JIMMIE JOHNSON … NEXTEL CUP CHAMPION, 2006 … DAYTONA 500 WINNER, 2006 … RANKS SECOND AMONG ALL ACTIVE DRIVERS WITH AN AVERAGE OF 4.5 WINS A SEASON … 1998 ASA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Your car moves faster than you can think. EDDIE SA CHS, race car driver 68 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME My first sports moment of impact happened in my mid-teens. I’d been racing motorcycles at the local dirt tracks and I was ranked in the top three in the country in my age bracket. At the age of thirteen, I even had a contract with Suzukithey sponsored my bike. To keep in training, I was running miles during the week and eating carefully, because my dad would tell me someone else was racing or training that day and I’d panic and go hit the road. It wasn’t long before I got burned out. I didn’t take advantage of my dirt bike opportunities. I lost the Suzuki contract, had a few injuries, and took a year off.
My parents never pressured me and just let me go back to being a kid. I spent that year looking back, beating myself up for not doing more with all the opportunities I had. Is he kidding? Disappointed at the age of fourteen for not taking advantage of the rare opportunities coming his way? This makes the pressures of being a Hollywood child star sound routine! BEING A KID: OVERRATED I was so hard on myself that the pressure that sidelined me began to reverse and motivate me. I decided to get back in, but to leave dirt bikes behind and go to off road racing. Unless you were worth millions, you had to woo sponsors, and I was getting good with that part of the business. I went into overdrive. I was able to go up through the ranks of off-road to asphalt racing and establish myself. OVERCOMING THE FEAR FACTOR Rick Johnson was a world champion in motorcross and he was like a mentor to me. It was amazing, having a guy whom I looked up to as a teammate. He helped me with fear, teaching me when I could take risks and go to the other side of that line and when I shouldn’t.
He taught me to get all I could out of a car and out of the equipment without taking too much of a risk. It got to the point where when I’m racing, I don’t ever think I’m going to crash until the moment before I hit the wall. JIMMIE JOHNSON 69 HOW DOES ALL THIS HELP? I have lived a long time in my thirty years. Financially, it’s likely that I’m set for life, even if it all ends today. But if it does, I’ve learned so much about life by just trying to be great in racing. I’ve found out that you have to have total commitment to achieve your goals. I packed my stuff and moved from San Diego to North Carolina with nowhere to stay because I had to see if I could make it in racing. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I sacrificed friendships and family for months just to pursue my goal, and that was making it in NASCAR.
I didn’t have the drive and commitment as a teenager, and it all came apart. I was not going to make the same mistake again. It was a risk, but without laying it all out there I just don’t see how I could possibly have been successful in anything. NOT QUITE THERE YET I have won races, trophies, and money, but what was left was winning it all. I did that in 2006 and it was better than I ever imagined. MY WRAP It’s amazing to think that a thirty-year-old already thinks he’s gotten a second chance at a great racing career. And it’s interesting to note that Jimmie quit racing at fourteen, the exact age when 70 percent of Americans quit sports. But he went back to what he loved, to what he was meant to do, and he says it was his personal drive that pushed him back in. Keep in mind that his parents never pushed him; the decision was his to bail and his to come back. Perhaps this should give us a clue as to how to deal with kids who have similar decisions to make.