Gainesville: Warren Johnson pre-event notes

WJ's Wrap Sheet - Gatornationals Edition 1. WJ's First Gatornationals - 1976 Race Car: 1976 Chevrolet Camaro Performance:     WJ Qualified Fourth, 8.80 seconds     Defeated Paul Blevins, Richie Zul, Dave...

WJ's Wrap Sheet - Gatornationals Edition

1. WJ's First Gatornationals - 1976
Race Car: 1976 Chevrolet Camaro
    WJ Qualified Fourth, 8.80 seconds
    Defeated Paul Blevins, Richie Zul, Dave Kammers
    Lost to Larry Lombardo

In Warren's Words:

"1976 was my first full season of racing in the NHRA, and we were the proverbial low-buck operation. For example, I raced the entire year with just one motor, and didn't even build a second motor until 1977. I probably spent more for gas that year than I did on parts. Our Camaro was 400 pounds heavier than the Pintos and Monzas that the elite teams were running at the time, but we still managed to set the top speed at a lot of races, including Gainesville.

"Ironically, we faced Larry Lombardo driving Jenkins' car in the final, which was one of, if not the only, top-notch operation of the time. Even though we missed out on the win, it was still a good weekend for us, especially considering it was only our eighth race."

Notes of the time:

* The 1976 edition was only the seventh running of this now legendary race.

* This was the first final round appearance of Warren Johnson's NHRA Pro Stock career, and came in his eighth career start.

* WJ faced Larry Lombardo in the final round, who was driving the "Grumpy's Toy" Chevy Monza owned by current Dave Connolly engine builder, and fellow Pro Stock legend Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins.

* Lombardo was the No. 1 qualifier with an 8.73-second elapsed time, with Rich Simone anchoring the field with a 9.03-second effort.

* Lombardo reset the national elapsed time record for Pro Stock in the final with an 8.71-second run, while WJ and Bob Glidden established a new Top Speed mark at 156.52 mph.

* Ironically, Lombardo and Johnson would finish the year 1-2 in the championship standings, WJ's first full season in the NHRA.

* This marked the first time in four years that two Chevys had squared off in a Pro Stock final.

* The field was comprised of Chevrolet Camaros, Monzas and Vegas, Ford Pintos and Mustang IIs, a Plymouth Duster and an AMC Hornet.

* Other winners included current team owner Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, whose U.S. Army-backed Chevy Monza defeated Shirl Greer in the Funny Car final, and James Warren in Top Fuel.

* Other names of note in the 1976 field included Jerry Haas and Roy Hill in Pro Stock, as well as "TV" Tommy Ivo and current Ron Capps crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch in Funny Car.

2. WJ's First Gatornationals Win - 1984 Race Car: 1984 Hurst/Olds Oldsmobile Cutlass Performance: WJ Qualified Fourth, 7.662 seconds, 181.81 mph Defeated John Dowey, Don Campanello, Butch Leal and Frank Iaconio

In Warren's Words:

"This is one race I will always remember because I went across the finish line sideways in the final. I was driving the Cutlass (below) that I believe should have been a required element of any Pro Stock driver's training, because it had absolutely no down force. If you could drive one of those, you could get anything down the race track. In fact, we took it to the wind tunnel and found out that it actually produced 600 lbs. of lift, leading to its nickname of the "Flying Boxcar." I ran a 106-inch tire on it as opposed to the 98-inchers everyone else was using because I needed all the tire I could get.

"Back then, the grandstands did not go as far down the track as they do now, and when I cleared them, I was hit by a crosswind, which picked the car up and turned it sideways. I remember I was looking straight at Iaconio when I went through the lights. That was certainly an experience."

Notes of the time:

* This win marked the fifth of Warren's Pro Stock career, and came in his ninth final round appearance.

* This marked the quickest Pro Stock field in NHRA history, from No. 1 qualifier Lee Shepherd, who set a national elapsed time record at 7.628-seconds, to 16th qualifier Mark Yuill, who made the field with a 7.838-second run.

* Warren reset the national Pro Stock top speed record at this race with his 182.55 mph pass in the first round against Johnny Dowey.

* Johnson was the beneficiary of two red-light starts in the first two rounds, courtesy of Johnny Dowey and Don Campanello.

* The Pro Stock field was made up of WJ's sole Olds Cutlass, Chevrolet Camaros, Pontiac Trans Ams, as well as a Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Capri and Dodge Daytona.

* The National Dragster's Tricky Tipster odds maker had set WJ's chances of winning the '84 Gators at only 7-1, with Lee Shepherd the favorite at 2-1.

* Other winners that weekend included Joe Amato in Top Fuel, who defeated Gary Beck in the final, and Kenny Bernstein in Funny Car, whose Ford Tempo edged John Collins for the win.

3. WJ's Most Recent Gatornationals Win - 2000
Race Car: 2000 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird
    WJ Qualified First, 6.849 seconds, 200.83 mph
    Defeated George Marnell, Jim Yates, Ron Krisher and Troy Coughlin

In Warren's Words:

"I really don't have any specific recollections of that weekend, although looking at the numbers, I guess we ran well enough to win. That was the last year that we ran the Pontiac Firebird, and we had it pretty well dialed in. That was also our first win of the year, which is always gratifying, especially coming so early in the season. Besides, any time you can win the Gatornationals, which is traditionally one of our sport's biggest races, it is an accomplishment."

Notes of the time:

* This win was the 80th of WJ's career, as he closed in on Bob Glidden's mark of 85 national event victories, which he would surpass in Denver later that year.

* This was Warren's third straight Gatornationals crown and ninth overall, which leads all professional categories.

* WJ set both low elapsed time (6.849 seconds) and top speed (200.83 mph) of the event in capturing the No. 1 qualifying position.

* Warren and his son Kurt were the only Pro Stock drivers to record a top speed above 200 mph at this race.

* Among Warren's four elimination round wins was a holeshot defeat of Ron Krisher in the semi-finals, where WJ's .448 reaction time and 6.927-second pass allowed him to hold off Krisher's quicker 6.919-second run.

* The Pro Stock field included Pontiac Firebirds, a Chevrolet Camaro (driven by WJ's son Kurt), Dodge Avengers, Oldsmobile Cutlasses and a lone Ford Probe.

* Other professional winners included Doug Kalitta, who edged Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel final, Jerry Toliver in Funny Car, who defeated Ron Capps in the second all-Camaro final in Funny Car history, and the late Dave Schultz in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

4. WJ's Gainesville Raceway in a Nutshell -

"For a reason that still escapes me, we have always run well at Gainesville Raceway. It may have something to do with it being early in the season where our parts are still fresh, but I can't say for sure.

"It has always been a decent track, and over the years, the racing surface has steadily improved, with the concrete launching pad being extended, and the resurfacing of a couple years ago eliminating the bumps at the top end. Besides, the Gatornationals are one of the premier events on the NHRA circuit, so a win there is always special. I wouldn't say it is at the top of my list of favorites, but with as many wins as we have there, it has to rank right up there!"

Did You Know?

* WJ nine Gatornationals wins are the most by any professional driver at the legendary Florida quarter-mile, and include back-to-back wins in 1984 and 1985, three consecutive wins from 1998-2000 and four straight wins from 1991 to 1994.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Ron Capps , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Bob Glidden , George Marnell , Jerry Haas , Jerry Toliver , Dave Connolly