Evergreen Speedway is still waiting for one of its own to win its premier race.
Lex Johnson has positioned himself to be the one who may finally end the drought.
Summer Showdown, Evergreen Speedway’s biggest race each year, gets the green flag Saturday, and in Johnson the Monroe racetrack has a local driver who comes in with the credentials to maneuver himself into the winner’s circle.
Saturday is the seventh installment of the annual Summer Showdown, a race for Super Late Models that’s the third event in the six-race Bud Crown Series, Evergreen’s premier series. Qualifying on the five-eighths-of-a-mile track takes place Friday, with the 200-lap main event following Saturday night.
Because of its $25,000 payout to the winner, Summer Showdown draws drivers from throughout North America. Among the event’s previous winners are Canadians Pete Harding and Cameron Hayley, as well as Bubba Pollard from Georgia. Last year Coloradan Preston Peltier lifted the trophy, making it six straight years Evergreen regulars have been shut out.
But Johnson appears primed to give Snohomish County its due. The 43-year-old from Monroe, who drives for the High Speed Promotions team and has raced at Evergreen for more than 20 years, was the one who gave Peltier the greatest challenge last year, taking the lead briefly late in the race before being passed again by Peltier and finishing second. It was the best finish ever at Summer Showdown by a local driver.
Johnson also comes into the race hot, having finished third in the Galloway 150 on May 25 at Evergreen in the previous Bud Crown Series event. Johnson managed that despite racing a limited schedule this year.
All of which makes Johnson the local favorite in this year’s race.
“The car’s running pretty good,” said Johnson, who’s in his second season back in the driver’s seat after taking an eight-year hiatus to spend more time with his children and focus on work. “I think I had a good car last year, then we changed everything on it and in the last race it was super fast. We made some more improvements and I think I have the fastest car since I got back into it.”
At last year’s Summer Showdown Johnson, a former Street Stocks points champion at Evergreen who’s had three third-place points finishes in Super Late Models, was the only driver who put a scare into Peltier. Peltier dominated much of the race, but Johnson briefly grabbed the lead on a restart on lap 180. Peltier eventually regained the lead and went on to victory.
“I think we spent about a lap side-by side,” Johnson said. “It made it exciting, but he had me beat. He had the faster car, hands down.”
That’s something Johnson and his team have been working a year to change. The team has switched its motor combination, changed out the transmission, replaced the rear end and adjusted the chassis setup.
“We’ve changed everything on the car, it’s a completely different car than we had last year,” Johnson said. “It’s faster and it’s more consistent. It’s not perfect, but I think the advantage we have is home-track advantage. I think we can run with (the out of towners).”
Johnson proved that during the Galloway 150. Johnson was the leader for much of the race, and he and Garrett Archer battled head-to-head for the lead for 20 laps late in the proceedings. Johnson finally got past Archer on lap 147, but there was contact between the two cars heading into lap 148, causing them both to spin out. That allowed Robb Touchette to snatch the victory, while Johnson recovered to salvage third.
“That race was a little bit frustrating because I think we executed our game plan perfectly,” Johnson said. “We got out in front, led for 114 laps or something like that, conserved our tires and just let it come to us. We lost the lead on a restart, let (Archer) burn up his tires, drove around him with a couple laps to go, then he got into us a little bit and spun us both out. I think we would have won if there hadn’t been contact. The car was excellent, we were just a little unfortunate not to win, considering how dominating the car felt.”
Now the big question is whether this is the year a local finally claims the top spot on the podium at Summer Showdown?
“I absolutely think this can be the year,” Johnson said. “I think there is a lot of great talent locally, not just from the Monroe area but from all of western Washington. The local drivers have just had a lot of bad luck, but I know anybody from around here can run with the best of them, so I think it’s time.”
So is Johnson the guy to do it?
“That’s hard to say, but we have as good a chance as anybody,” Johnson said. “If luck goes our way then I think we’ll be in a good spot at the end of the race and be contending for the win.”
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