Being able to drive a performance car in a safe, entry-level competition is what attracted Draper resident Ryan Johnson to autocross, referred to as “solo” in the motorsports world, nearly 15 years ago. Little did he know that what started as a weekend hobby with his family, would turn into a full-fledged passion, or “addiction” as he calls it, propelling him into the national competition arena and earning him the title of National Champion at the 42nd Annual Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals in Nebraska last September.
“This really means a lot,” said Johnson, principal of J & J & Sons Construction. “After attending this event for years, it feels good to finally get to the top.”
Draper resident Ryan Johnson poses with the first-place trophy he earned at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships. Photo courtesy of Ryan Johnson.
Solo is a low-risk motorsport that’s not all about pure speed. Drivers navigate one at a time through extremely technical courses that are under a mile long, racing against the clock at speeds typically under 70 mph—all coming down to car handling and driver skill. Solo events typically have many competitive grades and skill levels, from daily drivers and go-carts to open-wheel formula racecars.
“There’s every kind of vehicle except sport utility,” said Johnson, who currently competes in a street-legal Lotus Elise. “It’s really a great family sport. My two kids started at age 12 racing go-carts. That was the coolest part of autocross for me—race time and family time became one and the same. We turned events into vacations.”
Not only was the family time a draw, but with 10 national competitions a year, plus another 15 locals, the Johnsons soon made friends with solo regulars, establishing an extended “race family.”
Vernon Jolley, senior attorney at Jolley & Jolley and solo director of the Utah Chapter of the Sports Car Club of America, has been a proud member of this close-knit group for nearly eight years.
“I now have bragging rights to say I’m friends with a national champion,” Jolley said. “He’s one of the most dedicated, fierce competitors that I’ve met. Winning the national autocross was an almost impossible feat since we are timed down to one thousandth of a second, which is faster than a blink of the eye. The competition in his class is fierce, and it all came down to fast thinking and perfect placement of the car on turns and slaloms.”
Weather conditions were a bit unfavorable at nationals with intermittent rain throughout, which posed concern to those on the track. Expectations were on the previous two-time champion to win, but Johnson’s time of 114.216 sec would end up winning the class of 13 national qualifiers by 0.192 sec. Five Utah drivers attended the 2014 nationals, among the 1,200 who entered.
“This was a big thing, especially for Utah to win,” Jolley said. “We’ve had a few national champions in our local club, but none for many years.”
Johnson has served three years as Utah’s SCCA solo director and is still a member of the board, helping to run the regional racing program.
“My goal has always been to get a national championship,” he said. “Now that I’ve done it, I want to maintain it.”