AURORA, Ill. (Oct. 31, 2006) – Coming down to the final event of the 2005/06 Toyota AMA Arenacross Series in Denver, then Yamaha’s Chad Johnson and Honda-mounted Brock Sellards (TUF Racing) battled – literally – with Johnson pulling off two high-risk moves, one of them sending Sellards flying off the track and the other securing the title when Johnson passed three top racers on one corner to win the overall crown by one point. ONE POINT! The closest title finish in the sport’s history.
In order to ensure he’s ready to defend his Toyota AMA Arenacross Series crown, Chad Johnson has again enlisted the help of longtime mentor Junior Jackson in his quest to defend his title. Teamed with Greg Schnell on new Suzuki RMZ450s, Johnson is dialed, driven and as motivated as you could imagine to bring this year’s Toyota AMA Arenacross Series title back to his native Wisconsin – a trophy he hopes to carry back from the Nashville, Tenn., AX Finals (Feb. 16-18) in the new Toyota Tacoma 4x4 pick up that Toyota will award the AMA Arenacross class’ overall champion.
Between motos today at a private facility in southern Illinois, Chad found some time to answer a few questions on the upcoming season, how he has been preparing and what he feels his chances are regarding the title defense.
Question:Chad, you chose not to contest the AMA Toyota Motocross Championships this summer, instead focusing your efforts on tuning up for the upcoming season at the Jeremy McGrath Invitational (8th) and ROCKSTAR U.S. Open (6th). How does your mindset and riding level stand here on the cusp of beginning your title defense?
Chad Johnson: “I basically forego the Nationals so I can spend more time with my family. Since then, well, me and Junior (Jackson, Chad’s team owner) have been testing non-stop. I’ve been riding with Ryan Poulter, our Lites guy. We’ve gone through so many different suspension settings, heads, pistons, pipes, clutch stuff – everything. Front forks, rear spring settings – valving – Junior’s working around the clock, which is what makes us ready.”
Question: The competition’s going to be solid this year. Who do you think is going to be there in the end?
CJ: “There’s definitely a line-up, at least 10 riders charging for the title. Danny Smith and Justin Buckelew for sure. I know they’re already going fast because we’ve been riding with them. And they should be there and ready at the first couple of rounds, which really can have a bearing on what happens at the end of the year. Kevin Johnson will be going good right away. And there’s always somebody that pops up that you really didn’t think about.”
Question: And who do you think that’d be?
CJ: “Probably the Blair brothers (Daniel & Vincent). I’ve raced with them before in supercross and they’re always fast.”
Question: What is it you enjoy most about the Toyota AMA Arenacross Series?
CJ: “I think it’s so cool that everyone gets along so well. Like us (Junior Jackson Racing) and the TUF team (TUF Racing). There’s no secrets, you just go out and run. We test together with the TUF guys and there’s no animosity. It’s just cool to hang out and stuff.”
Question: Are you pumped the series is returning to open at Des Moines?
CJ: “For sure. Wells Fargo Arena is the perfect opening round. Great crowd, draws lots of riders. And it’s close to home for me so that’s always a bonus!”
Question: You won your title with Yamaha and now you’ve moved over to Suzuki. How’s the transition between the two brands going?
CJ: “I’m real pumped with it. Greg (Schnell) and Cole (Gress, Suzuki racing manager) have known each other for a long time so that’s been helpful with the set-up process as well. We’ve been there for the last three to four years, so it’s a feather in our cap to be prepared once the season starts and not chasing after bike set-up for the first three to four rounds.”
Question: And how’s it having a teammate this year?
CJ: “Greg’s definitely been helpful. He’s always on the gas and works hard, so we’ll make a good team this year.”
Question: Finally, what are your thoughts regarding your title defense?
CJ: “As far as the title goes I want to enter the season as ready as I can be, ride aggressively and enjoy the fact I’m the one coming back with the title. Yeah, there’ll be some more pressure – a lot more pressure. But I’ll try to ignore all that and go ride my dirt bike.”