Phoenix: Warren Johnson preview

Warren Johnson is Ready for the Firebird Raceway Challenge GM Performance Parts team aims to continue winning ways in Phoenix SUGAR HILL, GA., March 2, 2004 - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing tour makes its way to the Arizona desert this weekend...

Warren Johnson is Ready for the Firebird Raceway Challenge
GM Performance Parts team aims to continue winning ways in Phoenix

SUGAR HILL, GA., March 2, 2004 - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing tour makes its way to the Arizona desert this weekend for the second stop on the 2004 schedule, the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. Firebird Raceway, long-term site of this event, is one track that over the years has posed quite a challenge to GM Performance Parts Grand Am pilot Warren Johnson.

"The Professor" has certainly experienced his share of successes on the Phoenix quarter-mile, with two wins in five final round appearances, and six No. 1 qualifying performances in 19 previous starts. However, unlike most other tracks on the circuit, where he reached the winner's circle within a few attempts, it took Johnson 14 years to take home the trophy from Firebird. As he sees it, it was simply a matter of racing luck.

"Our success at Firebird Raceway has been as unpredictable as its racing surface," stated Johnson. "In the beginning, we simply could not put a win together. It certainly was not due to a lack of effort, but rather a string of unusual luck.

"For instance, in 1991 we had a very strong car and made it to the final against (Darrell) Alderman, when a vibration suddenly cropped up in the middle of the run, which slowed us by a few thousandths and took away what seemed to be a sure win.

"However, in the past few years, we have been fortunate to win twice in Phoenix, hopefully putting those gremlins behind the GM Performance Parts team for good."

An added twist to this weekend's race is that, due to the postponement caused by the rains in California, it comes only a few days after the traditional season-opener. In order to maximize his efforts during the short week, Johnson was on a plane back to Georgia within hours of his runner-up performance in Pomona, ready to use the few days between events to catch up on valuable research and development work.

"Our game plan for this weekend's race was dictated by our performance in Pomona," explained Johnson. "Fortunately, both my GM Performance Parts Grand Am and Kurt's ACDelco Cavalier were reasonably competitive, so we have an idea of where to start with our set-ups in Phoenix.

"Therefore, while our crews drive the transporters to Arizona, we will spend a few days at the shop, working around the clock to get our R&D work back on track. As he and I are the driving force behind that facet of our racing program, it was the one area most affected by the rain delay, and now it's up to us to get it back up to speed."

As if their fellow racers do not provide enough competition, this weekend Johnson and the entire Pro Stock contingent will also have to deal with a very tricky Firebird Raceway racing surface.

"You never know what to expect from the track at Firebird Raceway," stated Johnson. "The heat in the summer dries out the asphalt, creating cracks and bumps. In addition, with the track located in the middle of the desert, there's usually dust or sand on the track at all times. The NHRA's Safety Safari does a tremendous job just to get it in condition for us to race.

"However, it's the same for everyone, so the team that makes the most of the conditions will end up on top. Looking at things optimistically, track surfaces that are less than desirable work in the favor of the more experienced drivers such as Kurt and myself. Having driven on every type of racetrack both good and bad, we're ready for whatever gets thrown at us. We're looking forward to having a good weekend with the GM Performance Parts Grand Am."

In Warren's Words:

On racing at Firebird Raceway -

"Although the track definitely needs attention, we're all playing with the same cards. The set-up will be completely different from what we used in Pomona, or even other tracks with similar atmospheric conditions, requiring changes in the carburetors, clutch and gearing. In addition, it invariably ends up as a one-lane racetrack, so we will need to get lane choice for the first round and keep it throughout the day.

"Other than that, it's a matter of knowing where the new cracks and bumps are, and knowing how to navigate them in order to maintain traction. A driver's experience will certainly help."

On his goals for the 2004 POWERade season -

"The main thrust of this entire campaign is to bring the championship back to our shop in Sugar Hill. Whether it's myself or Kurt makes no difference at all, as long as it ends up here."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering The Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals:

* WJ in the Desert: This will be Warren's 20th NHRA Pro Stock national event appearance at Firebird Raceway, where he has two wins in six final round appearances, and a 35-17 elimination round record for a .673 win percentage. WJ's most recent win in Phoenix came in 2001.

* Warren's Qualifying Stats in Phoenix: In his 19 previous starts at Firebird Raceway, WJ has never qualified lower than sixth, and has an outstanding 2.58 average starting position, with six No. 1 qualifying positions. In fact, WJ was the top qualifier in Phoenix from 1995 -1999.

* One year ago: WJ qualified second with an elapsed time of 6.835 seconds with a top speed of 201.67 mph, but was upset by Jim Yates in the first round.

* POWERade Points Standings: After the first of 23 events, WJ is second in the POWERade Championship standings with 94 points, 24 behind Greg Anderson, and 17 ahead of his son Kurt Johnson in third.

* Winning Streak: Warren Johnson has won at least two races in 18 of the past 22 years. In addition, his current streak of winning at least one race a year for 22 consecutive years is the longest in NHRA history.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 92 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him second on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came last at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Reading, PA.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.715 seconds, Englishtown 2003

* Career best top speed: 205.69 mph, Englishtown 2003


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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson