Pomona Kurt and Warren Johnson previews

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JOHNSON STARTS RACE FOR 1997 CHAMPIONSHIP AT WINSTON SELECT FINALS Pomona, Calif. -- According to the NHRA schedule, the Winston Select Finals, to be held on October 24-27 at...



Pomona, Calif. -- According to the NHRA schedule, the Winston Select Finals, to be held on October 24-27 at Pomona Raceway, is the season finale of the 1996 Winston Drag Racing Series. But three-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson works on a different timetable. After watching arch-rival Jim Yates clinch his first NHRA title in Dallas on October 13, Johnson has already launched his campaign to win the 1997 championship.

"In reality, the Winston Select Finals is the first race of the 1997 season," said Johnson, who notched five wins in eight final-round appearances with his GM Performance Parts Pontiac this year. "In three months we'll be back at Pomona for the Winternationals. That's not a lot of time when you consider that we're building two new race cars and planning a very aggressive off-season testing schedule."

Johnson, the 53-year-old "Professor of Pro Stock," debuted a new Firebird at the preceding round in Dallas. The untested car was quick -- it ran 6.97 on its third pass down the track -- but it was also plagued by the usual new car "bugs." An electrical malfunction in the first round of eliminations short-circuited his run for the championship.

"This is definitely a better race car than our old one," Warren declared. "We applied the lessons we learned with our first Firebird. The new car ran 197.45 mph in Dallas, which is the fastest speed we've run in a Pontiac.

"Our race day setup has changed completely since we debuted the new body style at the Winternationals," Warren added. "We know the track's characteristics and have enough experience there to make intelligent decisions."

The NHRA record book testifies to Johnson's success in the season finale. He has won the Winston Select Finals six times (1982, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1993, and 1995), and scored three Winternationals victories (1987, 1993, and 1994) on Southern California's most famous quarter-mile of asphalt.

Johnson sewed up the No. 2 spot in the 1996 championship race in Dallas -- his seventh runner-up finish since 1976. "We knew going in that developing a new car was going to be a challenge, and we accepted it," he explained. "Our performance in the last half of the season met our expectations: We've run relatively well, gone to eight final rounds, and won five races. I'd just as soon forget about the first half, however."

Johnson will receive his accolades -- and a $25,000 bonus from Winston -- at the season-ending award ceremony on October 28. His quest for the 1997 championship will commence promptly the next morning.

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Pomona, Calif. -- Nine months and 18 races ago, Pro Stock drag racer Kurt Johnson drove to the starting line at Pomona Raceway with a brand-new race car and a brand-new outlook. On October 27, Kurt will wrap up his first season with his Delco Freedom Battery Firebird at the Winston Select Finals -- a little older, a little wiser, and much more experienced.

"We've learned quite a bit since the Winternationals," said Johnson, the 33-year-old son of three-time NHRA champion Warren Johnson. "Now we'll go back to Pomona Raceway and find out how much progress we've really made!"

The NHRA record book attests to Kurt's development as a professional racer this year. In his first season with a major sponsor, he won two races -- the Fram Nationals at his home track in Atlanta, and the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the most prestigious event on the NHRA tour. Runner-up finishes in Seattle and Dallas also added to Johnson's points total. With one race to go, he is fourth in the standings, just 33 points behind third-ranked Mike Edwards.

Johnson is optimistic about his chances to continue his climb in the points. "The starting line at Pomona Raceway is always excellent, but the track is a little rough in the left lane," he notes. "We'll see if the changes we've made to the chassis will help it go over the bumps."

Kurt and his wife Kathy are also racing against the clock to finish the season before the arrival of their first child, due in early November. "I'm just hoping that the race comes off as scheduled -- no rainouts allowed!" Kurt says with a grin.

A lot can change in nine months. Kurt Johnson gained a season of experience as a professional racer -- and he's about to begin a new career as a father.

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E-mail from: Rick Voegelin, 17-Oct-1996

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Mike Edwards