Gainesville: Warren Johnson preview

Armed with a New Car, WJ Hopes to Score a Perfect 10 at the Gators GM Performance Parts crew Targets Successful Launch of new GXP Sugar Hill, Ga., March 11, 2008 -- This weekend in central Florida, two of the elements that have helped to...

Armed with a New Car, WJ Hopes to Score a Perfect 10 at the Gators
GM Performance Parts crew Targets Successful Launch of new GXP

Sugar Hill, Ga., March 11, 2008 -- This weekend in central Florida, two of the elements that have helped to shape the sport of drag racing will come together as part of the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL. The first, naturally, is venerable Gainesville Raceway, which has hosted the traditional East Coast season-opener since 1970, witnessing numerous historic performances during that time.

The second part of this high-speed equation is Hall of Fame racer Warren Johnson, who will bring his GM Performance Parts Pontiac to the Sunshine State for his 29th Gatornationals. A quick look at the record books shows that Gainesville Raceway has been one of "The Professor's" favorite venues, as his nine national event wins in ten final round appearances are the most by any professional in the history of the POWERade Drag Racing Series at this event, a record he hopes to improve upon this weekend.

"I can't remember a specific favorite memory from my previous ACDelco Gatornationals, but I know I can recall about nine good ones, which is the number of times I've won there," joked Johnson. "Overall, I'd say I've had relatively good success at Gainesville Raceway, and have been able to run pretty consistently there over the years. I'm not sure if the surface suits my method of tuning or something else, but it's always been a decent place for me to race.

"Lately, the track has shown some signs of wear, simply because the combination of being built on a swamp and subjected to the heat it sees during the summer requires it be resurfaced more frequently than some tracks we go to. Still, we've been able to adapt to it rather well, and hope to do so again this weekend in our new GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP."

Despite cutting his racing teeth in the Midwest, Johnson grew up well aware of the Gatornationals' stature in the drag racing world. Having established an unparalleled record of success spanning four decades at this marquee event, he has developed his own opinion as to the universal mystique surrounding the race.

"I think the one term that explains the primary attraction of the Gatornationals is cabin fever," said Johnson. "It's the first race on the East Coast, starting the year for drag racers and fans east of the Mississippi, as well as bringing a significant contingent from as far north as Canada. We also have our share of European racers, as their season does not start for a couple months, so they come over here to pick new cars and equipment, and this race gives them a chance to try everything out.

"After dealing with the extreme winter weather, everyone is looking to bask in the Florida sunshine. Therefore, we typically have tremendous crowds and larger than normal car counts in all categories, creating a lot of excitement. It's the perfect setting for a great event, making it one of the races everyone wants to win."

The final piece of this competitive equation, however, is the complete antithesis to The Professor's lengthy tenure at Gainesville Raceway -- his new GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP. Not only will this newest mount be making its national event debut in Florida this weekend, but having been completed only hours before the team's departure, any true tuning information on this chassis will be based on the limited amount of test runs WJ will make in the days leading up to the race. Even so, the six-time champion is confident both his team and car will be up to the challenge.

"Although it's coming down to the wire in terms of having our new GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP ready for competition, we should be ready for the first qualifying session on Friday," said Johnson. "The vinyl wrap was put on this past weekend, and we have a few final things to get done, which we should complete by Monday morning.

"After that, we'll load it up, and with Mother Nature's cooperation, make a few test runs in Valdosta on Tuesday and Wednesday. If it doesn't hit the trees or the guardrails, we'll head to Gainesville. Although we toyed with the idea of bringing the old car as a back up, we thought we'd go without a net and leave it at home. After all, as the saying goes, no guts - no glory and we are there for the glory."

-credit: j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson