This is part two of a feature on Jason Johnson Racing from the March issue of Sprint Car & Midget Magazine. To read part one, click here.
No one would have blamed Bobbi Johnson if she just drifted away from racing in the wake of her husband, Jason Johnson’s, death behind the wheel.
However, the problem was twofold. Racing is what the Johnsons did for a living and, more to the point, it was in her soul.
Beyond that, she wasn’t the only one impacted by this stunning turn of events. Not only was Philip Dietz Jason’s crew chief, he was also his cousin.
Dietz was unsure what his next move should be.
“It was tough,” he says. “I grew up racing with him. You know that racing is dangerous, and there is always that chance in the back of your mind that he could get hurt, but I would have never dreamed that it could be that bad. When we lost him, it was a huge reality check. It made it difficult to go back to the race track and hear the engines again and smell the fumes knowing that he was gone.
“For a while I even debated staying in racing. I considered getting a real job and stepping away. I didn’t know if that was my calling or if that was what I was meant to do. Maybe it was time to do something different for once. But after talking with some of our sponsors they made it clear that we had their support. If we chose to keep the team going, they were going to do everything they could to be sure we were financially safe. I guess deep down in my heart I felt it was the right thing to do for the team.
“I thought it was what Jason would have wanted me to do.”
As hard as it was to face, the stark reality was they needed a driver. Way out west, Carson Macedo was aching for a chance to race at Knoxville and he was searching every available avenue.
Macedo leaned on Jason Meyers, who he knew had been tight with Jason and Bobbi Johnson. Meanwhile, Bobbi had decided the best medicine possible was for the team to get their act together and compete at Knoxville.
With Meyers in his corner, a conversation between Macedo and Dietz pushed the dream forward.
The first time Macedo sat in the JJR sprint car, and the first time the team returned to action, was the second night of the 2018 360 Nationals at Knoxville. To say their emotions were on overdrive would be a vast understatement.
Dietz knew what he had to do. It was time to push everything to the side and focus on properly preparing his race car. When one has an analytical mind, they like to keep the unknowns to a minimum.
“You never know what to expect when you are working with someone for the first time,” Dietz said. “But I felt very confident in our race car and I felt very confident going into Knoxville where we have had some success in the past. Things were extremely difficult since we were racing for the first time since Jason’s accident, and all those emotions going into it were really challenging.
“I felt Carson was just a great fit for our team. He has a great personality, gets along with everyone, and the sponsors instantly fell in love with him. It made it really welcoming for him. When we first rolled on the track, I thought our car balance was really good and it made it easier to fine tune it throughout the week.”
Everybody was pulling for them and, in the end, it proved to be a career-changing time for Macedo.
All the team needed to buoy their spirits was a reasonably good showing. Carson did a whole lot better than that. He went out and won. There were few dry eyes in the house.
It wasn’t a fluke. He finished second in the 360 Nationals finale to Terry McCarl, won the Ultimate Challenge at Oskaloosa piloting Tony Stewart’s car, and then reunited with Jason Johnson Racing at the Knoxville Nationals.
Carson was the fast-qualifier on the second night and easily qualified for Saturday’s main event. From there he notched a sixth-place finish in the granddaddy of them all. For his work over all of these high-profile events, Macedo earned the Jesse Hockett Mr. Sprint Car title.
As important as his individual accomplishment was, the impact went far beyond him.
Thinking back to that pivotal time, where the survival of the team hung in the balance, Dietz said, “We made that jump. When we were able to put something together and have success with Carson right away, we knew that it was meant to be. We were meant to keep this team going.”
Keeping the team going meant securing the services of a driver for 2019, and the logical choice was Macedo. But there was one small problem.
“By June of 2018, I had already done a deal with KLR (Kyle Larson Racing) at Ohio Speedweek to race with them on the Outlaw tour in 2019,” Macedo revealed. “But if I had not made that commitment, I would have driven for JJR. Our few races together we clicked really well, but it was one of those deals where I am a man of my word. At the time I ran the JJR car in August I really couldn’t tell anyone about my deal, it was kind of a secret. They (JJR) approached me about 2019 and it was really hard.”
Johnson and Dietz weren’t totally caught off guard, because they had heard whispers about Macedo’s destination.
What softened the blow was that the team landed solidly on their feet. In 2018 David Gravel had posted five Outlaws wins and finished third in the final standings. To get a driver of that caliber in the fold was uplifting.
Everyone dusted themselves off and recommitted to keeping JJR alive.
“David was a great fit too,” Dietz said. “And we were really excited to pick him up at the end of 2018. It didn’t take us very long to figure out where we needed to be with our cars. I felt our communication was good too. He’s a great guy and comes with a great family, and that fits well with our team, because we have always been family oriented.”
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