John Johnson Jr. has won seven feature races in the Factory Stocks division since the beginning of the 2016 season. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
March 17, 2017 9:49:40 AM
Kids will make do with what they have, even if it means building a track in the backyard and racing whatever will go.
John Johnson Jr., who is originally from Starkville and moved to Ethelsville, Alabama, was a teenager when he and friend Daniel Brasfield turned an old field into a ring for their four-wheelers. They didn't have tractors to aid in the construction, but they had imagination and an itch to race.
"We cut about 400 laps around that thing," Johnson Jr. said. "It was so much fun. Dad (Johnson Sr.) would always come out there and tell us 'we'd kill ourselves.' "
Johnson Jr., 20, was 18 when his father showed up to a work site with an old Camaro. It was time to race for real -- in a controlled environment.
"I was shocked," Johnson Jr. said. "I had no idea he'd been thinking about it. I'd been bugging him for a race car for a couple of years. I think the four-wheeler track in the backyard probably had something to do with that."
The Johnsons started at the ground level in the Golden Triangle's entry-level division -- Factory Stocks. Neither had raced nor grown up around the sport. Johnson Jr. had hung around Heath and John Beard, who were competitors in the Factory Stocks Division, in their race shop, and it didn't take long to get an endorsement from the other competitors.
"We put the car on the track about two days after we got it," Johnson, Jr. said. "We went out on the track, made about five laps, and Heath Beard said if I keep that up, I'm liable to win a lot of races."
Since mid-2016, Johnson Jr. has won seven features, including last week at Columbus Speedway, where he won despite issues with braking. He will look for his eighth win Saturday at Magnolia Motor Speedway, which will play host to its first weekly racing points features of the season.
The quick rise to success was built through hard lessons and investments, especially in the first half of the 2016 season, Johnson Jr. said.
"We had to change springs, we blew a motor and transmission, busted a belt housing, and put on all new tie-rods and control arms on the front end," he said. "We pretty much put new stuff on the entire car.
"It was a whole new thing for me and my dad. We got into racing and didn't know anything about it. I'd always grown up in the shop and watching, just never hands on. Jason Byrd (Factory Stocks competitor) was the one who built the motor, but he let me do a lot of hands-on things. We're still learning."
The adage "it takes a village" can be applied to Johnson Jr., who has leaned on the help of Jason and Jennifer Byrd, the Beards, and Brad Gable, all of whom compete in the division. He didn't have to seek out that help, either. The village reached out to him.
"Jason and Jennifer told me and dad to bring the car to their shop and they'd help set it up even more and help do anything they can to get it out front," Johnson Jr. said. "Jason said he saw some potential in my driving style but that I needed a little bit better car."
Others have noticed Johnson Jr.'s potential, too. Topps Products Inc. and Big Dog Security have signed on as sponsors for this season. Topps has expressed interest in sponsoring a move to late models next season, Johnson Jr. said.
"If the opportunity presents itself, we will plan on doing something different next year," he said. "I want to learn everything I can learn about the car, or any car, really. My driving style ... I think I need to adjust a bit, get a little smoother, and slow my mind down a bit. I also have to get better with my feet.
"Most important? Stay out front."
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