The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. The interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
I don’t dream all that often, but I do remember one when I was getting ready to race for the Herzogs in ’96 in my very first off-road truck race for them. I had a dream that this brand new beautiful truck he built would only do wheelies — and I couldn’t compete, couldn’t make a turn, couldn’t stay with the pack because every time I touched the gas, it just did a wheelie and I couldn’t turn.
Was this a dream that happened more than once?
No, it was just that one dream, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s probably the only one I remembered through all the years of having different dreams.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?
Yeah, it does. I think there’s also an unwritten code out there when there’s just incidental contact that happens. And then there’s that next level of, “Wow, that probably looked bad. I should apologize, I didn’t mean it.” And then you have to see if the guy believes you or not.
And then there’s the insult of all insults where you just completely dump somebody and say, “Oh yeah, sorry.” (Laughs)
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
The simple term that you’re a racer. That’s always meant the world to me.
4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?
I just had a flashback of meeting Vince Vaughn in our transporter a couple years ago. First of all, he was so tall he could barely fit in the transporter. And then he just of course was rolling the humor and dropping one-liners. So I love to have those opportunities to see people and show them around the transporter and through the inner workings of what goes on in a race team.
5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?
Man, I tried it. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but I was just curious and had a three-month run at vegan.
So you made it three months?
I did. I made it three months. Not easy — a lot of planning involved. And I’m sure the first month I made plenty of mistakes because you just don’t know any better. You don’t realize how hard it is to be a true vegan.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished. This is the 2007 Atlanta Spring race. Do you have any idea where you finished in that one?
I don’t remember ’07. Nope, sorry, I don’t. I hope I won.
You actually won that one.
I was hoping to stump you on one that you won, since you’ve won so many races.
You usually remember the ones you lose. Like losing to Carl (Edwards) at the line or something like that. I wouldn’t know the year off the top of my head, but the ones you lose leave a much bigger mark than the ones you’ve won. (Laughs)
You started third on this one and you led the first 36 laps. There was a debris caution with 10 to go. You took the lead with three to go and you beat Smoke. Does any of this ring a bell?
Yeah, I remember getting by Tony off of Turn 2. We had a little contact, which I know didn’t make him happy. He had a little bit of a tire rub after that, and we were able to get the race won. I remember that now. I just need a little snapshot of what it looked like.
7. Who is the best rapper alive?
I’m not all that versed in rap. But I guess I would kind of lean also the old school with Snoop and Ice Cube. I go back to when I was in high school and some of the big names back then, and that’s about as far as I can go. 50 (Cent) is kind of in there, I guess he’s kind of more recent.
But for whatever reason, I remember NWA when I was in high school. That is what all the cool kids listened to for awhile. My parents were like, “This language is unacceptable in the house.” (Laughs)
8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?
I always think of characters. We were just at Disney World not long ago, and I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to punch or tackle one of those characters.
One of the mascots?
Yeah, one of the mascots. In general, they have such a punchable face.
9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your chew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.
I would say Hanks as the spotter, he’s such a good talker. Taylor Swift — I’d much rather look at Taylor Swift than Chad Knaus. And we’ll have LeBron drive I guess. Our bus driver does a lot. You need to know the inner workings of the tracks and help work with crowds. With LeBron’s size, I think that he could definitely help with crowd management.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
Experience makes all the difference in the world. Some tracks, it’s just port-a-potty, other tracks there’s a suite that you know nearby, or Goodyear’s tire building — there’s always a bathroom in there. And that is always a high priority when you hop off the truck. You can imagine when you’re gonna sit there for four hours and not have access to a bathroom, that last stop is very much on my mind.
11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?
It wouldn’t be too much. I always loved jumping off things and I was on the dive team and also swam and played water polo. Most of my dives were forward-facing, but I think I could get the rotation around, especially into the grass. I’d be very comfortable going into the grass.
12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Simon Pagenaud. His question is: When you win No. 8, how will you celebrate differently than your other ones, and what was the most epic moment of your first seven celebrations?
The most epic moment would be Snoop Dogg playing the championship party. That was just the coolest experience ever, and we still talk about it over and over. So that would be the first highlight that pops in mind.
Do differently? Thankfully with winning seven, I’ve learned how to pace myself over the banquet week, so I think I would be yet again more experienced on how to manage the four or five days of continuous partying. (Laughs)
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question I can ask?
Do they wear underwear under their fireproof clothing in a race car?
Oh, is that a thing?
I don’t know. That’s where it all came from. I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” I’d like to know.
Other 12 Questions interviews with Jimmie Johnson through the years: