From The Golf Course to the Race Track

FROM THE GOLF COURSE TO THE RACE TRACK CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina Speedway, the site of this weekend's NASCAR race in Rockingham, is just a 30 minute drive from Pinehurst, a world class golf resort which has attracted both amateur and pro ...

From The Golf Course to the Race Track

FROM THE GOLF COURSE TO THE RACE TRACK

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina Speedway, the site of this weekend's NASCAR race in Rockingham, is just a 30 minute drive from Pinehurst, a world class golf resort which has attracted both amateur and pro golfers for over 100 years. Sam Johns is an accomplished golfer who contemplated a career in golf at one time. Instead of strolling the greens and enjoying the sweet-smelling grass and tranquil silence of Pinehurst, however, Johns will be in Rockingham, happily toiling on hot asphalt, smelling burnt rubber and listening to the nearly constant roar of 750 horsepower engines at full song. The question is why? Johns, the crew chief for the No. 33 Skoal Racing Monte Carlo, traded his golf clubs for wrenches years ago. "I used to enjoy the game of golf a lot," said Johns, a Lakeland, Fla., native. "When it started to feel like work, I put the clubs down. I didn't enjoy the game at that point in my life." A golf club in the hands of Johns was like a steering wheel in the hands of Ken Schrader, driver of the No. 33 Skoal Racing Monte Carlo. Johns grew up playing at Love Palm Golf Course in Lakeland. He played every day in hopes of becoming a member of the Pro Golf Association. "It was my dad's dream for me to become a pro golfer," said Johns. "He tried molding us into golfers from the beginning. He enjoyed the game so much that he brought both my brother and myself into the game. I think at first it was so he would have somebody to play with, but I know now that he was looking out for our well-being." Johns played competitively around the state of Florida earning victories in many leagues. He often played with two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen. "The sport was starting to get big and I wasn't good enough to go on tour and make a solid living at it," said Johns candidly. "It's like any other sport. If you're not one of the best and you're not going to be, then you need to find another way to make a living. "I could have been better, but I wasn't committed enough to the game. It got to the point where it wasn't fun to get up and hit balls all day at the course," he admitted. Johns' interest in golfing diminished as his interest in racing increased. "I took a break from golfing and started hanging out at local short tracks on the weekends," he revealed. "I became fascinated with the sport and I wanted to be more involved. I was working as a manager at a supermarket and racing on the weekends." Johns decided to pursue his dream of becoming a racer. Not only did he quit his job at the supermarket, but he left his family behind in Florida to look for the opportunity to work in NASCAR racing full-time! "I wasn't happy with my job or with being a weekend racer," said Johns. "I packed my clothes and tools in my car and headed to Darlington, S.C. where the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series were racing. I didn't know anybody. I didn't even have a ticket to get inside, so I stood outside the registration booth and asked everybody who came to sign in if they needed any help. "Jimmy Spencer actually stopped to talk to me," Johns remembered, a touch of surprise still in his voice. "He told me that his Busch team needed some help. I couldn't believe I was actually going to get the opportunity to work in NASCAR. I worked for just $20 a week, but I would've worked for free. You do that when you love something that much. "I still love racing. You have to love it or we wouldn't still be doing it," said Johns. "Nowadays, I'm back enjoying golf. It has become fun for me to go out and play to relax. Actually, I don't get to play as much as I'd like. It used to be the end of the world if I hit a bad shot on the course, now it kills me to have a bad day at the track." The golfer turned racer is dedicated to the hustle and bustle of NASCAR racing. Enduring long workdays in the Skoal Racing shop and even longer days at the track, Johns is quite happy with his career choice. He even finds time to enjoy golf, but never on a race weekend.

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