NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson hosts Wellness Challenge triathlon at Cane Creek Park

Jimmie Johnson treks through the triathlon course at Cane Creek State Park. Ryan Pitkin/UCW photo

Jimmie Johnson treks through the triathlon course at Cane Creek State Park. Ryan Pitkin/UCW photo

WAXHAW– After dodging raindrops and waiting out thunderstorms, Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon racers were able to swim, bike and run their way through a newly-designed course on the evening of Aug. 19. 

The event was part of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Wellness Challenge, a group of races run by the NASCAR champion’s charity group, which helps raise funds for educational programs in the Charlotte area and elsewhere. 

Johnson, who began running, swimming and cycling about five years ago, was on hand and addressed the crowd before the race. Many of those in attendance were part of the NASCAR community and included pit crew and garage team members for a diverse group of racers. This is why Johnson decided to hold the event on a Tuesday evening, the least busy day for most NASCAR racers. 

“Tell all of your friends and maybe we can make this weekday thing more popular,” Johnson told the crowd as they stood on the beach of Cane Creek Lake waiting for the distant thunder to move further away. “A lot of us in the racing community would love to participate in things like this, and this is the only time we can.” 

Employees with JJF searched for four months to find a place that suited Johnson’s desires for a triathlon, which included a swim in open water. Once they were told about Cane Creek Park in southern Waxhaw, the plan came together. 

 “(Cane Creek Park) was everything that you’d be looking for in a triathlon venue,” JJF Executive Director Amanda Prothero said. “It fit everything that (Jimmie) asked for.” 

Cane Creek Park has hosted triathlons in the past, but designed a new course for the Wellness Challenge. A sprint triathlon consists of a 500-yard swim followed by a 13-mile bike ride and finishes with a 5K run. 

Johnson, a south Charlotte resident, ran the course for the first time, as did many other racers. Before the race, he said that he had never been to Cane Creek Park previously but had cycled nearby and throughout Waxhaw. 

The track took Johnson and the racers on a loop out from the beach and back in Cane Creek Lake, through a course around the roads surrounding the park and then through two laps of an in-park jogging course. Union County Sheriffs helped bikers navigate the road course while staying out of traffic. 

Through it all, Johnson stayed close to the front of the pack, a position he’s become comfortable with throughout his career. The Waxhaw race was his first triathlon since winning his age group (35-39) at the Over the Mountain Triathlon in Kings Mountain in May. 

At the end Jimmie Johnson, wearing his famous #48, pulled it out again. The 38-year-old outraced everyone in his age group and came in 10th place overall with a final time of one hour, six minutes and 43 seconds. After catching his breath, Johnson had nothing but good things to say about the course. 

“It was a very fun course. Very scenic, challenging for sure. It’s a great layout for the swim and then the rolling hills out here made for a great bike ride,” he said. 

Johnson crossed the finish line about 10 minutes after 30-year-old James Haycraft, the winner of Tuesday night’s event. Haycraft finished the course in 57 minutes and five seconds. Afterwards, he said he had raced in triathlons at Cane Creek Park before but thought the new course and new time slot were welcome changes.

“It was quiet, which was surprising for this time of day and day of the week,” Haycraft said. “Otherwise it was very similar to past courses. There were lots of rolling hills and it was very hot.” 

After the race, Johnson said he hoped to return to Cane Creek Park next year for a similar event that could be a part of a summer series his foundation is attempting to put together. 

“Without a doubt I’d like to come back here,” Johnson said. “The goal is to raise money for charity so if we can raise even a couple of bucks for them, then we’ll be back.”

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Ryan Pitkin

About Ryan Pitkin

Ryan has been with Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group as a news reporter since July 2014. He became managing editor of Union County Weekly in January 2015. He reports on town government in western Union County, among other things. Ryan began his journalism career at Creative Loafing as an intern, later becoming a columnist and news reporter, focusing on crime and social issues.

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