Gainesville: Warren Johnson regains form

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Few competitors in NHRA Winston Drag Racing, or any form of motorsports for that matter, can put together a racing resume as impressive as the one Warren Johnson has assembled over the past 25 years. The...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Few competitors in NHRA Winston Drag Racing, or any form of motorsports for that matter, can put together a racing resume as impressive as the one Warren Johnson has assembled over the past 25 years. The 57-year old driver from Buford, Ga., is a five-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion and is third on the all-time national event win list (82 wins). He has won at least one NHRA national event every year since 1982, the longest active streak among professional competitors, and has won at least five NHRA national events seven of the last 10 years. He finished the 2000 season third in the Winston standings, the lowest finishing position since 1994 for Johnson.

Although many would be content with the performance Johnson had in 2000, there is room for improvement for the "Professor" of Pro Stock. "Last year we just ran into some unforeseen delivery problems," said Johnson. "Life is nothing but a constant learning experience and we learned off last year's experience to circumvent that with a different way of operating our race business. Overall, we are ahead of the game from where we were even though we have a learning curve with these racecars." After winning the recent NHRA event outside Phoenix, Johnson sits atop the Pro Stock standings for the first time since November 1999, his last championship season.

With that victory as momentum, Johnson looks to regain his championship form behind the wheel of his new GM Goodwrench Pontiac Grand Am as he returns to the Sunshine State for the 32nd annual Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals, March 15-18, at historic Gainesville Raceway. The $2 million race is the third of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag racing series. Last year Johnson earned the "sweep" in Florida as he won the race, qualified No. 1, and recorded low elapsed time and top speed during the event. Johnson has experienced tremendous success at Gainesville Raceway competing in 21 Gatornationals, winning the last three in a row and nine times overall in 10 final round appearances. He also has been the No. 1 qualifier of the event eight times in his career. Despite the success, Johnson is aware of the level of competition that exists in the Pro Stock category and takes nothing for granted. "I fully expect this thing to go, basically, down to the wire with possibly four or five teams vying for the Winston championship this year," said Johnson. "Obviously (son) Kurt and I are in better shape than we were last year. We've started off relatively well. We have a 24-race schedule involved, and there's a lot of racing and a lot of learning because of the new body style and chassis configuration we're involved with. It's a case of who decides to get to work and stay focused." Despite debuting the Pontiac Grand Am and the Chevy Cavalier in 2001, the Johnsons have been working with the new body styles for some time. "We started on the Grand Am actually a year-and-a-half ago," said the elder Johnson. "Then we got that in place after three trips to the wind tunnel to get it where we wanted or felt comfortable with it. Then basically, we matched the Cavalier to it aerodynamically." So far in 2001 there have been two races, each having a Johnson in the winner's circle. Kurt won the season-opener in Pomona, Calif., followed by his father's win in Arizona. The Johnsons have been a formidable force in Pro Stock for some time and any advantage they hold over the competition could be the key to a Winston championship.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson