Jimmie Johnson’s stellar career traces back to when he competed in the ASA National Series in 1998-99. With a background in off-road racing, Johnson was going into a different area and found one of the best mentors to help him with his transition, Howie Lettow.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion still clearly remembers the powerful impact that the famous crew chief had on his life. Lettow sadly passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer.
The two met in 1998 when Johnson was hired to drive for Herzog Motorsports. Lettow helped introduce Johnson to ASA Racing after a successful run in off-road racing.
“My ASA days, spending time with Howie, I didn’t know a thing about stock cars so I literally remember sitting with Howie and asking him questions about what is cross weight or wedge? What’s the trackbar? You know, all the things I know by heart now,” Johnson recalled. “I know exactly what they do now, but I didn’t have a clue coming from off-road (racing).”
It was the classic student/teacher relationship that Johnson and Lettow had during his ASA Racing career. “When I think back to ASA, it’s really my college years of racing if you will,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of learning going on and understanding stock cars and how to get them to go faster in the turns. I also remember a book that Howie gave me, and a VHS tape from a guy named Duke Sutherland that was like Stock Car Racing 101. I’d study my book at night and quiz Howie on what stuff was. I had the hardest time understanding what wedge was and he literally took a plastic table and mimicked sawing a leg off of one of the four corners and how that would work. He really opened my eyes to stock cars and how different they were more than anything else I’d ever done.”
Johnson would finish fourth in points during the 1998 season and would win the Pat Schauer Rookie of the Year title. “We won the Pat Schauer Rookie of the Year which was a huge honor and something that Howie had done many times. It was the biggest paying thing at that time and Howie would bring in these awesome short track racers from around the country that didn’t race in ASA. Each driver was technically a rookie, and they would come in and win these honors. The Herzogs acquired the team and that was our goal, and we were able to do that. We finished really well in points that first year.”
In 1999, Johnson showed the teacher that the student was learning and proved it on the track and in the standings. He won his first ASA National Series event at Memphis Raceway Park and would also win the season finale at Orange County Speedway. He finished third in the point standings. “I know the second year we came back and I won two races and finished third in the points. To win a race and have that moment with Howie, he was like a proud father, watching me basically go from ground zero up to being able to win at that level.”
During those two years, Johnson learned a lot being with Howie Lettow and still today cherishes that special time with him. “There’s a lot of great memories, from learning, to traveling on the road, and the different truck stops where we would stop and get a good meal and wash the transporter before we got to the track,” Johnson remembered. “There’s just a ton of memories like that.”
“Jimmie Johnson is a perfect example of ASA’s long standing tagline ‘We Build Champions’ and Howie Lettow knew how to build them,” Dennis Huth, ASA President said. “There are many successful drivers that Howie mentored and molded into successful stars today. He is still missed in the pits today, but his legacy is going to last for a very long time.”
The ASA Midwest Tour is honoring Howie Lettow with the first ever Swiss ColonyHowie Lettow Memorial 150 presented by raceteamgear.com next Tuesday night at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, WI. The Milwaukee Mile is less than an hour away from Howie’s hometown of Watertown, WI.
Many former ASA competitors and drivers will be coming to compete in the event and help honor this famous crew chief with today’s ASA Midwest Tour stars. Such stars like 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Rusty Wallace, 2012 Daytona 500 Champion Matt Kenseth, former ASA Howie Lettow driver David Stremme, David Ragan, Aric Almirola and more.
Tickets are still on sale at www.asarace.com. A limited number of VIP tickets are still available for this event.
ASA Racing PR