Warren Johnson professes that he harbors no special feelings for any track on the NHRA circuit. "My favorite track," explains the analytical Professor of Pro Stock, "is the last one I won at." By that standard, Firebird International Raceway in...
Warren Johnson professes that he harbors no special feelings for any track on the NHRA circuit. "My favorite track," explains the analytical Professor of Pro Stock, "is the last one I won at."
By that standard, Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix has to be at the top of W.J.'s personal hit parade. Firebird was the site of Johnson's 82nd career victory in the CSK Nationals on February 18. Now after a four-week break in the schedule, the race for the Winston Pro Stock championship will resume at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway on March 16-18.
If pressed, Warren does admit to harboring a certain fondness for Gainesville Raceway. He has won Gatornationals titles nine times at the central Florida facility, including three straight victories in the last three years. Johnson hit a grand slam at last year's race, qualifying No. 1, winning the event, and running the Low ET and Top Speed of the race. Now he is aiming to repeat that feat with his diminutive new GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am.
"If our new-generation GM race cars perform as well as I expect them to in Gainesville, the competition's in trouble," Johnson predicted. "That track historically favors a 'tight' chassis, and we're setting up our Grand Am at that end of the tuning spectrum."
With a quarter-century of experience in Pro Stock, Johnson has developed a keen eye for track conditions. He has seen a remarkable change in the racing surface in the first two events of 2001.
"The NHRA Safety Safari is using a new traction compound that has earned favorable reviews from both the nitro racers and the Pro Stocks drivers," Warren reported. "It's very unusual for these two groups to agree on anything, so I'd say the new spray is working well. Another factor is the new requirement that fuel cars contain their clutch dust in collectors. The combination of the new traction compound and the reduction in clutch dust has produced a much more consistent track for everyone.
"If the weather conditions are favorable, the national records are in serious jeopardy," W.J. predicted. "I think we could see a 6.76 or 6.77 at over 203 mph. The real test will come on Sunday afternoon. If it's a sunny day and the rubber doesn't pull up from the track surface, then I would have to say that we've made real progress in track preparation."
TWIST AND SHOUT
The Professor has enlisted the aid of Clemson University students to advance the science of acceleration. The students created computer models of W.J.'s stable of new race cars. Then using sophisticated Finite Element Analysis, they were able to predict the chassis' behavior under bending and twisting loads. In the second phase of the program, the students tested the finished chassis to determine how closely the computer models matched the real thing.
"The bend-and-twist test confirmed what we suspected after the first two races," said Johnson over the din of band saws and grinders. "Overall the new chassis designs are fairly stiff, but the computer model and our own observations showed us where we could add tubes to make the frames even more rigid. We'll incorporate what we've learned when we design the next iteration."
<pre> WARREN JOHNSON'S GATORNATIONALS RECORD
Year Qual. Result 1976 4 Runner-up (to Lombardo) 1977 7 Second Round 1978 7 Semi-Final 1983 3 First Round 1984 4 Winner (over Iaconio) 1985 2 Winner (over Glidden) 1986 9 First Round 1987 Did not qualify 1988 1 Semi-Final 1989 5 Second Round 1990 2 Second Round 1991 2 Winner (over Alderman) 1992 3 Winner (over Eckman) 1993 1 Winner (over Morgan) 1994 1 Winner (over Alderman) 1995 1 Second Round 1996 1 First Round 1997 1 Semi-Final 1998 5 Winner (over Yates) 1999 1 Winner (over K. Johnson) 2000 1 Winner (over T. Coughlin)