NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT An interview with: WARREN JOHNSON THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome everybody to today's teleconference. Our special guests joining us on the call are six-time Pro Stock world...
NHRA FULL THROTTLE DRAG RACING SERIES TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome everybody to today's teleconference. Our special guests joining us on the call are six-time Pro Stock world champion Warren Johnson, driver of the K&N Pontiac GXP. Also 14-time Funny Car world champion John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, and Ashley Force Hood, driver of the Castrol GTX Mustang, the first female to win a Funny Car race in NHRA history.
Before we open it up to our three guests, we'll do a little quick housekeeping.
After seven events in the 17-race Countdown to 10, the regular season, the series points leader are Larry Dixon in Top Fuel, John Force for Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The series is getting ready to embark on a grueling nine races in an 11-week stretch that begins this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. This critical string of events also includes stops at Heartland Park Topeka after Atlanta, followed by a week off, then a four in a row stretch with consecutive stops at Chicago, Englishtown, Bristol and Norwalk. Then the famed Western Swing follows, which has been slightly altered this year as it begins in Seattle, moves on to Sonoma, California and finishes in Denver.
After that wild stretch of races, the playoff picture will be finalized in mid-August with the final race of the Countdown to 10, which will be the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota where the top ten championship fields in each category will be set. The six-race Countdown to One championship playoffs will start Labor Day weekend at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
We'll start with Warren Johnson. Warren, I'll open with the first question. Two weeks ago in St.Louis, you won on your 97th career victory. Now that you've had some time to reflect on that, that must have been one of the craziest days you ever had at a racetrack.
WARREN JOHNSON: I'd have to say the way I'd describe it would be bizarre. I've never seen such a rash of fluke circumstances in all my years of racing. I started this in 1976, so it's a pretty good span.
You know, that's why they don't run races on paper. You have to be at the racetrack to run them.
THE MODERATOR: Where does that win rank and how does that win help you in terms of momentum for your program as now you're going to focus on getting into Countdown to One playoffs?
WARREN JOHNSON: We've been focusing on trying to get the performance of these cars where they need to be. We're off 3 or 4 hundredths where we would be extremely competitive. It's been a case we've been trying a lot of things, doing a lot of R&D. It's slowly been coming to fruition as far as coming up to pace. I think we missed qualifying a couple times this year strictly because of performance. We're on the right path. We're just not quite there yet.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for Warren.
Q: Warren, I was curious, obviously the age factor comes in there. How does your age affect you on a racetrack now do you think?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, it's like any athletic endeavor: You're never as good as you used to be (laughter). It's a case that this isn't quite the same as on-track racing or some of the more endurance sports. You can compete for quite a few more years than in some of the other forms of motorsport. At the same time you still have to be on top of your game.
Q: Do you feel like as a driver you're still pretty competitive?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, we're competitive. As I said before, you're never as good as you used to be. Yeah, years ago you could get near-perfect lights whenever I needed them. Now you really have to get it in the teens and 20s.
THE MODERATOR: Where does that win rank in your 97 career victories and how important is it for you to get to a hundred wins?
WARREN JOHNSON: I never set a goal as far as the number of wins. One day when I get up, I'm going to say, that's enough of this, I'm going to move on to something else. I never set a goal for ultimate number of wins.
As far as where it ranks, it's just as important as the first one or any of them. When you're competing to win a championship, you have to win as many of these races as possible. They all pay the same. They all have the same points total. It's no more important from an emotional standpoint or any other standpoint than any of the other victories I've had.
But a win is a win is a win.
THE MODERATOR: Warren, when you talk about your program, you said after you won at St.Louis that you're getting closer to turning the corner. What do you feel it's going to take to turn that corner?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, you know, you have a number of factors involved. Obviously you have to have enough power to get these cars to perform at the level they're competitive at.
But at the same time you still have to be able to apply that power to the ground. It's a multi-fold approach you have to use. You have to have the power, figure how to use it and get it to the ground consistently and effectively. We've been working on all fronts. We feel we're competitive on power, we haven't been able to negotiate the early parts of the track, the 60s, the 330s. After that, we seem to be able to run with anybody out there. At the same time we have to work on the performance while doing R&D to find more power.
THE MODERATOR: Talk a little bit what it would mean for you to win in Atlanta, the track closest to your current residence and shop there.
WARREN JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess from an emotional standpoint, you would have a lot of friends and family and everything else out there, acquaintances. To win in front of them certainly would be important.
At the same time, we're trying to get into the top 10. So the only way we're going to be able to do that is to race efficiently and effectively. We have to start going more rounds and hopefully win some more races this year.
Yeah, I'd enjoy winning at Atlanta like I'd enjoy winning any place.
Q: A few years ago you announced your retirement, and then decided to not retire. Did you find it so difficult that you just decided, I can't do this, I want to continue racing? Was it too difficult a decision?
WARREN JOHNSON: That retirement was almost a forced retirement because one individual at GM had aspirations of getting all the money out of drag racing, and that was one way of her being able to do that. That was really nothing of my own doing. I just had to go along with it because of the way it was constructed.
I looked at it, I can still race effectively. Not as well as the driver I used to be for sure. But still I have to look at the quality of the competition out there. I feel I'm competitive as a driver. We just have to get the performance of the vehicles up to our standards.
Q: Speaking of the vehicle, what is the shelf life for the Pontiac GXP? The company is gone. How useful can that car remain? How many more years can you get out of it?
WARREN JOHNSON: NHRA had enough foresight to come up with what we call a box method of developing these cars where you have a certain wheel base, width, height and length. It still has to resemble the original vehicle and meet templates and so forth.
So aero-wise, aerodynamics, these cars are as good as anything out there. In the past, there was a five-year rule on a particular body style after the body ceased production. We have a good, solid two years, three years left on this particular car today. It's still competitive with any of the body styles out there.
That may be extended. I don't know. I have no idea what GM is planning to do, if they're, in fact, going to get back into drag racing, and if they do with what vehicle. I'm not privy to that information.
Q: You say it was almost a forced retirement. You kept with GM products. Is that just your loyalty to GM cars going back for 30 years?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, I've been with GM as far as being supported by GM since 1983. They have been an integral part of our program. I felt obligated, and at the same time they had a competitive product out there as far as Pro Stock racing. It really made no sense for me to switch body styles because the program, whether it had been with Ford or Chrysler, would have been no more lucrative with what I had with GM. I felt since we had an arsenal of GM engines here, let's stay with this program instead of switching.
Q: You mentioned about your circumstances that led up to your win. Briefly what were some of the crazy circumstances?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, I had to win the first round. Won that one on a holeshot. I think Ron was a little late because my light was basically an average light. We were fortunate enough to win that round. Allen Johnson shook the tires in the next round, which he has a propensity to do, one out of five or six times. It happened to be that particular day. Mike Edwards broke something in the engine, I don't know exactly what it was in the third round. Then something happened to Jeggy. I don't know whether he forgot to turn the fuel pumps on in the final. He moved about three feet and that was it. We stayed consistent all day. I think we averaged from 6.66 to 6.68 or 6.69. We were competitive. We just made less mistakes than everybody else is it what it amounted to.
Q: This four-year drought. Had you reached a point where you enjoyed competing but did you ever see yourself winning again? What was your mental approach during the last four years?
WARREN JOHNSON: We knew we were off on performance. We elected to stay with this DRC-3 motor, which I think there's only one competitor out there running it on a full-time basis. That's Ken Black's operation. Right now we're about the same performance level as they are. We feel just a little bit more development time on this thing we'll be right back to where we need to be performance-wise.
Yeah, it wears on you because you put a lot of long hours in there developing these parts and pieces. We're kind of a little bit different shop here. We do everything in-house. We make virtually everything here. We can keep control on the quality a little bit better. I'm not saying we're any better machinists or R&D people, but when you do everything internally, you can keep a little bit better control of it.
Q: What is the rule? Will you be doing this when you're 70? How do you see the future?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, you never know. I'm still enjoying it I always said, it's better than a job. If you do something that you enjoy, you don't really look at it from a standpoint I want to retire from it if you're enjoying it. As long as we can remain competitive and we get enough sponsor support to make this program a financial success, we'll still continue it.
Q: Warren, during this transition with all the business issues you talked about, being the observer that you are, how did you see things going and how much do you feel like you've adjusted, or specifically how did you adjust to everything that's helping you this year?
WARREN JOHNSON: Well, we sat down about a year ago and looked at why we weren't competitive. Before you can solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. We felt we were doing too much R&D work in the wrong areas. Then what we had we weren't applying it efficiently in the racecar. We've got people now that's their only business, is basically as a car chief, to make that racecar where it needs to be adjustment-wise and equipment-wise. Then my part of the program is to make sure we have enough horsepower.
Everybody seems to be getting along better with this type of program instead of trying to saddle all the problems and responsibilities on just one or two people. Everybody shares in this thing overall as far as making the program work.
Q: Do you feel it's possible to overanalyze things in the sport? Maybe it's kind of a back-to-basics approach that might be helping guys like you and John now?
WARREN JOHNSON: You hear in business micromanagers where they manage everything to death. You have to delegate responsibility and have regular meetings to address where you think you're lacking, what you think you can do to improve, who needs to accept more or less responsibility. It's called sharing of the wealth is what you really call it. With that approach we feel we're going to go a little more successful here shortly.
Q: Another age question. Sorry for that. Winning at 66 seems like a remarkable achievement. I'm wondering what, if any, kind of senior moments do you have?
WARREN JOHNSON: That's a perfectly valid question (laughter).
No, yeah, you'll have senior moments. We'll be doing things in the shop, I'm thinking about two or three different problems that we're attacking all at the same time. Once in a while, I'll just start focusing on one of them and completely forget about the other one.
Yeah, you can have a senior moment. Hopefully it's not on the starting line.
Q: Warren, how much harder are you driven because of Mike Edwards' performance advantage right now?
WARREN JOHNSON: I've never taken and looked at somebody else's program and tried to compare our program or do anything about what they're doing. I have no control over their program. All I have control over is my own program.
So we just keep looking at where we need to improve. We feel that, yeah, you know, it's quite reminiscent of when we dominated for 10 years. Bob Glidden did it for years, Greg Anderson and Jason Line had a run for five or so years where nobody could beat them.
Mike is on top of his game right now. That's good. If it's the same person winning all the time, it gets boring. Basically it's stagnant as far as the sport is concerned.
It's almost a requirement to have different winners, not necessarily repetitive every race. If somebody dominates for one or two or three seasons, that's fine, because there's going to be somebody else coming along, and it's going to get exciting again.
THE MODERATOR: Warren, we appreciate your time today. Good luck over there at Atlanta at the Summit Racing Nationals coming up this weekend.
WARREN JOHNSON: My pleasure. Thank you very much.