ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER 2008
Warren Johnson Describes The Most Dangerous Car He Ever Drove …
Every high profile drag racer has that one car that just didn’t meet their expectations.
Scotty Cannon had his 1997 version of the 1941 Willys, the first car he ever failed to qualify after winning five world championships and he had been the only driver to qualify at every Pro Modified event up until that point.
Bob Glidden had his Ford EXP, a Pro Stock car built at the urging of Ford to run under the pounds-per-cubic format and converted to 500-inch competition. Glidden said it was the worst car he ever owned in his career.
For Pro Stock icon Warren Johnson, the memories of the “lemon” he built and drove for Atlanta businessman Jerome Bradford in IHRA Pro Stock had some real dangerous tendencies.
Then leading drag racing magazine Super Stock & Drag Illustrated had proclaimed the radical 1981 Monte Carlo a fierce and tough race car within its hallowed pages, Johnson had another description in mind.
His description ranges from such endearing terms as junker to deathtrap to his most popular description, a real Ralph Nader special.
“That was an original concept car if there ever was one,” Johnson said. “Everyone had Mustangs and Camaros. We wanted to have some fun. That’s why we came out with the Monte Carlo and when you come out with a car that was designed with a mitre box and a square; you can only expect so much. It was so unusual that it became one of the more recognizable and photographed cars of its time. It stuck out like a sore thumb.”
An article in the July 1981 issue of SS & DI said the unique race car incorporated input from some of the best minds in drag racing. Johnson laughs uncontrollably at that connotation.
But in the end, according to the article, there was no one to blame for the car’s performance but Johnson himself. He’s the one who reportedly suggested using the Monte Carlo.
Who could blame him for wanting to be unique? At the time the body style was successful on the NASCAR circuit. Johnson quickly learned that what is good for the goose isn’t necessarily good or in this case, even decent for the gander.
“Everybody should have driven it at least once,” Johnson admitted. “That was absolutely a white-knuckle special because it had no downforce on it. We couldn’t add a spoiler to it because that would add lift. That car would black-track its way from one end of the track to the other.”
While the car easily passed IHRA tech, the radical ride failed to pass tech when Johnson entered it into the 1981 NHRA Southern Nationals.
Johnson did score a measure of success in the IHRA with the Monte Carlo by qualifying on the pole in at least one event and winning two out of five final rounds. He finished the season third in points behind Ronnie Sox and Rickie Smith.
“That would have been the ideal driver training car but we would have lost half of the drivers in doing so.” Johnson admitted, his voice cracking with laughter. “Nearly everyone would have crashed. That was a real driver training car. In hindsight, that car trained me for the old Hurst Cutlass that we ran.”
That Hurst/Olds was another story in itself.
If you really like the mountain motor Pro Stocks, we’ve dipped down in our archives for a multi-segment history lesson on how the large displacement factory hot rods started. – #ClassicDragRacing #DragRacingNews – https://t.co/FOJwA9yIVx pic.twitter.com/z42VdwD4Yb
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) December 22, 2019