THE WARREN REPORT: PHOENIX EDITION Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, February 26-28, Phoenix, Ariz. TV: TNN, March 7, 12:00-1:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific - check ...
THE WARREN REPORT: PHOENIX EDITION
Warren Johnson GM Goodwrench Service Plus News & Notes for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, February 26-28, Phoenix, Ariz. TV: TNN, March 7, 12:00-1:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific - check local listings
"We'll just have to see what surprises the tech department has in store for us at Phoenix. The new body templates don't appear to fit any cars currently competing in Pro Stock. This whole episode is becoming rather bizarre."
Warren Johnson endured 14 years of frustration before he finally won a national event at Firebird Raceway. He decisively ended his "Phoenix Jinx" at last year's race when he defeated Jim Yates in the final round. That breakthrough victory was the start of a three-race winning streak that gave W.J. an insurmountable lead in the championship race.
Now Johnson's goal is to notch his second straight victory at Firebird Raceway, the site of the upcoming CSK Nationals. After a second-round loss to Yates in the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals, Warren is fifth in the Pro Stock standings, trailing points-leader Jeg Coughlin, Jr. by 56 points.
Johnson has been the No. 1 qualifier at Firebird the last four years.
ANOTHER RACE, ANOTHER RECORD
Johnson set the performance pace at the AutoZone Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., with his new 30th Anniversary Trans Am. Warren's white "Warbird" topped 200 mph on four consecutive runs, finally setting the Winternationals speed record at 200.95 mph. He also established a new e.t. mark on Southern California's quickest quarter-mile at 6.888 seconds.
Johnson qualified on the Pro Stock "pole" for the 103rd time in his career, tying the mark set by retired Pro Stock star Bob Glidden. Warren already holds the NHRA records for the most Low ETs (104) and the most Top Speeds (152).
The combination of Yates' quicker reaction time, a disconnected hose, and a runaway clutch led to W.J.'s second-round loss at Pomona Raceway. "We had a vacuum line come off, and that cost us 20 horsepower," Johnson revealed, "Then the engine just blew through the clutch. With as much clutch pressure as we had, it shouldn't have slipped."
Johnson was upbeat in spite of his early exit. "This new car is running pretty fast considering that it's not making perfect runs yet," he observed. "I believe we'll make a race horse out of it yet."
WARREN PUTS THE HAMMER DOWN
It didn't take long for the first controversy of the 1999 season to erupt. The Pro Stock pits were buzzing at the Winternationals when W.J.'s new Firebird flunked its initial technical inspection. The NHRA inspectors took exception to the shape of the Pontiac's rear fenders.
After a two-day stalemate, NHRA officials produced a cardboard template for the rear fenders. Wielding an acetylene welding torch and a large hammer, W.J. attacked the race car's rear quarter-panels. The battered 'Bird's reshaped fenders were then swathed in duct tape. The car finally passed muster just minutes before the first scheduled qualifying session.
"The tech department said, 'We don't like the looks of the car, but we can't tell you how to change it. Keep changing it until we like it.'" Warren reported. "There are no dimensions for the area in question, but they insisted that the car was not legal. There was certainly a safety issue involved because we need adequate fender clearance to avoid cutting a tire. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to beat on a brand-new body."
The formerly pristine car resembled a survivor of a Saturday night stock car race. "The car looks like a wreck, and we probably lost our chance for the 'Best Appearing Car' trophy," W.J. conceded. "The good news is that maybe I can get a sponsorship from GM Collision Parts."
THE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES
Following the Winternationals, Warren's race car went directly to chassis builder Rick Jones' shop in Illinois for reconstructive surgery. The controversy over Pro Stock body contours shows no sign of abating, however. "We'll just have to see what surprises the tech department has in store for us at Phoenix," Johnson observes. "The new body templates that were distributed after the Winternationals don't appear to fit any cars currently competing in Pro Stock. My Firebird that won the championship last year doesn't fit the new templates - we would have to put on a new front end, new doors, and new quarter-panels. At this point, our only option is to reskin the new car."
Johnson doesn't mince words about his dissatisfaction with the current state of Pro Stock. "If the same standards were applied to the Avengers, Probes, and Cutlasses that are now being applied to the Firebirds and Camaros, I seriously doubt whether there would be any cars left to race in Phoenix!" he asserts. "This whole episode is becoming rather bizarre."
THE LAST WORD
Arlene Johnson's assessment of her husband's attitude following Fendergate: "Warren doesn't get mad and he doesn't get even. He just gets ahead."
POMONA POST-RACE NOTES
* Johnson qualified in the No. 1 spot at the Winternationals for the fifth time in his career. He's been the quickest qualifier 11 times at Pomona Raceway, which also hosts the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in November.
* Warren has been the No. 1 qualifier in 32.1% of the NHRA national events he has participated in since 1971 - almost one out of every three races!
* Johnson notched four more 200 mph runs at Pomona Raceway. He's now recorded 29 of the 34 Pro Stock runs over 200 mph. W.J. has exceeded 200 mph at eight different tracks on the NHRA tour.
* Warren's Record Reflections: "The national elapsed time record could be buried so deep in Gainesville or Houston that we'd never see it again. I can foresee the record ending up in the 6.70's if the conditions are right at either of those tracks. Since we can earn points each time the record is set, setting it that low would be like shooting ourselves in the foot - and I'm already too short!"
MEN IN BLACK
Warren's championship-winning GM Goodwrench Service Plus crew remains intact for the 1999 season. The roster of W.J.'s "Men in Black" includes:
* Mike Stryker, clutch and transmission specialist. Stryker won last season's Parts America "Mechanic of the Year" award in a runaway.
* Pat Barrett, computer and electronics specialist. Barrett once raced a Super Stock AMC powered by a W.J. engine. After selling his successful business in Minnesota, Barrett "retired" and moved to Georgia, where he rejoined Johnson.
* Ray Prince, truck driver and mechanic. Prince campaigned a Stock eliminator Mustang in the Seventies. He met Johnson at his home track, Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn., in 1985.
WARREN JOHNSON'S CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN NATIONALS RESULTS Year Qualified Finish 1985 4 Semi-final 1986 4 Second Round 1987 4 Semi-final 1988 2 Runner-up (to Glidden) 1989 2 Semi-Final 1990 2 First Round 1991 2 Runner-up (to Alderman) 1992 4 Semi-final 1993 1 Second Round 1994 3 Semi-final 1995 1 Second Round 1996 1 First Round 1997 1 Runner-up (to Yates) 1998 1 Winner (over Yates)
Total 14 Wins 1 Runners-up 3 Semi-Finals 5 Second Round 3 First Round 2
LAST RACE: AutoZone Winternationals, Pomona, Calif. Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.888/200.95 mph Eliminations: Round 1: Warren (6.930/200.00) defeated Darrell Alderman (7.929/127.68) Round 2: Jim Yates (6.970/196.27) defeated Warren (6.963/198.85) Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.888 seconds (track and event record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 200.95 mph (event record)
POINTS RACE: PRO STOCK STANDINGS (After 1 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin 1 114 2. Troy Coughlin 0 91 3. Kurt Johnson 0 77 4. Jim Yates 0 72 5. Warren Johnson 0 58