Race Weekend Central

Jarit Johnson Driver Diary: From Building Racecars to Behind the Wheel

Editor’s note: The Frontstretch has a new driver diary lineup for 2010! Joining returning favorites Kenny Wallace, Marcos Ambrose and Scott Speed, we’re adding two of NASCAR’s rising stars to our lineup: K&N Pro Series East drivers Jarit Johnson and Ryan Truex. While you might recognize the family names, these two up-and-coming drivers have plenty to talk about in their own careers! We hope that you will enjoy following these two young drivers as they ride through NASCAR’s ranks!

I started racing motorcycles out in California when I was four years old, and that went on for several years until Dad decided he wanted Jimmie and me in a rollcage. He wanted it to be safe. So I got into the off-road stuff and that led into the SCORE off-road series, the desert races.

I ran that for a few years, raced go-karts for a little bit, and then I got into what’s called a spec-truck out in California. I raced that for about two years, until I moved to North Carolina. When I got back here, I didn’t jump right into racing. I started helping Blaise Alexander. I was a tire changer for Blaise, did a lot of traveling with him, then I got a job with Randy Lajoie. I would work for Randy during the day and then help Blaise in the afternoon and go travel with him. I worked with Lajoie for six years, building seats.

Then, I left Randy and started my own fabrication business – I started building my own racecars.

I started racing late models at different tracks, building my own I ran at Hickory. I have 12 wins up there and I believe four poles. I’ve been pretty successful up at that place! Now, I’ve got my Camping World East (now K&N Pro Series) cars. Right now, we’ve got one almost completely put together for this season, so if something doesn’t happen on the Nationwide side, we’re going to try to run the full (K&N Eastern division) season. It’s a great series: we go to a lot of great tracks and we’ll gain some more experience. We’re rebuilding the pit box and rebuilding cars.

Trying to find sponsorship is the hardest thing. This sport doesn’t rely on talent anymore. I can’t even tell you how many kids and drivers there are out there trying to make it, and they have outstanding talent, but they don’t have the funding to get there. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. If you don’t have the funding, you’re not going racing. You could have the most talent in the world and it doesn’t matter; it’s just tough. The biggest thing I’ve learned through it all is to try to surround myself with the best people that I can.

I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people who could potentially help me out. The biggest thing is, I could sit here and race at Hickory and just race late models for the rest of my life, or I can try to get into a bigger car or a truck at different tracks at corresponding races with the Cup or Nationwide or the Truck series and hopefully try to catch the eye of somebody. While we’re there, there are opportunities to talk to people who have authority or might be able to help put something together and help put me in a bigger series.

I also own a general fabrication shop – if there’s a piece of metal broken on a tractor, I’ll weld it up and fix it – anything to do with fabrication work. My place is open to anything. Heck, I just got done building a simulator for Race for the Cure, the breast cancer organization. Todd Stewart and his son, Hunter, helped put the foundation together to raise funds for breast cancer, so we built the simulator for them.

I’ve restored some of Jimmie’s old Nationwide cars – it was still the Busch Series back then – and one of his IROC cars, one of his ASA cars and now I’m working on one of his off-road trucks.

I love short tracks. I like to beat and bang and all that good stuff! I would have to say that my favorite place that I was excited to go to, but it was kind of deceiving, was Dover. It’s amazing how that track is – getting around it and coming up out of the hole, how light the car gets coming up onto the straightaway – but I would say it’s one of my favorite tracks.

We’re still working on things for this year. We’re hoping to have an announcement around Daytona-time about a Nationwide deal. It’s getting close, and we’ll have to hopefully see what happens. If it doesn’t happen at that time, there’s still a great possibility that we’ll be running some Nationwide this year. But if not, we’ll be playing around in the East Series.

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About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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