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The Packer Weekly: Racing sets Johnson in motion

Four year old Savanna Johnson’s heart beat loudly the first time her mother, Erica Schatz, stood with her in the dirty pit of a race track, listening to the loud rumble of passing race cars. She squinted though the dirt flying in the air to watch her soon-to-be stepdad, Donny Schatz, a professional race car driver, sprint through his last lap.

Ever since she was young, Johnson wanted to get in a race car and start racing. Donny did not give into her racing requests until last season.

“When you’re really little, [you] just think it’s loud cars going fast, but it’s actually interesting when you get to know all the people and you know the dynamics of it,” Johnson said.

Now a junior, Johnson owns her own race car in the beginner B-Mod car class. Though she enjoys learning about every part of the racing process, her favorite part of racing is working on her car at the shop to keep it in good condition. With open wheels in the front and closed in back like a stock car, Johnson has designed her race car specifically to look like the ‘Batmobile.’

“It’s not just a matter of showing up at the racetrack and hopping in the car and driving for fun, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into it,” Erica said. “She is very hands-on and helps them work on the car and do everything that she is able to do and everything that she can learn. She is eager to be at the shop, trying to her best to be better and know more and more about it.”

A typical racing competition starts at night, and consists of several classes of cars, including the B-Mod in Johnson’s case and sprint cars and late models in Donny’s case. The races are similar to NASCAR, but are shorter and raced on a dirt track. Depending on the race, a driver races anywhere from 10 to 30 laps. For competitions, drivers participate in the heat race to get to the A-Main and finish. Driving a race car has quite a few differences than driving a regular car.

“It’s different because you can use your brakes and the gas at the same time and it helps you turn and the power steering is really elevated,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been racing for almost a year now, but even with that experience feels nervous to get on the track, especially after stopping for the winter.

“You go out there, and it’s not like with other girls my age, or really any other kids my age, it’s like guys who have been doing it for a long time,” Johnson said. “When you’re doing something that you’ve watched people that you respect and admire for a long time and you go out and try to do it, it’s nerve-wracking.”

Through racing, Johnson has developed relationships with other drivers, as well as strengthened her bond with her stepdad. The race schedule conducts their schedule almost year around, but mostly in the summer when the dirt track is open for racing.

“Racing has always been a big part of our family life,” Johnson said. “When my stepdad is home, when he’s not racing, then we go to the shop and we make sure everything works and stuff like that. [Since] we have something together that we do, it’s brought us closer.”

Erica also said because of racing, the family spends more time together. The rest of Johnson’s family, including cousins and grandparents, are involved with her racing as well.

“It’s been a very positive influence on her family life with all of her family that gets together to come and watch her, support her and do whatever we and they can do to help out,” Erica said.

In addition to her family, Johnson’s friends also support her racing.

“During the season it takes up a lot of her time, [but] it’s really cool because she has a big shop and spends a lot of time and money on it,” junior Alyssa Lewis said. “It is so fun to watch her and go to the races.”

Although Erica did not originally approve of Johnson racing and still wishes her daughter would stay off the track to be safer, she is proud of her daughter for doing what she loves.

“It scares me to death,” Erica said. “[It’s] just very frightening from a mother’s standpoint when you see your child in a big machine with all of these big men that are older and drive so fast. I know it’s stressful for her at times, but she keeps at it because she wants to get better and she loves it.”

(The Packer Weekly is an ongoing column authored by journalism students at West Fargo High School with the intent of providing awareness about and insight into a variety of school-related topics and activities. For additional information visit