One would have to search far and wide to find a Dirt Late Model driver who has visited victory lane more often than Ronnie Johnson. And even after that search, there is a strong chance that such a driver would never be found. Indeed, the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member has piled up hundreds of wins over the course of a career that has spanned decades. And in 2018, he continues to score wins. But one difference is that those wins are not coming in his familiar No. 5 machine.
The Tennessee driver known as the Chattanooga Flash now pilots a Capital Race Car owned by Richard Austin and sponsored by Josh Roberts Trucking. But nonetheless, the winning continues. In 23 starts so far this season, Johnson has wheeled the No. 85 machine into victory lane a total of ten times.
So does the 61-year-old legend plan to just continue winning races forever?
“You never know when the last one will come,” Johnson said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “I’ve often wondered if I’ve seen the last one. We’ve been on a pretty good little roll lately but that’s the way racing goes. It seems like you get things working and you’ll roll along for a little while then it stops. Sometimes you can get back on track then there comes a period when you decide that no matter how much you put into it or how hard you work, you just can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong.”
Roberts had his own team until last summer when he turned his racing equipment over to Austin. Johnson and Austin had worked together successfully in the past and reunited with the newly equipped operation. The combination has won both Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series(Boyd’s and Dixie) contested so far this season and added a NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series event at Talladega Short Track on April 28th. All of these regional touring series triumphs coming in the last four weeks.
Johnson insists that when things are going well for a race team, as things are for his right now, the best thing to do is just let the momentum continue.
“I’m in a different position than I’ve ever been in before in that I’m just the driver,” the veteran racer explained. “I guess I could have a little more input than what I do but the way we’re racing right now is working pretty good. When I get in a position where things are going well I try not to rock the boat and just try to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Part of not rocking the boat comes from the good relationship between Johnson and Austin.
“We’ve known each other so we didn’t have to learn what each other’s likes and dislikes were,” the two-time winner of the Dirt Track World Championship said. “We started running pretty good right away with Josh’s stuff. Right now, we’re doing the best that we’ve ever done. The roll that we’re on may have already stopped, but hopefully we can continue. We just go on to the next one. All you can do is race them one at a time.”
Driving for a team other than his own has allowed RJ to take care of details that had been neglected when he drove for himself and had to spend so much of his time working on the cars.
“One of the reasons we’re having the success we’re having is that for the first time in years I’m able to sleep and come to the track rested,” he declared. “I’m able to walk out there and watch the other cars run so I can keep up with the race track, I can watch the other guys race and see what lines they’re running, and I can pay attention to the flagman’s habits. I haven’t been able to do those things in years because I had gotten to the point, and I had been there for a while, that a lot of times the first time I’d see the track was when I would pull on the track for qualifying because there was so much I was trying to do. I was coming to the races by myself or with a person who wasn’t an every race staple for me. You just cannot be successful like that anymore.”
Johnson believes he is in the best situation he has been in for several years and he is enjoying the fact that all of the pressure both on race days and throughout the week isn’t on him and him alone.
“Before, I always wanted to have my hands in everything. I had to make all the decisions whether they were right or wrong, but I’ve just kind of let that go. Richard makes 99% of the calls, he makes 100% of the calls on how the car is set up, he makes most of the calls on the tires. He makes all of those calls and he usually gives me a good piece and I try to give it a good ride. We’re working well together right now, and again, a big part of it is that I can concentrate on driving the car and paying attention to the race track. I don’t have to get a tire list up and order tires on Mondays, if somebody doesn’t show up to wash the car I don’t have to deal with that, so it’s been a management load off of me.”