(First appeared at GoPRN.com Sept. 6, 2019)
This week, six-time NHRA Mello Yello Series Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson experienced two firsts. On the one hand, he made his Nitro Notes debut, which went great. On the other, he raced his protégé, four-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson during a special match race at the US Nationals Saturday. That did not go as well, so we’ll focus on his appearance on my show.
Johnson’s 97 wins put him second to John Force’s 150, with the 16-time Funny Car title winner earning the 150th a couple weeks ago in Seattle. His son, Kurt Johnson, won 40 races in the Pro Stock class himself. Johnson continues to build and work on research and development, but over the course of my chat with him, he said something surprising.
“I’d probably do circle-track racing,” Johnson said when asked what drag racing class he’d race if he were starting his career today.
“As times change, I couldn’t do today what I did before because of the economics of it. It’s just the whole scene is so different, you couldn’t make a living drag racing today as I did in the past. I made a pretty good living drag racing. Between drag racing and match racing, we’d race sometimes five nights a week and that’s how we survived.
“Today that whole scene is almost completely gone,” he continued. “The match race thing is pretty much gone. There’s so many other categories, bracket racing has taken off so big. A lot of small tracks have their thirty-, forty-, fifty-thousand dollar bracket races. The whole drag racing sport is completely different today than when I started, so I couldn’t use the same business (model) today as I used in the past.”
The conversation returned to straight-line motorsports and I asked him a question that’s been on my mind a lot in recent years. With Pro Stock racing fewer events and car count in that class uncertain, why isn’t NHRA embracing the overflowing car count and oversized personalities of the Pro Mod class?
The Professor, true to form, didn’t shy away from the question.
“I think it’s strictly economics,” he said. “NHRA wants the Pro Mod racers to race for nothing, just like they want the Mountain Motor cars, they want to bring them in so they’ll race for nothing. NHRA collects the profits, the racers get nothing. That doesn’t last very long. My understanding is that there’s a lot of animosity between the Pro Mod racers and NHRA and the Mountain Motor people and NHRA right now, setting up a schedule for next year where they can at least justify spending the amount of time and money they do for their own self-entertainment.
“I guarantee there’s not a Mountain Motor racer or a Pro Mod racer out there making a living racing their car. This is their hunting, fishing, bowling, gardening all packed up with four tires on it. That’s all, it’s just their self-entertainment. And NHRA sees that as a disease probably where they can profit off of it.”
And that, folks, is why we love Pro Stockers.