Florida Speedweeks offers a variety of racing on both dirt and asphalt surfaces. Racing on one surface doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t race on the other. Drivers like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, who both cut their teeth racing dirt, have used Speedweeks to hone their asphalt skills at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway.
Sixteen-year-old Sam Johnson will become the latest driver to add his name to that list and take to the asphalt for the first time during the World Series. The St. Peters, Missouri native completed his rookie season in a Midget with Keith Kunz Motorsports between the USAC National Midget Tour and POWRi National Midget Series in 2018. He will make the trip from Bubba Raceway Park after the USAC season opener to compete in a Late Model for the first time.
On his way to New Smyrna, Johnson will have some help from 2012 Pro Late Model champion Dakota Stroup.
“It pretty much came about three months ago,” Johnson told Speed51.com. “My older brother used to race in the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour and we still have one of our cars. It wasn’t in the best condition, so we went to Dakota Stroup and DC Chassis and he was willing to fix up the car and get it into pristine condition. He actually won Speedweeks a few years ago. We’re pretty much racing for him.”
Johnson has always wanted to drive a Late Model but the opportunity had never presented itself. With a car in the stable and a trip to Florida already planned, his team was able to make the trip to New Smyrna work.
“I’ve definitely wanted to race the asphalt Late Model. Necessarily at Speedweeks, I’m not sure, but I’ve really wanted to get into an asphalt Late Model and see how I can do in that.”
The switch from a Midget on dirt to a full-bodied Late Model on pavement presents its fair share of challenges. Johnson hopes to pick up the handling of the car quickly.
“I think the biggest challenge is not really trying to keep it underneath you, but to where you get sideways in the corner; you can’t really just step on the gas and straighten it back up,” Johnson said. “Pretty much like car handling, you’re always stuck to the track.”
As for his goals for the week, he is keeping them modest. He will miss the first two nights of the World Series due to his USAC obligations, so his first race will be Monday night. He is looking for as much seat time as possible and to be consistent on the track.
“I just want to have consistent finishes and make as many laps as I can. Hopefully get a top five here and there. I think my end of the week goal for the World Series is to just get as many laps as I can.”
The 53rd Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing will begin Friday, February 8 at New Smyrna Speedway. Johnson will make his first start on Monday, February 11 when the Pro Late Models compete in their third race.
Speed51.com will have Trackside Now coverage of all of the action beginning with Thursday’s practice day.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Keith Kunz Motorsports