Ronnie Johnson is a racing legend who has reached great heights on dirt surfaces all over east Tennessee and the United States. The Chattanooga driver’s achievements include hundreds of feature wins, two Dirt Track World Championship victories and multiple series championships. All of those accomplishments led to his induction into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2004.
At age 57, Johnson is still a competitive force every time he hits the track. And these days, he most often plies his trade on either the NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series or the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series. The NeSmith cars employ the 604 sealed crate engine while the Chevy Performance Series uses the Chevrolet 525CT engine. Both of which were designed to provide a more cost effective means for racers to compete apart from the more traditional open motored Late Models.
“I like running the NeSmith Crate Late Models,” Johnson said of the machines he will likely race in this coming weekend at the 411 Motor Speedway. “I really like watching open motor cars, but Super Late Model racing is pretty much only for those who have the resources behind them. I’ve been there. I’ve had that luxury, but a guy would be kidding himself to try to do it on his own.
“And honestly,” Johnson added, “around home in my area there’s not a lot of Super Late Model racing so I’m happy with what I do and the direction we’ve chosen to follow with the 604s and the 525s. We get to race and there’s just so much less maintenance required on a wet sump engine, which the 604 and the 525 are, than on a dry sump engine. The life span is quite a bit longer and it’s a lot less expensive. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a direction that I need to be headed in right now and I’m plenty content doing it.”
Johnson isn’t merely content. He’s successful. ‘The Chattanooga Flash’ is the NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series’ all time winningest driver with 17 victories.
Seymour’s 411 Motor Speedway will host a Friday/Saturday double header this weekend in which Johnson and many of the region’s top late model drivers will compete for $2,000-to-win and $3,000-to-win respectively.
Johnson is coming off a successful trip to Alabama’s Talladega Short Track in which he battled his way from a 6th starting spot to finish 2nd behind Dingus Griffin in a Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series event.
“I like running races where we can run the CT 525,” Johnson declared. “We’re going to follow that whole series like we did last year, which was ten races last year and they’ve got ten on the books for this year and may be adding some more.
“We also run the 525 in some other late model races when I feel like it would be competitive,” the veteran driver further explained. “And a lot of times it is around home on the smaller tracks, especially when the weather gets warm and they’re on a harder tire rule.”
Johnson has long been noted for his tardy arrivals at his race track of choice on a given night. And according to the driver, planning has never been one of his strong suits in deciding when or where to race.
“I’m not real big on making plans,” he said with a bit of a chuckle. “It seems like my best plans are no plans. I buy one of those big desk calendars every year when they first come out and every race I hear about that I might even think I’m interested in, I write it on there. Each month when we turn the page, I look at what’s coming up.”
But Johnson admits that another element has grown to be more of a deciding factor in when he will race than all others.
“I’ve come to realize that weather is our biggest player in anybody’s plans. With the technology we have today, everybody’s able to know what the weather for the weekend is going to be on Wednesday. It’s really affected the way we race because when I go back and look at that calendar, it’s unbelievable how many races get postponed or rescheduled because everybody knows what’s going on.”
So how many times will Johnson race in 2014?
“I’d like to race about 50 races this year,” he said. “I think we ran 40-something last year and I’d like to run more than that. Honestly, there’s more races out there than a guy can go to, and I’m not 20 anymore. It takes so much to get these things ready and you work harder than you would if you had a regular job, but I’m not complaining because this is what we do and this is what makes me feel alive. So, if I told you we were going to try to run 80 races, I’d be kidding myself and everybody else.”
Ronnie Johnson may not be 20 anymore, but he will no doubt continue to make his many fans feel alive with his timeless driving style.