Bobbi Johnson has spent a lot of time reminiscing the last few months.
There are many memories to recall throughout the seemingly never-ending road trip as the wife of a professional race car driver. Excursions on the road are as significant as victories on the track, although one of those clearly stands out.
The Johnson family was on cloud nine in August 2016 after Jason Johnson won the Knoxville Nationals, defeating one of the sport’s all-time greats in Donny Schatz.
Less than two years later Jason Johnson died following a violent crash, shattering the sport and leaving Bobbi Johnson with a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series caliber team without a driver and their 5-year-old son, Jaxx, without a father.
“There’s not a second person; I’m mom and dad now,” she said. “Luckily, Jason moved his folks up here and they wanted to come to be part of Jaxx’s growing up. It’s pretty awesome to have that. That little guy is the one that has to come first.”
Jaxx’s love of winged sprint car racing has been a mainstay during the months since the accident and that, combined with the wave of memories, has propelled Bobbi Johnson to continue Jason Johnson Racing.
“The roller-coaster ride of 2018 is what I considered it as it had so many up-and- down moments,” she said. “We did have a blast looking at all the different memories that he made us make. That commercial about things being priceless. When you make memories and you think I don’t know about this or that, but now it’s absolutely priceless.”
Johnson and the team’s longtime crew chief, Philip Dietz, decided to take the race car to the two weeks of the Knoxville Nationals last summer at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, along with a handful of races toward the end of the season. It was a fitting tribute that was topped when Carson Macedo piloted the car to victory on the team’s preliminary night during the 360 Knoxville Nationals — the first night the team competed since Johnson’s passing in June.
As 2018 season wound down and the memories ramped up, Bobbi Johnson felt the urge to continue her late husband’s dream, thanks to Jaxx and Dietz as well as many friends and family members.
“(It was) very difficult because there are so many variables that add up to the JJR team, from sponsors to what I know to Jaxx being a huge part of it,” she said. “It was like do you do it or do you not? My parents are 60-something years old. Many times when I roll into Pennsylvania I’ll catch them saying, ‘If I would have done this.’ I can’t look back and say, ‘If I would have.’ I’m doing this. I don’t want to sit there at 60-something and think if I would have continued that thing, what would it have been?
“Philip and I had a bunch of heart to hearts in the shop saying, ‘Are you in? I don’t know. Are you in?’ A couple of nights alcohol was involved. We can’t drown our sorrows. I sat there and wondered how would (Jason) handle this with Jaxx. Would he continue these T-shirts if I wasn’t here? ‘Hell no, that’s too much of a headache,’ he’d say.’ It’s been very trying already, but we’re finding where we all belong.”
Once Johnson elected to continue the team, the search for a top-notch driver ensued.
“Quite a few people contacted us,” Johnson said. “We put them on a clipboard. We thought who could we work with? We put three names in a hat and let our major marketing partners have a say so of who’d be the most fitting. We just went from there.
“When you stand back and look, it’s like, wow, how things happen in life. After that night at the Knoxville Nationals (last summer) and we ran good — (Brad) Sweet ran well and beat Schatz — you sit there and relive the moment. Then you walk down to congratulate him and he’s parked at spot No. 41,” Johnson continued. “As we loaded everything up, the Gravel family was standing there and asked what I was going to do. I said, ‘I have to go home and evaluate if I enjoyed it.’ When I start looking back David Gravel was the first one asking about the ride in a nonchalant way.”
Once Johnson decided to move forward in racing everything picked up at hyper speed. Gravel, who entered this season with 39 World of Outlaws victories, was hired as the team’s full-time driver. Then goals were set.
“Before Jan. 1 I gave them a deadline for three to five goals, driver included, myself, Jaxx, all of us that are a huge part of the team and including some sponsors that have been around and are more family than just sponsors,” Johnson said. “I wrote all of our goals and I even reached out to our guys we have part time that can only help at this race or at the Knoxville Nationals. The common (goal) is to win a championship, so to me it’s pretty wild. To have that much in common is pretty wild to look at.
“I think we picked up 13 or 14 new sponsors. So many people wanted to be part of this JJR team. It’s incredible to see all the help. Everyone is so giving. It’s amazing, really.”