Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – GAFFNEY, SC – Marc Johnson just concluded a busy, but productive, few weeks of Dirt Modified racing in the Sunshine state.
Now, he’s ready to chase some big money in South Carolina.
Johnson, the multi-time Albany-Saratoga Speedway DIRTcar Modified champion, competed in three races with the Short Track Super Series at All-Tech Raceway (the fourth was rained out) before heading to the DIRTcar Nationals for five events.
The trip was highlighted by a third place showing on opening night of Brett Deyo’s “Sunshine Swing” and a fifth last Friday night during the Super DIRTcar Series action at Volusia Speedway Park.
The driver from Guilderland, NY was concerned how things would go during the Short Track Super Series races at All-Tech, but those worries were squashed pretty quickly.
“I’ve got a Lebanon Valley Big Block engine in the car we ran at the Deyo races,” Johnson said. “At All-Tech, there wasn’t really much grip but we ran strong and came home with a third place finish. I really had a lot of fun running the Deyo races.”
The 3J team finished every event during the Sunshine Swing in the top 10. That good fortune made the decision to enter this weekend’s inaugural event for the ‘Elite’ Series at Cherokee Speedway an easy one.
“We didn’t even have any plans to run the Cherokee event,” he said. “It was all dependent on how things went in the Deyo races in Florida. I’ve never even seen the track so we’re just going there to race and have fun.”
Having never seen the facility, has Johnson talked to anyone about the track?
“I chatted with Rocky Warner about it a little bit,” he said. “He told me it reminded him of Lebanon Valley Speedway. The only difference is that Cherokee has wider corners.”
Action starts at the Gaffney, SC speedplant on Thursday night with practice before Friday’s qualifying night. Then, the big $25,000-to-win feature race happens on Saturday.
On the DIRTcar side Johnson’s trip south, the team had an up-and-down five-race swing. However, they really started to make things work near the end of the week.
“We kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball a bit after the practice on Monday,” he said. “It was really slippery and then the track rubbered up. We kind of went away from the set-up ideas I had after that night. We then went searching for the first few nights of racing.”
While the team made all five shows, they weren’t happy with their results early on. Johnson recorded a 20th and two 24th place finishes through Thursday night. They had work to do.
“Before last week, I had only been to Volusia one other time a couple years prior,” he said. We didn’t have the best of luck then, so basically, we didn’t have any notes to work off of. It took me a little while to get acclimated with the track.”
By Friday, Johnson and company hit on something.
“The last two nights we were really good,” he said. “I felt like we had finally gotten a handle on what I wanted for a set-up and what the car liked. We went forward and I was really pleased.”
During Saturday night’s 50-lapper, Johnson was toying with the top five when he fell victim to same fate as several of the top runners…a right rear that wore out and punctured. Even with his tire woes, Marc drove back through from the rear of the field to finish 11th.
Could he have done more to save his right rear tire?
“I don’t think it was that I abused the tire,” he said. “I was going into the corners really straight, trying to save it. I was slowing down purposely to save the tire because I went with a 300 (the soft compound Hoosier) where I believe guys who started deeper in the field like (Larry) Wight and (Stewart) Friesen went with a 400 (hard compound). I guess we just didn’t save it well enough.”
Even with the late race misfortune, Johnson was happy with his week at Volusia.
“I think by Friday we finally hit a set-up that worked with my driving style for the speedway,” he said. “We weren’t into the track in the beginning of the week. We finally got into it by the end.”
Once the team returns home from Cherokee, all eyes will be on a busy 2022 season for Marc and his team. The veteran will return to Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday nights to try and recapture the Modified crown while also returning to the high banks of Lebanon Valley Speedway.
In 2021, Johnson finished a close second to Andy Bachetti for the track championship, missing out on his first title by 18 points on the strength of two big feature event victories.
Johnson, along with car owner Scott Hamlin, also has aspirations to follow the entire Super DIRTcar Series schedule this season.
“I just love to race,” he said. “I love to run well and have a shot at winning every time I strap into a race car. This year, we’ll be busy and I can’t wait to see what we can do. I’ve got great people behind me and I know we’ll have a great 2022.”