Las Vegas: Warren Johnson preview

W.J. set to headline in Las Vegas. NHRA showplace is a far cry from GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver's first tracks. Sugar Hill, Ga., March 28, 2003 - Throughout his storied career, GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver Warren Johnson has ...

W.J. set to headline in Las Vegas.
NHRA showplace is a far cry from GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver's first tracks.

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 28, 2003 - Throughout his storied career, GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver Warren Johnson has competed on a multitude of race tracks in every corner of the United States, as well selected locations in Canada and Japan. During that time, Johnson has witnessed the evolution of not only the sport of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing, but also the facilities at which the world's best quarter-milers compete. Ironically, Johnson's first experience at a drag strip may have prepared him for the magnificent speedplants that were to follow some 30 years later.

"I was actually spoiled by the conditions at my very first drag race," detailed Johnson. "I raced at Minnesota Dragway, which, by the standards back then, was a show place race track. It had a concrete starting line, the forerunner of a Christmas Tree, and the racing surface was 80 feet wide, which was wider than most tracks of the day. It also had paved pits, a paved return road and paved spectator parking.

"Of course, I was soon brought back to reality when I raced the UDRA circuit and the NHRA divisional races, where calling the facility a race track was using the term pretty loosely."

Based on his vast experience, the "Professor of Pro Stock" would therefore be one of the best authorities to judge The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of this weekend's Nationals, and he gives the facility high marks.

"When you look at what Bruton Smith and his people have done to raise the bar for what a race track should be, far and away theirs are the showcase drag strips and circle tracks," stated Johnson. "Their facilities are designed with efficiency and spectator comfort in mind.

"For example, they have the suites in Las Vegas above the grandstands, which was an idea I pushed for 20 years ago, because that is where you get the best sensation of speed. Considering all the amenities it has for competitors and spectators alike, it is without a doubt the premier facility on the NHRA POWERade circuit."

However, when "W.J." arrives in Las Vegas, his attention will not be focused on suites or creature comforts, but on the racing surface where another tight Pro Stock competition is expected. A win in the Nevada desert carries extra incentive for Johnson, as Las Vegas is the only track on the 2003 schedule where he has yet to reach the winner's circle.

"Sitting at an altitude of 2200 feet, the race cars will naturally be slowed down a bit, but much like the rest of the facility, the management at Las Vegas is constantly working to improve the race track," opined Johnson. "For example, there were some surface irregularities when we first raced here, but as expected, they addressed the issue to where it is now as good a surface as we race on.

"I've been the runner-up twice in Las Vegas, so the surface obviously suits our GM Performance Parts Grand Am well. It's now just a matter of Kurt or myself taking it to the next level and reaching the winner's circle. With our cars winning two of the first three races, we're certainly pleased with the start of the season. However, there is always room for improvement, so both teams continue to work extremely hard to make these cars more competitive to the point that we can dominate."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering the Nationals:

* The Professor in Las Vegas: This will be Warren's sixth appearance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Throughout his career, WJ has posted two final round appearances in 2000 and last year's fall event.

* Autograph session: Warren Johnson will be participating in a one hour pre-race autograph session, that will be held on Thursday evening, April 3 from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the ESPN Zone, which is located at the New York New York hotel and casino. For more information, please go to the official NHRA website, or, the official website of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

* One year ago: WJ qualified sixth for Las Vegas spring race with an elapsed time of 6.975 seconds and a top speed of 198.12 mph, and advanced to the quarterfinals.

* Missing Link: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the only stop on the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Schedule where Warren has yet to win.

* Winning Streak: With his win at the 2003 Winternationals, Warren Johnson extended his streak of winning at least one race a year to 22 years, the longest in NHRA history.

* POWERade Points standings: After the third of 23 events, WJ arrives in Las Vegas in third place in the 2003 POWERade points standings with 207 points, 58 behind leader Greg Anderson and 16 behind second place Kurt Johnson. Warren finished fourth in 2002, his twenty-first consecutive Top Five finish.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 89 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him 2nd on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came at the 2003 Winternationals in Pomona, CA.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.764 seconds, Pomona 2003

* Career best top speed: 204.91 mph, Pomona 2003 (The fastest pass in NHRA Pro Stock history.)

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson