Jimmie Johnson: One Final Ride

Today is Jimmie Johnson’s final race in the Cup Series as a full-time driver. Even as I write that sentence, and I’ve had months to process it — the words still feel foreign to me. Once the green flag waves in several hours, it’s a symbol of something much larger than simply the ‘final race of 2020.’ It signifies the last time we will have the honor of witnessing one of the greatest talents to ever come through professional sports, and showcase his craft on the racetrack. And what a talent we have had the privilege of watching.  

Everyone knows Jimmie the driver — the numbers, the titles, the myriad of crown jewel accolades that he has acquired over the years, but Jimmie, the person is so much more than just his Hall of Fame worthy resume. It may come as no surprise, that Jimmie has and always will be my personal ‘favorite driver.’ When you’re a media member, a “favorite” driver really has little to do with an individual’s on-track prowess and everything to do with how they interact with you, and others away from the race car. 

In NASCAR, there are very few drivers, who illicit the same response out of a room that Seven Time seemingly can. When Jimmie would walk into press conferences, media days, and one-on-one interview rooms you could feel a presence, a palpable shift in the energy of the room. Why? Because you knew, something exceptional was among the rest of us, a talent that was supremely special in every way. That was one of Jimmie’s powers. There’s a reason we all say he’s Superman in real-life. And what is this power exactly, if it’s not just the numbers he can catalog on the racetrack? It’s his character, his genuine and sincere kindness, that uncanny ability to make others feel more important from simply a handshake, a smile, a polite conversation. For reporters, Jimmie was always one who willingly gave us the same version of himself whether it was a good race, a bad race, or somewhere in between. And that version conducted himself with integrity, class, and the utmost respect for whomever he was speaking with. That goes a long way. In fact, it speaks volumes because it is so incredibly rare in today’s sports landscape. 

It was hard not to find yourself rooting for Jimmie over the many years, because who wouldn’t want to root for a driver who exemplified all the qualities you hoped you could cultivate in yourself? In my opinion, Jimmie represents something even larger than himself, he represents the American Dream — the El Cajon, California driver who came from humble beginnings, to fight tooth and nail to reach the highest stage of professional sports. And he didn’t just reach the top — he owned the top. And there’s a reason a person like Jimmie was able to make history happen on the racetrack, simply put: he is unique in every way a person or athlete can be. Away from racing, the love he has for his wife, family, and friends demonstrates another layer of his character — seeing his two daughter’s share his retirement announcement at Hendrick Motorsports is something many of us will remember forever. 

Jimmie the father, husband, competitor, friend. 

He has inspired us all in different ways — to be better, to achieve the impossible, to raise the bar. For me as a reporter, I will forever cherish the opportunities and moments I was able to provide some storytelling on Jimmie and his life. I will always remember, the moment I walked into Hendrick Motorsports to interview him on the heels of his retirement announcement. We were Jimmie’s first interview of the day, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel some tears threatening to spring forward when I saw him. Why? Because he has made that much of an impression on me, on my life, on my career by simply being who he is. This entire sport, the people in it, and the people who root for NASCAR have all been made better by Jimmie’s presence. And that is something that simply cannot be duplicated.

And really, what more could you hope for in a role model? Thank you Jimmie Johnson for being a person we are all proud to know.