Clint in Italy last year with the Ferrari Challenge racing series, which keeps him plenty busy when he’s not traveling with the American LeMans tour. (Photo courtesy Clint Johnson)
Regardless of one’s profession, we all generally strive to perform at the highest level. Crowley Lake local Clint Johnson is fortunate in that he gets to see the fruits of his labor perform … at 200 mph. And at those speeds, part of his job to make sure it performs flawlessly.
Johnson, a Class of ’04 Mammoth High School grad, has taken his act on the road as a fly-in mechanic for the exotic, very high-tech cars that run the American LeMans road racing series. Part of a racing team sponsored by Ferrari of Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley, Johnson still has the flexibility to work for as many teams as he wants, as long as the schedules do not conflict. Last year, he did races for BMW and Porsche teams, in addition to his full-time work with the Ferrari team.
His journey from spectator to the boots-on-the-ground side of pit lane started when he was very young. Long time auto racing enthusiasts, the Johnson family hails from Long Beach, Calif., home of the famous Long Beach Grand Prix. His parents took Clint to his first race when he was 2, and he’s been going with them every year since.
At Mammoth High School, he took Auto Shop with Coach Tom Gault. “I was always into tinkering,” Johnson said. During that time, he and Mark Layne from Tom’s Place served as navigators in a 4,000-mile Great Race driving in Gault’s 1934 Plymouth from Livonia, Mich., to Daytona Beach, Fla.
For his 16th birthday, he got a 1971 Plymouth Satellite “project car,” which Clint and his dad restored together, and which Clint drove through high school (and still has). He was accepted to four-year colleges, but decided he wanted to go to a technical school instead.
“Even at an early age, Clint’s curiosity level was unusually high,” Gault recalled. “He’d ask me about something and I’ve have to explain it to his satisfaction. We have had lots of success stories come out of our auto shop classes. But Clint had a real intensity about it, and took it to another level. It doesn’t surprise me … I’d have been surprised if he didn’t follow that career path.”
“Normally, we would have been adamant [about Clint’s attending a four-year college] but for some reason, we said, ‘Fine, tell us what you want to do and let’s get you enrolled,’” his mother Janice recalled. After completing two years at Sequoia Institute (now WyoTech) in the Bay Area, he wanted to focus his mechanics knowledge on racing. “I’m not a dealership guy, though, and wanted something more edgy, high performance,” Johnson explained.
In 2007, he went through the Russell Racing Mechanics Program at Infineon Raceway. In addition to maintaining the cars and studying mechanics, the students also learned how to drive and raced against each other. Did he consider becoming a race driver? “I had the idea, until I started measuring myself against other kids who were real good at it, and I had my share of crash damage,” he quipped. “It was good education, though, in how to relate to what the drivers are saying about how the car’s performing.”
Upon graduation in fall 2008, he traveled all the U.S. and Canada with the Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights series before joining up with the American LeMans tour for the past two seasons.
In addition to the Ferrari Challenge, which takes him to Italy, racing fans will recognize some of the world-famous race courses he’s worked at: Homestead and Sebring in Florida, Laguna Seca in Monterey, Mossport International in Ontario, Canada, Mid-Ohio in Lexington, Ohio, Wisconsin’s Road America at Elkhart Lake, Watkins Glen New York and Road Atlanta in Georgia.
Last year, he went over the wall during pit stops for the first time. “The cars come screaming in blazing hot,” he described. “I had lots of singe marks all over my arms from the brakes and tire rims!” Off the road, he’s taken over lots of other duties, from ordering parts, working with the drivers and keeping their licenses current to studying lots of rule books. “I’m like an attorney, highlighting all these passages.”
Would he like to move into IndyCar, NASCAR or Formula 1? “I’d love any of those, but right now I’m following the opportunities. One day I can see myself as a crew chief and a team owner, but for right now, I love LeMans,” he explained. “You have Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches and all these cool cars competing against each other, and each can do things the others can’t.”
One of his favorite adrenaline rushes: 12- and 24-hour endurance racing. “It’s really team specific,” he said. “The drivers can alternate behind the wheel, but the car is always on the track, so we have to set it up perfectly.”
After time off during for holidays, Clint was back at work, testing at Daytona, followed by the 2012 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, at the end of January.
With racing season well underway (NASCAR, NHRA drag racing have already started their schedules, and IndyCar goes green on March 25), Johnson e-mailed from Florida that this weekend he’s at the 60th Anniversary of the 12 Hours of Sebring, crewing on the brand new No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. From there, he heads to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Honda Grand Prix Ferrari Challenge on March 23-25, the undercard race for the IndyCar season opener. Clint will travel with the Ferrari Challenge when it does not conflict with the American LeMans schedule. From there it’s back to the West Coast next month with the Paul Miller team, when the ALMS roars into Long Beach on April 13-14. “My family’s planning on coming down to watch that one, and it’ll be great get to see them. Long Beach is always a great race.”