Warren Johnson Houston Preview

Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA O'Reilly Nationals, April 8-11, Houston, Texas TV: TNN, April 18, 12:00-1:30 p.m. Eastern - check local listings. BEST PERFORMANCE BY A PRO STOCK DRIVER While Hollywood was ...

Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the NHRA O'Reilly Nationals, April 8-11, Houston, Texas TV: TNN, April 18, 12:00-1:30 p.m. Eastern - check local listings.


While Hollywood was handing out Oscars for "Shakespeare in Love," Warren Johnson gave another award-winning performance in his reprise of "W.J. in Gainesville." Johnson added to his trophy collection with a dominant performance in the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 21, scoring his first victory of the season and the 73rd of his career.

Warren was in top form at the 30th annual Gatornationals. He qualified No. 1 for the fourth straight race, set the national elapsed time and top speed records, made eight straight 6-second runs, and topped 200 mph five times. Despite his apparent performance advantage, W.J. was the underdog going into the final-round match with his 35-year-old son, Kurt. The younger Johnson had earned lane choice with a quicker time in the semi-final round, and relegated Warren to the problematic right lane. Kurt's savvy racecraft backfired, however, when his car made an abrupt turn and got out of the groove. Although Warren had to deal with own handling demons, he reached the finish line first in 6.97 seconds.

Johnson was jubilant after notching his eighth Gatornationals victory - the most titles any racer has won at the fast Florida facility. "Maybe we should run all of the races at Gainesville Raceway," Warren suggested. "I might have a slight advantage!

"As soon as I left the starting line, I was fighting the car all the way down the race track," Warren reported. "It made a hard right turn in the first three rounds, so we made a drastic chassis adjustment before the final. The car still drove to the right, so we're going to have to go back to the shop to find out what's wrong. The clutch felt soft, too. I expected to see a puddle of melted aluminum under the bellhousing after the last run because I think we burned up the clutch."


The final-round race between Warren and Kurt marked the 34th time the pair has raced in national event competition. Warren improved his record to 25-9 overall (and 9-2 in final rounds) against his son.

"It's a win-win situation for Warren Johnson Enterprises and Kurt Racing when both cars are in the final," Warren declared. "All the prize money goes into the same account and supports both teams.

"Kurt knows exactly what I've got, and I know exactly what he's got - because I paid for all of it!" W.J. joked. "Whoever lets the clutch out first and makes the right decision on the setup is probably going to win because these cars are so equally matched. You really have to be on top of your game when you're racing a car that you know is as well prepared as your own.

"I enjoy racing Kurt," Johnson confided. "I actually left first against the kid by a thousandth of a second."


After enduring second-round losses in the first two events of the season, a visit to Florida proved to be the tonic for W.J.'s race day ills. He swept the table at the Gatornationals, earning 138 championship points - the maximum possible. Warren moved up to third in the championship standings, 37 points behind his No. 1-ranked son and just two points behind Troy Coughlin.

"I won't say I'm in the groove, but at least I know where the groove is!" Johnson quipped. "At this time of year, Gainesville historically tends to favor high-horsepower cars like ours. With a record crowd turning out for this event, there is certainly more magic in the win."


Johnson reset the national elapsed time and speed records in the second round of eliminations at the Gatornationals, establishing the new marks at 6.886 seconds and 201.37 mph - the quickest and fastest Pro Stock run in NHRA history. No one was more surprised (or pleased) with that record-setting run than W.J.

Johnson eclipsed the 6.867/201.34 mph marks he set in Dallas last October by the thinnest of margins - one 1/1000th of second and 3/100ths of a mph.

"You get 20 bonus points whether you set the elapsed time record by a thousandth of a second or by a tenth of a second," Warren noted. "Those points are the equivalent of one round win, and those are awful tough to get these days.

"It surprised me to set the record on that run because the tires shook and the car made a right turn. If it had been a straight run, I might have buried the record.

"This car should be able to run 6.70's if we get similar track conditions in Houston or Richmond," Warren predicted. "After those races, we get to the hot part of the season. During the summer we battle the elements, and Mother Nature dictates how much power we can make."

Surprisingly, Johnson did not set the record with his best engine. "We weren't running our primary engine on race day," Warren revealed. "We decided after the final qualifying run that our No. 1 engine might be getting a little tired because we haven't serviced it for 2 1/2 months while we've been working on other projects. We ran our back-up engine, which is basically a tire test engine. It performed relatively well."


With his Gatornationals victory, Warren has now won at least one national event for 18 straight years - the longest active winning streak in the sport. (For the record, Bob Glidden won at least one race for 21 straight years in 1973-93.)

Johnson and Funny Car driver John Force continued their assault on Glidden's record of 85 career victories; Johnson and Force notched their 73rd and 72nd wins respectively in Gainesville. Just as Roger Maris' seemingly "untouchable" home run record was battered by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa last season, Glidden's all-time NHRA victory record now appears to be in jeopardy on two fronts.

"If I'm fortunate enough to break Glidden's record, I guarantee someone will be right behind me to break it again," Warren reflected. "All I can do is race as efficiently as I possibly can. If I win, I win - and if I don't, I've done something wrong."


* Top of the Charts: Warren and Kurt Johnson were the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers respectively at the Mac Tools Gatornationals - the third consecutive race that the Johnsons have monopolized the two top spots. Both men recorded identical 6.906-second elapsed times. Warren claimed the No. 1 spot with his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird on the tiebreaker with a faster 200.08 mph speed to Kurt's 199.43 mph effort. The Johnson family has been at the top of the qualifying list 17 times since K.J. started his racing career in 1993. Warren has been the quicker driver 14 times.

* The 200 mph Express. How dominant are the Johnsons in the horsepower department? Consider that Warren and Kurt produced a total of seven 200 mph runs at the Gatornationals; no one else in Pro Stock topped 200 mph once! Warren exceeded 200 mph five times at Gainesville Raceway, increasing his career total of 200 mph runs to 34. Kurt reeled off a pair of 200 mph passes in eliminations. He recorded a career-best speed of 200.17 mph in his semi-final round victory over Troy Coughlin.

* Warren Johnson hit a "Grand Slam" at the Gatornationals for the 33rd time in his career: He qualified No. 1, won the race, ran the Low ET, and recorded the Top Speed. For those keeping score at home, W.J. has qualified No. 1 in 105 of his 320 races (33%), run the Low ET 106 times (33%), and posted the Top Speed 154 times (48%).


                    Warren Johnson    Everyone Else
No. 1 Qualifiers            3                0
Low Elapsed Times           3                0
Top Speeds                  3                0


Houston Raceway Park, site of the upcoming O'Reilly Nationals on April 8-11, has been the scene of many of Pro Stock's greatest races. In the final round in 1994, Scott Geoffrion and Warren Johnson matched wills and cooling systems in an extended "burndown" that left the crowd screaming and radiators (and tempers) steaming. Johnson defeated his teammate-turned-rival, igniting a rivalry that still burns today.

In 1995, W.J. set the national speed record at 199.15 mph in Houston - a mark that stood for more than two years before Johnson broke the 200 mph barrier in Richmond, Va., in 1997. At last year's event, Warren racked up his third straight win of the season, set the track e.t. and speed records, and logged a half-dozen 200 mph runs. In 13 starts at Houston Raceway Park, W.J. has three wins, four final-round appearances, and six No. 1 qualifying spots.

Why has Houston been so good to the Professor? "We've historically done well there because it's a great race track and we can take advantage of our power," he answers succinctly.


Year      Qualified    Finish
1988          2        Runner-up (to Glidden)
1989          5        Second Round
1990          2        Winner (over Allen)
1991          1        First Round
1992          6        First Round
1993          1        Second Round
1994          3        Winner (over Geoffrion)
1995          1        Second Round
1996          1        First Round
1997 Spring   1        First Round
1997 Fall     2        Second Round
1998 Spring   1        Winner (over Thomas)
1998 Fall     2        Second Round
Total        13
Wins          3
Runners-up    1
Semi-Finals   0
Second Round  5
First Round   4
No. 1 Qualifiers    6

LAST RACE: Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21, Gainesville, Fla. Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.906/200.08 mph Eliminations: Round 1: Warren Johnson (6.876/200.95) defeated John Nobile (6.982/197.94) Round 2: Warren Johnson (6.866/201.37) defeated Richie Stevens (9.524/99.00) Semi-Final: Warren Johnson (6.896/199.91) defeated Jim Yates (6.939/199.23) Final Round: Warren Johnson (6.971/199.37) defeated Kurt Johnson (7.250/167.07)

Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.866 seconds (national record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 201.37 mph (national record)

POINTS RACE: (After 3 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Kurt Johnson 1 291 2. Troy Coughlin 0 256 3. Warren Johnson 1 254 4. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 1 242 5. Jim Yates 0 180

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Nobile , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Bob Glidden , Scott Geoffrion