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Meet the Crew: Jimmy Johnson

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Jimmy Johnson

Meet the Crew: Chris Hogue

Tom Blattler
Ed Carpenter Racing
August 16, 2013

Jimmy Johnson
August 16th 2013 - JIMMY JOHNSON, Race Mechanic

A 12-year veteran in IndyCar racing, Johnson brings strong credentials to Ed Carpenter Racing…. The Colorado native has experience with Bradley Motorsports, Kelley Racing, Walker Racing, Cheever Racing and Andretti Autosport…. In addition, Johnson has participated in other racing forms such as Indy Lights, ALMS and Grand-Am sports cars as well as NASCAR stock cars and trucks…. Jimmie was a member of the ECR "over the wall” pit crew last year.

Was your family into racing when you were a kid?

"My first memories are at a race track. My grandfather and my father raced modifieds in the Denver area. They raced at the Lakeside and Englewood pavement tracks. My grandfather started racing in the 1940s and raced through the 50s and 60s. He ran like ’32 Fords and cars like that. My cousins raced too with my dad and grandfather. I was literally at the races all of the time. When I got older, I started working on my uncle’s and my cousin’s race cars. My cousin, Mike Snow, actually raced in Indy Lights too. So I got to work on his car in that series. Then Mike decided he wanted to race stock cars so I helped him on those cars too. We were based out of Denver still at that time. As a kid, I used to beg my dad to take me to the drag races at Bandimere Speedway to see Don Prudhomme and the big stars.”

Did you get into racing out of high school?

"No, I was actually a firefighter out of high school in Wheatridge, Colo. But I still worked on the race cars in my off time. I was firefighter for 15 years. I always like racing though. I never had the talent to drive in the bigger classes, so I worked as a mechanic. Bradley Calkins (Buzz’s dad) decided he was going to start a stock car team after he had the IndyCar team and the Indy Lights team. And my cousin drove for him. They hired me to build and prepare the stock car. We ran the Southwest Tour then. But Bradley didn’t really like that series so he offered me a job to work on his IndyCar. Their shop was in Commerce City, Colo. They then hired David Cripps to run the team and he organized the team to move to Indy. I stayed in Denver when they moved to Indy since I wanted to stay by my family. But they wanted me to help them during the month of May for the 500. So I was scheduled to stay for a few weeks here. And then I never left.”

You then decided to stay in Indy and work on the IndyCars?

"That was a big change for me moving from Denver to Indy. It was different from the humidity to no sun in the winter. It’s hard to imagine but the sun does shine 200 days a year in Denver. I left the Bradley team and moved to Kelley’s team and was crew chief on their Indy Lights car with (actor) Jason Priestley driving. There were only three of us getting the Indy Lights going there. Jason actually did pretty well up until his crash at Kentucky. We had Tony Renna back then and he would set the cars up and Jason would then jump in and drive. And he was fearless. He ran through some ‘floor dry’ and the car got loose and he turned right. He actually hit the walls twice, the outside and then the inside wall. And he never bent a wishbone or a tire in that crash. He had two 90 degree hits in one accident. Those were tough hits. Kelley parked Jason’s car after that and I went to work on Tony’s (Renna) IndyCar program. We had Scott Sharp and Al Unser Jr. on that team too. I remember going to Colorado National Speedway and watching Al race sprint cars when I was younger. I was working as the rear mechanic on Tony’s car then and I was on the ‘oval the wall’ crew too. I was there a year and moved to Derrick’s (Walker) team. I worked on Darren Manning’s car in ChampCar. He was a great guy.”

What was your path after the ChampCar series?

"I worked for Eddie Cheever’s team for five years or so. I worked on Eddie’s IndyCar team and his Grand-Am sports car team. The sports car stuff was fun. I really liked working on those cars. I left Cheever to work on the Andretti ALMS LMP2 Acura sports car. Everyone had hopes that Acura was going to run LeMans in the future. I really wanted to do that. But once Porsche pulled out of ALMS, Acura followed them. At Andretti, they moved me onto Marco’s IndyCar and they had a good team of guys.”

How did you know about Ed’s new team and the opportunities here?

"I worked with Ed when he was a rookie at Cheever’s team. So I knew him and I always liked Ed. I knew Ed, Derrick and Tim (Broyles, team manager). It was like a big sigh for me to move to Ed’s team. I didn’t like the big teams that much. And there were many changes going on at Andretti too at that point. I didn’t know Bret (Schmitt, crew chief) but I knew some of the other guys and it is a good lineup of people here at ECR. There is a lot of experience here. I work on the back half of the race car. I work with Nick Cooper and Chris Hogue on the back half of the car and Paul (Hicks) works on the front end. If Paul needs any help, then we’ll move there and assist him. Most of the time, we are finished at about the same time. ”

Jimmy, what do you do outside of the race team and the race shop?

"I have motorcycles and a hot rod. I have an ’83 Mustang I work on but I haven’t driven it recently. I have three large fish tanks (laughs). They are saltwater tanks and getting the stuff here in Indy is hard sometimes. I go out on Saturdays and buy fish stuff at a warehouse. I usually buy small fish and let them grow. Then I will sell them and get more small ones. It’s kind of like model trains. Once you invest that much money in it, you really can’t get out of it. I have been in slot car racing my whole life. I still have my slot car stuff with piano wire chassis and other special equipment. My family used to go to the Celebrity Sports Club in Denver and they had a huge slot car track. My family would race slot cars there. I was really small when they were doing that stuff. There are still a couple of slot car tracks in Indy now. I did slot cars for a long time and then got into the remote control cars. Denver had a few remote control tracks and we would run them at bicycle velodromes too. So I keep busy outside of the race team too.”

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