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Racing's In His Blood: Lime Hill Teen Claims Mid-Season Title at Chemung

Paul Johnson won the Mid-Season Street Stock Championship at Chemung Speedrome on July 16 in his No. 77 Monte Carlo. Photo by Pete Hardenstine.

Like father, like son.

Second-generation racer Paul Johnson notched his first career feature win with a victory in the Street Stock Mid-Season Championship race at Chemung Speedrome on July 16.

Johnson, the 19-year-old son of veteran local racer Laverne Johnson, made a thrilling last-lap pass to take the checkered flag.

"The car was handling real well all night," said Johnson. "It was hooked up to go."

The rookie driver from Lime Hill overcame adversity to pocket the $350 winner's purse.

After a tough heat race in which he overcame a minor accident to finish third, Johnson started the feature from the outside pole.

After a slow start in which he dropped back to fourth, he began moving forward.

By lap 13, he was running third when the two frontrunners—Rick Brown and Lee Sharpsteen—started banging away on each other. Brown ended up in the third turn wall and Sharpsteen was blackflagged for his role in the incident.

Inheriting first place, Johnson led a couple laps before his right front tire went flat.

Fortunately, a timely caution allowed him to dash into the pits and change the tire.

Just as the green flag flew, he re-entered the track and began to run down the leaders—Dave Harbst and Chad McDonald.

By the white flag lap, Johnson had battled back to third spot.

In the final turn, Harbst and McDonald both spun, opening the door for Johnson.

"I went around the outside of them to get the last-lap win," he said.

Johnson recently completed his freshman year at Penn State's Wilkes-Barre campus. He plans to attend the PSU main campus where he will major in civil engineering.

Despite a bright future off the track, the sport he learned to love while watching his father race calls him like a siren's song.

"It's definitely a love," he said. "Racing's a big part of my life.

"If the opportunity came, I'd take it in a heartbeat to go any further in this."

He certainly has the talent, a lot of which must be genetic since his father enjoyed a great deal of success during his career.

"I got out of it when he was big enough to get into go-karts," Laverne Johnson said. "It was time to get him out of the stands and learn."

Paul raced karts for two years at Dunn Hill in Monroeton, winning the track championship in 1998.

While Paul and his father had dreams and plans of building a race car, that plan was put on hold for a while.

"It took more time than we thought with me being in high school sports and things," Paul explained. He competed in cross country, wrestling and track and field at Wyalusing Valley which took him away from racing for a number of years.

"We finally got around to this and built a car."

Racing is an expensive hobby and, especially on the short-track circuit, the purses never begin to balance out the costs.

The Johnsons have been fortunate in building their race team.

First, they built one car, but then found an early 1980s Monte Carlo, complete with race engine at a good price. They sold the first car and bought the Monte Carlo without having to go to the expense of building a race engine.

Then there are a couple of friends who are willing to lend a helping hand.

"Chris Snyder is helping us out with the engine," Paul said. "He's been a big help to us."

Jerry Sinsabaugh helped line up the majority of Paul's sponsors—most of who are from the Penn-York Valley. The sponsors include Wyalusing NAPA, Sparky's Bar and Grill in Waverly, Davidson Auto Sales, John H. Murray and Son, Sherwood Racing Wheels in Owego, NY, and Steve's Contracting in Athens.

"He heard we were getting the car and he helped us get started," Laverne said of Sinsabaugh's involvement.

Then there are Paul's friends, who help him do the extensive week-to-week work to keep the car on the track—Chad Ely, Jason Crawford and Sam Remington.

Paul conservatively estimated that he had $8,000 in the car, and he is very grateful for the sponsorships.

"They're putting out a lot of money."

Keeping the car in race trim is time consuming.

Depending on how badly beaten up the car is after a Friday race night, Paul and his friends might work on it from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and nearly every night until the next race.

"Some weeks you get lucky and you don't get too banged up. Then you just come home and go over some nuts and bolts that are loose. Then you spend a day, day and a half going over it and you're ready for next week."

Because he doesn't want the added expense and extra work, he tries to race cleanly on the track.

He recalls the time this season when Brown, one of the top Street Stock drivers at Chemung, told him that he had raced clean with Paul because "you don't hit anyone."

Paul wishes some of his other competitors would learn the same lesson.

"I raced clean and I won," he said.

Currently, Paul is only racing at Chemung although he hopes to run a few races at Tioga Motorsports Park later in the year.

He likes the Chemung circuit where he is currently fifth in the Street Stock point standings.

While he was as disappointed by Chemung's decision to drop NASCAR sanctioning in the middle of the season—he was 38th in the Northeast point standings at the time—he understands the business reasons for it.

When the owners quit paying NASCAR's hefty sanctioning fees, they were able to pay bigger purses to the drivers.

"We get more money to win. They put more money into the track.

"I think it might be better for the track until they get on their feet again."

He hopes to collect a few more winner's purses before the season ends.

"I think we're going to be running up front the rest of the year."

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