- Bill Stephens
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SONOMA, Calif. -- Warren Johnson has become the winningest driver in Pro Stock history thanks to a racing resume that has few equals. A shoo-in for every motorsports Hall of Fame on the planet, the Professor has won six NHRA championships, was the first P/S driver in NHRA history to break the 200-mph barrier, and continues to race and win at the tender old age of 62.
And through it all, his son Kurt has provided tactical and strategic support for the past 12 years.
Kurt is a gifted driver who has won 30 national events, was the first driver in category history to make a six-second pass, and builds the 500 cubic-inch powerplants that have provided the horsepower he and his dad have used to maintain a dominating presence on the Pro Stock tour.
He has yet to win a POWERade championship, and there are many who believe that his chance at a title will only come after his father retires. WJ has announced that 2005 will be his last season behind the wheel of his GM Performance Parts Pontiac, but rumors persist he may decide to delay his retirement for another year.
In the meantime, KJ races with a primary objective of helping his father win championship No. 7 and to continue to give the family a winning weekend should the elder Johnson falter.
However, on Saturday, Kurt stepped outside of those two goals when he stole the No. 1 qualifying position from his father during Pro Stock qualifying for the 18th Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. For Kurt, it was his 26th pole of his Pro Stock career -- a far cry from the all-time leading 135 poles WJ has tallied -- and he was anything but contrite about ambushing his legendary dad when qualifying had ended.
"After yesterday's runs we had to make a chassis adjustment and change the carburetor and hope that everything meshed," said Kurt. "We knew the conditions would be good and the track would be there, but you never know. Overall we're pretty happy."
Kurt has won two of the last three races and is enjoying a resurgence during the Western Swing. He could move him into real championship contention if he advances deep into eliminations on Sunday. He is currently in fourth place in the Pro Stock standings, 108 points behind his class-leading father, but KJ knows you can't allow overconfidence to set in at this point.
"Everything is going really well right now," says Kurt. "In fact, before we won the final in Seattle, [crew member] Kevin Horst came into our transporter and mentioned how this just wasn't our normal luck, and that the planets really seemed to be aligned at the moment.
"However, we're not about to rely on luck to get us through. We're going to keep working hard and making sure our ACDelco Cobalt keeps going down the racetrack. We tested after Englishtown [N.J.] and found a way to handle a hot track, and so far it's gotten the job done."
And that has been Kurt Johnson's trademark. Getting the job done no matter what job it is that he and his father need accomplished.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
Kurt Johnson is stepping out of his father's shadow and emerging as a major threat to win his first career Pro Stock championship.