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Johnson hopes to harvest championship points in autumn races Shorter days and cooler weather signal the end of summer and the beginning of championship season in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Fall's imminent arrival bodes well for Pro ...

Johnson hopes to harvest championship points in autumn races

Shorter days and cooler weather signal the end of summer and the beginning of championship season in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Fall's imminent arrival bodes well for Pro Stock racer Warren Johnson as he begins a three-week road trip at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. While autumn brings dazzling colors, W.J. is more concerned with blinding speed as he continues his quest for a seventh NHRA title.

The aptly named Maple Grove Raceway has all the elements that suit W.J.'s style of racing. The trees that surround the facility produce plenty of oxygen for Johnson's powerful GM engines, and the refurbished track surface offers optimum traction. Warren relishes the prospect of racing in Reading.

"Last year's race at Maple Grove produced exceptional performances, and if the weather cooperates we expect to see good numbers again this year," said Johnson. "The Friday night qualifying session will probably produce the best conditions of the weekend and determine the field. We've run well under similar conditions before, but it's crucial that we set up the car correctly."

Johnson has a winning formula for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. He has competed 17 times in NHRA national event competition at Maple Grove Raceway, posting three victories in eight final-round appearances. In a remarkable six-year stretch from 1991 to 1996, he appeared in every final. W.J. won in 1991 and 1995 over Mark Pawuk, and he defeated Jerry Eckman in 1992. Twice he lost to his son, Kurt, in the final round at Reading (1993 and 2000). Johnson has been the No. 1 qualifier seven times at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, most recently in 1999. He has qualified in the top four spots 16 times in 17 races.

"We've been homing in on the correct setup," Johnson reported. "At the U.S. Nationals, we ran the second quickest time in the first round, but the car's performance was negated by a driver error. Kurt and I have finally reached the point that we have predictable, consistent race cars."

Although Johnson is still focused on the 2002 title, he also is laying the foundation for next year's campaign. The pace of research and development is accelerating at W.J.'s top-secret shop in Sugar Hill, Ga.

"We're doing development work on cylinder heads and manifolds," he revealed, "and we're working on a camshaft design that we believe will significantly raise the engine's rpm range.

"We haven't had an opportunity to do serious R&D for several years, so I'm excited to be back working on engines," Johnson added. "With the time we devoted to developing the Grand Am and Cavalier bodies and working on our chassis program, our engine projects have been on the back burner. We don't have an army of people to do that work for us, but because Kurt and I have our hands on every part, we can see trends and tendencies that ultimately help us to develop better engines."

Following the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the NHRA tour will head to Memphis, Tenn., and Chicago. With three races in three weeks, there will be little time for either R&R or R&D.

"This schedule certainly builds up frequent flyer miles," said the pragmatic Professor.

WARREN JOHNSON'S MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY PARK RECORD Year Qual. Result 1985 2 Runner-up (to Allen) 1986 2 First Round 1987 4 First Round 1988 3 Semifinal 1989 1 First Round 1990 2 Semifinal 1991 1 Winner (over Pawuk) 1992 2 Winner (over Eckman) 1993 1 Runner-up (to Kurt Johnson) 1994 2 Runner-up (to Alderman) 1995 1 Winner (over Pawuk) 1996 1 Runner-up (to Yates) 1997 2 Semifinal 1998 1 Semifinal 1999 1 Semifinal 2000 3 Runner-up (to Kurt Johnson) 2001 8 First Round

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson