Joliet: Warren Johnson preview

Driver Safety Takes a Front Seat with Warren Johnson Seat in WJ's new GM Performance Parts Grand Am features revolutionary design SUGAR HILL, GA., May 27, 2003 - When people think of Warren Johnson, the first thing that comes to mind is ...

Driver Safety Takes a Front Seat with Warren Johnson Seat in WJ's new GM Performance Parts Grand Am features revolutionary design

SUGAR HILL, GA., May 27, 2003 - When people think of Warren Johnson, the first thing that comes to mind is horsepower. Over the last twenty-seven years, Johnson-powered race cars have set countless records, won well over a hundred races and six NHRA Pro Stock championships. The 2003 POWERade season has been no different, as Warren and his son Kurt arrive at Route 66 Raceway for the Lucas Oil Nationals having set seven track records as well as winning five of the first nine races, with each in contention for this year's title.

It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that the one feature drawing the most attention on WJ's new GM Performance Parts Grand Am has no direct influence on the vehicle's performance. However, as "The Professor" explains, the revolutionary seat that made its debut last weekend in Topeka is the result of his work in another area of extreme personal interest.

"From day one I have looked at ways to make these cars safer," stated Johnson. "My first approach came as a result of my witnessing a fatality in Baton Rouge many years ago, after which I incorporated a funny car style roll cage designed to keep the driver contained inside the car.

"Since then, we've made other changes, leading up to the production of this seat. I've studied many NASCAR films, dating back to Bobby Allison's accident in Pocono, and realized there had to be a better way to protect the driver other than just surrounding him with a lot of pipe. We needed to prevent the body from decelerating instantly, which is where many of the injuries occur.

"Working with a gentleman who builds seats for the IRL and CART, we came up with the prototypical design found in our new GM Performance Parts Grand Am. It has the dual purpose of holding the driver in place while absorbing some of the energy of the impact. This is strictly a safety issue - something designed to protect the driver. Although the R&D nature of this initial offering accounts for its astronomical price, we're hoping to make it more affordable in the near future.

"As Brandon Bernstein's unfortunate incident in Englishtown showed us, it's an area that I believe needs to be addressed in all classes. Certainly his was an unusual impact, hitting on the bottom as it did, but nevertheless, he probably could have benefited from a seat that dissipated the energy more than simple tubing."

The unusual shape of Johnson's form-fitting, carbon-fiber seat has already earned it several nicknames, such as the "Jacuzzi" (courtesy of Warren's son Kurt) and the "Barcalounger". However, as any competitor will quickly agree, driver safety is always a prime concern.

"We're dealing with 2,350-pound cars traveling at well over 200 mph, and we don't have the luxury of having the extra thousand pounds of tubing of the Winston Cup cars around us," stated Johnson. "I have always made safety a top priority, and over the years I have made many subtle changes to my cars that are strictly in that area.

"Ironically, my competitors will see something different and immediately assume it's to enhance the performance. Naturally, we are always looking at that aspect, but first and foremost, you build a safe race car. That's what we've done with this new GM Performance Parts Grand Am."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering the Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals:

* WJ leads the pack at Route 66: This will be Warren's eighth NHRA Pro Stock national event appearance at Route 66 Raceway, where he has accumulated two wins (1999, 2001) in three final round appearances, while compiling a 13-5 elimination round record. Incidentally, WJ is the only driver with more than one win in Joliet. In addition, he was the No. 1 qualifier at the inaugural event in 1998.

* One year ago: WJ qualified sixth for the spring Chicago race with an elapsed time of 6.881 seconds and a top speed of 201.31 mph (which was the top speed of the weekend), but was upset in the first round.

* Winning Streak: With his win in Atlanta, 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.

* POWERade Points standings: After the ninth of 23 events, WJ stands third in the 2003 POWERade points standings with 676 points, 134 behind current leader Anderson, and trails second place Kurt Johnson by 103 markers.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 90 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 2003 Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals in Atlanta, Ga.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.715 seconds, Englishtown 2003

* Career best top speed: 205.69 mph, Englishtown 2003

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Brandon Bernstein , Bobby Allison