One of the most prolific Pro Stock drivers and innovators in all of NHRA history, K&N's Warren Johnson had been pining for a much needed win after several years absence from the event championship podium.
Warren Johnson wins NHRA Pro Stock at Gateway International Raceway
Warren Johnsons' 2009 Pontiac GXP
Although never to be taken lightly, Johnson, "The Professor", has had more than his team's fair share of disappointments over the last several seasons from not qualifying to bowing out in early rounds.
Like many other teams, Johnson spends countless hours on R&D and testing and one could not help to think that with not achieving the payoff from all the efforts, it could become quite discouraging after a certain amount of time.
During the most recent NHRA event held at Gateway International Raceway, just outside St. Louis, Johnson's K&N clad 2009 Pontiac GXP didn't seem all that happy during the first few sessions of qualifying.
"It was a case that we shook the tires pretty violently on the first run. We just missed reading the track and the air conditions," explained Johnson. "The humidity was so high that these naturally aspirated engines just won't make any power when you have that much water in the air."
"It's like driving through a swamp," he added.
As Johnson made his way through the qualifying sessions, the Sugar Hill, Georgia resident managed to make a little more headway each and every pass down the track.
"We just slowly kept tuning it up and it went a sixty-eight during the final session," continued Johnson. "We were getting a handle on it. It took us a little longer than we wanted it to."
Johnson's 6.684 effort would not necessarily get him exactly where he wanted to be on the ladder for race day, but a twelfth position was much better than that of just two event prior when Johnson missed making the field.
The Professor's first round match up for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals would pit him against number five qualifier, Ron Krisher, with Johnson prevailing on holeshot win.
"You know it wasn't really a case of a holeshot," chuckles Johnson. "It was just that Ronnie was inordinately late. But I won, that's all that matters and it just kind of opened the door for the rest of the flood."
The "flood" Johnson is referring to proves exactly why you can't run races on paper and have to let the chips fall where they may as the track.
Second round Johnson paired up against Alan Johnson, who doesn't seem to have the best history competing at the St. Louis facility.
"Alan went out and shook the tires violently against me and they've had a track history of that when the get aggressive of having to almost abort a lot of runs because of tire shake," said Johnson.
"That track was a little (pauses) different," he continued. "It was hard to get a real good read on it, if you noticed the fuel cars performances were real erratic. Basically every category out there was not running what the weather conditions said we should run. We all should have been running high fifty's and real low sixty's consistently, but it just wasn't there. With theses Pro Stock cars, we live on the edge of the razorblade all the time. It's not like the fuel cars where we can basically bring their horsepower with them, where were have a fixed amount of power that we have to try to maximize that on every run."
"When you are that close to the edge, sometimes you just step over and we've all done it," he added.
While numbers were down for the most part for the entire Pro Stock class, Warren's were consistent, and consistently getting him from A to B under full power.
"I learned that lesion a long time ago," he explained. "I would rather give up a hundredth or two for consistency. If you have a very consistent car, people worry about that more than a car that is real fast on one or two runs. A lot of times that plays into your hand and apparently that happened this weekend."
Johnson moved on to the semi-finals to meet up with fellow K&N competitor and event poll-sitter Mike Edwards, who had about six hundredths of a second on him during the previous round.
Johnson would get an almost stunning single into the final, his first in almost two seasons, when Edwards GXP could not be fired, even after crew chief Terry Adams frantically worked on what looked like the carburetors for several moments before giving the signal they wouldn't be making the call.
The Pro Stock final would be another single for Johnson, when Jeg Coughlin's car failed to barely make it past the beams after launching.
"The Professor" sailed to the winner's circle for the first time since the 2006 Phoenix event, both ending a long dry spell and putting a huge grin on the multi-time NHRA World Champion's face.
"I've always looked at it as "a win is a win is a win", there's no such thing as a bad win or a good loss," he said.
"It's been a while and you start questioning your methods," he said of the length of time since the last win. "Not your equipment or the personnel that you have working with you or anything like that, just your methods when it's been that long between wins."
"It just shores it up that we are going in the right direction and we are not there yet. We've got about three or four hundredths performance that we have to pick up, on a constant basis. Once, we do that we'll be in fine shape."
Johnson and his K&N Engineering team get a weekend off to not only enjoy the win, but also to get back to work at their shop just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, also the location for the next NHRA event.
"I have to thank K&N for sticking with us for the rather tenuous time over the last few seasons," noted Johnson. "It's companies like K&N that really make all of this worth while, this win is more for them than it is for us."
The next event on the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle tour is the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, May 14-16 at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.
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