When Gage Childers received a Junior Dragster from his grandfather for Christmas, it wasn’t unusual considering the family’s involvement in racing. But he didn’t know at the time the influence the sport would have on his schoolwork.
For the 10-year-old Mooresville resident, drag racing means more than making a run at Mooresville Dragway. It meant an opportunity to travel.
Childers is the nephew of NHRA Funny Car competitor Tommy Johnson Jr., the son of Team Penske fabricator Mike Childers and The Dale Jr. Foundation project manager Wendy Childers, and the grandson of retired drag racer Tommy Johnson.
When his uncle learned of his poor performance in school, he provided him with an incentive to improve his grades: If he made the honor roll last year, he got a two-week road trip with Johnson Jr.
Childers met his uncle’s requirements, and said the coolest part of the trip was flying on Johnson Jr.’s sponsor’s private jet to Chicago.
“We started off wrong because he got the royal treatment the first time, so now everything else is downhill,” Johnson Jr. said with a laugh.
This year, if the youngster gets straight As at Langtree Charter Academy, he will join his uncle on the NHRA’s western swing, which means traveling to Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle three straight weeks in late July and early August.
Johnson Jr. set the bar higher for his nephew because the western swing is a “tough grind.”
“It’s a neat trip, but it’s a lot of work. It’s hard,” Johnson Jr. said.
If Childers achieves the objective, Johnson Jr. is considering driving from Sonoma to Seattle so his nephew can enjoy parts of the United States he’s never seen before.
“It’s something I did when I was a kid, traveling to all the races I got to see the country,” Johnson Jr. said. “It’s a life of memories. I’ve been to 49 out of 50 states. Traveling all your life you get to see a lot of things other people don’t get to see. You want to pass that down. … There’s a lot of stuff in school they can’t teach you.”
Childers, who cites science and social studies as his toughest subjects this year, says he enjoys seeing things in the different states. And when he’s at the track, the team gives him tasks to perform, such as helping clean parts, putting items in the cabinets, and sorting nuts and bolts.
Johnson Jr. said he developed the incentive program for his nephew so he would understand that school was important.
“You have to work hard at school because it’s later in life that it’s very important that you got a good education and I wanted to make sure he had an incentive to pay attention,” he said. “If he could get good grades, there’s a reward for doing well.”
He also noted he and his nephew had always had a good relationship.
“When my sister first had a kid I think there was a bond between us because we were very similar,” Johnson Jr. said. “He’s a lot like me when I was younger. He’s kind of a mini me. It’s been fun to see that. To see his interests and his hard work that he does, I can appreciate it, because it’s the same way I did things. It’s almost scary he’s so much like me.”
Childers became interested in running a Junior Dragster at age 7. That’s when his grandfather Johnson acquired a car for Childers and gave it to him for Christmas a year later.
Now Childers splits his time between running his Junior Dragster at the Mooresville Dragway and pitching for a baseball team fielded by his hometown’s recreation department. When asked which he enjoyed more he admitted “it’s a hard choice.”
Thursday night testing at Mooresville Dragway
Mooresville Dragway is now open for testing every Thursday night. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., with on-track activity beginning at 6 p.m. The cost is $15 to test, $10 to watch.
Furr leads Top Dragster standings
After three events, Harrisburg resident Steve Furr is leading the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 2 Top Dragster standings. He is second in Super Gas. Furr won his second NHRA Division 2 title and his first in Super Gas last year. His first divisional title came in Top Dragster .
Valvoline Little 600 VIP passes on sale
The May 19 Valvoline Little 600 at Mooresville’s Go-Pro Motorplex is free to spectators. However, the race, which features several NASCAR drivers, is offering a $75 VIP package.
This package includes catered dinner, a track walk with GoPro Motorplex owner Justin Marks and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Michael McDowell, the opportunity to meet other NASCAR drivers, a reserved and covered trackside viewing area, door prizes and a TV monitor with live timing and scoring.
VIP hours are 3-9 p.m. and the experience is limited to 100 people.
Gilliland, Timm victorious in CARS season opener
Gilliland’s first late model victory occurred in a dramatic come-from-behind effort. Raleigh’s Deac McCaskill dominated the 150-lap race, but the 14-year-old Gilliland made a late race pass to lead the final two laps for the win in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour’s inaugural event. Gilliland is the son of NASCAR driver David Gilliland.
Timm, who finished second last year in the PASS South Super Late Model Series standings, led 64 laps in CARS inaugural 150-lap super late model event to kick off the season with a win. Christopher Bell finished second in a Kyle Busch Motorsports entry, while Kyle Grissom of Concord took third.
Deb Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deb? Email her at email@example.com.