As a 13-year-old kid in Decatur, Ill., Chad Kohn began his career in racing. No, not kicking up dust from speeding around a dirt track, but rather fixing the cars before and after a race.
“I didn’t want to fix what I tore up, so I didn’t want to drive,” Kohn said. “I’d rather work on somebody else’s stuff that they tore up.”
Today, Kohn, 41, is the lead hauler driver for six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet SS. To work in the largest motorsport series in the country takes hard work, dedication and being able to handle the highs and lows, and Kohn has conquered them all.
While growing up around the racetrack, he became a self-taught mechanic.
“I was a jack-of-all trades, I did almost anything,” Kohn said.
Soon, he was helping his friend, racer Shannon Babb.
“He’d show up at the racetrack and I’d help him; just as best friends, no monetary payment. He couldn’t afford to pay anybody,” Kohn said.
After graduating high school, he said he had to “get a real job like everyone else” and turned to trucking. Kohn got his CDL in 1991 and traveled over the road, hauling everything from corn to steel on a flatbed.
“You’re in your own truck, in your own environment,” Kohn said of trucking. “You know where you’ve got to be. When it’s done and over, you go on with the next load. There’s peace and quiet.”
In the late 1990s, Kohn got a call from Babb with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He said, ‘let’s go racing full-time,” and they made plans to go to Batesville, Ark., to race and work on the cars for six months. “It was Christmas Day. We opened presents and headed down there.”
From there, the two traveled and Babb raced dirt late models, doing things NASCAR race teams today never have to worry about.
“Our tires were slick when we’d get them. We’d have to groove them up to whatever pattern we wanted for that night,” Kohn said. “We’d have to sit there and try to figure out what the track’s going to do.”
But, it paid off.
“We won the Dirt Track World Championship. It was held in Bardstown, Ky.,” he said. “It was one of those rainy, dreary weekends. It rained not just a little bit; it rained inches at the race track. We started late Saturday night and we ended up winning it.”
After three years, Kohn got the opportunity to work with Ken Schrader’s dirt team and later for Ultra Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The day before his wedding, Kohn received a devastating call – Ultra Motorsports was shutting down. Kohn married his wife Marci on Jan. 7, 2006 and then it was back to work putting in job applications. He worked for a couple different race teams that also eventually folded. In early 2009, he started the interview process with Hendrick Motorsports for a transporter driver position. He was hired that April.
“I was out of work for363 days with a son who was just over a year old … and no insurance,” Kohn said. “It was one of the most stressful times of my life.”
For the past five years, he’s been a driver for Johnson’s team, driving a 2011 Freightliner Coronado. “It’s the reliability of it, the ride quality,” Kohn said of why he likes Freightliners. “It’s also the service at the Freightliner dealerships.”
When working for a six-time champion like Johnson, it’s hard to pick just one favorite win.
“I’d have to say Indianapolis just for the historical factor of that place. Growing up watching the Indy 500, I imagined going there one day and watching the race; let alone go there with a race team, win and kiss the bricks.”
Kohn enjoys spending time at home in Mooresville, N.C., with his wife and now 8-year-old son, Hunter, who is a race car driver.
“His grandpa (who raced) bought him a full-fledged racing go-kart when he was three for Christmas,” Kohn said. “It’s been downhill from there.”
But Kohn is proud and took his son to this year’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 16, his first NASCAR race. There, he got to see the “other” No. 48.
“His car number is 48 just like Jimmie’s,” Kohn said. As for his career in NASCAR, Kohn said, he’s here for the long-haul.
“I’m going to stick with it as long as it can go,” he said.
Q&A with Chad Kohn:
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to? I would say the latest and greatest Garth Brooks concert. I’ve not been to very many, but it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever been to.
If you could have any superpower what would it be? Probably to fly; Just to have something else to do … I see a lot of sights in the truck, but you wonder what else you can see if you get off the main road.
What always makes you laugh? My son; He could say the darnedest things … Out of the blue he’ll just say something really out there. It’s usually a one-liner.