Warren Johnson Gateway Preview

* WARREN'S WORDS "Our book on Gateway International Raceway has only one chapter: We raced once, and we won once." * GOODBYE, COLUMBUS The Pontiac Excitement Nationals started well and ended badly for Kurt and Warren Johnson. ...


"Our book on Gateway International Raceway has only one chapter: We raced once, and we won once."


The Pontiac Excitement Nationals started well and ended badly for Kurt and Warren Johnson. The pair qualified first and second respectively for the tenth round of the 22-race Winston Drag Racing Series, held at National Trail Raceway on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, on June 11-14. Kurt's ACDelco Camaro was the No. 1 qualifier at 7.038, and Warren's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac was the No. 2 seed at 7.051.

After claiming the top qualifying spot for the second time this season and the tenth time in his career, Kurt was upset in the second round of eliminations by Mike Thomas. K.J.'s car made a hard move toward the centerline, forcing him to shut off and coast to the finish line.

Quoth Kurt: "The first two days in Columbus were great, but you need three out of three in this sport."

W.J. was defeated in the first round by Larry Morgan when his 5-speed transmission malfunctioned, shifting from second to fourth gear. "There's only one way to win, but a million ways to lose," Warren observed philosophically after suffering his third first-round loss of the season.


The next stop on the NHRA tour will be Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Warren is the reigning Craftsman Nationals Pro Stock champion; he defeated Jim Yates in last year's final round.

Gateway International is one of two tracks on the NHRA tour where Warren is undefeated. W.J. is also batting 1.000 at Virginia Motorsports Park, where he has never lost in five years.


Kurt Johnson is expecting the imminent arrival of both a new race car and a new baby daughter. Kurt and his ACDelco teammates will take delivery of a new Camaro Z28 from Rick Jones Race Cars following the Pontiac Excitement Nationals. After an all-night test session in the wind tunnel at the GM Aerodynamics Laboratory in Warren, Mich., Kurt plans to shake down the new car at Gateway International Raceway on June 20.

Kurt and his wife Kathy are anticipating the birth of their second child -- a baby girl, according to the doctors -- on July 1. Thanks to some careful planning, the family will have two weeks together before Kurt has to leave for the three-week "Western Swing" through Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle.


The "Professor of Pro Stock" is one racer who learns from his mistakes. After suffering a final-round loss at the Route 66 Nationals due to rapidly changing track conditions, W.J. installed a removable panel in his race car's interior that provides fast access to the clutch for last-minute adjustments in the staging lanes. He has also devised a gear-changing mechanism for his new purpose-built 5-speed transmission that will eliminate missed shifts like the one that caused his early exit in Columbus. W.J.'s new gearbox will be ready for testing in a few weeks.

"In the transmission we're using now, each slider moves forward and backward to engage two gears," Warren explained. "If the slider moves too far, the transmission can skip a gear. In my new design, there are individual sliders for each gear. That should solve the gear-skipping problem permanently."


Warren left Ohio with 824 Winston points and a 174-point lead in the championship race -- but it was Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in second place, not Johnson's longtime rival, Jim Yates. Coughlin defeated Yates in the final round of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals to gain a 15-point advantage (650 to 635) over the two-time NHRA champion.

Surprisingly, both the No. 2 and No. 3 drivers have failed to qualify at events this season -- Coughlin in Atlanta, and Yates in Richmond and Chicago. Only three Pro Stock racers have qualified at every race in 1998: Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson, and Mark Osborne.

"The only thing that's consistent this year is inconsistency," Warren noted. "Everybody, including me, has been up and down this season. There are only 100 points between No. 2 and No. 5 in the standings, and a driver can earn that many points in a single event. There could be a real scramble for the championship this year."


Warren Johnson has competed in 302 NHRA national events since 1975. He's won 67 times for a 22.2% winning average -- and with 40 runner-up finishes, W.J. has been in 35.4% of the final rounds in events he has entered.

So far in 1998, Warren is beating his 23-year average. He's won four out of ten races -- a 40% winning average -- and has appeared in 50% of the final rounds.


W.J. posted the Top Speed in Pro Stock at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals and set the National Trail Raceway track record at 196.33 mph. With a perfect record of ten Top Speeds in ten races this season, Warren is on track to eclipse the mark he set in 1995 when he recorded the fastest speed in 18 out of 19 national events.


Warren Johnson's year-by-year results at the Sears Craftsman Nationals:

     Year          Qualified   Result
     1997          2           Winner (over Yates)

Kurt Johnson's year-by-year results in Columbus:

     Year          Qualified   Result
     1997          3           Semi-final (to W. Johnson)

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Larry Morgan