Stock car racing: Johnson proving that talent overrides frills

There’s a definite caste system in area stock car racing.

There’s a definite caste system in area stock car racing.

There are the haves — the drivers like Brett Hearn and Stewart Friesen, who race for a living, knows the ins and outs of acquiring rides and sponsorship and are expected to be championship contenders every year.

Then, there are the have-nots — the drivers who race for the love or the thrill of the sport, who hope to get a win or two a year, who are glad if someone steps up to help them with tires and gas.

Then there’s Marc Johnson.

Johnson belongs with the have-nots — his two modifieds are nearly devoid of sponsorship, and his father, Brett, builds his motors. But with two victories under his belt and an eye on the Albany-Saratoga Speedway championship, he can fit right in with the big boys.

Now in his 10th year of racing modifieds, Johnson is no stranger to success. He finished third in the title race at Albany-Saratoga last year, and had a terrific run during Super DIRT Week in Syracuse, winning one of the 358-modified qualifiers and finishing eighth in the Salute To The Troops 150 on the Moody Mile.

“I’ve been racing 10 years, and my plan is always to race every week,” said Johnson earlier this week. “And, for the most part, I’ve always made it. We missed one race at Malta last year when I cracked a piston. But I don’t care if I have to sell something, trade for something, I’m going to race.”

This year, Johnson is fielding two cars, both Troyers, both with small blocks, that he refers to as simply “the red car and the white car.” He drove the red car to victory in the season-opener Sunday night at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, after putting the white car in victory lane on opening night at Albany-Saratoga.

“We built the red car after Syracuse,” he said. “The white car is the one we ran last year.”

And then there’s the engine program. Brett Johnson didn’t start out building his son’s motors; it just happened that way.

“When I was racing go-karts, we bought a motor from Tony Mormile, but when I blew it up, we couldn’t afford to fix it, so my father just took it apart and started tinkering with it,” Johnson said. “George Green did my first motor in the modified, but we couldn’t afford another one, so my father took that one apart and rebuilt it.

“He’s always been a motorhead, but Garry Waters is a real big help. He does all the machine work for us and helps a ton.

“People say we’re doing something to the motors. If they think we can come up with a way to get more horspower without ever putting the motor on a dyno or doing any R and D, they’re crazy. If they ever looked at one of our motors, they’d really be surprised.”

This is an old-fashioned operation, built on blood, sweat and tears — and every nickel that Johnson can scrape together.

“If I had a lot of sponsors, I’d be working just as hard, but I’d have better stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I put every dollar I’ve got into this.”

But he’s been successful enough that he can afford to have a little confidence.

“My goal is to win races,” he said. “But I really want to win the championship at Albany-Saratoga. I know that sounds crazy, because Brett is so tough, But I’m almost as fast as he is now, and I think I can run with him.”

A tragic loss

Popular Western New York driver Steve Hulsizer, 47, died of cancer Monday. Area fans will remember Hulsizer for his victory in the season finale last year at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park. Just hours after getting a cherotherapy treatment, Hulsizer showed up at Glen Ridge, upset a star-studded field and took home $3,711.

“Steve and I went way back, to the old Utica-Rome, Fulton days,” said Albany-Saratoga Speedway track manager Lyle DeVore. “Me, him and Alex [Friesen] had some wild times together. Steve was a great guy, always laughing.”

He was also tough on race cars. He once said he chose No. 88 for his cars because it looks the same rightside up as it does upside down.

Around the tracks

Glen Ridge track manager Mike Sowle was pleased with his season opener last Sunday.

“It was absolutely perfect,” he said Thursday. “Everything went off without a hitch. The drivers loved it, especially when we paid the top purse even though we didn’t have a full field of cars.”

The opener draw a field of 16 modifieds, and Johnson took home the full winner’s share of $2,200. Sowle expects a larger field this Sunday.

“I know we’ve got more guys coming,” he said, “I think last week might have been weather-related. It sprinkled twice, but the track was super-fast.”

Joey Scarborough picked up his first career win in the sportsman division at Albany-Saratoga last Friday. Scarborough is the son of former Champlain Valley Racing Association modified driver Don Scarborough.

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