Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals
Mechanical gremlin cuts WJ's weekend short
Chicago, Saturday: Racers arriving at Route 66 Raceway on Saturday encountered temperatures that were approximately fifteen degrees cooler than they were during the first day of qualifying. For the normally aspirated Pro Stock division, this change virtually guaranteed that there would be a total reshuffling of the sixteen-car field from Friday's opening attempts at the Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals.
After posting a best effort of 6.867 seconds on Friday, Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing team knew improvement would be necessary to secure their position for race day. Although they were able to better their performance by two hundredths of a second, their 6.847-second, 201.34 mph run from Saturday morning fell shy of making the top sixteen required to qualify.
This marks only the fifth time in 419 races that Johnson will not participate in final eliminations, snapping a qualifying string of 17 races, dating back to last year's event in Sonoma, CA. Johnson holds the longest consecutive Pro Stock qualifying streak at 303 races, which ran from 1987 to 2002.
Within moments after completing his final attempt, Johnson was hard at work, searching for the problem that had affected his car on Saturday.
"There is something in our tune-up which is off-center. Our GM Performance Parts Grand Am had a one flat sixty foot time on that last run, which is as good as anyone out there. Unfortunately, it didn't run well after that.
"Since our performance drop-off came in the middle of the race track, we know our problems are not car-related. Unfortunately, it has affected both my car and Kurt's and, as a result, we are both off about one to two miles per hour on our top speeds.
"Our next step will be to go home, put our engines on the dyno and make sure there is nothing wrong with them. Something generic might have been changed between the two engines, but I find that doubtful. It' certainly something that can be rectified, we just didn't do it here.'
WJ sits tenth midway through qualifying
Chicago, Friday: The Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals represent only the second race that Warren Johnson has raced his current GM Performance Parts Grand Am. Therefore, each run down the track provides the team with valuable information, allowing them to get a better handle on what the car needs to perform.
After trying a new set-up on the car on their first attempt which produced a 6.880-second, 201.22 mph effort, the team made the necessary adjustments and responded with a 6.867-second, 200.53 mph run on their second attempt, placing them tenth heading into the final two time trials on Saturday. As Johnson, explained, it was simply part of the procedure when dealing with a new car.
"We made a change to the car for the first run, and it ended up being more drastic than we thought it would be. Therefore, we went back to a known set-up for the second session, and were the fifth quickest car in that round. So, theoretically, we could have been qualified fifth instead of tenth, but we'll take today's information and move forward. It's all part of the learning process with this GM Performance Parts Grand Am."
Driver safety takes a front seat with Johnson
Chicago, pre-race: When people think of Warren Johnson, the first thing that comes to mind is horsepower. Over the last 27 years, Johnson-powered racecars have set countless records, won well over 100 races and six NHRA Pro Stock championships. The 2003 POWERade season has been no different, as Warren and his son Kurt arrive at Route 66 Raceway for the Lucas Oil Nationals having set seven track records as well as winning five of the first nine races, with each in contention for this year's title.
It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that the one feature drawing the most attention on Johnson's new GM Performance Parts Grand Am has no direct influence on the vehicle's performance. However, as "The Professor" explains, the revolutionary seat that made its debut last weekend in Topeka is the result of his work in another area of extreme personal interest.
"From day one I have looked at ways to make these cars safer," said Johnson. "My first approach came as a result of my witnessing a fatality in Baton Rouge many years ago, after which I incorporated a Funny Car-style roll cage designed to keep the driver contained inside the car.
"Since then, we've made other changes, leading up to the production of this seat. I've studied many NASCAR films, dating back to Bobby Allison's accident in Pocono, and realized there had to be a better way to protect the driver other than just surrounding him with a lot of pipe. We needed to prevent the body from decelerating instantly, which is where many of the injuries occur.
"Working with a gentleman who builds seats for the IRL and CART, we came up with the prototypical design found in our new GM Performance Parts Grand Am. It has the dual purpose of holding the driver in place while absorbing some of the energy of the impact. This is strictly a safety issue something designed to protect the driver. Although the R&D nature of this initial offering accounts for its astronomical price, we're hoping to make it more affordable in the near future.
"As Brandon Bernstein's unfortunate incident in Englishtown showed us, it's an area that I believe needs to be addressed in all classes. Certainly his was an unusual impact, hitting on the bottom as it did, but nevertheless, he probably could have benefited from a seat that dissipated the energy more than simple tubing."
The unusual shape of Johnson's form-fitting, carbon-fiber seat has already earned it several nicknames, such as the "Jacuzzi" (courtesy of Warren's son Kurt) and the "Barcalounger." However, as any competitor will quickly agree, driver safety is always a prime concern.
"We're dealing with 2,350-pound cars traveling at well over 200 mph, and we don't have the luxury of having the extra 1,000 pounds of tubing of the Winston Cup cars around us," said Johnson. "I have always made safety a top priority, and over the years I have made many subtle changes to my cars that are strictly in that area.
"Ironically, my competitors will see something different and immediately assume it's to enhance the performance. Naturally, we are always looking at that aspect, but first and foremost, you build a safe racecar. That's what we've done with this new GM Performance Parts Grand Am."
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