Warren Johnson Teleconference GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird BRAINERD, Minn. (August 13, 1998)--As the NHRA tour heads east for three very important races at Brainerd, Indianapolis and Reading, three-time Winston champion Warren ...
Warren Johnson Teleconference GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird
BRAINERD, Minn. (August 13, 1998)--As the NHRA tour heads east for three very important races at Brainerd, Indianapolis and Reading, three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson is picking up momentum at a time in the season when it is absolutely essential if he is to secure a fourth NHRA Pro Stock title.
Johnson's GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird has been the car to beat all year, picking up wins at Phoenix, Gainesville, Houston, Richmond, Sonoma, and most recently at Seattle on August 2. In a sport where winning rounds is a key ingredient to any legitimate championship bid, the "Professor" of Pro Stock has qualified at every race this season, one of only two drivers to do so, and advanced to no less than the semi-finals at nine of the first 14 races on the schedule.
Since 1975, Johnson has won 69 national events while racing in 110 final rounds. In addition to his three Winston championships, he has finished second eight times and is second on the NHRA's list for all-time wins by a professional driver.
Warren Johnson was featured on the NHRA teleconference on Wednesday, August 12, in conjunction with the 17th Annual Visionaire North Star Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on August 20-23, the 15th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour.
How difficult is it to keep your performance edge once you've found the right combination?
I guess that's all really dependent on where everyone else is in relation to you. If they start picking their program up and closing the gap up, and we're not able to expand our program, then we don't have that advantage anymore. At this point in time, the only real problem we've had this year is the inadvertent parts breakage at the wrong time. That's really the only thing that's slowed us down.
How successful have you been at Brainerd International Raceway?
It's been feast or famine. We've won some races there and we've also lost in the first round. Since they resurfaced the track there, it's become much more consistent. We had a lot of problems with these cars getting them down the race track on a consistent basis prior to two years ago. Right now, the performance level is not what it is at Sonoma, or Seattle, or someplace like that because of the elevation of the Brainerd track. But I think the consistency will be there because the race track, as of last year, will be good.
Is it hard to maintain your focus when you have such a wide lead in the points race?
Our focus has always been on winning the championship, and then when you break it down into its basic elements, you have to win the rounds. If you win the rounds consistently, then you can win races, and then you can win a championship. With the parity in Pro Stock right now, there's no conceivable way that one car can get to the semi-finals or the finals, and not win a national event and win the championship. I think Rob Bruins, or somebody in Top Fuel, never won a race one year and still won the championship. That possibility is no longer there, especially in Pro Stock with the consistency of a majority of these cars and the closeness of the category. We're extremely elated to have the good fortune to be in the position we are.
With eight races left in the season, how safe is your points lead? That lead could disappear in two or three races if we suffered some real ill fortune. We don't even think about the points lead, we think of how we got there and then concentrate on that method only. I've said it since I started racing that the only time you need the points lead is after the last race. If you have the lead then, you're in fine shape. If you're concentrating on the points lead, then you're not thinking about what it took to get there. That's what we're doing, concentrating on what has enabled us to get there.
Did you think when you first began your career that you would still be racing in 1998?
We started racing full-time in 1976 and have been doing it ever since. I raced a couple of years in the IHRA and won their championship in 1979-80, then came back into the NHRA fold and was fortunate enough to win my first race at Englishtown in 1982. We've been at it now for 22 years so you might say we've made a career out of it.
What's it like racing against Kurt?
I get asked that question quite often, and I have to look at it strictly from the mechanical aspect of it because the way my business is structured. Kurt in essence runs his own program, but we run the program out of my shop. He basically does all the dyno running of the engines and tuning on them. I do all of the cylinder heads and top side of the engine. He knows exactly what I have for power and what he has for power. Because all of the technical aspects of getting these race cars on the track is shared between both teams, we know in fact that we have two identical cars. The only thing that separates the two cars is my 20 plus years of experience where he has only three or four. That's the only real advantage I have. There are two ways to attack this problem; youth and enthusiasm or age and experience. When you look at where he is right now compared to where some of the people are who have been at it for 10 or 15 years, he's doing an extremely good job. And he's seen it from both sides of the fence. He worked as a crew chief, as a crew member, and when he elected to drive, he saw all of the dumb stunts that could be pulled and what not. He basically had a college education in drag racing before he started driving.
Bob Glidden won 10 Winston championships and 85 national events. Are those records something you are aiming for?
I don't even think of those numbers. Bob was kind of an anomaly. He was the right person at the right time for the right job. I don't think his total championships number will ever be matched. It may be possible to eclipse his total wins number, but to win 10 championships in this day and age is next to impossible. Especially with the parity in Pro Stock right now. We have 16 cars that qualify within four or five hundredths of a second. When Bob was having his heyday, he was racing against fields that were two or three tenths behind him. That doesn't exist anymore. When the fields started tightening up, that's when Bob's ability to win on a consistent basis waned slightly. The conditions that he garnered those numbers in don't even exist anymore so there's no since in even thinking about it. But you have to give him credit. He was tenacious enough and had the work ethic to achieve those records.
What do you expect coming into BIR this year?
We're working on some new equipment that will hopefully increase the performance of both the GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird and Kurt's car. If we don't suffer any parts breakage and concentrate on what's got us into this points position, then we should be fine. And it's certainly conceivable that Kurt could end up in second because he's only 46 points from that position right now in third place. Our mission right now is to finish one-two in the championship, and I think we have the equipment to do that. We just have to keep our focus on what we've been doing.