The passing of Jason Johnson on Sunday morning following an accident at Wisconsin’s Beaver Dam Raceway has left a gaping hole, not just on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series, but on everyone who watched the Louisiana driver battle with the best drivers in the world over the years.
Johnson, as pointed out over the weekend by SPEED SPORT editor-in-chief Mike Kerchner, was an anomaly in the Midwestern and West Coast-dominated sport of sprint car racing. Born in Eunice, La., he harbored the Gulf Coast spirit through and through and defined a different mold for racers inside the discipline.
I heard him described by people through the years as “wild,” “crazy” and “unafraid,” and every single one of those terms was true when you watched him go wheel to wheel with the likes of Donny Schatz, Daryn Pittman and Shane Stewart on a nightly basis.
Away from it, however, Johnson was one of the most devoted family men I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting during my time in the sport. His devotion and passion for his wife, Bobbi, and son, Jaxx, is something that was only rivaled by his competitive fire when strapped into his No. 41 sprint car.
That much was evident any time you saw him at the race track.
An image that comes to mind was his victory last August’s SPEED SPORT Challenge at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, when Jaxx joined his father for many of the victory lane photos. There was pure joy on the four-year-old’s face because of what his father accomplished that night, and there was equal joy on Jason’s face at having his son in victory lane to share in the celebration with him.
The whole moment was priceless.
It’s also what makes the tragic events of Saturday night and Sunday morning so much harder to swallow, at least for me. Jason was one of those guys who always seemed to give so much to so many. Known for his trademark grin, Johnson always did what he had to do for both his family and his racing family.
He was one of the good guys you never expected to leave us so soon.
As journalists, and especially in racing, we’re trained to deal with death, because we must face the fragility of life much too often when a driver leaves us as Jason did this past weekend.
That doesn’t mean it gets any easier to cope with.
I’ll freely admit I’ve struggled with this one. It’s not that I knew Jason extremely well — though I had spoken to him recently at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in May — but he was someone who, no matter how much or how little time you spent with him, he made you feel that you mattered and he acknowledged that your time was important to him.
People like Jason Johnson don’t come along that often, and they leave an indelible impact on the sport and those they meet along the way.
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