Denver Warren Johnson preview

* WARREN'S WORDS "When you go to Denver and see the birds walking, you know the air is thin. The mile-high altitude requires a totally different setup. Denver is one of the tracks that prodded me to spend last season on chassis ...


"When you go to Denver and see the birds walking, you know the air is thin. The mile-high altitude requires a totally different setup. Denver is one of the tracks that prodded me to spend last season on chassis development. If we can get to the finish line without basketballing the rear tires, we're going to be fast there."


Kurt Johnson debuted his new ACDelco Camaro from RJ Race Cars in grand style at Gateway International Raceway, winning the Sears Craftsman Nationals on June 28. K.J. notched his first victory of the season and claimed the first Pro Stock title by a Camaro driver since 1988 at the track just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Johnson has now won at least one national event for four straight years -- although he has a way to go to match his father's 17-year winning streak. He also kept the Johnson family's winning record intact at Gateway International; Warren won the inaugural event last year.

Kurt moved from fifth to fourth in the championship race after defeating Steve Schmidt, Shawn Collins, Jim Yates, and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in eliminations. "The guys back at the shop are doing their job, and the crew here at the track is doing its job," Kurt commented after his 11th career victory. "I'm just the lucky guy who gets the trophy!"

Kurt's crew chief, Jeff Perley, was named the "Crew Chief of the Race" for his role in putting the ACDelco Camaro in the winner's circle the first time out.

Kurt helped his cause considerably by defeating two drivers ranked ahead of him in the Winston points standings. He ousted Jim Yates in the semi-final on a holeshot with a razor-thin margin of victory of 1/1000th of a second. In the final, he defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr., by .059 seconds.

"When I raced Yates, my car went into a giant wheelstand and it was fishtailing all over the track," Kurt reported. "I kept my foot down and we were in a dead heat at the 1000-foot mark. I gained a thousandth of a second in the last 300 feet, and that made the difference.

"In the final round, Coughlin beat me at the starting line, but the car made a perfect run. If you stay in this sport long enough, eventually you're going to have a bad light and still get a win."


For the second straight race, a transmission problem sidelined Warren Johnson early in eliminations in St. Louis. After qualifying No. 1 for the fifth time this season and defeating former crew chief Greg Anderson in the first round of eliminations, Johnson suffered a shifter malfunction in the second stanza. Coughlin was the beneficiary of Warren's misfortune.

"We broke an air line fitting during the burnout, and I couldn't shift the transmission," explained Johnson, who uses a pneumatic shifter to change gears in his 5-speed clutchless transmission. "It's just one of those deals."


Two days after his breakthrough win, Kurt and his wife Kathy welcomed their second child into the world. Erin Elizabeth Johnson was born on June 30, weighing in at 8 lbs., 1 oz. Mother and daughter are both doing well. According to Kurt, young Erin bears an uncanny resemblance to her older brother, Conner, and has not yet expressed any interest in drag racing.


Warren and Kurt were the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers respectively at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, reversing their qualifying positions at the preceding race in Columbus. After Mark Osborne DNQ'ed in St. Louis, Warren and Kurt are now the only Pro Stock drivers who have qualified at every race in 1998.

The Johnsons have the longest active qualifying streaks in the category. W.J. has qualified at every race since the 1987 Gatornationals, a span of 12 years. The last time that Kurt failed to qualify was at the 1996 Keystone Nationals in Reading, Penn. -- he's made the field at 37 consecutive races since then.


Warren took the top spot in qualifying for the fifth time this season and the 94th time in his career at the Sears Craftsman Nationals. He has qualified in the top half of the field at every race in 1998, with an average qualifying position of 2.73. K.J. has been among the quick eight in 9 of 11 events, with an average qualifying position of 4.55.

W.J. "tripled" at the Craftsman Nationals for the 64th time in his career by qualifying No. 1, running the Low ET (7.012 seconds), and recording the Top Speed (a track-record 197.06 mph). Warren continued to monopolize the performance chart, recording the fastest speed for the 11th straight race.


At the midpoint of the 22-race season, W.J. leads the Pro Stock championship race with 882 points, a 139-point lead over Jeg Coughlin, Jr. Kurt is fourth in the standings with 667 points, just 44 markers behind No. 3 Jim Yates. Warren and Kurt have a combined total of five wins, seven final-round appearances, seven No. 1 qualifying positions, and 11 Top Speeds in 1998.

"So far we've had a decent season," said Warren. "If we'd won ten of the 11 races, then I'd say we were having a good year.

"I just hope that we've weathered the storm of bad luck and parts breakage we've experienced at the last few races," observed the Professor of Pro Stock. "You're always going to have good days and bad days at the track. If Kurt and I can continue to qualify 1-2 and stay out of each other's way until the final round, we should be in good shape at the end of the season."

Kurt grades his first-half performance as a B+. "There were some races we should have won, but didn't," he asserts. "We've been dialing in a new body style and dialing in a new crew. Now it looks like we have two fast cars in the stable."


Warren Johnson celebrates his 55th birthday on July 7. He was born in Virginia, Minn., in 1943, and grew up on his family's 180-acre farm in the Iron Range. According to Warren, "It seemed like our principal crop was rocks, and we had a lot of them."

W.J. scored his first NHRA national event victory in July, 1982, at the Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J., where he defeated Lee Shepherd in the final round. Since then W.J. has notched 67 wins in 107 final-round appearances, the most victories among active Pro Stock drivers.


Warren Johnson has two Mile-High Nationals victories (1984, 1991) and four runner-up finishes (1986, 1990, 1992, and 1993). He made four straight final-round appearances in 1990-93, but hasn't advanced past the semi-finals in his last three appearances at Bandimere Speedway. In 1991, W.J. defeated his teammate Scott Geoffrion in the final, and he was defeated by his teammate Don Beverley in 1992.

Kurt Johnson has been in the final round at Bandimere Speedway in two of the last three years. He defeated Jim Yates with a holeshot in 1995, and lost to Yates in the final in 1997 when his transmission broke.


Warren Johnson's year-by-year results at the Mile-High Nationals:

     Year          Qualified   Result
     1983          3           Second Round
     1984          1           Winner (over Shepherd)
     1985          2           Semi-finals
     1986          2           Runner-up (to Glidden)
     1987          6           Second Round 
     1988          No race held
     1989          9           First Round
     1990          1           Runner-up (to Morgan)
     1991          1           Winner (over Geoffrion)
     1992          2           Runner-up (to Beverley)
     1993          2           Runner-up (to Glidden)
     1994          9           First Round
     1995          3           Semi-Final
     1996          5           Semi-Final
     1997          5           Semi-Final
     Total Races   14
     Wins          2
     Runners-Up    4
     Semi-Finals   4
     Second Round  2
     First Round   2

Kurt Johnson's year-by-year results at the Mile-High Nationals:

     Year          Qualified   Result
     1993          7           Second Round
     1994          5           First Round
     1995          7           Winner (over Yates)
     1996          4           Second Round
     1997          3           Runner-up (to Yates)

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson , Scott Geoffrion , Steve Schmidt