Memphis Pontiac Winners Interviews

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 1998 PRO STOCK -Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) "Our cars are out of the same shop. Kurt's (Johnson) sponsored by Chevrolet and ACDelco,, we're sponsored by Pontiac and GM Goodwrench Service ...


PRO STOCK -Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) "Our cars are out of the same shop. Kurt's (Johnson) sponsored by Chevrolet and ACDelco,, we're sponsored by Pontiac and GM Goodwrench Service Plus. There's a little bit of a rivalry there, which is good for the fans. But it's a win-win deal as far as all of the people at the shop. Everything that we do is shared between the two cars and it's a testament to our total overall program. I do all of the cylinder heads and intake manifolds, he does all the short blocks and all of the dyno tuning of the engines. We both have equivalent horsepower. In fact, the engine he has out here has a couple of more horsepower than mine does. It has a different power curve so you have to treat it a little differently. It's just a matter of us getting together and getting all of the stuff right. The only difference is the suspension set up. All weekend long and after first round when he got by John Nobile, he listened to what we were saying and then he changed it to where it was running 6.93 or 6.94. He wants to do it his way and I can appreciate that. But at the same time, you have to be realistic. If there's something not working, you have to change it to something that does work. Our goal is to put both of these cars in the final and obliterate the field. That's our job. This is our vocation not our avocation, so we have no choice but to be as successful as possible. I hate starving to death. I'm small enough the way it is."

What did Kurt say to you before the race? "He said, "Don't spank me too bad". I said, "I'm going to try and go as fast as I can, and you're going to try and do the same thing." It's a case where he won all of his rounds on hole shots. I knew he would have at least a .430 light and he had a .439. He's seen this stuff for such a long period of time. He's seen all of the dumb stunts, some of which I've pulled, and he's a cool a driver on the starting line. I don't think there's anybody that can rattle him. When he has to press the tree, he can do it better than anybody."

What did you say after the race? "It was kind of funny. He said, ".410, what were you doing?" I was just the beneficiary of that. It's like I said of Jeg, Jr. at Pomona when he beat me with a .409 -- that's just a bad job of red lighting. Vehicle reaction time is a big part of that. The track got cooler, and we got a hold of it and were a hundredth quicker at 60-feet than we've been all day. So a lot of that is right there. I had a .452 light before. The Christmas Tree was a little bit shaded so you're going to perceive the light a little bit quicker."

"The light was starting to be shadowed so I changed to a different type of prescription glasses that shows the light a little bit better. The track cooled off so the car moved a lot quicker. There's two factors involved in there. We had pretty decent lights all day so we were right in the hunt as far as reaction times were concerned. The worst light I had all day was a .473 and there were guys who did a lot worse than that. There are two types of reaction time. You have the vehicle reaction time and the driver reaction time. The vehicle reaction time is a result of everybody doing their job, and all of us getting together and making the right call on the clutch, the suspension, and everything else involved. It was a total team effort. I get the benefit of a .410 light, but that's the result of every body else doing their job. "

You still don't want to let Kurt beat you though. "Absolutely not. You can't let them kids whip you too often. He's coming around. He got to the final on hole shots, but I just couldn't have that happen."

How do you like coming to Memphis Motorsports in the fall? "I think every driver out here is indebted to Chris Pook for tuning the track up. It's as good a race track as any we race on all year. That wasn't the case a few years ago. Now with the cooler weather it's better not only for the racers but certainly for the fans."

What do the milestones mean to you? "You seem to take them all in stride. I'm very fortunate that at 55 years of age, I'm still able to do this at the pace I'm doing it. There are a lot of guys who have given up on life at 55 and I'm out here having more fun than one person should be allowed to have. This is not a job for me, this is an opportunity, and I just love what I'm doing. I don't look at a time clock. I think there may be two percent of the people in the country who absolutely enjoy their job, and to me, this is just an opportunity to succeed. I'm just fortunate to be in the physical condition where I can do this. Driving a race car is nothing difficult. It's just a series of decisions that have to be made quickly and when you screw up, the results are spectacular."


Al Hofmann (GM Performance Parts Pontiac Firebird) "The win was great. We needed a win really bad for our sponsors, GM Performance Parts and Pontiac Firebird and everybody who stuck by us. After taking Force out, the win didn't matter. That makes my day. Actually, it makes my year. Taking him out in the first round at Sonoma and then the second round here. Especially since I've been giving him a hard time about this Elvis car that he brings out. I think he's going to finally figure out that Elvis has left the building. It's over."

What do you think about him leaving the body on for the rest of the year? "Well, I guess we'll just have to keep beating it up. He should have known better than to bring a Ford to a Pontiac race anyhow."

Where did the consistency come from today? "We were really impressed with what the Safety Safari has done out here this weekend. We went out there and ran 4.95 in the right lane and 4.95 in the left lane. What they've put up with oil out there is incredible. They have more oil out there right now than they have in Texas. They managed to do an excellent job preparing the track, fixing it and keeping it right there for all of the racers. My hat's off to the Safety Safari this weekend. I don't think we would be there if not for them. Our GM Performance Parts Firebird is a big horsepower car. We started out at the beginning of the year proving that and then we got into a slump with the clutch disc deal. It just really attacked our car hard. We got off on other things thinking it was that. One thing led to another until we got a car that was out of balance. It's just been a tough time finding our way back to where we need to be. We've done an awful lot of testing. We've probably made 25 or 30 test runs in the past few weeks trying to figure this thing out. We finally got a handle on it I think. At least it looks like it here. If we can go back to Topeka next week and continue what we've done here, then maybe we can salvage the rest of the year for our sponsors."

What was happening on the pedal job against Worsham in round one? "That was a round of luck. We actually had the car too soft figuring the track wasn't going to hold that much today, and the track was actually so good we couldn't pull it. It started shaking and smoking the tires. The next round, we put the power back in the car and ran 4.95 and it never attempted to spin the tires. Like I said, I can't say enough for the guys who prepared the track this weekend. It's been an excellent race track. I wish I could race here every weekend."

How much rattling and banging was going on in the cockpit? "You wouldn't have wanted to be in there. Every time I hit the pedal I thought I was going to be wearing the blower, or setting it on fire, or one or the other."

"These cars do not like you coming off and getting back on them like that. I was looking over and saw Del, and every time he hit the pedal he would move ahead, and I every time I would hit it I would move ahead. I just hit it once more than him I guess. I couldn't see a whole lot myself because the car was filling up with smoke. I was looking out the side where the guard rail was and didn't know I had won until the smoke had cleared out."

Did you know that you had beat Force? "To tell you the truth I didn't. That was really a close race. I saw the front of his car, but I couldn't tell with the speed when he went by. We burnt some spark plugs up at the finish line and only ran 299 or something. He caught us real quick and must have been running well over 300. He went by me pretty quick in the lights."

Was the problem in the right bank, because the flame was pretty green on that side? "Yes, it's been chewing them up on that side, but that's what we've needed to get the car to come around and get the right torque in the motor. If it needs to do that then we need to put some more fuel in that side. This race we were just happy to get the clutch worked out. Now we can go try to work the tune up out and get the motor a little more even."

Today is your wife's birthday? "Yes, it made it especially nice for her this weekend. It's a pretty nice present for her. I wish her birthday was very week."

What are your plans for next year? "We'll be back. Everybody, as far as I know is staying. We've already made plans for next year and if we can pick up the pace, start out like we did last year and continue with it, we'll have a shot at the championship. I sure would like to get one before I retire. I don't know how many more years I can be out here, but I don't know what else I would do but drag race."

Would you consider being a car owner?  "No, if I couldn't drive, I couldn't
come to a race track.  It would be hard to do."

What happened in the final to make you slow to a 5.18ET? "Jimbo didn't tell me but he had a problem back in the pits with the cam shaft and didn't have time to change it. Fortunately it didn't blow up, but we only had seven cylinders when we went up there. When I stepped on the gas, it put No. 3 out and never lit it again. We were just fortunate that Cruz had a problem. It's not very often that you can go up there, have a problem and win against a car like that."

So Jimbo never told you? "No. He just didn't want to make me nervous so he told me at the other end. He said that he knew it was going to do that. We didn't have time to put another motor in the car after we warmed it up so we just went up there with what we had. Sometimes the less I know the better off I am. I probably would have tried something else --either tried to go in a little deeper or cut a better light. But when you're racing against someone like Cruz, usually a good light isn't going to win it for you. You have to do it with a race car. We both had .505 reaction times in the final and that makes racing so much better. Racing against John Force, that was what the crowd comes to see. When you have a side-by-side 4-second run, and it's a close race with no one smoking the tires, you wish every race could be like that. I mean, you don't even mind losing those close races sometimes. But you have to win your share and lose your share and it's so much better for the fans."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Nobile , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Chris Pook