NEWS AND NOTES for the NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, Ind., Sept. 2-7 WARREN'S WORDS "I'm proud of winning the U.S. Nationals, but I'm even prouder of winning it four times in a row. Winning Indy...
NEWS AND NOTES for the NHRA U.S. Nationals Indianapolis Raceway Park, Indianapolis, Ind., Sept. 2-7
WARREN'S WORDS "I'm proud of winning the U.S. Nationals, but I'm even prouder of winning it four times in a row. Winning Indy four straight years is like winning the lottery -- the odds are almost insurmountable."
SHOOTING FOR SEVEN Warren and Kurt Johnson will be aiming for the family's seventh straight U.S. Nationals victory. Warren won his first U.S. Nationals title in 1984, and then reeled off four straight wins in 1992-95. Kurt continued the family tradition with back-to-back victories in 1996 and 1997. Over the last six years, the Johnsons have a combined record of 24 consecutive round wins at the U.S. Nationals.
INDY OUTLOOK "I'm going to do everything I can to win Indy three times in a row," says ACDelco Camaro driver Kurt Johnson, "and I think we have a shot at it. Everyone's watching you at Indy, and that's what makes it fun.
"It's tough enough to win Indy once, let alone three times," Kurt comments. "The track is always a challenge for Pro Stock racers because the starting line usually develops a bald spot right where you stage the car.
"We made ten test runs at Indianapolis Raceway Park last week to prepare for the Nationals. We learned how the new starting line pad behaves when the weather gets hot, and we got some more data on a new clutch material we're developing. Everyone talks about the Friday night qualifying session being fast, but I think that the Saturday morning session will set the field."
NORTHSTAR REPORT After four consecutive final-round appearances in Madison, Ill., Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle, the Johnsons' streak finally ended when both Warren and Kurt lost in the semi-final round of the VisionAire NorthStar Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway on August 23. Mark Osborne outran Warren, while Kurt lost by 1/1000th of a second to eventual winner Tom Martino on a holeshot.
The silver lining in the otherwise cloudy NorthStar Nationals results was that both W.J. and K.J. improved their positions in the Winston championship points race. A first-round loss by No. 2 ranked Jeg Coughlin, Jr. helped Warren increase his lead to 339 points -- nearly a three-race margin. Kurt pulled to within 6 points of Coughlin with six races remaining on the schedule.
"We just never got hold of the track at Brainerd," Warren reported. "We lost two qualifying runs because of minor mechanical problems, and we weren't able to make the proper adjustments on race day to compensate for the changes in the track. Overall, though, it wasn't too bad a day when you look at the championship picture."
"I lost a close one to Martino, but that's the nature of Pro Stock," Kurt conceded. "You win or lose by a thousandth of a second in this class."
TOP OF THE CHARTS For the first time this season, there was a new name at the top of the Pro Stock speed chart at the NorthStar Nationals. Kurt Johnson ended his father's streak of 14 straight Top Speeds when he ran 195.65 mph at Brainerd International Raceway. It was the fourth time in his career that Kurt has posted the fastest speed -- but he still has a long way to go to equal Warren's record of 144 career Top Speeds.
A WEEK IN THE LIFE If anyone needed more evidence that Warren Johnson is the hardest working owner/driver in drag racing, consider W.J.'s schedule in the work preceding the U.S. Nationals. Immediately following the NorthStar Nationals, Warren and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus crew drove from Minnesota to Illinois to put the finishing touches on a new Pro Stock Firebird from R.J. Race Cars. The next stop was Indianapolis Raceway Park for a full day of track testing. Warren and his wife Arlene then drove all night to Atlanta where Warren put in two 18-hour days at the shop machining a new transmission. After work on Friday, Warren did a one-hour live interview with an Atlanta TV station, and 90 minutes later he was on a red-eye flight to Detroit. Saturday and Sunday were devoted to a marathon 16-hour test in the GM wind tunnel with Warren's new Firebird and Kurt's ACDelco Camaro, followed by a flight back to Atlanta to overhaul the team's race engines for the U.S. Nationals.
So much for the glamorous life of a professional racer!
WARREN'S WEAPON W.J. unveiled his latest secret weapon during the pre-U.S. Nationals test at Indianapolis Raceway Park -- a new proprietary clutchless 5-speed transmission that he designed to his own specifications. W.J. baptized his new "baby" with a 6.960-second run at IRP.
"The new transmission survived six hard runs in our Indy test, so we're satisfied with our work so far," said Warren. "At this point we know it's at least the equal of the other transmissions in Pro Stock. We have a good selection of gear ratios, and I don't see much risk in running it at Indy. The transmission is about 22 pounds lighter than the transmission we've used previously, and it has enough gear strength to handle a 2,000-horsepower engine."
SHIFTING FOR HIMSELF One of the proposed rule changes for 1999 would ban pneumatic shifters in Pro Stock and require drivers to return to pulling levers to change gears. Johnson's new transmission has provisions for manual shifting, and W.J. is prepared to shift for himself.
"It won't bother me to go back to a mechanical shifter," Warren asserted, "but some of my competitors may not like it."
Kurt concurs: "I started out in Pro Stock pulling levers on a Lenco transmission, so that experience will help me if the rules are changed. I could have an advantage over the guys who have never had to manually shift a Pro Stock before. I've got a feeling there will be a lot of aborted runs and the fields will spread out, which could help Dad and me."
INDY MEMORIES Warren Johnson: "The only thing I remember about the first time I raced in Pro Stock at Indy is that I didn't win. The final round in '93 was memorable because I beat Scott Geoffrion by 1/1000th of a second. But the one that really stands out was '95, when I won for the fourth time in row."
Kurt Johnson: "I remember '84 when Dad won Indy for the first time driving that big, silver Hurst Oldsmobile. We'd been going to Indy for 12 years and getting our butts kicked, but we finally beat Bob Glidden in the final."
U.S. NATIONALS RECORDS
Warren Johnson's year-by-year results at the U.S. Nationals:
Year Qualified Result 1975 12 Second Round 1976 7 Second Round 1977 5 Second Round 1978 2 First Round 1981 16 First Round 1982 1 First Round 1983 4 First Round 1984 2 Winner (over Bob Glidden) 1985 3 Semi-finals 1986 4 Second Round 1987 4 Semi-finals 1988 1 Runner-up (to Bob Glidden) 1989 6 Second Round 1990 1 Second Round 1991 1 First Round 1992 2 Winner (over Larry Morgan) 1993 1 Winner (over Scott Geoffrion) 1994 2 Winner (over Mark Pawuk) 1995 1 Winner (over Lewis Worden) 1996 2 First Round 1997 3 First Round
Total 21 Wins 5 Runners-up 1 Semi-Finals 2 Second Round 6 First Round 7
Kurt Johnson's year-by-year results at the U.S. Nationals:
Year Qualified Result 1993 4 Semi-Final 1994 9 First Round 1995 4 Semi-Final 1996 5 Winner (over Rickie Smith) 1997 1 Winner (over V. Gaines) Record Holder: Kurt holds the Indianapolis Raceway Park Pro Stock e.t. and speed records at 6.984/197.49 mph (set 9/97).