Gainesville: Mopar Motorsports preview

Alderman revisits magical Gainesville weekend. Last year's victory was a welcome tonic. GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 10, 2003) -- Winning can cure a lot of ills. And nobody knows that better than long-time Mopar-backed Pro Stock driver Darrell ...

Alderman revisits magical Gainesville weekend.
Last year's victory was a welcome tonic.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 10, 2003) -- Winning can cure a lot of ills. And nobody knows that better than long-time Mopar-backed Pro Stock driver Darrell Alderman, who won his first NHRA national event since 1997 during last year's Mac Tools Gatornationals at famed Gainesville Raceway.

Alderman capped a rousing day of racing with a final-round triumph over eventual category World Champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr. His trek through the Pro Stock bracket included round wins over Steve Schmidt, Tom Hammonds and Warren Johnson -- on a holeshot. The normally calm, cool and collected Alderman was quite reminiscent about his day in the Florida sun.

"It was something special for me last year," said Alderman, 53, who ranks fourth on the all-time Pro Stock category win list at 28. "Of course, Gainesville was the first place that I had won a Pro Stock race (1989). Winning down there, being that I had such a long dry spell, was almost like me winning my first one. It was a pretty emotional time for me. I had been in quite a few finals in the last few years, but had never gotten the win light. It sure was a happy day for old D.A."

And those near misses were numerous. Since the Hemi engine was introduced at the 2000 NHRA season opener, Alderman had driven to five final rounds without tasting victory. That included a close final with then teammate Mark Osborne at Pacific Raceways in 2001. Prior to 2000, Alderman's last final-round appearance was his victory five years earlier at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion's history at Gainesville runs deep, also collecting victories in 1989 and 1995 and driving to the finals in 1991 and 1994.

"I can't explain it, but there are certain tracks you go to and the breaks go your way," Alderman said. "Gainesville is one of those tracks for me. I always look forward to going there. It's such a great track for the Pro Stock guys because we tend to run pretty good numbers there and the racing surface is well maintained."

The beginning of the 2003 season has also offered a lot of changes for Alderman. He joined forces with Tennessee-based Johnson & Johnson Racing; teaming with category driving stand out Allen Johnson. The duo opened the season strong as Johnson qualified fifth and drove to the finals, while Alderman qualified third and posted a career-best elapsed time (6.778 seconds) and speed (203.52 mph) en route to a semifinal-round appearance. Johnson also recorded a career-best elapsed time (6.786 seconds) and speed during the race (204.73 mph) -- the second fastest all time in the category.

"This is a real professional team around here," Alderman noted. "(Co-team owner and engine builder) Roy Johnson and his power are just unbelievable. I also have (crew chief) Rickie Smith to harness that power and get me down the track. And having Allen Johnson as a teammate is great. He's a superb driver and I feed off of him very well. It's one hell of a Pro Stock race team that I'm on right now.

"Our teams work together really well," Alderman added. "Especially, in the set up area. A two-car team isn't very good if you don't do that. It just seems like everything is a jelling over here."

A.J. elaborated on what Alderman has brought to the race team.

"I've always had a lot of admiration for Darrell," said Johnson, who racked up a second-career victory at the Atlanta Dragway last season. "He works in real well with the team -- which creates great chemistry with all the guys. He sure adds a lot to this team and we really haven't had that before. He's a country boy and just a good person."

There is definite chemistry between these two drivers.

"We're both a bunch of gray-headed Southern boys and we understand each other pretty well," Alderman said. "I really feel comfortable around him. He's an excellent driver and really learned how to drive while doing local match races across North Carolina and Tennessee. In my opinion, Allen is one of the best drivers out here."

VETERAN?

It may be hard to believe, but Mopar's Gene Wilson is officially entering his second full season of driving in the NHRA Pro Stock category. And the 30-year-old shoe has already left his mark, racking up three final-round appearances, a No. 1 qualifier and capturing the 2002 NHRA Rookie of the Year Award.

"I would definitely give myself a passing grade," Wilson said. "I don't know on a grading scale of A to F what it would be though. I feel like I'm real comfortable with my team and I'm very honored to be a part of this Mopar Pro Stock operation."

Experience can often be an indicator of future success -- which explains why Wilson is excited about his second trip to historic Gainesville Raceway and beyond.

"We have a good baseline on the tracks that we've already been too." Wilson said. "We have had a fair amount of time off between Phoenix and Gainesville. It's giving us time to get better and get our cars straightened out. We've definitely made some big gains during testing."

As the Ball Bounces...

Mopar's Darrell Alderman always has torn loyalties during the annual Mac Tools Gatornationals. While he'll be trying to win a second-straight Pro Stock race at Gainesville Raceway, the 53-year-old veteran will be keeping an eye on his beloved Kentucky Wildcats over the weekend.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Gainesville is home to the Florida Gators -- Kentucky's main rival heading into the March 13-15 Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament. Both teams are considered heavy favorites to reach the finals and battle it out for a coveted No. 1 seed for this year's NCAA College Basketball tournament.

"I have always loved my Wildcats," said Alderman, a resident of Morehead, Ky. "Lexington (where the University of Kentucky is located) is only about 35 minutes away and I try to make it to as many games as possible. This year has been a great one."

Kentucky is currently ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 College Basketball poll.

"(Head coach) Tubby (Smith) has done a great job this year," Alderman said. "I think we have a good shot at the Final Four. I know teams like Arizona and Maryland will be tough - but I think Kentucky is as good as any of them."

-Mopar.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Darrell Alderman , Warren Johnson , Gene Wilson , Tom Hammonds , Allen Johnson , Steve Schmidt , Rickie Smith , Roy Johnson