WJ & The Gatornationals Have Come a Long Way Together GM Performance Parts Team Marks First Year with DRCE III Sugar Hill, Ga., March 14, 2005 - When Warren Johnson arrived in Gainesville for his first Gatornationals in 1976, both he and the ...
WJ & The Gatornationals Have Come a Long Way Together
GM Performance Parts Team Marks First Year with DRCE III
Sugar Hill, Ga., March 14, 2005 - When Warren Johnson arrived in Gainesville for his first Gatornationals in 1976, both he and the event were in their nascent stages. Johnson was a virtually unknown competitor from Minnesota competing in only his eighth national event, and the Florida race was entering its seventh year. However, in their first meeting, Johnson and Gainesville Raceway each showed signs of their future prominence, as the racer advanced to the first final round of his career, and the track yielded new national elapsed time and top speed records.
"One thing I remember about my first Gatornationals is that it took an entire week to dig our truck out of the snow bank in Minnesota before we left," recalls Johnson. "At the time, we were one of the true low-buck teams, racing a Camaro that was 400 pounds heavier than the Monzas and Pintos that the top teams favored, using the same engine that we would race all year.
"Even so, we set top speed for the weekend, and made it to the final against Larry Lombardo who was driving Jenkins' car, which was the top Pro Stock organization of the time. We fell shy of taking home the Wally that day, but, all things considered, it was a good weekend considering our experience and budget."
Twenty-nine years later, as the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am pilot returns to the Sunshine State for the 2005 edition of the Mac Tools Gatornationals, both driver and racetrack have become a fixture in the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series. With six Pro Stock championships and 92 national event wins, WJ has made the record books his personal diary, while the "Gators" are firmly entrenched as the traditional East Coast season-opener for the straight-line set and one of the race wins every driver wants on his or her resume. Almost appropriately, Johnson enters this event with nine wins at the Florida quarter-mile, more than any other professional competitor in NHRA history.
"I'm not entirely sure why we've been so successful in Gainesville," said Johnson. "It may have something to do with being early in the year when the parts are fresh, or because we run a high-horsepower set-up and this track traditionally has taken pretty much whatever you throw at it. In any case, I'm not about to complain, and the GM Performance Parts team will look to continue that trend this weekend."
As the third stop on his "School's Out" tour, Johnson will be racing at his 26th and last Gatornationals as a full-time driver this weekend. However, he will also be celebrating a first anniversary, as it has now been one year since he first installed the DRCE III V-8 in the engine bay of his Grand Am. After battling through trying times in 2004 and an intensive off-season R&D effort, the program has shown tremendous progress in the first two races of the season.
"The biggest thing to consider when evaluating the progress of our engine program is that the DRCE II (the engine used by all other GM competitors) is essentially a refinement of the first generation DRCE, and has had 15 years of development time," explained Johnson. "Therefore, it was certainly a challenge to start with a radically new design and come up with something better within a year.
"It has been an extremely labor-intensive process, more than in either of the previous designs, and along the way, we had our share of successes and failures. The important aspect was learning from both the good and the bad experiences.
"We started making real progress back in October, which continued throughout the winter. Now that it appears to be competitive, we have a direction that this particular engine wants to go in based on its innate characteristics. At this stage, we're optimistic that it's only the tip of the iceberg."
Notes on Warren Johnson and the GM Performance Parts Grand Am racing team entering the Mac Tools Gatornationals:
* WJ is the Top Gator in the NHRA Swamp: This will be WJ's 26th appearance at the Gatornationals. In his 24 previous starts, he has nine wins in 10 final round appearances, which is the most among all professional categories with a 53-15 elimination round record for a .779 win percentage. In addition, he has eight No. 1 qualifying performances, and a 3.4 average starting position.
* WJ's Gators Travel in Packs: WJ has scored his Gatornationals wins in groups, starting with Back-to-back wins in 1984-85, followed by four consecutive wins in 1991-1994, with his most recent three wins coming in succession in 1998-2000.
* Gainesville Raceway is #1 on WJ's list: Although WJ's nine Gatornationals wins equal the number that he has earned at Pomona Raceway, his race win percentage in Florida is higher, having scored his Gainesville victories in only 24 starts versus 46 starts at Pomona Raceway.
* One year ago: Warren qualified ninth and advanced to the quarter-finals.
* Most recent Gatornationals win: 2000, when he qualified No. 1 and defeated George Marnell, Jim Yates, Ron Krisher and Troy Coughlin en route to the 80th win of his career.
* WJ's Competitive Variety: This weekend, Warren Johnson will be racing a brand-new GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am. Since making his Gatornationals debut in a Chevrolet Camaro in 1976, WJ has driven over 10 different GM models in Pro Stock competition, including Chevrolet Camaros, Oldsmobile Starfires, Cutlasses, Cutlass Calais, Cutlass Supreme, Firenzas and Pontiac Firebirds, Trans Ams and Grand Ams.