LINCOLN, Neb. – Jimmie Johnson brought a part of his family to honor the family who set him on the path to racing success.
Johnson, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and his daughter Lydia were on hand Saturday when the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed opened the new Herzog Motorsports exhibit. The Herzog Company of St. Joseph, Missouri, is helping Speedway Motors build a 90,000 square foot addition to the museum, which will include a permanent Herzog exhibit.
“The Herzogs have been everything to me in my professional career,” Johnson said at the opening ceremony. “It was really a family environment, an environment I really grew up in in my late teens and twenties. So when I think about my relationship with Stan and Randy (Herzog), they were definitely father figures to me.
“I left Southern California and far from my father and the influence of my parents and the Herzog’s brought me into their families and guided me through many lessons in business and being a man. . “
The Herzog exhibit in the museum is just the beginning, according to museum curator Tim Matthews.
“This opens up a great opportunity for us to add wonderful collections like the Herzog Motorsports collection,” he said. “We kind of call it Herzog Phase One. It’s really spectacular now, but it will be even better in the years to come. We’re going to create a Pikes Peak display that goes really vertical. Have off-road exposure and Pikes Peak is something we just couldn’t have done without Herzog’s help.
The parallels between the Herzog family and the Smith family, who started Speedway Motors and the American Museum of Speed, are significant. Bill Herzog started an outsourcing business, with his sons Stanley and Randy, which branched out into racing. “Speedy” Bill and Joyce Smith were joined in the business by sons Carson, Clay, Craig and Jason.
Celebration of the addition to the museum was tempered by news of Jason Smith’s death from cancer on Saturday. Once again, both families are in shock, as Randy passed away six weeks ago.
“Randy’s enthusiasm for this and his commitment to it was incredible,” Johnson said. “I know Randy looks down on us and smiles at us, but we all have heavy hearts and wish he was here to experience this.”
The common ties between the Smith and Herzog families made the project easy, according to Brad Lager, president and CEO of Herzog Co.
“I think we’re both wired in such a way that although we’ve grown to a bigger scale, we’re very small businesses at heart and talk a lot about family and culture,” Lager said. . “They believe as we do and that’s one of the reasons we’ve bonded with Clay and the Smith family. Those core beliefs and behaviors and the results we all seek to achieve exceptionally elite results is a shared principle, a shared vision, a shared result.
Lager said the display includes memories accumulated over decades.
“We have a warehouse that we built in St. Joe and we actually call it The Toy Box. That’s where all of our cute toys are and now a lot are here, ”he said. “Our partnership with the Smith family is to commemorate this part of our journey.”
Johnson said Chevrolet and the Herzogs were the start of his two-pronged career. After learning the ropes through various phases of racing with the Herzogs, Johnson won seven NASCAR Cup titles, including five in a row, behind the wheel of Hendrick Motorsports. He now competes part-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series and for Ally Cadillac Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“I was lucky to have two very important pieces along the way. The first was Chevrolet. They spotted me when I was 15, racing in a little buggy in a stadium race, ”Johnson said. “They brought me into the family and prepared me to race with their off-road trucks and after a few years of racing, their stadium and all-terrain trucks. That’s when I got to introduce Chevrolet to the Herzogs. It was beyond me to find that the Herzogs did not have manufacturer support, so I helped put these two together.
Lorrie Smiley, executive administrative assistant at Herzog, said some of the cars in the museum exhibit were on loan from Johnson, who had them in his museum in North Carolina.
“I’ve been with Herzog for 43 years, 44 next month, so I grew up in Herzog, much like Jimmie did,” Smiley said. “When Jimmie first came with us, I was making travel reservations and he was too young to rent a car, so we had to get special waivers for him to rent a car.”
Johnson said the demands were excellent for the Herzogs and later on the NASCAR circuit.
“At the height of my Cup career with 38 races and tests, there were a lot of demands. On top of those race weekends, I had 130 appearances I had to make across the country, ”he said. “Family is everything and the support I receive from my wife and children has allowed me to pursue my dream and this is really at the heart of why I have been doing this for so many years.”