Drag Illustrated Issue 168, May 2021 | Page 36


‘ The Professor ’ Gets His Own History Book

Kelly Wade releases biography of Pro Stock icon Warren Johnson By Josh Hachat

A dream two years in the making is now a satisfying , successful reality for Kelly Wade . The veteran and talented drag racing journalist ’ s first book officially came out in late May and the reviews for Drag Racing ’ s Warren ‘ The Professor ’ Johnson : The Cars , People and Wins Behind His Pro Stock Success have been spectacular .

It ’ s a deep and comprehensive look at Johnson ’ s incredible career , completed after hours upon hours of thorough research and work . Wade started the book in July of 2019 and finished the first draft of the manuscript last May .
When you actually received the physical , finished version , what was your reaction ? It had to be a special feeling .
Oh yeah , it was awesome . I don ’ t think it actually felt real until I held the book in my hands . My husband [ Patrick Topolinski , technical producer and co-host of Engine Power on PowerNation TV ) got the mail and brought me the package , and as soon as I saw it , I knew it was going to be the advance copy . I tore it open and could not stop smiling . I think I had been afraid that it wouldn ’ t turn out or wouldn ’ t look right , but once I saw the book , I thought , “ OK , this is really , really cool .”
You obviously got to spend a lot time with Warren and his wife , Arlene , during this process . What was that experience like ?
Spending time with Warren and Arlene turned
truly don ’ t know what that means until you ’ re in the thick of it . Warren Johnson ’ s career was so much more than just NHRA racing , but figuring out how to dig deep into his history of racing other sanctioning bodies was something I didn ’ t initially consider .
Thankfully , I love the process of research , and I ’ m a complete stats nerd , so it was all enjoyable work , but it was tricky sometimes , especially when you ’ re trying to nail down facts and dates . I hit a lot of dead ends and went down a lot of rabbit holes in the process , but it opened my eyes to a lot of really cool areas of drag racing that I hadn ’ t known about before .
Without giving too much away , are there any particular WJ stories that really stood out when you went through this , or are there things you can ’ t wait for people to read ?
There are some interesting stories from his early days in NHRA Pro Stock that made me smile big . The secrecy of research and development has always been one of the coolest things about this class for me , and it was super fun to hear how folks sometimes tried to figure out what , exactly , he was doing . I will also say that the first couple of chapters dive into his childhood and the very beginning of his interest in racing .
That , to me , is something I am excited to share with readers . We all know he ’ s the “ Professor of Pro Stock ,” and most folks deeply respect his accomplishments and what it took to get there . Those early chapters give some framework to that success and show how human Warren Johnson really is .
After edits and reviews – along some frustrating COVID-19-related delays – the book , published by CarTech Books , was officially released on May 20 .
Not only has it been extremely well-received , the book has been wildly popular . It has consistently been atop the Amazon charts in a number of categories , including “ Hot New Releases in Automotive Racing ,” “ Automotive History ” and “ Automotive Racing .”
After a long career writing about drag racing , this next step has been thoroughly satisfying for Wade .
“ I knew I was going to be a writer from the time I was a little kid , and having the honor of writing Warren Johnson ’ s biography really solidified that for me . I ’ m right where I belong ,” Wade says .
Wade , who is already in conversation about her next book , talked with Drag IllustrateD about the writing process , spending considerable time with Johnson and her reaction to the book ’ s praise .
out to be my favorite part of writing the book . They were so kind to me from the beginning . I had written about Warren Johnson plenty of times before as a drag racing journalist , so we had a working relationship prior to the book , but I always held him in such high regard .
I don ’ t think I even called him by his first name until we were well into the writing process . Warren and Arlene truly took me under their wings and welcomed me into their lives — their home , their race shop , and their seemingly endless archives of photos and memorabilia .
As you went through this process , what were some of the biggest surprises you encountered ? Were there major differences from all the previous writing you ’ ve done ?
I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to research a book of this stature . I knew it would require great devotion , but you
The interest in the book has really taken on a life of its own . Seeing all the praise from fans , as well as that initial success , how satisfying has that been ?
I ’ m not sure what I thought was going to happen , to be honest . I was completely stunned by the response – not because it was positive , but because it was so much . For a little while , I was really nervous – like , “ How do I live up to this ? How can I make sure I don ’ t fail all of these people ?” Everyone is watching , you know ? But I had an interesting discussion with a friend who is also a writer in this field , and he sort of shook me out of that .
Not everyone is going to love this book or the way it was written , and there will for sure be people who want to pick it apart and think that they could have told Warren Johnson ’ s story better . But I was the one entrusted with this responsibility , and I put my heart and soul into it . I am so proud that I had the privilege to write not just any book , but this one in particular , and to see it succeed already is one of the coolest things that has happened in my career . DI
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