Book Review: Warren “The Professor” Johnson

Drag Racing’s Warren “The Professor” Johnson: The Cars, People & Wins Behind His Pro Stock Success

by Paul Gohde

Warren Johnson’s 45-year drag racing career began in the snowy weather of Minnesota in the 1960’s with the help of his high school sweetheart and soon-to-be wife, Arlene. She had experience working on her fathers’ cars while Warren had a fast car that attracted the girls. It was a natural coming together.

His racing career began while running an automotive machine shop in Minneapolis; a job that led to Warren opening his own business. “I was pretty successful at anything I attacked, and that’s kind of what led me to the decision to race,” he explained.

And it was that early move, that brought the man, later known to the drag racing world as the “Professor”, into what became a five-decade career that took him to six world titles and 97 national event wins while developing competitive racing engines for General Motors Performance.

Author Kelly Wade, at one time a reporter for NHRA’s National Dragster magazine, had exclusive access to the Johnson family’s collection of photos and stories that help readers learn from the inside what made Johnson and his small crew, often made up of just his wife and son Kurt, tick. We learn how he could outthink the competition and push boundaries that led to so many wins while still putting on a good show for his fans in his Oldsmobiles and later, Pontiacs.

Chapters focus on the early 1980’s when the NHRA introduced what became the popular Pro Stock class, his record-breaking 200-mph run in 1997 and his family duels with son Kurt, who won at least one race in each year from 1995 through 2008. Kurt also recorded the first sub-7-second run in Pro Stock history.

Warren’s final NHRA win came in 2010 at Gateway International at the age of 62, but he continued racing part-time until 2014 at Atlanta, his 649th and final Pro Stock race, leaving him just three wins short of 100.

Author Wade tells Johnson’s story from the inside, highlighting both the “Warren the racer” angle as well as the “Warren the family man” view, while mixing in a bit of “Warren the thinker and boundary pusher,” as well.

The 175-page book, published in 2020, contains hundreds of color and black/white photos, many never seen before, due to the author’s access to the family archives.

This is a well written book that brings you inside the drag racing sport, the Johnson family, and their racing team. Highly recommended.

• Car Tech Books… … Forest Lake, MN 55025…(800)-551-4754.

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