Concord, NC — Mike Johnson knows the fast way around Santa Maria Speedway and he’s riding a hot streak.
That could prove to be a dangerous combination for Johnson’s rivals this Saturday night (July 18) when the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series makes its second visit of the 2009 season to the one-third-mile oval in Southern California.
Johnson, 39, of Lompoc, Calif., enters Saturday’s action at his longtime hometrack with two consecutive Western Allstars victories under his belt. He won on June 20 at Antioch (Calif.) Speedway and July 11 at Chowchilla (Calif.) Speedway.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday night,” said Johnson, who captured back-to-back dirt Late Model track titles at the speedway in 2005 and 2006. “I always enjoy going to Santa Maria. It’s only 40 minutes from my house and I started my career there.
“We’re on a pretty good roll right now and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Johnson will also seek to erase memories of his first Western Allstars start of the season at Santa Maria, a quiet 12th-place finish on May 9. He started 10th and was never a factor in the 30-lap A-Main.
“We tried something different and obviously it didn’t work,” said Johnson, who makes his living as an automotive driving instructor at Lompoc High School. “We’re gonna go back to a pretty basic setup this time and see if we can do a little better.”
There haven’t been many bad nights this year for Johnson, who sits second in the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series points standings through seven events. He trails Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas, Calif., by 43 points (1,079-1,036) in pursuit of his second career tour title.
“I want to win the championship bad,” pronounced Johnson, who captured the points crown in 2007 but didn’t compete for the title last season. “I’d like to be the first driver to win two championships, but beating Bobby Hogge is going to be a tough thing. He’s just so strong and consistent.”
Johnson did get one up on Hogge in the last Western Allstars event, scoring a dramatic victory over the 32-year-old points leader at Chowchilla. Johnson was in the process of overtaking Hogge’s ailing car for second when leader Chris Shannon of Merced, Calif., broke the fifth-member bracket on his machine and slapped the outside wall with three laps remaining, sending the defending Western Allstars champion to the infield and Johnson to his 10th career win on the West Coast’s premier dirt Late Model tour.
“I had just gotten by Nick (Bartels of El Segundo, Calif.) for third when another yellow came out,” said Johnson, who ranks second on the alltime Western Allstars win list behind Hogge (12 wins). “I would’ve been happy finishing third with my car in one piece, but after we went green I saw Bobby’s car was getting tight because it had something broke.
“I was able to get under (Hogge) when he pushed, and then I saw Shannon get in the wall, and I was like, ‘O.K., I’ll take this.’”
Johnson is making his championship bid driving for Zach Forster Racing, a three-driver operation based in Bakersfield, Calif. His teammates include team owner Zach Forster, who enters selected events, and Johnny Malcolm of Corona, Calif., who also handles preparation of the Forster Racing equipment as the team’s fulltime mechanic.
“I have to thank Zach Forster for giving me a chance to race this year,” said Johnson, a 22-year racing veteran who campaigns a Victory Circle chassis with a Jay Dickens-built engine under the hood. “I didn’t have anything going until I talked with Zach at the end of last year. He’s given me some great equipment to go racing.”
Saturday night’s Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series program at Santa Maria Speedway will be topped by a 30-lap A-Main paying $2,000 to win. Toyota-Scion of Santa Maria is the event’s presenting sponsor.
Spectator gates will open at 3 p.m., with qualifying at 5 p.m. and racing at 6 p.m. Admission prices will be $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and military, $5 for children 6-12 and free for kids 5-and-under free.
For more information on Santa Maria Speedway, visit www.santamariaspeedway.com.
Additional info on all of the series, sanctioning and member tracks of DIRTcar Racing is available at www.DIRTcar.com.
2009 Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series Points Standings (after 7 events):
1. Bobby Hogge IV 1,079
2. Mike Johnson 1,036
3. Chris Shannon 1,028
4. Nick Bartels 991
5. Rob Sanders 977
6. Ron Bartels 950
7. Matt Michelli 887
8. Johnny Malcolm 795
9. Richard Papenhausen 793
10. Jeff Decker 717