No two Championships are the same. Each has its own story line with plenty of twists and turns along the way. For Casey Johnson, the 2018 TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes title certainly is a story that will be hard to replicate.
Johnson went toe-to-toe with his teammate/car owner John Beale for the entire season and down to the last laps of a thrilling season finale. What’s more it, came in the series’ most competitive Championship battle with nine drivers separated by just 55 points entering the final event.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘tense,’” Johnson said. “When you have two cars coming out of the same shop, and you’re racing against your team owner and good buddy, it makes things really tense. I know we both really wanted it and obviously I was glad I got it. But as long as one of us got it, I was going to be happy.”
In the final laps of the second feature at Dells Raceway Park it became clear the title race would come down to Johnson and Beale. For a good portion of the race Beale had a slim lead over Johnson. At several points they were tied in the Championship standings. Eventually Johnson made the right move on a late restart and surged to a Second Place finish.
“Somehow I can remain calm in a race car. I don’t know how,” Johnson commented.
It wasn’t just Johnson who had to remain calm. He had some help in knowing when and where he needed to make his moves.
“My spotter Craig (Kowaleski) has a lot to do with it. He tries to do the math in his head and puts subtle hints out there of what I need to do,” Johnson said. “If I have to get a spot, he tells me we have to get one. If we’re way ahead he tells me just to ride.
“That’s actually what it came down to in the second feature. I think we had a car that could have won that feature. As I was running down Carson (Kvapil) at the end, he told me, ‘I know you want to win, but just hold it back.’ That’s what we did. A lot of that credit goes to Craig. He takes care of that for me and I just have to drive.”
Holding back certainly couldn’t have been easy as Johnson was chasing his first feature win of the season. Although he did claim the bonus for the overall day in Round Six, Johnson rode consistency and solid qualifying efforts to the Championship. It was the second straight year TUNDRA saw six different feature winners – none of which were the Champion.
It’s not as though Johnson didn’t have his brushes with Victory Lane. He looked as though he would cruise to victory in the second race of the season at Marshfield Motor Speedway, until a mechanical issue sidelined him with his only DNF of the campaign. Johnson also had a swift machine at Jefferson, but the rains cut the race short after he had marched his way to Fifth.
“The Marshfield race really was a punch in the gut. We had a great car and the arm in the fuel pump snapped off,” Johnson said. “Jefferson was the same. I actually think we could have won that race if it wouldn’t have been shortened because of rain. We actually brought the Chase Motorsports car there and Dennis threw the setup in the last time we won it. That thing was lights out. I just wish it would have gone a little longer.”
With a race that was so close to the end, Johnson had to wonder if those two occurrences of misfortune would end up costing him the title. As fate would have it, the playing field would stay level through most of the season with everyone having an unlucky moment or two.
“When there aren’t a ton of races you have to have a pretty good amount of consistency in the whole deal. Lucky for me everyone had their share of bad luck,” Johnson said. “It was so close at the end it was like the slate was wiped clean. It was like we were racing one race for the Championship. Everyone was that close. I think a lot of that is credited to the rule package. The way it works with cost efficient items and the way you can put your cars together it really narrowed up the competition and made a lot of teams that much stronger.”
Emerging as a two-time TUNDRA Champion was another feather in the cap for Johnson in 2018. He also topped a competitive weekly Thursday night field, claiming the Fox River Racing Club Championship at Wisconsin International Raceway. Taking a quick moment to reflect, the success seams surreal to Johnson.
“I remember telling my dad when I got in a Limited Late Model and was just starting out – I was watching a Super Late Model race at Jefferson – I told him ‘man, one day I’d really like to get in a Super Late.’ With our funding there was no way we were really going to be able to do it,” Johnson said.
But with success came opportunity. Johnson won races and titles at Jefferson, turning plenty of heads along the way. Soon the Super Late Model opportunities opened up. Soon the wins came. Now the titles are coming. However, there is no rest, and Johnson is far from satisfied.
“My biggest problem now is that you win one, then you forget about it so fast because you want to win the next one,” Johnson said. “I’ve never had time to actually reflect on my goals, but I always know whatever I’m competing in the following year, it’s not a complete goal unless I win the Championship. As long as I’m racing, my goals aren’t fulfilled because I have to just keep winning.”
Where Johnson has taken some satisfaction is in his role as a Crew Chief/mentor to John Beale. Beale was just a rookie two season ago and now is emerging as threat at every race. This year he was Johnson’s main title threat down to the final laps of the season.
“The things he’s been able to accomplish, I do take pride in that,” Johnson said. “I can tell I definitely care about it because he’ll be out there racing and when I was his Crew Chief I would just walk in circles. I’d be more nervous watching him race than racing myself. Obviously, there is a lot of pride in the whole operation that he’s let me help put together.”
The operation grew to include Johnson as a driver again in 2018. Beale had commented before the season that he knew if he didn’t put Johnson back in a car, someone else might. Because of the bond they forged last season, the transition back to driver – or at least adding that role back to everything else – was not a problem.
“We just got right back in stride,” Johnson said. “He put together a really nice operation for me to work out of. It’s like I never really got out. We didn’t skip a beat and I just went back racing.”
Ultimately Johnson believes the team still has plenty of room to grow but has hit a major milestone. It’s a milestone that may not be replicated. However, it sounds like they may be ready to give it a shot in 2019.
“I told him that the 1-2 in TUNDRA points was a big step in the right direction for our program,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some planning to do for next year, but we know there will be one – if not two – in TUNDRA next year.”
TUNDRA will honor Johnson as a two-time Champion at the Awards Banquet at Ho-Chunk Wisconsin Dells on Saturday, December 8. The banquet will also include the Wisconsin Challenge Series and Central Wisconsin Racing Association. Attendee information is available at the TUNDRA web site.
The 2019 TUNDRA schedule is being finalized and announcements regarding it will be made in the weeks leading up to the banquet.
The Unified Northern Drivers Racing Association (TUNDRA) Super Late Model Series was formed in 2011 as the Alive For Five Super Late Model Series at Dells Raceway Park. TUNDRA’s business plan is based on a sustainable program for promoters and race teams alike, while still providing high-quality Super Late Model entertainment to fans.
For more information on TUNDRA including news, results and the final 2018 standings, archived results and standings, and more visit www.tundrasuperlates.com. Also, interact with us on Facebook (facebook.com/TundraSuperLateModels) or Twitter (@TUNDRAslms).