Warren Johnson Indianapolis Preview

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET . . . . . . more powerful than a locomotive, able to break track records in a single run! The "Professor of Pro Stock" will team up with the "Man of Steel" at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on September 3-6...


. . . more powerful than a locomotive, able to break track records in a single run! The "Professor of Pro Stock" will team up with the "Man of Steel" at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on September 3-6 when Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird will wear Superman livery. The season-long Superman Racing program has seen drivers from a variety of motorsports series (including NASCAR's Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and CART's Jimmy Vasser) carry the Caped Crusader's colors. "It's great for drag racing to receive this kind of exposure with the young people who read comic books," said Warren. "That's only going to help our sport grow. "I'm not planning on jumping out of any phone booths wearing a cape, tights, and red boots," add the Professor, who bears a stronger resemblance to Superman's alter ego Clark Kent than the kid from Krypton. "But I am looking forward to racing my black car again." The "black car" is the ebony Firebird that W.J. drove to nine victories and the Pro Stock championship in 1998. It's been missing in action this season while Warren campaigned his white 30th Anniversary Trans Am. Warren shook down the reskinned and repainted "blackbird" in a match race with Richie Stevens in British Columbia, where he also debuted an experimental engine combination with a 180-degree crankshaft. The nine-month layoff apparently didn't hurt the black car's performance - it ran 6.88 at 201.97 mph! "The differences between the two cars aren't as simple as black and white," Warren reports. "Last year's car appears to be a little more forgiving on the setup, while the new car is fast but has a narrower operating window. We'd like to blend the two chassis' characteristics and end up with something in between - like gray!"

Warren will race for the 24th time in Pro Stock at the U.S. Nationals. He scored his first Indy victory in 1984 when he defeated arch-rival Bob Glidden in the final. W.J. and his son Kurt teamed up to win the Pro Stock crown at Indy six consecutive times in 1992-97. Warren came within a heartbeat of extending the Johnsons' streak to seven straight when he lost to Mike Edwards in the final round of last year's race by .011 seconds.

"Our plan of attack for the U.S. Nationals is our standard drill: We're going there to win!" Warren reported. "Getting hold of the track will be the biggest challenge because the starting line usually develops bald spots that grow as more cars go down the track," he revealed. "If we don't forget everything we've learned racing there since Richard Nixon was President, we should be able to anticipate and adapt to the track conditions."

Warren first ventured into Pro Stock at the U.S. Nationals in 1971 when he went to Indy with a rudimentary Camaro he constructed in a cramped garage behind the family home in Fridley, Minn. The Johnson family towed the homebuilt race car on an open trailer and camped in a field across the street from the track. Few paid attention when Warren qualified 28th in the 32-car field, and even fewer noticed when the unheralded driver from the frozen north lost in the first round of eliminations. "It wasn't a very memorable debut in Indy," Warren recalled. "I raced a car that I had driven home from a Chevrolet dealership, stripped in the driveway, and turned into a Pro Stock. It had a roll bar, a set of ladder bars, a 427-cubic-inch big-block Chevy, and a Chrysler 4-speed. I don't remember what it ran, but obviously it wasn't fast enough!"

Warren returned to Minnesota, the land of his birth, for the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on August 22. He grew up on a farm in nearby Virginia, Minn. "What we were doing wasn't really farming - it was more like moving rocks around," Warren laughed. "Now I only go back to Minnesota to race and to make my annual blood donation to the mosquito population." Warren's homecoming celebration was cut short when he finished second to Jeg Coughlin, Jr. W.J. had a perfect 5-0 record in his previous final-round appearances this season, but he had to settle for runner-up when he misjudged the track conditions in the crucial match with Coughlin. "We expected the track to get better as it cooled off, but it didn't," W.J. admitted. "We clearly had the quickest car in the first three rounds, and we took our best guess going into the final. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. "We need to get back on a winning track," he declared. "We've had a long dry spell since we won in Columbus in June - we're winning rounds, but not winning races. It's been a case of not getting down the race track consistently on Sunday. We thought we had it figured out when we went to the final in Brainerd, but then we shook the tires."

Only two tracks on the NHRA tour had never produced a 6-second run in Pro Stock: Brainerd International Raceway and mile-high Bandimere Speedway. Warren set the BIR track e.t. record at 7.002 seconds in August 1997, making it the oldest mark in the record book. The 6-second barrier at Brainerd finally came tumbling down when Warren was timed at 6.955 seconds on his best qualifying run at the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals. Warren qualified in the No. 1 spot for the 11th time this season and the 113th time in his career. Son Kurt was right behind at 6.963, marking the third straight race and the ninth time this season that the Johnsons have qualified 1-2. Warren and Kurt have taken the top spot in all 15 races this season. Jim Yates failed to qualify at Brainerd, leaving Warren as the only Pro Stock driver who has qualified for every event in 1999. W.J. has made the show at 234 consecutive NHRA national events, a qualifying streak that began in 1987. "I hate it for Jim Yates - he had a qualifying streak going this year, and he didn't make it on that last run," said Warren. "I went through that at Sears Point, and I know exactly how he feels. We were fortunate enough to make the field in the last qualifying session, but he didn't. They'll rebound - they have enough talent on that team that they'll be just fine." With his 43rd career runner-up finish in Brainerd, Warren equaled Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden's 120 final-round appearances. Funny Car driver John Force has the most runners-up (45) and the most final-round appearances (122) among all NHRA drivers.

Warren is a finalist in two categories for the 1999 Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team. He is a finalist for Pro Stock Driver honors (along with Jeg Coughlin, Jr. and Allen Johnson) and for the Pro Racing Engine Builder award (along with Bill Jenkins and Byron Hines). Warren has previously won the Pro Stock Driver award five times (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998). This year's All-Star team will be announced at an awards banquet at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis on September 4.

Warren recorded the first 200 mph Pro Stock run at Sears Point Raceway on his last-ditch qualifying run, setting the track speed record at 200.77 mph. Warren has produced 57 of the 88 200 mph runs (65%) in NHRA national event competition. Kurt Johnson is second on the list with 16 runs over 200 mph. Nine other drivers have recorded a total of 15 200 mph runs.

The following is a summary of the 200 mph Pro Stock runs at NHRA national events:

Warren Johnson    57
Kurt Johnson      16
Allen Johnson      4
Jeg Coughlin, Jr.  3
Greg Anderson      2
Ray Franks         1
Jim Yates          1
Mark Pawuk         1
Mike Thomas        1
Richie Stevens     1
Troy Coughlin      1
Total             88


Year    Qualified    Finish
1971    28           First Round
1975    12           Second Round
1976    7            Second Round
1977    5            Second Round
1978    2            First Round
1979                 Did not enter
1980                 Did not enter
1981    16           First Round
1982    1            First Round
1983    4            First Round
1984    2            Winner (over Glidden)
1985    3            Semi-finals
1986    4            Second Round
1987    4            Semi-finals
1988    1            Runner-up (to Glidden)
1989    6            Second Round
1990    1            Second Round
1991    1            First Round
1992    2            Winner (over Morgan)
1993    1            Winner (over Geoffrion)
1994    2            Winner (over Pawuk)
1995    1            Winner (over Worden)
1996    2            First Round
1997    3            First Round
1998    1            Runner-up (to Edwards)

LAST RACE: Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn., August 22 Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.955/197.59 Eliminations: Round 1: Warren Johnson (6.966/197.36) defeated Tony Gillig (7.062/194.24) Round 2: Warren Johnson (7.000/196.99) defeated Greg Anderson (7.071/194.24) Semi-Final: Warren Johnson (6.998/196.99) defeated Mark Pawuk (7.068/194.18) Final Round: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.063/194.60) defeated Warren Johnson (7.167/179.95)

Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.955 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 197.59 mph (track record)

POINTS RACE: (After 15 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 1,221 2. Kurt Johnson 3 1,099 3. Jim Yates 2 919 4. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 3 901 5. Richie Stevens 1 766

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Gillig , Mike Thomas , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Greg Anderson , Jimmy Vasser , Bob Glidden , Allen Johnson , Mike Edwards