Mazda Autocross Champion: Tara Johns

Johns won her first championship in C Street Ladies at the SCCA Solo Nationals in a spectacular come-from-behind victory

The torrential downpours on the first day of the 2018 SCCA Tire Rack Solo National Championships in Lincoln, Neb., will become the stuff of legend. Standing water made conditions tricky if not downright treacherous on that Sept. 4, and if a driver didn’t have experience in that kind of environment, there was little hope for doing well. Tara Johns was in that situation, and she found herself in fourth place in C Street Ladies after day one of driving her 2016 MX-5 on the West Course. She essentially gave up any hope of coming back to the East Course the following day and going fast enough to overcome her first-day deficit. 

“It rained a lot,” says Johns, who is also heavily involved with the Women on Track initiative. “Normally it might rain for part of a heat, but this time it rained for entire heats. I did not have rain tires coming into the event, but I had struck a deal with a close friend driving a Miata in C Street. I have never driven on rain tires in my life, and certainly not on that car – and not in standing water like there was at Nationals.

“I was in fourth place after day one, which was disheartening because I had my sights set quite high,” she continues. “After day one, I thought, ‘That was probably it. You’re probably not going to get it.’ So my goal for day two was to simply go have top time of the day.”

Making that more challenging was the fact that, because of the weather, the event ran so late on day one that there was no time to walk the East Course that evening. So like many other competitors, she was up before the crack of dawn to get a good view of that course. “I walked until they kicked us off to start runs,” she says.

“There was some misting, but it wasn’t torrential downpour like it was on day one,” Johns explains. “I went out and did what I said I was going to do. I set top time of day on that side by a significant margin. But because I was fourth, there were still a number of ladies that could beat me. It came down to the very last runs. I’m a single driver, so I had to sit there and watch the second drivers come in and see if I was going to win or not. It was a nail biter, and I’m still kind of in disbelief that I pulled it off.”

Johns says the experience taught her that you don’t ever give up, even when it looks like it’s impossible. Her best time on the second day was a second faster than anyone else, and 2.5sec quicker than the day one leader. “You never know what the outcome could be unless you try to put 100 percent out there and see what happens,” she says, adding that her biggest cheerleader was her husband, who kept telling her she could do it.

The 2018 C Street Ladies title is Johns’ sixth Solo National Championships win. She started her autocross journey in Miatas and then RX-7s before, as she says, losing her mind and playing with some American muscle. But she’s glad to return to the Mazda family.

“A Miata feels like home,” she says. “I spent so many years in the beginning – I’ve been doing this 16 years – trying to get faster in a Miata. So now when I get back in one, I don’t care if it’s an old one, a new one, whatever it is, I feel more at home in it. I struggled in the Corvette; I wanted to drive it like a Miata. The main reason I really wanted to come back – although it’s not like I wasn’t still involved because I race Miatas in endurance racing – was I missed Mazda and their support.”