November 21, 2017 6:24:15 PM
Johnny Stokes didn't intend to get himself a birthday present Sunday.
The 64-year-old owner and promoter of Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus doesn't look at racing like that anymore. Sure, there was a time when Stokes was more serious about the sport. Back then, Stokes said he was so focused on racing that he put everything else off to drive.
These days, Stokes races to get away from everything else because it gives him peace of mind. That was his mind-set last weekend when he traveled to Norman Park, Georgia, to compete in the NeSmith Performance Parts Street Stocks World Championship at Needmore Speedway.
Stokes returned to Columbus with more than he bargained for.
"We decided to go see if we could run in it and wound up winning the thing," Stokes said. "It was a pretty good birthday present."
Stokes, whose nickname is "Dr. Dirt," led all 50 laps in the Franks Chevy/NeSmith Chevrolet Claxton, GA Special to earn the $5,000 winner's check.
The victory helped him win his first world championship in a long and distinguished career.
Stokes, who has been racing since 1970, also received a championship trophy that has a spinning globe at its top. He thanked Stacy Robinson for allowing him to drive the car that allowed him to celebrate a special birthday.
Stokes said he has known Robinson, who is from Kosciusko, since the 1990s. He said they got "hooked up" with each other the year before last.
Stokes said the race was his first time racing at Needmore Speedway, which he said has red shirt, unlike the black dirt at Magnolia Motor Speedway and the real dirt at Columbus Speedway. He said the layout was different than what he was used to driving and that the handling was a little different, but he fared well after qualifying second and starting on the outside front row.
Stokes said he kind of knew what needed to be changed on his car following practice. He said he changed the right front spring and the right rear spring in an attempt to find more speed. He said that changes worked and played a key role in being able to lead from the start.
"If I could beat them to the first corner I thought I had the fastest car," Stokes said. "If I got in front I wanted to set my own pace and lead every lap and not have bad luck. That was my strategy, but it doesn't always work out."
Justin McRee, of Woodstock, Alabama, drove the Hebner Motorsports Special to a second-place finish. McRee built the first and second place finishing cars in the NeSmith Performance Parts Street Stock World Championship Race at his High Roller Race Cars shop just outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Bryan Fortner, of Millport, Alabama, took third in the Race McMahon/Forward Race Cars Special.
The top three finishing race cars were powered by the Chevrolet Performance 602 Circle Track Engine straight out of the crate with the original factory sealing bolts. The steel head, steel block racing engine is built and sealed at the factory to prevent any expensive modifications.
Stokes said it was "pretty neat" to be able to win his first world championship on his birthday. A year ago, Stokes finished second in the Street Stocks World Championship in Brunswick, Georgia. Now, after winning numerous Mississippi State championships and track titles, Stokes has another first to add to his resume.
After the victory, Stokes said he and friends sat at the track and talked and took plenty of pictures. He said he then loaded everything up and drove home. He said he didn't get home until 4 a.m., which might sound like a late morning for some, but it was wasn't anything new to Stokes.
"I am a night owl," Stokes said. "When it gets dark, I can go."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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