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Following the eBay auction for title sponsorship, the Case-Mate – Nitro Circus rally team and Matthew Johnson struggle at X Games after hard crash in practice.

Just two weeks ago, X Games rally car driver Matthew Johnson had no agreements for support, but determined that eBay might not only pay for the costs associated with X Games, but also send the right message to brands and the media about the difficulty for many rally teams attending X Games. “It’s no surprise that 2009 has been a tough year for motorsports and other industries alike. Faced with not being able to attend the big event, we felt eBay might grab the attention we needed to assemble a program to get us to LA to compete,” said Johnson.

At the 11th hour, the eBay sponsorship auction garnered support from two vital sponsors: Case-Mate and Nitro Circus. Case-Mate is the worlds leading manufacturer of premium quality cases, skins, covers and accessories for BlackBerry, Apple iPhone and other electronics, and Nitro Circus, the merry band of stunters wound into a primetime MTV program starring fellow X Games rally competitor and freestyle motocross superstar Travis Pastrana.

Case-Mate and Pastrana, alongside NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, were essential in tying together the last minute sponsorship deals. “Without a lot of time to bid, both Case-Mate and Nitro Circus had contacted us. We felt it would benefit both groups to put them together and run as the Case-Mate – Nitro Circus team,” said Johnson. Other partners that came on with Nitro Circus were Ogio and Lovesac.

As part of the Nitro Circus sponsorship, Travis Pastrana, Jimmie Johnson, and Andy Bell all had inside jokes on the car. Jimmie Johnson played along by putting a 15 year old photograph of his crew chief Chad Knaus on the hood of the car with text that read, “Chad is Rad.” Travis Pastrana exercised his sense of humor with a quote on the car that read, “Driving as graceful as a cat on a treadmill.” The Nitro Circus contribution came in the form of Andy Bell and Streetbike Tommy. Tommy wore a sailor’s cap and rode on the trunk of the car with two thumbs up, while a full-length “beefcake” style image of Andy Bell was run from wheel arch to wheel arch on both sides of the car as a prank on Travis himself. After some consideration it was determined Andy wasn’t appropriate for the Sunday viewing demographic and his image was removed before competition.

Following practice Thursday and feeling excited about how strong the rally car was performing, Matthew said, “I can’t thank Travis enough for the support in helping to bring together my newest sponsors; it’s too bad we’ve got to beat him on Sunday!”

Matthew Johnson has existing support from RalliSpec, Exedy, Rising Sun Tuning, and Soccer Kids of America. RalliSpec has been instrumental in providing top-grade racing motors, rally parts and suspensions for Johnson for the past four years. Rising Sun Tuning’s Jon Brouillet has been essential in keeping the rally car maintained for the 2009 rally season.

Johnson’s dreams went flat when he missed a braking point during the final practice on Friday, just a day and a half before competition. “The car felt better than ever coming out of a long right hand corner in qualifying. Just as I neared the end of the following straight the car started to misfire and I glanced to see the RPM that it was misfiring… that glance down was just enough to miss my braking point. I couldn’t get the car slowed and hit a wall very hard, mostly destroying the car and creating a lot of work for my crew.”

Back in the pits, the Case-Mate – Nitro Circus rally car was stripped for repair within two hours. The car immediately went to the frame shop, and new schedules were drafted to include off site testing, and graphic application.

Saturday morning the Case-Mate – Nitro Circus crew anxiously waited in the shadows of the Magnaflow lounge. Hours ticked past the expected noontime delivery from the body shop – a sea of parts gathered by crew and friends had been laid out ready for a growing group of mechanics and technicians eager to rebuild the car. Finally, a weary crew was treated to a mostly-straightened Case-Mate – Nitro Circus Subaru WRX at nearly eight-o-clock at night.

The crew worked feverishly though the night – their last chance to have a fast car for Sunday’s competition, and on Sunday, minutes prior to the call for cars to descend into the stadium, the high-compression Subaru flat-four built by RalliSpec and saved post-crash wth parts supplied by Crawford Performance and Forman Performance barked to life. “It feels like it runs a bit rough, but when it hits boost – it goes!” reported an enthusiastic Johnson after a brief test.

The car was not as healthy as Johnson hoped. Following a flawless practice over the 60′ jump on the floor of the Home Depot Center, Johnson’s first competition run against Metal Mulisha’s Brian Deegan uncovered additional issues with the rebuilt car. Deegan drove a special Ford Fiesta rallycross car brought from Sweden for X Games competition as part of Ford’s pre-launch for the new Fiesta in the US. Despite the very fast Fiesta, it was expected a clean run by Johnson could beat Deegan. Johnson accelerated from the first turn, completely surprised as the rear of the car pivoted into a barrier. “It was running on 3 cylinders and only had rear wheel drive. There was nothing I could do.” Once on the tarmac section of the course, it was apparent that the car would barely accelerate and a frustrated Johnson limped around the remaining sections of the course.

The monumental effort of the Case-Mate – Nitro Circus X Games rally team garnered attention from media and spectators as they worked with absolute commitment at 110% all week long. With no regrets about X Games 15, the team had been challenged to produce a miracle without the necessary resources and spent countless hours repairing the rally car, waiting for parts, and working through the night – right up to game time.

As a driver, Matthew Johnson had a tough race and has to look beyond it, “We showed up to LA at the 11th hour with a very strong RalliSpec car with good potential to make the podium. Without time to practice before arriving at Home Depot Center we were under pressure to set the car up with a very limited amount of practice. Just before our qualifying run the crew made some great changes, and I was suddenly very happy with the car and going much faster. An engine hiccup caused me to glance down at the wrong time – I missed my braking point and couldn’t get slowed before hitting a wall. I’m still in disbelief and completely embarrassed that I made such a mistake. I’m also overwhelmed with all the support from crew and friends and sponsors that came forward to make sure we made it on game day.” Johnson added, “Fortunately just a couple weeks ago we had a 9th place finish out of 50 or more entrants in the hardest rally I’ve ever driven, The International Rally of Nations in Mexico. I’m tremendously proud of that result against some of the world’s fastest drivers. I figure if this stuff was easy [racing rally cars] everybody would be doing it.”

Matthew Johnson thanks his sponsors, crew, and friends for their tireless work at X Games, he also promises to be competing and winning again as soon as possible.

Special thanks to all of the people and companies that helped Case-Mate – Nitro Circus make it through X Games, including, Crawford Performance (www.crawfordperformance.com), Forman Performance, and 10Designs (www.10designs.com).

To follow Matthew’s blog, visit: www.matthewjohnson46.tumblr.com.

Find Matthew on YouTube www.youtube.com/matthewjohnson46 or Facebook www.facebook.com/matthewjohnson46

Stay in touch via Twitter – www.twitter.com/mjons

Photos credit – Blockwood

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