THE WARREN REPORT: WARREN JOHNSON GM GOODWRENCH SERVICE PLUS NEWS & NOTES FOR THE WINSTON SHOWDOWN AND MOPAR PARTS MILE-HIGH NATIONALS NEXT RACES: Winston Showdown (non-points special event), July 8-10, Bristol, Tenn. TV: ESPN, July 10, ...
THE WARREN REPORT: WARREN JOHNSON GM GOODWRENCH SERVICE PLUS NEWS & NOTES FOR THE WINSTON SHOWDOWN AND MOPAR PARTS MILE-HIGH NATIONALS
NEXT RACES: Winston Showdown (non-points special event), July 8-10, Bristol, Tenn. TV: ESPN, July 10, 9:30-10:30 p.m. EDT Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 15-18, Denver, Colo. TV: ESPN2, July 18, 6:30-7:30 p.m. EDT - check local listings.
50,000 REASONS TO WIN
It's not about the money - well, yes it is. As a professional racer who pays his bills with the proceeds of his racing program, Warren Johnson has 50,000 incentives to win the Winston Showdown. This non-points all-star event at the newly refurbished Bristol Dragway in Tennessee's Thunder Valley offers a $50,000 prize for the Pro Stock winner. W.J. figures they might as well write his name on the big check.
"There are 50 big carrots over there in Bristol, so I plan to go get them," Warren said. "There is really no difference in our approach whether we're racing for championship points or money. The object is to win the race."
Warren is already seeded in the 16-car field as the reigning NHRA Winston champion. The remaining spots will be filled with the most recent race winners and the six quickest qualifiers.
With a total of five victories, W.J. is the most prolific driver in the ten-year history of drag racing's big-buck bonus event formerly known as the Winston All-Stars and the Winston Invitational. He won the inaugural race at the Texas Motorplex in 1988, and notched four victories (including back-to-back wins in 1996-97) during the race's residency in Rockingham, N.C.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
The Bristol bash will feature Top Fuel dragsters racing against their Funny Car counterparts for a $200,000 top prize. It's a concept that intrigues the Professor.
"I think we'll see the future of drag racing," Warren predicted. "I don't believe that the sport can sustain two fuel-burning classes because of the tremendous cost of racing those cars. I anticipate a movement toward streamlining the show by reducing the number of classes.
"NHRA understands that we're out there to provide entertainment, and that means producing a marketable package that's attractive to television."
So would Warren be willing to take on the Pro Stock Trucks to heighten interest in the "doorslammer" classes?
"Absolutely, as long as there are no handicap starts!" Warren replied. "As I said before, we're in the entertainment business. We can't tolerate handicap starts that confuse the fans. If they put bigger motors in the Pro Stock Trucks and lightened them up so they are closer in performance to the cars, I say bring 'em on!
"It wouldn't make any difference to me if the trucks ran single-stage nitrous oxide systems, as long as the rules limited how much nitrous they could use," W.J. asserted.
"Heck, I've raced against cars using nitrous before," he added with a wink.
Following the Winston Showdown, Warren and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus team will embark on the month-long "Western Swing." An extra week has been added to the three-race marathon that will take the NHRA tour to Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif. Instead of the three-races-in-three-weeks grind of previous seasons, this year's schedule calls for a one-week break following the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Warren broke the championship race wide open during last year's Western Swing with a runner-up finish in Denver and back-to-back wins in Sonoma and Seattle. He is optimistic that he can reproduce those results.
"I think we can enjoy the same kind of success," Warren offered. "We have a fair amount of data on Denver from the testing we did there last year. The track has been resurfaced, so it should be smooth, which is a potential advantage for us.
"Seattle has historically favored our tuneup, and we know we can run fast there. Until last year, the track in Sonoma was always our nemesis - it can be very hot and very slick. Based on our performances in the heat in Joliet and Chicago [where W.J. posted consecutive wins], I think we have a setup that will work under those conditions."
THE PROFESSOR'S NOTE PAD
* Neck and Neck: Warren Johnson and Funny Car driver John Force are again tied with 77 career victories following Force's win at the Sears Craftsman Nationals. With 11 races remaining on the 1999 schedule, either (or both) could break Bob Glidden's record of 85 career wins before the end of the season.
* Into Thin Air: Warren has been racing on "The Mountain" since he began his career as a sportsman driver competing in NHRA's Division 5. Even with W.J.'s years of experience, it is a challenge to make horsepower at Bandimere Speedway, the site of the upcoming Mile-High Nationals.
"The thin air at high altitude affects a naturally aspirated Pro Stock engine much more than it does a supercharged, nitro-burning motor which effectively creates its own atmosphere with blower boost and oxygen-bearing fuel," Warren explained. "With fewer oxygen molecules available, less fuel can be burned efficiently. A naturally aspirated, gasoline-burning engine loses one to two percent of its power for every 1,000 feet of elevation. At 5,000 feet, a Pro Stock engine makes approximately 100 less horsepower than it would at sea level.
"The low humidity at high altitude also exacts a toll on performance," W.J. added. "With less than 30 percent humidity, an engine has an increased tendency to detonate because there are fewer water molecules to slow down the fuel's burn rate. Detonation is uncontrolled combustion caused by self-ignition of the fuel-air mixture - and it's deadly to engine components."
SIDETRACKED IN ST. LOUIS
After consecutive victories in Chicago and Columbus, the Johnson juggernaut came off the tracks at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, held at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis on June 26. Following a lengthy rain delay before eliminations on Saturday night, W.J. suffered a holeshot loss in the first round to young gun Jeg Coughlin, Jr.
The Johnson family had won the two previous national events at Gateway International Raceway, with Warren taking the inaugural race in 1997 and his son Kurt winning in 1998. This year, however, both Johnsons were on the trailer after the first round of eliminations.
"There was nothing wrong with the track," Warren declared. "We just didn't have the right setup. That was all there was to it."
A QUALIFIED SUCCESS
Warren struggled in qualifying for the Sears Craftsman Nationals, taking the 11th spot on the list - the first time this season that W.J. didn't claim one of the top two spots. The last time that W.J.'s name appeared that far down on the qualifying list was at the 1997 Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. You have to go back nearly a decade to the 1989 NorthStar Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., to find a worse qualifying performance on W.J.'s resume: He was the 16th qualifier at that race.
Warren has only won once after qualifying in the bottom half of the field - at the 1989 Northwest Nationals in Seattle, where he qualified in the tenth spot and went on to defeat Bruce Allen in the final round with a holeshot. On the other hand, he's scored 41 of his 77 career victories from the Pro Stock "pole."
Here is a summary of W.J.'s national event victories based on his starting spots:
Qualifying Position Victories 1 41 2 21 3 8 4 3 5 2 8 1 10 1
LAST RACE: Sears Craftsman Nationals, Madison, Ill., June 26, 1999 Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 11 at 7.008/197.74
Eliminations: Round 1: Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (7.041/195.73) defeated Warren Johnson (7.017/196.99)
Final Round: Jim Yates defeated Allen Johnson Low ET: Kurt Johnson, 6.932 seconds (track record) Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 198.96 mph (track record)
POINTS RACE: (After 11 of 22 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 910 2. Kurt Johnson 2 731 3. Jim Yates 1 644 4. Richie Stevens 1 601 5. Jeg Coughlin, Jr. 1 582