You might think that a city that has an erupting volcano, a flaming pirate ship, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower on its main street has it all. But even with glittering casinos, lavish stage shows, and around-the-clock activity, Las Vegas...
You might think that a city that has an erupting volcano, a flaming pirate ship, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower on its main street has it all. But even with glittering casinos, lavish stage shows, and around-the-clock activity, Las Vegas was missing something in the entertainment department - until now. On April 7-9, the thunder of NHRA championship drag racing will complement the glitter of the Las Vegas Strip. The inaugural NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marks another milestone in drag racing's growth curve. The new showcase facility created by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports brain trust will bring major league drag racing to the entertainment capital of the world for the fourth round of the 23-event Winston Drag Racing Series. Based on past performances at new tracks, reigning Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson is a good bet to break the bank in Las Vegas.
Johnson has already scored victories at two recent additions to the NHRA circuit, Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., and Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. In spite of the difficulty of competing on an unfamiliar surface, W.J. intends to extend his record of success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I may have an advantage in being able to 'read' a new track simply because I've been racing so long," explains Johnson, who is celebrating his Silver Anniversary Season in Pro Stock. "Very few of my competitors have seen the range of race tracks that I have encountered in my career. I've raced in Pueblo, Colo., at 6,000 feet elevation, and I've raced in Fremont, Calif., where the track was so low you had to throw a rock uphill to hit the ocean. Las Vegas will be another new puzzle to solve."
Johnson attended the track's groundbreaking ceremony last July, and liked the new layout. Although the "Professor of Pro Stock" has yet to visit the completed facility, he has already mapped out his plan of attack for the inaugural event.
"The first item on the agenda is to assess our engine's power level based on the atmospheric conditions," he explains. "The track's elevation is approximately 2,100 feet. We'll calculate the relative altitude based on the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. Then we'll take a look at the racing surface and make an educated guess on the available traction. That will determine our choice of gear ratios and clutch setup for the first qualifying session.
"The track will be changing constantly throughout the race as rubber builds up on its surface," Warren predicts. "It will be a totally 'green' race track on Friday, and we will have to watch carefully how well the rubber sticks as the event progresses. I expect the track will be a little dicey at the top end initially. The altitude will be our saving grace because we'll be down on power compared to a sea-level track and probably won't have the ability to spin the tires in high gear."
GATORNATIONALS GRAND SLAM
Warren Johnson is coming off a "grand slam" at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 19. W.J. dominated the Pro Stock division by qualifying No. 1, winning the race, and running the quickest elapsed time and the fastest speed of the event.
The victory was Warren's third straight and ninth overall Gatornationals triumph, and the 80th of his career. Johnson pulled to within five victories of Bob Glidden's all-time record of 85 national event titles and slashed Jeg Coughlin Jr.'s lead in the Pro Stock standings to just 26 points.
In spite of his dominant performance at Gainesville Raceway, W.J. insists that he's been "playing hurt." Delays in the delivery of crucial parts have disrupted Warren's relentless engine program. He promises to be back to full speed before the Las Vegas race - and that's unwelcome news for his rivals.
"We've received the parts we have been waiting for, and our engines should be back to full strength shortly," Warren reports. "I'm building new intake manifolds and Kurt is assembling fresh motors.
"We're also making steady progress with the Hoosier engineers on developing new tires," Johnson reveals. "There is a possibility we'll run the new rubber in Las Vegas if we have a successful tire test in Atlanta.
"Atlanta Dragway has been completely renovated, and the track preparation was identical to the procedure that was used in Las Vegas," W.J. notes. "We recently ran low 6.90s at over 200 mph at Atlanta, so it appears that we finally have a race track in our backyard where we can test between national events. That may give us a leg up on the competition in our development program this summer."
Although Warren welcomes the addition of Las Vegas to the NHRA circuit, he doesn't anticipate spending much time at the gaming tables. "It's a gamble every weekend at the race track," W.J. quipped. "I only like games of chance when the odds are heavily in my favor!"
Mac Tools Gatornationals, Gainesville, Fla., March 19, 2000
Qualifying: Warren Johnson qualified No. 1 at 6.849/200.83
First Round: Warren Johnson defeated George Marnell
Second Round: Warren Johnson defeated Jim Yates
Semi-Final: Warren Johnson defeated Ron Krisher
Final Round: Warren Johnson defeated Troy Coughlin
Low ET: Warren Johnson, 6.849 seconds (track record)
Top Speed: Warren Johnson, 200.83 mph.
POINTS RACE: (After 3 of 23 events) <pre> Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 2 290 2. Warren Johnson 1 264 3. Ron Krisher 0 180 4. Troy Coughlin 0 163 5. Mark Pawuk 0 162