hurst oldsmobile : With a professional racing career that spans four decades, Johnson hasachieved the status of senior statesman in the sport. He is a racingencyclopedia who has competed in 84 percent of the Pro Stock racescontested in NHRA history. He has qualified for every race since the1987 Gatornationals - a remarkable 15-year streak. In a class wherehorsepower reigns supreme, Johnson is the undisputed king of speed,having recorded the fastest run in more than half of the races since1982."This isn't rocket science," Johnson declares with his characteristiccandor. "It's about racing for 1,320 feet. Drag racing is an engineeringexercise in its purest form; you either win or lose."Johnson's steely determination and his relentless work ethic were forgedas a young man growing up on a hard-scrabble farm in Minnesota's aptlynamed Iron Range."What we were doing wasn't really farming; it was more like moving rocksaround," Johnson recalls. "Growing up on a farm was a great educationfor a youngster with an interest in mechanical things."Long before he became the most prolific Pro Stock driver in NHRAhistory, Johnson was an unknown soldier in an army of weekend warriors.He drove his modified '57 Chevy hundreds of miles to race on obscuredragstrips while his wife, Arlene, cradled their son, Kurt, in her arms.The Johnsons won their first race in 1963 at Minnesota Dragway. Therewould be many more victories to come.
hurst oldsmobile : Johnson's Pro Stock career was an accident of geography. Insulatedfrom the fuel-racing frenzy of Southern California and isolated fromthe stock-car strongholds of the East, Johnson concentrated on enginedevelopment during the long Minnesota winters.He took night classes in engineering while working full time in a steelfabrication shop, but his heart was in the tiny garage behind the familyhome in frigid Fridley, Minn.Johnson made his first foray into Pro Stock in 1971 with a Camaro thathe had driven home from a dealership and stripped in his driveway. Hetowed his homebuilt race car to Indianapolis, qualified 28th in the32-car U.S. Nationals field, and was promptly defeated in the firstround of eliminations.That experience taught "the Professor" the value of patience andpersistence. Eleven years later, Johnson finally won his firstnational event. Another decade elapsed before he won his first Winstonchampionship. It was a deliberate, thoughtful process for Johnson togather the equipment, the resources, and the knowledge to become achampion.At first, Johnson financed his fledgling racing operation by buildingengines for rival racers. Campaigning an evil-handling big-block Vega onpoorly prepared tracks educated Johnson in the fine art of high-speeddriving. In 1975 and at age 32, Johnson made the life-changing decisionto become a professional drag racer. It was a bare-bones familybusiness: Warren, Arlene, and Kurt slept in their truck and took showersin friends' hotel rooms.
hurst oldsmobile : "My plan was to start at the bottom and work my way up," Johnsonremembers. "We had no sponsorship money, absolutely nothing. Inretrospect, I had no choice but to make it work."Warren did make it work, finishing as runner-up in the 1976 Winstonchampionship with a Camaro he later christened "The Incredible Hulk"after it logged nearly 3,000 runs in six seasons of hard racing. Hefinished fifth in the standings in 1977 and seventh in 1978, but he wasstill winless on the national event tour.Johnson took a sabbatical from NHRA competition from 1979 to 1981.During these "lost years," Warren won back-to-back IHRA Pro Stockchampionships and barnstormed his big-block Camaro on the match racingcircuit, where he perfected his racecraft."You have to understand how to win; winning doesn't happen by accident,"he explains. "I needed to learn how to race."The Johnson family migrated to Georgia in 1981 to take advantage of theSouth's year-round racing weather. When NHRA replaced its complex systemof Pro Stock weight breaks with a straightforward 500-cid, 2,350-poundformula at the start of the 1982 season, W.J. returned with a vengeance.Johnson scored his first NHRA national event victory at the 1982Summernationals in Englishtown, defeating reigning champion Lee Shepherdin the final round. Once he tasted victory, Johnson's appetite forwinning became insatiable. He has won at least one national event for20 consecutive years - the longest active winning streak in NHRA dragracing.
hurst oldsmobile : Johnson utterly dominated Pro Stock in the 1990s, winning championshipsin 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, and 1999. When he didn't win thechampionship, he finished second or third. He won 30 percent of theraces and appeared in 44 percent of the final rounds. He claimed fourconsecutive U.S. Nationals crowns from 1992 to 1995 and ended the decadewith his sixth career Indy title in 1999. W.J. reached drag racing'slast great milestone with his barrier-breaking 200-mph run in April1997, and in 1999 he made history again by running the top speed atevery event on the calendar.Mechanical wizardry and technical innovation are the hallmarks ofJohnson's career. He introduced the Funny Car-style roll cage to ProStock and perfected the five-speed planetary transmission, but internalcombustion has always been W.J.'s specialty. He still prepares thecylinder heads and intake manifolds for his record-setting engines.When Oldsmobile engineers launched a serious drag racing program toshowcase the resurrected Hurst/Oldsmobile in 1983, W.J. was the man theycalled. Johnson reworked the venerable big-block Chevrolet V-8 to createa purpose-built powerplant: the invincible Drag Race Competition Engine(DRCE). After nearly 20 years, the Johnson-designed DRCE remains thefoundation of GM's Pro Stock engine program.
hurst oldsmobile : "The Professor's" most successful student is his son, Kurt, a 22-timenational event winner and the first Pro Stock driver to run a six-secondelapsed time. Arlene has stood by her man for 39 years, and she is thethread that binds the tightly knit family enterprise.With a sixth championship in sight, W.J. shows no sign of slowing down.He dismisses talk of retirement: "I enjoy what I'm doing," he declares."I'm having more fun than one person should be allowed to have."With his steel-blue eyes fixed on the future, "the Professor" willcontinue to write the book on Pro Stock as one of drag racing's greatestdrivers.NHRA's Top 50 Drivers are being unveiled on NHRA.com and through thepages of National DRAGSTER, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season,with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at theAutomobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway onNov. 11.As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as oneof the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million,24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into theworld's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.
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