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September 23, 2021

Lucas Oil Speedway Spotlight: Modified racer Matt Johnson having fun in Pro Pulling League Mini Rod

Matt Johnson in the same color scheme and design as his USRA Modified will be in his Mini Rod on Friday as Lucas Oil Speedway plays host to the Lucas Pro Pulling League Nationals. (Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League photo)
WHEATLAND, MO. (Sept. 23, 2021) - Matt Johnson always is fast when he’s at Lucas Oil Speedway, but this time it’s a whole new ballgame. The only similarity this Friday night will be that Johnson’s tires will touch dirt.
The long-time USRA Modified driver from west-central Missouri will be behind the wheel of his Mini Rod for Night One of the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League Nationals. His mini-tractor might look similar in its red-and-white, No. 1X paint scheme, but it’s nothing like his Modified.
So first of all, what is the sensation of pulling like? Johnson called it a rush.
“You’re basically sitting on top of the motor and it only weighs 2,000 pounds,” Johnson, from Archie, Missouri, said of the Mini Rod. “You’re just hanging on for the ride, pretty much, with 2,800 horsepower.”
And how in the world did he crossover to a totally opposite form of motorsports competition?
Johnson has one feature victory and two third-place finishes in three USRA Modified features at Lucas Oil Speedway this season. He got started in pulling last year, when he bought a Pro Stock truck and campaigned it a few times.
“Then we wound up buying a Mini Rod from the Bobcat Jr. team,” Johnson said. “It was their tractor from last year and they built a new one for this year. We’ve been kind of teaming up with them and following them around on the PPL Series this year. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Johnson finished second his first time out in the Mini Rod, at a North Carolina event. He joked that “spoiled us a bit” to expect similar results each time. He’s sixth in Mini Rod points entering the final pull of the season at Wheatland, a solid showing for a newcomer.
Asked about mixing the oval and pulling aspects of motorsports, Johnson said he “likes living on the edge, I guess.”
“It looked intriguing, with all that horsepower,” Johnson added. “No more than what they weighed, it looked like a lot of fun.”
Johnson began his racing career in 2001 as an 18-year-old, driving Stock Cars. He moved to Modifieds in 2005 and to Late Models in 2009 as he won Midwest Late Model Racing Association Rookie of the Year honors.
“We ran Late Models until about 2015 and then got back into the A Mods,” he said. “We’ve been running those ever since.”
With a lot of success. This season he has four wins overall and has finished outside the top three only once in 11 features.
Johnson said he’s bypassed additional action in the Modified to travel the PPL circuit. It’s taken him to new places for new adventures. The experience has been rewarding.
“Everybody we’ve talked to or hung out with in the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League has been fantastic to visit with and compete against,” Johnson said. “Everybody has been super nice and we’ve been grateful for that, being newcomers to the sport. They’ve been just like family from day one.
“We’ve had a couple of top threes, but haven’t won one yet. We’re still chasing that. But we’re having fun. We had a little bit of a bad run last weekend, but learned a little lesson on our set-up.”
With the obvious differences in style of driving, Johnson said the take off in pulling is key.
“Air pressure adjustments and a couple of different tire compounds, people play with that,” he said. “It’s a different whole set of factors compared to circle-track racing. We circle-track raced for 20 years, so it’s all relatively new and fun to us right now trying to master something else.
“One good thing about pulling, I don’t have to beat sheet metal out at the end of the week.”
While it will be nice to pull close to home this weekend, Johnson said he feels a bit of pressure.
“We have a lot of family coming to see us and hopefully we can perform in front of everybody we know,” he said, adding that he would like to pick up a feature win to complete a rare trifecta.
“We’ve went out four times in the Pro Stock truck and won a hook with the Outlaw series in Buckner, Missouri, two weekends ago,” Johnson said. “If we can get a Mini Rod win we’ll have a win in each category and would be pretty happy.”
Either way, Johnson plans to be back on the Lucas Oil Speedway oval in two weeks for the USRA Nationals.
“We run pretty good at Wheatland, so we’re looking forward to that,” Johnson said.
Championships in the Lucas Pro Pulling League will be decided as the 2021 schedule comes to a close in two big nights of action at the Pro Pulling League Nationals.
Classes scheduled to be in action on Friday will be ARP Lightweight Super Stocks, ARP Limited Pro Stock Diesel Trucks, Limited Pro Stock Tractors and Summit Racing Mini Rod Tractors.
On Saturday, it will be Big River Steel Super Modified Tractors, Unlimited Super Stock Tractors, AirDog Super Farm Tractors, Optima Batteries Super Modified 2WD Trucks, Line-X Modified 4WD Trucks, Pro Stock Tractors and Mac Trailer Hot Rod Semis.
For more information on the Lucas Pro Pulling League, including points, visit
Spectator gates open at 4 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Opening ceremonies are at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Friday tickets:
Adults (16 and over) - $20
Seniors (62 and over)/Military - $17
Youth (ages 6-15) - $5
Kids (5 and under) - FREE
Family pass - $45
Saturday tickets:
Adults (16 and over) - $25
Seniors (62 and over)/Military - $22
Youth (ages 6-15) - $10
Kids (5 and under) - FREE
Family pass - $60
For ticket information for any event during the 2021 Lucas Oil Speedway season, contact admissions director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or via email at Fans also can use the online ticketing system.
Danny Lorton
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984