Gainesville: Kurt Johnson preview

Kurt Johnson is ready to put Gainesville in the win column. ACDelco Cavalier to sport newly-installed 2003 bodywork at Mac Tools Gatornationals. Sugar Hill, Ga., March 4, 2003 - Throughout his career, ACDelco driver Kurt Johnson has reached the...

Kurt Johnson is ready to put Gainesville in the win column.
ACDelco Cavalier to sport newly-installed 2003 bodywork at Mac Tools Gatornationals.

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 4, 2003 - Throughout his career, ACDelco driver Kurt Johnson has reached the winner's circle at 12 of the 20 different racetracks on which the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series will compete in 2003. One facility missing from that list of successes is Gainesville Raceway, site of the Mac Tools Gatornationals, a situation KJ hopes to rectify this weekend.

"We're always looking to win, but there is certainly extra incentive when you race at a track where you've yet to make it to the winner's circle, and this being the Gatornationals just adds an extra kick," stated Johnson. "I've come close in the past, breaking a rod during the burnout in the semis in 1997, and making it to the final in 1999. Dad's (Warren Johnson) won here a few times, maybe this will be the ACDelco team's year."

Although it has been three weeks since the last NHRA national event, it has been anything but a quiet time for the ACDelco crew, as they spent long hours finalizing the changes necessary to update their Cavalier's carbon-fiber body to the 2003 specifications.

"Changing the car over has been a lot more involved than people might think, and it didn't help to have the crew stuck in Dallas by the ice storm last week," detailed Johnson. "Not only did we have to change the nose, but we had to cut off the tail section, which was securely fastened with glue and screws to the rear quarter-panels, and attach the 2003 piece. During reassembly, we had to make sure everything went back together perfectly, including the rear spoiler, with the headlight installation taking an entire day. Two people worked on it exclusively for a week to get it done in time.

"Once it came back from the body shop, we took it to Commerce for a few test runs, and made four solid passes in the 6.70's. The final step will be to take it to the wind tunnel, which we'll do before heading to Gainesville. It's been hectic, but we're optimistic it will give us an even better Cavalier to race with."

The team will need every advantage they can muster in the Sunshine State. This race is the traditional season-opener for the East Coast quarter-milers, and the number of entries for the Pro Stock category is expected to grow significantly from the first two events. In addition, as one of the fastest surfaces on the NHRA circuit, Gainesville Raceway should produce an extremely fast field, with new track and national records a distinct possibility. As such, competitors must be ready to deliver career-best performances just to qualify.

"The Gatornationals is a race everyone wants to win," said Johnson. "The stands are packed with fans who came to get away from the cold, and it's the first national event on the East Coast. I remember coming down here when we lived in Minnesota. It was my first visit to Florida, and it was great to see all the orange groves and grapefruit trees. I'm certainly looking forward to some sunshine and warmth this year."

"This ACDelco Cavalier is ready to win. We fixed a suspension problem in Phoenix, and were consistently in the mid 6.80's on our last four runs. The Gainesville track is probably the smoothest surface we run on. If the weather cooperates and the track is properly prepared, as I expect it will be, it will be fast, and getting off the starting line will be crucial. Both the car and team are up to the challenge, and we're excited about our chances."

Facts on Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing Team entering the Mac Tools Gatornationals:

* KJ at Gainesville: This will be Kurt's 11th appearance at Gainesville Raceway, where he has recorded one runner-up finish (in 1999), as well as three semi-final finishes. In qualifying, KJ has a 5.6 average performance in Florida, with three second-place efforts (from 1997-99).

* KJ's Gainesville milestone: On March 14, 1998 Kurt Johnson became the third member of the Speed Pro 200-mph Pro Stock Club with his 200.13 mph pass in a first round win over Scott Geoffrion. Ironically, Kurt's father Warren Johnson was the first Pro Stock driver to exceed 200 mph with his 200.13 mph run in Richmond, Va. in 1997.

* 200-mph rhinoplasty: KJ's ACDelco Cavalier will sport a new look in Gainesville, as a 2003-style nose and tail will have been fitted since the last race in Phoenix.

* One year ago: Kurt qualified ninth with an elapsed time of 6.868 seconds with a top speed of 201.58 mph, but fell to V. Gaines in the first round.

* POWERade Points standings: After the second of 23 events, Kurt is tied for 6th in the 2003 POWERade points standings with two other drivers, three points behind 5th place Bruce Allen. Kurt finished 6th in 2002, his tenth consecutive Top Ten finish.

* Winning percentage: Kurt's .629 elimination round winning percentage (300-177) ranks 12th among all active NHRA professional drivers.

* National event wins: Kurt's 23 national event victories place him 20th on the all-time NHRA professional win list. Kurt's most recent win came last November at the 2002 Auto Club of Southern California Finals in Pomona, CA.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.779 seconds, Reading, PA. 2001

* Career best top speed: 204.57 mph, Pomona, CA. 2003 (the fourth fastest in NHRA Pro Stock history.)


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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Bruce Allen , Scott Geoffrion