Indianapolis: Back to the books for 'The Professor'

CLERMONT, Ind. - The old cliché that all good things must come to an end is true, even for NHRA icons. Just ask six-time series champ Warren Johnson, a winner of 88 races and 125 No. 1 qualifying awards during his career. For the defending NHRA...

CLERMONT, Ind. - The old cliché that all good things must come to an end is true, even for NHRA icons. Just ask six-time series champ Warren Johnson, a winner of 88 races and 125 No. 1 qualifying awards during his career. For the defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion it took more than 15 years, but his amazing record-setting streak of qualifying for 303 straight national events, dating back to early 1987, came to an abrupt halt in August at Sonoma, Calif.

But rather than dwell on the unfortunate, its just back to the drawing board for the always-serious Johnson as he attempts to close the gap in the Pro Stock point standings.

Johnson will try and regain his momentum in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am when he competes in the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 28-Sept. 2, at historic Indianapolis Raceway Park. The $2.2 million race is the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

With Johnson's qualifying streak over, 11-time Funny Car champion John Force moves into the top spot for longest qualifying streak among active drivers with 293 consecutive races. Ron Krisher is now the leader in the Pro Stock category, qualifying for 63 straight events, making Johnson's mark of 303 straight that much more impressive.

"Nothing last forever," said the 59-year-old Johnson, from Buford, Ga. "I knew the streak would end sooner or later. It was nice while it lasted, but it's not something we intentionally set out to accomplish. The streak was just the result of our desire to race (in eliminations). It doesn't mean anything except that I can start on another streak. If we look at it realistically, it's not a big deal. It's over and that's all there is to it. In another 15 years or so, I can top this one."

Johnson, known for his rigid work ethic, will no doubt have his Pontiac ready for the remainder of the 2002 season as he eyes his seventh Pro Stock series crown in what is one of the most competitive categories in any form of auto racing.

"We were very fortunate to have qualified that many times in a row," said Johnson. "The competition is very tough out there and you have to be right-on. On the last qualifying attempt we had at Sonoma, we had a 1.66-second 60-foot time, which was a bit of an anomaly. We had to change the chassis setup every run to make the car go straight, so there is obviously something we have to find and fix. The car will looked like a plucked chicken when we get it back to the shop and strip it bare.

During his hall-of-fame career, Johnson has scored six victories in eight final appearances while qualifying in the top spot eight times at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. With the season coming into its final seven events, every qualifying point and round win increases in significance in Johnson's quest for another title. In a category where a few thousandths-of-a-second separate the No. 1 and No. 16 qualifier, there isn't much room for error. It's becoming very common for a Pro Stock driver to win an event one weekend, and then not even qualify for the field at the following event. It is a pattern that a very close points battle that will no doubt be undecided until the last race of the season.

"The qualifying spreads have been similar for the last several seasons. When you have fields this tight at all of the races, it's inevitable that someone is not going to qualify.

"The only time I'd say that I was satisfied is when we're two seconds ahead of the field," said Johnson. "We're not giving up on the season because I think we have as good a chance as anybody, and I hope we're a little more tenacious about looking for improvements than our competition."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher