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NHRA: Johnson Family Looks for More Indy Success

27 August 1998

CLERMONT, Ind. -- For the last six years, one name has appeared under the heading U.S. Nationals Pro Stock winner: Johnson.

And as far as Warren Johnson is concerned, he'd like that streak to continue for six more years.

Not that he wants to take advantage of a good thing. He just likes to win drag races. And in his opinion, there isn't a drag race that he'd rather win than the prestigious U.S. Nationals.

The father-son racing tandem of Warren and Kurt have claimed the last six Pro Stock victories at drag racing's biggest event. Kurt has won the last two events, while Warren earned four straight trophies there from 1992-1995.

The two will be among the top contenders at the 44th U.S. Nationals, Sept. 2-7 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The $2.4 million race is the 16th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Warren, driver of the GM Goodwrench Service Pontiac Firebird, a five-time winner at Indy, says the high-stakes race commands total concentration.

"We kinda gear up for all these races and the U.S. Nationals always gets a little more attention," said Johnson. "Like I've always said, your racing resume isn't complete without a U.S. Nationals victory. Even if you win a Winston championship or even two and don't win Indy, then your racing resume isn't complete. That's our Daytona 500, our Indy 500. In drag racing that's as big as it gets. That's the one you need to win to have a complete career."

Johnson, 55, earned his first victory there in 1984, defeating legendary Bob Glidden. At the time, he really didn't consider the enormity of his achievement.

"It's one of those things you don't think about at the time," Johnson said. "You're satisfied with the win, but you don't realize the magnitude of the accomplishment. Then it finally sinks in when you realize that's the race everybody is trying to win. Unfortunately, only a few people do win at Indy. I've been fortunate enough to win it five times and as a team we've sort of dominated the race for the last six years."

So what's been the secret, anyway? Johnson says it's a simple formula.

"Being originally from the midwest, we are used to racing in those types of conditions," Johnson said. "I really think that's all there is to it. That helps get our psyche set going into the U.S. Nationals."

With six victories this season, Johnson is in prime position to capture his fourth NHRA Winston championship. While it may appear Johnson has breezed through the competition, he notes otherwise. He says tons of hard work and dedication have put him in the zone this year.

"When you get on a roll and get in that zone, it looks really simple," Johnson said. "When it's going right, it always looks simple. It's like hitting a home run, putting a piece of wood on the ball. It may look easy for some hitters, but it isn't."

With tough competitors like Jeg Coughlin, son Kurt and two-time defending Winston champion Jim Yates still within striking distance, Johnson knows from many years of experience that in this sport there's no such thing as a sure thing.

"That lead could disappear in two or three races if we suffered some real ill fortune," Johnson said. "I've always said the only time you need the points lead is after the last race. If you have the lead then, you're in fine shape."