Phoenix: Warren Johnson Phoenix preview

Like the baseball teams, retirees, and snowbirds who flock to Arizona every winter, Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiacs are enjoying the warmth of the Southwest. Johnson's crew dropped off the 18-wheeler and its precious cargo...

Like the baseball teams, retirees, and snowbirds who flock to Arizona every winter, Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiacs are enjoying the warmth of the Southwest. Johnson's crew dropped off the 18-wheeler and its precious cargo of race cars in Phoenix following the season-opening Winternationals and flew back to W.J.'s top-secret shop in Georgia.

With his race cars locked inside a trailer 2,000 miles away, Warren has devoted his full attention to preparing an arsenal of engines and clutches for the CSK Nationals in Phoenix on February 16-18.

"With no race cars in the shop to work on, I'm making progress on other projects," Warren reported. "Overall we are in much better shape now than we were a year ago. Our power level is back to where it needs to be and we certainly have better race horses this season. Now it's a matter of taking advantage of the situation and producing good results on the race track."

PREPARING FOR PHOENIX

Victory eluded Johnson at Firebird International Raceway for 13 years before he finally won the CSK Nationals in 1998. He was the No. 1 qualifier in Phoenix five straight years in 1995-99; his son Kurt extended the family's streak of No. 1 qualifiers to six straight last year.

"The track in Phoenix has always been an anomaly," Johnson observed. "I've run well enough to win there many times, but I only won once. Still, that's 100 percent better than never winning at all!

"Phoenix has been a bumpy ride in the past, but my new car negotiated the bumps well when we tested on a similar track in Bradenton, Fla.," Warren said. "I'm not as concerned about racing on a bumpy track as I was in the past. With our chassis and shock absorber technology, I think we know how to cope.

"The biggest variable will be the weather," he continued. "I've seen it snow at Firebird, and I've seen it hotter than Hades. The desert is simply unpredictable."

THE PROFESSOR'S NOTEPAD: NEW CAR DEBRIEF

Johnson began his quest for a sixth Winston championship with a semi-final finish at the Winternationals. He was the second quickest qualifier in his first outing with his smaller, more aerodynamic GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am.

"I really wasn't surprised by how well the new cars ran at the Winternationals," Johnson revealed. "Actually they don't seem very new to me because I've been working on the Grand Am and Cavalier bodies for over a year!

"The standardized bodies are going to be a boon for Pro Stock," Johnson predicted. "The chassis builders can produce cars faster and more efficiently. The chassis is the same for the Grand Am and Cavalier bodies, so racers will be able to get new cars sooner. After seeing the performance of the new body styles in Pomona, I think there will be a stampede to the new cars."

A STAR IS BORN

Johnson stars in three new 30-second television commercials for Pontiac's Grand Am. The spots were filmed in January and previewed at the Winternationals to enthusiastic reviews.

W.J. plays the stern Professor who instructs a classroom of free-spirited students about Driving Excitement. The contrast between the strait-laced teacher and his tattooed students sets up the humorous situations.

"Acting is definitely not my forte, and I'm not giving up my day job," said Johnson, who joined the Screen Actors Guild before standing in front of the cameras. "That was the first time I had ever been involved in a project of that magnitude, and I was amazed at the size of the film crew and the intensity of the work.

"We shot some scenes in a dozen takes, while others required 30 takes with different camera angles and dialogue. After two days of shooting, I had no idea what the final product would look like. It's like a drag race: You prepare as hard as you can, but once the action begins, you're just along for the ride.

"I think it's very significant for our sport that Pontiac elected to feature an NHRA Pro Stock driver in a national advertising campaign," W.J. noted. "I had a great time. It's taken 25 years to create my persona of the Professor of Pro Stock, and it all came down to 30 seconds on a TV screen." <pre> WARREN JOHNSON'S FIREBIRD INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY RESULTS:

Year    Qual.    Result
1985    4        Semi-final
1986    4        Second Round
1987    4        Semi-final
1988    2        Runner-up (to Glidden)
1989    2        Semi-final
1990    2        First Round
1991    2        Runner-up (to Alderman)
1992    4        Semi-final
1993    1        Second Round
1994    3        Semi-final
1995    1        Second Round
1996    1        First Round
1997    1        Runner-up (to Yates)
1998    1        Winner (over Yates)
1999    1        Second Round
2000    6        Second Round

-GM Racing-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson