Kurt Johnson Aims to Continue Defying the Experts Coming off win in Phoenix, KJ & ACDelco crew set to defend Gatornationals crown Sugar Hill, Ga., March 15, 2004 - Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing team are determined to change some people's...
Kurt Johnson Aims to Continue Defying the Experts
Coming off win in Phoenix, KJ & ACDelco crew set to defend Gatornationals crown
Sugar Hill, Ga., March 15, 2004 - Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing team are determined to change some people's minds. At the season-opening event in Pomona, CA, many of the drag racing experts were already prepared to hand the 2004 NHRA POWERade championship to race winner and 2003 title-holder Greg Anderson. In fact, several even suggested that, with 22 events still on the docket, the rest of the Pro Stock contingent were merely racing for second place.
Fortunately, Johnson and his crew were among those choosing to ignore these dire predictions, preferring instead to concentrate on fine-tuning their 2004 ACDelco Cavalier. As a result, the second-generation driver scored a dramatic win at the most recent NHRA national event in Phoenix, including a very popular victory over his highly-touted opponent in the semi-finals, where Johnson used his superior starting line skills to overcome an inferior lane and performance disadvantage and defeat Anderson on a hole shot.
Having climbed within five points of the championship lead, this weekend Johnson will look to keep proving the drag racing pundits wrong as he goes for his second consecutive win at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL.
"We haven't really concerned ourselves with what people were saying," said Johnson. "After all, we've only run two races, and there's a lot of fun left before they hand out the big trophy. This is not a one-horse race. In fact, there are four or five cars that are running well, so anything can and probably will happen in Pro Stock between now and then.
"We're not about to worry about things we can't control. We know what we have under the hood of our ACDelco Cavalier, and even with the limited knowledge we have of this particular car, we've been putting good numbers on the board. If we stay on track and keep making smart decisions, as we have so far, we're confident of being there at the end. Nobody stays on top forever, and Greg is no different. It's our job to make sure that we end up ahead of everyone else, and we're going to do our best to make it happen."
However, Johnson knows their success in the Arizona desert will have little impact on their performance in the Sunshine State other than providing a welcome boost in the team's confidence. Therefore, the entire Johnson crew will take advantage of the time between races to prepare for the challenge ahead.
"Although we brought home the trophy, we know we still have some work to do," stated Johnson. "We weren't the fastest car in Phoenix, but we were closer than we were in Pomona, cutting it down from a five hundredths of a second difference to just over two. We'll keep working, trying to close the gap even further and maybe even pull ahead.
"Basically, we're going to feed our ACDelco Cavalier different parts and determine which ones make it run quicker. We've also planned to do some extensive testing at Atlanta Dragway before heading down to Florida. The Gatornationals usually have one of the biggest Pro Stock fields of the year, and we have to be ready for every competitor, not just one race car.
"Take Larry Morgan or David Connolly's performances in Phoenix - they were just as capable of winning the race as we were. If you make the mistake of concentrating on beating one car, someone else is going to blow right by you. We're not about to let that happen."
Championship aspirations aside, this event holds an added significance to everyone in the pit area. As the traditional season-opener for the East Coast drag racing community, it is among the most coveted wins on the circuit. Having won this race one year ago, Johnson knows full well what it means to the team, and looks to renew that feeling this year.
"Winning the Gatornationals last year was very special for several reasons," said Johnson. "First, we had never won there before, and your first win at any track has extra meaning. Second, there is the tremendous tradition behind the Gators - it's one of the races every driver wants on his or her resume.
"Finally, I've been going to Gainesville since 1976, and racing there since 1993. It's a cool place to race. It has great atmosphere, a good community behind it, the warm Florida weather and great crowds. It means a lot to win there, and it would mean even more if we could come back this year and double up with our ACDelco Cavalier."
On the new Gainesville racing surface:
"I talked to (NHRA Pro Stock Bike rider) Steve Johnson the other day, who told me the track was awesome, the smoothest he had ever been on. Considering the bikes can see and feel the bumps a lot easier than we can, we're looking forward to a great race track.
"We will have to see for ourselves once we arrive in Gainesville, and just as we do with any new or improved racing surface, adapt as well as possible to whatever it throws at us. The first qualifying run will be crucial, as always, because we will need a solid baseline from which to tune our ACDelco Cavalier. Therefore, our primary concern on Friday morning will be making a solid A to B run and take it from there."
On his performance in the first two races of 2004:
"We enter every race expecting to win, but you never know what the competition is going to throw at you, especially after three months. Even though we qualified second in Pomona, we felt as if we were still at a disadvantage, so we were fairly happy with making it to the semi-finals there. After that, we went to Phoenix and won, which put us only five points out of first place. I'd have to give our ACDelco crew an A minus, but in reality, the Top Five, which is covered by only forty points, have all done a tremendous job."
On the 2004 championship chase:
"Even at this early stage of the year, the points are in the back of your mind. For example, we certainly want to defend our Gatornationals title, but the win would mean even more towards the championship. We don't want to get to the end of the year and see wasted opportunities. We can't afford any first round losses, and have to try and make it to the semis every week. What really makes a difference is going four rounds. If we can do that, it's been a good weekend."