SAN DIEGO, Calif. – When the Johnson name is mentioned in racing today it’s hard not to think of five-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson.
But for Jimmie and younger brother Jarit, racing began in the deserts of southern California and Baja Mexico racing off-road. Nearly every weekend was spent either driving off-road race cars or working around the sport in some way.
It’s what inspired Jarit to become an accomplished fabricator in addition to racing. Jimmie later paved the way to circle track racing and the family followed with a migration to North Carolina.
For the past 13 years, Jarit Johnson has been climbing the NASCAR ranks as both a fabricator and race car driver. Through his fabrication business, he’s worked for some of the sports leading companies, teams and drivers, creating products such as race seats and specialty equipment.
His driving career has placed him in the driver’s seat – starting races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and becoming known as a dominate winner at the famed Hickory Motor Speedway. Ned Jarrett once told Johnson that anyone who can win 12 races and eight poles at Hickory can win races at any level at any track.
For Jarit, it seemed he had left the dust behind for a life on the pavement. At least until a phone call came from his hometown of El Cajon, Calif.
Johnson was offered a ride in a Trophy Truck (off-road’s top class) for the longest point-to-point off road race in the United States.
Johnson accepted the offer and will return to his racing roots Aug. 17 piloting the SakTea/Jimmie Johnson Anything with an Engine Trophy Truck for the Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno event. The call came from truck owner Jeff Seifert, a long time southern California stock car, off road racer and business owner.
“Off-road seems to be one of the only areas of motorsports that is on the rise right now. I’ve been thinking for a few years how it would be great to get back into it,” said Johnson. “Then Seifert called and asked if I wanted to race his Trophy Truck. There was no way I was going to pass up the chance to return to off road. It’s what my family has done for so long and we have so many great memories and stories from the off-road days. I’m excited about this new chapter in my career. And I really appreciate Jeff [Seifert] giving me this opportunity.”
Johnson’s first off-road race was back in 1992 driving a class 10 car with Steve Willcot and Todd Clement in a Parker, Ariz., race. After running a full season in Class 10 including the Baja 1000, Johnson moved up to the Class 8 Trucks, where he finished 2nd in the points championship. Johnson also competed in short course racing winning the 1995 Championship in a super lite at Glen Helen Raceway.
That success sparked a ride in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series, but unfortunately the series went defunct the same year. The call from Jeff Seifert will pick up where Johnson left off-road.
“I wanted to find a driver who could help bring our team to a new level. We wanted someone with experience in racing, not just off-road”, said Seifert. “I was looking for someone who is mature enough to drive hard but at the same time get us to the finish line. And represent our team’s sponsors and vision for the future. I’ve known Jarit for years and while he’s not on the radar as much as his older brother he’s an accomplished racer and we know will make a solid addition to our team.”
Johnson will begin testing with the team as they prepare to tackle Vegas to Reno, one of the toughest races in the world. The race begins just outside of Las Vegas, Nev., and winds through rocks, mountains, silt and sand to the finish line in Reno, Nev.
The timed race runs continuously from start to finish racing through the day and often into the night.