Prior to the start of the 2011 AMA Arenacross Series, Babbitt’s Monster Energy/TiLUBE Kawasaki presented by Maxxis’ Chad Johnson was one of the favorites to challenge for the Arenacross class crown. Just one season after posting a runner-up effort in the championship and a subsequent injury to defending champion and Johnson’s teammate Josh Demuth, the former two-time series title holder was garnering a lot of attention.
Now, 10 weeks into the season, Johnson is doing exactly what many thought he would do, challenging for wins on a consistent basis and compiling a bundle of podium results. He even has a win to his credit after a triumphant ride in Denver. However, despite amassing what would typically be considered a championship-caliber season, Johnson sits in a tie for second in the championship with TUF Honda’s Jeff Gibson while his Babbitt’s Monster Energy/TiLUBE Kawasaki teammate Tyler Bowers puts together one of the most dominant seasons in AMA Arenacross Series history.
This weekend, the championship heads to Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Mid-America center to kick off the final month of competition. Despite sitting 38 points out of the top spot in the standings, Johnson is proud of what he’s accomplished this season. Currently, he’s in the midst of an impressive late-season run that has garnered four consecutive runner-up efforts and a surge in the points that puts him where he stands today. We caught up with the most experienced rider in the AMA Arenacross Series to see what he thinks it will take to get closer to his teammate.
Chad, coming into the season a lot of eyes were on you based on where you finished in the championship in 2010. Now that we’re entering the 11th round of the 2011 season, what are your thoughts on what you’ve accomplished so far?
“You know what, I’ve been feeling better and better every weekend. Team Babbitt’s Monster Energy/TiLUBE Kawasaki has been great for me and we really have the bike working well. They give me everything I could ever ask for and they’re all about doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s been a consistent season for me – I’ve only been off the podium four times after some mishaps, but mainly I really would like to finish the season more on the top. I’ve had four seconds in a row here and I’m chasing after Tyler (Bowers). He’s going fast and hats off to him. He’s 19, he’s got a great program, and he’s got excellent speed. I know my endurance is there and on par with his, but he’s definitely got some extra speed on me that I’ve been digging for, but just can’t seem to find. I’m just going to continue to go after it for the six main events we have remaining and hopefully get some wins and try to take (away) the points gap from Tyler. He’s got a pretty big lead and catching him will take a little bit of bad luck (on his part), but the season’s not over yet and nothing is out of the question. I’m just going to put my head down and try to win.”
Let’s talk about the last couple weeks. You, Tyler and Jeff Gibson have battled it out and you’ve been out front with a chance to win at both Wichita and Greenville. However, Tyler managed to catch you and get by to take the win. While I’m sure it’s frustrating, how does it feel to know you’re so close to being right there with him?
“It definitely fuels my fire. I don’t like getting passed or getting beat at all, (but) it’s part of the sport and you kind of have to accept that. All I can do is acknowledge it, move on and move forward, and try to do something about it. A couple of weekends ago, I started sixth and he started eighth. We both moved through the pack and he ended up getting me on the last (lap). I definitely wasn’t thrilled with that. So, I went home and worked real hard. I’ve really been working on my corner speed and doing the best I can.
“This last weekend, I got off to a good start with Jeff (Gibson), me, and then Tyler. Jeff made a little mistake and I got by him and then I opened up a little bit of a gap while Jeff and Tyler were playing tag behind me. Then someone crashed and it brought out the red flag and the gap I had went away. He got by me immediately after the restart – we went into the first turn and I just shoved a little wide and he went right under me. It was a mistake on my part and I should have done it a little differently, but he pulled away from me a little bit. I tried to keep him as honest as possible, but I definitely have to work on my speed a little bit.”
You’ve come on very strong in recent weeks and you mentioned the four straight runner-up finishes. Now you’re in a tie for second in the championship. What has attributed to that success?
“My starts have been helping me a lot. In the middle of the season, I had a couple bad weekends in a row – I ended up going down one night, got stuck in the first turn another night and then the week after that I was sick all week and went into the weekend really struggling. After that, I got healthy again and got back after it. My main goal was to obviously catch up to Jeff and try to get myself back up into that second spot, but really I just want to win. I don’t want to take second. I want to be out front and I want to win and Tyler has been making that hard on me, but I go as fast as I can. I’ve always been a comfortable rider. If I’m not comfortable I won’t twist the throttle and if I think I’m going to crash, I definitely won’t twist the throttle. I just go as fast as I’m comfortable going and unfortunately, that hasn’t been at Tyler’s speed so I’m trying to push the envelope a little bit and get that extra speed out of me.”
In a typical season, what both you and Jeff have accomplished would be enough to be in the thick of the title fight and possibly good enough to win the title, but what Tyler is accomplishing is something the series hasn’t seen in a long time. With that being said, are you happy with the way you’ve performed this season?
“Yeah, I’m happy with the way I’m performing. Obviously, no one likes to get beat and that weighs on my mind, but me and Jeff have had an excellent season. He started off (strong) and won some and he’s been real consistent but the last few rounds he’s had some bad luck. But you know what? That’s arenacross. Like you said, in a “normal” season, what I’ve done and what Jeff has done usually puts you in championship position, but Tyler’s done exceptionally well. He’s got that extra speed and he deserves it. I want to win, but I can’t take anything away from the kid.”
You do have a win this year so you’ve shown that you have what it takes to be on top. What do you think it’s going to take to grab a couple more of those before the season is out?
“Good starts and a solid ride. I definitely need to pick my speed up because if Tyler gets starts and keeps riding like he is, I’m going to need to do something. I’m working on it week-in and week-out, so hopefully I can get to the point that I’m comfortable stepping up to that pace.”
Round 11 of the 2011 AMA Arenacross Series kicks off in just one day from the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Friday, March 18 followed by another intense night of action on Saturday, March 19. Both nights start at 7:00 p.m. CT!
Advance tickets are available for the Council Bluffs Arenacross at the Mid-America Center Box Office, Ticketmaster charge by phone and ticketmaster.com. Tickets cost $2 more the day of the race.
New for 2011! Live timing and scoring from each round of the AMA Arenacross Series. To follow the intense racing action live, log onto www.Arenacross.com.