Justin Johnson had planned for the 2018 Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park to be his final race behind the wheel of a Late Model, but the Roxboro, North Carolina native has elected to end his retirement and chase a trophy in the Myrtle Beach 400.
Johnson did not have to go far to find a Late Model for the prestigious race on Saturday night, as he will be piloting a familiar #44 Puryear Tank Lines Ford prepared by fellow competitor and friend Justin Carroll.
“After the CARS Tour season and the Rodney Cook race, Justin decided to call it a season, but he wanted to keep his guys employed through the winter,” Johnson said. “I got a call from him asking if I wanted to play a little bit this weekend and I said yes. Hopefully we can do this again next weekend for the Thanksgiving Classic.
Johnson and Carroll have worked together on numerous occasions over the past couple of years, as Johnson drove one of Carroll’s Late Models in his final CARS LMSC Tour start at Orange County in 2018 before he partnered up with Carroll once again later in the year for the Myrtle Beach 400 and the Thanksgiving Classic.
Johnson expressed his gratitude towards Carroll for giving him another opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Late Model, as he has been busy managing a handful of Thrifty Tire Service Centers after deciding to scale back his racing career shortly after the 2018 season started.
Although his day job comes with plenty of ups and downs, Johnson considers himself fortunate that everything in his life has been running smoothly for the most part, but he still tries to make time for racing whenever his schedule allows for it.
“I actually bought a couple of Premier Racing Chassis go-karts built by Hermie Sadler and his guys,” Johnson said. “There’s some good money involved there, and I had a real good time doing that over summer. I did a lot of go-kart racing when I was younger, so I was actually going back to my roots a little bit.”
In regard to Late Model racing, Johnson has not ruled out potentially running more events in the future, but he is focused on exclusively competing at Myrtle Beach and Southern National for the time being, as he believes those two tracks present him with the best opportunity to win.
Johnson has attempted the Myrtle Beach 400 ten times since 2004 and has registered four Top 10’s during that timeframe, with his best performance coming in the 2010 edition of the event in which he finished second to Frank Deiny Jr. after leading three laps early in the race.
Johnson believed that he had a car capable of winning the Myrtle Beach 400 in 2018, and found himself at the front of the pack in the second half, but he would lose power steering with just over 50 laps remaining, which forced him to ride around on the track and settle for a 17th place finish.
Johnson was frustrated that he could not battle Chad McCumbee and Corey Heim for the win in last year’s Myrtle Beach 400, but he is confident that the equipment provided by Carroll and his team will be strong enough to mix it up with many of the best drivers once again for 250 laps on Sunday evening.
“It would be super special to win this weekend,” Johnson said. “I don’t get as many opportunities as I used to with these cars, so it would mean a lot to get another win, especially with my sponsor Puryear Tank Lines celebrating their 60th anniversary. I want to get them into victory lane one more time.”
Depending on how everything turns out for him at the end of the Myrtle Beach 400, Johnson plans to take Carroll’s Late Model back to Southern National so he can chase his first victory in the Thanksgiving Classic on December 1st.