Fans at Lakeside Speedway had to wait an extra 24 days for the World of Outlaws race to be held here after severe weather postponed the original June 6 race date.
It wasn’t nearly as long as the roughly three months Jason Johnson waited to get behind the wheel, though.
“It’s been a long three months,” Johnson said.
Johnson broke several vertebra on April 5 during a crash in California. After a lengthy rehabilitation process, he strapped into his No. 41 car for the first time in 85 days.
“It’ll probably be like a sign of relief, actually,” Johnson said of getting back on the track. “From the time you land in the hospital a lot of thoughts go through your head, and you don’t know if you could even walk, much less even race.”
Throughout his rehab, Johnson said walking away from racing never crossed his mind.
“I’m living an everyday life surely outstanding,” Johnson said. “Things weren’t as worse as we thought and I’m excited to get back and get going again.”
On Wednesday, Johnson had the 10th-fastest “hot lap,” with a time of 14.93 seconds. He qualified ninth for the feature race after several preliminary heats.
Nicknamed the “Ragin’ Cajun,” the Eunice, La., native accumulated five top-10 finishes throughout his first 13 starts of the season before the accident.
Once he got out of the hospital, Johnson and his family hopped right back onto the grueling race trail. Johnson is the owner of his team and worked as the crew chief for the trio of substitute drivers that kept his car on the track while he was sidelined. “We started Jason Johnson racing to control our own destiny,” Johnson said. “We were very fortunate to have great people (surround us), and obviously they stuck with us through the difficult times, and now it’s time to enjoy it together.
“Every driver brought something pretty unique to our team. We just need to utilize it and capitalize on what we learned.”
Time spent away from racing gave him a new perspective on the sport and his opponents, Johnson said.
“I gained a lot of respect for my fellow competitors,” Johnson said. “A lot of them offered a lot of assistance throughout the time I was out.”
Johnson showed rust in his first race back, finishing 14th.
Joey Saldana, who qualified second, had a massive five-second lead 13 laps into the 30-lap finale before a caution flag brought the race to a halt and erased the gap.
Saldana would jump out in front again after the caution, but current points leader Donny Schatz thundered back to take the lead and the race for his series-leading 18th win of the season. The race required one extra lap because of another caution flag on lap 29, resulting in an thrilling one-by-one finish.
It was the first win at Lakeside for the six-time series winner.
“This race team has worked hard on trying to figure out winning at places we haven't been good,” Schatz said.
Schatz said it was key for him to take the beginning of the race slow and turn it on for the final laps
“You try to keep as much fire under you in the beginning so you got fire at the end of the race,” Schatz said.
“He’s just smart with stuff like that,” Saldana said, “It's my own fault. … The night was good. It was a good solid night for us. It’s something to be proud of.”
Last year’s Lakeside winner Kerry Madsen finished third. Donny Lasoski and Paul McMahan rounded out the top five.