Former drag racer from Mooresville publishes book on surviving cancer
Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014

Former drag racer from Mooresville publishes book on surviving cancer

    Tom Johnson Sr., right, celebrates with his son, NHRA professional drag racer Tommy Johnson Jr., after one of the latter’s races.
    Tom Johnson Sr. in his home office, preparing to mail out book orders. On this day, he sent four to Hawaii and another to Washington state.
    Tommy Johnson Sr., middle, with his wife, Sarah, and the grandchildren he never would have met if he had not tried alternative treatment for his cancer after being told chemotherapy was not working and would be discontinued. The family includes three generations of racers: Johnson Sr., son Tommy Johnson Jr. and now his grandchildren, who pose by their child-sized racer.
  • Learn more:

    For information on Tommy Johnson Sr. or his book, visit or email

Tommy Johnson Sr. of Mooresville earned the nickname “Nine Lives” in 1973 after narrowly missing death in an accident during his career as a drag racer.

After extensive surgery and more than three months in the hospital, he was able to return to racing, even though he had been expected to die.

The nickname now holds even more weight than it did then: Johnson escaped death again, this time surviving colon cancer.

Johnson started to notice something was wrong when he was increasingly fatigued, to the point that he had to stop and rest at the mailbox before taking the mail back up his driveway. He was 54.

Eventually he had a colonoscopy, and a bleeding tumor was found. He was scheduled for surgery days later and started six months of chemotherapy.

After three months, he was taken off chemotherapy because his oncologist believed it was not working and that the cancer was still spreading to his liver and kidneys. Johnson was told to say goodbye to loved ones and to get his affairs in order.

He was not expected to see another Christmas; his prognosis was three months to live.

That was 15 years ago.

Now Johnson, 69, and his wife, Sarah, live near Lake Norman. His son, Tommy Johnson Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professional drag racer in the National Hot Rod Association. Tommy Johnson Jr. is sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tom Johnson Sr. also has a daughter.

He enjoys spending time with the grandchildren he never would have met if he had given up.

Johnson spent 10 years putting together a book about his experiences with cancer and alternative treatment, and he has self-published it. He believed so strongly that telling his story could help others that he sold his boat to finance the first printing of the book.

“If the book helps save one life, it will all have been worth it,” said Johnson.

Johnson tried various methods, such as hiring writers and publishing through various online sites, before finding methods he was happy with.

Today the book, “The True Story of How I Survived Absolute Terminal Cancer,” is available as an e-book and through Johnson’s website as a paperback. Johnson has the books printed at the Cornelius UPS store, where the staff helped him with indexing and cover design.

He signs and writes a message in each book sold.

The book also details the roller-coaster of emotions Johnson experienced when he was told he was going to die in three months – from crying in the doctor’s office to shock, despair, anger and even urges to go on wild shopping sprees.

He tried to reassemble his race car before his surgery “in case I died, so that someone else wouldn’t have to do it.” He believes others with cancer will be able to relate.

Though Johnson was told that self-published books sell only about 250 copies on average, his book has sold thousands of copies, he said. The first edition sold out in eight months.

Johnson often receives calls asking his advice on cancer treatment, but he can tell people only that he cannot advise them or practice medicine, and that they should read his book to learn what worked for him.

He has stopped accepting phone calls in order to prevent giving the impression that he can or will give medical advice.

“I’m not an expert. I’m just somebody who happened to be lucky enough to find something that worked for me,” said Johnson.

Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marjorie? Email her at

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more