June 30, 2018 8:39:47 PM
By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
Jordon Mallett is following the late Jason Johnson's blueprint to racing and owning a team simultaneously.
Mallett, who leads the United Sprint Car Series national points standings, is inspired by Johnson's outside-the-box approach to building his brand and running a team. Johnson, who competed on the World of Outlaws series, died June 24 after a wreck at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin. He was 41.
Mallett dominated Friday's USCS Battle at The Bullring at Columbus Speedway and dedicated the win to Johnson.
"He was a personal hero of mine," Mallett said. "I loved the way he did things. He was a good mentor and did everything like you should. He's gone too soon."
Mallett said Johnson was "breaking the mold" and thriving in racing by "doing it his way."
"He was cut and dry proven that with hard work and determination, you can do anything you want," Mallett said. "Out here, you have a lot of people who are set in stone in their ways, and in doing it his way, he proved you could own your own team and win on the World of Outlaws. I really aspire to that because I own my own team, and I'm doing this full-time."
Johnson's death has reignited the ever-simmering conversation of driver safety. On June 23, Johnson tangled with another car, hit the wall, exited the track and ran into billboards.
Shane Morgan, who'd raced against Johnson previously, said sprint cars are built well and can "take a beating," but they can't protect drivers from foreign objects that enter the cockpit.
"At that speed, going at that wall on the left side in the cockpit, I don't think anyone can survive that," Morgan said. "There's a couple of things you can put on the car - safety bars on each side, a hoop on the head part - but anything can get in there and get you. But I think there should have been a catch-fence around that wall. [Johnson] would have went up the wall and came back on the track, and he wouldn't have hit the wall, slammed into it and went into a billboard.
"It's a sad situation. Jason's a good guy."
Johnson was the second driver in four years to die from injuries sustained at Beaver Dam Raceway. Sprint car driver Scott Semmelmann died there after a crash during practice in 2014.
Mallett said some tracks "make me nervous even getting in the car."
"You give and take a little bit, but I'm always an advocate of good fences and good barriers," he said, "and really good lights, which are very critical as well."
Morgan said Columbus Speedway was a safe track, but many of the tracks where he and other sprint car drivers compete aren't. He challenged both owners and promoters to "step up" and improve track safety.
"We're out here risking our lives and giving spectators a good show, but anyone can die anytime," Morgan said. "But as racers, we don't think about that; as soon as you start thinking about that, you start slowing down."