JOHNSON HOPES TO GET FIRST WIN OF SEASON AT GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In drag racing, not only do the cars fly, so does the time. It seemed like only yesterday when a young, brash Pro Stock independent named Warren Johnson...
JOHNSON HOPES TO GET FIRST WIN OF SEASON AT GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In drag racing, not only do the cars fly, so does the time.
It seemed like only yesterday when a young, brash Pro Stock independent named Warren Johnson drove an innovative '74 Camaro to his first-ever final round appearance at an NHRA national event. The year was 1976. The track: historic Gainesville Raceway.
Johnson was edged that day by Larry Lombardo in the final round, but his efforts served notice to his competitors that he was a driver to watch for the future.
As Johnson prepares to enter the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 18-21 at Gainesville Raceway, the future is now. The $2.1 million race is the third of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Since that first taste of NHRA success, the 'Professor' of Pro Stock has compiled quite a record: the 55-year-old driver has four NHRA Winston championships, 72 career victories and holds both the national elapsed time and speed records in Pro Stock. He'll be going for his eighth Gatornationals victory as the event's defending champion.
While some may feel that Johnson is in the twilight of a brilliant career, his efforts from a record-breaking 1998 prove that he's still the leader in innovation, technology and performance in the category. With nine victories in 12 final rounds, he says that was by far his best season, but he looks forward to building an even better season slate in 1999.
"From a performance standpoint (1998) was probably our best year to date," Johnson said. "When you look at the big numbers we put up, we probably should have won more races. But since winning races and accumulating points is the measuring stick we go by in this sport, then I'd say we had a pretty good year. With the consistency and closeness of this category, we were extremely elated to have the good fortune we had. Winning another title this year won't be any different, because of the simple fact that it's never easy."
Indeed. Johnson, driving a white and blue Pontiac Trans Am to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the popular machine, has had an uncharacteristic slow start to the 1999 season, posting semifinal and second round losses in the opening two events.
He fell victim to early season heat and humidity at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix, losing traction in a second round loss to upstart Mopar driver Allen Johnson. At Gainesville, he says he'll have his combination ready for temperatures over 80 degrees and hopes for better results.
"For Gainesville we're going to take the car out and run the heck out of it until we learn what it likes under extremely warm conditions," Johnson said. "We'll probably test in Bradenton (Fla.) before the Gatornationals. It should be hot enough there so we can get some adequate data. We hope to learn enough from testing to get in a position to earn our first win of the season at Gainesville."
He hopes to find something in testing that will allow his GM Goodwrench Parts team to take advantage of the optimal conditions for performance that Gainesville Raceway always produces. He predicts a record-breaking affair.
"The national elapsed time record could be buried so deep in Gainesville that we'll never see it again," said Johnson, who holds the current elapsed time mark of 6.867 seconds. "I can foresee the record ending up in the 6.70s if the conditions are right in Flordia. Since we can earn bonus points each time the record is set, setting it that low would be like shooting ourselves in the foot. But there's nothing we can do about it because the potential for that to happen is definitely there."