Special to RACER by Mike Kerchner, SPEED SPORT
Jason Johnson wasn’t your typical sprint car racer. For one, this ultimate family man was from Louisiana, not exactly a hotbed of sprint car racing.
The 41-year-old native of Eunice, La., died Sunday morning from injuries sustained in an accident during the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series race at Wisconsin’s Beaver Dam Raceway.
Known to many as “The Ragin’ Cajun” and to others as the “Cajun Sensation,” Johnson fell in love with racing at an early age and received his education in sprint car racing by traveling the World of Outlaws circuit as a crew member for 20-time series champion Steve Kinser in his teenage years.
Johnson made his first start with the series in 1998 and grabbed his first World of Outlaws victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 2003.
Jason made his mark on the sport on the national level when he won his first Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series championship in 2008. Johnson won that championship four more times (2010, ’12, ’13 and ’14) before turning his attention to the World of Outlaws, running the series full time for the first time in 2015 and earning Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year honors at the end of that season.
Johnson’s breakthrough campaign came in 2016, when he won four World of Outlaws races and became a popular and surprise winner of the 56th annual Knoxville Nationals. Johnson became only the second driver (Tim Shaffer) other than Donny Schatz to win the race since 2006 after a furious late-race battle with the multi-time Outlaw champion. Johnson was victorious by less than two tenths of a second.
“To come across the start-finish line and hear the crowd roar will be a career-defining moment,” Johnson told SPEED SPORT last summer. “When I crossed that start-finish line I could hear the roar of the crowd, especially when I lifted in Turns 1 and 2. I could see the excitement in the crowd.”
Johnson said the energy he felt from the crowd that night was second to none.
“I remember when I got on the wing and gave a fist pump, I could hear the crowd roar and people stomping their feet,” he noted. “I could feel the vibration of the crowd. I did it two more times and each time I could feel the crowd grow even more ecstatic. That was one of the most emotional moments. All the congratulations and the interviews were great, but the personal moments of seeing everyone’s excitement, even competitors we rubbed wheels with were walking over and giving congratulations.
“That was the career ultimate goal that every driver has, to win the Knoxville Nationals,” Johnson continued. “Whether my career goes another five months or five years or 15 years, that’s something that will never be taken away from me … is one of the greatest Knoxville Nationals of all time. It’s a career moment, a career achievement that many successful drivers dream of, but never achieve.
“No matter how long my career lasts, which I hope lasts much, much longer, I’ll be gratified knowing we won the Knoxville Nationals.”
Johnson also took pride in his wife, Bobbi, and son, Jaxx, as a devoted husband and father. His victory in 2016 came only days after the death of popular open-wheel racer Bryan Clauson.
“We lost BC a week ago,” Johnson said after winning the Nationals. “That came very close to me because I lost a little sister in a very similar situation — a motor vehicle accident. Driving over here, I was reflecting on how fortunate I was to have my family by my side and the loved ones that I do have.”
Johnson finished sixth in the WoO standings in 2017 after four more victories. He’d won twice this season and earned 12 Outlaw victories in total over the course of his career.
The five-time ASCS national champion ranks second on the series’ all-time winner’s list with 79 victories. He also won an ASCS Gulf South regional championship and has 36 Gulf South triumphs to his credit.
Johnson also won more than 50 features in other ASCS regional series.