Kurt Johnson's Cavalier shows championship potential

Kurt Johnson's Chevy Cavalier shows early preseason potential. ATLANTA, Jan. 27, 2003 - It may have only been your typical mid-January Pro Stock test session at Bradenton Motorsports Park, but with Kurt Johnson's recent quarter-mile pass of 6.71...

Kurt Johnson's Chevy Cavalier shows early preseason potential.

ATLANTA, Jan. 27, 2003 - It may have only been your typical mid-January Pro Stock test session at Bradenton Motorsports Park, but with Kurt Johnson's recent quarter-mile pass of 6.71 seconds at 205.10 mph, the ACDelco Chevy Cavalier driver managed to blast his way into uncharted territory. The outstanding air and track conditions at the Florida race venue were a factor in the lightening-quick elapsed times of the preseason test, but the 39-year-old Johnson nevertheless has constructed a rock-solid performance foundation around his Chevy Cavalier as he prepares for the 2003 NHRA POWERade title chase.

"The air was good, the track was fairly decent and we had everything hooked up on our ACDelco Chevy Cavalier," explained Johnson. "We ran 6.80 seconds out of the box, but with a little bit of tire shake going into second gear. Once we smoothed that out we ran 6.74, 6.72 and 6.71 at 205.10 and 205.01 mph. It was quite a ride, but the track was so good that they were all very smooth runs - nothing really too crazy about any of them.

"Getting into the groove, which was pretty narrow, was our biggest challenge, so by 300 feet, you had to make sure the car was where it needed to be. We had so much power down at the top end that it was crucial to be in the sticky part of the race track. At the same time, even though our numbers were good, you have to keep everything in perspective - we won't really know how good we are until we get to Pomona."

Johnson is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new race season and a return to friendly Pomona Raceway. Johnson's last three national-event victories have come at the fabled facility including his most recent win at the NHRA Finals last November.

"It's actually been a low-key off-season for us really," said Johnson. "We got all of our testing in last week at Bradenton and made 10 runs. If you include the last six races of last year where we had about 40 passes on the car where it ran real well, we've got about 50 runs lately where we've been pretty decent. We're just hoping to start off where we left off last year.

"Since we just won at Pomona, we don't plan on changing anything. There's no sense in going out and doing all kinds of testing and wearing out your parts before the first race if you don't have to. If you have to, it's a different case. We're just going to try and make as much power as we can in our back room and apply it to the race track. Even though the Winternationals is a big race, there are a lot more after that."

Born in northern Minnesota and now a resident of metropolitan Atlanta, Kurt Johnson has been around the sport of drag racing his entire life. So far in his 10 seasons and 198 career starts as an NHRA Pro Stock competitor, Johnson's driving tenure has included 23 victories in 40 final rounds and 21 No. 1 qualifying awards.

After winning three national events in his inaugural season in 1993, Johnson was named the NHRA Rookie of the Year. At Englishtown, N.J., in 1994 he became the first Pro Stock driver to run quicker than seven seconds. Johnson has finished second in the Pro Stock points standings twice (1993, 2000), in the top five eight times, and last year's sixth-place result marked Johnson's 10th consecutive top-10 finish.

"A successful racing team takes good personnel," said Johnson, "and being able to implement and execute an effective R & D program. You always have to be working on new stuff, and even though it may not be moving you in the right direction, you eventually learn what not to do and that guides you in the direction you should be going. A lot of testing on the dyno, scheduling where everyone needs to be and just keeping everything organized can be difficult - just getting the transporter to the race track takes effort. It takes people you can trust and that want to go racing.

"We have a great team here and to be honest, trackside I have two of the toughest guys on the circuit. Joe Cottle has been with me since Pomona 2001, his first race, and went 47 races without a win. He was still there in Pomona last year when we won. Kevin Horst, he's one of the pioneers that's been around forever, and both Kevin and Joe are two of the best. The guys at the shop do their job six days a week, 52 weeks a year. They respond to our sometimes crazy ideas by building the parts that make power and never bat an eye. This is what it takes to be successful. Running an organization like ours takes a total team effort and a group that's dedicated to winning."

Last year Johnson rolled to a career-best speed of 204.03 mph at Dallas, a runner-up at Houston and captured his only victory of the season at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., to help solidify a sixth-place finish. The Finals victory kept alive a streak in which the ACDelco Chevy Cavalier driver has visited the winner's circle at least once every year for the last eight seasons, a streak that dates back to 1995. With his No. 1 qualifying effort at the ACDelco Nationals in Las Vegas, Johnson also prolonged a streak of nine consecutive seasons in which he's won at least one race day pole position.

"It's hard to put the numbers together on what it will take to be successful this year," said Johnson. "But if you can win six or seven races and qualify at all of the rest, then you've got a good chance of winning the championship. You'll need to keep first-round losses to a minimum, but that's not easy because every round now is like racing in a final round. At the same time, after battling your way just to get qualified, being able to race on Sunday is actually a relief.

"The last couple of seasons with 15 different winners in 2001 and 13 different winners last season, was just crazy. It's just going to be a matter of paying better attention to detail. It just keeps getting tighter and tighter. You've got to keep trying to turn over unturned stones, and man we've been running into pebbles lately. They're not stones anymore, they're just small rocks. We just keep beating on it and do what we know how to do. Eventually it becomes a matter of being able to properly apply that horsepower to the race track."

-gm racing-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson