Twenty-three years ago this week, at 7:27 pm. Eastern on April 25, 1997, Warren Johnson eclipsed the long-awaited 200 mph barrier, stunning the drag racing world and those on hand for qualifying at the Virginia Motorsports Park for the NHRA Pennzoil Nationals.
Johnson’s historic 200.13 mph speed, considered the last of the six major performance milestones in the NHRA’s three top-tier eliminators — alongside Top Fuel and Funny Car’s 4-second and 300 mph barriers and the 6-second mark in Pro Stock — came in 6.894-seconds. That run, the quickest in the history of Pro Stock at the time, was also the first in the 6.80’s at the Virginia facility.
In achieving the milestone mark, The Professor of Pro Stock earned a whopping $25,000 and became the first entrant in the Speed-Pro 200 mph Pro Stock Club.
“We knew we had the horsepower to run 200 mph,” said Johnson. “Greg Anderson (Johnson’s crew chief at the time) made the right call on the clutch and chassis combination. Lo and behold, it all worked!”
Johnson, whose son, Kurt, had broken the 6-second barrier three years earlier in Englishtown, New Jersey, had been the odds-on-favorite to achieve the double-century mark first, and he took full advantage of the opportunity in front of him.
“When I ran 199 mph on my first qualifying run, we realized it was possible to go 200 here,” Johnson reported. “We changed the transmission and rearend gear ratios, tuned the engine for the atmospheric conditions we anticipated in the second session, and adjusted the chassis attitude. I’m sure I wasn’t the only driver gunning for 200 mph tonight!
Johnson added, ”By the time I got to the 1/8-mile mark, I knew the elapsed time record was in jeopardy because the car went perfectly straight when it left the starting line,” Johnson recalled. “Then in the last half of the run, the car bounced a few times going over the bumps, and for a nanosecond I thought that 200 mph was out of reach. When I crossed the finish line, the engine was turning 9400 rpm and the rear tires were spinning.”
For Warren and Kurt, it was mission accomplished, in earning both ends of Pro Stock’s major barriers.
“I have a feeling of relief now that we’ve finally broken the last barrier,” Warren revealed. “We’ve been chasing this for years. It happened just the way I envisioned it, with Kurt first in the sixes, and me first to 200 mph. Reaching these two milestones was an accomplishment for our entire team — Kurt, his crew, and my crew together. No individual or single team could have achieved this alone. I’m also grateful to GM Performance Parts for providing the components and the support we needed to get the job done.”