Gainesville: Kurt Johnson preview

ACDelco Gatornationals Generate a Range of Emotions for KJ Second Gatornationals win in ACDelco Cobalt crew's sights Sugar Hill, Ga., March 11, 2008 -- Throughout the course of an NHRA national event, drivers and race teams in the POWERade...

ACDelco Gatornationals Generate a Range of Emotions for KJ
Second Gatornationals win in ACDelco Cobalt crew's sights

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 11, 2008 -- Throughout the course of an NHRA national event, drivers and race teams in the POWERade Drag Racing Series will go through a range of emotions, starting before they even get to the track. Such is the case for Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Cobalt Racing team, as they head south for the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL. Having accompanied his father to the traditional kickoff of East Coast drag racing since the 70's, this second-generation racer is well aware of the event's status in the sport, and is excited to return for this year's edition.

"The ACDelco Gatornationals are made special by the fans and their enthusiasm," said Johnson. "It's in the spring, when the weather is getting better, and everyone is excited, including the racers. We're ready to see the Florida sunshine, because it makes us feel good. Everybody is smiling and having a good time, and we want to join in the fun by winning with our ACDelco Cobalt."

However, Johnson's animated anticipation entering this marquee race is somewhat tinged by his experience in Gainesville during the prior two seasons. After qualifying outside the top half of the field only twice in his previous 13 attempts, and reaching the semifinals or better in six of those starts, he inexplicably struggled the next two years in Florida, missing both races. Returning this year with a new race car that has shown itself to be fast in previous events, and armed with a wealth of tuning information that helped him win this event in 2003, an anxious KJ is determined to get back on the winning track.

"I can't explain our last two years in Gainesville, other than to say things just didn't work in our favor," said Johnson. "We had run well there in the past, including winning in 2003, so we know how to get down the track. The last two years, however, we've been tripped up by things I can't really explain. Some may say that's racing, but let me tell you -- it sucked.

"But instead of worrying about things that are behind us and can do nothing about, this weekend we're going to concentrate on getting back to qualifying in the top half and going rounds on Sunday, putting on a good show for all the ACDelco customers and employees in the stands. We have a new ACDelco Cobalt, which we hope will be the key, and we're going to Florida ready to attack the track."

Emphasizing the significance of this race for the red, white and blue crew is the fact that they will be competing in their sponsor's race. Although dismissing the notion of any added pressure, KJ is quick to point out the benefits of taking those whose support makes it all possible to the winner's circle, as he did at the 2005 ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals.

"A lot is made of the added pressures of racing in your sponsor's race," said Johnson. "Certainly, you want to do well in front of those who support you, but it doesn't really change how you make the tuning calls or evaluate the track and atmospheric conditions. After all, we want to win every race we enter.

"However, I have to admit this being an ACDelco race brings me up a notch as far as the driving goes. Based on how this ACDelco Cobalt has performed so far this year, I think it's really going to like the track in Gainesville, because it has a lot of traction. We won't know until we let the clutch out, but I feel good about our chances.

"If we make the right calls on the tune-up, which we should be able to do, it will make the driving aspect easier, so if I step it up, we should be able to win the ACDelco Gatornationals for everyone who helps on this car. If we can accomplish that, it would be a great weekend."

Despite the excitement of the event, and the anticipation of a great weekend, however, KJ, as well as all the competitors in the pit area, will approach this race with a touch of sadness, as this will be the first time the straight-line set will return to Gainesville Raceway following the loss of rising star Eric Medlen in a testing accident there one year ago.

"I'll never forget the sound of the helicopter as it airlifted Eric from the track that afternoon," said Kurt. "It was a terrible day for the Medlen family, the John Force Racing organization, as well as the sport of drag racing, and, as we return to Gainesville, our thoughts are with all of them. The drag racing family suffered a great loss that day, and we owe it to his memory to have fun and put on a great race this weekend, as well as every time we run. I think that's the way he would want it."

-credit: j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , John Force , Eric Medlen