</pre> NEXT RACE: NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, September 1-4 TV: TNN, Sept. 4, 4-6 p.m. (ET) WHEN YOU'RE HOT . . . Kurt Johnson is the hottest Pro Stock driver on the NHRA circuit, and he's ready to turn...
</pre> NEXT RACE: NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, September 1-4 TV: TNN, Sept. 4, 4-6 p.m. (ET)
WHEN YOU'RE HOT . . .
Kurt Johnson is the hottest Pro Stock driver on the NHRA circuit, and he's ready to turn up the heat at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on September 1-4. With three victories in the last four races, Johnson has shown the consistency and the performance that he will need to add a third U.S. Nationals trophy to his collection.
"I've raced in Indy on Labor Day since I was a little kid," said the 37-year-old second-generation racer. "It's the one to win.
"I won the U.S. Nationals two years a row (in 1996 and 1997), but since then we've stumbled in Indy," Kurt conceded. "I think my ACDelco team has finally put together a package now that's capable of winning. We're on a roll, and we need to carry that momentum for the rest of the season."
K.J. has dominated the second half of the 23-race season. His victories in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Brainerd, Minn., catapulted him past his father Warren and Ron Krisher to second place in the championship standings. Since the midseason break, he's won 14 out of a possible 16 rounds of eliminations. He defeated points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the pair's last two head-to-head meetings in Sonoma and Brainerd.
The turning point for Johnson was the development of a stiffer, stronger chassis under the skin of his ACDelco Camaro. "We're still learning about this car and chassis combination," Johnson explained. "If we can improve our 60-foot times one or two hundredths without hurting the performance on the rest of the track, we'll be looking good.
"We've learned that we can't be afraid to make big changes," he noted. "We have to chase the track and weather conditions. This is not the time to be timid."
Like the swallows that return to Capistrano every year, Kurt's drag racing odyssey invariably takes him back to Indianapolis on Labor Day. He first accompanied his father Warren to the U.S. Nationals in 1971, and he competed for the first time at IRP in 1993 as a Pro Stock rookie.
"The U.S. Nationals that stands out in my memory is 1984," he recalled. "That was the first time that Dad won Indy, and he had to beat Bob Glidden in the final to do it. It was great to finally win one in Glidden's back yard.
"Of course, I'll always remember my first Indy win in 1996," Kurt continued. "That was a tough day at the office because I had to race Chuck Harris, Tom Martino, Jim Yates, and Rickie Smith. The final was decided by two thousandths of a second at the finish line. That was a big, big win."
If the past is a road map to the future, then Johnson is on a course for the U.S. Nationals winner's circle. When he won in Brainerd in 1997, he went on to win in Indy two weeks later. Kurt is hoping that particular piece of motorsports history repeats itself on Labor Day in Indianapolis. <pre> KURT JOHNSON NHRA 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 1999 16 First Round
LAST RACE: Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, August 20, Brainerd, Minn. Qualified: No. 2 at 6.951/197.57 Finished: Winner; defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in final round.
POINTS RACE: (After 15 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6 1,290 2. Kurt Johnson 3 1,010 3. Ron Krisher 2 1,007 4. Warren Johnson 1 927 5. Troy Coughlin 0 805