Mount Shasta's Sean Johnston: The zen of racing

Eve Thompson
When he's in town, 21 year old race car driver Sean Johnston drives a Plymouth Voyager, the family car he's used as primary transportation since he was 16. "It's not the same as a Porsche! But it does the job while I'm at home." Johnston drives a 2102 Porsche this year for Driscoll's Berries. He's made podium placement three out of his four races this season.

It’s not about the speed, though driving at 165 mph gets his adrenaline going. It’s not about the car, though the 2012 GT3 Cup Car Porsche is his favorite car this year. It’s not about the fans, the money, or even about realizing a lifelong dream. For Sean Johnston, a 21 year old Mount Shasta driver who placed fifth and third during his first time out, auto racing is all about “being in the now.”

“I love to find that place of relaxation and peace in the midst of me going 160-plus mph,” Johnston smiled. “Being in the zone, the flow. When at peak performance, being relaxed, calm, and purely focused. It’s not a white knuckled adrenaline rush; it’s a Zen experience.”

Being in the now means being in top mental and physical shape.

Johnston’s physical fitness coach has him work a demanding strength and cardiovascular training program. “Driving is harder than people think. Before the race even starts, it’s 120 to 140 degrees in the car. Add the suit and then the over 2G forces during the race. It’s not a comfortable working environment,” he laughed.

Being the best also requires having the right mind set, so he Skypes regularly with a motorsport psychological trainer who lives in the United Kingdom.

“Before the race, my focus is getting in the right mental space so I can perform my best behind the wheel,” he emphasized. “It’s all about being correctly focused. Not focused on results, but on the act of driving, executing all the individual actions of a car in motion. Good technique gets the results.”

“The funny thing about results; a number of factors are completely out of my control. The only thing I can control is how I drive the car. Every time I’m behind the wheel, I’m doing the best job I can.”

“During the race, it’s all about maintaining my focus. Not worrying about where I am or who’s around me or the results. I’m very present in the now. I’m driving; that’s it.”

Johnston’s efforts have paid off. During International Motor Sports Association’s season opening race at Sebring, Florida, Sean placed fifth place in his first heat and third in the second. “No one expected that in my first week of racing, not even me.”

The 2008 Mount Shasta High School graduate said, “It was the culmination of my childhood dream – the best feeling ever, one of those moments I’ll remember as long as I live.”

April 28, during his most recent competition in Salt Lake City, he took second place in each of his two races.

“Stoked on it,” Johnston said in a May 1 email message that ended with this PS:?“Going into a silent meditation retreat for the next 5 days, so if you respond, don’t expect to hear back from me til next week.”

Johnston’s had driving on the mind since he was seven, when his brother took him to a Champ Car race. “My favorite driver, Alex Zanardi, won the race and did donuts in front of us. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a professional race driver.”

As Mount Shasta offered no training ground, he developed racing skills by playing Gran Turismo video games. He won second place in the competitive GT Academy reality show for aspiring drivers (see Skye Kinkade’s May and Sept 2011 articles for background).

Judges and instructors at the Academy encouraged him to pursue his lifelong dream. He decided to take a two-year leave of absence from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he was studying to become a mechanical engineer. “If things go well, I’m not going back,” he confided.

This year he’s aiming to place in the top three during the rest of the IMSA development series, American Le Mans’ training ground for professional drivers.

(The American Le Mans is the premier US endurance sports car racing series).

Next year’s goal is to drive a Porsche in France’s Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. “It’s the quintessential endurance sports car race, the oldest one.” Johnston said. “Teams of three drive in two and a half to four hour straight shifts. I want to drive a Porsche because they’ve won 24 LeMans races, more than any other car manufacturers.”

His ultimate dream is to become a Porsche factory representative, employed to race and represent their cars. “You have to get good points by demonstrating the ability to consistently race fast and get good results. You have to demonstrate potential and have the ability to be an ambassador for your sponsors.”

It takes a team to make a winner; Johnston believes he has the best. “My sponsor, Driscoll’s Berries, has given me incredible support; it’s an honor to represent them this year. The Wright Motor Sports team is a great group of guys who put fantastic cars on the track. My entire family is amazing, and Mount Shasta’s played a big part in my making my dreams reality.” He hopes to make Mount Shastans proud when he races at Laguna Seca in Monterey May 10 through the 12.

Johnston encourages everyone to follow their passion: “I’m living my dream and it’s the best thing in the world! Stay focused and amazing things will happen.”

When he's in town, 21 year old race car driver Sean Johnston drives a Plymouth Voyager, the family car he's used as primary transportation since he was 16. "It's not the same as a Porsche! But it does the job while I'm at home." Johnston drives a 2102 Porsche this year for Driscoll's Berries. He's made podium placement three out of his four races this season.