By his own admission, John Ezell lives a lifestyle that is “nothing fancy,” which is to say that he prefers boots and jeans over expensive clothes, and the weekends that mean the most to him are the ones spent at the drag strip with his family. Last weekend, Ezell scored a six-figure windfall for winning the Mickey Thompson Tires Million Dollar Drag Race, but the sudden boost in his net worth likely won't do much to change the laid-back 24 year old from the Baton Rouge suburb of Ventress, La.
“I’m just a bracket racer,” Ezell said humbly. “My whole family; my sister, my dad, my mom. That’s what we do. We bracket race. We race a lot. Almost every weekend we’re at a track somewhere. This is where all our friends are, and it’s where I’m most comfortable. To be honest with you, I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Ezell has been bracket racing since he first got his learner’s permits at 15. That’s the better part of a decade, and in the last couple of years he has become a rising star in the world of big money E.T. bracket racing with more big wins than he can recall. Ezell’s Facebook page is plastered with photos of him standing in the winner’s circle clutching a trophy and a big check. There’s a score of $5,000 and $10,000 victories, and even a $50,000 payday just three weeks ago highlight his resumé. Likewise, parents, Wyatt and Rose, and older sister, Brittany, also rack up their fair share of race wins. These days, business at Ezell Racing is very good.
“We race so much that some weekends sort of run together and I don’t remember them all,” said Ezell. “I can say I have had a couple of really good years. This year has been okay, at least until now, but 2016 was really good. I hope I don’t sound like I’m bragging at all. I don't want to come off like that. I think I’ve just been very lucky.”
The Million Dollar race allows a driver to enter two separate cars, so Ezell did just that, an expensive proposition that requires a minimum investment of $5,350 in entry fees, $2,000 (per car) for the main event, and another $625 each for the three $25,000 companion races. In Saturday's main event, Ezell lost in the first round in both entries, including a maddening -.001 red-light, so he had to resort to a pair of $500 buy backs in order to remain in competition. That was the last break he needed. Ezell’s first entry, his blue dragster, was out of competition after the second round, but his trusty brown dragster, unique with its vintage wire front wheels and upswept exhaust headers, carried the day. For nine grueling rounds, Ezell turned on win light after win light against some of the best E.T. bracket drivers in the country, often doing just enough to win. After some early struggles, his last five reaction times were .012, .003, .015, .015, and a .003 in the final.
The atmosphere during the main event at the Million Dollar Race is electric, especially as the event winds down and the surviving drivers ponder the prospects of a life-changing payday. Two-time NHRA world champ Luke Bogacki, the winner of a similar big-money event earlier this season, noted that the tension and anticipation of the Million compares favorably to Monday’s final eliminations at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Ezell didn’t seem the least bit fazed by all the drama, largely keeping to himself and gathering his thoughts amid the chaos in the jam-packed staging lanes.
“Once we got down to the last few rounds, I was calm,” Ezell said. “I was nervous for maybe the first four or five rounds but after that I was OK. I just tried not to think about the money or anything else and just focus on my driving.”
In the quarterfinals, Ezell was sharp in his win against Trey Bunner, who was riding a hot streak with a win in Wednesday’s 64-car Gambler’s Race and a runner-up in Thursday’s $25,000 race. When Tyler Sizemore fouled in the semifinals, Ezell suddenly found himself in the biggest final round of his life with only six-time national event winner Jason Lynch standing in his way. Ezell was almost perfect off the starting line in the final with a .003 reaction time and he held on for the win in a double-breakout with a 4.879 on his 4.89 dial.
“When I left in the final, I felt really good, but I was still glad to see my win light come one,” said Ezell. “I was shooting for a .008 light, and I must have hit it a little better than that. I felt good, but you’re still not sure until it’s over.”
For almost anyone, the top prize at the Million is a life changer, and that’s certainly true with Ezell, who cleared more than six figures, even after the final 16 drivers agreed to redistribute the prize money, including the whopping $325,000 advertised top prize. Ezell didn’t hesitate when asked what he was going to do with his newfound wealth.
“I know exactly where it's going," he said. "I’m building a house, so I think that’s where most of it will end up. I think that money is already spent. I’m still just trying to believe that I actually won the Million. This is the one race that everyone wants to win and not just because of the money. I can’t believe I got it done. I hope it’s not all downhill from here.”
Given Ezell’s recent track record, that doesn’t seem likely.