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Warren Johnson: IHRA’s Pro Stock Professor

Wednesday, 04 May 2016

Warren Johnson, aka “the Professor” is, for many doorslammer fans, the John Force of Pro Stock racing. He is known for speaking his mind often without a filter. He will have an opinion on about any subject in drag racing from the management to track prep to even the track food, and there is never a doubt on where Warren Johnson stands on any subject.

There is also no doubt that he will go down in history as one of the IHRA’s premier Pro Stock racers. In a relatively short IHRA career in which he was a full-time IHRA racer from 1979 to 1983, Johnson went to 23 Pro Stock final rounds and won 14 times. In that time period, Johnson had a performance streak unequaled in Mountain Motor Pro Stock history by anyone except Rickie Smith.

During that five-year span, he drove to back-to-back IHRA Mountain Motor World Championship titles in 1979 and 1980 and consecutive third-place points finishes in 1981-1983. That feat is even more impressive considering that Johnson not only ran all of the IHRA races during the five-year span but also 24 NHRA national events. Only the great Rickie Smith, who finished first and second in championship points from 1981-1989 winning the championship five times and finishing no worse than third in points, had a better performance run.

Johnson wheeled Jerome Bradford's 1979 Camaro to back-to-back IHRA Winston Pro Stock world championships in 1979 and 1980. He and the team had some record setting performances during their two years of IHRA Pro Stock class domination. He recorded what was then the quickest match-race elapsed time in history with a 7.82 at Budds Creek, Maryland.

Johnson also has the distinction of running AHRA's first 7-second Pro Stock time while winning the 1981 AHRA Gateway Nationals in St. Louis, recording a 7.93.

One thing that is really interesting about Johnson’s IHRA career as a Mountain Motor Pro Stock racer was that he actually won his first IHRA Pro Stock championship with a motor of about 470 cubic inches. The cars he was beating had engines approaching 600 c.i. No one but the racers and their engine builders actually knew the size of the engines because in the early days of IHRA Pro Stock there was no cubic inch limit at all; it was truly “run what ya brung.”  

When Johnson got a major sponsorship from Oldsmobile/GM in the early 1980’s they wanted him to concentrate on the NHRA Pro Stock program. He did make a brief return to IHRA competition in 1988-89 when racer and track operator Billy Meyer bought the IHRA and changed their rules to include 500-inch NHRA Pro Stockers.

“Unlike most of my peers my drag racing always had to be a profitable business. When I would look at the numbers at the end of a season if the racing program wasn’t in the black we had to make it profitable or quit,” Warren recalled. “The only other racers at that time that made a living from racing was myself, (Bob) Glidden and Garlits.”

Johnson looks fondly back at his career with the IHRA Pro Stock series saying “[IHRA] was always a more friendly place to race.”

Johnson also credits racing with the International Hot Rod Association in teaching him how to race and win.  “You have to learn how to win before you can win.”  

Johnson hasn’t raced with any sanctioning body in the last year. The only he isn’t racing is that he refuses to race as a hobby and won’t be back in Pro Stock competition until he and son Kurt have a sponsor to foot the bills. For the “Professor”, Pro Stock racing remains a job that he happens to really enjoy doing -- as long as he is making money.  

BY: Jeff Burk

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2016
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