Gainesville, Fla., is a college town - but for one weekend every year it becomes a racing town. The NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals traditionally signals the arrival of spring and the awakening of drag racing on the East Coast. This year the...
Gainesville, Fla., is a college town - but for one weekend every year it becomes a racing town. The NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals traditionally signals the arrival of spring and the awakening of drag racing on the East Coast. This year the "second season" starts at Gainesville Dragway on March 17-19. Kurt Johnson was the No. 2 qualifier and advanced to the final round at last year's Gatornationals. There he had the misfortune to race his father Warren, the perennial winner at Gainesville Raceway. Although Kurt had lane choice for the final face-off, he encountered handling problems and lost to Warren. Nevertheless, K.J.'s runner-up finish was his best result in seven appearances at the Gatornationals. "That track can be tricky on race day if the sun is shining," Kurt comments. "When it gets slippery, you have to tiptoe through the middle part of the track and stand up the spoiler to keep the tires planted. "Our primary concern going into Gainesville is coming up with a chassis, tire, and clutch combination that will go through first gear smoothly," he reveals. "We've tested extensively on our shock absorber dynamometer at the shop, and we have several sets of shocks to try on the race track."
Kurt Johnson's on-track activities last month were overshadowed by the arrival of his third child. Kurt and his wife Kathy welcomed Jarrett Kurt Johnson, a.k.a. "JKJ" into the world on February 15 at 1:43 p.m. Jarrett, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces, is an early favorite to win the NHRA championship in 2018. Timing is everything, and Jarrett's arrival was precisely synchronized with a break in the racing schedule. "I attended an ACDelco national sales meeting in Orlando, took the last flight back to Atlanta, and got home at one o'clock in the morning," said the proud father. "Eight hours later, Kathy and I were at the hospital."
One year ago, Kurt held the lead in the race for the Pro Stock championship. This time around he is in ninth place, 142 markers behind Jeg Coughlin Jr. Kurt's reversal of fortune hasn't affected his confidence, however. "Jeg has jumped out to a big lead, but we can overcome that," Kurt asserts. "He has been making good runs, and that just raises the bar for us to make better, more consistent runs. Even though a racer is always trying to go faster, the key to winning a championship is to get from Point A to Point B every time you are on the track."
The ACDelco Kurt Johnson Green Light Sweepstakes generated more than 100,000 entries as race fans vied for the grand prize - a new Camaro Z28 with custom paint and graphics that duplicated the appearance of K.J.'s race-winning Chevrolet. Kurt Miller of West Columbia, S.C., won the tricolored "clone" Camaro. Johnson played a key role in selecting the sweepstakes winner. The final drawing took place on the starting line at Pomona Raceway before the last qualifying session at the AutoZone Winternationals. After the names of the three finalists were placed in Kurt's helmet, the 36-year-old driver literally pulled the winning entry out of his "hat." "We appreciate the tremendous support of ACDelco, Chevrolet, and the entire GM organization for our racing program," said Johnson. "This program is a great way to reward the fans who support our sport." The sweepstakes spotlighted ACDelco's involvement in NHRA championship drag racing as both a team and product sponsor. Contestants could enter the contest at NHRA national events, GM dealerships, ACDelco distributors, and mass merchandisers. "The sweepstakes transferred the excitement of drag racing from the race track to ACDelco distributors and retailers," said Bill Fitzgerald, manager of event marketing for GM Service Parts Operations. The positive response to the program prompted ACDelco, in association with Chevrolet and the Camaro and S-10 brand teams, to expand the program for 2000. The grand prizes in this year's ACDelco Sweepstakes are a Kurt Johnson Chevrolet Camaro Z28 and a Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme pickup. The winners in the year-long promotion will be announced at the Winternationals in February 2001.
The NHRA tour will take on an international flavor when Swedish Pro Stock driver Michael Malmgren joins the circuit at the Gatornationals with a new 2000 Camaro sponsored by ACDelco Europe. Malmgren, the FIA Pro Stock record holder at 7.06/197 mph, plans to run Gainesville, Las Vegas, and Houston before returning home to pursue the FIA European Championship. A camera team will record his experiences in America for Eurosport, Skysport, and Swedish television. "We are very excited about this tour and we hope to do well," said Malmgren, the 1995-97 Nordic Pro Stock champion. "We know that even to qualify will be hard, but we are aiming high. The team is very proud to be associated with ACDelco, a company that is known around the world."