Jack Johnson – ORMHOF Class of 2020
Versatility, tenacity, commitment, dedication, longevity, dominance: These are just a few of the words that describe the off-road racing career of Jack Johnson. A racing career that spanned some 40 years, Jack amassed a staggering (23) SCORE, HDRA, and Best In The Desert event overall wins in a car, truck, or motorcycle. A tremendous record no doubt, but one that no one is surprised to acknowledge because even at an early age, Jack’s career was marked for greatness.
Born in California and raised in the Nevada desert, under the tutelage of his father Bill Johnson, Jack was thrown into the deep end of the racing pool at a very early age. Traveling extensively throughout California and Nevada, competing in every type of motorcycle competition imaginable against much older and more experienced riders, he quickly developed a reputation as the upcoming young racer to watch. As a teenager, he quickly moved onto winning desert races overall, his eyes firmly set on winning at the highest levels of sport. From the late ‘60s, through the ‘70s’ ‘80s and ‘90s, Jack Johnson was a threat to win overall!
Jack made his first mark at the “big” races at the 1973 Mint 400, where he and partner Dave Laca put the off-road motorcycle racing world on notice. There they finished 2nd overall, 1st 250cc motorcycle on a privately backed Yamaha owned by Pat Friel, of Valley Cycle Sales crossing the line just behind the mighty factory Husqvarna team. In 1975, once again riding for Valley Cycles, and teamed with Mark Mason, he shocked the motorcycling establishment winning the 1975 Mint 400 overall beating Team Husqvarna decisively.
In 1976 Jack claimed his first victory in Baja winning Class 21 with future brother-in-law, and fellow AMA Hall Of Famer Scot Harden as his partner. In 1977 he joined Team Husqvarna as an official team member and from there he went on to set records and established him as one of the most dominant off-road motorcycle racers ever.
A short list of Jack’s major wins includes: Four overall wins at the Baja 1000, a SCORE Off-Road World Championship victory, two Mint 400 overalls, two Las Vegas 400 overalls, an overall win at the San Felipe 250 and countless local and regional wins including four overall wins at the legendary Cherry Creek Hare and Hound and Virginia City Grand Prix. Last but not least, Jack won the Baja 500 twice overall, his second win in 1979 putting him in the record books as the only motorcycle racer ever to win the Baja 500 overall riding solo.
In the early 80’s Jack turned his attention to international competition representing the United States at the International Six Days Enduro where Jack brought home two medals, including a Silver Medal in France in 1980 and a Gold Medal in Italy in 1981. Jack continued to race and win in Baja as part of the Chris Haines Baja race team well into his 50s, dominating Class 30 and 40 turning times in the sections he rode that were comparable to the fastest times for the event overall.
As a result of his phenomenal career in motorcycle racing, Jack was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame in 2016. Starting in the early ’80s, and while still at the top of the motorcycle world, Jack began making forays into the world of off-road car and truck racing and quickly proved to be just as dominant. Racing for legendary car tuner Butch Dean, Jack proved to be a quick study winning the 1980 Mint 400 overall in a Class 1 Unlimited car in his very first attempt. In the process, he became the first racer ever to win the Mint overall in both a car and motorcycle.
By 1986 Jack was racing trucks and in 1987 became the Driver of Record for Nissan’s factory off-road program. In 1988 Jack rewarded Nissan with a win in Class 4 at the Mint 400, establishing another record as the only racer to win the legendary race in a car, truck, and motorcycle. Jack’s list of car/truck victories alone put him at a level few other off-road racers can match with 28 class and 14 overall wins in the four-wheel division. In addition, he recorded three HDRA Class 1 Unlimited Class Series Championships and three SCORE Series Championships in trucks and motorcycles.
Known as a “thinking man’s” racer Jack understood the need to properly set-up and test his equipment before each race especially when it came to setting up the handling package on his race vehicle. Gifted with an innate ability to read terrain, develop a winning race strategy and having incredible stamina to go the distance, often solo, these qualities presented a formidable combination regardless of the machine or type of race involved. Add in his indomitable spirit and will to win, and you have all the ingredients necessary to dominate your sport. Only a very small handful of elite racers ever have adapted to such a wide variety of racing equipment, disciplines, and conditions so successfully as Jack Johnson.
Today Jack is still riding and recreating off-road on his beloved KTM 300. He’s heavily involved with the legendary Nevada 200 Trailride and serves as a trail boss and ambassador for the event, which raises thousands of dollars for the rural communities in Lincoln County, Nevada.
Jack’s advice and counsel are sought out by upcoming young off-road racers, where he is always willing to help out with advice and encouragement. Jack’s induction into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame caps a legendary career that is still evolving.
Profile photo by Stephen Romero.