NHRA: Johnson Says Luck, Experience Key in Winning at Atlanta
9 April 1998COMMERCE, Ga. -- Kurt Johnson says his success at Atlanta Dragway over the years has nothing to do with its close proximity to his home in nearby Sugar Hill. He says he's just been lucky to make the Pro Stock final at the last two events, beating Jim Yates there in 1996 before posting a runner- up finish to the defending Winston champion last year.
The AC Delco Chevrolet Camaro driver will admit that in order to be in a position to get lucky, he had to get there. That's where a little thing called experience comes into play.
He'll try to combine the two ingredients -- luck and experience -- in an attempt to make a fourth final appearance and possibly get a second win at Atlanta Dragway's 18th annual Fram Nationals, April 16-19. The $1.6-million race is the fifth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"I made my first final round appearance there in 1993 and have been fortunate there in the last couple of years," Johnson said. "We do a lot of testing there so we're real familiar with the race track. We know where the bumps are, we know what kind of gear to run and we know how the air is. I'd say in overall experience, we have more at that place than we do anywhere else.
"Once you have the experience, you need a little bit of luck to help you get that trophy. It doesn't matter how you win a race, it seems like one round you've got to get lucky to win. Experience and luck, that's all it is."
While his father Warren is having another career year, setting record after record and winning race after race, Kurt has been working steadily to develop a combination with his new 1998 Chevrolet Camaro. He feels confident that once he gets his hot rod figured out, he'll be right back in the hunt again.
"The Camaro has been trying to throw us a little bit of a curve right now," he said. "We had to change the suspension around to adapt to the new body style. We've run fast at times and qualified good, but when it gets hot it tends to spin the tires a little more than we would like. We're going to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep after it."
His hard work paid off at the recent Winston Invitational, NHRA's special non-points all-star race, where he qualified fourth and beat Jim Yates, Mark Pawuk and Steve Schmidt to advance to the final, before eventually losing out on the big $50,000 payday to Mark Osborne.
"When you look at the fields that are spread by five-hundredths of a second, anybody can win one of these races," Johnson said. "The power is real close on all these cars. I realize that dad is flying, but things can change in an instant. It's just a crew chief and driver's race. The crew chief is trying to adapt the power to the track and the driver's job is to let the clutch out on time on Sunday. As long as you can make it in the top 16 for Sunday, you have a chance at winning. It's that close."
* The streak: Three-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson, also a hometown favorite from nearby Duluth, will attempt to keep his winning streak alive at Atlanta Dragway's Fram Nationals. Johnson, driver of the GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird has posted consecutive victories at the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix, Gainesville, Fla.'s Mac Tools Gatornationals and Houston's Pennzoil Nationals.