Cars and racing came naturally to Chad Johnston, ’03, already a veteran crew chief who has worked for three teams in the No. 2 spectator sport in America, NASCAR. “My dad was a mechanic and body man, and we grew up going to the races,” he said. When the time came to select a college, Johnston chose Indiana State because of its proximity to his hometown of Cayuga and because he could major in mechanical engineering technology.
As a senior, he gained valuable experience at the Automotive Research Center’s wind tunnel in Indianapolis.
While his first job following graduation was at Smith Aerospace in Terre Haute, Johnston set his sights on a career in racing and caught his first break when he signed on as an engineer with Morgan-Dollar Motorsports in the NASCAR truck series in 2004.
He went on to work with Evernham Motorsports and JTG Daugherty Racing before joining Michael Waltrip Racing and Martin Truex in 2009. The next year, at age 30, he became the team’s crew chief, NASCAR’s youngest at the time. He was crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing and Tony Stewart in 2014-15, and in November he signed on as crew chief for Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Target team of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Johnston said his education at State prepared him well for his career.
“I moved down there as an engineer, so the things that I learned there through the school of technology definitely transferred here and allowed me to get engineering positions,” he said, noting that his goal from the moment he landed in Statesville, N.C., was to become a crew chief.
Indiana State’s motorsports management minor came along several years after Johnston’s graduation. He sees it as a valuable addition to Indiana State’s curriculum and a benefit to the racing industry.
“I definitely would have taken an interest in it,” he said. “I know a lot of kids would have chosen it because it would potentially be a good career choice. With as much drag racing in Brownsburg and other areas, it would be a good fit.”