Might Take a Plane, Might Take a Train, but if He Has To Walk, He’s Going Just the Same
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 17, 2011) – Jimmie Johnson is going to Kansas City. Kansas City here he comes. And this weekend, it’s safe to say he is looking forward to returning to the track where he is the defending race-winner. His October 2011 victory at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City happened at an opportune time in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but just like the University of Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, which resides about 30 miles west of the speedway on I-70, the win wasn’t enough to pull off another championship.
But Johnson’s stats in Kansas, like the Jayhawks, are impressive, and include multiple championships, like the Jayhawks. What few may not remember was that those championships would not have happened without the help of some local businessmen. Brothers Stan and Randy Herzog, owners of a St. Joseph, Mo.-based company, were Johnson’s early team owners in his off-road racing days.
Johnson originally met Randy while he did some occasional television reporting during his SODA (Short-course, Off-road Driver’s Association) Series days. The meeting would be the start of a partnership that would bring Johnson, the Herzogs and Chevrolet together. Johnson was hired to drive for the Herzogs in the SODA Series for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
In 1998, Johnson and the Herzogs would graduate to the ASA (American Speed Association) Series. The Herzogs needed someone to drive Johnson’s now vacated truck. The last name above the window of the off-road buggy didn’t change as Johnson’s mentor and friend Rick Johnson (no relation) was hired. That year, the mentor would win the SODA Pro-2 championship and the young protégé would win ASA Rookie of the Year honors for the Herzogs.
Young Johnson also ran two Nationwide Series races in addition to the full ASA season that year. The races would set up the Herzogs and Johnsons eventual entry into the series full-time in 2000. (An interesting side note: during the 1999 ASA season, current No. 48 Sprint Cup car chief Ron Malec was the crew chief for Rick Johnson and Howey Lettow was crew chief for the younger Johnson.)
A fortuitous and now somewhat famous meeting with Jeff Gordon would end the partnership with the Herzogs but not Johnson’s gratitude for what the brothers did for his career.
The former team owners and driver maintain their relationship today with the Herzogs being generous supporters of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports: www.twitter.com/jimmiejohnson, www.twitter.com/lowesracing and www.twitter.com/teamhendrick
What is it you like about Kansas?
“I like the options, we can run anywhere. It has just been a strong track for me through the years. It’s a lot like Chicago, which is another real strong track for me. There are just certain tracks that just kind of click. Kansas has been one of those for me.”
It meant a lot to you last year when you won at Kansas Speedway. Can you talk about how cool that might be to score Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th win there?
“Yeah, I mean, whenever it happens is going to be very special for the company. Again, I just want to win. I don’t care where it is, whatever reason. There are 36, 38 of these things a year, and I want to take home a bunch of trophies. Second is nice, but winning is everything. At Martinsville, we had that warm, fuzzy feeling there. It’s nice to go to tracks where you know you’re going to run well, and you go down there with high hopes but, unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee much.”
How instrumental were Stan and Randy Herzog to your career?
“I wouldn’t be in stock cars today if it wasn’t for them. It was really a combination of Herb Fishel from Chevrolet, myself and the Herzogs. Herb had a vision, and he was trying to bring along not only future Cup drivers but team owners, as well. Together, we (the Herzogs and himself) were very strong and were coming up through the ranks. In 2000, when we started in Nationwide, we were discussing how we might pick up a chassis or two for Cup and start getting our toes wet in the Cup series, and then I had my meeting with Jeff. But there is no way that I would be where I am today without the Herzogs.”
Have you tried Kansas City barbecue?
“Of course I’ve tried it. I love it. It’s my kind of barbecue. I like the spicy kind of barbecue sauce. In fact, it’s what I buy when we go to the grocery store. I have Kansas City barbecue sauce on my bus every weekend.”