La Center local making waves in Arca Menards Series West


In his first full season in the Arca Menards Series West, a NASCAR touring series, La Center’s Eric Johnson Jr. has secured two top 10 finishes in four races.

Johnson finished 10th in the MMI Oil Workers 150 at the Kern Raceway in Bakersfield, California, as well as a seventh-place finish this last weekend in the General Tire 200 at the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

In Sonoma, a raceway that holds a special place in his heart, a mechanical error cost him a good qualifying run, sending Johnson to the back of the pack once more. But he battled it out the entire race to finish seventh.

“It’s extremely sentimental,” he said of the Sonoma Raceway. “Last year, it was bittersweet because we went down there and just expected the world. It’s kind of the ignorance-is-bliss factor, but, you know, we never run those cars on that track. But for my family and I, we grew up going to that track specifically to watch NASCAR every year because it was the closest one to us, and, for us, the sentimental value comes from my grandmother who was a die-hard race fan who loved Sonoma.”

He didn’t travel the laps in the race at Sonoma alone for the second year in a row. Johnson made sure his grandma had the opportunity to compete on her favorite track.

“When she passed, one of the things she did say was, ‘find a way to get us out there,’ ” he said. “So I’ve carried a necklace with her ashes in it with the intention of one day racing there. And so when we got to do that last year, it was incredible. And just like Portland this year, we had all the speed to finish in the top five, and, unfortunately, at the halfway point, that was one other race we had a mechanical failure. The transmission broke, and I think that was more to do with inexperience with me just being too hard on it.”

Last season, Johnson Jr. competed in a few races, but this 2024 season marks his first on tour for every race. He said the circuit serves as a development ladder to build experience leading into the NASCAR top three series: the Cup series, Xfinity series and Truck series.

“So treating it that way, they give us a lot of chances to be in new environments and be exposed to a whole array of different challenges,” he said. “We get on big ovals at the start of our season, which is Phoenix, and that was on its own, a whole new challenge to me because you’re finally going fast enough where aerodynamics come into play with these big cars.”

The cars currently being used in the Arca Menards Series are “hand-me-downs” from the previous generation of NASCAR vehicles used in the Cup series, Johnson said.

Two weeks ago Johnson returned to the track he debuted at last year in Portland. He came into this go around at the Portland International Raceway with a lot of confidence as last year he finished 10th in his very first race on the circuit.

Without qualifying due to a track issue, he battled into the fifth position after starting in the back of the pack, but Johnson’s car had a mechanical error with 10 laps to go, knocking him out of contention, but he found a lot to be positive about the experience.

“It took everything to get inside the top 10 for us, but to look up and see us in the top five and contending for a really good finish, it was just a really cool thing to see,” he said. “We just spent our race focusing on minimizing errors, never went off track, never made any of those big rookie mistakes you kind of expect, which is what I was really pleased about.”

Johnson Jr. can be found on Instagram by searching and on Facebook under Eric Jr Racing. His next race will be July 4 at the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at the Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California, followed by another race there on July 6.