple of years, and then we'll see which way we go after that."

If you weren't racing right now, what do you think you would be doing?

"That's a loaded question! I would probably be doing some development work of some kind. Whether it is racecars, airplanes or whatever but it would be something mechanical."

Have you ever thought of retirement?

"No! Retirement and vacation are two words that I don't even understand what they mean. The NASCAR thing is something I've looked at for basically 10 years because if the drag racing program doesn't continue to grow, and obviously that's in the hands of NHRA, I got to look at some other forms of income. Obviously the NASCAR thing is financially stable now, and if the drag racing starts to grow again, it's been kind of dormant for about five years now, then certainly I'll stay with it and keep the driver operation up and running in conjunction with the NASCAR program. So there are no plans of me retiring anytime soon."

Do you see the continued growth of drag racing?

"Well I certainly hope it does continue. Like I said before, it's in the hands of the sanctioning body as to what direction it's going to go and as to how successful it's going to be as far as the business. That's part of the reason I looked at this NASCAR thing, the fact that if drag racing doesn't take off from where it is right now, obviously sponsorships are going to dwindle because of lack of exposure. Fan participation is another biggie. If the spectators aren't there then there's no reason for sponsors to be there, and if the sponsors aren't there then there's no racing. I have to look at this as a business first and foremost."

Can you see drag racing becoming as successful as NASCAR?

"I'm kind of disappointed that it isn't considerably bigger than NASCAR is right now. If you look at the chronological events starting in 1970 when NASCAR and NHRA were the same, as far as the number of participants and the fans, racetracks and everything else involved, NASCAR took off and NHRA was relatively dormant. Now, (Tom) Compton has come in with more of a fresher approach, and he's got a lot of work to do, but I certainly hope he's successful because I've got a lot invested in this sport."

What are some things you think the NHRA needs to do?

"They have to understand where they are in the scheme of things in motorsports and what the fans want. The fans are customers, and they need to find out what they want, not what NHRA wants the fans to see. The fans are the people that need to be satisfied. The most important person out there is the customer and that's the spectator. The second most important person out there is the sponsor because he brings the show to town. NHRA and the racers are third and fourth. We're at the bottom of the food chain. The spectator is the most important person out there."

What are you doing to prepare for next season?

"You learn from your failures. We learned not to get ourselves in this kind of predicament again like we did at the beginning of this year, along with some contributing factors that we are eliminating right now. So when the Winternationals roll around we'll be out there ready to go."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Scott Geoffrion