O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals
Warren Johnson qualifies third in Houston
Houston, Saturday: After posting the second quickest pass during the first day of qualifying at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, Warren Johnson's position in the top half of Sunday's final eliminations was relatively secure. Therefore, he elected to use his final two attempts at Houston Raceway Park as a 200-mph test session, trying various combinations on his GM Performance Parts Grand Am in search of additional tuning information.
Although his 6.737-second, 204.51 mph pass from Friday remained his run of record, Johnson was pleased with the data gathered throughout the day, both on his race car as well as the race track.
"In reality, we have so few runs with this particular combination on national event tracks," Johnson said. "Therefore, being qualified where we were, we knew we wouldn't get bumped out, so we opted to try a few things way off our normal baseline trying to uncover a kernel or two of knowledge. We're simply working with what we have and herd it in the right direction.
"Last night's run was pretty darn fast, but all over the race track, so we put another shock package in it this morning, which got down the track, but was not as fast. We have a pretty good idea of where we are with this engine, and its performance characteristics, so it's a matter of adapting the car to it. We'll put our standard set-up back in our GM Performance Parts Grand Am for tomorrow and work from there."
Johnson also took time to comment on the new racing surface at Houston Raceway Park, which had challenged tuners in all professional categories throughout qualifying.
"Although the conditions were not that drastically different, the track has changed dramatically, getting much more greasy," he said. "They did a great job in replacing the asphalt from the 270-foot mark to the eighth mile, but it needs to be textured, because right now it's very slippery, with the little rubber that does adhere to it moving around quite a bit. Once it settles, they will probably shot peen it, which will take care of the problem."
Warren Johnson Sits Second on Friday in Houston
Houston, Friday: The first day of qualifying for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals got underway on Friday at Houston Raceway Park, with teams working to adapt to the new racing surface. After opening with the 13th quickest pass on his first attempt, Warren Johnson came back on his second attempt to post the second quickest run at 6.737 seconds with a top speed of 204.51 mph, placing the GM Performance Parts Grand Am in the second position heading into Saturday's final qualifying sessions.
We've been working on this new engine in our GM Performance Parts Grand Am, and it's coming around slowly but surely," Johnson said. "It does have a significantly different power curve and a physical weight difference from our standard motors that we're trying to adapt to the race track. We've got numerous factors to balance out, and it's just going to take some time. Unfortunately, we had rain all last week in Atlanta, which deprived us of the opportunity to test and gather information on this set-up.
"We knew tonight's session would offer the best conditions of qualifying and did not want to shoot ourselves in the foot by blowing the tires off, so we were conservative to the point of getting down the race track and consequently left a lot on the table. Once again, it goes back to our relative unfamiliarity with this combination. We're taking our best shots at it based on our past experience, and even though tonight's run was not as fast as we'd like, we can work on it."
W.J. is ready to take care of business
Houston, pre-race: Throughout his illustrious career, Warren Johnson has maintained a business-like approach to his participation in the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series. Nearly every one of the GM Performance Parts driver's class-leading 92 wins have been met with quiet celebration, while defeats are viewed as a normal, albeit unwelcome aspect of racing. It is an outlook that has served him well for over 30 years in the highly competitive Pro Stock division.
After opening with a strong runner-up performance in the season-opening event in Pomona and a semi-final run in Phoenix, the six-time champion endured uncharacteristic showings in the next two races, qualifying well, but scoring only one elimination round win. As expected, Johnson has taken a straightforward approach to this weekend's O'Reilly Spring Nationals, not dwelling on the completed events, focusing instead on the challenges that lie ahead, an outlook that should take no one by surprise.
"Although our results in the last two races are certainly not what we would have liked, it's not a source of concern," stated Johnson. "For example, we tested some new components in Gainesville, to see how they would measure up against our standard pieces. Although they were pretty close, it did require a completely different set of adjustments, which threw us a bit of a curve in eliminations. Still, the information gathered will prove very useful down the road.
"At the last race in Las Vegas we ran fairly well in qualifying, but overloaded it in the first round and had excessive wheel speed, which ended our weekend. Those problems are easily fixed, and overall I'd say we're fairly satisfied with the performance of our GM Performance Parts Grand Am. Of course, we're looking to pick it up even further this weekend in Houston."
"The Professor" has already experienced success at Houston Raceway Park in 2004, having won the pre-season Pontiac Pro Stock Super Bowl. Although he sees little from that performance that will translate into this weekend's event, he is quietly confident of duplicating the results.
"Our win here in February is essentially a moot point, due to the different atmospheric and track conditions we will encounter," detailed Johnson. "The racing surface will be completely different, as more than likely, the temperatures will be much higher, and the differences in track preparation between the NHRA and the local staff will significantly change the coefficient of friction. Even so, we're very familiar with the facility's basic characteristics and are still anticipating a strong showing."
Johnson's optimistic outlook for this race is well founded, as his record in Baytown is unmatched among the "factory hot rods", with five wins in twenty previous appearances, giving him an unparalleled perspective on the Lone Star State quarter-mile.
"For the most part, our races in Houston have enjoyed tremendous weather, which, coupled with its relative proximity to sea level, translates into a racing surface that doesn't get that hot and offers tremendous traction. Over the years, this combination has produced some outstanding performances and great racing.
"There were a few instances in the past where a few bumps developed down track, but now that they have resurfaced it, I expect it to be as fast as it's ever been. However, as always, we'll all be drawing from the same deck, so the GM Performance Parts crew will just have to do a better job than our competition of adapting our Grand Am to what is thrown at us. My final advice is that if you want to be around on Sunday, bring your "A" game."
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