Indianapolis: Warren Johnson preview

Warren Johnson & Pro Stock have grown up together SUGAR HILL, GA., August 21, 2003 - The National Hot Rod Association's (NHRA) Pro Stock division is arguably the most competitive in all of motorsports. Each week, fields of up to 45 cars vie for...

Warren Johnson & Pro Stock have grown up together

SUGAR HILL, GA., August 21, 2003 - The National Hot Rod Association's (NHRA) Pro Stock division is arguably the most competitive in all of motorsports. Each week, fields of up to 45 cars vie for one of 16 spots in the starting line-up, with the entire field covered by a few hundredths of a second. In final eliminations, the difference between winning and losing is usually measured in ten thousandths of a second. This penchant for high-speed, tightly packed competition has made the "factory hot rods" one of the fans' favorites in the POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Throughout his career, GM Performance Parts Grand Am pilot Warren Johnson has played a pivotal role in the evolution of the Pro Stock category. Whether developing the latest version of the General Motors Drag Racing Competition Engine (DRCE), or scoring one of his category-leading 91 national event wins, "The Professor of Pro Stock" has been the one constant the "doorslammers" and their fans have come to count on.

However, things were very different 32 years ago, when a relatively unknown racer drove from Minnesota to Indianapolis to compete at drag racing's biggest race in one of its newest professional categories. Little did either side know it would be the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship. As he prepared for next weekend's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Johnson took time to reflect back on that initial experience.

"In 1971, I was just dabbling in drag racing," explained Johnson. "Racing was far from being my vocation - it was my hunting, fishing and bowling all tied up in one. I had competed on a divisional level for a few years, so I decided to see what the U.S. Nationals was all about. Compared to every other race I had gone to, it definitely was a dandy.

"The Pro Stock category was relatively new, with the race cars thirty years ago putting the stock in Pro Stock. For example, for my first U.S. Nationals I purchased a brand new Camaro for $2600 at the dealership, put a big block in it, and went racing.

"They had steel doors, with the production glass, grille and bumpers, and no additional aerodynamic enhancements like the rear spoiler we have now. About the only thing you removed from the production vehicle was the radio and the heater. Then again, we were only going about 140 mph, so they were perfectly safe.

"We had a 32 car field, and I qualified 28th, which was quite an accomplishment considering there were between 50 and 60 cars entered. Of course, the separation between the qualified cars was two or three tenths, not the few hundredths we have today.

"We had no idea the sport would grow to what it has become today. In fact, it wasn't until five years later that people such as myself, (John) Force and (Kenny) Bernstein started looking at drag racing as a way to make a living. Back then, we were just a bunch of guys playing with their hot rods."

When Johnson returns to Indianapolis Raceway Park later next week for his 28th U.S. Nationals, the landscape and competition will bear little resemblance to what he encountered in 1971. In the last few years, there have been significant changes to this venerable racing facility, from a reworked racing surface to new luxury suites topping the grandstands. In addition, the sleek, carbon fiber bodied, 205 mph land rockets that constitute today's Pro Stock race cars bear little resemblance to their predecessors.

"Pro Stock has truly evolved over the last 30 years," stated Johnson. "Our race cars have changed from altered production vehicles to being the most refined and purpose-built drag racing vehicles out there, sharing only a silhouette with their showroom counterparts. From a spectator standpoint, it offers the best quality of the professional classes, as far as close, competitive racing is concerned.

"I've enjoyed the technological advances, and have no interest in going back. I had the chance to sit in one of my race cars from 1979, and I wouldn't drive that thing around the pits now. It felt like a safety hazard just sitting there running! To me, these are the good old days."

As a six-time U.S. Nationals champion, Johnson is well acquainted with the significance of winning the race many simply refer to as "The Big Go". However, over three decades of racing successes at virtually every track on the circuit, including six NHRA Pro Stock championships, have also shown him the benefits of a pragmatic, rather than an emotional, approach. Therefore, although the track, the race car and even the man may have changed since that first race so many years ago, the outlook entering the event remains the same.

"Since I make my living racing, I have to be prepared as well as possible for every event, because the object of this exercise is to win," detailed Johnson. "Therefore, we don't prepare more or less for any race on the schedule.

"We employ the same formula as we've used for the last twenty-eight years, and that is to be as ready as possible. Whether it's the U.S. Nationals, or any other race, the GM Performance Parts team will approach it with the same mindset - the only reason we're going there is to win."

In Warren's Words:

On Racing at the U.S. Nationals:

"In the drag racing vernacular, the U.S. Nationals is the race of the year. It is an event surrounded with mystique. There are two reasons for that. The first is the name. After all, it is called the U.S. Nationals, encompassing all 50 states.

"In addition, it is held in Indianapolis, which is the Mecca of motorsports. Whether it's the U.S. Nationals, the Brickyard 400, or the Indy 500, which is the biggest race in the world, a win in Indianapolis carries more prestige than anywhere else, and it's one that every driver wants on his or her racing resume."

On his Favorite U.S. Nationals Memory:

"Looking over my experiences at Indy, I would have to say my win in 1999 when I was driving the Superman car would have to be my favorite. It was a very unique one-race deal we had with DC Comics, and when you combine that with the significance of winning the U.S. Nationals, it has to rank at the top. Of course, the nice bonus we received for winning with that logo on the car only added to the experience."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals:

* WJ is a big winner at "The Big Go": This will be Warren's 28th NHRA Pro Stock national event appearance at Indianapolis Raceway Park, where he has six wins in eight final round appearances, with a 41-21 elimination round record for a winning percentage of .661.

* Warren's Qualifying Stats At IRP: In his 27 previous races in Indianapolis, WJ has eight No. 1 qualifying efforts. Warren's average starting spot at the U.S. Nationals is 4.32, having qualified outside the top five only six times.

* One year ago: WJ qualified fifth with an elapsed time of 6.843 seconds and a top speed of 201.04 mph, but was upset in the first round.

* Winning Streak: Warren Johnson has now won at least two races in 18 of the past 22 years. In addition, his current streak of winning at least one race a year for 22 consecutive years is the longest in NHRA history.

* In the 90's, Indy was Johnsonville: Warren Johnson and his son Kurt combined to win seven of the 10 U.S. Nationals from 1990-1999. WJ took home the trophy in 1992-1995 and 1999 (and was the runner-up in 1998), while KJ won back-to-back U.S. National crowns in 1996 & 1997.

* POWERade Points standings: After the sixteenth of 23 events, WJ stands fourth in the 2003 POWERade points standings with 1012 points, 442 behind leader Greg Anderson, and only 45 points (just over two rounds of competition) behind third place Jeg Coughlin Jr.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 91 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him second on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, CO.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.715 seconds, Englishtown 2003

* Career best top speed: 205.69 mph, Englishtown 2003

-j2r-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson