World of Outlaws Family Remembers Founder Ted Johnson Ted Johnson and the World of Outlaws. It's pretty hard to say one without at least thinking of the other. That's as much a tribute to the man as it is the racing series he created. Johnson...
World of Outlaws Family Remembers Founder Ted Johnson
Ted Johnson and the World of Outlaws. It's pretty hard to say one without at least thinking of the other. That's as much a tribute to the man as it is the racing series he created.
Johnson dedicated his life to sprint car racing, taking the sport to heights not previously imagined. He assembled the greatest collection of sprint car drivers in the world and helped them enjoy careers entertaining fans across the United States and around the world. Through the World of Outlaws, Johnson has impacted thousands of sprint car racers and created national heroes out of the best of the best during the past 30 years.
On Friday night in Texas, Johnson, 72, finally lost his hard-fought battle with cancer.
Born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Beloit, Wis., Johnson developed a passion for motor sports early in his childhood as he watched his father race motorcycles.
Johnson, who briefly drove a midget before settling into a career as a china salesman, never could shake the racing bug and in 1978 he unveiled the World of Outlaws, a collection of the biggest names in sprint car racing that traveled around the country trying to swipe purses from local competitors. The series drew huge crowds, attracted national television audiences and major sponsorship all while competing nearly 100 times a year with Johnson calling the shots every step of the way.
He continued to operate the series until selling it in 2004 to DIRT MotorSports. Even then Johnson found himself involved with the World of Outlaws as an advisor and confidant to those now making decisions.
"Ted Johnson gave all he had to make the World of Outlaws the premier dirt racing series in the world," DIRT MotorSports President and CEO Tom Deery said. "It's up to us as fans and competitors to continue to carry on his legacy. It's not something we take lightly, which is why on Sunday at the World of Outlaws banquet in Las Vegas we will introduce the Ted Johnson Award in recognition of an outstanding contribution to sprint car racing."
Carlton Reimers, who is married to Johnson's daughter, Lesa, has been a World of Outlaws official for more than 15 years, including his current role as Series Director. He spoke of Johnson's love for the sport and its fans.
"It's not possible to think of Ted Johnson and not think of the World of Outlaws and sprint car racing," Reimers said. "He dedicated a tremendous amount of time, energy and resolve to the sport, but above all else Ted was sprint car racing's biggest fan. He loved the sport and those associated with it. Our family wishes to express its heartfelt thanks for all the kind thoughts and prayers we have received. The racing community has truly lost one of its friends."
Steve Kinser, a 20-time champion with the World of Outlaws, raced with Johnson from the series' inaugural event nearly 30 years ago in Texas.
"Ted and I had been together since 1978 when we ran the first race down at Devil's Bowl," Kinser said. "We've been through a lot of stuff together. I started with him with the World of Outlaws when he had a dream of taking a sanctioning body and making it national, which he did. He had a lot of good times of doing it and a lot of rough times, but overall he enjoyed it. He enjoyed getting to the races and being around he racers and the race fans. He did what he enjoyed and did a good job with the organization. We did a lot of traveling together. I supported him for a lot of years and he supported me. We've always been good friends and we had a lot of good times over the years. I've been talking to him about three or four times a day lately and I'm going to miss him.
"Probably the most fun we had was when we started the organization, running up and down the road in a duallie pickup. It was some of the harder times, but it was still some of the most fun. We had a lot of memorable times together, especially when we first started up dealing with Lanny Edwards at Devil's Bowl and Earl Baltes at Eldora, and some of the earlier guys me and him, Lee Osborne, Bobby Allen, Rick Ferkel and all of us. We had a great time driving around. We had arguments, but we had a lot of fun. Me and Ted and a lot of guys over the years that ran this thing had a lot of good times that will never be forgotten."
Reaction from many of those whose lives were impacted by Johnson came quickly.
"TJ and I have been good friends since the mid-'70s," said long-time promoter John Padjen of Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif. "We talked every day, even yesterday. I have lost a great friend with his passing. Ted certainly brought sprint car racing where it is today. He will be greatly missed. Rest in peace TJ."
"He did more for sprint car racing than anybody ever did for racing," said Rick Ferkel, one of the original Outlaws. "Before the World of Outlaws started, he would actually pay some of us to come to a racetrack and he'd just be in the stands watching. Then he decided to be a promoter and he did it right. We pulled into Shreveport and he had the cops escort us to the hotel. The cops pulled up behind us and we thought we were getting a ticket and instead they escorted us. That's the way Ted was. He did it right. Ted just loved the racers. He started the World of Outlaws because he loved racing. He would have been a multimillionaire if he didn't give so much to the racers. He was probably one of the sport's biggest fans."
"Ted had a vision," said DIRT MotorSports VP Race Operations Shane Carson, who earned a victory in the inaugural World of Outlaws season. "We had races running everywhere and he got everybody together to put sprint car racing on the map. It's a sad day."
"Ted was the man who made the racing series I used to sit in the stands as a kid and watch, wanting to be one of those guys they considered an Outlaw," said Donny Schatz, who is closing in on the first World of Outlaws championship of his career. "From the day I came out here in 1997, he made you earn your spot. He made you earn his respect, and I think we earned it. He disappeared out of the picture for a couple of years [after selling the series] and I got to know him a little better after he came back. Sometimes when you mix racing and friendship in life it can be a sticky situation, but I got to know him very well since he stepped back from the World of Outlaws and became a consultant for the series. It allowed me to know him a little bit better and to understand why he did the things he did. There is no replacement for him. There is absolutely nobody who can be as big a fan as he was, as big a dictator and put on the shows that he put on. He's probably the biggest asset sprint car racing ever had. Without him it would have never reached the level it did."
"He is a big influence on my racing," said Danny Lasoski, the 2001 World of Outlaws champion. "He was the one who talked me into taking a chance and doing this for a living way back when I was building bullets (for the U.S. Army). I owe that guy a debt of gratitude that I don't think I can repay. I hope I have the desire to love the sport when I'm 70 like he did. He's going to be dearly missed and my heart goes out to his family."
"I think Ted meant something different to everybody," said Daryn Pittman, the winner on Friday night at Manzanita Speedway. "The bottom line is, Ted formed the World of Outlaws and basically has given a whole lot of people with an ability to drive a sprint car a very good living. He's given a lot people chances. He built a big enough business that will hopefully allow people to keep making a living. Obviously he loved the sport and had a passion for it."
"Ted built the World of Outlaws to be what it is today," said driver Craig Dollansky. "He was great for the sport of sprint car racing and racing as a whole. It's a sad day for auto racing."
Johnson is survived by his wife, Stacy, as well as his son Rick, his daughter, Lori, his daughter, Lesa, and three grandsons. Services are still being determined.