Alison Johnson's Triumph to Bandolero History
Since the inception of the Bandolero in 1997, no female had successfully claimed a unified INEX Bandolero Outlaws National Championship or the Bandolero Nationals Outlaws Feature Championship. In 2023, with an unexpected mid-season spark, both those records were broken by 15-year-old Alison Johnson. In just her third season, Alison and her family were both thrilled by the unanticipated success that came at the end of the 2023 season that made INEX history.
With the help of her race-loving father and race team coach Mike Gordon, Alison’s determination, humble spirit and love for the sport have set her apart from the rest on the track starting at just 11 years old.
“My dad has been around racing for a while now, but at first I didn’t really know if I wanted to race,” Alison Johnson said. “We started off slow and then moved up to a Bando, and I just got good at it.”
Getting started in the motorsport world with go-karts to Bandos, Alison’s dad, Chad Johnson, wasn’t sure if she was serious about wanting to race and opted to buy her first fire suit off Amazon and rebuild a 14-year-old rusted car before fully investing in a race team and coach.
“The first year we struggled. I was a little hard-headed and didn’t want to pay anyone to work on the car,” Chad Johnson said. “The year we went to Florida it was just me, her, one motor, four tires and we said let’s just go out there and have fun.”
After overcoming her initial fear of hitting the gas and potentially wrecking, Alison got more and more comfortable being behind the wheel. “It was kind of scary at first, but I kept building. My dad encouraged me to push the gas a little further, and I just kept going,” she said.
After traveling from state to state, week by week placing second, third, second, third, Chad and Alison both just went with it, having their fun, including sleeping in the front of their trailer while they traveled to and from the track.
When Alison won her first race of the 2023 season, she said that it came out of nowhere and, “it didn’t even seem real.” Chad shared that after the win her confidence spiked up to a 10 and it just never went away from there.
Although both Alison and her dad agreed that competing was never about point-chasing for them, the year 2023 marked a real turning point in Alison’s racing career.
Alison got her first win of 2023 in her 26th race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Traveling back and forth from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, Alison continued to place in the top 10 for each race.
During the 2023 Cookout Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Alison won four out of the 10 races in the series and found her first back-to-back wins of the season. Her summer success continued during Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Thursday Thunder series, where she scored four victories.
“[Still we] weren’t really looking for points, we were just there,” Chad said.
The competition was getting more intense as Alison headed to what she said was her best 2023 memory at her favorite track: the Bandolero Nationals at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Throughout the season and at Bandolero Nationals, Alison and fellow Bandolero driver, Ben Morabito, were neck and neck. Alison said she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to beat him as they were both giving it their all competing against one another.
It wasn’t until the final laps of the Bandolero Nationals Championship Feature that Alison saw an opening as her and Morabito approached lapped traffic. She scooted around him and successfully defended first place, ultimately taking the win. The victory secured Alison the opportunity to achieve a perfect season, and inched her closer to national title.
By virtue of winning the Bandolero Nationals Outlaws Championship Feature, Alison had achieved INEX history. She became the first female to win the Outlaws Championship Feature in the 26-year history of the event. The trophy (pictured above) that stands taller than Alison and her father, is one of her most prized possessions.
After Alison’s win at the Bandolero Nationals, Chad went home, looked over scores, crunched the numbers and realized, “there’s literally only four people in the world that can beat us right now.” Still skeptical, as he wasn’t sure a small racer from North Carolina could do it, they set out on their journey to claim the title.
For the next few races, knowing what was at stake, Alison continued on with her winning season picking up more trophies until Sept. 9, 2023, when it all became a reality.
In order to win the national championship, Alison needed 19 wins. The 19th win came at Atlanta Motor Speedway, securing the 2023 INEX Bandolero Outlaws National Championship. Later that same day, she won her 20th race of the season, locking in a perfect 2000-point season.
“I was pretty shocked because I didn’t know how I did all of that in just one year,” Alison said. “But I was just really excited.”
With the title secured, Alison made history as the first female driver to ever win a unified Bandolero Outlaws National Championship.
“It feels really good, I don’t really have words for it. I’m still just so shocked,” she said. “I like to show that the girls can do it too because sometimes boys act like girls can’t race.”
Alison and Chad both say finishing off the season as a champion is one of their best memories so far and being able to have Mike Gordon, her racing coach, by their side was nothing less than amazing and made their success doable.
“Without Mike, it would have been much more of a struggle,” Chad said. “I had to realize that it wasn’t just about paying him to set up the car but it’s about the team that comes with it which is really helpful for her (Alison).”
Alison added, “It means a lot to have them all (Mike Gordon and her race team) by my side.”
With the Bandolero championship and accolades behind her, Alison will make the jump to the Legend Car in 2024, competing in the Young Lions Division, where she has previously made four starts, including last season’s Legend Car Asphalt and Dirt National events. Alison is still getting accustomed to the larger and faster car, but the drive to win still burns bright as the opening of the INEX Asphalt Championship season approaches.
Alison and Chad will continue to make memories at the track with the Legend Car, but the memory of the historical 2023 season in the Bandolero Outlaws Division will live forever in their hearts, and shine as an example for future female racers.