Five-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson is outspoken in accusing Wayne County of having used nitrous oxide for years, and he condemns the NHRA for letting them get away with it.
“That’s untrue, unless my people are hiding something from me,” Light said. “If there were a conspiracy or a coverup, I’d have certainly found out about it. There wasn’t.
“You can speed going home, and if the police don’t catch you, you get away with it. Competitors point fingers, and . . . Look, I can’t sit here and tell you absolutely they weren’t using it. I can tell you we did not find anything. Just like we haven’t found anything on Warren Johnson’s car, or Jim Yates’s car, or anyone else’s.”
The use of nitrous, Johnson argued, is easy to detect because elapsed times and top speeds often don’t jibe. Fellow competitors don’t need a slide rule to figure it out, he added. The numbers just don’t compute. But NHRA officials seemed to be clueless.
“You have to realize the NHRA was a co-conspirator in that whole program,” Johnson told us. “Wayne County ran nitrous for too long, and it was too obvious. And the NHRA, with its financial investment, and with Chrysler being the dictator there, I think, you know, they were obviously co-conspirators.”
Chrysler’s financial involvement with the NHRA included two race sponsorships, a large contingency program, and purchase of at least a third of the available advertising spots in NHRA television broadcasts.
“So the financial burden that Chrysler was carrying for the NHRA at that time had direct bearing on their method of addressing it,” Johnson added.
Although DaimlerChrysler officials have declined comment, Dodge public-relations aide Scott Sebastian fired back: “Warren Johnson’s comments are unsubstantiated and irresponsible. It’s important to note that Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion have been completely exonerated in the [Wayne County] break-in. Beyond that, there is an ongoing investigation, which we can’t comment on.” DaimlerChrysler has denied being shown any favoritism by the NHRA, and the drag-racing organization denies giving any special concessions to its top sponsor.
Former Pro Stock champ Jim Yates said he believes Eckman’s claim (although Johnson does not) that he never used nitrous in a race. Yates is of the opinion that the NHRA “just came down hard on the lowest guy in the food chain.”
Warren Johnson said: “I think at this point in time the NHRA is still debating whether or not it was within its legal rights, doing what it was doing. I don’t think the NHRA handled it correctly. It was good that it addressed the problem, certainly, but I’m not saying it handled the situation correctly. It was enough of a deterrent, though, for anybody else to even contemplate fooling around with that stuff.”
Eckman, who debuted in NHRA racing in 1983, acknowledged the NHRA’s right to punish him for a safety infraction. But he complained that it’s the highest safety-infraction fine in the history of the sport. Still, he understands that the message the NHRA finally decided to send had little to do with safety.
“I think the NHRA possibly took a firmer stand because of the lack of a position it took before,” said Eckman, winner of eight NHRA national Pro Stock meets, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 1990. “I think it was forced into making some monumental decision here.
“The NHRA was making a statement –at my expense –because of a lack of integrity it had over the years in coming forward with what it knew was going on –and everyone else did, too.
“I can honestly say we’ve never raced with that stuff. We’ve never competed with it. We never even tested it. We didn’t even drive a car with it.”
Eckman finished second in Pro Stock points in 1992. But he’s been winless since then, and by 1997, he conceded that he was ready to adopt an attitude of “if we can’t beat ’em, join ’em” after facing the Dodge Boys eight times in one year and losing all but a couple of his head-to-head races with them. The cruelest irony of all was losing a season title to Alderman.
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