Uncertainties surrounded Jason Johnson Racing in 2018 after the loss of its leader. But during the Knoxville Nationals that year, the team found exactly what it was looking for.
That was Lemoore, Calif., racer Carson Macedo.
Now, Macedo and JJR are targeting a Knoxville Nationals victory in their second full season together, while Macedo navigates his fourth year of following the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series circuit.
But four years ago, Macedo, who was 22 at the time, was unknown to JJR crew chief Philip Dietz.
“I knew his name but didn’t really follow him,” Dietz said. “I knew he had done a lot of midget racing but didn’t really follow much of his winged sprint career.”
So how did he get hired?
Simply, Jason Meyers.
The two-time World of Outlaws champion, who filled in for Johnson in 2015 and is well respected by Dietz, recommended Macedo for the seat after turning down the opportunity to drive the No. 41 car.
“Whenever (Meyers) reached out to me about recommending Carson, he even made the comment that Carson was one of the few drivers he would put in his own car,” Dietz said. “So when he said that, I knew he was really serious about him.”
Macedo had made 40 World of Outlaws starts at that time and won a feature driving for Tommy Tarlton at California’s Silver Dollar Speedway in only his sixth WoO start.
Dietz acknowledges there was pressure on his new, young driver, who was stepping behind the wheel of the No. 41 car that had won the Knoxville Nationals in 2016 with Jason Johnson.
Still, no one expected them to win or even be a threat to win, he said.
In their first race together, they won.
“I always said if you match a good car, a good mechanic and a good driver, a lot of times good things happen,” Macedo said about their 360 Knoxville Nationals preliminary night victory.
They finished second in the 360 Knoxville Nationals and sixth in the Knoxville Nationals. Their partnership continued for five more races that year, including a fourth-place run at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
“He was really the perfect fit for what we were needing during that time,” Dietz said. “Although our future was kind of uncertain at that time, we felt like if we could put something together Carson would definitely be a candidate for JJR.”
However, before their relationship fully flourished, Macedo landed a deal to join the World of Outlaws tour full time with Kyle Larson Racing in 2019. He ran two years with KLR, collecting five victories. Meanwhile, JJR teamed with David Gravel and recorded 19 victories with him, including the 2019 Knoxville Nationals.
When Gravel and JJR parted ways at the end of 2020, Macedo was looking for a new home as well, making for an easy decision to celebrate a JJR reunion.
And it was immediately apparent there was no loss of chemistry during the separation.
“I felt like we were kind of advanced because we had two years under our belt as a team, and he had two years as an Outlaws driver,” said Dietz, who along with his wife, Brooke, joined the team as co-owners with Bobbi Johnson in 2021. “I felt like maybe things were a little easier because we had more experience. But no, obviously, the communication was there, the chemistry was there.
“I felt like we had all the right things in place, great people, great sponsors and I wasn’t surprised to go out our first weekend and pick up a win. Everything kind of worked out as we hoped.”
They won 11 World of Outlaws races in 2021, including the National Open at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway. As of this writing, the team had collected seven WoO victories this season.
While Macedo gives the majority of the credit for that success to Dietz and his JJR team, he acknowledges the extensive growth he’s made in his short time as a full-time Outlaws driver.
“My whole career, really since I started as a little kid driving race cars, you know, micros and junior sprints, I always wanted to be a World of Outlaws champion,” Macedo said. “When I went to KLR, my goal was to just win races. Just wanted to prove that I could be on the World of Outlaws tour and be on that level. I drove very aggressively. I did whatever it took to win. I never thought about finishing. That wasn’t my main priority. Don’t get me wrong, I still had to finish to win races, but I was willing to take risks at any time.
“Coming to JJR last year, I think Philip has a really good package most nights anytime you go to a race track. At KLR we were a brand-new team with myself and Joe Gaerte,” Macedo continued. “Joe hadn’t been on the Outlaws tour in years. We didn’t have a package. We were just sort of throwing anything and everything at it from night to night. We didn’t have a notebook.
“I feel like our car was not quite as close every night. So it made it tougher to think about a championship or even have that in mind. Where at JJR, I feel like it’s changed me just for the fact that the car is so close every night.
“Philip has a great notebook. And I just feel comfortable most nights. Last year, I wrecked a few times. I wrecked twice one night at Cotton Bowl. I wrecked at Eldora. I had several instances, wrecked at Chico in the dash, I realized at the end of the year when I did some math that if I just would finish those nights, I would’ve been right there with a very good chance at the championship,” Macedo noted.
“It made me reevaluate, OK, it is important to win races, don’t get me wrong, nobody on a race team wants to race for months on end with no wins. You got to win races. But at the same time, there are nights when your car is good enough to run fifth and making it try to be a winning car can sometimes cause you to wreck and that just doesn’t win championships.”
Dietz has noticed that change in Macedo. It’s not always the easiest adjustment for Macedo, though.
“Well, it is in the moment,” he said. “When you’re running fourth and you see an opportunity and that’s when the maturity comes into play, I think. Sometimes I wreck in the dash just because, the dash, your mindset leading into a dash, especially if you’re not on the front or second row, is, ‘OK, I need to be aggressive and gain a row here.’
“A lot of times Philip is trying things with our car, so maybe sometimes my race car wasn’t capable of doing that and I’m still trying to get that position or I’m trying to be aggressive on the start and then you wreck and it just ruins your night,” Macedo said. “I think in the moment you’re out there racing and you’re running fourth or fifth and you’re running super hard. Then you realize, maybe, man, the track isn’t going to promote much passing, or you know, there’s a couple cars up there bouncing up the walls. That only lasts so long before the margin of error turns into a wreck. Yeah, it’s a tough transition.”
With Dietz’s experience and Macedo’s maturity, both believe they can win any night at any track. And that includes this year’s 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals.
For Macedo, his approach to this year’s Nationals is the same he took when he first drove the No. 41 car for the event in 2018 — he’s going to throw everything he can at it.
“Whether it be an Outlaws show, standard $10,000 to win or a local show for that matter, or the Knoxville Nationals, I want to win,” Macedo said. “I want to perform good and do a good job for my team, my guys and my sponsors. But, you know, the pressure is there to do well, but there’s also the other side of that spectrum. I know that my race car is really close. I know Philip is going to have my stuff in the ballpark. As long as I go there and do my job, I know I’m going to have a car capable of winning.
“That gives you some peace of mind of going in and doing your job and doing your part, focusing on what you have to do. The worst part is showing up to the track and thinking, man, my car isn’t really that good, my motor doesn’t run and I’m going to have to do extra to make up for that loss of engine or mechanic or quality of equipment and you go in there and overdrive it and do a bad job.
“I think back in 2018 when I got the opportunity, I was so excited to go there with a good car that would carry me a little bit,” Macedo continued. “I could depend on if I made a few mistakes it could make up for that. I think my approach with JJR is the same as it was back in 2018. I’m going to go there and give it 110 percent again. I know my car is going to capable. I just have to basically deal with the fact that wherever the cards fall after that is what it’s going to be.”
Macedo and JJR picked up a win at Knoxville already in May during a local show and then brought out a new car for the World of Outlaws’ Brownells Big Guns Bash doubleheader in June, where they finished fifth both nights.
“I would say we had a good car, not a great car each night,” Dietz said. “But I felt like track conditions made it a little different for us this past trip. I think come Nationals we’re going to see different conditions than this last trip. While we didn’t win with (the new car) we do feel very confident with it. There’s no reason why we can’t go out and be competitive.”
Dietz says Knoxville Raceway is a great track for him as a mechanic.
“I know as a mechanic, and crew chief, I really like going there because it is a little bit easier to watch from the infield to kind of see what the car is doing or where you can be better and what adjustments you can make to make it better,” Dietz said. “Yeah, I think that’s one thing where we’ve been able to excel. Kind of get him more comfortable a little bit quicker and up to speed.
“The biggest thing is probably being able to watch the car and make it better. Other than that, obviously equipment-wise too with our Maxim cars and Kistler engines, like we all work really close together. I even spent some time on the chassis dyno to get our stuff running well and competitive. I think all of that combined is what has made us competitive at Knoxville over the years.”
Between having a solid car, a strong team, an experienced crew chief and driven driver, JJR has everything it’s looking for to try and claim its third Knoxville Nationals with its third different driver.