Warren Johnson Brings His 200-mph Research Vehicle to Las Vegas

Parts developed on WJ's GM Performance Parts Grand Am often become Pro Stock standard

The NHRA's Pro Stock category is arguably the most competitive division in all of professional motorsports. At every stop on the POWERade Drag Racing Series, an average of 35 cars compete for one of only sixteen spots on Sunday's final eliminations ladder, where the difference between winning and losing is often measured in ten-thousandths of a second. Naturally, competitors will work tirelessly throughout the year to gain any advantage over their rivals, with many maintaining a veil of secrecy over their research and development efforts.

For Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts racing team, however, the never-ending search for speed extends to national event competition. While others simply fine-tune proven products, The Professor's Pro Stock Grand Am will often use near-production pieces, putting them to the ultimate test. It is a practice he has used successfully throughout his career, and one that will continue through this weekend's NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip.

"Racing is my business, my way of earning a living," explained Johnson. "As such, I try to make it as cost-effective as I can. That includes occasionally using our national event track time to test various components.

"Of course, it's not like we're are trying something from out in left field. By the time a piece is ready to be used in the race car, it is so close in performance to the part it is designed to replace that we can easily adjust for any potential deficit. If it had a severe effect on our competitiveness, or in any way compromised our GM Performance Part Grand Am's ability to win races, I wouldn't do it."

One of the more ironic aspects of WJ's research and development efforts is that in most cases, when the product he is working to perfect is completed, it will be made available to his fellow competitors. Although this situation might annoy other racers were they given the same assignment, the six-time Pro Stock champion prefers instead to use a pragmatic approach.

"Over the years, people have questioned whether it bothers me to develop and perfect the components my competitors will eventually use against me on the track," said Johnson. "My philosophy is that if I don't take the bull by the horns, it will never get done, and, as a result, other manufacturers could get the jump on us.

"Besides, the research and development aspect of this industry is what fascinates me more than anything, so I actually get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Besides, a little hard work never killed me - it just made me shorter."

This weekend, Johnson's mobile R & D laboratory heads to the Nevada desert, where the crew looks to score their initial win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Just as the racers are continually working to increase their performance, so does the management aim to improve this state-of-the-art facility, making it one of the more popular stops on the NHRA tour.

"As with any Bruton Smith-owned facility, there is never a question with the race track," said Johnson. "They pay attention to all the details for spectators and racers alike. It is always a pleasure to race there. "The racing surface is also one of the best we race on. We tested there earlier this year, which was our first on-track foray with the new bead lock wheels, and were the fastest in the session. Since then, we've learned even more about the new combination as well as our race car, so we should be significantly better. This weekend, we're looking to gather data on what it's like to be in the Las Vegas winner's circle."

In Warren's Words:

On whether having yet to win in Las Vegas adds extra motivation -

"Not al all. I go to every race with the same intentions. Whether we have ten wins, as we do in Pomona, or none as we do in Vegas, the work ethic and the amount of preparation remains the same. As it is, we're flat out for all 23 national events."

On how the data from his January test session in Las Vegas will apply this weekend:

"I wouldn't say the tuning data from January will be vital, simply because of the difference in track preparation. The surface itself, in so far as the texture, the bumps and the grooves and other nuances, will remain the same. However, once the NHRA arrives and prepares the track for national event competition, it will be a completely different track insofar as the coefficient of friction is concerned. Of course, you also have to factor in the various oil downs that inevitably occur, all of which change the track's characteristics."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering

TheSummitRacing.com Nationals:

* WJ in Las Vegas: This will be Warren's eighth NHRA Pro Stock national event appearance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he reached the final round twice in the inaugural event in 2000 and the 2002 ACDelco Nationals.

* Las Vegas proves an elusive target: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the only racetrack on the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing schedule where WJ has yet to reach the winner's circle. Throughout his career, Warren Johnson has scored a national event win at 24 different race tracks.

* One year ago: WJ qualified fourth with an elapsed time of 6.900 seconds with a top speed of 200.00 mph, and advanced to the semifinals.

* POWERade Points Standings: After the third of 23 events, WJ is third in the POWERade Championship standings with 201 points, 113 behind leader Greg Anderson, and 43 behind his son, Kurt Johnson.

* Winning Streak: Warren Johnson is looking to extend a streak where he has won at least one race a year for 22 consecutive years, which is the longest in NHRA history.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 92 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him second on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came last at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Reading, PA.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.715 seconds, Englishtown 2003

* Career best top speed: 205.69 mph, Englishtown 2003