THE KURT CHRONICLES: TOPEKA EDITION Kurt Johnson ACDelco News & Notes for the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Topeka, Kan., October 1-3, 1999 TALKIN' ABOUT TOPEKA Although Kurt Johnson has made 30 final-round appearances in his seven-year...
THE KURT CHRONICLES: TOPEKA EDITION
Kurt Johnson ACDelco News & Notes for the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Topeka, Kan., October 1-3, 1999
TALKIN' ABOUT TOPEKA
Although Kurt Johnson has made 30 final-round appearances in his seven-year racing career, he has yet to advance to a final round at Heartland Park Topeka. K.J. hopes to erase this blemish from his record at the upcoming Advance Auto Parts Nationals on October 1-3.
"We learned a lot last year in Topeka," said Johnson, who lost to Mark Pawuk in the opening round of last season's race. "My car wanted to wheelstand and turn to the left. This year we're going to tie it down to the race track and try to make it go straight.
"I qualified No. 1 in Topeka in 1995, so I know how to run fast there," Kurt asserts. "We plan to take an aggressive approach because we know that the starting line will handle the horsepower. Because of the altitude and the lack of trees around the track, there isn't a lot of oxygen in the air to pump up the power. When the engine is down on power, you have to compensate with gearing - so we're going to gear up and go for it!"
TESTING FOR TOPEKA
Kurt tested at Maple Grove Raceway on the day after the True Value NHRA Keystone Nationals in preparation for Topeka. "I made seven runs on Monday," Kurt reported. "I ran 6.93 on my first run on track, and finished up with a 6.94.
"We thought that testing at Maple Grove would better prepare us for the track conditions we expect in Topeka than going to Atlanta, where we usually test between races," K.J. noted. "The car is consistently going down the track - and that's a major improvement over where we were a couple of months ago!"
Kurt began his rocky relationship with Heartland Park in his rookie season. Ranked second in the points coming into Topeka in 1993, he crashed his Oldsmobile in the first qualifying session.
"At about 1,000 feet, the car started getting loose," Kurt recalled. "It was moving around a little, and starting to shake. The wind might have caught it, because as soon as I corrected, the back end came around."
Kurt's only injury in his close encounter with Heartland Park's concrete wall was to his pride. His father Warren spray painted a large "21" - K.J.'s number - on the door of the battered race car. "If he's going to drive like a NASCAR racer, his car should look like a stock car, too!" W.J. declared.
K.J. had the last laugh when he borrowed a replacement car, qualified in the No. 8 spot, and advanced to the semi-final round - one round farther than his father, who lost in the second stanza.
Kurt Johnson added another note to his racing resume when he ran the first 200 mph Pro Stock ever recorded at historic Maple Grove Raceway during the True Value NHRA Keystone Nationals on September 18. Kurt's ACDelco Camaro was clocked at 200.13 mph in the third qualifying session, marking the 17th time that K.J. has topped 200 mph.
Kurt was at the top of the qualifying list on Friday evening at 6.872 seconds, but he was bumped to the second spot on Saturday morning when Warren ran a track-record 6.853-second elapsed time. The Keystone Nationals was the tenth race this season in which the Johnsons qualified 1-2.
Kurt defeated Mike Thomas with a holeshot in the first round of eliminations, but surrendered lane choice for the second round to Darrell Alderman. The ACDelco team fitted new shock absorbers on Kurt's Camaro in hopes of negotiating the bumpy right lane, but Alderman prevailed, 6.984 to 6.994.
"I lost lane choice by a thousandth of a second, and that really hurt," Johnson lamented. "I thought that I could beat him if I made a good run - but he made a flawless run."
DON'T LOOK BACK
If Kurt Johnson looks over his shoulder, he'll see Jeg Coughlin, Jr. gaining ground on him in the championship race. Jeg's victory in the Keystone Nationals cut Kurt's advantage to 96 points - five rounds - with five races to go. Two months ago, K.J. had a 237-point lead over Coughlin.
"Jeg has had several good races in a row, and he's getting down the track every time," Kurt observes. "Things are going his way, and we're going to have to stop him if we want to hold onto second place. Topeka would be a good place to start my own hot streak!"
Kurt has added a new weapon to his racing arsenal: a sophisticated new data acquisition system. "We're able to look at new information with our Pi computer," he reports. "At Maple Grove we were able to simulate our best qualifying run on the computer before we made adjustments for the second round of eliminations. There are times when you need to spin the tires, and there are times when you need to stop them from spinning. We think we can accomplish that by working on the shock absorbers.
"We went to the Penske shock absorber factory in Reading after the Keystone Nationals," Kurt revealed. "We're working with the Penske engineers to develop the shocks for drag racing."
KURT JOHNSON HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA RESULTS
Year Qualified Result 1993 Spring 2 Second Round 1993 Fall 8 Semi-Final 1994 Spring 4 Semi-Final 1994 Fall 6 Second Round 1995 Spring 9 Second Round 1995 Fall 1 Semi Final 1996 Spring 9 Second Round 1996 Fall 6 First Round 1997 Spring 8 Second Round 1997 Fall 4 First Round 1998 6 First Round
NEXT RACE: Advance Auto Parts Nationals, October 1-3, Topeka, Kan. TV: FOX, Oct. 3, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. local time - check local listings
LAST RACE: True Value NHRA Keystone Nationals, September 19, Reading, Penn. Qualifying: Kurt Johnson qualified No. 2 at 6.872/199.02 mph. Eliminations: First Round: Kurt Johnson defeated Mike Thomas Second Round: Darrell Alderman defeated Kurt Johnson
Final Round: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (6.936/198.80) defeated Mark Pawuk (7.004/196.03) Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.853 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 201.43 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: (After 17 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 6 1,417 2. Kurt Johnson 3 1,187 3. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 4 1,091 4. Jim Yates 2 1,023 5. Richie Stevens 1 872