Warren Johnson is not one to wax nostalgic about the past, but even the stern Professor of Pro Stock has a soft spot for the U.S. Nationals. He will compete at Indianapolis Raceway Park for the 26th time in this year's edition of drag racing's...
Warren Johnson is not one to wax nostalgic about the past, but even the stern Professor of Pro Stock has a soft spot for the U.S. Nationals. He will compete at Indianapolis Raceway Park for the 26th time in this year's edition of drag racing's most prestigious event.
Johnson ranks his six previous U.S. Nationals victories - including four consecutive wins in 1992-95 - among the highlights of his career. He cites his most recent U.S. Nationals triumph in 1999 as one of his most memorable performances. That year Johnson piloted his Superman-garbed Pontiac to the winner's circle after a superhuman effort that included flying to his shop in Georgia between qualifying sessions to repair a damaged cylinder head.
W.J. has raced at IRP since 1971, but three decades of experience went out the window when the track was refurbished for NHRA's 50th anniversary celebration. Johnson tested in Indianapolis last week, and he liked what he saw.
"Without a doubt, it's the smoothest race track I've ever been on," Warren reported. "I've seen bowling alleys rougher than that track!
"We went there strictly to get acclimated to the new surface and to find out what it would tolerate," he continued. "We ran our standard test engine, and we weren't looking for any earth-shaking times. With 660 feet of concrete, I was just about in high gear when I came off the pad. The asphalt on the back half of the track has been ground smooth, and there isn't a ripple in the surface."
The problematic IRP track has fostered upsets and favored underdogs in the past, but the new surface also presents its share of unknowns.
"The U.S. Nationals still has the potential to be an upset-filled race because the track is so green," Johnson noted. "The traction probably won't fluctuate as much as the old track, but the question is how well it will hold up. The new surface will certainly throw us some curve balls."
The addition of a late qualifying session on Saturday afternoon could also change the face of the race, according to Johnson. "In the past, we've seen the field set on Friday night," he noted. "The second Saturday session will tend to shuffle the field."
One thing hasn't changed: The stature of the U.S. Nationals still inspires drivers and teams. "Indy is one of those races where everyone fires their best shot," Johnson observed. "To win the U.S. Nationals, you have to have the best game plan and then stick to it."
Johnson will arrive in Indianapolis for the 18th of the 24 events that constitute the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series leading the championship standings by 98 points. In addition to the pressure of a tight title race, Johnson is also a finalist in the Pro Stock Driver and Professional Engine Builder categories for the 34th annual Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team. The winners, who are determined by the votes of readers of Car Craft, National Dragster and Drag Review, will be announced August 30. Johnson was named the Pro Stock driver of the year six times (1992-93, 1995-96 and 1998-99), and he won the engine builder of the year award in 1999. <pre>
WARREN JOHNSON'S U.S. NATIONALS RECORD: Year Qual. Result 1971 28 First Round 1975 12 Second Round 1976 7 Second Round 1977 5 Second Round 1978 2 First Round 1981 16 First Round 1982 1 First Round 1983 4 First Round 1984 2 Winner (over Glidden) 1985 3 Semi-finals 1986 4 Second Round 1987 4 Semi-finals 1988 1 Runner-up (to Glidden) 1989 6 Second Round 1990 1 Second Round 1991 1 First Round 1992 2 Winner (over Morgan) 1993 1 Winner (over Geoffrion) 1994 2 Winner (over Pawuk) 1995 1 Winner (over Worden) 1996 2 First Round 1997 3 First Round 1998 1 Runner-up (to Edwards) 1999 1 Winner (over Anderson) 2000 4 First Round