THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11, 2001 PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE? JOHNSON PREPARES FOR CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWDOWN ...
THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11, 2001
PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE? JOHNSON PREPARES FOR CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWDOWN IN POMONA
The race for the NHRA Pro Stock championship will go down to the wire at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11. Warren Johnson will bring a 103-point lead over title rival Jim Yates into the 24th round of the Winston Drag Racing Series at the track where it all began nine months ago.
"Racing is really entertainment, and we're going to give the spectators a show they'll remember," said Johnson, who is seeking his sixth career Winston title. "Deciding the championship at the last race is terrific for the fans, but it's hell on the contenders."
Johnson and Yates have won seven of the last nine Pro Stock championships. Barring a record-setting performance by his pursuer, Johnson can wrap up the title for the sixth time in ten years simply by qualifying for the NHRA Finals. Although he's qualified for 287 consecutive events, his streak came perilously close to ending at the preceding race in Las Vegas when he made the field in the final session.
"I'd rather be the hunted than the hunter because that means I'm ahead in the points race!" Johnson laughed. "To win the championship we have to continue to do what has put us in this position -- maintain our performance level and eliminate any shortcomings. Looking back at 23 races, it's pretty easy to see what worked and what went wrong.
"Any pressure to win the championship comes strictly from within," Johnson added. "We go to every race expecting to win."
Johnson is no stranger to pressure-packed situations. Twenty-five years ago, W.J. was second to Team Jenkins driver Larry Lombardo going into the 1976 Winston World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway. The two raced in the first round, with Lombardo taking the win and the championship when Johnson's brake system malfunctioned on the starting line. Although W.J. proved his mettle with a second-place finish in his first full season on the NHRA tour, he would have to wait 16 long years and endure five more runners-up before finally winning his first NHRA Pro Stock crown in 1992.
Johnson has competed 40 times at Pomona Raceway in his long-running career, scoring eight victories in 14 final-round appearances. He has won the NHRA Finals six times -- twice when the race was held in Irvine, Calif., in 1982 and 1983, and four times at Pomona Raceway: in 1988 over Morris Johnson Jr., in 1992 over Jerry Eckman, in 1993 over Kurt Johnson, and in 1995 over Steve Schmidt. He's been the No. 1 qualifier 11 times on the fastest quarter-mile in Southern California.
Johnson discounts his decades of experience at Pomona Raceway as an advantage, however. The track was resurfaced in July before the Pep Boys 50th Anniversary Nationals, introducing a new variable in the equation that the Professor must solve this weekend.
"The track has had time to cure since we raced on it in July and I believe Pomona will be better than it has ever been before," W.J. explained. "We tested in Las Vegas after the last race because we needed to prepare ourselves for a track that will be able to handle all of the horsepower we can throw at it. After nine runs, I think we've found something."
Johnson won his last Winston championship in a runaway, wrapping up the 1999 title with two races still on the schedule. In contrast, this season has seen a record 15 Pro Stock drivers in the winner's circle. Johnson has led the standings since June and scored six victories, but he has also suffered 10 first-round losses.
"Those statistics underscore that Pro Stock is the most competitive category in drag racing," said Johnson. "I've lost to drivers who have pulled out .401-second reaction times, and I've missed the setup on race day more than once. But as tough as this season has been for us, we've still outperformed the competition."
While Johnson is focused on this weekend's NHRA Finals, he also is setting his sights on next season.
"We've tested continuously in 2001, so I figure that both Kurt's program and my program are going to be considerably stronger in 2002," Warren predicted.
The competition has been warned.
WARREN JOHNSON'S POMONA RACEWAY RECORD
Four NHRA Finals Victories:
1988 (over Morrison Johnson Jr.)
1992 (over Jerry Eckman)
1993 (over Kurt Johnson)
1995 (over Steve Schmidt)
Two NHRA Finals Runners-up:
1989 (to Bob Glidden)
1999 (to Jeg Coughlin Jr.)
Four Winternationals Victories:
1987 (over Butch Leal)
1993 (over Scott Geoffrion)
1994 (over Darrell Alderman)
1997 (over Kurt Johnson)
Four Winternationals Runners-up:
1985 (to Bob Glidden)
1986 (to Frank Iaconio)
1991 (to Darrell Alderman)
2000 (to Jeg Coughlin Jr.)
11 No. 1 Qualifiers:
Winternationals: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999
NHRA Finals: 1988, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998