By Larry Woody
Chase Johnson, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, became the youngest champion in the 60-year history of Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway when he captured the Pro Mod Division title in the track’s regular-season finale.
“It feels great,” said Chase, whose dad Andy won the Pro Mod championship in 1997 and the premier Late Model crown in 2008.
“Winning the championship was our goal at the start of the season, and it’s great to get it,” said Chase, who earlier in the year became the youngest winner of a feature race in the track’s history.
That record-setting victory was one of four Chase collected during the season, helping him compile an almost insurmountable points lead going into the final race. All he had to do to secure the title was take the green starting flag.
“That took a lot of the pressure off,” said Chase, who finished second in the finale. “I was able to relax and enjoy it.”
“I’m proud of him,” said Andy, who retired as a full-time driver to devote more time to his son’s efforts. “Racing is something he has always enjoyed doing, and he’s good at it.”
What was his father’s advice going into the decisive race?
“He said to be smooth, have fun and be safe,” Chase said. “And he said he loved me.”
“He said he was thrilled, and proud of me.”
Chase, who drove a pink car in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, said he had a lot of help on his way to the championship, starting with his dad and step-mother Allison, along with grandparents Peggy and Richard Johnson.
“My dad is my inspiration,” Chase said. “I started watching him race as early as I can remember, and I always wanted to be just like him.”
He also named crew members Randy Weaver, Bubba Reed, Jason Brewer and Tommy Miller as instrumental to his success. And, like any good stock car driver, he didn’t forget his sponsors: Lynch Tree Service, Parker Brothers Window Tinting, Action Homes, Barrett’s Garage and Hale’s Mobile Park.
He also included track operator Tony Formosa on the list. Formosa stepped up and saved the track a few years ago when it was on the verge of demolition.
“I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people,” Chase said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
Chase, who won dozens of races and titles in Quarter-Midget competition, is headed on to bigger things next season: he will move up to the Limited Late Models.
“They are faster with a lot more horsepower,” he said. “It will take some getting used to, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Last spring, as Chase prepared for his first season of racing full-bodied stock cars, he said he knew what some of the track’s veteran drivers were thinking:
“They think I’m a kid in a driver’s suit.”
They don’t think that any more. They know the kid’s a winner and a champion, just like his dad.
Larry Woody is the Mt. Juliet News’ motorsports writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.