Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals
WJ works his way to the ninth starting position
Gainesville, Saturday: Entering the final day of qualifying at the Mac Tools Gatornationals, Warren Johnson found himself in the uncharacteristic position of being outside of the top 16 required to qualify. In addition, in order to produce the necessary performance, he would have to solve a mechanical mystery that had slowed him on Friday.
As could be expected, the Johnson crew worked tirelessly, replacing the engine, as well any many other components on their racecar. Fortunately, their efforts were rewarded on their third attempt, as the GM Performance Parts Grand Am recorded the third quickest pass of the session at 6.802 seconds with a top speed of 202.42 mph, earning the ninth position in Sunday's starting field.
The Professor continued his search for performance on his fourth and final time trial, once again changing engines before the run. Although he did not better his position, Johnson obtained data that could prove valuable on race day.
"The GM Performance Parts team certainly put in a full day's work. We've been working on a new combination, which we used on our first two runs on Friday. We then changed to one of our normal rotation engines to qualify this morning, and then went back to the new set-up for this afternoon. We have no real data to go on, so every run is invaluable. It (the new engine) is really pretty close. We feel pretty confident that once we have a few races with it, we should be fully dialed in.
"The track is a little questionable right now, simply because it's so green. A year from now, it will be an excellent surface. We're not in too bad a shape, especially compared to the fuel classes, who seem to have been having a tough time getting down the track.
"As for tomorrow, I've always been of the opinion that you have to take it one round at a time, and knock them all off, no matter who is in the other lane. Although a few may lie about it, I haven't seen anyone out here walk on water yet, so we like our chances. We'll decipher all the information from today's runs, see what it looks like, and go from there."
'Professor' looks for No. 10
Gainesville, pre-race: This weekend the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series will make its way to the Sunshine State for the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. 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 10 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, W.J. 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 racecars 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," said 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," said 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."
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