Is this Johnson's last hurrah? He's not talking
BRAINERD, Minn. -- There are many ways to describe the elder statesman of the NHRA's Pro Stock class, Warren Johnson, but talkative isn't one of them.
Maybe it's because he's a confirmed workaholic who is as close to a human perpetual-motion machine ever to sit in a race car. But the fact is the Professor is always in the midst of the chaos that he has created around himself.
At 62, there were few raised eyebrows when Johnson announced last year that the 2005 season would be his final one behind the wheel of his GM Performance Parts Pontiac. After a sensational career in which he won an all-time category best 92 national events (now up to 95), six POWERade championships, recorded the NHRA's first 200-mph Pro Stock pass, and earned the most No. 1 qualifying performances in the sport's history, 135, there wasn't much Johnson had left on his "to do" list.
But last year's dismal season in which he went winless for the first time since 1981 and finished out of the top 10 in points (12th) gave him a relentless urge to reverse his fortunes during this year's "School's Out" retirement tour. Now, with three wins already in 2005 and a bitter see-saw battle with two-time champion Greg Anderson for the '05 championship, Johnson has been non-committal when asked if this season will definitely be his last in the cockpit.
Frankly, he's having too much fun again.
On Saturday, Johnson made another staggering statement with his car when he qualified No. 1 for 136th time in his career at the 24th Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., shattering both ends of the Brainerd International Raceway track record with an elapsed time of 6.698 at 206.57 mph in the day's morning session.
For the man who has hinted since the 2005 season began that he wouldn't rule out returning to the driver's seat in the future on a part-time basis, Johnson may find it just a little too difficult to delegate someone else to handle the controls of his new Pontiac GTO race car, which he's debuting this weekend.
"Realizing how much better this new GTO would be aero-wise over what we had run in the early part of the season, we knew it would be in our best interest to work on getting it on the track as soon as possible," said Johnson after scoring his sixth pole of 2005.
"Unfortunately, our test session in St. Louis on Wednesday was cut short by rain, so we arrived here with only three passes on the new car.
"Once we got here, we kept pecking away at the tuneup, working to make it better. For the limited experience we have with it, this morning's run was very good, leaving very little on the table. Fortunately, it was enough to put us on top. However, even though we're certainly happy with where we are right now, we know we still have a lot of work to do, starting with the first round tomorrow."
And what about his plans for next year? Will he change his mind and come back for another full-time campaign in 2006?
Like we said, Warren Johnson isn't very talkative.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
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