HORSEHEADS, N.Y. – Story by Race Chaser Online New York Dirt Correspondent Steven Ovens – R&R Motorsports Photography photo –
Think of all the things that happen over a year.
That’s 365 days, 52 weeks, or 12 months for things to happen. Take your pick.
We experience ups, downs and find a way to push through whatever life throws at us.
Now think of everything that life and his racing career has thrown at Jason Johnson over the last year.
He made a major decision to leave the Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour presented by the MAVTV Motorsports Network, where he was a five-time series champion, to hit the road with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series and embark on a new challenge of racing 90-plus dates on the Outlaw tour.
The 2015 season started on a fairly solid note, with one top five and five top 10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season for the “Ragin’ Cajun”, placing him 10th in series points during his rookie campaign.
Then, in an instant, everything changed.
The day was April 8, 2015 and the Outlaws were knocking the doors down at Placerville Speedway in Placerville, Calif. for an event promoted by Outlaw regular Brad Sweet. Donny Schatz won the race, but not many people remember that he took home the trophy. Instead, everyone remembers the crash that tipped the Outlaws axis for the rest of the year to come.
A lap 21 accident involving Johnson, Daryn Pittman and Kraig Kinser drew the red flag and changed the course of Johnson and Pittman’s seasons as a result. Johnson was taken to an area hospital for evaluation and eventual diagnosis of a broken vertebra in his back, sidelining him for several months on the tour, while Pittman broke his collar bone, causing him to miss several races and virtually eliminating him from championship contention.
It’s hard to imagine what Johnson must have been thinking that night in that hospital bed after receiving the bad news that would alter his season. All racing aside, any fracture along the spinal cord has it’s own dangers too — just being able to walk out of the hospital had to be the utmost worry.
In fact, Johnson joked with Pittman Wednesday night about just being able to walk out of Placerville.
“Daryn and I were standing there in the dash and I was like ‘Man, I would be happy just walking out of here tonight,’” the Eunice, La. native said.
In the end, he did much more than that.
Johnson was second fast in time trials and took the victory in his heat race. From there, it was on to the dash for the Priority Aviation/Masilla Valley Transportation sponsored No. 41, where he finished fourth to lock into the second row of the main event grid.
When the green rag dropped, Johnson took off. By lap four, he had worked his way into the runner up spot and from there, it was a 10-lap stint of tracking down leader Andy Forsberg. The pass for the lead took place on lap 14, and although Johnson had to survive several yellow flags, nobody was going to steal away the comeback story from him on this night.
Appropriately, as fate would have it, Pittman finished second on Wednesday night to Johnson in the ultimate tale of redemption for both drivers.
For Johnson it was even more special — being that he dodged what could have been a life-altering and career-ending event.
“This was a place I really wanted to redeem myself,” said Johnson in victory lane. “It’s really cool we are able to come to a small track like this and be able to race and I really got to thank Brad Sweet and thank all the fans for coming out, it’s been a great night.”
The win was Johnson’s first Outlaws win since 2003 when he picked up a win at Texas Motor Speedway. It also sets his team on great footing for the 2016 season — a season in which they are starting to come into their own.
Currently, Johnson sits seventh in the championship (139 points behind leader Brad Sweet), with a win, four top fives and eight top 10s — a huge improvement through 12 races than what the team had a year ago at this time.
“We have a tremendously strong team right now, and things are clicking, and when they are clicking it is fun,” Johnson said with a smile.
Pittman echoed Johnson’s comments.
“Our goals weren’t too high coming in here tonight,” said Pittman. “My goal was to see more of the track than I did from the Placerville hospital, so luckily we achieved that and finished second. But congrats to Jason, he has definitely been fast this year. He has probably been the most improved and they’re in the hunt every night, so it was a great win for that team and a good run for us.”
Johnson and Pittman will now take Easter Weekend off and turn toward Watsonville, California’s Ocean Speedway for the Ocean Outlaw Showdown on Friday April 1. The next night, the Outlaws head to the uniquely small Silver Dollar Speedway to participate in the Mini Gold Cup. And the following weekend it’s off to Calistoga for a two-night dip and the Wine Country Outlaw Showdown.
But at least for a few nights, until the tour heats back up again, the Ragin’ Cajun can be on top of the Outlaws world.
And compared to a year ago? That’s a sight that everyone in the sport can be appreciative of.
About the Writer
Steven Ovens is the Northeast Dirt Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and the creator and host of the Turn 5 Live dirt track racing radio show, airing at 7:30 p.m. Eastern every Tuesday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Ovens has spent his lifetime in the sport of dirt track racing, growing up in the garages of the Kerrick and Ovens families. He spent 11 years behind the wheel between go-karts and 4 Cylinder Mini Stocks which brings a unique perspective to his dirt track editorials.
The 29-year-old has a career in the growing health care business world, and is also serving as the full-time announcer and PR Director for both Outlaw Speedway (formerly Black Rock Speedway) in Dundee, N.Y. and Woodhull Raceway in Woodhull, N.Y.
Email Steve at: [email protected]
Follow on Twitter: @StevenOvens
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