One year ago, Kurt Johnson was ranked No. 1 in the NHRA Pro Stock standings. He was enjoying the afterglow of two national event victories and a runner-up finish in the first five races. Twelve months later, the ACDelco driver is eighth in the...
One year ago, Kurt Johnson was ranked No. 1 in the NHRA Pro Stock standings. He was enjoying the afterglow of two national event victories and a runner-up finish in the first five races. Twelve months later, the ACDelco driver is eighth in the standings and has only three round wins to his credit. Enough is enough. Kurt is literally running the wheels off his ACDelco Camaro to get his program back on track. Following a second-round loss to Jeg Coughlin Jr. at the O'Reilly Nationals due to handling problems, Kurt made 18 runs at Atlanta Dragway in the hope of rediscovering the straight and narrow path that leads to the winner's circle. "I had Jeg's number in Houston," Kurt recalled. "I ran 200 mph in the first round, I had lane choice, and I left on him - and then the car went out of control with tire shake. "My car was on the borderline of tire shake all weekend," Johnson reported. "Every time we backed off on the clutch pressure, the car improved. Then we made a minor adjustment before the second round and the car fell off the edge. "It's frustrating." Kurt and his team vented their frustration in the marathon test at renovated Atlanta Dragway. The effort produced dramatic results. "We changed the wheelie bars, and it's a totally different car," K.J. said. "It went straight down the track every time I let out the clutch. That's a huge relief." Johnson has also been reunited with his trusty Camaro from Rick Jones Race Cars. Although it is the same car that Johnson campaigned in 1999, little remains of the original chassis. "We changed the front half, changed the back half, and put in double frame rails," Kurt reported. "It's got new tubing everywhere. We're going to have to do some serious testing to figure out how to run this car. It's not too late to turn this season around."
Kurt will need every bit of performance he can muster for the Moto1.net NHRA Nationals presented by Chevrolet at Virginia Motorsports Park on April 28-30. The track near Richmond traditionally produces some of the quickest times and fastest speeds of the season for the Pro Stock contingent. In last year's race in Richmond, Kurt set the national elapsed time record at 6.840 seconds before falling to eventual winner Allen Johnson in the semi-final round. "We're going to have 330 feet of brand-new concrete to help us put the power down in the middle of the track," Kurt observed. "The starting line should be good, and the weather conditions in Richmond usually produce plenty of power. "I shook the tires there last year when I raced Allen, and that cost us the round. We stayed two days after the race and tested, so now we have reams of data that we can refer to when we go back to Virginia."
Kurt will soon have the luxury of sleeping in his own bed during a race. The Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals will take place on May 5-7 at Atlanta Dragway, just a short drive up I-85 from Johnson's home. K.J. has parlayed his "home field advantage" into one victory and two runner-up finishes in the Southern Nationals. In the 1993 edition, Kurt was runner-up to his father Warren in the first father vs. son final round in NHRA national event history. "We've tested at Atlanta Dragway several times since the track was resurfaced," Kurt said. "We'll test there again before we go to Richmond. Even though the conditions are entirely different when the track is prepared for a national event than they are when we're out there by ourselves, you can never have too much information."
Kurt Johnson exceeded 200 mph three times at Houston Raceway Park during the O'Reilly Nationals - twice in qualifying and once in eliminations. That trio of 200 mph passes increased his tally to 27 - second only to Warren Johnson's total of 83 200 mph runs. When Ron Krisher recorded a 200.17 mph speed in the third qualifying session at the O'Reilly Nationals, he became the 16th and final member of the Speed-Pro 200 mph Pro Stock Club. Sixteen Pro Stock drivers have now recorded a total of 159 200 mph runs since Warren Johnson broke the 200 mph barrier on April 25, 1997. Houston Raceway Park was the site of 34 of those runs, the most among all tracks on the NHRA tour. The Texas Motorplex in Dallas is second with 32, while Phoenix and Memphis have each produced only one 200 mph run. The third qualifying session (which typically takes place on Saturday morning when conditions are favorable for a fast run) produced the most 200 mph runs - a total of 37. Only five 200 mph runs have been recorded in a final round - hardly surprising, since only two cars compete in the last round.