The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, who heads to Dover this week looking for a 12th win at the Monster Mile.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I think the majority of it has come from working at it. When I look at my early years of being on motorcycles and early years of four wheels and so on, I’ve been a slow learner to a certain degree, and I really had to focus and work hard to polish up that last bit to make me a champion. So I’d say I put it at 50/50.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
If I haven’t won them over yet, I don’t think I’m going to. (Laughs) Just stay in the sport, stay a fan of somebody — and if you’re booing me, just boo louder; if you’re cheering for me, cheer louder.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I would just say managing it all. It’s so tough to manage a personal life and professional life, and the kids are growing and have interests of their own. My wife has her own small business. So to balance it all really is the tough part as life goes on.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Yeah, absolutely. If I’m eating, let me finish my food, that would be really nice — but after that, go for it.
As long as it’s not mid-bite, maybe?
Mid-bite is very awkward and makes for a bad photo. (Laughs)
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
The unsung heroes behind the scenes. It’s something that we have a great privilege to experience working week-in and week-out. You might not know a person’s name, you know the team they’re on, the face, they’re always cheery, happy-go-lucky, there for you. There’s more of those unsung hero experiences I think than people would ever realize.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Basically. So he decided to run a half marathon at the end of the year, and he wanted to run some miles this morning. I haven’t run in a long time, so I’m like, “Sure, I’ll go with you.”
So you’ve pretty much been biking instead of running recently?
Yes, and then I re-discovered my hatred for running this morning. It’s very effective and I was good at it at one point in time, if I can get back there, but cycling is definitely where it’s at for me.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
By definition, yes — but by my own experience, no. I feel like what we do in the car is absolutely a form of entertainment, but as society has grown and as the spotlight has grown, I find that there is a great pressure to have a personality that fits the masses or do things that will help you in other ways outside of the car and entertaining people, being a big personality.
To me, I’ve always been a bit more on the quiet side, so certainly I’ve had my challenges with all that. But a guy like Clint Bowyer can come along and light up a room, light up an autograph session, whatever it might be, and then he gets in the car and wheels it, too.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
It’s changed a lot over the years. It’s been everything from, “Hey buddy, how are ya?” to what you intended it to mean. I’ve calmed way down with it, and I don’t know the last time I used it, to be quite honest.
Do you ever get it done to you?
Yeah, and as a guy who has passed them out, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I get mad, but I have run across a few who’ve been really upset with the middle finger over the years.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
Yeah, that stuff is in your mind. It usually comes back around in that particular race. And then if there’s enough consistency with working with one another on track, you’ll remember that and cut somebody a break.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I’ve had lunch with President Obama. That’s a good one.
That’s tough to beat right there, a president.
That wasn’t bad at all.
Do you remember what you ate for lunch?
I don’t. We were in a small room, and I don’t think he technically sat down and ate with us, but he was there. So maybe that doesn’t qualify. But we were deep down inside the White House in some room stashed away in a corner with the team. That was really cool.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
There’s plenty of things to improve on. Generally speaking, I just find the older I get, managing emotions and being more patient has served me. Getting started, I had older mentors always tell me, “Be patient, be patient,” and it got under my skin and made me mad. But now as I’m in that role, I can see the benefits that come with it and I find myself preaching it to the young guys that are coming along now.
12. The last interview I did was with Scott Dixon. His question was: What kind of underwear do you wear? Is it boxers, briefs or tighty-whities?
(Laughs) Thank you, Dix. Appreciate it, buddy.
It depends on the attire and time of day. Evening, going to bed, I’ll go with boxers. And then jeans and pants in general seem to be more slim-fitting these days, so the tighty-whities definitely come into play then.
This room just got really uncomfortable for me.
And me. (Laughs) Thanks, Dixon!
The next interview is with Chase Briscoe. Do you have a question I can ask him?
Let’s just keep the theme going. Boxers or briefs? (Laughs) Thank you, Scott!
Thanks to Dover International Speedway for sponsoring the 12 Questions over the last few months. If you haven’t bought tickets for this weekend’s race yet, please use my link so they won’t think they wasted money by advertising on my website. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).