Johnny Van Doorn a Nobody No More With All American 400 Triumph by Matt Kentfield
Fresh Tires the Key to Overcome Jason Hogan Late to Win Famed Guitar
Johnny Van Doorn now has a chance to make a name for himself ine music business with a Copley guitar for winning the All American 400 (51 Photos)
Now, it’s going to be tough for Johnny Van Doorn to be a nobody.
Before 2007, the 19-year-old was just another kid trying to make it in the short track world, running Super Late Models and Outlaw SLM’s in the Upper Midwest with limited success. He even attempted to run the full CRA Super Series in 2006, but had to call it a year early because of a lack of sponsorship.
This season, it all turned around. He teamed up with former ARCA Champion Tim Steele, working full-time in the shop of Port City Racecars. He used the knowledge of the cars and the advice of Steele to win a CRA Super Series race at Anderson (IN). He has won several Outlaw Super Late Models at places like Berlin and Toledo and nearly won the Kalamazoo Klash. He finished the season with the 2007 CRA Super Series Rookie of the Year title.
Now, he has won one of the most prestigious races in all of short track racing, the All American 400 at Music City Motorplex. Van Doorn used fresh tires to blast by 2005 All American winner Jason Hogan with eight laps remaining to etch his name onto a trophy that has short track legend names like Gary St. Amant, Butch Miller, Mike Garvey, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Purvis on it.
Being on the same list as those drivers ensures that Johnny Van Doorn will be a nobody no more.
“Winning this race means everything to me,” said Van Doorn after hoisting the Copley Champion’s Guitar in Music City’s victory lane. “I remember watching the old ASA on TNN. That was real racing to me. We always watched that instead of the Cup race. I remember watching those guys race here in Nashville. As a little kid, I would have never thought that in 10 years I’d be here at Music City Motorplex winning the All American 400.”
He may not have imagined ever winning the All American 400, but his performance on-track all weekend showed otherwise. Van Doorn’s HS Die #16 Chevrolet was quick in practice. He set fast time in qualifying and was up front throughout the 300-lap feature.
But Van Doorn had one question in mind throughout the race, even as he was up front. Why would his pit crew wait until around 200 laps before making their first tire change? Then why would they wait until lap 233 before changing their right sides?
When Van Doorn realized he was on fresher tires than the rest of the field late in the race, he fully understood the answer to his question.
“That was not my strategy. Around lap 50, the guys were kind of chuckling on the radio. They told me they figured something out and we were going to go with it. At Winchester (in the Winchester 400), I kind of cost us the race. We should’ve won that race, but I made a call on the last pit stop that didn’t work out. So when they said they had a plan, I just went with it.
Van Doorn (#16) battles Chris Gabehart (#17) on his way through the field at Music City Motorplex. (Ron Harner photo)
“I came in about lap 100 and got gas only. I was like, ‘how come you guys didn’t put tires on?’ The guys kind of chuckled. So I ran to lap 198, I think it was, before I pitted for tires. We were still leading and still doing good. What they wanted were the freshest tires on the car late. As late as we could get it, praying on cautions.
“We took left sides, but it was junk because we still had 200-lap right sides on there. I think we went to lap 230 on the right side tires. That’s unbelievable, especially at a place like this. Once we put those right side tires on, it was almost like an unfair advantage. I was able to pass guys left and right. But it was definitely my guys’ call. They won me that race.”
Hogan was the last in line of Van Doorn’s late march through the field on the fresh tires. Hogan had checked out from the field late, but Van Doorn kept chugging towards the front. Hogan tried throwing a block on Van Doorn with eight laps remaining, but a bid for a second Copley Guitar was erased when Van Doorn snuck by him on the low side in turn four.
“We didn’t get beat on racecar or motor. We got beat on tires,” said Hogan. “That’s all there is to it. He had about 30 lap fresher tires than we did. There’s really nothing you can do about it.
“We knew he had fresh rubber. I saw him come in to pit and knew he had waited. My guys were telling me when he was coming and how far back he was. I knew how much I had to drive the car and how much I would have to slow up and save a little bit. We did everything we could do to stay in front of him, but he just had about a five-lap better car than we did.”
Strategy also cost Nathan Haseleu, who along with Van Doorn and Hogan, spent a large chunk of the 300-lapper up front, leading from laps 194 through 208. The ASA Midwest Tour and Wisconsin Challenge Series Champion Haseleu stayed out when the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted with about 100 laps remaining. He lost the lead a few laps later to Hogan on fresh tires and was never able to regain momentum to come back up to the front, eventually settling for eighth.
“We don’t do this type of racing very often with pit stops,” said Haseleu, who won the CRA Spring Clash 150 at Music City Motorplex earlier this year. “If you watched the race today, you could tell. We took a car that was a top three or four car and finished eighth with it. The #16 car (Van Doorn) was a little bit better than us, but we were a top three or four car. We didn’t pit when we should’ve pitted and we didn’t put the right tires on when we should’ve and couldn’t adjust on the car. I’m just upset that the way we finished didn’t show how good of a car we had here.”
Van Doorn has won in CRA and in Outlaw Super Late Models like this one, but the AA400 was his biggest win.
“I kind of burned my stuff up a little bit getting to him because I was driving a little too aggressive. So I let everything kind of cool down a little bit, took it easy and figured out a little different line to get him. I saw I was going to have to get a little higher line in three and then cut it down low off of four. I knew I had way fresher tires than him, so there was no way he would keep me behind him.”
Nobody could keep Johnny Van Doorn behind them on Sunday. It will be tough for anyone to not know Johnny Van Doorn’s name now, too.
“This is unbelievable. Last couple years, I’ve kind of been a nobody. Then when I saw I was in the top 40 in the Short Track Draft on Speed51, I was like ‘woah, I’m one of the top-40 short trackers?' There’s guys on there like Gary St. Amant and Donny Schatz and all them. Then I’m on the Who’s Hot and Who’s Not list, and it’s like ‘Holy Cow!’
Jason Hogan came up one spot and new tires short of a second AA400 victory.
Hogan became the show from there until Van Doorn made his late charge on the fresh rubber. As if he needed more motivation to get an All American 400 victory, Van Doorn realized why he needed to get by Hogan.
“I had to make sure I beat him because he just switched over to a Hamke car. Me working at Port City, I didn’t want to get beat by another chassis. Then when I saw it was Hogan that I was battling for the lead, I knew there was no way I was going to lose to a Hamke car because I’d never hear the end of it at the shop.
“This is so great. We haven’t been running very good the last three years. We started figuring things out towards the end of last year, but we hadn’t won a race yet. Finally starting this year, I wanted to make sure all my ‘i’s’ were dotted and ‘t’s’ were crossed. Everything fell into place when I hooked up with Steele. That was the last piece of the puzzle. From there, it’s been top-five, top-five, top-five. Before, if we finished in the top-five, we were doing good. Now, if we finish third, everyone’s pissed off.
“But now we got a guitar. That’s pretty awesome.”