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Race Johnson looks to end season on high note

by: submitted photo, West Linn’s Race Johnson, foreground, negotiates his way around the track during a recent Formula BMW USA race. He is currently in seventh place in the series standings but he could have been higher than that if not for a few bad breaks. Johnson will be a senior at WLHS this fall.

It has been another successful, albeit frustrating, season for Race Johnson. The West Linn teen-ager, currently competing in the Formula BMW USA racing series, is ranked ninth in the country.

But that ranking is a bit deceiving. Johnson has been extremely competitive in virtually every race he has entered this year and has consistently been one of the fastest qualifiers in events throughout the season but a string of bad luck has kept him from being ranked much higher, perhaps even in the top five.

'I've been really competitive. I'm shooting for fifth right now. That's a realistic goal,' Johnson said.

Johnson is just finishing up his second year on the Formula BMW series and has shown a tremendous amount of improvement from his rookie campaign. The incoming senior at West Linn High School has four more races over the course of two weekends to finish before the season wraps up.

After a solid performance in San Jose last weekend, despite some more bad luck, Johnson feels that he is racing as well as he has been all year and that, if his fortunes change, he could crack the top five after the last race of the season.

'My first season was about progressing and learning and this season has been about applying that knowledge,' Johnson said.

The final two events in the Formula BMW season are in Denver and Canada and he has been all over the country again this summer.

In San Jose, Johnson started out extraordinarily well. During qualifying, he was in first place for the majority of the event and then slipped to fifth up until the second to last turn.

But on the street course where it is often very difficult to see what is going on in front of you, two cars ahead of Johnson spun out and he ran into one of the cars.

Meanwhile, the next car around the turn slammed into Johnson, totaling his vehicle in the process.

Johnson was still able to qualify in fifth position but his crew had to completely rebuild his car overnight and accomplished the task in 12 hours. Even without the luxury of testing his brand new car, Johnson finished the second qualifying run in eighth place.

'It can be frustrating. Things like that have happened all year where I'll get a flat tire in training or some other fluke thing goes wrong,' Johnson said.

One of the more interesting situations that arose this year on the Formula BMW series was the fact that TV and movie star Frankie Muniz, of 'Malcolm in the Middle' fame, joined the same series that Johnson competes in.

According to Johnson, Muniz is taking a hiatus from acting currently in an attempt to become a professional driver. Muniz competed in nearly every race Johnson did this season.

'He's a really nice guy. He's not all that fast right now but he's doing pretty well considering that it's his first year. At a lot of the races all of the girls come down and are looking for him,' Johnson said.

After Johnson's final two races of the season, he will start his senior year and have some time to ponder the next move in his career.

At this point, a lot depends on the number of sponsors he can line up. He is currently sponsored by McCormick and Schmick's Restaurant and Taow Productions, but more money will likely be needed to keep making strides in the world of Formula racing.

'At this stage it costs so much that you need a major sponsor to keep going,' Johnson said.

Johnson may compete in a third season of Formula BMW but other possibilities exist such as Formula Mazda or Champ Car Atlantic.

Whatever decision he makes, it will need to be made by this winter as the next season of racing begins in March.

The ultimate goal is still to make it to Champ Car and to get there Johnson will need to keep improving with each passing year. But no matter what decisions he makes along the way, Johnson says he will be happy as long as he's racing at a competitive level.