Kurt Johnson Is Ready To Make A Move SEATTLE, July 23, 2001 - Drag racing is a game of streaks. If you can catch a wave of momentum many times you can ride it a long way. That's what happened last year to ACDelco Chevy Cavalier Pro Stock ...
Kurt Johnson Is Ready To Make A Move
SEATTLE, July 23, 2001 - Drag racing is a game of streaks. If you can catch a wave of momentum many times you can ride it a long way. That's what happened last year to ACDelco Chevy Cavalier Pro Stock driver Kurt Johnson. Entering the 2000 Mile-High Nationals the 38-year-old Johnson was sixth in the Winston points standings and still looking for that elusive first win of the year. Gathering steam with a victory at Bandimere Speedway, Johnson ended the season four months later in second place with six victories in six final rounds. Negating the DNQ speed bump he encountered at Memphis in October, Johnson accumulated an impressive 31 round wins and four losses in the last 11 races of the year. That performance thrust carried over to 2001 when he won the season opener at Pomona driving a new Chevy Cavalier. With the exception of last year's stumble at Memphis, Johnson, who is currently in sixth place in the championship chase, would like to see the remainder of the current campaign advance along parallel lines.
Looking ahead to the next pair of events, Kurt Johnson has every reason to be optimistic. Three of his 22 career victories have occurred at Seattle ('93, 99) and Sonoma ('00), with six of his 37 career final rounds coming at these two stops. Johnson also holds the current SIR elapsed-time track record of 6.876 seconds set in a Camaro in 1999.
The 14th annual Pro Long Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals at Seattle International Raceway on July 27 - 29, is the 15th race on the 24-event NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour. Early edition qualifying highlights can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 28, starting at 6 p.m. Eastern with late edition highlights beginning at 10 p.m. Final-round coverage can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, July 29, at 6 p.m. Eastern.
What are some of the areas you've been working on this year? "We started out with a bang. Then we tried to fine tune the chassis a little bit, struggled for five or six races trying to gain a little more and that actually hurt us. We put the car back the way we had it at Pomona in February, sheered a pin on the camshaft at Topeka and didn't qualify. Then we ran into some electrical problems at Chicago and Columbus and were lucky to qualify at Columbus. We thought we had it fixed - we went out and tested and it seemed to be all right. It was really strange. We think maybe it was a timer off the ignition system and we finally found it Saturday afternoon at Columbus. We got it fixed, went to St. Louis and qualified well, and just the way the car was set up it didn't want to react, so we got beat first round on a holeshot. We just had some bad luck. Now we just need to regroup, and if we can cover all the bases we should have a good second half of the season. I think we're going to run well and win a bunch of races. We're going to try and throw a curve ball on this championship."
Can you achieve the same kind success this year that you did last year during the season's second half? "We've had some bad luck, and usually when you get rid of your bad luck it's gone for awhile. Hopefully we can turn things around and get the car straightened out where we've got some reaction back in it. I don't really think that's going to be a problem because I was having good car and driver reaction at Gainesville and Bristol with .420s and .430s, and we know what route we had to take to get there, so we're going to go down that avenue and get that straightened out. We were having some wheel spin which contributes in part to the reaction time. In St. Louis we were leaving at such a low RPM we couldn't get the car to move. We only had a half turn in tire revolution compared to other places where we've had a whole turn. We'll get it straightened out because I'm definitely not a .520 driver. I think we're going to be in good shape to be honest with you. It's time to get down to business, be consistent and just drive down the racetrack and let everyone else make mistakes."
Do you like the new racecar? "The Cavalier's a good racecar. It drives well and reacts to what I do. Plus, it's a fun car to drive and it's fast. We're using a Jerry Haas car just like my dad, and we have a new Don Ness car coming that is similar to the car that dad ran in the beginning of the year. We're just going to take the information that we have and change the chassis around. We felt his car was fast but it wasn't consistent. Hopefully after we make a few minor adjustments it will be better than the car we have now. If we've gotten rid of all our bad luck we should be good to go."
How much information is transferred between the two teams? "100-percent. Whatever I have that's winning or running good he has access to, and whatever he's doing I have access to. That's the only way to run a two-car team. The Ness car and the Haas car are close to being identical, so with the data of his Ness car we're making a few changes and hopefully it will be fast and consistent."
How exciting is it for you to see WJ doing so well? "It's great. It chalks everything up to experience. It takes experience to go rounds and it takes teamwork. He's put the package together, hired the right people and he's making it happen. We should be able to do the same if not better. You try and do better than what he's done. It's tough when you're struggling because you know you have the same equipment he has. It's just we've got a black cloud over us right now. Why things happen the way they do, only one person can answer that."
Do you feel there's a lot of opportunity ahead of you? "My dad didn't win his first championship until he was 50 years old. I'm 38 and I feel fortunate to be where I am and to have the power, equipment, knowledge, the resources and the sponsor at the age I'm at. Sure I worked my butt off to get here. A lot of late nights driving trucks, building motors helping my dad get to where he is. When we first started out it was just him, my mom and myself going down the road. I've stuck next to them since I got out of high school in 1981 so I've been with him for 20 years. I just feel fortunate to be able to pick the fruit from the tree. We've just got to be sure we use it wisely."
Do you still feel like you have a chance at the championship? "That's what we're shooting for. We're not worried about the end of the year right now. We're focussed about the next event and going one race at a time. We just want to win rounds and whatever happens, happens. There are so many good cars out there right now, you could take a guy that's in the lead but gets beat first round in two races in a row. I end up winning and that's a 160 point turnaround right there. That puts you back in the hunt. Anything is possible, but it's going to take the car, the crew, the driver, the power and consistent runs. That's the only way you're going to win a championship from here on out. Hopefully we've got it."
What do you enjoy most about the sport? "First and second gear. When it takes you back in the seat, that's the ultimate rush. To be able to outthink and adapt both to the competition and the racetrack. Then to make the better runs out there on raceday feels good and means something. It's a lot different when you had everybody covered by five or six hundredths and won the race. Now you're talking thousandths of a second, letting the clutch out on time and hoping the car reacts with it."