Warren Report: Bristol/Atlanta Edition THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Performance Parts News & Notes for the Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals (Bristol, Tenn., April 26-28) and the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals ...
Warren Report: Bristol/Atlanta Edition
THE WARREN REPORT: Warren Johnson GM Performance Parts News & Notes for the Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals (Bristol, Tenn., April 26-28) and the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac (Atlanta, May 2-5)
COMING ATTRACTIONS: BRISTOL AND BARBECUE
Warren Johnson will return to his racing roots when the NHRA tour goes to Bristol Dragway for the Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals. While this weekend's race will be only the second NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event contested on the Tennessee quarter-mile in the modern era, Johnson has raced in Thunder Valley for decades.
W.J. frequented the facility when he was a regular on the IHRA "Mountain Motor" circuit in the late '70s. He won five times in IHRA competition at Bristol Dragway, including three straight Spring Nationals victories in 1979-81. Although no trace of the original track remains, the unique topography and climate of Thunder Valley are very familiar to "The Professor."
"The track is like Las Vegas with humidity," Johnson quipped. "It's an altitude track, with 2300 feet of elevation. We also have to contend with the water in the air.
"This year's race will be another voyage into the unknown," he observed. "The track has been recently resurfaced, so we'll be starting from scratch on our clutch and chassis setup. It's just another challenge."
One week later, Johnson will be on familiar turf at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac. The event is contested at Atlanta Dragway, just a few miles from W.J.'s top-secret headquarters in Sugar Hill, Ga. Johnson has competed in all 21 previous editions of the Southern Nationals, posting four wins, seven final-round appearances, and nine No. 1 qualifying spots. Despite his knowledge of the Atlanta quarter-mile, Warren discounts the notion of a home field advantage at the Southern Nationals.
"Atlanta is as fast as any track in the country when we test there," he reported. "We ran 6.81 there a few weeks ago. But the track is entirely different when it's prepared for an NHRA national event. The traction compound that is used on a weekly basis isn't the same as the compound that's applied for a national event. Consequently there are few similarities in how we set up the car. We know where the bumps are, but we have no idea how well the tires will stick. As long as the track remains consistent, we can deal with it."
Although he has yet to visit the winner's circle in the first five races of the 2002 season, Johnson's steady performance has kept him in contention for a sixth championship. He is second in the POWERade standings, just 11 points behind leader Jim Yates.
"This car is coming around, slowly but steadily," W.J. noted. "We qualified third in Houston, so we're closing the performance gap. My GM Performance Parts Pontiac was one of the quickest cars in the qualifying sessions held during the heat of the day, so I believe we are headed in the right direction."
Johnson has been a resident of Georgia since 1981 when he relocated his family and his racing operation from frigid Fridley, Minn., to suburban Atlanta. Although he has yet to adopt a southern accent, he has readily adapted to southern ways. With an influx of friends and supporters arriving for the Southern Nationals, Johnson is frequently asked for his recommendations on local dining spots.
"The best barbecue spots are places you don't want to venture after dark," he laughed.
Given that alternative, W.J. will be quite content with Arlene Johnson's home cooking during the Southern Nationals.