Fishers family finds a passion in racing
By Michelle Williams
Donita Johnson believes that kids typically fall into one of three categories: those who like balls, those who like dinosaurs or those who like wheels. There is no question which category Bill and Donita Johnson’s kids, Natalie and Sam, fall into — it’s all about the wheels.
This Fishers family says that racing is in their blood. The Johnsons are the only family living in Fishers with kids who race quarter midget cars at the Mini Indy Speedway. Donita would know – she serves as the secretary for the race club located at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Racing brings the Johnsons together. They enjoy watching races together during their own off season. They work together to manage team sponsorships and maintain three quarter midget cars. These two generations can relate to each other through the driving and racing cars — an activity that is typically regarded as one for adults.
Natalie started racing cars at age six, and her nickname “Triple Threat Nat” serves a purpose. “She didn’t want people to know she was a girl right away. She wants to be known as a race car driver. She likes to shock them all after she wins a race,” Donita said. Natalie creates “shock value” by shaking her hair out of her helmet after a big win. She hopes to carry on the tradition by racing Indy cars when she is old enough.
“I prefer Indy cars because they go faster,” Natalie said.
Sam, the winner of the 2014 Indiana State Champion title, ultimately prefers stock cars.
“You have to use force, and the car puts force into your body. So it feels like you need to work harder to turn the wheel,” he said. Although he has not officially taken a nickname, some spectators have dubbed him the “Great Fox” for his sly passing skills — coincidentally his favorite aspect of racing.
The kids share an enthusiastic love for speed, so Donita is vigilant about safety.
“At first, I was probably a bit of a basket case. But I have the surety that I’m the one who strapped them into those cars, and I have done my research on how that safety equipment works,” she said. She has seen both of her children flip and roll in their cars, and re-enter races without a single mark on their bodies. “In our six years of racing, I still to this day have not seen a kid with any major injuries. The worst I’ve seen is a bruise. Hearing the crashes is more horrific for the people watching, because they sound just terrible.”
Bill feels a pure adrenaline rush watching his kids take the track. “It’s like the start of the Indy 500 every time I go out there and watch them,” he said. “It’s just so neat that they are able to do this kind of a sport. There is so much that happens on the track – watching them excel, watching them pass and go so fast.”
Both Bill and Donita believe that racing has helped their children advance in skills like math and public speaking. They are proud to see their kids’ confidence developing, to the point where they are starting to go out on their own to find sponsors – an effort that requires speaking to the business and marketing opportunities of those partnerships.
“If it ever becomes the avenue that either of them takes for their lives, this is something they are going to have to learn now,” Donita said.
Natalie and Sam will enjoy racing as a competitive hobby for a few more years before it truly becomes a potential career for either of them. Perhaps one day, Bill and Donita will be able to see them making laps around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway – enjoying the overwhelming adrenaline rush on a whole new level.
Favorite pastime: Both kids love playing basketball. They also are very active kids, riding scooters bikes, anything motorized. Natalie was in gymnastics in the past.
Favorite local restaurant: Murphy’s Pub House in Fishers off of Olio road
Age: Natalie, age 11 and Sam, age nine
Birthplace: Both children were born in Virginia, but moved home to Indiana before they began racing.
Favorite vacation location: Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Favorite quote: “Don’t drive faster than your guardian angels can keep up.”
Motto to live by: “God First” They are a religious family, but they race on Sundays. Racing motto is to have fun. They do a fist bump and say “Drive it like you stole it.”
Early morning riser or night owl? Natalie is the night owl and Sam is an early morning riser.