NHRA's Greatest drivers: James Warren

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#38: JAMES WARREN James Warren was the driving third of the famous Warren-Coburn-Miller Top Fuel team that for many years proved to be one of the best on the West Coast and equally formidable when they towed east. Warren and his two partners, Roger Coburn and Marvin Miller, were known as the Ridge Route Terrors because they lived in Bakersfield, Calif., and would make a three-hour tow over the San Gabriel Mountains on Highway 99 - the Ridge Route - to get to several of Southern California's fabled tracks, including Lions Dragstrip, Irwindale Raceway, and Orange County Int'l Raceway. Warren and Coburn switched to fuel at about the same time NHRA's fuel ban was lifted for the 1964 season. For the next 17 years, until they retired in 1980, the Warren-Coburn-Miller team made consistent trips to the winner's circle. Warren's driving career spanned the front- and rear-engine eras and from supercharged small-block Chevy engines to early Hemis and then late Hemis. "I had a good car," said Warren, who is now 64 and raced his entire career with engine man Coburn. "We were a team for so many years that we knew what to do for each other. I knew what I needed, and Roger knew how to tune the car the way I liked to drive it. It just seemed like there was a combination there." They made their mark using nitro immediately. At the 1964 UDRA meet at Lions Dragstrip, Warren, still with small-block Chevy power, won the Saturday portion of the event. "I liked the Chevy days," said Warren, who was runner-up to Mike Sorokin and the Surfers team at the 1966 Bakersfield Fuel and Gas race with a Hemi. "It was a challenge to race the Chrysler guys." In 1967, Warren fell to Sorokin again in a final round, at the inaugural Stardust Open in Las Vegas. Also that year, as clutch slippage began to take over from tire slippage as the fast way down the track, Warren ran 223 mph at Lions, set a 6.96 record at Irwindale, finished runner-up at the 32-car invitational Irwindale Grand Prix (which they would win in 1970 and 1974), and ran the quickest time ever at the opening of Orange County Int'l Raceway with a 6.89. The team headed east to the biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals, and it was Warren in the other lane in the final round when Garlits broke into the sixes for the first time and then triumphantly shaved his beard on the starting line. Warren backed up that first NHRA national event final with his first of two wins, at the 1968 Winternationals, capturing low e.t. and top speed, 6.86 at 230 mph, in the first round. Also in 1968, among many weekly wins, the Warren-Coburn-Miller machine was one of eight cars invited to race in a Professional Dragster Association (PDA) three-race series at Lions and Carlsbad Raceway one weekend and at Sacramento Raceway Park the following week. Racing against Garlits, Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, Chris Karamesines, Jerry Ruth, Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen, Steve Carbone, and Beebe & Mulligan, Warren won the Carlsbad event and placed second overall to Garlits who won at Lions and Sacramento. In 1969, Warren set the best speed of the year at 238.15 mph. One judge of talent is how one does racing against the best. With home-field advantage, Warren won the prestigious U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships in Bakersfield, three straight years, 1975-1977. In addition to beating Garlits in the 1977 final, Warren ran low e.t. and top speed the first two years and low e.t. in 1977. In addition to their ability to beat the best Top Fuel racers from around the country, Warren was Division 7 Top Fuel champion five straight years, 1972 to 1976. Mike Kuhl campaigned a Top Fuel dragster during that time with drivers like Billy Tidwell and Carl Olson. "There were certain drivers that were always a threat, especially in a pedaling contest," Kuhl said. "Warren was one of them, along with Gary Beck and Don Garlits. He and Coburn were cool, calm, and focused." Warren-Coburn-Miller had perhaps their best year in 1976. They opened with a runner-up at the Winternationals, won the Phoenix Winter Classic as one of only two cars in the fives - Beck was the other- won an East/West race at Orange County Int'l Raceway, won the U.S. Fuel and Gas title for a second straight year, then towed to Florida and won the Gatornationals. The local racers from California's farm country, who were sponsored by the agricultural irrigation company for which Miller worked, Rain for Rent, had a huge lead for the Winston Top Fuel title, but subsequently finished fifth. NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on NHRA.com and through the pages of National DRAGSTER, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11. As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.

NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS
50. Elmer Trett
49. Richard Tharp
48. Malcolm Durham
47. Billy Meyer
46. Ken Veney
45. Scotty Richardson
44. Dave Schultz
43. Frank Hawley
42. David Rampy
41. John Mulligan
40. Frank Manzo
39. Danny Ongais
38. James Warren

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Don Garlits , Frank Manzo , Danny Ongais , David Rampy , Frank Hawley