Clovis Driver Mike Johnson among Favorites at Chowchilla CLOVIS, Calif. (May 1, 2004) -- When Mike Johnson arrives at Chowchilla Speedway and begins pre-race preparations for the May 8 Central Valley Late Model Challenge, he'll be secure in the...
Clovis Driver Mike Johnson among Favorites at Chowchilla
CLOVIS, Calif. (May 1, 2004) -- When Mike Johnson arrives at Chowchilla Speedway and begins pre-race preparations for the May 8 Central Valley Late Model Challenge, he'll be secure in the knowledge that he's been undefeated at the track since winning there on July 1, 2001.
Admittedly, that is partially because the CarQuest Western Xtreme DirtCar Series has not raced at Chowchilla since that date. But the recently renamed series returns to Chowchilla this year and Johnson will be among the favorites to win.
Johnson, of Clovis, has won 15 dirt late model races since then but the victory at Chowchilla was special.
"This was our first late model win, so you always remember that," Johnson said. "We had won the modified championship at Chowchilla the year before."
The CarQuest series is reaping the benefits of the recent renaissance in dirt late model racing. It is one of four regional series in the Xtreme DirtCar organization, which also includes the national Stacker 2 Xtreme DirtCar Series. The Carquest series champion earns an automatic berth in the national championship event in Knoxville, Iowa in October.
"That's one of the reasons we aligned our series with the Xtreme organization, it offers our teams the chance to compete on the national stage," said Sandy Bainton, Director of the Carquest Series.
Another change for 2004 is the mandated change to Goodyear tires for all Xtreme series. For months, racing trade papers and websites were abuzz with talk about Xtreme's decision to bring in Goodyear. But once the racing started, the talk turned to other matters because the tires have worked well and the drivers have been happy.
"They're pretty good," said Johnson. "They have more forward bite."
While the CarQuest series teams have a grace period during which they can use up their inventory of tires from the previous suppliers, all teams must use the Goodyear right rear tire. Most Carquest series teams have used Goodyears on all four corners since the start of the season. The Chowchilla race will be the third of the season for the series. Johnson downplays any advantage the local knowledge gives him and his Steiner Development Chevrolet team.
"Maybe we have a little advantage, since we have so many laps there," he said. "But it's been three years since we've raced there and it looks like the track has changed a little bit, just from watching races there. So I think everybody is going in even."
Johnson is sixth in the standings after two races. He warned that John Silva, the defending series champion from Fremont, Devon Crockett, of Arroyo Grande, Camarillo's Phil Barrow and Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas should be among the top contenders.
"Really, anybody can step up at anytime," Johnson said. "Probably 12 --15 guys can win this thing."
Johnson, 33, is an engine and transmission mechanic at Hedrick's Chevrolet in Clovis.