SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- One might think that with the 2000 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season behind everyone, the championships decided, the Awards Banquet celebrated; that most race teams have a nice three-month vacation break before the 2001 season starts. NOT! Even with the Holidays upon us, most teams are working full speed ahead to get inventory purchased; new paint schemes designed, new sponsors signed, new cars built and assembled and new technology tested. This all must be completed by mid-January so that the teams can test their race vehicles and sharpen their driver's skills.
Such was the case with a recent visit to Alan Johnson and his Foxen Canyon Motorsports facility in Santa Maria. Both Johnson-owned teams are housed for the winter in their state-of-the-art 10,000 square foot race shop located in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland in Northern California. The building, which is climate controlled, lends itself to great working conditions for the crewmembers of the Team Winston Top Fueler and the e-moola.com Funny Car. Sequestered from the wind and cold, it allows the teams to work on the racecars in a high tech race shop atmosphere.
Besides having quality time to tear down last season's cars, assess equipment and ready new cars from the ground up; it allows for design time of new innovations. Two new innovations that Alan and his teams are working on over the winter are a 'driver tub' and an 'inflatable driver seat'. The Kevlar( and carbon fiber driver tub is being designed to be very similar to the Indy Cars that run in the CART and IRL series. The "tub" will protect the driver's entire body, in case of violent crash. After witnessing the two violent crashes at Memphis this year of Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon, and Gary Scelzi's two last year at Topeka; the need was very evident to construct a driver's tub. The chassis' obviously are put to the test every time a racecar crashes, but more is needed to protect the driver. After both crashes this year, Dixon and Schumacher suffered leg and/or foot injuries. Thus it was time to take notice of the driver tubs used in other forms of motorsports and build one that protects our drivers that are running in the 325-mph range. The second innovation is an inflatable seat that will utilize a bladder that pumps up around the driver to keep his body tight within the cockpit area. It will tighten the 5-point seat belt harness around the driver better, as well as protect the driver from side impact hits in a violent tire shake or hitting the wall. Gary Scelzi is already using the HANS( head and neck support with great results thus far. "With all the technology available to us, I'm really glad that Alan and companies like HANS( are designing better driver cockpits," said Scelzi.
As you walk around the race shop you notice banners, photos and trophies on the walls showing the long history and winning ways of the entire Johnson family. For over 47 years the Johnson family has been involved in the drag racing industry. Starting with Everett Johnson's career dating back to 1953, racing a Blown Gas Pontiac. Today this rich history continues with Alan Johnson's, Gary Scelzi driven Team Winston Top Fuel Dragster; winning NHRA Winston Championships in 1997, 1998 and 2000. Even Alan's rookie Funny Car entry this year, driven by Bruce Sarver broke into the Winston Top-10, finishing the season off in the number 9th spot.
The two-car team philosophy has proved to be valuable for Foxen Canyon Motorsports, as they are able to acquire twice as much data from the racetrack and test combinations that can be very beneficial to winning the race on Sunday. At the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona this past year, the two Johnson-owned cars came so close to both being in the winner's circle for the first time all season. But it was John Force, that poured on the power and drove around Bruce Sarver in the finals to keep the Johnson car's from sweeping both Top Fuel and Funny Car titles that weekend. Even though Alan Johnson has two cars in separate classes he feels there is a lot of similarities that help maximize performance out of both cars. "There is plenty of crossover between the cars with the fuel systems and the 5-disc clutches to acquire data on," said Johnson. "The secret to having two successful race teams is all about money. Money can get you all the right parts and all the right people. If you don't have strong sponsorships on both cars, it can be very draining on both teams."
As I observed the race teams working at full speed in the race shop, Alan was noticeably in and out of the building overseeing consultations on the new racecars. As I followed him to the other side of the property to another building complex, there is where another dozen workers were employed as part of Alan Johnson's Cylinder Heads business. This multi-million dollar cylinder head business is one of the most respected in the motorsports industry. Started in 1985, it was assembled to design and manufacture heads for the Johnson racecars. But as time went on, other race competitors began standing in line to buy a set of Alan's billet heads. The success of this business is now witnessed by the 18-hour, two shifts - cranking out state-of-the-art cylinder heads for drag racing, sprint car and some NASCAR teams throughout the country. In recent years, they have even designed high performance heads for Harley Davidson motorcycles, and are sold to numerous dealers throughout the U.S.
One of the most profound comments that came from Alan Johnson during our visit to his manufacturing operation was that "all our cylinder head designs are the same for everyone we sell to in drag racing. The same ones we run on our cars are the same ones our competitors run". In fact, when Johnson and Scelzi lost the Top Fuel championship in 1999 to Tony Schumacher, the Exide Top Fueler won with Alan Johnson cylinder heads. The entire staff of dedicated workers prides themselves in building the very best cylinder heads in motorsports. It's important that everytime a crew chief changes cylinder heads between rounds, he can be confident that each set is identical to the set he's taking off and there are no variances.
Alan is very much in the middle of the design and production of the company's newest STAGE III billet aluminum cylinder head. His STAGE I and II cylinder heads have dominated Top Fuel and Funny Car in the 90's. These are the products of countless hours of R&D, both in-house and on the racetracks. The have proven that they can provide the performance to win races, set records and clinch championships. The new STAGE III heads are being manufactured around the clock to meet the heavy demand of race teams stocking up for the 2001 season. Most teams will be starting the test sessions in January with the newly designed STAGE III heads. Since 1992, there have only been two changes in the STAGE I to the STAGE II heads. This new head marks some considerable design changes which should be evident after the teams test before the new season starts.
The design and production of the new STAGE III head takes a number of steps before it transforms a raw block of 6061 aluminum billet into a quality high-performance head. The normal turnaround time for this process is about 4 weeks. First the CNC machine cuts the deck and drills the bolt holes. Then it is flipped over and the topside is machined. Next the intake and exhaust flanges are drilled, guide holes are bored, seat pockets and rough porting completes step 3. Then the seats and guides are installed, porting is finished off, a finished valve job and the push rod tubes are installed. The heads are then deburred and bottom taped before the final flow bench check, and are then ready to be shipped.
Alan Johnson also first introduced CNC porting of drag racing heads to gain the attention of crew chiefs throughout the industry. This process is one of the biggest gains in consistency for the crew chief working on a Top Fuel motor. Besides overseeing cylinder head manufacturing, Alan also is working with the motorsport industry to design new motor parts that will increase performance.
So if you think that the Alan Johnson, his teams or his cylinder head business have a leisurely winter before the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season starts, you are sadly mistaken. They are working around the clock to repeat as champions again; both on the racetrack and as one of the best cylinder head businesses in all of motorsports. For more information on the race team or Alan Johnson Cylinder Heads, you can go to these two websites or contact by mail or phone:
AlanJohnson.com (Cylinder Heads) GaryScelzi.com (Race Team) Alan Johnson Cylinder Heads 1097 Foxen Canyon Road Santa Maria, CA 93454 (805) 922-1202 FAX (805) 349-7129
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