In his first full season of SRO TC America Touring Car in 2018, Johan Schwartz turned heads. Driving the West Virginia University-backed BMW M235iR for Todd Brown’s Rooster Hall Racing, rookie Schwartz won three races, finished third in the championship and was less than one win’s worth of points out of first.
In 2019, he won more than half the races and absolutely dominated the championship in the updated M240iR.
Yet, although Schwartz and Rooster Hall have real momentum heading into 2020, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding the team’s prospects for the coming season. The deal with West Virginia University was a two-year contract that has ended, and there are no hot prospects to replace them. It’s an unenviable position for any team, but a surprising development for a defending champion.
Even as the team tries to put together a plan for three cars in 2020 amidst sponsorship uncertainty, there is still the opportunity for Schwartz to relish the championship and remember how he got there.
“(In 2018) we had my car as the single car, and the team owner invested in that and really wanted to showcase the team,” Schwartz recounts. “I was fortunate enough to be the one. We had three wins, several podiums and finished third in the championship. We did have some unfortunate things that happen in racing where we didn’t collect any points, (but) I just felt that the team started getting better and better. We also got a race engineer, Brent Tedder. I didn’t necessarily know when we started going into the shocks — how to adjust for that and not take away form the other side; all these compromises you encopunter when you make adjustments. (Tedder) gave me confidence in that, and that has been the thing that really made the big difference in the team.”
Schwartz was born in Denmark and grew up on a farm that presented a lot of opportunity to play with cars even before he would have been allowed to drive on the Danish roads. He honed his car-control skills –- even if he didn’t know it at the time –- in a Mini with homemade studded tires (on the front only) that he drove, tail end hanging out, on the local frozen ponds in winter.
Karts were the next opportunity, and when he had the chance to visit the U.S. as an exchange student, he decided he liked it here. And now, in addition to racing anything he can get his hands on, he instructs at the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina. That was also the location of his Guinness world-record drift in a BMW M5, the 232.5-mile, 8-hour-long drift –- along with a record for tandem drifting –- that was especially notable for the car-to-car refueling video that garnered a lot of online views.
The West Virginia University sponsorship also garnered Schwartz and the team attention because, well, when was the last time anyone saw a university logo prominently displayed on a racecar that wasn’t a Formula SAE competitor? As it turns out, team owner Brown’s parents are graduates. The sponsorship package came partly from alumni, partly from the university, and partly from other sponsors that joined because of the WVU affiliation.
But perhaps more significant than the money were the two WVU engineering student interns that worked with the team for the season (one of which found future employment in the paddock).
And what a season it was, Schwartz says, beginning with the opening weekend at Circuit of The Americas: “We won the first race, got hit in the second, and thought we were out. Went all the way to the back, and drove all the way up to first. The rain helped. Unfortunately I got passed on the last lap … had it been a first place, it would have been fantastic. Had I driven up to third place and stayed there, I would have said that’s the best race. But since I was first and didn’t keep it, that discounts it a little bit,” he laughs.
After that, Schwartz had at least one win each weekend, with the exception of Sonoma, where there was a disagreement between TC America’s tech staff and the team on some technical issues. But then Schwartz came back and won both races at the next rounds in Portland, and was either first or second in every race hence.
“It is disappointing to have to look for sponsorship after how much we have given the sponsors in 2019. But, we have a really good year to show prospective sponsors what we did and what they can potentially expect to receive.
“We can’t guarantee results, but we have a pretty good track record,” he says.
Not only is Rooster Hall Racing working to bring back a three-car effort for Touring Car in 2020, Schwartz is hoping to do some racing in GT4 as well. He raced in Saleen Cup also in 2019 and came away with a win in the final round after a scoring a couple of podium finishes early in the season.
However Schwartz’s motorsports world comes together in 2020, all indications are that he’ll be at the front.