Pro Stock icon Warren Johnson defeated Funny Car hero Ed “the Ace” McCulloch in the final round of the Unfinished Business competition at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals to claim bragging rights among the legends of the sport.
Throughout his long and glorious Pro Stock career, Johnson had continually given his nitro-fueled peers grief about their way of making horsepower -– “we didn’t have a belt-driven tunnel ram on our cars and liquid dynamite for fuel,” he reminded everyone again -- and when he got the chance to race them in the Unfinished Business competition, he was out to prove his point.
Although the duo had never raced in official NHRA competition – Johnson having spent his entire career in Pro Stock and McCulloch running in both Top Fuel and Funny Car – the two did share the winner’s circle on four occasions, in Atlanta in 1986 and ’88, in Topeka in 1992, and, most impressively, at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 1992.
W.J. opened his Unfinished Business account Friday by defeating two-wheel legend Terry Vance, then put three-time Top Fuel champ Shirley Muldowney out in the semifinals early Saturday.
McCulloch kicked off eliminations against fellow Gatornationals Funny Car hero Don Prudhomme and, after defeating “the Snake,” took out another Gainesville nitro legend, Joe Amato, in the semifinals.
The problem for “the Ace” was that W.J.’s black and silver Camry was consistency four-tenths quicker than his Revell-ution themed Toyota. McCulloch had recorded the best reaction time (and two of the quickest five) of the first two rounds.
That pattern held true in the final, where McCulloch left on Johnson, .314 to .359, but W.J. drove around him to post a 14.73 to 15.05 victory.
But the Unfinished Business wasn’t finished as McCulloch challenged Johnson to switch cars and re-run the race. Johnson accepted.
The re-run went the other way, with McCulloch, in Johnson’s car, taking the win, 15.00 to 15.10, a victory that was even wider thanks to “the Ace’s” best-of-the-event reaction time of .125 to W.J.’s .324.
“I rest my case,” said a redeemed McCulloch. “He was taking us to school all weekend. That was a lot of fun. I hope the fans enjoyed it.”
“We had a lot of fun at this, but it was really for the fans,” said Johnson. “I didn’t do anything to the car but sit in the seat. Of course, you develop your own style of staging that you’re comfortable with.
“What NHRA and Toyota did with these cars and getting them wrapped and getting all of us old guys together, it was a lot of fun for us and the fans,” said McCulloch. “The competitive nature came out in all of us.”