Phoenix: Warren Johnson pre-event notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet - Firebird Raceway Edition 1. WJ's First Phoenix Race - 1985 Race Car: 1985 Hurst/Olds Oldsmobile Calais Performance: WJ Qualified Fourth, 7.692 seconds      Defeated David Hutchens, Dempsey...

WJ's Wrap Sheet - Firebird Raceway Edition

1.  WJ's First Phoenix Race - 1985

Race Car: 1985 Hurst/Olds Oldsmobile Calais
Performance: WJ Qualified Fourth, 7.692 seconds
     Defeated David Hutchens, Dempsey Hardy
     Lost to Joe Lepone

In Warren's Words:

"For some reason, other than it being the first time the NHRA raced at Firebird, I don't remember a lot from that weekend, other than the incredible amount of dust and sand blowing around, which we really hadn't encountered before. I also remember that, since we originally raced there in the fall, it would cool off tremendously from the daytime to the evening. It would be 90 during the day, and down to 60 by the time we had the nighttime qualifying session, producing a completely different set of track and atmospheric conditions.

"As for the racing aspect, I guess since I didn't win, there weren't many memorable moments! Looking back, I remember racing the Calais, which was a handful. However, I can't figure out why I would red-light against Joe Lepone. I guess you could say it wasn't a highlight of my career."

Notes of the time:

* 1985 was the first time an NHRA national event was held at Firebird Raceway. At the time, the race was held towards the end of the season, and called the Fallnationals.

* WJ posted a quicker e.t. than Joe Lepone in the semi-finals at 7.746 to 7.751 seconds, but his red-light start gave his opponent the win

* The Pro Stock field was filled with Oldsmobile Calais, Pontiac Firebirds and Trans Ams, Chevrolet Camaros, a Ford Thunderbird and a Mercury Cougar.

* Glidden had the low elapsed time of the race at 7.591 seconds with Lepone posted the fastest top speed in his Bill Jenkins powered Camaro at 183.29 mph.

* The Pro Stock race was won by Glidden, whose 7.643-second elapsed time defeated Lepone's 7.734-second run in the final.

* Other winners that day included John Collins in Funny Car, who defeated John Force (who was piloting an '85 Corvette), and Gene Snow in Top Fuel, who used a 5.628 second, 254.95 mph pass to defeat current Larry Dixon crew chief Dick LaHaie.

2. WJ's First Phoenix Final Round - 1988
Race Car: 1988 ACDelco Oldsmobile Cutlass
Performance: WJ Qualified Second, 7.47
     Defeated Jerry Eckman, Kenny Delco, Nick Nikolis
     Lost to Bob Glidden

In Warren's Words:

"One of the strongest memories I have from that weekend is being parked in what seemed like a foot of water after torrential rains flooded the Phoenix area. Other than that, we were racing an Olds Cutlass that we had just brought out to replace the Ciera GT with which we had started the year.

"Based on our wind tunnel testing, the Cutlass showed performance improvements over the other car simply on its aerodynamic superiority. Our team had become pretty competitive, so we wanted to use every tool we had available, and felt running the Cutlass for the latter part of the '88 season would give us a jump on the 1989 season. Making it to the Fallnationals final with a relatively untested race car showed that we were on the right track."

Notes of the time:

* WJ drove a Cutlass to the finals at the Fallnationals, but he had actually started the year in an Olds Ciera GT. Some of the other brands of vehicles in the field included Chevrolet Berettas and Camaros, Pontiac Trans Ams, and Glidden's Ford Probe.

* Glidden's 7.452-second, 186.48 mph pass in the final edged WJ's 7.477-second, 186.33 mph run.

* Current Pro Stock competitors Bruce Allen, Larry Morgan and Kenny Koretsky were also in the field.

* Glidden posted the low elapsed time for the event at 7.441 seconds, while Bruce Allen had the top speed at 186.87 mph.

* Other winners included current ESPN analyst Mike Dunn in Funny Car, and Eddie Hill in Top Fuel.

3. WJ's First Phoenix Win - 1998
Race Car: 1998 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird
Performance: WJ Qualified No. 1, 6.964 seconds, 197.97 mph
     Defeated Tom Martino, Mark Pawuk, Pete Williams & Jim Yates

In Warren's Words:

"I remember it was almost a relief to finally win there. At the time, Firebird Raceway was the only track on the NHRA circuit at which I hadn't won, so it was a very gratifying victory. Jim Yates was pretty competitive that year, so to defeat him in the final and get to the winner's circle at a venue where I hadn't won made it a very special weekend."

Notes of the time:

* Warren's 6.964 second elapsed time in qualifying reset the Firebird Raceway Pro Stock track record, bettering his own mark of 6.981 seconds from the year before.

* The Pro Stock field was comprised of Pontiac Firebirds, Chevrolet Camaros, Oldsmobile Cutlasses and a lone Dodge Avenger.

* Other winners included Chuck Etchells in Funny Car, who defeated fellow Camaro pilot Ron Capps in the final, and Cory MacClenathan in Top Fuel, who bested Jim Head in the final, and set a new NHRA national top speed record at 322.92 mph.

4. WJ's Most Recent Phoenix Win - 2001
Race Car: 2001 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am
Performance: WJ Qualified Third, 6.892 seconds
     Defeated Bruce Allen, Jeg Coughlin, Mark Pawuk & Brad Jeter

In Warren's Words:

"Unfortunately, the lasting memory from that day was the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. We had just won the race in a car that carried a black GM Goodwrench paint scheme similar to Earnhardt's, and were standing in the lanes waiting to get into the winner's circle when someone came up and told us the terrible news. Up until then, it had been a pretty good day for our team, but it turned out to be a very dark day for all motorsports."

Notes of the time:

* As WJ notes in his quote, the overwhelming story of the day in the world of racing was the unfortunate death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500, which occurred just as the final eliminations were coming to a close in Phoenix.

* Warren's win marked the first national event win for the new, "down-sized" Pontiac Pro Stock Grand Am, which replaced the legendary Pontiac Trans Am following his son Kurt's debut win in the new Chevrolet Cavalier two weeks earlier in Pomona.

* This win was the 82nd of WJ's career, as he closed in on Bob Glidden's mark of 85 national event victories, which he would surpass in Denver later that year.

* The Pro Stock field included Pontiac Grand Ams and Firebirds, Chevrolet Camaros and Cavaliers, Dodge R/Ts, Oldsmobile Cutlasses and a lone Ford Mustang.

* Other winners included John Force in Funny Car (now in his familiar Mustang) over Bruce Sarver in a Pontiac Firebird in the first all four-second field in the category's history, and Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, who defeated then-rookie Darrell Russell in the final.

5. WJ's Firebird Raceway in a Nutshell -

"Sadly, Firebird Raceway has never ranked among my favorites on the NHRA circuit. I have to compare it to the old track in Baton Rouge in that it's not very user-friendly. For one thing, there always seems to be road construction in the area, so it's usually hard just getting to the track.

"It's located in the desert near the beautiful city of Phoenix, which unfortunately works against it, because even though the racing surface is maintained properly, the constant wind blows sand onto it. In addition, the sand often infiltrates the compound they spray on the track, making it a slurry, which actually reduces the amount of traction available.

"However, the conditions are the same for everyone, and since it's on the schedule, paying the same amount of money and points as any other race, we'll be there, doing whatever we can to get to the finish line first. "

-j2r-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jim Head , Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Larry Morgan , Chuck Etchells , Bob Glidden , Dick LaHaie , Bruce Allen , Kenny Koretsky , Tom Martino , Cory Mac
Teams Williams