KENT, Wash. (July 19, 2004) - Each race crew that competes on the 23-race NHRA POWERade circuit deals with adversity and difficult, challenging race conditions many times over the course of the season. However, each July the series heads west to...
KENT, Wash. (July 19, 2004) - Each race crew that competes on the 23-race NHRA POWERade circuit deals with adversity and difficult, challenging race conditions many times over the course of the season. However, each July the series heads west to begin the second half of the tour with the crucial Western Swing that kicks off in Denver and visits Seattle before concluding in Sonoma, Calif.
The Western Swing throws a curveball three consecutive weekends because of the drastically different weather conditions and elements that the crews face beginning with the mile-high altitude at Denver where the crew chiefs must figure out how to create horsepower in the thin air. A week later, it's the other extreme because the Seattle track is nearly at sea level and with the trees that surround the track, oxygen is dense and plentiful, which helps produce loads of horsepower.
"It's not that three straight races is so tough, we do three in-a-row a lot during the year," Johnson said. "But here, we're faced with three different venues and they're all so far apart that the time between races is tight and travel is long. It's a real grind on the crew guys. Three races in-a-row close together isn't so bad, but when the races are this far apart, it's definitely a challenge."
As if the extreme differences in the conditions from one week to the next aren't challenging enough, the NHRA recently implemented rule changes to ensure better racing and driver safety. Beginning at the Seattle race, teams will only be allowed to run a maximum of 85-percent nitromethane in the fuel mixture, which comes one week after changing to a brand new Goodyear tire.
"It's always an interesting challenge," Johnson said. "In the middle of the season this is a real curveball. A guy could be leading the points and then lose a handle on things. I think it's good for us because it levels the playing field with the rest of the cars. We drivers will have to listen to the engine a little more and be in tune with what the crew chief wants us to do until we get some data with the new fuel mixture."
Johnson and his Skoal RacingSM crew hope to get an instant handle on things when the NHRA POWERade Series makes its only stop in the Pacific Northwest, July 23-25, with the 17th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Pacific Raceway near Seattle, where Johnson earned his first professional victory in Top Fuel in 1993.
The Seattle track has developed a reputation of being one of the more difficult tracks to get a handle on, but the Pacific Raceways staff did some work on the race track which should lead to better racing for the fans.
"I'm looking forward to the new track surface," Johnson said. "After all the years of driving there, I'm anxious to test the new strip. The air is always really good because of all the oxygen and trees. I think all the track records will be reset because of the new surface."