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Fearless Johnson serves as role model

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Tina Johnson has become a popular driver among fans at the Thursday Thunder racing series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Tina Johnson has become a popular driver among fans at the Thursday Thunder racing series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

For a woman competing in a male-dominated sport, Tina Johnson has learned to developed a resistance to fear.

It is probably the only way to explain why the 40-year-old Senoia resident would climb back into a race car last week after totaling her car last season in the third week.

During Week 3 of the 2010 Thursday Thunder racing series, Johnson's No. 83 legends car hit the wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway propelled in the air and flipped three times.

Amazingly, Johnson was able to walk away with no serious injuries, and with her resistance intact.

"I think the wreck looked worse than it was," Johnson said last week, minutes after taking third in her first race in the Masters division at Thursday Thunder. It was her first race since the wreck.

"It really hasn't effected me," she said. "I must be crazy. I prayed before the race. I wasn't really nervous."

Even when a driver spun out two laps into last week's race, Johnson didn't panic.

"I was like, 'You got to be kidding me,'" Johnson smiled. "You have to pay attention to what's ahead of you. I'm trying to get out of the way of wrecks."

Johnson has retired the No. 83 and now has the No. 4 painted on her car.

She has been around racing most of her life as she used to follow her father, Sammy Cooper, to the tracks to watch him race. Although she competed in softball growing up, racing has always been her first love.

"I'm a real competitive person," Johnson said.

And it shows around the track.

"She's a good driver," said Albany native Skip Nichols, Thursday Thunder's all-time winningest driver. "She has definitely proved herself on the track. I'm looking forward to her running with us this season. She has earned the respect of all the drivers."

In 63 races in the Thursday Thunder racing series, she has five victories and three runner-up finishes.

But there was a time when Johnson gave up racing. Not because of a lack of success, but from a lack of support around the track and in the garage.

She knew other drivers were against her because of her gender, not her ability.

"When I first started out, I didn't get the support from others," she said. "They were attacking me. I let it get to me, and I quit."

But she didn't stay gone long. With the support of her husband, Drew, Johnson returned to the sport she loved.

With a new crop of drivers around the track, came a new attitude.

"These guys," Johnson said, while looking around the garage at AMS. "These guys are like family."

And Johnson has become somewhat of a mother figure for the younger drivers at the track. Many, especially the handful of younger females, usually come to Johnson for advance.

"I'm like a second mom to most of the kids," said Johnson, who is a customer service representative. "I try to be a good role model for all of them. Anytime someone asks for my help or advice, I try to be there for them."

Through the T.J. Racing team, Johnson and her husband have been able to help several drivers fulfill their dream of racing at AMS.

AMS president Ed Clark, who also races in the Masters division, calls Johnson a good ambassador for the sport.

"She does an extremely good job of helping the younger drivers," Clark said. "Some 9 the other females see what Tina is doing, and they realize they can do it too. It is real special, because she is willing to assist the other drivers."