Jimmie Johnson is a 6-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. He is the only driver in NASCAR’s history to earn five consecutive Sprint Cup titles. He is a 4-time ESPY winner for Driver of the Year. He was the 2009 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Jimmie has been the driver of the Lowe’s No. 48 car since 2001. Still with all that he has accomplished I am guessing that he is most proud of being a husband to his wife Chandra and a father to his two lovely daughters, Genevieve and Lydia.
Even with the long hours each year that Johnson and the rest of Team 48 puts in to win another championship, Jimmie helps those in need. He has done this by creating the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. His foundation looks to assist children, families and communities in need. The Foundation currently focuses on supporting K-12 public education. They currently support the Champions Grant Program in partnership with Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, the Hendrick Marrow Program, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Project L.I.F.T. as their partner programs.
A leader both on and off the racetrack I had the fantastic opportunity to chat with Jimmie about racing, his foundation, and fatherhood. I want to thank Hendrick Motorsports for setting this interview up! We here at Life of Dad are very grateful.
Art Eddy: First off I know this season didn’t end up the way you wanted, but to have the six championships under your belt is pretty impressive. You won it five times in a row. I know the word dynasty is thrown around a lot, but do you and your team bring the dynasty word into your vocabulary?
Jimmie Johnson: No we don’t. It’s been used. We certainly appreciate others putting us in that category. We honestly have been in the moment guys. We never really chased stats or worried about how we were viewed or ranked in our sport’s history.
As the years went on I was able to accomplish some cool stuff. All of that has been flattering in that moment, but maybe it is just our NASCAR world. Things have been so busy. You enjoy it for a split second. Then you realize that you got to go and race again and focus for the next track.
AE: Each year your goal is to win a championship, but do you have a number that you have in your mind that you would want to reach before you retire?
JJ: No and I really never have coming into this sport from a wins total or championships. I clearly am in an amazing position with six. I would love to tie and then would love to set myself with the only one at eight. So I guess to put a goal out there that would be it. I do recognize that it would be a very lofty one. (Both laugh.) If you are going to dream, dream big.
AE: What got you into racing?
JJ: My dad is a big race fan for all types of racing. On the west coast I was growing up I would watch and spectate. My dad also worked on an off-road race team and worked within racing. So I was just around it. I grew up riding dirt bikes. That was my kind of outlet for racing and then found my way into cars. It was our family sport. Instead of football or baseball it has always been racing.
AE: Do you recall your emotions in your first NASCAR race?
JJ: Oh yeah man. Just frightened. Worried. Trying to make the first race and qualify was pretty scary. To make the field with speed and I have a provision to fall back on and then entered the race. I got going and I didn’t want to mess up and spin out and affect any of my heroes. Eventually I did spin out. I spun out in front of my teammate.
It was late in the season. Jeff was on his way to win a championship that year. As I was spinning I could see his racecar. I was just thankful that I didn’t hit him. He missed my by a couple inches and went on. I wasn’t that guy. It was definitely a very stressful event.
AE: You also started up the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. Tell me what inspired you to start that up?
JJ: We just wanted to do more. We were supporting a lot of charities within in the industry and locally where we live. We knew with the foundation that we could do much more and tap into our fan base. Our sponsors could generate more revenue to distribute.
We have been focused on children since day one. Right now we support public education from grades K through 12 in the area where I grew up in San Diego, where my wife grew up in Oklahoma, and also where we live in North Carolina. We are trying to help these public schools and affect these kids at young age and set them on the right path. We are seeing some great things happen.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what are some of the morals you look to instill in your daughters as they grow up?
JJ: You know it is a tough world out there. I want them to be strong women. I want them to understand what is important in their lives and what they stand for. Be kind as well. That is kind of a tough thing to pull off and cover both bases there. (Both laugh.)
The ages that they are now, four and one fortunately I don’t have to worry too much about the adult aspect of it just yet. We are having an amazing experience with it all. It is just that fine balance of truthfully and it might sound corny I guess, but just to be peaceful. That is my thing as I get older. I am trying to find it myself. I feel like I am in a great place with a very well balanced life. I am as peaceful as I have ever been. I just hope my children have that opportunity as well.
AE: What is the biggest thing that has changed from the time you were growing up to now as your daughters are growing up?
JJ: The first thing that comes to mind is the internet and phones. The exposure that they have to dangerous things and bad people. We can all remember just riding our bicycles or just wandering around the streets of our neighborhoods. Man I am frightened of even just considering that let alone her getting on the internet or have a cell phone. I guess that is the first thing that comes to mind is just the tech savvy world that we live in today and the dangers that is out there for children.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads out there?
JJ: It is the most rewarding and difficult job that you will ever have. (Both laugh.) You go through that whole sleepless period. You get out of that first year and you keep plugging along. Then you see behavioral stuff. You are just constantly looking to do the right thing. I guess if those thoughts are going through your mind in my opinion you are doing the right stuff.
As you mentioned earlier they are sponges. You try to be kind and gentle people by being caring and understanding. Yet at the same time they should try and stand up for what they believe in is a tough balance. There are aspects that I have experiences that are physically draining. Then it moves on from being physically draining to emotionally draining. From what I understand with friends who have older children that emotional aspect is only going to get more intense. (Both laugh.) I would say just buckle in. It is fun. I joke with my friends now that all your family needs is love. Just be in that space and everything will work out.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: What is your favorite family movie you guys like to watch together?
JJ: I would say that we rotate from “Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2.” Then there is the movie “Up.” I would say that “Frozen” has been really popular lately as you can imagine.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing and dance to as a family?
JJ: My oldest daughter is a big Taylor Swift fan. It is a three song drive on our way to school. She is also into Lorde a little bit. Between Lorde and Taylor Swift I unfortunately catch myself singing. (Both laugh.) I am like wait a second what is happening.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
AE: In your opinion what is the best venue for a fan catch a race?
JJ: For me I would throw out Martinsville because it is a blast from the past. The track hasn’t changed. It is like being there in the 50’s, which is cool to me. You are so close to the competition. It is a short track. You are real close to the cars, the people, the sounds, and the smells. I think Martinsville is one of the coolest experiences.
Obviously major markets have a bit more to provide for hotels and night life. It is really hard to pick one, but maybe Martinsville is the second race. You should take someone to a race and get them introduced to it and then stop at Martinsville after.
AE: Do you remember your first car?
JJ: We had an old buggy. We lived near the California desert. We would ride four wheelers, motorcycles, and buggies. My family had this dune buggy and that’s where I learned how to drive.
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