Indianapolis: Warren Johnson preview

WJ Hopes New Car, Old Track Add Up to 7th U.S. Nationals Win GM Performance Parts crew to bring out new Pro Stock GTO in Indianapolis Sugar Hill, Ga., August 30, 2006 -- This weekend, drag racers from across the world will head to...

WJ Hopes New Car, Old Track Add Up to 7th U.S. Nationals Win

GM Performance Parts crew to bring out new Pro Stock GTO in Indianapolis

Sugar Hill, Ga., August 30, 2006 -- This weekend, drag racers from across the world will head to Indianapolis, IN for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Although the NHRA's annual visit to O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis is technically just the 18th stop on the POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule, in reality, the traditional Labor Day festival of speed is one of the year's most important events. Now in its 52nd year, the race affectionately known as "The Big Go" is the one win that every driver wants on his or her racing resume. As such, competitors will go to extremes to make sure they are at their very best upon arriving in the Hoosier state.

With six U.S. Nationals titles to his credit, Warren Johnson certainly knows what it takes to get the job done in Indianapolis. Even so, some might question his decision to bring a new and virtually untested GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO to drag racing's most prestigious event. However, as Pro Stock's all-time win leader is quick to respond, it's all part of doing business.

"Every so often, you just have to throw caution to the wind," joked Johnson. "In all seriousness, we hadn't specifically targeted the U.S. Nationals as this car's first race, but the timing worked out that way. Technically, this new GM Performance Parts GTO should be better than the one that preceded it, just as every new car should be better than the one it replaced.

"We'll do some preliminary testing before we head to Indiana, but all we'll really do is make sure we can make it to the eighth mile headed in the proper direction. In all likelihood, its first full pass will be in qualifying on Friday night, but that's not a cause for concern. We have information from (son and teammate) Kurt's new ACDelco Cobalt, which has the identical chassis design as our new car, and was built at the same time. We're encouraged by his winning Memphis a couple weeks ago in his second race with that particular chassis, and hope we can do one better this weekend in Indy and win right out of the box."

Although the facility boasts a new name in 2006, the tricky racing surface at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis will be mostly unchanged from one year ago. With a larger than normal number of Pro Stock entries anticipated and qualifying extended to include five sessions over three days, teams will be severely tested to simply make Monday's starting field. With their new and unfamiliar race car adding to this weekend's degree of difficulty, Johnson and his young crew will need an error-free performance, relying on their extensive notes on the Indiana quarter-mile to help them contend for their second win of the season.

"The racing surface at ORP can be one of the most challenging on the circuit," said Johnson. "Depending on the time of day, and the atmospheric conditions, it can be a one-lane track. In addition, with the unusual amount of cars that they run in Indianapolis compared to other races, the texture of the starting line allows it to get extremely bald, with the rubber stripped completely away. If we have a lot of oil downs throughout the course of the weekend, the middle section can also get a little loose.

"Basically, the combination of the track surface and the number of cars racing on it puts a premium on reading the conditions and setting the car up properly. Having a new car, with its different personality, won't make it any easier, but we have notes for this racetrack covering virtually any situation, which we'll combine with our testing data and the information from Kurt's car, so we should be in good shape."

Finally, throughout the days leading up to the event, much will be written about the importance of winning this race and the added significance such a victory would convey. With multiple Indianapolis trophies already safely ensconced at the team's shop in Sugar Hill, the pragmatic Johnson is aware of this event's tremendous history but prefers to view the five-day marathon as yet another race, allowing his on-track performance to determine if he will further add to his unparalleled Indianapolis legacy.

"I know a lot will be made over the next few days about the importance of this weekend's race, but we will approach it the same as we do the other 22 on the schedule, which is the exception to the rule," stated Johnson. "More than anyplace else, racers try to be as well prepared as they can for Indy, with many people gearing their budgets and part supplies for this one race, making sure they're at the top of their game. However, just as it was in Memphis two weeks ago, the objective of this whole exercise is to win, and that is what we are looking to do.

"There's no denying we've had our share of special experiences at the U.S. Nationals. I made my first Pro Stock start there in 1971, and I've won there six times, including one of my favorite wins in 1999 when we ran the Superman car. However, we're not going to get distracted by the setting or even the history behind this race. If we win, there will be plenty of time to note the achievement and enjoy what we've done. Until then, we'll just concentrate on the job at hand."

-credit: j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson