Topeka Pontiac Post Race Winner Interviews

PONTIAC NOTES & QUOTES 1998 PARTS AMERICA NATIONALS SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17, 1998 TOPEKA, KANSAS PRO STOCK (WINNER) Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird): "We were kind of disappointed because of how cold it was we should have been...



Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird): "We were kind of disappointed because of how cold it was we should have been running in the 6.80s. It got to the point that the track was getting so cold in the middle that the car was shaking. They weren't as fast in the middle of the course as they should have been. The starting line was pretty decent though. From my perspective the final race was perfect. We're just happy to be in this position. It isn't very often that someone has wrapped up the points championship with thee races to go because characteristically, the Pro Stock race is the tightest of the three classes. This year, the fuel classes are the tightest and that's good for the fans because if they're not in the stands, then we don't have a job, and I'm getting too old to retrain."

How much of what you learned two weeks ago carried over to today? "Two weeks ago we were a little bit behind the eight-ball because we were working with this new transmission I designed. We didn't have the ratios we needed because we weren't finalized on all of the machining dimensions. We just had the basic ratios. We didn't expect the conditions that we had here two weeks ago. Consequently, that resulted in the GM Goodwrench Firebird not qualifying as well as we would have liked. This morning we got one set of ratios for the transmission that we ran today and obviously, it got us to the point where we were competitive. Now it's just a matter of finalizing the rest of the transmission and then I think we'll have a slight performance advantage."

How will that affect you next year? "I felt that this was something that was gojng to be coming come down the pike sooner or later. I'm looking at marketing this transmission at other venues so it was designed to put a manual shifter on it. "

Did you feel good about your reaction times today? "That's because of the team and the work that everybody does to make sure the car works. You have the vehicle reaction time and the driver reaction time. If the vehicle reaction time is as good as it gets, then that gives the driver a little confidence too. He kind of comes along with the program. When those guys set that car up, I know full well that it's a better car than any other out there. You still have to know when to mash it, but if you can do that with an air of confidence because you know everything is right, it makes it a lot easier. Everyone goes up there wanting to hit a home run, but it doesn't happen very often."

With the championship clinched, do you turn your attention to Kurt's car so that the Johnson team finishes one and two? "I put as much effort in that car all year long that I possibly can. His car has started to run better towards the last half of the season when he figured that his method of setting it up isn't quite as good as mine. At Memphis, he got lucky in the first round, went back to a more conventional suspension setup the next run and then picked up eight or nine hundredths of a second."

Was there any satisfaction winning the race from the No. 8 qualifying position? "Yes. That proved that we knew what were talking about and that we were operating at a deficit during qualifying. We kind of have a stop gap measure of fixing it up, it's not a exactly what it should be but it's obviously better. I won Seattle from the 12th position one year. It's not like round track racing where you have another 499 laps to make up for an error. We have four laps to get it right and if you don't get it even close to right the first round, you're not going to survive for the second round. I guess this akin to the Gunfight At The OK Corral. You had better be spot on on your first shot or you're dead meat."

How difficult is it getting past first round of Pro Stock eliminations? "It's tough on everybody. As close as this category is, I think you have on an average, five or six hundredths difference top to bottom in qualifying. There really isn't much room for error on any part of it. Not only the driving part, but the setup, the maintenance, and reading the computer to make sure that if you have changing track conditions you make the right choices. It's a pretty diligent effort on everybody's part out there."

What did you do all day, throughout a seven hour rain delay, waiting to race? "Thought about what I should be doing for next year to win it again. Thinking about all the mistakes we've made this year. We've won eight races this year, and that means we've lost 11. It's great to win eight races, but you're not real good if you've lost 11."

Is that the kind of attitude that won you your fourth Winston championship this year? "I'm not saying that's the correct attitude, that's just my attitude towards racing. I do this for a living and obviously I have to make some money out of it. If they're going to put someone's name on that winner's check, it might as well be mine. Everyone else has to fight me for it. I can't say how anyone else's persona is, that's just my viewpoint. I'm not saying that it's correct, that just the way I look at things. Realistically, we screwed up 11 times or got lucky eight."


Cory McClenathan (McDonalds/Pontiac): "I felt much better after I got past the first round and then I looked up and thought, 'Oh God! I have to race Scelzi in the second round.' After seeing what Gary had run even while pedaling it, 4.64 at 322, we still thought we had something that would run in the mid to low 4.60s. We felt good about our chances but we were kind of hurting stuff. We were so afraid of changing the tune up at this point because that will usually kill you. We stuck with what we had. I had to pedal it every single round today and that was tough."

Was it kind of a scary weekend for you? "Only the semi finals. I tell you one thing, It is so different racing at night time than racing in the day. You don't realize it until you have to do it four times. In the semi-finals, at 1000 feet, there was just nothing left in the McDonalds/Pontiac Dragster. We're not sure if it spun the tires, but it looks like it dropped a cylinder and it just blew up. It's been quite some time since we leveled the motor like that. It's been a few years as a matter of fact. We're out here running in temperatures that are 20 degrees cooler than what we're used to running in and we couldn't back it up enough when it came to that. The track was actually so good that it was showing that we weren't strong enough. We finally got it in the final and it blew the tires off right away. It's just one of those deals where I saw Kenny (Bernstein), kept pedaling and got lucky. I probably pedaled it four times and after what happened in the semi-finals, that can be a little bit dangerous. It was quite an interesting ride down through there on three wheels at 300 mph at night time."

Did you have trouble getting the car fired up after the engine change before the final? "What happened was it started and didn't show any oil pressure right away. So we shut it off. Just as we were shutting it off, the oil pressure came up. It was fine but we did panic for a second."

What does this race do for you in your bid for the title? "It puts us right back in the running. If Gary (Scelzi) had won today in the second round and then gone on to win the race today, chances would have been slim or none for us. Basically, all he would have to do is get to the second round the next three races and he would be champion again. We felt that we really needed to win this one, luck was on our side a few times today and the win happened. At least now it's going to be a fight. It's going to be a massacre, till the end of the year. But it's going to be a lot fun."

Do you like this situation? "For some reason, I seem step up to the occasion. My lights and everything else really came around today and it was a really good day for me. I was happy to do it for the guys. It was exciting."

You say you pedaled it all four rounds? "All four rounds I had to pedalit about 60 feet out. It was just out there shaking and I was afraid I was going to blow the tires away. Mike (Green) says that's my discretion and that it's up to me. As long as we're turning the win light on, he doesn't mind too much."

Has this track been a thorn in your recent championship chases? "It tried to get me down there in the semi-finals too. It's just one of those deals where we've had good luck here in the past, and we've also come in here, qualified No. 1 and lost first round. Tonight we had it all going for us."

Was there any trouble trying to keep alert this early in the morning? "We wanted to get this race done and the motivation was that every round was a must win. First round we had to win so we could race Scelzi. Second round we had to beat Scelzi. Third round we had to beat Jim Head and in the final Kenny (Bernstein) is a very stout guy to race. He's tough and that was a big one. I thought my goose was cooked when I spun the tires right away."

Did you see him smoke the tires? "He was out on me and I saw him have trouble. I just kept on pedaling her and she came around. At about 1000 feet, I asked myself, 'is this going to happen again.' I think we cooked that motor too. The track conditions were really good but with the cool air it was hard to harness the power and apply it to the surface."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Warren Johnson , Cory McClenathan