Clint Johnson came into the 2019 race season with three goals in mind: He wanted to win track championships in the B-modifieds divisions at Salina Highbanks Speedway and Thunderbird Speedway, and he wanted to win a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II national championship.
By the end of September, he had accomplished all three.
Johnson, a 26-year-old from Neosho, Missouri, is in just his second full season driving a race car. He spent 12 years of his life racing motocross across the country, but gave it up when he started having kids and wanted a safer means of competing on the track.
It didn’t take him long to find comfort on the dirt, though. Johnson picked up his first win in the final race of the 2018 season, and finished tied for 5th in the national points.
"Last year I was still learning a lot so I made a bunch of rookie mistakes," Johnson said.
The late win motivated Johnson for 2019. This year he won 13 races between Salina, a high-banked clay 0.375-mile oval track in Pryor, Oklahoma, and Thunderbird, a half-mile dirt oval in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He had 20 top-5 finishes in 24 races this year, winning the national title by 12 points.
The win was made even more special by the fact that Johnson struggled in the final two races of the season, flipping a car in the penultimate race and blowing an engine in the finale.
He didn’t know for sure he had the national championship won until he actually got the call.
"The guys who were in second and third, I kind of paid attention to them and I knew the last weekend they had to win to beat me, the way the points system worked, and they didn’t, so I figured I was okay but I didn’t know," he said. "It was a rough last two weekends but I guess we managed to pull it out.
"It was awesome. We’ve worked so hard this year. Not just me, my wife, my dad, my whole family, they’re a big part of it. All my friends, everyone that came out and helped, it was a big relief."
After Johnson’s decade in motocross he knew what it takes away from the track to be successful – all the long nights, hard work, and travel. Even though it’s a different vehicle, he still has that same feeling on the track he’s always had.
"I’m passionate about racing," he said. "I knew what I was getting into. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sit on the couch during the week and go racing on the weekend. I knew it was going to be another full time job on top of my full time job so I was kind of prepared for it, but it is a lot of work."
It was important to be ready for hard work given how lofty Johnson’s goals were. The key, he said, was staying focused and smart and not folding under pressure.
And while he’s extremely competitive, he also makes sure to not take the sport too seriously. He goes after goals, but also keeps racing fun.
"I don’t get aggravated like I did when I was younger in motocross," he said. "I try to set a good example for my kids when they get older and they get into their sports. They’re still young but I want to be professional and show them it’s really O.K. to lose. We’re just out here to have fun. So that helps me for sure."
Racing is also something he can share with his sons, who are 2, 4, and 7 years old. His oldest and has a dirt bike he rides around the yard. Johnson’s middle son, Landon, is really involved with the race car.
"Every time I’m in the shop he always gets a wrench or he always want to work on it so I let him," Johnson said. "It’s really good for them. It keeps them off the video games and cell phones."
The season isn’t over for Johnson. He’ll race a few more times this years in Arizona and New Mexico before putting the car to rest for 2019.
But for now, Johnson is basking in his national championship and reaching all the goals he wrote down at the beginning of the year.
"We set a goal and we accomplished it all," Johnson said. "That doesn’t always happen. I’m fortunate."
Johnson scored 470 national points for the NWAAS championship. Alby Ovitt, driving at Star, Lee, and Hudson Speedways in New Hampshire, was second with 458 points, and Tom Fearn, from Stafford Speedway, was third with 452.
NASCAR uses a driver’s best 14 finishes from any sanctioned track in North America to determine the National Champion for Division II through V. Drivers receive two points for every NASCAR-licensed competitor they finish ahead of, up to 16 cars; and can receive two bonus points for winning from a starting position five through eight, and four points for winning from ninth or further back. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is determined by a driver’s best 14 finishes, regardless of division, before their 18th birthday.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions will be joined by the U.S. state and Canadian province champions, track champions and other special award winners on Saturday, Nov. 23, as part of NASCAR Awards Charlotte.