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Youngest winner Chase wins Rookie of Year

Larry Woody • Oct 18, 2017 at 6:23 PM

A blown motor may have cost local racer Chase Johnson a Fairgrounds Speedway championship, but he still walked away with Rookie of the Year honors after becoming the youngest race winner in the track’s 60-year history.

Not bad for an 11-year-old in his first season of stock car racing.

“It was disappointing not to win the championship, but I won two races and had a good year,” says Chase, a 6th grader at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy.

“I’m not discouraged. I’m already looking forward to next season.”

After winning dozens of races and championships in Quarter Midgets, Chase this year moved up to the Speedway’s Pro Modified division, racing full-fledged stock cars at the historical Fairgrounds track where NASCAR’s greatest drivers raced over the decades.

Going into the Sept. 30 season finale Chase had two wins under his belt – the youngest driver ever to take a checkered flag in a divisional race -- and held a two-point lead in the championship standing. Bad luck stuck, however, when he blew a motor during practice earlier in the week.

His team worked frantically to re-build the motor, but it wasn’t up to speed in the race. Chase finished on back in the field and had to settle for runner-up in the final standings.

Nevertheless, finishing second in a hard-fought championship battle against veteran racers and being crowned Rookie of the Year is impressive for a youngster who has yet to celebrate his 12th birthday.

Among those Chase impressed is his dad Andy, who won the Fairgrounds Late Model championship in 2008.

“He had a good year, learned a lot, and I’m proud of him,” says Andy, who retired from driving last year in order to devote more time to his son’s racing efforts. 

“The motor issue in the last race hurt us some, but that’s just part of racing,” Andy adds. “We look forward to next year, and to the years to come.”

Back in the spring, as he prepared for his first season of racing full-bodied stock cars, Chase said he knew what some veteran drivers were thinking:

“They think I’m a kid in a driver’s suit.”

But it didn’t take skeptics long to realize that the young racer was a force to be reckoned with. He finished third in his first race, second in his next race, then captured two victories and jumped into the points lead.

In addition to winning races, he won the respect of his rivals.

“They were all pretty nice to me before the races,” he says, “and when the races started they raced me just like anybody else.”

Chase credits this season’s success to a lot of people, starting with his dad and grandfather, and includes his numerous sponsors: Universal Kia, Barrett’s Garage, Action Homes, Lynch Tree Service, Matt’s Transmissions, Performance Auto Body, Graphic Effects, Parker Brothers Windows and Hale Auto Body.

He says Fairgrounds Speedway promoter Tony Formosa deserves the thanks of area drivers and fans. Formosa’s efforts rescued the 60-year-old track when it was on the brink of demolition a few years ago.

“That track means a lot to me,” Chase says. “As far back as I can remember I watched my dad race there, and I want to carry on his tradition.”

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Superspeedway update: Nissan has rented the parking lots at Nashville Superspeedway to store cars. The arrangement is with Dover Motorsports, which has yet to finalize a sale with developer Panattoni that was announced over a year ago.

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Rim’s Big Rig wreck: Fans watching a Bandit Big Rig race Highland Rim Speedway last month got some unexpected excitement when one of the trucks lost control and crashed into the front-stretch fence. No one was injured, which track co-owner Jerry Criswell said was testimony to the track’s strong catch-fence and other safety features.

Criswell, who owns and operates the Ridgetop track with Mt. Juliet’s Roger Cunningham, said repairs have been completed, and regular-season events will proceed on schedule.

Point standings, involving a number of local drivers, are posted on the track’s website.

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