Column: Johnson to continue challenges until retirement | Car race

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — There’s a scene in Jimmie Johnson’s coffee table book “One More Lap” in which the seven-time NASCAR champion and future Hall of Famer gives a dramatic reading from an excerpt from a biography by the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

The author, Robert Sullivan, notes that Johnson finishes reading aloud Thompson’s savage exploits “half panicked and half amazed at the strange but committed discipline (Thompson). Nothing commands Johnson’s respect like dedication and discipline.

Indeed, nothing was stopping Johnson on his long ascent from El Cajon, Calif., to the pinnacle of NASCAR.

He grew up a die-hard Rick Mears fan and dreamed of racing in the Indianapolis 500, but Johnson’s path in the mid-1990s took him from off-road races across the country to North Carolina and NASCAR’s explosion in mainstream popularity. He was couch surfing, building relationships and closing all the deals he could. In 2001, he found the confidence to approach Jeff Gordon at a drivers’ meeting and ask him for career advice.

It was a life-changing decision for Johnson, who became Gordon’s choice to take the seat in the new No. 48 Chevrolet that was being created in an extension of Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson then dethroned his mentor: Johnson’s seven Cup Series titles are tied with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, his 83 career wins are sixth all-time and his five consecutive titles from 2006 to 2010 is a record that will probably never be disputed. He is the only NASCAR driver in history to be named Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.

Johnson left his NASCAR career after two decades at the end of the 2020 season and spent the last two years racing IndyCar and IMSA sports cars. He made his Indianapolis 500 debut in May as a 46-year-old rookie and ticked off item after item on his to-do list.

Johnson finally said he had enough. The time he wants to spend with his wife and two daughters has been selfishly monopolized by his long racing career, and Johnson has said he will retire from racing full-time and run no more than 10 events in “bucket list” in 2023.

In an interview with The Associated Press at last week’s Presidents Cup golf event, Johnson was amazed at his access to the inside ropes at Quail Hollow. He came from a blue-collar home where his dad, Gary, drove a truck for BF Goodrich, his mom, Cathy, drove a school bus, and the family’s weekend activity was to take their bikes out into the desert to do the race.

“I think all the time where I come from, and I think now that I’m in a much more thoughtful place in life as I get older and where I’m at in my career, I can’t believe that everything happened,” Johnson said. PA. “It’s so crazy. I obviously have a great appreciation now for how hard it is to win races, and moving to IndyCar later in my career was an eye opener for me.

“But I look back and, you know, there were times when we were expected to win races, championships, whatever. My team was supposed to win. It’s crazy to think that I live this life. It seems so surreal.

Johnson was the most dominant NASCAR driver of his generation, racking up the trophies as critics mistakenly concluded he was bland, even boring after Earnhardt and Petty.

Not only is Johnson a thrill seeker, he also likes to party. In 2006 he fell from the top of a golf cart while celebrating his first Cup title and broke his left wrist. he wasn’t upfront with Hendrick Motorsports about it, but was eventually found out.

From that point on, Johnson was a consummate professional and a role model to be admired. His 14th Annual Jimmie Johnson Foundation Golf Tournament last October pushed his foundation to more than $9 million that Jimmie and Chani Johnson have donated to schools in Northern California. Carolina and Oklahoma.

Johnson has also partnered with Habitat for Humanity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and created the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Fit Fest, a community event designed to encourage outdoor activities for children.

Fitness has become Johnson’s obsession and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if, even at 47, he suddenly took up mountain biking competitions or trained for an Iron Man triathlon. He doesn’t know which motorsport events he will be competing in in 2023, but doesn’t regret the two seasons in IndyCar in which he excelled on ovals but struggled mightily on road and street courses.

There was a heated debate when Johnson defeated 20-year-old David Malukas for Indy 500 top rookie honors; Malukas had finished better than Johnson, who crashed late, but Johnson did tireless promotional work for the race and dazzled with laps over 240 mph in qualifying. Johnson has also been publicly criticized on several occasions by two-time champion Josef Newgarden for getting in the way.

Johnson said he was “definitely” at peace with his IndyCar journey.

“I came here for the experience. And my goal was to try to run in the middle of the pack on the road and street courses, and be in the top five on the ovals, and I was able to achieve that,” Johnson told AP. “So from a balls and strikes category, I achieved my goal. But in one experience, it far exceeded what I expected. The car, the people, the Indy 500, of course, all of that had challenges, but that’s life, as we all know.

And now comes the next phase, which could include a move overseas for his family as Johnson tries to find the events that will fulfill his competitive drive. Next up is the IMSA Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta, which will be Johnson’s final sports car race in the program he has established with Hendrick Motorsports.

But first, it’s going to incorporate some of the glitz and glamor that comes with being “7-Time” while being married to a woman who’s established herself in the art world. Chani Johnson is a curator and art gallery owner, and the celebrity friends she’s attracted over the years span multiple genres of pop culture.

On Wednesday night in New York, Johnson will celebrate the new 272-page book at a party at the Ralph Lauren Flagship store hosted by actor Nacho Figueras and his wife, Delfina Blaquier. The book includes 175 photographs that the Johnsons commissioned from various high-profile photographers during his racing career and curated by Ivan Shaw, the former cinematographer for Vogue and now with Conde Nast.

Forward is written by Michael Jordan, who knows a thing or two about elite athletes.

“Jimmie caught my eye with his drive, leadership and mental toughness,” Jordan wrote. “But to become a seven-time champion in your sport AND win five titles in a row, it takes something more – an intense passion for winning, and Jimmie has that. He and I have spoken many times about what it takes not only to be a champion in your sport, but to be a repeat champion. Obviously, it’s not something that comes easily, but it sure feels good.

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