When Jesse Johnston was not beating on his drums, he was beating his competition throughout his years of dirt and asphalt Go-Kart competition. Now he’s doing it on a higher level.
After moving up to the Street Stock ranks two years ago at Ransomville Speedway, the fast teenager won his first feature race in that division there last month.
Like any race car driver, Johnston often speaks of the hard work and many obstacles he’s had to overcome to reach Victory Lane throughout his career such as racing budgets, learning curves, occasional mechanical gremlins, the tough competition and the good and bad luck that the sport brings.
Johnston has also applied himself to his love of music. He enjoyed playing in the various music groups at Wilson High School, from which he graduated in June. He currently plays with his brother, Jeremy, in a progressive thrash band called Instigator. Jeremy plays guitar.
Unlike most other racers and musicians, Johnston, 18, has had another very difficult situation to overcome in his young life but he is dealing with it as best he can. Johnston has what is termed high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, which involve difficulty interacting with others. That has not stopped him from achieving success.
“It felt so good when I won my first Street Stock race at Ransomville because of everything and the adversity I had to overcome to get it,” said Johnston, who lives in Ransomville. “It was hard work, determination and learning. I had 45 wins in the Go-Karts and I wanted to do well in the Street Stocks.”
Johnston has been on a steady rise in the Street Stocks. In 2011, he was named Ransomville’s Rookie of the Year and finished 12th in points. Last season he moved to seventh in the final rankings, earning Most Improved Street Stock driver honors. He sits eighth in this year’s Ransomville Street Stock standings.
Johnston raced Go-Karts from 2004 through 2010, winning at Ransomville, Merrittville and Paradise speedways. On asphalt, he grabbed checkered flags at tracks in Batavia, Avon, Cherry Valley and Bliss. Johnston also claimed two Batavia Kart Club World Formula class championships.
Johnston, who played in the jazz ensemble, pit band and concert band at Wilson, will attend Niagara County Community College in the fall to begin pursuit of a music degree.
“I’ve had the high-function autism since I was very young and it made my childhood socially painful,” he said. “But I got through it thanks to the tremendous support I got from my parents, my teachers, my school officials, my guidance counselors and my faith in God. I’m an example of someone who can deal with this, especially when you have support.”
This spring, Johnston finished in the top 50 among around 500 entries in the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge, which is affiliated with Michael Waltrip Racing. Along with his exploits at Ransomville, Johnston has enjoyed very respectable finishes (third last year and sixth this season) in the Street Stock class at Canandaigua Speedway. He plans to continue driving in Street Stocks the next two years, most likely full time.
“I like him because he has had to overcome many hardships and bad luck but always shows the determination to do the best he can. He does not have autism or anything like that, but anyone that works that hard is someone I like.”
Hackenbracht scored an ARCA win a year ago at Pocono before moving up to NASCAR’s higher levels.
While Johnston may admire Hackenbracht, his many followers at Ransomville may feel the same about the teenage driver from Wilson.
• When Gary Lindberg crossed the finish line last Sunday to record the DIRT.car Sportsman win at New Humberstone Speedway, it was his fourth win of the season at the Port Colborne, Ont., dirt track. There were 22 Sportsman on hand at New Humberstone, where the management has shown consistently that it knows how to run a smooth program.
• Many local asphalt stock car racers will be heading to the Oswego Speedway later this week for the 63rd Annual Sunoco Race of Champions Weekend. The Race of Champions Modified Tour, which recently appeared at Holland Motorsports Complex, will be featured Saturday at 8:15 p.m. in the Sunoco Race of Champions 200.
Also running in the Oswego ROC weekend feature race activity Friday will be the Small Block Supermodifieds, (50 laps), Late Models (50) and ROC Sportsman (100). The Super Stocks, (75) and Supermodifieds (100) will join the program Saturday preceding the Sunoco Race of Champions 200.