Gainesville: Warren Johnson preview

The Professor aims to add extra credits to his Gatornationals resume. GM Performance Parts Grand Am team ready to continue their winning ways in Florida. Sugar Hill, Ga., March 5, 2003 - Gainesville, Florida is home to the University of Florida,...

The Professor aims to add extra credits to his Gatornationals resume.
GM Performance Parts Grand Am team ready to continue their winning ways in Florida.

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 5, 2003 - Gainesville, Florida is home to the University of Florida, one of the top institutions of higher learning in the country. However, it can be argued that for the last twenty-seven years, the greatest lessons being taught in this community occurred at a quarter-mile campus located just outside of town.

Since 1976, when he qualified fourth and advanced to the first final round of his illustrious career in only his eighth race, Warren Johnson, the Professor of Pro Stock, has been conducting annual seminars of speed at Gainesville Raceway, producing results that are the envy of anyone in the pit area. As the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series prepares to return to the Sunshine State for this year's Mac Tools Gatornationals, the GM Performance Parts Grand Am pilot took time to look back on that initial experience.

"1976 was our first full year of competition in the Pro Stock division," recalled Johnson. "We had absolutely no backing, and were racing out of our own pocket. Considering that we were competing against people like (Bob) Glidden and (Bill "Grumpy") Jenkins, established teams with substantial factory support, we were pretty happy to reach the final that early on. I took it as an omen that maybe I could make it in this sport."

Many of WJ's rivals would welcome his list of achievements in Gainesville as their overall career statistics. For example, his nine victories in ten final round appearances in Florida would rank among the Top 50 on the NHRA's Career National Event Wins list for the professional categories, and is greater than the career win total of five of the Top Ten finishers in the 2002 POWERade Pro Stock standings. In addition, Johnson has compiled an impressive 51-13 elimination round win record, as well as eight No. 1 qualifying performances.

"More than anything, throughout my career the track at Gainesville Raceway has been pretty well suited to the high horsepower cars," explained Johnson. "In addition, as our qualifying performances show, over the years we've done a pretty good job of adapting to the surface. But there are still so many variables involved, it's hard to pinpoint why you do well at a particular racetrack."

However, prior accomplishments are of little interest to Johnson, as he prefers to focus on the challenge of this year's event. The Gatornationals is a race steeped in tradition, both as the season-opener for East Coast drag racers, and as it is held on one of the true speedplants on the circuit, making it a most coveted win for all entrants. In addition, should the weather conditions cooperate, records could be broken, with teams pushed to extract the absolute maximum from their race cars. Despite the magnitude of the assignment, WJ's objective remains the same as it was twenty-seven years ago - to win.

"If conditions are normal for this time of year, we know the surface should offer relatively good traction, and, with the lower elevation, the air should be conducive to making a lot of power," detailed Johnson. "However, you can just as easily get yourself in trouble and rattle the tires. You have to walk that fine edge, making sure the chassis set-up and gear ratios are right to handle the power. That's our job this weekend - to take all the variables and come up with a plan to make sure our GM Performance Parts Grand Am goes down the track quicker than everyone else."

Facts on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Racing Team entering the Mac Tools Gatornationals:

* The Professor at Gainesville: This will be Warren's 24th appearance at Gainesville Raceway. Throughout his career, WJ has recorded nine wins (the most of any active professional driver) in ten final round appearances, including a four-year span from 1991-1994, and a three-year run from 1998-2000. WJ's most recent win in Florida came in 2000.

* One year ago: WJ qualified eleventh in Gainesville with an elapsed time of 6.874 seconds and a top speed of 202.06 mph, and advanced to the semi-finals.

* Top Qualifier: Warren has been the No. 1 qualifier in Gainesville eight times, including a five-year streak that went from 1993-1997. Throughout his career, Warren has qualified in the top half of the field at Gainesville Raceway, and has an average qualifying performance of 3.95.

* WJ bats .800 in Florida: Warren Johnson has a 51-13 elimination round record at Gainesville Raceway, for a .797 winning percentage. WJ's Florida event win percentage (9 wins in 22 starts) is an equally impressive .409.

* POWERade Points standings: After the second of 23 events, WJ arrives in Gainesville in second place in the 2003 POWERade points standings with 154 points, 34 behind leader Greg Anderson. Warren finished fourth in 2002, his twenty-first consecutive Top Five finish.

* No. 1 in National event wins: WJ's 89 national event victories are the most ever in the history of the Pro Stock division and place him 2nd on the all-time NHRA win list. His most recent win came at the 2003 Winternationals in Pomona, CA.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.764 seconds, Pomona 2003

* Career best top speed: 204.91 mph, Pomona 2003 (The fastest pass in NHRA Pro Stock history.)

-jgk-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson