FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Media Contact: Rick Voegelin/408-761-2201 KURT JOHNSON: PRO STOCK'S SURPRISING NEW "MR. CONSISTENCY" Back-to-Back Wins in Brainerd and Indy Fuel...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Media Contact: Rick Voegelin/408-761-2201
KURT JOHNSON: PRO STOCK'S SURPRISING NEW "MR. CONSISTENCY"
Back-to-Back Wins in Brainerd and Indy Fuel K.J.'s Championship Run
No one has ever accused Kurt Johnson of being predictable. His five-year career in Pro Stock has had more peaks and valleys than the Dow Jones average. But with back-to-back wins in Brainerd and Indianapolis, Kurt Johnson has emerged as the hottest and -- dare we say it? -- the most consistent driver in drag racing's most competitive category.
If Johnson can maintain the level of performance he's shown in the first 16 events on the NHRA drag racing tour, 1997 promises to be K.J.'s best season since he finished second in the 1993 championship race and was applauded as the "Rookie of the Year."
The 34-year-old driver of the ACDelco Pontiac is the only Pro Stock racer who has advanced to the second round of eliminations at every event this season. With six final-round appearances in 1997, Kurt has been in more finals than any Pro Stock driver except points-leader Jim Yates.
K.J. is one of a handful of Pro Stock racers who have qualified at all 16 events contested to date. He is one of only three drivers (along with Yates and his father Warren Johnson) who has qualified No. 1. He's also among the three elite drivers who have set a low elapsed time and run a top speed in Pro Stock this season.
"Last year we had a car that handled erratically," Johnson explains. "It wasn't the car's fault; our tune-up was wrong. This year we're racing the same chassis with a few different parts, and it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do. It's going straight down the race track from Point A to Point B."
While the ongoing rivalry between heavyweights Warren Johnson and Jim Yates has been the center of attention, Kurt has quietly moved into contention for the championship. In the last two races, he's gained nearly 100 points on Yates in the Winston standings -- and he's less than one round behind his famous father.
"If I could put together another streak like we had in Brainerd and Indy, I'd be within 60 points of Yates with four races to go," Johnson suggests. "Then we'd have something to work with. But for that to happen, we need a little help from Yates. If he lost in the first or second round at a couple of races, the championship could get very interesting."
Is Kurt leery of passing his father in the points race? His curt reply: "If Warren Johnson doesn't win the championship, it would be better for me to win it than Yates."
Kurt's second straight victory at the U.S. Nationals continued the Johnsons' winning tradition in Indianapolis. Kurt scored the family's sixth consecutive win in drag racing's biggest and most prestigious event; Warren won the U.S. Nationals four straight years in 1992-1995.
K.J. celebrated his "silver anniversary" at the U.S. Nationals in the winner's circle. "I first came to Indy 25 years ago," Kurt recalls. "Things were a little different back then. We towed Dad's race car on an open trailer and stayed in the campground across the street from the track."
The days of sleeping in a tent at the races are long gone for Kurt Johnson. After literally growing up in the sport, Kurt is now a mature professional. He and his wife Kathy welcomed their first child into the world, son Conner Emory, just one week after last year's season finale in Pomona. Kurt has a multi-year sponsorship agreement with ACDelco, and a steady job assembling and testing a stable of 500ci GM DRCE racing engines at Warren Johnson Enterprises.
"Supporting a family is a big responsibility, but you can't think about that when you're racing," Johnson reveals. "You can't worry about paying the bills. You've just got to pull up to the starting line and do the best job you can every time. And if that's not good enough, then you've got to work harder."
A rock-solid team is another factor in Kurt's ascent in the championship standings. In his first three years on the circuit, Kurt employed a constantly changing roster of crew members. Now crew chief Kevin Horst and chief mechanic Bob Lawson are in their second season with Kurt, and they have added much-needed stability to his racing operation. Both Horst and Lawson know what it takes to win a title; before they joined Kurt Racing, they worked on Bob Newberry's championship-winning Top Alcohol Funny Car.
"We're familiar with each other and everybody knows his job," Johnson comments. "The bottom line is that there are less questions and more work."
In the past, the rap on Kurt was that he was prone to make radical changes in his car setup. Now he's sworn off his wild ways. "The ACDelco car has been flawless," Kurt declares. "When it's running this good, I don't want to mess with it. We've found our race car's sweet spot, and we'll leave it alone until somebody starts beating us."
Kurt Johnson's drag racing career has been a roller coaster. He's broken performance bariers and he's crashed cars. He's won races and he's DNQ'ed. Now as he begins the stretch run for the 1997 NHRA title, Kurt Johnson has more than horsepower and a lifetime of racing experience to fuel his championship drive. He has something he's never had before: consistency.
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E-mail from: Rick Voegelin, 10-Sep-1997