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Published: Sunday, 5/23/2010

Driver heeds call to country

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Jerick Johnson intends to wheel the No. 76 Freedom Car into the starting grid for today's ARCA race at Toledo Speedway, and part of the push behind him will be the support of the world's largest veteran's organization and the weight of knowing he represents all those that have served this nation.

"Driving the American Legion car is a tremendous honor, and it is also a huge responsibility," Johnson said Friday night, shortly after arriving in Toledo. "You're really visible out there, hoping to bring more recognition to all of the troops and the veterans and also to let people know how important the American Legion is in this country."

Johnson and the No. 76 team made the move into the ARCA Racing Series presented by

RE/MAX and Menards this season after running in the ASA Late

Model Challenge Series last year, when Johnson won "Rookie of the Year" honors. He also has two ARCA races from the 2002 season on his resume and ran in five NASCAR Busch Series races in 2007.

Johnson didn't get his first look at the Toledo Speedway half-mile oval on Benore Road until yesterday.

"I just hope to get out there and put in some practice laps and get a feel for the place," he said. "We'll talk to some of the veterans who have been there before and gather as much information as we can."

Johnson is 19th in points in the ARCA Series but has competed in just three of the five events to date. He was 22nd at Salem, 15th in Texas, and finished 16th at Talladega. His duty in Toledo will be customarily two-fold - running in the race and working to spread the word about the American Legion.

"A lot of our military services sponsor cars, but it's not just about racing - it's about utilizing a powerful marketing tool," Johnson said. "We're trying to get the message out that the American Legion is not just a building or a place. It's an organization that is involved in a lot of good causes. We want to encourage the next generation of members to come join the American Legion."

Johnson is a member of the Sons of the American Legion, while his father and team owner Jack Johnson is a Legionnaire, and Jerick's mother, Debbie, is an American Legion Auxiliary member.

"The theme of patriotism and service is everywhere," Jerick Johnson said. "Then you get to the track on race day, and there's a prayer, the national anthem, and a military flyover. There's an awful lot of pride involved in this, and I want to make sure we do the best job of representing the people who stand behind this car and this team."

The field for the Menards 200 will present Johnson with considerable challenges, since it is loaded with skilled veterans and talented young drivers.

The starting grid should include nine-time ARCA Series champion Frank Kimmel, NASCAR vet Ken Schrader, current ARCA points leader Justin Marks, and Camping World Truck Series regular Matt Crafton. Kimmel will be making his 30th consecutive start in Toledo Speedway ARCA Series events.

"Toledo has been such a good track for me over the years, and I like short track racing," Kimmel said. "Short track racing goes back to the driver a little more; if the car is off a little bit, you can drive it a little different and make it competitive. It's the type of track I was born and raised running. Toledo is a good place to come racing."

The Toledo Speedway gates open at 11 this morning, but the Fan Fest in the parking lot next to the track gets going a half hour prior to that. The Fan Fest event is free and offers interactive displays and activities and gives racing fans the chance to interact with ARCA officials, drivers, teams, crew members, and sponsors.

There will be an on-track autograph session with all of the drivers from noon until 1:15, with driver introductions at 1:30, and the 200-lap Menards 200 Presented by Federated Car Care race starting at 2 p.m.

ARCA POLE: Chris

Buescher won the pole for today's race by turning the half-mile Toledo Speedway oval in 15.984 seconds (112.867 mph) in yesterday's qualifying. Mikey Kile will start second after posting a 16.106 seconds lap.

NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader qualified third, while Talladega ARCA winner Dakoda Armstrong will start fourth, followed by ARCA points leader Justin Marks. Camping World Truck Series regular Matt Crafton qualified seventh, while 10-time ARCA Series champ Frank Kimmel will start ninth.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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