May 23, 2014 10:34:22 AM
Late Model dirt track veteran Ronnie Johnson isn't sure what type of dirt is used at Magnolia Motor Speedway, but he can explain what makes it unique.
Johnson, a member of the Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in Florence, Kentucky, has won at least three Late Model races at Magnolia, including two Governor's Cup titles. The Chattanooga, Tennessee, native can't pinpoint the years he won the races at Magnolia -- he said "somewhere around 2006 and 2010 or '11" -- but he can explain the set-up that will allow the car and driver to handle the transition from day to night at the track.
Johnson, 58, has forgotten more wins and finishes than most drivers can remember. But his attention to detail has helped him remain one of the top drivers in the NeSmith Dirt Late Model series and Chevrolet Performance 525 series. Johnson will apply his extensive knowledge of Magnolia Motor Speedway on Sunday, when the track plays host to a NeSmith Late Model National Series race, a RockAuto.com Super Late Model race, and NeSmith Street and Mini Stock races.
"The biggest thing you gotta ask the car to do at Magnolia is to turn," Johnson said. "You got a lot of corner. You can rig it for a situation where the driver makes the car turn, but as the night goes on, the track slows down and the car has to be able to turn.
"Some people call it river dirt. Some people say it has some gumbo dirt. Either way, it polishes over and gets slick. None of the tracks up my way have dirt like that. Everything I race on is a red clay and sandy material. There's just not really any sand on that material at Magnolia."
Johnson said it's typical for track surfaces to "slow down" during the late spring and summer months. What makes Magnolia unique, though, is that it slows down more than others, he said.
"Early in the night, you can almost go around the whole track without lifting the throttle," Johnson said. "Then it slows down during the feature race and you won't even put it to the floor. And (track manager) Johnny (Stokes) usually keeps it really smooth."
The slick surface puts a premium on handling, and drivers can win without having the strongest motor.
"There aren't a lot of cautions," Johnson said. "Because of that, you don't tear up a lot of stuff there. You'll have two or three wide racing and never bang doors. It's a lot of fun."
Despite running multiple races at Magnolia and holding three wins at the track, Johnson said he yields to local guys like Chase Washington, Kyle Shaw, and the Rickman Racing Team for knowledge of the track's other nuances.
"There's a lot more I could name," he said.
Johnson enters the NeSmith race in good form. The driver of the No. 5 car finished second at a NeSmith race at Magnolia last September. Later that month, he climbed to second before retiring due to mechanical problems.
Johnson said he'll run more than 50 races across the Southeast this year.
NOTES: Sunday's race will have a $2,000-to win feature and will begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, and military veterans receive a $5 discount. Tickets for children 10 and under are free. ... Columbus Motor Speedway will be back in action Saturday, May 31, with the Kajun Mini Stock Association battling for $1,000-to-win. There also will be a weekly racing series event. Limited Late Models, 602 Stock Late Models, Street Stocks, and Mini Stocks also will compete. The drivers' meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Hot Laps will begin at 7:30 p.m. Grandstand admission is $10. Children 10 and under are free. Pit admission is $25. For more information, contact Joe Ables at 662-574-6808.
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