SPEEDWAY, IN – After more than three decades behind the wheel of a winged sprint car, Wayne Johnson has his eyes affixed on a new course in his highly-accomplished racing career starting in 2023 – USAC Silver Crown racing.
The Oklahoma City, Okla. racer will compete for Silver Crown Rookie of the Year honors this season aboard Todd and Kelly Carlile’s TwoC Motorsports ride, utilizing an ex-Austin Nemire Beast chassis on the pavement and a brand-new Maxim machine for the dirt.
Johnson’s accolades in winged sprint car racing are extensive. He captured the 2000 ASCS National Tour title and has accumulated 59 career tour wins to date, including five more in 2022 en route to a runner-up finish in the standings. The ASCS’s all-time feature starts leader also scored a pair of Knoxville 360 Nationals crowns, and in 2008, collected a Knoxville Nationals prelim night triumph.
To this point, he’s yet to tackle the champ cars of the USAC Silver Crown series. However, in the early days of his racing career, Johnson got his start in the similarly dimensioned 100-inch open wheel machines with NCRA at his hometown Oklahoma City Fairgrounds as well down the road at nearby Tulsa Speedway.
“When I first started racing back in Oklahoma City, our cars were a 100-inch wheelbase,” Johnson recalled. “They called them supermodifieds and I raced without a wing my first year. I’ve always loved Silver Crown cars and have always kept up with them. I always watched the races when I could, and I’ve wanted to race the pavement stuff because I hadn’t done any of it since I was a kid in go-karts.”
While Johnson maintained a desire to add a dirt Silver Crown car to the stable for the upcoming season, a late October 2022 sprint car race on the pavement at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park served as the catalyst to dive into the series with both feet, adjusting the team’s plans to compete full-time on the circuit.
“We had previously talked about running a dirt car,” Johnson admitted. “But with the pavement race, we had a lot of fun with that. I called my car owner, and I told him how cool it was and that it was something I think he’d enjoy as well. So he said, ‘well, just buy one!’”
Johnson’s first pavement foray in four decades began with a test at IRP last fall, and he recalled a re-initiation moment to the asphalt that showed him a welcoming guidance to the discipline from some of the best in the sport – guys like seven-time Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson, two-time Little 500 winner Tyler Roahrig, USAC Hall of Famer Bob East and ace former driver and current mechanic Michael Lewis, who were able to lend an ear and advice in-person and on the phone.
“All the people I’ve met have been super friendly and helpful,” Johnson acknowledged. “I was glowing the brake rotors (during the test) and Kody said, ‘are you trying to drive that thing like a wing car?’ I said, ‘well that’s the only thing I know how to drive, actually, so I guess so.’ Everybody was super cool, and I was so impressed by how helpful those guys were in wanting to help. But when we start to run with them and run up front, they might not want to help me anymore. But, so far, it’s been pretty cool.”
Johnson and TwoC Motorsports have been linked together since 2011, signing Johnson to drive their sprint car shortly after injuries sidelined the racer. Entering season 13 together, they now have a new quest. The Carliles have yet to witness a Silver Crown race in person while Johnson is currently going through the process of constructing champ cars for the first time in his career, so it’s an entirely new team with a fresh outlook.
Johnson admitted he’s been wanting to pare his racing schedule down a bit and the Carliles were eager to try something a little bit different. With a 13-race Silver Crown schedule, it’s a perfect fit for the 51-year-old racer at this stage in his racing timeline.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve run 80 to 90 races per season from coast-to-coast and down to Australia, and I’m just ready,” Johnson stated. “I can do these 13 races and then run another 20-25 sprint car races to get my fix and be happy doing that.”
More than anything, Johnson has always wanted to go Silver Crown racing but didn’t think he’d ever get the chance. His goals are set high, he retains the burning desire to win and he’s more than ready to tackle this deal full bore without any particular expectations and without any reservations.
“People ask me all the time what I think about it,” Johnson related. “Think about when you were younger, and you had a new girlfriend and how exciting that was. Basically, this is my new girlfriend after doing the wing sprint car thing for so many years. We may end up sucking at it but it’s super exciting at the moment. For one, just being able to learn how build these cars and just taking in a lot of knowledge of knowing what’s different. There’s a lot that doesn’t intersect with what I’ve done in the past, but it’s still nuts and bolts and I’ve always built really nice dirt cars. I’ve been plumbing these things like a wing sprint car. That way, it’s something I’m familiar with.”
Johnson will sport the number 12 on his red rose-colored machines. An upcoming test awaits the team in the coming weeks, and soon, they’ll be ready to pursue an endeavor that’s been a long time coming for Johnson.
“We’re just getting our feet wet, and we’re there to have fun first of all,” Johnson noted. “Hopefully, there’s some success there that makes it even more fun.”