THE WARREN REPORT: Gatornationals Edition Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News and Notes NEXT RACE: Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN2, March 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Eastern - check local...
THE WARREN REPORT: Gatornationals Edition
Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News and Notes
NEXT RACE: Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN2, March 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Eastern - check local listings
Warren's Words: "I plan to win as many races as I can. Two hundred would be a nice, round number!"
FAST TIMES IN FLORIDA
Warren Johnson has enjoyed more success at the Mac Tools Gatornationals than at any other event on the NHRA circuit. He's won the Gators seven times in 19 career starts for a 37% winning average. He won four straight at Gainesville Raceway in 1991-94, and qualified No. 1 five consecutive times in 1993-97. Johnson will attempt to add to that impressive record when the NHRA tour goes to Gainesville, Fla. for the 30th edition of the Gatornationals on March 18-21.
Last year's race was surely W.J.'s greatest Gators. He defeated arch-rival Jim Yates in the final round, set the national e.t. and speed records, pocketed a $25,000 bonus from the MBNA World Record Club, topped 200 mph on six consecutive runs, and took the lead in the championship race. That dominant performance was the springboard that propelled Johnson to his fourth NHRA title.
Ironically, Gainesville Raceway was also the site of one of Warren's most forgettable races. After winning the season-opening Winternationals in 1987, Johnson failed to qualify at the Gatornationals, which was then the second race on the NHRA schedule. Since that fateful day in Florida 12 years ago, Johnson has qualified at every national event - an unbroken string of 221 consecutive races, the longest active qualifying streak in the sport.
Johnson still bristles at the memory of his Gatornationals DNQ. "We had a brand-new Firenza, and we absolutely could not make it stop shaking the tires," W.J. recalls. "We just weren't on track with our clutch and gear setup that day. I vowed that I would never let that happen again."
So far, he hasn't.
NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET
Warren Johnson logged another entry in drag racing's record book when he qualified in the top spot at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix on February 27. Johnson was the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock for the 104th time in his career, eclipsing the mark set by retired ten-time champion Bob Glidden.
"Well, that's one more obscure record we've taken care of," said Johnson with his characteristic candor.
Glidden set the previous record for the most No. 1 qualifying spots at the 1992 Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio. "Bad Bob" qualified on the Pro Stock pole for the 103rd time in his career with a 7.256-second elapsed time. Nearly seven years later, W.J. covered Firebird International Raceway's quarter-mile in 6.920 seconds at 199.64 mph to set the new standard. Johnson also erased the Firebird Raceway track e.t. and speed records that he established last year en route to his first career victory in Phoenix.
W.J. now holds the records for the most No. 1 qualifiers, the most low elapsed times (105), and the most top speeds (153) in Pro Stock history. With 72 career victories, Johnson is within striking distance of Glidden's record 85 career wins - a mark that once seemed untouchable.
"There is really no particular number of victories I'm aiming for," Johnson reports. "I plan to win as many races as I possibly can. Two hundred would be a nice, round number!"
In the wake of the controversy over Pro Stock bodies at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals, chassis builder Rick Jones reskinned the rear quarter-panels on Warren's 30th Anniversary Trans Am. Johnson's shapely 'Bird passed technical inspection in Phoenix with flying colors, earning a coveted "body sticker" that signified its approval by NHRA technical inspectors.
"I understand that all three of the cars that were in question at Pomona passed the 'template test' in Phoenix," Warren reported. "There was a big build-up, but no punch line.
"I believe that several 'Brand X' cars are so far from fitting the templates that NHRA officials may have to rethink the entire issue of Pro Stock bodies," Warren asserted. "Jones is reworking my championship-winning car from last season to fit whatever templates the tech department comes up with next. I have no earthly idea what shape the car is going to be in when he's finished. It could end up looking like an Avenger!"
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Although Warren set the pace in qualifying at the CSK Nationals, his race day performance proved disappointing. Johnson narrowly avoided a first-round loss to No. 16 qualifier Robert Patrick when he slowed to a 7.069-second e.t. W.J.'s quicker reaction time won the race, but he lost lane choice for his second-round match with Dodge driver Allen Johnson.
Relegated to the universally unloved left lane, W.J. made a valiant effort with a near-perfect .419-second reaction time. At mid-track, however, the "Professor" was badly out of shape. He wisely shut off to avoid making the highlights on the evening television news.
"The car just made a right turn," Warren reported. "After the Funny Car that ran just ahead of me oiled down the track from the starting line to the finish line, no one was going to get down that lane."
Johnson and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus team raced their new car on a hot track for the first time in Phoenix. "We don't have a handle on the chassis setup for those conditions yet, which is why we lost lane choice in the first round," Warren revealed.
"We've found some subtle differences between this car and the chassis we raced last year," Johnson noted. "We suspect that the rear of the chassis may not be rigid enough, so we're working on strengthening that area. Then we'll test it at the hottest, nastiest race track we can find to see whether we've fixed the problems we experienced in Phoenix." RISING SON
After the first two races of the 1999 season, Warren finds himself in the unusual position of trailing his son Kurt in the championship race. K.J. is at the head of the Pro Stock class with 194 points, while Warren is fourth with 116 markers.
"Kurt has finally given up on the idea of being the first Pro Stock driver to run a three-second elapsed time," Warren jokes. "He has become more conservative in his approach to racing on Sunday, and that has produced more consistent results. Now we just have to get my part of the program up to speed!"
Warren Johnson's thoughtful approach to racing is apparent in his analysis of the benefits of qualifying at the head of the Pro Stock pack. "We can earn eight points every time we qualify in the No. 1 position," W.J. explains. "That's like winning an extra round at every third race.
"In 22 events this season, we have the potential to earn a total of 176 points. That's almost the equivalent of winning nine rounds of eliminations. Championships are won and lost by much smaller margins than that, so it's crucial for us to take every point on the table."
* Head of the Class: Warren and Kurt Johnson qualified 1-2 at the CSK Nationals, the second straight race that the Johnsons monopolized the top of the Pro Stock qualifying list.
Warren and Kurt have claimed the top two spots 16 times since K.J. began his driving career in 1993. Warren has been quicker at 13 of the races in which the father-and-son team captured the first and second qualifying positions.
* The Way It Was: Warren has been the top qualifier at 32.6% of the 319 NHRA national events he has competed in since 1971 - almost one out of every three races. Twenty-one years ago, Johnson qualified No. 1 for the first time at the 1978 Springnationals with an 8.63-second elapsed time.
Warren's perennial rival Bob Glidden posted his first No. 1 qualifying effort at the 1973 U.S. Nationals with a 9.033-second timeslip. Glidden garnered his 103 Pro Stock poles over a span of 20 seasons on the NHRA circuit.
WARREN JOHNSON'S GATORNATIONALS RESULTS
Year Qualified Finish
1976 4 Runner-up (to Lombardo) 1977 7 Second Round 1978 7 Semi-Final 1979-82 Did not enter 1983 3 First Round 1984 4 Winner (over Iaconio) 1985 2 Winner (over Glidden) 1986 9 First Round 1987 Did not qualify 1988 1 Semi-Final 1989 5 Second Round 1990 2 Second Round 1991 2 Winner (over Alderman) 1992 3 Winner (over Eckman) 1993 1 Winner (over Morgan) 1994 1 Winner (over Alderman) 1995 1 Second Round 1996 1 First Round 1997 1 Semi-Final 1998 5 Winner (over Yates)
Total 19 Wins 7 Runners-up 1 Semi-Finals 3 Second Round 4 First Round 3 DNQ/Did not race 1
LAST RACE: Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Phoenix, Feb. 28, 1999
Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.920/199.64 mph
Eliminations: Round 1: Warren Johnson (7.069/198.99) defeated Robert Patrick (7.067/196.33) Round 2: Allen Johnson (7.078/196.44) defeated Warren Johnson (8.043/129.02)
Final Round: Kurt Johnson (6.970/197.97) defeated Troy Coughlin (8.095/120.38) Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.920 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 199.64 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: PRO STOCK STANDINGS (After 2 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Kurt Johnson 1 194 2. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 1 188 3. Troy Coughlin 0 185 4. Warren Johnson 0 116 5. George Marnell 0 111