Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, NV
(April 6-9)

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Driver Profile
Warren Johnson
K&N Filters Pontiac GXP

The Strip’s high-flying neighbors have WJ’s attention ... and respect

Las Vegas, pre-race: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s NHRA Nationals, is arguably the premier racetrack on the NHRA’s POWERade Drag Racing Series.  Since its addition to the straight-line set six years ago, it has set the standard for every other stop on the circuit, offering unparalleled amenities to racers and fans alike.

However, within view of Bruton Smith’s magnificent speedplant is another facility, the Nellis Air Force Base, whose own display of power and speed is sure to capture the interest of every competitor in the professional pit area.  Although their primary focus will naturally be on winning the race, Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts GTO Racing team will be among those who will take advantage of any free moment to look skyward. 

“I have never been fortunate enough to be on the base at Nellis, but whenever we are in Las Vegas I certainly enjoy watching the incredible variety of aircraft overhead,” said Johnson.  “A few years ago, I was able to see my first F-22 in the skies over The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it was spine-chilling to say the least.   We certainly can’t match that kind of firepower, but hopefully we can put on our own impressive performance with the GM Performance Parts GTO this weekend.”

As they competed in Houston one week ago, WJ and his young crew were able to spend time with two people involved with this impressive air show – Master Sergeant Gary Marsh and Tech Sergeant Don Dausman of the United States Air Force. 

The Professor first met Master Sergeant Marsh during his trip to Ramstein Air Force base last December, giving him pointers on his 1968 Firebird project car.   The two were reunited when Marsh, who was attending training sessions at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, made the three-hour drive to attend the NHRA national event, bringing drag racing neophyte Dausman with him. 

“I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Sgt. Marsh during our visit to Germany,” recalled Johnson.  “It was great that he came out to see us in Houston, and brought Sgt. Dausman with him.  Most people forget that, regardless of what we do over here, it all depends on these outstanding young men doing their job of maintaining our freedom. 

“I’m glad that we were able to spend some time with them, showing them everything that goes on at the track with our GM Performance Parts GTO, and comparing notes.  We each have our own areas that we enjoy.  We work our tails off at the race track, sometimes breaking parts as we try to go faster than everyone else, while they blow stuff up.   The big difference is that what they do allows us to do what we do, and I say that specifically, because they definitely come first.”

In addition to the kinship he shared with the servicemen, Johnson will now carry a memento of their meeting in future races.  Sgt. Marsh presented The Professor with a pin of his company’s insignia, which the six-time champion immediately attached to his firesuit.

“It is my understanding that the insignia given to me by Sgt. Marsh is the oldest active emblem of its type in the armed forces, and traces its roots back to the 1700’s,” stated Johnson.  “I will wear it proudly on my firesuit.  I could tell what it means to the men of Sgt. Marsh’s unit when he gave it to me, and I hope to give it a ride worthy of its tremendous heritage.”

The Johnson crew enters this event on a mission, as The Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the only stop on the POWERade Drag Racing circuit where “The Professor” has yet to reach the winner’s circle.  In order to accomplish their goal, they must steer clear of the incidental items and unusual misfortune that befell them in Houston.  Armed with a fast race car and a solid game plan, they are cautiously optimistic heading into the Silver State.

“Our final numbers haven’t necessarily shown it, but the incrementals tell us the performance is there,” said Johnson.  “We’ve done our homework at the shop, and everyone on the crew is doing their job – we just need to start clicking a little bit better on race day.  It’s not that anyone is being lax, we’re just in one of those unusual situations where we’re having unusual parts failures.  For example, Kurt lost due a problem with a one-cent O-ring, and I had a ring and pinion gear break for the first time in 19 years. 

“But we’re not about to let that deter us.  We’ll just work harder, doing everything we can to help put our GM Performance Parts GTO in the winner’s circle on Sunday night.  I may not have won yet in Vegas, but there is a first time for everything. As they say in the Air Force, we’re aiming high.”

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