AURORA, Ill., (Jan. 24, 2007) – Defending Toyota AMA Arenacross Series champion. That’s got a nice ring to it, eh? Junior Jackson Racing/Suzuki’s Chad Johnson thinks so, and he’s looking to keep that title attached to his name here for at least another year.
Not many motocross titles have been won out of the state of Wisconsin. In fact, flipping through the AMA MX/SX media guide, pretty much none had (unless you count Suzuki quad racer Doug Gust). So Chad Johnson, 26, is the very first racer to win a major motocross title from the state of Wisconsin. (Editor’s note: Since there are three “Johnsons” in the top five in the Toyota AMA Arenacross Series standings, including brothers Keith and Kevin, from here on in we’ll refer to Chad by his first name.)
Low key, quiet, seemingly humble - but faster than you can believe - Chad began his national arenacross series racing career in 2001 at age 19. Finishing ninth his first year, Chad continued to improve and gain speed, finishing in the top 10 overall through 2004. His breakout year on the national arenacross circuit came in 2005 when he made the podium, finishing third overall. The following year he’d go on to win the Toyota AMA Arenacross Series’ overall AMA Arenacross class title by an exciting one point over veteran Brock Sellards, the closest title finish ever in Toyota AMA Arenacross Series history.
This year Chad and his racing mentor, Junior Jackson, came into the season completely prepared to defend the title – at least physically and mentally. What they didn’t count on were some set up issues in the first couple rounds. As near as anybody can figure this, not to mention the spike in the AMA Arenacross class talent, led to some poor starts and some very un-Chad-like results.
Over the month-long holiday break Chad and Jackson would buckle down, sort out everything that needed adjusting and come back guns-a-blazin’ to the Charlotte round that opened the second portion of the Toyota AMA Arenacross Series season. Chad won the Saturday AMA Arenacross class round in Charlotte, backed that up with another Saturday win in Baltimore, then won this past Friday in Dayton.
With the back-to-back-to-back wins, Chad hacked a giant chunk out of Toyota AMA Arenacross Series points leader Danny Smith’s overall lead – which at one time stood at 28 points. Heading into this weekend Chad has climbed from as far back as sixth early in the season to second, just 13-points behind Smith.
Married with two kids, Chad is pretty quiet when hanging out in the pits. The kind of guy that lets his racing do the talking. But seeing as how this is an interview, and we need to get some answers out of him, we enlisted the help of Junior Jackson Racing/Suzuki’s PR person, Lizabeth Cartwright, to get Chad talking. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: How are you liking when Tim Cotter announces you as the "Defending Toyota AMA Arenacross Champion" during opening ceremonies?
Chad Johnson: “I like it. Any time I hear or see it in print ‘Chad Johnson’ associated with the word ‘Champion,’ it reminds me of how hard we worked and trained to achieve that goal in the 2005-‘06 season. That championship was very special for our entire team, and it's something we are all extremely proud of. But it's a new season and we are focused on our current championship goal.”
Question: Talk about the importance of Junior Jackson to your racing career.
Chad: “Junior is extremely important! We have spent so much time together throughout my career that when we are testing and on the racetrack he can give me pointers that no one else can. His extreme confidence level is a great motivational tool for my success. It really comes down to trust with Junior and me. He truly believes in my ability to stay focused and do the things it takes to win championships. As you probably know, Junior is no stranger to championships. He knows how to win, and I completely trust Junior's judgment about the bike setups and my riding. We listen to each other because we know we are both working toward the same goal. That kind of working relationship is difficult to find.”
Question: The competition's been tough this year. You started out slowly, but have picked things up lately to pull within 13 points of Danny Smith. What were the things you did in order to put the Junior Jackson Racing/Suzuki back up on the podium?
Chad: "We made some minor adjustments to the bike that accommodated my riding style and starts. My starts in the first half of the season were not as good as we wanted. And everyone knows, starts are critical in Toyota AMA Arenacross Series for winning. So over the break we worked very hard on my starts. In the second half of the season my starts have been much better, and of course my finishes have been better as well. It's always satisfying when you see your hard work is paying off. And standing on the podium is a great reward for the hard work. "
Question: Do you feel the title is going to be won on Saturday night in Nashville?
Chad: “Well, I hope I have a nice comfortable lead by then (laughter)! But seriously, just like last year, the points chase could be a pretty close battle coming down to the last event. Due to the parallel rounds, certain riders might sneak off to a little lead and there could always be a surprise or two from an unexpected rider. This makes for a great race season for the fans. There is no runaway leader and the championship is up for grabs by a handful of riders. The fans are in for some great racing over the next few rounds and possibly an incredible finish in Nashville.”
Question: What's it going to take on your end to defend that title?
Chad: “You hear Pro athletes talk a lot about ‘Focus.’ The reason they talk about it so much is because it's essential in order to be a champion in any sport. It means you must concentrate all of your energy and attention towards your goal. And my goal is making the podium every night. Let's face it; the top riders are all very, very good. But at this stage of the season there is no room for injuries, mistakes or mental breakdowns. I feel great going into the last rounds being so close to first place. As the past champion, I know what it takes to get there, and I don't plan to give up until I'm there again.”
Thanks, Chad. Good luck in Denver this weekend!
For more information regarding the racing coming to Denver and Louisville, Ky., this weekend, the current series’ point standings and results, or the latest news on the series are all available at www.arenacross.com.