Lake Norman & Mooresville

Johnson brothers find home racing off-road trucks

Jessie Johnson, right, says he and older brother, Jarit, have developed a close relationship working on race cars and off-road trucks together.
Jessie Johnson, right, says he and older brother, Jarit, have developed a close relationship working on race cars and off-road trucks together. COURETESY OF TORC

After moving to North Carolina from California, brothers Jarit and Jessie Johnson competed briefly in asphalt racing before deciding to return to their family’s racing roots – the rough and tumble world of off-road trucks.

“It fits us better,” Jessie, a Cornelius resident, said. “We grew up in California riding dirt bikes in the desert and driving off-road cars, dune buggies – all that stuff. We’ve always been huge fans of it. It’s like a community of racers and after the races, no matter what happens, we all sit down, barbecue together, hang out. It’s a good time.”

The younger brothers of NASCAR six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson now call The Off-Road Championship Series their racing home. And when TORC made its annual appearance at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this month both produced top-10 finishes. On the first night, Jarit finished fifth in the Pro 2WD class, while Jessie placed sixth in Pro Light. On the second night, both recorded fourth-place finishes in their respective classes.

“Being able to work with Jarit at the track is pretty cool,” the 26-year-old Jessie said. “We’ve gotten really close over the years building race cars together.”

By the time the 2015 season concludes in Crandon, Wis., Sept. 5-6, the Johnsons will have competed in 10 of the 16 events this season. They reduced their races due to funding and the desire to develop their trucks for 2016. Jessie also needed to recover from a broken hand he suffered when he punched a metal door.

A full-time employee of Honda Cars of Rock Hill, S.C., Jessie began racing dirt bikes at age 4. At age 12, he turned to Bandoleros in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout Series and eventually moved into Legend cars. By age 15 he was competing in a late model truck and then quickly advanced to limited late models. However, he then took a break from racing for a couple of years. When he returned at age 20 it was in off-road racing where he has now competed for five years, two of them in TORC.

Like his younger brother, Jarit began racing motorcycles at age 4 before gravitating into off-road. After moving east from El Cajon, Calif., the 36-year-old Jarit competed in the limited late model division at Hickory Motor Speedway. He finished second in the standings in 2007. The Hickory events marked the only time Jarit and Jessie have raced against each other.

“When I moved here (North Carolina) I was chasing the asphalt dream, trying to eventually make it to (Sprint) Cup or the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series,” said Jarit, who resides in Mooresville. “I figured Hickory was a good starting spot. We had great success up there.”

In 2005, Jarit made his ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuts. He then competed in one Xfinity Series race in 2008. That same year he made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut. However, Jarit soon returned to off-road racing, citing the family environment, the cost and the lack of opportunities in the various NASCAR series for his decision. Today, Jarit operates his own fabrication business in Troutman where the off-road team of Jarit Johnson Racing is based.

“We’re adrenalin junkies and we love racing,” said Jarit, who’s now in his third off-road season.

Jessie said it’s advantageous for the brothers to race in different series. He said their driving styles are similar and by them competing in different classes they can watch and critique each other. Jessie elected to compete in Pro Light, where the trucks have close to 500 horsepower, because he had never driven anything bigger. Jarit had raced in the more powerful trucks. Jessie eventually wants to move into the Pro 2 trucks, which have about 900 horsepower. Jessie would like to see Jarit advance to Pro 4, but Jarit believes the two-wheel drive trucks in Pro 2 are a better fit for his driving style.

“I like the challenge of having to be really aggressive to drive one,” Jarit said.

Jarit noted truck preparation at the shop was the key to winning an off-road event due to their roughness.

“We don’t take these things home after a weekend and just wash them off,” Jarit said. “Everything gets serviced. It takes two weeks to get a truck ready to race. These trucks take a big beating.”

Cruise-In

Officials of Mooresville’s GoPro Motorplex have scheduled a “Victory Lap Cruise-In” for 5-9 p.m. Aug. 11. The event will be in the facility’s parking lot.

Food vendors will be on the property along with live music and raffle prizes. Rental kart races will be $15 for those in attendance who are age 16 and older. All of the vehicles participating in the cruise-in will have the option to take a parade lap around the 0.7-mile, 11-turn track from 8-9 p.m. There will not be an admission fee.

Cindric Establishes Record

Sixteen-year-old Austin Cindric became the youngest driver ever to win a Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race when he and Jade Buford emerged victorious in the recent event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.

It was the first time the Mooresville resident had been given the opportunity to finish an event in the series and he charged to the front after taking over the ride from co-driver Buford. Cindric took the lead for good on lap 64 when he passed Matt Plumb. Plumb challenged Cindric down the stretch, but came up short by 4.703 seconds at the finish. The winning duo drove a Ford Shelby.

Bohn Snares First Win of Season

Mooresville resident Danny Bohn claimed his first modified victory this season at Bowman Gray Stadium in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 100 earlier this month.

Bohn won the historic track’s modified championship last year. Joe Ryan Osborne of Kannapolis finished 10th in the event.

Deb Williams is a freelance writer: dwilliamscltobs@gmail.com.

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