CLERMONT, Ind. -- The following is a series of questions posed to six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson concerning today's announcement that "The Professor" would be returning to drive the GM Performance Parts GTO in 2006. This material is designed to supplement the information contained in the original press release, and provides some added insight into WJ's thoughts on his continued participation in the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Q. Last November, you announced you were ready to step back from driving and concentrate on other aspects of the race team. What changed your mind?
WJ: One year ago, we believed we would have to reorganize our team in order to become more effective in representing our sponsors at the racetrack. In addition, it takes a certain amount of money to field a competitive team, so I was exploring my options in terms of reorganizing and possibly increasing our financial support, which is the key to the longevity of our program.
In addition, I've been with GM Performance Parts for so long that I wanted to make sure we would continue being effective salesmen for the company, and that they would want a driver of their choice to handle that role. When they approached me about continuing their support with me driving, my mind was effectively changed.
As I said, we have had a long association, and I hope I have represented them in a manner that they wanted. I felt I was obligated if they required my services even if I wasn't inclined to drive next year. They have been an excellent sponsor for Warren Johnson Enterprises, so if that is what they want for the foreseeable future that is the way it is going to be."
Q: What does it mean to you to have a company of the stature of GM Performance Parts, as well as your long-time sponsor, state that they want you back in their car?
WJ: It's certainly a compliment both to our program and to myself as their representative, but I see it more as a reflection of the successful relationship between Warren Johnson Enterprises and GM Performance Parts, with a part of that being my role as the driver.
Q. Having stated that you wanted to reorganize, what changes have you made or will you make at your shop in Sugar Hill to compensate for the fact that you will still be driving?
WJ: I've already started to reorganize the shop as far as the amount and type of personnel we have there. We are going to have people who specialize in certain areas, who will be more in charge of specific programs that I can delegate. This will alleviate me of the day-to-day work of developing certain parts for (son) Kurt's and my programs that in the past I may have done completely by myself. This will allow me a little extra time to focus on the driving, as well as the program in general.
Q. Did you ever really see yourself retiring from driving, or was last year's decision based on what had to be the toughest season of your career?
WJ: Although it is quite evident that last season was tough on us all, it really played no part of my original decision to get out the car. We knew the wounds were essentially self-inflicted, so we looked at our program to see what we needed to do in order to eliminate those type of performances in the future. At that time, I felt it might be better if I spent more time concentrating on the overall picture of the program, other than just driving and worrying about the other aspects.
When you wear that many hats, and maintain the intensity we have for over thirty years, it will start to wear on you. I've seen countless people come and go, simply because they were burned out. That is why we made the original announcement last November. However, we have made some changes to our program, and with GM Performance Parts' support, I'm looking forward to remaining behind the wheel.
Q, GM Performance Parts said in today's announcement that they want to leverage some of your technical knowledge in helping to develop new products. How do you see your role with them evolving over the next few years?
WJ: GM Performance Parts are exactly what they say - parts designed to provide high performance. These are not your average go-to-the-grocery store parts. Throughout my career, my forte has been developing parts that were quicker and faster than many of my competitors. Because of what I have done in the past, if they feel that I can augment their performance parts program from a technical standpoint, it's what I would call a perfect marriage.
Q. How has the role being your sponsor's spokesperson changed over the years, and how do you see it in the future?
WJ: When I first started with GM Performance Parts in 1986, it essentially involved running a race program, utilizing whatever parts of theirs were available. Back then, the parts may not have had a tremendous amount of performance engineering, but they were effective as the building blocks for the race program. Since then, we have worked together to develop specially engineered performance parts such as the DRCE (Drag Racing Competition Engine) blocks and cylinder heads, items that were designed for use on the racetrack. In the future, I believe they will enlist my help to assist in the development of more of these parts in the future, which is the part I truly enjoy.
Q. What do you think the reaction of your fellow competitors will be to today's announcement?
WJ: I'm not sure. I've have a lot of them come up to me during the year and sincerely tell me they wish I wouldn't retire because of what, in their opinion, I bring to this particular category, which I see as a tremendous compliment, considering many of them are accomplished racers themselves. However, there might be a few who for one reason or another, would rather I stepped away.
Q. Much has been made over the year of the many resumes you have received from people across the world looking to drive your car. What will happen with those resumes, and what do you say to those people?
WJ: At this point in time, I have guaranteed GM Performance Parts I would drive two years on this multi-year contract, so it leaves one year open. At the same time, things could change to where I might not be able to compete as a driver. In either case, those resumes will be kept intact in our files because we know full well someone is going to have to sit in that seat other than myself.
Q. What do you think the reactions of the fans will be to your coming back, and what would you like to say to them, especially those who bought your "School's Out" merchandise thinking it was your last year?
WJ: Whether I've been signing autographs at the ropes in our pit area or at the souvenir trailer throughout the year, almost to a fan they have told me they did not want me to retire, which I take as a tremendous compliment, because the fans are the real reason we are able to do this.
In addition, I've never really looked at this sport from the merchandise end of it. If the fans want souvenirs of our racing programs, that's fine and we certainly appreciate the support they have shown us over the years.
As for those who bought "School's Out Tour" merchandise, I hope today's news makes it even more of a collectible, because it was a one-time deal, and might make even more valuable when I finally do retire.
Q. Now that you're back, how much longer do you see yourself driving?
WJ: As I said, part of this new three-year program is that I guaranteed two years of driving, and I really don't see myself going beyond those two years, and three at the absolute maximum. By then I guarantee my fun meter will be pegged.
Q. You have always said the only reason you drove is because Kurt was too young, your wife Arlene didn't want to, and the dog couldn't get a license. I guess that myth is debunked with your choosing to get back behind the wheel - you do enjoy driving, don't you?
WJ: Well, Arlene still maintains that she doesn't want to drive, Kurt has his own car and the dog died, so I'm still stuck with it. I can't really say I enjoy driving as much as others claim they do, it's just been part of the program. In reality, to finesse these cars you need a certain amount of experience. You can have an excellent crew chief who can make an average driver look good, but without that crew chief they would be less than mediocre. In my case, I learned a lot about what makes these things run on my own, serving in essence, as my own crew chief for my entire racing career. Therefore, I will take that knowledge for a few more years and see what we can do with it.