Rainouts are never what a driver wants in the middle of a season and a tight points race. But East Carolina Motor Speedway’s Wesley Johnson has made the best of the situation and used the extra time to his benefit he tries for his fifth late model championship at the track.
Two weeks ago, Johnson was racing at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina. On the first lap of the second race he was involved in a wreck that bent the front of his car and tore the fuel cell out. He and his team have been working daily to get the car ready to take it back to their home track of East Carolina, a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned 0.375-mile asphalt tri-oval track in Robersonville, North Carolina.
The weekend after the wreck they were supposed to race at ECMS, but it was rained out, giving Johnson’s team an extra week to get the car back in top shape. The car would have been ready to go for last weekend, but another rain actually bought them a little more time.
“It’s gave us some extra time,” Johnson said. “We’ll be ready.”
East Carolina has two races remaining the next two weekends, and Johnson is currently in second in the track’s late model standings, 18 points out of first place.
It’s been six years since Johnson last won a title at East Carolina. He’s been racing there since he was 12 years old, spending four years in the track’s pure stock 4-cylinder kid’s class, where he won two track championships, and the last 12 years in a late model.
EAST CAROLINA STANDINGS
- Thomas Burbage Ldr
- Wesley Johnson -18
- Jeff Shiflett -22
- Kenneth Mercer -22
- Louis White -48
Johnson’s dad worked on another driver’s crew in the early ’90s, but never actually drove himself. Johnson is the first in his family to actually get behind the wheel of a race car.
“I just grew up loving racing,” Johnson said. “Ever since I was one week old they had me at the racetrack and when I got to the age where I could do it I told them I wanted a car and they got me one.
“I had a good friend of ours that raced. He got me out there in a truck and kind of showed me how to drive the track and all. And I went from there and had a few other people help me as I moved up into late models. But for the most part I just learned it over the years myself.”
The first year in a late model was a real struggle for Johnson and his crew. They blew up “a motor or two” and also got in a few wrecks.
It was midway through the second year when he started to hit his stride.
“We finally got a hang of it and we had a bunch of good years,” Johnson said. “Then the past few years we got where we stated struggling a little bit but I think we’re starting to turn it around now. Starting to get back to where we need to be.”
Most of the work to the car is done by Johnson and his dad, with his uncle helping out some too, and two friends who help out at the track. Johnson helps on the crew of a driver who races another division at East Carolina, and that driver’s crew helps him out during the week too.
It’s that give-and-take, the camaraderie, that makes racing special for Johnson.
“We’ve got a lot of good people at the track that are willing to do anything you need,” he said. “Even competitors. There isn’t anybody out there that if they come to our trailer or we go to to their trailer to ask them if they have any tools or somethings going on, if they’ve got it they normally let us get it. So ti’s good sportsmanship that I like about it. You make good friends when you do go travel other places and all. It’s just a good sport. Everybody likes to help out each other.”
Johnson also has a great support system at home.
“Just team dedication. I’ve got good family support,” he said. “My parents, if it weren’t for them I couldn’t do this. They push me to do the best I can every week. And my wife and my kids. I’ve just got a good support system that keeps me going and we do the best we can each week.”
The key the rest of the way, Johnson said, is simply getting a better handle on the car. He knows being 18 points out of first will be a tough hill to climb with just two races remaining, and it will take a lot of hard work to get there, plus a little bit of luck.
No matter what happens, he’s just hoping to finish the season on a good note.
“The main thing right now is after wrecking the car the last time out we’re just hoping to get a good grasp on this new clip and all on it and try to get some good finishes,” he said. “We’ll take top 3 finishes the rest of the year, of course anybody would. I’d love to win but if I can come out with two or three more top 3 finishes we’d be really happy.”