Gainesville: Warren Johnson preview

For 24 years, Gainesville has been "The Professor's" Quarter-mile Classroom GM Performance Parts team looks to extend NHRA-record Gatornationals win total to 10 SUGAR HILL, GA., March 15, 2004 - This weekend, the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing...

For 24 years, Gainesville has been "The Professor's" Quarter-mile Classroom

GM Performance Parts team looks to extend NHRA-record Gatornationals win total to 10

SUGAR HILL, GA., March 15, 2004 - This weekend, the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series will make its way to the Sunshine State for the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL. As the first national event of the year on the East Coast, it is a race steeped in tradition, making it a favorite among the fans, and a most desired win among the competitors. Throughout its 34-year history, such Pro Stock icons as Lee Shepherd, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, "Dyno Don" Nicholson and Bob Glidden have all made their way to the Gainesville Raceway winner's circle.

However, no one has come close to matching the performance of GM Performance Parts Grand Am driver Warren Johnson in Gainesville. In his 24 previous races at the famed Florida speedplant, "The Professor" has claimed nine wins in ten final round appearances, leading all of the NHRA's professional categories. Since his very first visit to the Gators in 1976, where he qualified fourth and was the runner-up to winner Larry Lombardo, WJ has simply had a feel for this treasured track.

"We really don't have a special formula for Gainesville Raceway," said Johnson. "The racing surface just happens to fit the way we have run our race cars over the years. As most people know, we've never tiptoed through the tulips when it comes to the set-up, preferring instead to go for the throat. Gainesville has been one track that has consistently suited that aggressive style."

With such a wealth of experience on this legendary track, Johnson is perhaps best qualified to comment on this year's many improvements at Gainesville Raceway, most notably of which has been the reconfiguration of the race track, with the concrete launching pad extended, and a newly repaved asphalt surface.

"Even in its early years, Gainesville Raceway has consistently been one of the better tracks that we race on, especially in terms of surface smoothness," stated Johnson. "However, the combination of the heat it has to endure during the summer and the fact that it was built on what is essentially swampland causes the racing surface to deteriorate rather quickly, which requires it to be resurfaced on a regular basis.

"Although I have not personally seen the track since it was resurfaced, I understand that it is as smooth as we will see all year. Even so, we will have to wait until we get there in a few days to see if it has any bite (traction).

"The weather will play a huge role as to how fast we run and, at this time of year it is completely unpredictable. I've been to Gatornationals where it was warmer up in Minnesota, and to others where it was 95 degrees. Given the right conditions, it can be an absolute mineshaft capable of producing national records. If we get any cooperation from Mother Nature, it's going to be fast."

Bolstering the Johnson camp's confidence for this weekend's event is the extra time spent between races at their shop in Sugar Hill, GA. This marked the first time the race transporter had made it back to the East Coast in over a month, and the team took full advantage of the situation reviewing their performance in the first two races, as well as plotting their course for future success.

"We've had some time since the last race to analyze the data and see why we didn't run as well as we should have," explained Johnson. "It's a case of seeing what we've done, what we have equipment wise, where we need to go in the future, and how to get there. It's a matter of not only finding more horsepower, but also making our cars more consistent, especially in light of the new parameters of the bead-lock wheels.

"Certainly our goal for the Gatornationals is the same as it is every week - to win. Given what we have learned in the first two races, we should be in good shape to get our GM Performance Parts Grand Am back to our favorite spot in Florida - the Gainesville Raceway winner's circle."

In Warren's Words:

On his most memorable Gainesville Raceway win -

"The one Gatornationals race that sticks in my mind is the 1993 final against Larry Morgan. For some reason, it was extremely late in the day, and it was so foggy out you couldn't see the race track. They wanted to get the race in, so I basically got within six feet of the guardrail and followed it all the way down the track.

"Larry left the starting line and shut off because he couldn't see, but I was used to running on tracks where using the guard rail as a guide was quite commonplace. You would get as close as you could to the side without getting out of the groove, and hope there were no gators out on the track. Fortunately, it worked out in our favor."

On the difference between the car he raced in his first Gatornationals Pro Stock race in 1976 and his 2004 GM Performance Parts Grand Am -

"When you look at the way cars were constructed back then, a 1976 Pro Stock race car would probably be the equivalent of a 2004 Super Stocker. Of course, you have to understand that the performance envelope we were operating in was nowhere near where we are right now, so the level of sophistication we have in our current GM Performance Parts Grand Am was not required. However, they were as sophisticated as we could make them under the rules at that time. With the subsequent increases in performance, the chassis construction techniques and materials used to create them have evolved into the pure-bred racing machines we have today."

On his race team's performance in the first two races:

"If you look at our qualifying positions and performance on race day, I'd give us a C plus. As far as Warren Johnson Enterprises is concerned, in two races we have a win by Kurt in Phoenix, along with my runner-up finish in Pomona, so we're not doing badly, but we're obviously not in the position we want to be, namely, dominating the competition in qualifying and eliminations.

"We're actually not that far away. We've closed the performance gap on the quickest car from the first race to the second, and I can see that trend continuing if this GM Performance Parts team keeps our noses to the grindstone."

-jr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Larry Morgan , Bob Glidden