Two-time and defending AMA Arenacross Champion Chad Johnson has a big target on his back coming into the new season. A family man who lets his talking take place on the track, Johnson scored his most recent championship this past spring in Green Bay, Wisconsin – his hometown venue. Spending his summer at home in nearby Rhinelander, the 26-year-old Monster Energy Babbitt’s Kawasaki rider is now in Texas preparing for 2009.
Chad Johnson: I’m down in Texas at Underground MX just training a whole bunch and trying to get ready for the season. It’s now been a little over a month since I’ve been here with my wife, Annie, and our two daughters.
How was your summer? What all did you do?
I mostly just worked. My parents own a concrete business, so I was basically a yard guy all summer, stacking block. Whenever my wife and I weren’t at work, we were spending that time with our girls. We went out on the boat a lot and just hung out - trying to have a lot of family time. That pretty much took up my whole summer, but I also did ride a little bit.
Do you find it good for you to have some time away from racing?
Yes, right now, at this point in my life with my girls being young, and having a family business that hopefully someday I can take over, it simply makes sense to me.
At what point did you sign with Babbitt’s? Right after supercross ended?
No, actually, I didn’t sign a contract until more recently, around the middle of September. But I was talking with Denny [Bartz, team manager] a little bit throughout the summer, and eventually everything worked out well for us.
So now you’re starting to get back into your race rhythm.
Yes, that’s the main reason we came down here. We’re going to stay here for six months over the winter until the season’s finished, and then we’ll go back up north for the summer again. I actually am doing the same thing as last year. I come down to Texas and go to work - put my head down, work hard, and hopefully things go my way.
The arenacross series is starting a little bit later this year, right?
Yeah, it doesn’t start until January now. They had an open arenacross in Des Moines, but there weren’t points given, so it didn’t really count. I like the fact that they’re not going to do four rounds, then have a month off and finish out the series. I like that they’re just going to start it and run us all the way through it, although the break between the first four rounds, and the rest of the season, always gave us more opportunities to test and get ready. Hopefully we’ve been doing our homework upfront and we can come into the season on top of everything, just float through and have a good series.
You mentioned the open arenacross. Why didn’t you race it?
Well, we had talked about it a little bit, but as far as sponsorship and all that, we weren’t exactly sealed with everything just yet. Also, with the bikes being new, we were developing and testing a lot, and we just weren’t where we wanted to be at to go perform at a race.
To be honest, I’ve been trying not to think about it much. I really don’t know. I’m just focusing on riding and training, and I’m planning to go out and do what I ride and train for every day.
You likely get asked this question frequently, but who will be your primary competition in 2009?
You know, I’m sure there’ll be a handful of guys that are going good. It’s arenacross, so it always brings new riders and new faces in. Many of the same people that did well last year, like Kelly [Smith], Brock [Sellards], Robbie Reynard, and Kevin Johnson will be fast too. There are a handful of guys out there that are capable of going out and winning races. I’m sure we’ll also see some new faces coming from supercross stepping in to do some arenacrosses, but all I can do is train hard and be ready for whatever happens.
With arenacross having so many different races, how difficult is it thinking about the big picture, versus winning a race?
It’s definitely different. There’s certain races you go out and get a good holeshot, give it your all, and go for it. Then there are other races where you don’t get such a great start. You still go for it, but yet you watch yourself just to make sure you don’t put someone on the ground or have someone put you on the ground. It’s not so much you’re not feeling it, but sometimes the elements on the track are more than you can push through – even with riding at our hardest. Often an arenacross track can get to be one-line, and if everybody’s going real close to the same speed, you don’t want to do anything stupid that’ll put you on the ground. You just want to be consistent – that’s the biggest thing.
What would it mean to go out and win yet your third championship in arenacross?
You know, it would be awesome. My mechanic, Nate Vick, and I work real hard at it. We really strive to put a good training and riding program together. To go out and win it for a third time would be especially awesome. Babbitt’s put together a great program and Junior Jackson’s built excellent bikes - it would mean a lot to all of us to go out there and have another good season.
What about after arenacross? Will you do supercross like you did last year?
I’ve thought about it, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the greatest showing this past spring, so I was definitely disappointed in that. No one’s knocking on my door to go run any supercross. Right now we’ll just see what arenacross brings and how the season rolls along.