Kurt Johnson Gatornationals Preview

THE KURT CHRONICLES: GATORNATIONALS EDITION Kurt Johnson ACDelco News and Notes NEXT RACE: Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN2, March 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Eastern - check local ...


NEXT RACE: Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN2, March 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Eastern - check local listings

Kurt Quote: "I'm going to put a padlock on the door of the transporter and not open it until we get to Gainesville!"


For the first time in his seven-year racing career, Kurt Johnson stands atop the Pro Stock points standings. A victory at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix on February 28, combined with a semi-final finish in the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals, has given K.J. a six-point lead over Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in the championship race.

"From where I'm standing, the view couldn't be any better!" declared the second-generation racer from Lawrenceville, Ga. "I'm excited about the way things are going."

Johnson's ACDelco Camaro was flawless at Firebird International Raceway, the site of the CSK Nationals. Kurt recorded the quickest elapsed time in all four rounds of eliminations, running 6.95, 6.99, 7.00, and 6.97. K.J.'s driving was equally impressive as he recorded reaction times that ranged from .439 to .460 seconds.

"I left first against three of the four people I raced, my car was fast, and everything seemed to be clicking," Kurt commented. "I'm pumped up about our performance at Firebird because we were able to get down a hot and slippery race track when a lot of other people were having problems. If we run in those conditions again, I think we'll be in good shape. And when we get on a fast track, we should be in real good shape!"


Kurt and his ACDelco team endured a disastrous test session at Southwestern International Raceway in Tucson, Ariz., immediately preceding the CSK Nationals. Ironically, the troubles in Tucson may have been the key to Kurt's victory in Phoenix.

"We made nine test runs in Tucson, and only got to the finish line twice under power," Kurt revealed. "It was ugly. We had transmission problems and then broke an engine. We made a radical change in the clutch and pulled a spare motor out from under the workbench. The car seemed to be happy with those changes, so that was the combination we took to Phoenix. If we hadn't worked through those problems in testing, we might have looked like a bunch of idiots at Firebird.

"We thought about testing again before the Gatornationals, but considering how fast the car ran in Phoenix, I think we'll just leave it alone for now," Kurt reported. "I'm going to put a padlock on the back of the transporter and not open it until we get to Gainesville Raceway!"


Although Kurt has never won the Mac Tools Gatornationals, he is looking forward to the NHRA tour's annual visit to Gainesville Raceway. K.J. was the No. 2 qualifier at the Gatornationals in 1997 and 1998, and he posted semi-final round finishes both years. He also became the third member of the Speed-Pro 200 mph Pro Stock Club with a 200.13 mph pass at last season's event.

"Gainesville is a good race track," Johnson observes. "It's very smooth, and you can put the pedal to the metal. The starting line can handle everything you throw at it. The track has a tendency to get a little slick on Sunday afternoon if the sun starts beating down on it. I think we have a combination that will overcome that. We certainly know what to do to make the car shake, so we plan to stay away from that setup!"


Kurt will celebrate his 36th birthday on Tuesday, March 23, just two days after the Gatornationals. "It would be nice to have something to celebrate besides getting another year older," Johnson says with a smile.


Kurt's breakthrough first victory at Firebird Raceway helped to erase memories of his 1993 crash in Phoenix in his second outing as a Pro Stock racer. Driving a borrowed race car, the rookie driver braked too hard after winning his second-round match with Scott Geoffrion. Johnson experienced a close encounter with the guardrail, but his only injury was a badly bruised ego.

"I remember in '93 when my race car was upside down in the desert and I was being carried off on a stretcher," he recalls. "I wasn't as spectacular this year, but I like the result a lot better."


K.J.'s comments on leading the championship standings: "There are still 20 races to go, and a lot can happen. When I go to a race, I'm bound and determined to win. I know I have the equipment, the horsepower, and the people I need to win. If they believe in me, and if I keep making the right calls on raceday, the results will turn out all right."


Year    Qualified   Result
1993    3           Second Round
1994    8           First Round
1995    8           Semi Final
1996    4           First Round
1997    2           Semi-Final
1998    2           Semi Final

LAST RACE: Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, February 28, Phoenix, Ariz.

Qualifying: Kurt Johnson qualified No. 2 at 6.934/198.79 mph

Eliminations: Round 1: Kurt Johnson (6.957/198.76) defeated Ron Krisher (7.038/195.90) Round 2: Kurt Johnson (6.999/197.45) defeated Steve Schmidt (7.398/151.80) Semi-Final: Kurt Johnson (7.008/197.39) defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.018/197.39) Final Round: Kurt Johnson (6.970/197.97) defeated Troy Coughlin (8.095/120.38)

Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.920 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 199.64 mph (track record)

POINTS RACE: (After 2 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Kurt Johnson 1 194 2. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 1 188 3. Troy Coughlin 0 185 4. Warren Johnson 0 116 5. George Marnell 0 111

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher , Scott Geoffrion , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt