Memphis: Warren Johnson pre-race notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Memphis Motorsports Park Edition 1. WJ's First Memphis Race -- 1988 Race Car: 1988 ACDelco Oldsmobile Ciera GT Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 7.447 seconds Lost to Mark Pawuk In...

WJ's Wrap Sheet -- Memphis Motorsports Park Edition

1.  WJ's First Memphis Race -- 1988

Race Car: 1988 ACDelco Oldsmobile Ciera GT
Performance:  WJ Qualified Second, 7.447 seconds

Lost to Mark Pawuk

In Warren's Words:

"That Ciera was a short-term car we only used for part of the season in 1988. We went from the Firenza, which was a relatively narrow and short car, with about a 100-inch wheelbase, to the Ciera in order to give the car a better zip code to sit on. It worked halfway decent but the aerodynamic qualities were not particularly great, so towards the latter part of the season, we came out with our first Cutlass Supreme."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 113th NHRA Pro Stock national event of WJ's career, and fourth of the 1988 season.

* This was the first year that Memphis Motorsports Park hosted an NHRA national event.

* Bruce Allen was the No. 1 qualifier, edging WJ by the slimmest of margins with a 7.446-second elapsed time.

* Warren had switched to the bigger bodied Ciera in hopes of better applying the horsepower to the track, and minimizing tire shake.

* Ironically, WJ was slowed by severe tire shake in the first round of eliminations, allowing No. 10 qualifier Pawuk to pull off the upset.

* The field consisted of six Chevrolet Berettas and Camaros, WJ's Oldsmobile Ciera, Pontiac Firebirds and Trans Ams and a Ford Thunderbird.

* In the Pro Stock final, Tony Christian defeated Kenny Delco.

* Winners in the other professional categories that weekend included Darrell Gwynn, who defeated Dennis Forcelle in Top Fuel final and Mark Oswald over Ed McCulloch in Funny Car.

2. WJ's First Memphis Final -- 1989
Race Car: 1989 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 7.325 seconds, 189.03 mph
Defeated Morris Johnson, Butch Leal and Larry Morgan
Lost to Bob Glidden

In Warren's Words:

"Funnily enough, I remember very little about that particular race, which probably has something to do with our not winning. Looking back on the details, it looked like we tried everything in our toolbox, and still didn't get it done. Obviously, there was no reason to agonize over it, so we just moved on to the next one, seeing what we could do to win there."

Notes of the time:

* This was the 33rd final round appearance of Warren's Pro Stock career, and came in his 130th career race.

* There were spectacular times in all categories that weekend due to cooler temperatures which produced a corrected altitude of 300 feet above sea level.

* Johnson was driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, which he had switched to in August of 1988 due to its better aerodynamic characteristics.

* WJ was the beneficiary of Morris Johnson Jr.'s red-light start in the first round.

* Warren reached the final by defeating Larry Morgan on a hole shot in the semifinals, gaining a four hundredth of a second advantage at the start and running a 7.393-second elapsed time to hold off Morgan's quicker, but losing 7.357-second effort.

* Running with a hurt motor in the final Warren tried to "steal" the win, leaving the starting line first, but Glidden used the quickest pass of the day at 7.287 seconds to overcome the deficit and edge Johnson for the win.

* Bob Glidden was the No.1 qualifier with a 7.282-second elapsed time, while famed chassis builder Jerry Haas was the 16th qualifier with an 7.401-second e.t.

* The field consisted of Olds Cutlasses, Chevy Berettas and a single Camaro, Pontiac Trans Ams, a Dodge Daytona and a Ford Probe.

* In other pro classes, Gary Ormsby defeated Eddie Hill in the Top Fuel final, and Kenny Bernstein topped Mark Oswald to win in Funny Car.

3. WJ's First Memphis Win -- 1991
Race Car: 1991 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass

Performance: WJ Qualified Third, 7.323 seconds, 188.91 mph
Defeated Gordie Rivera, Bob Glidden, Jerry Eckman and Darrell Alderman

In Warren's Words:

"Looking at how some of my rivals handled themselves that day, you almost wonder if we should have had driver training prior to the event! One didn't know how to go, and the other didn't know how to get there. It wasn't the first run Glidden had made with the five-speed, so he must have gone into brain fade, and I do remember wondering what Alderman was up to wandering all over the race track. But the bottom line is that, whatever the circumstances, things worked out in our favor, and a win is a win. They don't give any penalty points by winning ugly."

Notes of the time:

* This was WJ's second win of the 1991 season, and came in his fifth '91 final round.

* This also marked Warren's 23rd career NHRA national event win in 45 career finals.

* Darrell Alderman was the No. 1 qualifier with a 7.308-second elapsed time, while Butch Leal captured the 16th and final qualifying spot with his 7.419-second run.

* WJ had hired Scott Geoffrion to drive his second ACDelco Cutlass in 1991, and through the first five races, one of the two vehicles had advanced to the final.

* Fighting an unusual power loss throughout the weekend, Warren was the beneficiary of two mental mistakes by his main rivals. First, Bob Glidden, who was experimenting with a new 5-speed transmission, forgot to put his car in top gear in the second round of eliminations, allowing WJ to pull away. In the final, Alderman left the starting line with his front wheels in the air, but cocked to the left, so that when the nose of his Daytona touched down, it shot him towards the centerline, forcing him to fight to maintain control, with Johnson cruising by for the easy win. This was not an unusual occurrence for Alderman, whose team had even named the maneuver the "Alderman sashay".

* The field was comprised of Oldsmobile Cutlasses, Chevrolet Berettas, Pontiac Trans Ams and a solitary Dodge Daytona and Ford Probe.

* Winners in other professional categories that weekend included Lori Johns, who defeated Don Prudhomme in the Top Fuel final, and current ESPN TV analyst Mike Dunn, who edge Tom Hoover in Funny Car.

4. WJ's Most Recent Memphis Win -- 1998
Race Car: 1998 GM Performance Parts Pontiac Firebird

Performance: WJ Qualified First, 6.881 seconds, 200.08 mph
Defeated Shawn Collins, Mark Pawuk, Jeg Coughlin and Kurt Johnson

In Warren's Words:

"Every so often, you have a race where everything seems to go your way. Obviously, that weekend we were fortunate to do what we did at the right time. You can have the fastest horse at the track, but it means very little if you don't get it to the final, no matter what the reason may be. There are a million ways to lose a race, and only one to win. Your chances are certainly better of winning with a fast race car, but certainly not guaranteed. It's apparent we all did our jobs that day.

Notes of the time:

* This win was the 70th win of WJ's career.

* This was Warren's fourth win in five final round appearances in Memphis.

* This was WJ's eighth win and 11th national event final round of the year en route to his fourth NHRA Pro Stock championship.

* WJ's 6.881-second, 200.08 mph pass in qualifying not only earned him the 100th No. 1 qualifying position of his career, it also set low elapsed time and top speed for the event, and set a new Memphis Motorsports Park top speed record.

* Ostrich farmer Shawn Collins was the 16th and final qualifier with a 6.955-second e.t.

* The DNQ list included such Pro Stock regulars as Troy Coughlin, Bruce Allen, Mike Edwards and Tom Martino.

* Although Kurt had advanced to the final round on the strength of three holeshot wins over John Nobile, Richie Stevens and Jim Yates, in the final it was WJ who used a stellar .010 light (to Kurt's strong .039 r.t.) to gain the advantage and power away for the win.

* This marked the tenth time in their respective careers that Warren and Kurt faced each other in the final round, having been the first father and son duo to accomplish this feat back at the Atlanta event in 1993.

* The Pro Stock line-up was an all-GM affair, with Oldsmobile Cutlasses, Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros.

* In the other professional classes, Joe Amato eliminated Kenny Bernstein in the Top Fuel final, and Al Hofmann defeated No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon in the Funny Car final.

5. "The Grand Am's Great Escape" -- 2002
Race Car: 2002 GM Performance Parts Grand Am

Performance: WJ Qualified First, 6.840 seconds, 201.31 mph
Defeated Allen Johnson
Lost to Mike Edwards


WJ had one of his more memorable weekends in Memphis in 2002, when his GM Performance Parts Grand Am broke loose inside the trailer on the way to the track, and did substantial damage to the bodywork bouncing off the inside walls and the back tailgate, and, in fact, even forced the back gate slightly open as the truck traveled down the highway.

Aided by the delay caused by the tremendous rainstorms that came through the area that Friday, WJ and his crew worked tirelessly throughout the day performing whatever repairs they could to make the car ready for competition. Ironically, on its first pass down the track on Friday evening, WJ blistered the quarter-mile in 6.840-seconds with a top speed of 201.31 mph to claim the 126th No. 1 qualifying position of his career.

In Warren's Words:

"That was the year we tried to total a race car inside the trailer. Apparently the straps broke loose and the car was bouncing around, doing its best imitation of a four-wheeled ping-pong ball. When it got to the track, we knew we had a lot of work in front of us, and the rain delay certainly didn't hurt. Of course, those types of adverse situations usually bring up my competitive level a little bit further, and I believe we did an adequate job of recovering."

WJ's Memphis Motorsports Park in a Nutshell --

"That racetrack offers a new surprise every year we go there, with new lumps and bumps that we have to find a way to handle. Apparently, the ground it was built on is not too stable, and shifts constantly. The management does their best to maintain it, grinding and repaving it and so forth, but it's just never the same. We'll have to see what we have this year when we arrive and do our best to adapt to it."


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Nobile , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Joe Amato , Larry Morgan , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Don Prudhomme , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Scott Geoffrion , Darrell Gwynn , Allen Johnson , Jerry Haas , Gordie Rivera , Mike Edwards , Lori Johns