One race does not a season make, but Warren Johnson's victory in the Matco Tools SuperNationals in Houston on October 29 has put the five-time NHRA champion back on track. Johnson's victory over first-time finalist Brad Jeter broke a 17-race...
One race does not a season make, but Warren Johnson's victory in the Matco Tools SuperNationals in Houston on October 29 has put the five-time NHRA champion back on track. Johnson's victory over first-time finalist Brad Jeter broke a 17-race drought and gave the Professor of Pro Stock his tenth straight year with at least two national event victories. "As Mark Twain once said, the reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated," Johnson joked after notching his 81st career victory at Houston Raceway Park. "It's not that we've lacked performance, but rather that we've made a series of mental and mechanical errors," W.J. explained. "It's been little things like a two-cent spring in the fuel regulator failing in the first round of eliminations at the U.S. Nationals. We also had to get everyone on the team working on the same wavelength. Now it's finally all coming together." Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac was the picture of consistency in Houston, making four runs on race day with elapsed times between 6.906 and 6.917 seconds. Warren also recorded the event's fastest speed at 200.00 mph, the tenth time this season that he ran the fastest speed in Pro Stock.
Now Johnson has set his sights on winning the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on November 9-12, the season finale of the 23-race NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. The NHRA tour will complete its annual cycle, returning to Pomona Raceway where it all began nine long months ago. "A victory at the NHRA Finals would give us a psychological advantage for next year because our competition will have all winter to think about it," Warren noted. "They know we're back, we're consistent, and we're competitive. Never discount the intimidation factor!"
The NHRA Finals will mark the final race for Warren's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird. He will debut a smaller, more aerodynamic Grand Am at the 2001 AutoZone Winternationals. "I think the change will do us good," said Johnson. "We've had a great run with the Firebird, but after five years with the same design I'm ready to take on a new challenge." Following a long association with Oldsmobile, Johnson unveiled his first Firebird at the 1996 Winternationals. He scored 27 of his 81 career victories with Pontiac's muscle car, including a victory in the 1997 Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. But don't look for Warren to shed any tears when he finally retires his Firebird. "I'm not sentimental about my race cars," said the Professor. "A car is simply a tool, like a hammer or a wrench. I don't get emotionally attached to my tools." When Oldsmobile concluded its factory drag racing program at the end of the 1995 season, Johnson gave the Oldsmobile Cutlass a farewell victory at the NHRA Finals. W.J. is planning a similar send-off for his Firebird.
While the race for the Pro Stock championship was decided in favor of Jeg Coughlin Jr. weeks ago, the battle for the No. 2 spot still rages between Kurt and Warren Johnson. Warren's win in Houston narrowed his son's advantage to one round of racing, but K.J. parlayed a victory last week in Dallas into an 80-point lead. Kurt has never finished ahead of his father in the championship standings in his eight-year career. "We're going to approach the Finals the same way we've done at every race in the second half of this season," Warren reported. "Since we got our engine program back on track in June, we've been able to apply what we've learned with Kurt's car and my car. We've made real progress in the chassis department since the Winternationals, and we're working on refinements that will pay dividends when we come back to Pomona in February."
Johnson plans to have four new race cars in his stable at the start of his 2001 campaign. Chassis craftsman Don Ness will construct a Cavalier for Kurt and a Grand Am for Warren with double frame rails, while all-star chassis builder Jerry Haas will produce two cars with single frame rails. "Kurt and I will have one of each type of chassis," Johnson revealed "As soon as we determine which design is better, we'll have another car built. All four cars will use the same infinitely adjustable rear suspension mounts. That will give us the ability to home in on the sweet spot."
The NHRA Finals is a well-traveled event. NHRA has conducted its season finale in Tulsa, Okla., Dallas and Amarillo, Texas, Ontario, Calif., and Irvine, Calif. Johnson won back-to-back Finals titles at the late, lamented Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, Calif., in 1982-83. He defeated Lee Shepherd in both final rounds at OCIR. Johnson added four more Finals victories to his resume after the race moved to its permanent home in Pomona in 1984. The 1988 final saw two Johnsons racing for the title when Warren faced Morris Johnson Jr. - no relation. In 1993, Warren defeated Kurt Johnson in the last race of the season, marking the first 1-2 finish by a father and son in the NHRA championship.
<pre> W.J.'s NHRA FINALS RECORD:
Year Qual. Result 1975 Ontario Alt. First Round 1976 Ontario 2 First Round 1977 Ontario 7 Second Round 1978 Ontario 5 Second Round 1982 Irvine 1 Winner (over Shepherd) 1983 Irvine 3 Winner (over Shepherd) 1984 5 First Round 1985 5 Second Round 1986 2 Second Round 1987 2 Semi-final 1988 1 Winner (over M. Johnson, Jr.) 1989 3 Runner-up (to Glidden) 1990 2 First Round 1992 3 Winner (over Eckman) 1993 1 Winner (over K. Johnson) 1994 1 Semi-final 1995 1 Winner (over Schmidt) 1996 1 Second Round 1997 7 Semi-final 1998 1 Semi-final 1999 3 Runner-up (to J. Coughlin Jr.)
LAST RACES: Matco Tools SuperNationals, Houston, Oct. 29 Qualified: No. 4 Finished: Winner; defeated Brad Jeter in final round.
O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Dallas, Nov. 4 Qualified: No. 3 based on driver points Finished: Lost to Troy Coughlin in second round with foul start.
POINTS RACE: (After 22 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 10 1,956 2. Kurt Johnson 5 1,490 3. Warren Johnson 2 1,410 4. Ron Krisher 2 1,359 5. Mark Pawuk 1 1,180