Chase Johnson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, says he knows what goes through the minds of some observers when they see him climbing into his stock car at Fairgrounds Speedway:
“They think I’m a kid in a driver’s suit.”
But it doesn’t take skeptics long to realize that the kid’s not kidding.
In this first season of driving full-bodied stock cars, Chase has come close to winning all three races he has run.
Racing against some seasoned veterans in the rugged Pro Mod division, Chase finished third in his first race and second in his second race.
In his third race he was leading with three laps to go when he was spun out by another driver, snatching away what would have been the biggest victory in his fledging racing career.
“It was really disappointing, and it made me mad,” Chase says. “But that’s part of racing. I’m going to win one before the season is over.”
“He’s doing great,” says his father Andy, a former Fairgrounds champion. “He works hard at it and he’s a fast learner. He’s a good little racer.”
Chase started racing quarter-midgets at age eight on the Music City Quarter-Midget track in Hermitage, where he continues to race when not involved with his Fairgrounds efforts. He won 32 races and three championships in three quarter-midget divisions last season, and is currently leading the standings in all three divisions this year.
Making the change from quarter-midgets to full-bodied stock cars is not difficult, Chase says.
“I did a lot of practicing in the Pro Mod car before the season, and I feel comfortable in it,” he says. “It hasn’t been a big adjustment. I thought that driving bigger, faster cars would be exciting, and it has been.”
Chase says he feels accepted by the older drivers.
“They’re all pretty nice to me around the track before the race,” he says, “and when the race starts they race me like anybody else, like I’m just another driver.”
As though his racing schedule is not crowded enough, Chase plans to run a Pro Mod event at Huntsville (Ala.) later this summer.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says. “It’ll be exciting to race on a different track against different drivers.”
Like all racers, Chase realizes his sponsors are vital to keeping him on the track, and he makes sure to tick them off in his media interviews: Universal Kia, Barrett’s Garage, Action Homes, Lynch Tree Service, Matt’s Transmissions, Skyline Manufacturing, Parker Brothers Windows and Hale’s Mobile Home Parts.
Then he double-checks his list.
“I don’t want to leave anybody out, because they’ve all been good to me,” he says.
Andy, one of the area’s top drivers during his heyday, sees a racing reflection of himself in his young son.
“He’s eat up with it,” Andy says. “He’s like me when I was his age — I couldn’t get enough of it. Once racing gets in your blood it’s hard to get it out.”
Andy ran a couple of races last year at the Fairgrounds, then sold his car and equipment to Lebanon’s Scott Fetcho for use by his son Dylan. After a couple of past semi-retirements he says he is now officially retired from driving and will devote his time to assisting his son.
Andy admits he misses the completion, but says, “I get a bigger thrill out of seeing Chase win than I did when I won.”
Fans can follow Chase’s exploits on Facebook at chasejohnsonmotorsports.
Fairgrounds schedule: Fairgrounds Speedway will hold a “Throwback & Past Champions Night” Saturday, June 24, honoring some of the past greats who have raced there over the past half-century. The full schedule, along with ticket information, is posted on the track’s website.
Rim running: Highland Rim Speedway races every Saturday night. The schedule and point standings, involving a number of local drivers, are posted on the track’s website.
By Larry Woody