Warren Johnson Warren Johnson. Just say the name and you might think of a few things instantly: His nickname is 'The Professor,' he has earned six NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championships, he seems to be a little on the intense side of things when...
Warren Johnson. Just say the name and you might think of a few things instantly: His nickname is 'The Professor,' he has earned six NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championships, he seems to be a little on the intense side of things when it comes to racing. All of the above are true. Warren will tell you himself. Warren Johnson raced in his first NHRA event in 1971. He has been a fierce competitor ever since. Along with those six championships, Warren has earned 92 victories - tops in Pro Stock and second overall only to John Force's 109 Funny Car wins. Warren is known as much for his innovation in the sport of Pro Stock racing as his success. But when it comes right down to it, Warren is simply a man of few words. He will tell you like it is. Period. Because the sooner he can get done chatting, the sooner he can get back to work. Warren and the rest of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series is in Bristol, Ten. this weekend for the fourth annual O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. In this Q&A session, Warren talks about the records and championships, what he thinks about racing with his son, Kurt, and whether he even knows what the word 'retirement' means.
Q: What has made you stay so motivated throughout your career?
Johnson: I've been motivated probably because drag racing is something I enjoy doing and I make a living at it. This is better than a job. A job is something you have to do. Here, I want to do something.
Q: What do you enjoy most about drag racing?
Johnson: The mechanical end of it. The development. The people you meet. All of those things.
Q: What brought you to drag racing more? The engine development or the competition?
Johnson: Probably the development side first. The racing side of it, being from northern Minnesota at the time, when I looked at racing and trying to make a living at it, up there you couldn't do it circle track racing. You could eke out a living with drag racing if you did it right. Had I been down south, I would have gone circle track racing since there was opportunity there with NASCAR.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
Johnson: I never really thought about being proud of a particular aspect. I've been able to stay in it a lot longer than most people have. I've seen all of the studs come and go and been able to survive that. I'm an extremely good survivor. That comes from being born and raised in northern Minnesota where you have to make due with what you've got. It's rather frugal living up there and it makes you appreciate what you have. It also makes you want to survive on your own rather than having everyone else do the work for you.
Q: What do you think about the beadlocks that were put into the rules and regulations of Pro Stock racing this season?
Johnson: That was a good change but that was strictly a safety issue. It was something that was way overdue. I can understand that a lot of competitors didn't want to make the change but at the same time, if you look at it from a safety aspect and the liability exposure that GoodYear and NHRA would be exposed to, it was a no-brainer. We had to make the change.
Q: Why should fans prefer Pro Stock racing over any of the other categories?
Johnson: Because they can relate to Pro Stock. Even though it's a stretch that they are street cars, at least it represents something that they can drive on the street, at least silhouette wise. I can't speak from the spectator's standpoint, but I am sure that there are a lot of gearheads that understand that the performance is pretty phenomenal for a gas-burning vehicle that is manually shifted.
Q: How do you approach each season as far as setting goals?
Johnson: You have to look at the task at hand. The championship is first and foremost but at the same time you have to balance that with looking down the road. You can spend yourself into an oblivion and not be able to return the next season. I look at it as a business to start with. I certainly enjoy what I am doing, but I have to look at what I am doing. I have to financially survive because I don't have someone throwing me millions of dollars to inflate their ego, so I have to look at this as a business. I still have to enjoy it, which I do immensely.
Q: If you were the "King of NHRA" for the day and could make any change to the performance of the Pro Stock class, what would you change?
Johnson: The category is just fine as it is. There is a lot of interest in making it a little more high-tech with fuel injection and that sort of thing and maybe that has a place here. But at this point and time, I think the competition is pretty keen. The racing is side-by-side and that's what the spectators are paying for. Pro Stock racing as opposed to the other pro categories is really the best racing, the best entertainment. The Pro Stock Bikes are pretty close, they have close racing too. When they say that two fuel cars are within a car-length of each other, that's 300 inches. Wow.
Q: Looking back on your six championships, do you have a favorite title?
Johnson: Not really. They all have equal value from the standpoint that you accomplished the task at hand. I can't say that any one was better than the other. You always look at the first one, because you finally succeeded at achieving your goals. The second one is usually a bit harder because you're a target after that.
Q: Do you enjoy being the target?
Johnson: I never think about it.
Q: Do you thrive off the competition or do you just concern yourself with racing the tree and the environment?
Johnson: That's all I can compete against. I can't drive the other lane. I can't do anything about any other team. All I can do is worry about my particular car. I can't control anybody else's destiny and I don't want to control anybody else's destiny.
Q: Your son Kurt has earned 28 national event victories in his career. Did you ever imagine Kurt would become such a competitor in the Pro Stock ranks?
Johnson: That's hard to answer whether he would be a competitor. The driving part is really the easy task. A competitor and a driver are two different things. That would be like comparing a competitor and a racer. A racer will do anything it takes to win. Kurt puts in whatever hours it takes to win. Absolutely I am proud of him. He's done great so far and the future is wide open for him. He's on his own as far as that he makes his own choices and calls over there and he's doing a great job.
Q: What do you like about racing with your son?
Johnson: I can look at it from a business standpoint and we both have the same viewpoint as far as the fact that we are doing this first and foremost to make a living. Whether he enjoys it as much as I do, I can't answer. He would have to answer that. But he obviously must enjoy it to a certain extent because he puts in a lot of hours and he is always thinking about how we can make these things go quicker and faster and creating new things and coming up with innovative ideas. So he obviously has some enjoyment in it.
Q: If you had not been involved with racing, what would you have done?
Johnson: I think we can rule out me playing NBA basketball. Maybe golf. Hitting a little ball doesn't seem to be all that hard. All you need are some shoes and a set of clubs and then you can go and make a living at it. But golf is like a lot of other things. It looks simple and it isn't when you try it. These guys spend hundreds of hours practicing one particular swing. When you try to be better than anyone else at any particular thing, that is where the degree of difficulty comes in. I suppose being a pilot would have been enjoyable, but I really haven't thought about anything other than racing.
Q: Have you given any thought to retirement?
Johnson: Isn't that a social disease or something? I don't know what that is. As far as I am concerned, retirement involves a pine box. I have to be doing something all the time. I could be retired from the driving aspect of it and being out here everyday. But I would still be involved with team ownership and have someone else drive it. We'll cross that bridge when it comes.
Q: You've had great success at the U.S. Nationals in the past. This year we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Knowing that, would it mean more to win that race?
Johnson: I won the 40th anniversary, so winning the 50th would be all right. That's what I am going there to do anyway, so why not? If I accomplish that, so be it.
Q: Is earning your 100th win important to you?
Johnson: No. It has no bearing on how I race or how long I race. I have been very fortunate to win as many races as I have and records, in reality, are only meant to be broken. Someone else will surpass whatever I end up with someday. I don't think about any of the records or numbers. I haven't got a huge ego like some people. I enjoy what I am doing. I may get a little more intense than most people do but that's because I enjoy what I am doing. I don't think about records because that is not what I am here for.
Q: What gives you satisfaction? What's the payoff for all of the hard work?
Johnson: Probably just the competing. Early on, NHRA was founded on guys going out and playing with their hot rods but I looked at it as something that if I was going to do it, I had to make a living at it. That's where it all started. It's turned into a rather lengthy career.
Q: Do you get any satisfaction knowing that people you've had working in your organization have gone on to success in their own right? Do you like being a teacher?
Johnson: If someone can take something you have done and expand on it and hopefully do better, than yes, that's a good feeling. At least you pointed them in the right direction. I've never been paid to be a teacher, but I've run other fabricating companies, instructional steel companies, companies along those lines and I was always having to show people how to do things in order for the company to make a profit. I guess I have been a mentor of sorts.
Q: How did you get the nickname 'The Professor'?
Johnson: One of the National DRAGSTER staff writers coined the term. Way back when. I think it was John Brasseaux. He hung that moniker on me because I was so intense at what I was doing, I worked at it. He made the observation that for me it was more of an analytical approach to racing. I wasn't just throwing parts at a hot rod.