From Gridiron to Gridlock, Johnson Hopeful for NASCAR Gig

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Tedarian Johnson drives a Nissan Altima, has never changed his own tires or oil, and doesn’t plan on it anytime soon unless he’s getting paid to do it. Johnson is not a car guy, but the former KU football player who travelled from Mississippi to Kansas is now off to North Carolina in preparation for a career with NASCAR.

Johnson’s unexpected journey took its latest turn in February when members of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity (D4D) Crew Member Development program visited Lawrence for a tryout combine inside Anschutz Pavilion. Their plan was to target former college athletes – athletes with the strength and agility to perform under pressure.

“My first thought was NASCAR is a bunch of cars going around a track, I’m not interested in that,” said Johnson with a laugh. “But it was an opportunity for me to use my competitive edge from football.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive lineman from Jackson, Mississippi, completed his football eligibility in 2014, capping a two-year stint with the Jayhawks after transferring from Hinds Community College. Johnson tallied 33 tackles, including 5.0 for a loss and two sacks. He helped anchor KU’s defensive front, earning KU’s defensive lineman of the year after the 2014 season.

Johnson finished his undergraduate degree in 2015 and spent the last year as an intern with KU Leads, the athletic department’s student-athlete development unit, which focuses on leadership training, community engagement, traditions and professional development. Johnson impressed with his combine performance and was invited for a national tryout in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he received an invitation to continue the program as a jackman – a member of the pit crew who uses a hydraulic lift to jack the car up while fellow crew members change tires.

In order to perform at his highest level in the final stage of the program, Johnson has been working out with KU Leads doctoral assistant Jon Mays during open lifting times for staff in the Anderson Strength Center.

“He was another key part in this too, to be honest with you,” stated Johnson. “He helped me stay on track with working out every day. He pushed me.”

Johnson is one of 10 athletes from around the country to receive an offer to relocate to Charlotte at the end of August to continue the program. Two other former KU football players and defensive linemen, Kapil Fletcher and Corey King, will train alongside Johnson as jackmen in September. Each of them could have their first gig on pit road as soon as February 2017.

“I think all three will bring a very competitive drive to the D4D program, but also genuine character. They work hard, are respectful, and will always give their best,” said Carrah Haley, the KU Leads Senior Director of Student-Athlete Development and Leadership. “I’m just so excited to see where the opportunity takes all of them. Depending on which drivers they get placed with, those drivers will gain a few new fans because we will all be rooting for those teams.”

The program has a 100 percent placement rate for graduates. There are currently 35 D4D members working in NASCAR, 23 of them in the Sprint Cup Series, the top series. Not bad odds for a guy who used to not like getting dirty or sweaty around cars.

“It’s crazy, my journey,” said Johnson. “I never saw any of this coming. I just look at it as a blessing.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.