Chase Johnson from Petaluma is a 4th generation race car driver. He started his racing career at the early age of 5 and won six championships racing Outlaw Karts. Today, thirteen years later, he has 150 feature main event wins and 7 championships. Today he competes in high level sprint car racing and in 2012 was crowned Pit Stop USA Sprint Car Series Champion at Petaluma Speedway. A 2013 graduate of Petaluma High School, his peers named him "Most Likely to Go Pro" in Student Standouts section of his senior yearbook. However his racing and life came to an abrupt halt on the night of March 16, 2013 during a practice session when his sprint car's steering wheel malfunctioned causing him to lose control of his vehicle. This terrible accident resulted in the death of his fourteen year old cousin, who also raced and was like a brother to him, and a 68 year old car owner who loved being at the track. In this interview you will learn about how Chase is doing today and how he has a changed view as a person and a competitor. Just this weekend Johnson charged to his first Podium of the Season at Petaluma Speedway placing third in the featured race.
Wayne: How does it feel to start your season off with two straight top 5's?
Chase: It feels great, it has just pushed me even harder to improve and get closer to a win.
Wayne: Your car number is 24 - is there any significance to that number?
Chase: Yes I chose that number because I looked up to Jeff Gordon. He drove the number 24 when I was growing up and still is today in NASCAR. I look up to Jeff for many of reasons but the major one was that his career path was a lot similar to mine today. He started racing quarter midgets young in California and progressed into sprint cars and midgets which then took him to the stock car world to be a NASCAR driver. My path was I started running Outlaw Karts at age 5, then moved into the Sprint Car at age 14.
Wayne: It appears in the coming months you will be starting to race in national events. What are you doing to prepare for them?
Chase: Yes I will be driving for Van Dyke Motorsports and going to Oregon to for a ASCS National race. Seat time, I believe is the best way you can prepare for any event and these last months I have been extremely lucky on how much we have raced. I also spend time looking on the internet for videos and photos from other races on the same track. This will give me more knowledge as of to where exactly is the preferred line during a night of racing.
Wayne: You bio says you are a 4th generation race car driver, tell us about your family history of racing?
Chase: My family has a long line of race history. My family's racing career started with my great grandfather, Frank Johnson. Frank is in the BCRA Hall of Fame. His son, my grandfather, Bob Johnson is a Champion Midget racer. My Uncle Rob has raced sprint cars for many years and has won a handful of races. Don, my father has raced sprint cars and a pavement modified. I am very proud to carry on my family's tradition in this great sport.
Wayne: I see that you are studying mechanical engineering at SRJC. What are your plans for the future with this line of study?
Chase: I am currently attending the Santa Rosa Junior College and am studying mechanical engineering. After 2-3 years at the SRJC my plan is to transfer to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to finish my study. Currently I am taking 14 units.
Wayne: How do you balance racing with your education?
Chase: Well it defiantly keeps me very busy but I enjoy every second of it and wouldn't have it any other way. M-Th I focus on school for the majority of the day and spend the nights in the shop preparing the cars for the races on the weekend. Friday-Sunday I basically spend all my time traveling to the track and at the track racing. Racing from helping getting the car ready to getting myself prepared takes up the majority of the weekend. Then my Sundays consist of driving back home or washing the car and trailer, updating my website, doing an interview for a press release, and hopefully I can sneak some time in my day to do some homework.
Wayne: In addition to driving do you also do mechanical work on your car?
Chase: Yes, I grew up as not only a driver but a mechanic as well. My family has taught me that being a driver takes being a mechanic as well. When driving my family car I spend a great amount of time helping my Dad get the car ready to race. I believe that knowing the mechanical side of auto racing has helped me become a better driver.
Wayne: Of course we were all very sorry for the tragic loss of Marcus and Dale. After you had some time off you felt an inspiration to race in their honor. How has this changed you as a person on and off the track?
Chase: The accident has changed a lot of things in my life and some that I wish hadn't changed. My whole view of life was changed, I see people in a totally different way than I did before with every human being having a direct reason and purpose in their life. On the track I'm still not the same as I was before the accident. Getting back in the seat was the best thing I could possibly do for myself. The more time you spend away from it the harder it is to come back especially after a horrible accident. I couldn't heel staying away from racing. I felt that I needed to go back and race for not only myself but Marcus and Dale. Since then I want to help and inspire others to overcome adversity.
Wayne: What are your goals for racing? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Chase: One of my goals in racing is to have my story be heard throughout the world and have myself become an inspiration to overcoming adversity. Another one of my goals is that I want racing to become my job. Unlike a lot of other drivers I don't have a specific direction on where I want to go, as long as I'm racing a car at a professional level I will love it.
Wayne: You are a bit of a veteran at racing even at the age of 18. You have hundreds of wins and 7 championships under your belt. Does your experience at such a young age give you a competitive advantage?
Chase: Yes I think it does. Even though the majority of wins and championships have come from the Outlaw Kart racing years of my life it still gives me advantage due to my experience behind the wheel of a race car. I believe any type of experience in anytime of auto racing definitely gives you a competitive advantage over someone with less experience.
Wayne: I see you have a little brother Colby "Colbster" - is he racing and will he follow the family tradition of racing?
Chase: He is following the family tradition and is doing very well! With the off weekends I have, I spend those days at the track helping my little brother at his races. His improvement over the last couple years has been tremendous. I think one of the greatest things is teaching him all my skills and tricks I have learned over my years and seeing him progress and improve using them.
Wayne: What would you say the average age is of the racers you compete against?
Chase: The average age would be 30 years old
Wayne: Is there anyone that you give credit to, any person or people, for your success in racing?
Chase: My family has been the reason why I'm where I'm at today. My mom and dad have been so supportive and spent so much time, money and effort on helping me chase my dream. The support backing from my whole family is really incredible and I'm so thankful for that.
Wayne: Racing requires a lot of support from sponsors, family and pit teams. What does your support system look like?
Chase: I am extremely blessed with all the great people that surround me with support. I wouldn't be able to do all the things I do without my sponsors. All my sponsors are some of the greatest, nicest and caring people you could know. I am very thankful for the partnerships I have with Johnny Franklin Mufflers, Newman Freeman Racing, Pit Stop USA, Napa Auto Parts, Flowmaster, Shifty Illusions, I Wear Motorsports, VanLare Steering Repair, Oroville Cycle and Dons Truck Repair. My family and friends have always been great supporters of my racing with most of them making it to every one of my races! What really amazes me is hearing the crowds cheer for me at not only our home track in Petaluma but every track I visit across the west coast. It really is great to have such a huge support group of amazing fans. All the race teams I have driven for and teams I am currently driving for are all very supportive and I can't thank them all for giving me a chance.
Wayne: Chase, thank you very much for your time and for the interview
Chase: You're welcome, and thank you for interviewing me.
Chase Johnson turned adversity into a cause to not only honor Marcus and Dale but instill in him a spirit of competition to win in their memory. Positively Petaluma will be following and reporting on Chase's career in the future.
By Wayne Dunbar