Kurt Johnson Wants a Happy Race Car in Las Vegas

After twin runners-up in 2003, ACDelco crew looks for a win in the Nevada desert

As he does at every stop on the circuit, Kurt Johnson enters this weekend's NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals with a list of goals that he and the ACDelco Racing team would like to accomplish. Naturally, some of these objectives are self-evident, such as winning the event or having a safe race. Others, however, have a significance that may not be readily apparent to those outside the team.

For example, Johnson wants his ACDelco Cavalier to be happy as it races at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Although it may seem that the second-generation racer has assigned human emotions to his mechanical mount, the degree of contentment in this application is actually measured by the car's performance. As Johnson explains, it is a simple aspiration shared by many of his fellow participants in the POWERade Drag Racing Series, although it is not something that is easily achieved.

"Every competitor wants his race car to be happy, and the ACDelco crew is not any different," said Johnson. "A happy race car is a fast car, one that is consistently quicker than the competition. Even though we won the race in Phoenix, we knew we were off by a couple hundredths, so we went fishing for way to make our car faster.

"That obviously bit us in Gainesville, where the car didn't respond to the changes and wouldn't hook up to the racetrack. But it wasn't a total loss. Even though we never made what we would consider a good run, we learned a lot about our Cavalier, and what not to do.

"We came away with some really good ideas that we will be testing in next few days in Commerce (Georgia, site of Atlanta Dragway) and I think things will be panning out in our favor over the next several weeks and months, starting with this weekend in Las Vegas."

This week, the Johnson crew will hope to put the information gathered in last few weeks to good use as they look for their first national event win at the Nevada quarter-mile. In their last their three races in Las Vegas, the team has come close, with a No. 1 qualifying performance and two runner-up finishes. However, these near-successes have only served to further fuel the team's desire to win.

"Every year, one of the goals the ACDelco crew sets for itself is to win at tracks where we have yet to do so," said Johnson. "In 2003, we were fairly successful, winning for the first time in Gainesville, Bristol and Chicago. We came within seven thousandths of a second of including Las Vegas on that list.

"The racing surface at Las Vegas is one of the better ones on the circuit, and at the last few races there we've done a pretty good job of adapting to it. But this year, we have new car and rules to race under, so we'll have our work cut out for us. Even the notes from our test session earlier this year will need to be adjusted, because we've made so many changes to the car since then. It's a challenge, but we're up to it. As I said, we came close to winning last year, but close is not good enough. This year, we have full intentions of finishing the job. That way, everyone's happy."

KJ's Comments

On the ACDelco team's search for performance:

"We know we can run with the best of them, but we have to do a better job in the first eighth of a mile. For example, if you look at the time slips, you'll see Greg (Anderson) is getting a three to four hundredths of a second jump on the field in the first 330 feet.

"We're looking at all different avenues. Our top speeds show the power is not a problem. It's just a matter of working on our ACDelco Cavalier to apply that power to the racetrack more effectively."

On the Friday night qualifying session (Las Vegas will be the first race of the 2004 season with a Friday night qualifying session):

"This is our first race of the season with a Friday night qualifying session, which only adds to the pressure. The atmospheric conditions are usually the best you'll have all weekend, and even though it will have little to do with the race day set-up, it's your best shot at a top qualifying position.

"Basically you do everything you can to prepare for it, but it all comes down to staging the car, doing a good job getting it down the track, and hope that time slip they give you at the top end has a good number on it."

Facts on Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing Team entering the

SummitRacing.com Nationals:

* KJ in Las Vegas: This will be Kurt's eighth appearance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he has two final round appearances, and a 8-6 elimination round record.

* One Year Ago: Kurt qualified second with an elapsed time of 6.883 seconds and a top speed of 200.74 mph, and defeated Gene Wilson, Mike Edwards and Mark Whisnant en route to his runner-up finish.

* Las Vegas Record Holder: KJ holds The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway top speed record at 201.73 mph, which he set during last year's SummitRacing.com Nationals.

* Top Ten Winning percentage: Kurt's .645 elimination round winning percentage (354-195) ranks ninth among all active NHRA professional drivers.

* National event wins: Kurt's 28 national event victories ties him for 14th on the all-time NHRA professional win list, and ties him for fourth on the all-time Pro Stock win list. Kurt's most recent win came at the 2004 Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix, AZ.

* A Decade of Winning: With his win in Phoenix, KJ has now won at least one NHRA national event in each of the last 10 years.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.716 seconds, Englishtown, NJ. 2003

* Career best top speed: 206.61 mph, Englishtown, NJ. 2003