Young dragster on fast track to success
PEARISBURG — There is currently only one IRHA Junior Dragster Summit SuperSeries world champion on the planet, and he just happens to reside in Giles County.
On Oct. 13, Austin Johnson won the junior division’s inaugural world championship at the Memphis International Raceway in Memphis, Tenn., by defeating Cory Tankersley of Texas in the final round of the day.
Along with the title, the 14-year-old took home close to $20,000 worth of winnings, including $3,000 cash, a diamond championship ring, a brand new custom-built Junior Dragster, and his most coveted prize — an official IHRA ironman trophy.
“That trophy, that’s one of the things I’ve always wanted,” Johnson said.
Now in his fourth year of racing, Johnson said that by the age of 10, he knew he was hooked on the sport.
“Going over here to the local track and seeing these cars got me into it,” he said. “I love watching them, and I wanted to drive one.”
To accomplish that, Johnson knew he would need the help of a quality crew chief, so he turned to a man he knew very well for assistance.
“I got my dad. He tunes the car, and I drive the car,” Austin Johnson said.
Gene Johnson, Austin Johnson’s father and crew chief, is also a teacher of small-engine repair at Bland Correctional Center. He described the junior dragsters as a half-scale version of their Top Fuel counterparts. Gene Johnson said the car’s single-cylinder engine is capable of producing from 30 to 40 horsepower and propelling the car down the 1/8-mile drag strip at just over 80 mph.
The two-man team first learned of the world-title opportunity last winter and immediately went to work hoping to qualify for the Memphis event, Gene Johnson said.
That goal came to fruition earlier this month when, representing his home track Shelor Motor Mile, Austin Johnson earned his ticket to Memphis by scoring a runner-up finish in the Division 1 Summit Team Finals at the Richmond Dragway.
Austin Johnson said he entered the international event Saturday hoping to make it through the day without making any mistakes.
That changed, however, when he revealed to his father he felt he had found the perfect spot on the grid of starting lights to focus on during the races’ countdown, allowing him to get his best jump possible.
Austin Johnson’s feeling proved to be correct, as he recorded four total wins against the field of 16 on his way to taking the title and leaving himself a bit speechless.
“There’s no words that can describe it,” Austin Johnson said.
Gene Johnson, too, seemed in shock afterward, especially when he considered the fickle nature of the small engine dragster.
“They [the dragsters] change one minute to the next,” Gene Johnson said. “You have good days and bad days and we just happened to have a fantastic day Saturday. … We were blessed.”
Though Austin Johnson felt slightly speechless about his success, he said his classmates at Giles High School were more than ready to voice their congratulations following the announcement of his championship over the school’s intercom.
A freshman, Austin Johnson said his favorite subject is math, which he one day hopes to use to design engines. For now, though, he said he is focused on racing toward becoming the second-ever Junior Dragster world champion.
Gene Johnson said his son won’t be making that run in his new custom-built trophy car.
“We want to race it one time at least, and then we’re probably going to put it in the living room,” Gene Johnson said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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