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NHRA: Warren Report: Columbus

9 June 1998


"We left Chicago with a 245-point lead in the championship -- that's 13 rounds with 13 races to go. If we keep working hard and find another 20 horsepower, we should be in good shape in November."


W.J. broke the NHRA Pro Stock points race wide open with a runner-up finish at the inaugural Fram Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill., on May 31. He left Chicagoland with a 245-point advantage over second-place Jim Yates, who failed to qualify for the second time this season.

After running the low e.t. in the first three rounds of eliminations, Johnson was upset by Mike Thomas in the final, 7.024/196.39 to 7.076/194.80. A lengthy delay to clean the track before the Pro Stock final played a pivotal role in the race's outcome.

"We were in the staging lanes and ready to run for the live TV show at 5:10," Warren reported. "By the time we ran, the relative altitude had gone down 200 feet and the track temperature was 14 degrees colder," Warren reported. "The available traction probably went up 15 to 20 percent, and we just fried the clutch in first and second gear. We almost had to take the clutch discs out with a chisel after they welded themselves to the flywheel."


Warren Johnson has raced in the Pontiac Excitement Nationals (a.k.a. "Springnationals") 22 times -- but he has only two victories to show for his years of effort. National Trail Raceway has been Johnson's longtime nemesis; in half of his races there, he hasn't advanced past the second round. Now with a refurbished racing surface, W.J. is looking for a turnaround at this year's event.

"Columbus is a track we've just never been able to get grip on," he admits. "I understand the track has been renovated, the asphalt has been ground, and a 500-foot concrete starting pad has been installed. According to the teams that have tested there, it's a big improvement. We can handle the heat and humidity in Ohio if we've got a track to race on."


National Trail Raceway, the home of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals since 1972, has been the site of several memorable moments in Warren Johnson's career. He qualified for his first NHRA Pro Stock race at National Trail in 1975 in the lucky 13th spot at 9.13 seconds. After defeating Scott Shafiroff and Wayne Gapp in the first two rounds of eliminations, W.J. fell to Bill Jenkins in the semi-final stanza.

In 1978, W.J. notched the first of his 93 career No. 1 qualifying performances in Columbus. He took the top spot with an 8.63-second elapsed time in an Oldsmobile Starfire.


The second round of eliminations at the Route 66 Nationals featured the first intramural match of the season between Warren and his son, Kurt. Warren's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac defeated Kurt's ACDelco Camaro, 7.029 to 7.096. It was the 31st time the two have raced since Kurt started driving in 1993. The box score now stands at 22 wins for Warren and 9 for Kurt.

"When you lose lane choice and qualify in the wrong place on the ladder, you have to expect a day like that," Kurt commented. "If I had qualified just five thousandths quicker, I would have moved up four spots on the qualifying sheet and I wouldn't have raced Dad in the second round. At least we gained some ground on the drivers who were ahead of us in the points standings.


For the 63rd time in his career, Warren "tripled" at the Route 66 Nationals: He qualified No. 1, ran the Low ET (6.987 seconds) and recorded the Top Speed (197.13 mph). He ran the fastest speed in Pro Stock for the ninth straight race; no one has been faster in 1998 than W.J.


Warren Johnson is just a few weeks away from unveiling his latest "secret weapon" -- a new purpose-built clutchless 5-speed transmission.

"We started with a clean sheet of paper and designed the new transmission from scratch," said Johnson. "Most drag racing gearboxes are basically updates of 30-year-old designs. We've simplified the gear-changing mechanism and built the transmission to withstand higher torque loads. We've even added a handle so you can carry the transmission like a suitcase!

"The cases are machined, the gears are cut, and the shafts are finished," said Warren. "The transmission will be for sale to other teams in a couple of years -- after we debug it, of course."


Warren made his debut on the QVC home-shopping channel on the eve of the Route 66 Nationals. The show's theme was "Father's Day Presents," and W.J. demonstrated a new line of GM Goodwrench Service Tools.

"It was live TV, without a rehearsal," Johnson reported. "It was total chaos on the set, and the whole evening was pretty hilarious from my viewpoint. The host didn't know a ratchet from a jack handle, and she'd been told that I was a former driver. But I had a good time, and I think we sold a few tools."


Warren and his wife Arlene recently went on camera for a Kmart television spot featuring GM Goodwrench Tools. The commercial was filmed at the team's shop in Sugar Hill, Ga. W.J. extolled the virtues of a new swivel head ratchet while turning the wrenches on one of his 1300-horsepower Pro Stock engines.


Warren Johnson's year-by-year results at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals:

     Year          Qualified   Result
     1975          13          Semi-final
     1976          2           Runner-up (to Booth)
     1977          9           First Round
     1978          1           Second Round
     1979          14          Second Round
     1980          Did not enter
     1981          14          Did not run
     1982          4           Semi-final
     1983          4           First Round
     1984          1           Second Round
     1985          3           Winner (over Allen)
     1986          1           Runner-up (to Leal)
     1987          3           First Round
     1988          2           First Round
     1989          3           Second Round
     1990          2           Semi-final
     1991          3           Runner-up (to Alderman)
     1992          4           Second Round
     1993          1           Winner (over K. Johnson)
     1994          1           Second Round
     1995          1           Runner-up (to Schmidt)
     1996          3           Runner-up (to Harris)
     1997          11          Second Round

Total Races 22 Wins 2 Runners-up 5 Semi-Finals 3 Second Round 7 First Round 4 DNQ/Did not race 1

Kurt Johnson's year-by-year results in Columbus:

Year Qualified Result 1993 2 Runner-up (to W. Johnson) 1994 14 First Round 1995 4 Second Round 1996 6 Second Round 1997 2 Second Round