Tearing up the quarter-midget circuit

Hudson Johnson, 8, stands next to his race car at Monroe's quarter midget track this April.

Hudson Johnson, 8, stands next to his race car at Monroe's quarter midget track this April.

SNOHOMISH —  On the race track, flaggers call him “Hollywood.” But back at school and without his signature sunglasses, 8-year-old Hudson Johnson’s teachers used to have no idea what he did on his weekends.
“Mom, nobody knows what quarter midgets are,” Hudson told his mom.
Most professional race car drivers, such as Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Vasser, got their start as youths in quarter midget racing.
Quarter midgets are go-cart-sized cars. They race around a miniature one-fourth-of-a-mile track and can reach up to 45 miles per hour. Quarter midget racing is car racing, only it's for kids — with smaller cars and more safety precautions, of course.
“Washington Quarter Midget Association has about 120 members,” mom Brittany Johnson said. “Quarter midget racing is pretty common nationally, but obviously, it's nothing like football.”
When Hudson was 4 years old he started racing cars. In his first year of racing at the Washington Quarter Midget Association, Hudson won “Rookie of the Year.”
Three years later, “Hollywood” is now participating in the NASCAR Youth Series, traveling the country picking up national, regional, and club-level first-place titles.
He currently leads the NASCAR Youth Series Western Championship Points for the Junior 160 and Junior Animal categories and swept three wins at a track north of Tucson. The series next races June 2-3 at Portland International Raceway on a special-built 1/20-mile oval.
His dad, Kyle Johnson, started racing cars when he was only 10 years old, but had followed a similar track, racing up until his mid-20s. While some families were camping or football families, his was a racing family, Kyle said.
“If Hudson didn’t like racing, and he wanted to do lacrosse or football like my other sons, that would be just fine, but it ended up that he took a liking to it and has a natural talent for it,” Kyle Johnson said.

Hudson has already started to race in older brackets.
“He could not wait to get in the car when he was 4,” Brittany Johnson said. “He is very calm, calculated, and patient on the track, whereas a lot of kids his age will get themselves into trouble. He’s always asking ‘When are we going back to the track? When’s the next race?’ If there’s anywhere he could be, he would choose the track.”
Quarter midget racing is a bit safer than most people assume. The top of the car is caged in, the kids have helmets and braces, and all the cars must pass a safety inspection before racing.
“Statistically it’s safer than football,” Kyle Johnson said. “If I didn’t know anything about racing, I would probably raise an eyebrow at that answer too.”
Hudson explained he feels both happy and nervous on the track, and most nervous before he starts his races.
On the track, his main thought is, “You gotta win this,” he said.
He asks his dad before each race if the car behind him is a fast one, to which his dad replies with his usual race-lingo advice, “Be smooth and stay low.”
Like most kids with a passion, Hudson is set on being a race car driver when he grows up.
“Even if the racing deal ended tomorrow, I would be happy with the things we have accomplished, the lessons he’s learned, and the memories we have made,” Kyle Johnson said. “That all being said, I am very anxious to see how this could all turn out for him.”
While Hudson’s future heights are unknown, he does know his favorite part about racing.
“Hanging out with my dad,” he said, “and going on road trips.”

 Another Snohomish racer also in the hunt

Aiden Stone, 8, of Snohomish is another quarter-midget racer succeeding in national events. In Tucson, Stone took third in Junior 160 and second in Heavy Honda. Another Washington racer, Brody Leach, 7, came second in Junior 160.