They say you can't go home again - but for nearly a quarter of a century, Kurt Johnson's "home" on Labor Day weekend has been Indianapolis Raceway Park. Kurt and his father Warren will return to IRP to compete in the U.S. Nationals for the 24th...
They say you can't go home again - but for nearly a quarter of a century, Kurt Johnson's "home" on Labor Day weekend has been Indianapolis Raceway Park. Kurt and his father Warren will return to IRP to compete in the U.S. Nationals for the 24th time on September 3-6. Kurt Johnson made his first pilgrimage to Indianapolis, the Mecca of American motorsports, as a wide-eyed 8-year-old. He'll return to the most hallowed ground in drag racing as a seasoned 36-year-old pro. Kurt first stood in the U.S. Nationals winner's circle in 1984 after his father defeated Bob Glidden in the final round. Since then, the first family of Pro Stock has virtually staked out Indianapolis Raceway Park as its private reserve. Warren and Kurt teamed up to win the Pro Stock crown at Indy six consecutive years in 1992-97. Warren won four straight U.S. Nationals titles in 1992-95, but his streak came to an abrupt end in 1996 when his car broke a wheelie bar in the first round of eliminations. That's when Kurt stepped up to continue the family tradition, defeating Rickie Smith in the final to claim his first U.S. Nationals crown. The following year he beat V. Gaines to capture the family's unprecedented sixth consecutive U.S. Nationals crown. "I've spent Labor Day in Indianapolis for as long as I can remember, so winning the Nationals was a dream come true," Kurt recalled. "It's the biggest event in drag racing. Everyone works all season for this race, and everybody's at their peak." Life has changed dramatically for Kurt since his first journey to Indy. After serving an apprenticeship as parts washer, machinist, and crew chief for his father, Kurt began his own driving career in 1993. He's won races in Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, and other stops on the NHRA tour - but his two victories at IRP stand out as special. "I was kicking myself after I lost in the second round last year in Indy," Kurt admitted. "I'd won the Nationals two years in a row, so I knew how to win the 'Big One.' "Last year we were just a little off on our clutch setup, and the car was spinning the tires on the starting line," he continued. "This year we're going back to Indy with a car that won in Seattle and should have won in Sonoma. Those tracks are as different as two drag strips can be, so we're not going to think about making radical changes for Indy. We'll fine tune the shocks, the clutch, the gear ratio, and the starting line rpm. "The key to winning at Indianapolis Raceway Park is reading the race track," Kurt explained. "Then you have to make the right adjustments."
KURT JOHNSON U.S. NATIONALS RESULTS
Year Qualified Result 1993 4 Semi Final 1994 9 First Round 1995 4 Semi Final 1996 5 Winner (over Smith) 1997 1 Winner (over Gaines) 1998 2 Second Round
Kurt tallied 291 championship points on the three-race "Western Swing" through Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif. - the highest total posted by any Pro Stock driver. In the process, he maintained his hold on second place in the Winston standings and trimmed father Warren's lead from 179 to 101 points at the conclusion of the Swing. "I came out of the Western Swing with a win, a runner-up, and a semi-final finish - that's not a bad average," Kurt commented. K.J. decisively broke an eight-race victory drought by scoring his third win of the season and the 15th of his career in the Prolong Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals at Seattle International Raceway on August 1. Kurt was relentless at SIR, the site of his first Pro Stock victory as a rookie racer in 1993. His ACDelco Camaro ran the quickest elapsed time of the event, set the SIR track record at 6.876 seconds, and topped 200 mph six times - twice in qualifying and in all four rounds of eliminations. Kurt's final-round victory over Jim Yates, 6.923 to 6.962, denied Yates the $50,000 Winston "No Bull" bonus.
Kurt qualified No. 1 for the fourth time this season and advanced to the final round for the fifth time in 1999 at the Autolite Nationals in Sonoma, Calif., on August 8. He finished as runner-up to Jim Yates, a reversal of the results at the preceding race in Seattle. Kurt set the Sears Point Raceway elapsed time track record at 6.898 seconds and recorded his first 200 mph pass at the track in the California wine country. "The air was good enough for the car to run 200mph, but the traction wasn't," K.J. observed. "I was surprised to see 200 on the time slip because we had to run with the spoiler just about standing straight up to keep the tires from spinning at mid-track." In the final round, Johnson and Yates left the starting line side-by-side, but K.J.'s Camaro encountered traction problems and slowed to an 11-second e.t.
Kurt Johnson had every reason to be optimistic at the start of eliminations at the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minnesota) International Raceway on August 22. His ACDelco Camaro had been flawless in four qualifying sessions, recording a string of 6-second elapsed times and putting Kurt in the No. 2 spot on the qualifying list. But the inconsistency that has been the hallmark of Kurt's season returned on race day, relegating K.J. to a semi-final round finish in his home state. Coming into this event, BIR had never yielded a 6-second run in Pro Stock. Kurt ran four consecutive sixes in qualifying, posting times of 6.979, 6.963, 6.998, and 6.998. "We were having the smoothest weekend we've had in a long time," Kurt noted. "We made four absolutely perfect runs in qualifying." Kurt defeated Steve Schmidt and Ron Krisher in the opening stanzas to advance to the semi-final round for the tenth time in 15 races. He lost to Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in the third round, slowing to a 7.16-second e.t. after his car got out of the groove. "We've got some ideas to stiffen up the chassis to keep it going in a straight line," Kurt revealed. "We just have to do some more testing. That's all there is to it."
LAST RACE: Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn., August 22 Qualifying: Kurt Johnson qualified No. 2 at 6.963/197.45 mph.
Eliminations: First Round: Kurt Johnson (6.982/196.73) defeated Steve Schmidt (7.141/193.43) Second Round: Kurt Johnson (7.075/195.11) defeated Ron Krisher (7.155/191.19) Semi-Final: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.098/193.88) defeated Kurt Johnson (7.163/193.68)
Final Round: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.063/194.60) defeated Warren Johnson (7.167/179.95) Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.955 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 197.59 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: (After 15 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 1,221 2. Kurt Johnson 3 1,099 3. Jim Yates 2 919 4. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 3 901 5. Richie Stevens 1 766