WJ Goes Back to the Beginning in Englishtown GM Performance Parts Driver Returns to Site of First NHRA Pro Stock win at NHRA SuperNationals Sugar Hill, Ga., June 14, 2005 -- When Warren Johnson arrives in Englishtown, New Jersey for this ...
WJ Goes Back to the Beginning in Englishtown
GM Performance Parts Driver Returns to Site of First NHRA Pro Stock win at NHRA SuperNationals
Sugar Hill, Ga., June 14, 2005 -- When Warren Johnson arrives in Englishtown, New Jersey for this weekend's NHRA SuperNationals, both he and his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Racing team will be recognized as one of the top teams in the POWERade Drag Racing Series' popular Pro Stock division. With six championships, 94 wins and 135 No. 1 qualifying performances they have long been the standard by which others in this highly competitive category are measured.
However, such was not the case 30 years ago, when Johnson first raced at the legendary New Jersey quarter-mile. In 1975, he was a somewhat unknown competitor from Minnesota making only his third national event start in what was still a relatively new professional class in the NHRA. There were no predictions of greatness, no stories in the press about the success that was to follow.
Armed with an unconventional race car and a tireless work ethic (a trait that continues today), Johnson quickly showed signs of what was to come. Qualifying 14th, he defeated one of the top drivers of the time, "Dyno Don" Nicholson on a hole shot in the first round before falling to another Pro Stock stalwart, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins in the quarter-finals.
Seven years later, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park would once again be the site of another milestone in Johnson's stellar career, as he would score his first NHRA Pro Stock national event win, defeating the legendary Lee Shepherd in the final.
Since then, he has totaled four wins in five final round appearances in the Garden State, as well as five No. 1 qualifying performances. Returning for his 29th race on this venerable quarter-mile, "The Professor" took time to look back at the beginning of his career there.
"I guess I've been fortunate that the timing of my professional career has allowed me to witness the evolution, not only of the Raceway Park facility, but also of the sport of drag racing," recalled Johnson. "When I first raced in Englishtown, this event was held in July during what seemed like the hottest part of the summer with temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees. Although drag racing had already established itself, it hadn't yet taken a direction.
"At the time, our races seemed like local events with non-local cars and personalities. It didn't have the air of being a part of a championship series -- it was just a race. It was more a weekend sport, catering to the local clientele.
""Everyone ran what they had built, with only the factory backed teams such as Grumpy (Jenkins) and (Bob) Glidden having the funds to race purpose-built cars. For example, I had this big, heavy Camaro with a big-block while the popular combination of the time was a smaller car such as the Monza with a small block in it. Somehow we made it all work.
"It wasn't the huge event that we have today at every stop on the POWERade circuit. Now, we race state-of-the art machines such as our GM Performance Parts Pontiac at facilities such as Bristol and Las Vegas where everyone from the fans and the media to the competitors feel comfortable. The only thing that remains the same is the fans, who come in droves and are just as passionate now as they were then."
Although the race cars, the facilities and even some of the competitors may have changed throughout Johnson's competitive career in New Jersey, his desire to win remains just as strong.
"We've had a long drought at Englishtown, having last won there in 1993," stated Johnson. "It's definitely something we'd like to take care of this weekend. We know that between our GM Performance Parts Pontiac and Kurt's ACDelco Cobalt, we've managed to elevate our performance to where we have two of the quickest and fastest cars out there, but that alone isn't enough. In order to put ourselves in a position to win, we have to play error-free ball, avoiding the little mistakes that are often the difference between winning and losing. It's up to the drivers and crews to get it done."
Notes on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Racing team entering the NHRA SuperNationals:
* WJ & E-town go Way Back: This will be Warren's 29th NHRA appearance at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, where he has four wins in five final round appearances, and was the No. 1 qualifier five times. Overall WJ has an elimination round record of 34-23 in his previous 27 Englishtown starts.
* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 94 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him second on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came at this O'Reilly Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals in Bristol, TN.
* Career Best Elapsed Time: 6.679 seconds, Gainesville, FL, 3/20/05
* Career best top speed: 206.70 mph, Gainesville, FL, 3/20/05