Sportsmanship runs from asphalt to dirt

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2004

For Jimmy Johnson, racing isn't about winning. It's about the good, clean fun of the sport.

That drive was displayed two weeks ago when Johnson was named Sportsman of the Year by the staff of the Butler County Motorsports Park.

"At the pit meeting Mr. Bo said I need the top from each class and Jimmy Johnson," said Johnson.

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"I thought to myself what have I done now. But, the entire family knew it but no one told me a thing in the world about it. It was quite an honor."

At the Oct. 16 race, Bo Thagard, owner of Butler County Motorsportspark, presented the points champions with their trophy and prize money which equaled to two dollars a point.

"It was voted on by the employees of the track," Thagard said. "The girls that keep the score, the boys that work in the pits and myself did the voting. Jimmy was an easy choice because he's just a super nice guy and gives no one no problems. He's just he type of guy that you want to do business with every Saturday night."

Johnson finished six points out of third place in the novice class.

"We just didn't tell him that he had won until that night," Thagard said.

"We picked him the week before. It wasn't a hard decision because he is such an outstanding guy. He can keep his cool, don't get mad and if something don't suit him you don't know it."

The novice crown was won by Wayne Morris of Mobile.

"The sportsman award meant as much to Mr. Bo to give it as it did to me to receive it," said Johnson.

"It's the second one I've received in the eight years I've raced here. It really means a lot to me."

Johnson participated in several races this season and but couldn't find his way into the winner's circle.

The No. 96 car recorded three third place finishes in heat races and then three third places in feature races.

"We are still struggling to get into the winner's circle," Johnson said.

Johnson began his racing career on the asphalt tracks of Ariton in 1975.

"I realized that with a young family I couldn't continue racing and provide a living," Johnson said.

Although he had taken a hiatus from the track, he was still a fan of the sport.

The short break from the track that began in the early 70's lasted until the early 90's.

Johnson partnered with longtime-friend Charles Compton and got a car.

"The deal was that I was going to sponsor him," Johnson said.

"I sponsored him in 1994 and 1995. But, he was getting married so that put me back into the driver's seat."

Compton hasn't left the track though, he is still involved with the Johnson team.

He's Johnson's wrenchman and chief mechanic.

"He and I are about the same age, had kids that went to school about the same and we enjoy each other's company," Johnson said.

While Compton does the wrench work on the red, white and blue 1981 Camero, he gets his engines built by Billy Pilcher in Enterprise.

"If Mr. Bo keeps the track going as well next year as he did this year, we'll probably be back," Johnson said.

"Maybe with some new fenders. We take a lot of pride in our car. The people at the Butler County Sports Park do a great job and I enjoy participating in the races."

Another interesting thing about Johnson is that he shares the name of another famous Johnson.

His namesaked counterpart is Jimmie Johnson the professional racer that drives for NASCAR and is a part of the NEXTEL Cup series.

"I've got a lot of laughs about it," Johnson said.

"Several people tell their friends that they know Jimmy Johnson that races. We spell our first name's a little different but our last names are the same. It's just something to laugh about. I've had comments made to me about how do I race on Saturday nights and then make it to Martinsville, Talladega or Dayton on Sundays. I have to explain to them that it's a different person"

Despite the fourth place finish Johnson and his crew are set for next year's action.

"Next year may be our year. I told Bo that we are still striving," Johnson said.

"We have had one feature win in six or seven years. It was first of the season before the fast cars got to the track."

Johnson is married to Linda Lowman Johnson, his high school sweetheart from Dozier High School. They have two children.

Their son Steven is in the logging business with his dad and their daughter Candace is married to Michael Strickland and stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga.

They have five grandchildren.