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Firing on All Eight: A Q&A with the Drivers in the 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge
Greg Anderson, no. 1 qualifying position in the 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge
At next weekend's Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, eight of the NHRA's best Pro Stock racers will take part in the 25th annual K&N Horsepower Challenge, a special event pairing the drivers who accumulated the most qualifying points over the last year in a three-round, high dollar shootout with the winner taking home $50,000. This year's field is truly worthy of the event's silver anniversary status as it includes five former winners accounting for half of the wins in the Challenge's 24-year history as well as four former Full Throttle Pro Stock champions. Once qualifying was completed at the last event in Englishtown, NJ, the elite eight took time to answer some questions about Pro Stock's all-star race:
Qualified #1 – 3,785 pts.
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Race Car: Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP
Greg Anderson earned the No. 1 qualifying position for the 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge with an extremely impressive performance over the course of a year. In 24 races, he was the No. 1 qualifier seven times, with a total of 18 starts in the Top 3 positions, giving him an average starting position of 3.04. In his six previous appearances in the Challenge, he has four final round appearances, winning the event in 2004 & 2006.
Q – How big a race is the K&N Horsepower Challenge to the racers?
GA – "It's huge, thanks to the folks at K&N. After all, it's a one-day race with a $50,000 winner's purse, which is big money to us, especially in these current economic times. With so much on the line, there is never a problem getting the drivers motivated for the K&N Horsepower Challenge. It's the one event that everyone puts on a special effort to win. We have ten days to get both our Summit Racing GXP and the driver ready for it, and we're going to treat it like the biggest race of the year. We'll have a lot of hometown fans from Summit cheering us on, so we're going to work as hard as we can to end the day on top."
Q – You are going into the event as the No. 1 qualifier, which means that for the last year, your team performed the best when it came to qualifying. How important is that to you and the team heading into the event?
GA – "Over the period of the last year, we have absolutely been the best, and that's certainly good. However, you want to peak at the right time, and we haven't peaked yet this year. The way I see it, we have ten days to get our act together so we can be on top of our game and have two fast Summit GXPs when we roll into Summit Motorsports Park. We're going to work non-stop, going over every detail to make sure we're ready."
Pro Stocker Mike Edwards' Pontiac GXP has climbed into the No. 2 spot in the 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge
Qualified #2 – 3,580 pts.
Hometown: Broken Arrow, OK
Race Car: Applied Racing Technology/Young Life Pontiac GXP
Mike Edwards has been the class of the Pro Stock field in 2009, with his six No. 1 qualifying performances allowing him to tie Greg Anderson for the most over the course of the past year. In addition, in nine of the last ten races, he has started no lower than second, allowing him to climb into the No. 2 spot for the K&N Horsepower Challenge. Mike will be making his sixth start in the Challenge, where he looks to improve upon his runner-up finishes from 1997 & 2002.
Q – Throughout the first 11 races of the 2009 season, you have arguably had the best car in a very tough Pro Stock category – that must have you feeling pretty confident going into the K&N Challenge.
ME – "We've been on something of a wave with our A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac running really, really well, and we hope to keep riding it for a while. I feel really good about our chances going into the event, and we'll see what happens in Norwalk. The Horsepower Challenge is quite an opportunity, and I want to say thanks to Steve Williams and everyone at K&N for the support they give our class. I know it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to organize an event like this, and I really appreciate what they do for us."
Q – How does having the first round of the Challenge during the Saturday morning qualifying session change your strategy for the weekend, if at all?
ME – "It's just another thing we have to factor into the equation. You definitely want to make a run down the racetrack, because you don't want to have set-up problems and put yourself behind the eight ball, while at the same time you're trying to make it to the next round of the Challenge. I guess we'll be as cautious as possible while trying to run as fast as possible."
Allen Johnson will enter the 2009 K&N Horsepower Challenge as the defending champion
Qualified #3 – 3,525 pts.
Hometown: Greeneville, TN
Race Car: Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus
Allen Johnson enters this event as the defending champion, having used a perfect .000 reaction time in the final to defeat Greg Anderson, the only time in K&N Horsepower Challenge history that the champion has been decided on a holeshot. This will be Allen's sixth start in the Challenge, where as the lone Dodge in the field, he once again looks to give Mopar fans something to cheer about.
Q – You enter this event as the defending champion, having won the Challenge for the first time in 2008. Talk about that experience.
AJ – "It was a dream weekend. We had our Mopar Dodge running strong just like we did in Topeka a few weeks ago (when Johnson scored his first national event win of 2009), with Dad and the team making all the right calls, and I did a good job of driving, getting the big paycheck and a diamond ring. You love having a weekend like that, and we really appreciate K&N stepping up the way they have – they're doing an awesome job."
Q – The first round of the Challenge is also your third qualifying attempt. How does that affect your approach to qualifying in Norwalk?
AJ – "If you're qualified well, it doesn't affect you at all. But if you're still trying to qualify, you have to balance being aggressive for the first round of the Challenge so you can win, with making sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot and not qualify for the race. It's very important to put yourself solidly in the show on Friday, so you can concentrate on the Challenge on Saturday."
Q – What will it take to successfully defend your title?
AJ – "It will probably come down to beating (Mike) Edwards! (laughs) I think we're gelling at just the right time to defend our title. We're just going to go up there and do our thing, hoping the track will be hot and grimy, which are our types of conditions. Mainly, we'll have to be consistent and drive well."
Jason Line earned his No. 4 spot in this year's K&N Horsepower Challenge by qualifying in the top half of the field in 20 out of 24 races, including two No.1 performances in Norwalk and Houston
Qualified #4 – 3,450 pts.
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Race Car: Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP
Jason Line earned his spot in this year's K&N Horsepower Challenge by qualifying in the top half of the field in 20 of the 24 races, including No.1 performances in Norwalk and Houston. He will be making his fifth consecutive start in the Challenge in 2009, where he hopes to better his runner-up finishes from 2005 & 2006 and become the 12th different winner in the history of this event.
Q – What does it mean to have a company of the stature of K&N sponsor a specialty event for Pro Stock like the K&N Horsepower Challenge?
JL – "We really appreciate what K&N does for our sport and Pro Stock in particular. Besides putting up the money for the No. 1 qualifiers and the K&N Horsepower Challenge, they provide technical support with their hood scoops that both Greg and I use on our Summit GXPs. In today's economy that says a lot about a company and its commitment to motorsports, as well as about our category. That means a lot to every team in the pit area, and we thank them for their support."
Q – This will be your fifth appearance in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, and you've come close in the past, with runner-up finishes in 2005 & 2006. What would it mean to you to win?
JL – "There's no doubt that after being the runner-up twice, I am ready to win the K&N Horsepower Challenge. It's held at Summit's home track, which gives us extra motivation to win, and we're excited to be going there. It's a big deal to all the racers, and not only because of the $50,000 payday. As our version of an all-star race, every round you now you'll be matched up against the very best in our category, so if you end the day in the winner's circle, you've accomplished something. It's one of those wins that every racer wants on their resume."
Kurt Johnson is the only four-time winner in the history of the K&N Horsepower Challenge
Qualified #5 – 3,400 pts.
Hometown: Lawrenceville, GA
Race Car: ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt
Kurt Johnson comes into Norwalk as the only four-time winner in the history of the K&N Horsepower Challenge with wins in 1994, 1998, 2003 & 2007. He also has the longest active qualifying streak, having participated in every running since 1994. For the year, KJ averaged a 5.21 starting position, highlighted by his No. 1 qualifying performance at the inaugural Carolina Nationals in Charlotte, NC.
Q – You've won the Challenge four times in your career, which is more than anyone else, including some of the legends of Pro Stock. That must be a source of pride for you and your team.
KJ – "It really is. The K&N Horsepower Challenge is a big race for Pro Stock that pays a lot of money to win, and to have won it more than anyone else says a lot about this ACDelco team. It's an exciting event for the fans as well as the eight elite racers who have earned their way into the field over the course of a year.
"It's a fun day, with no pressure as far as the championship points are concerned. With all that money on the line, you don't really wing it, but you definitely go up there hopped up. There's that $50,000 bone at the end of the day, and you're just a hungry dog going after it."
Q – You have four wins – what will it take to get #5?
KJ – "As close as the competition is, it's going to take a little bit of luck. There are about six cars that are about even in performance, with a couple cars that are running just a little bit better, so we'll have our work cut out for us. If you go up there even with somebody, you know you have to be on the tree.
"All the pieces of the puzzle have to be in the right place at the right time, and everything has to be perfect. Take last year's final for example. Allen Johnson had a perfect light, and it still came down to a matter of a couple thousandths between him and Greg (Anderson). There is just no room for error – that's what makes it exciting."
Jeg Coughlin hopes to become a three-time K&N Horsepower Challenge winner
Qualified #6 – 3,330 pts.
Hometown: Delaware, Ohio
Race Car: JEGS.com Chevrolet Cobalt
Jeg Coughlin is the only driver in this year's field (and one of only four in the event's history) who has the distinction of winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge in consecutive years, having won his first two starts in 1999 & 2000. Making his eighth start, he looks to join Pro Stock stalwarts Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden and fellow Ohioan Larry Morgan as a three-time Challenge winner.
Q – You have had one of the most consistent cars on race day, as evidenced by your leading the Full Throttle championship standings. How will you translate this into success in the K&N Horsepower Challenge?
JC – "It gives us great confidence going into a great facility in Norwalk, one that is relatively new to the NHRA tour, where the fans come out in droves, which is just awesome. The K&N Horsepower Challenge is an excellent race with $50,000 to win in darn near winner-take-all format. The eight best guys are going to be duking it out, and we're qualified sixth, so it's going to be tough, no doubt about it. The good thing is that both lanes are similar, and pretty equal in performance, so it gives any one of the eight teams an opportunity to win the race, which is what we're looking forward to."
Q – You've won this event twice – what will it take to win your third?
JC – "It's going to take some good, crafty running, without question. We've been pecking away at our horsepower at Cagnazzi Racing, and it's been showing. We've been catching the KB cars and Mike Edwards and perhaps passed a couple of them, but here in the last week, Mike picked up a little more power and is another hundredth and a half ahead of us again. It's going to take some great horsepower, and I know our group is working on it.
"We have a brand new engine that we seasoned in Englishtown that is going to go back and be rebuilt for the K&N Horsepower Challenge, so we should be at our peak as far as performance goes. It will also take some good calls in the pits - my father Jeg, Roy Simmons and the entire team will have to be 100%, and when they turn it over to me, I'll have to be 100%. That's the way it goes in Pro Stock – side by side racing and it wouldn't surprise me to see a race won or lost by 1/10,000th of a second – that's NHRA Pro Stock racing at its finest."
Warren Johnson will make a record 23rd appearance in the K&N Horsepower Challenge
Qualified #7 – 2,660 pts.
Hometown: Buford, GA
Race Car: K&N Engineering Pontiac GXP
Warren Johnson will be making a record 23rd appearance in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, having only missed the 2005 & 2007 editions. His seven final round appearances lead all competitors and include one in each of the three decades the event has been held, with a total of three wins coming into this event. This year, "The Professor" also carries the distinction of being the flagship for event sponsor K&N.
Q – Does it add any pressure being the K&N Filters Car at the K&N Horsepower Challenge?
WJ – "It really doesn't. I'm glad to be representing K&N in the Challenge simply from the fact that K&N realizes that this is a great venue to advertise their product and that the fans can really identify with both the Pro Stock Cars and K&N Filters. It's obviously a really good program for the racers, giving us something to shoot at, and the prize money's not bad, either."
Q – This is the 25th edition of the K&N Horsepower Challenge, and you've appeared in all but two of them winning three times. What does that say about your program?
WJ – "Although I am certainly grateful to have won three times, I also see it as having had the opportunity to win seven. I guess that's the drag in drag racing, which only serves to motivate us even more. Still, our record in the Challenge is most definitely a testament to the consistency of our program, and this year, our
Pontiac is coming around at just the right time."
Ron Krisher looks to score his first K&N Horsepower Challenge win in 2009
Qualified #8 – 2,585 pts.
Hometown: Warren, Ohio
Race Car: Valvoline Chevrolet Cobalt
Ron secured his position in this year's Challenge in dramatic fashion, powering to the No. 1 position at the final qualifying race in Englishtown, NJ one week ago. This marks the Ohio native's fifth appearance in Pro Stock's All-Star race, where, with the benefit of Mike Edwards horsepower, he looks to score his first Challenge win.
Q – Coming off your No. 1 qualifying performance in Englishtown, you have a lot of momentum heading into the K&N Horsepower Challenge – would you consider this the best chance you've had to win?
RK – "Yes, I'm very confident, more than I would have been even last week. We had some issues with red-lights before Englishtown that we were able to fix – after all, this Valvoline Cobalt is so good, I don't need to cut a .00 light, and there were other things that were driving us insane as well. Once we found the solution we could finally change the car around to make it react the way we need it to, so we now have a lot better handle on the car, and can run with anyone out here. All we have to do is think a little bit throughout the course of the weekend."
Q – Does having the Challenge on Saturday during qualifying change how you approach the race?
RK – "Well, the track was such a mess last year with all the rain and everything that it made it extremely difficult. For example, it was so cold in the first round of the Challenge that my carburetors actually froze up and the car wouldn't stay running. Of course, we're hoping for better weather this year, which will make things a whole lot easier on everyone. K&N is doing a tremendous job for all of us, putting up the No. 1 qualifier money as well as the Horsepower Challenge, and we'd like to put on a good show for them. It's important to show some loyalty to the folks that are loyal to us. That's why I use K&N products in my vehicles at home."
K&N Engineering, Inc., which is celebrating its 40th year of operation in 2009, is the world's leader in performance filter technology, serving the needs of the automotive, motorcycle, marine, industrial and military markets. With headquarters in Riverside, California, K&N is heavily involved in nearly every form of motorsports from off-road and powersports to drag racing, stock cars and road racing.
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K&N Engineering, Inc., with headquarters in Riverside, California, has been the world's leader in performance filter technology since 1969, serving the needs of the automotive, motorcycle, marine, industrial and military markets. K&N is heavily involved in nearly every form of motorsports from off-road and powersports to drag racing, stock cars and road racing. For more information about K&N Filters, please contact K&N Engineering, Inc., P.O. Box 1329, Riverside, CA 92502-1329, (800) 213-4182 for a dealer near you, (800) 858-3333 for technical service/questions, (951) 826-4001 Fax, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.knfilters.com.
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