THE KURT CHRONICLES: KURT JOHNSON ACDELCO NEWS & NOTES FOR THE WINSTON SHOWDOWN AND MOPAR PARTS MILE-HIGH NATIONALS NEXT RACES: Winston Showdown (non-points special event), July 8-10, Bristol, Tenn. TV: ESPN, July 10, 9:30-10:30 p.m. EDT Mopar...
THE KURT CHRONICLES: KURT JOHNSON ACDELCO NEWS & NOTES FOR THE WINSTON SHOWDOWN AND MOPAR PARTS MILE-HIGH NATIONALS
NEXT RACES: Winston Showdown (non-points special event), July 8-10, Bristol, Tenn. TV: ESPN, July 10, 9:30-10:30 p.m. EDT Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 15-18, Denver, Colo. TV: ESPN2, July 18, 6:30-7:30 p.m. EDT - check local listings.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Money may not make the word go round, but it definitely helps grease the bearings. Kurt Johnson will be racing for 50 large in the Winston Showdown at Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn., on July 10. Racing under the lights on Saturday night, the all-star race doesn't pay a single championship point - but it does pay the Pro Stock winner $50,000.
"Show me the money!" said Kurt, doing his best Tom Cruise impression. "Winning the cash would be nice, but I've got more on my mind right now. I'm losing ground in the points race, and we have to get going again.
"I look at the Winston Showdown as a test session where everyone will be there," Kurt revealed. "I plan to use it to tune for the rest of the season - and maybe bring home the bucks, too!"
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN!
Following the sage advice of Horace Greeley, Kurt will kick off NHRA's "Western Swing" immediately following the Winston Showdown. The four-week tour begins in Denver with the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals on July 16-18. After a one-week break, it's on to Seattle (July 30-August 1) and Sonoma, Calif. (August 6-8).
Like the 49ers who went west to seek their fortunes, Kurt has found gold on the Western Swing. He's been in two final rounds in the last four years at the Mile-High Nationals, defeating Jim Yates in the final round in 1995 and losing to Yates in the '97 final.
K.J. has been in three finals in six races at Seattle International Raceway, defeating his father Warren in '93 and losing to Mike Edwards and W.J. in '96 and '98 respectively. Although Kurt has never advanced to a final round in Sonoma, he's qualified No. 1 there twice (1995 and 1996).
"I think the suspension changes we've made are really going to work in Denver," Kurt predicted. "The starting line at Seattle can always handle all the horsepower we can throw at it. Sonoma can be greasy when it's hot, so our plan is to try to spin the tires and just skate through the tricky spots. The goal is to get through the first 100 feet without distorting the tires."
NUMBER ONE IN ST. LOUIS
Kurt has experienced more ups and downs this season than an elevator repairman. He was on the top of the Pro Stock chart for the 14th time in his career when qualifying was completed for the Sears Craftsman Nationals near St. Louis. K.J. put his ACDelco Camaro in the No. 1 spot with a track-record 6.932-second elapsed time - his third No. 1 of the season.
"I couldn't believe it when I let the clutch out - it was one of the smoothest runs I ever made," said Kurt after qualifying. "Maybe the last two months have just been a nightmare."
K.J.'s bad dream wasn't over, however. After a rain delay before the start of final eliminations on Saturday night, Kurt lost to Tom Martino in the first round. Both drivers had identical .466-second reaction times, but Martino - the No. 16 qualifier - pulled off an upset victory with a quicker 7.054-second elapsed time to K.J.'s 7.072.
"We made a perfect run under similar conditions on Friday night, but we knew we needed a little more clutch pressure for the first round because the track was cooler," Kurt explained. "We put in 60 more pounds of pressure, but when I let the clutch out it just slipped through first and second gear.
"We're kicking ourselves, but it's been a lot worse over the last two months," Kurt declared. "We just have to get after it now and go racing!"
Kurt held onto the No. 2 spot in the Pro Stock championship standings with an 87-point lead over third-ranked Jim Yates, who broke a 32-race winless streak in St. Louis.
Kurt and his ACDelco team are focusing on their Camaro's suspension as the root of their starting line problems. "We stayed at Gateway after the race and made eight test runs," Kurt reported. "We changed the clutch, moved weight around, and worked on the shocks. The car was still inconsistent, shaking on one run and then spinning the tires on the next one. Finally I said, 'Let's adjust the suspension links like we used to run in our Cutlass.' The car went right down the track after that.
"We need a car that will get through first and second gear consistently," Kurt declared. "We may try running narrower rear wheels on the car. I'm not running out of ideas - I just hope we don't run out of time!"
Kurt set the Gateway International Raceway track elapsed time record at 6.932 seconds, erasing Jim Yates' last entry in the record book. Kurt and his father Warren now hold the e.t. marks at every event on the NHRA circuit except one: Mark Osborne, now retired from Pro Stock, holds the e.t. record at Heartland Park Topeka at 6.924 seconds.
LAST RACE: Sears Craftsman Nationals, Madison, Ill., June 26, 1999 Qualifying: Kurt Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.932/198.20 mph Eliminations: First Round: Tom Martino (7.054/194.52) defeated Kurt Johnson (7.072/196.39)
Final Round: Jim Yates defeated Allen Johnson Low ET: Kurt Johnson, 6.932 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 198.96 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: (After 11 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 910 2. Kurt Johnson 2 731 3. Jim Yates 1 644 4. Richie Stevens 1 601 5. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 1 582