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All Things Jimmie Johnson, Including Racing The IndyCar Series

In the first part of this Forbes interview series with Jimmie Johnson, we covered a lot of ground, discussing whether there’s any truth to the rumors he may return to NASCAR from IndyCar, his Chip Ganassi Racing partner Scott Dixon, whether Indy cars are more dangerous than stock cars, why he was so aggressive last month at the Iowa IndyCar race finishing fifth, his seven Cup Championships, and whether he’ll still be racing at age 50. Here, we cover what racing was like during COVID-19, Johnson’s impressions of the great Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr., advice he has for youngsters wanting to get into motorsports, what he’s afraid of, and how racing Indy cars differs from racing stock cars. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.

Jim Clash: The only other NASCAR racers with seven Cup Championships are Dale Earnhardt, Sr., and Richard Petty. Your thoughts on those two legends.

Jimmie Johnson: I mean, gosh, being a kid watching and idolizing those guys I cannot believe I’m in the same conversation. It’s mind-blowing to be here with seven Cup Championships, being on Mt. Rushmore with them. I met Dale a couple of times, but did not know him. I’ve been able to get to know Richard over the years, and he has been a great friend, very supportive. The night I won my seventh championship, he came down to the cars after I was buckled in, and said, “You know what to do, just get it done” [laughs].

Clash: You raced during part of the pandemic. It must have been different without the fans there?

Johnson: Yeah, it was different. We took some pride in that we were one of the first sports to come back, and it was nice to have some normalcy after having been in lockdown, how weird the world felt for a handful of months. That said, the sporting events aren’t the same without fans. We missed the energy, everything the fans brought to the table. But by the end of that year, fans were slowly making their way back into the stands.

Clash: In broad strokes, compare racing an Indy car to racing a stock car.

Johnson: Ultimately, the performance of an Indy car is much higher due to the car being lighter in weight, and the aerodynamic design. That gives the vehicle double, or even triple, the braking and cornering ability. NASCAR is known for having a lot of horsepower, but getting the car stopped and to change directions is a bit tricky because of the weight and such. With the Indy car, you’re driving this little bullet around the racetrack, and it stops and turns entirely differently than in the world where I grew up racing.

Clash: Jimmie, what are you afraid of, and how do you handle fear?

Johnson: I hate spiders, snakes and sharks [laughs]. I’m not so great at heights, either. I discovered that on top of the Eiffel Tower with my wife. I had to get down, and quickly. I’m okay in airplanes, and I race dirt bikes, but something went on at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Fear is part of my decision-making process, and I think I interact with it better than most. That’s what race-car drivers do. But there are definitely moments where I’m fearful in the car, worry about things.

Clash: Of all your wins and championships in racing, which stands out as the most special?

Johnson: Generally speaking, I’ve always said the first – my first win, championship, whatever – just because that is truly the hardest one. There is so much riding emotionally on the first of anything, especially as a young driver trying to stay employed [laughs]. But when I look back on my legacy, I guess my seventh [Cup] championship is rising up in my mind as that moment. That’s all anyone talks about now, the fact I was able to tie Dale and Richard.

Clash: What advice would you give to kids wanting to become professional race-car drivers?

Johnson: Just do it. It’s like anything at a pro level, you have to be fully committed, all in. I was one of the few who made it through as a driver. But I love this industry so much that if my dream didn’t come true to drive, I would still be in motorsports, working somewhere. So I would just suggest that young individuals put themselves in some path into this industry, and see where it takes them. I think they’ll enjoy it wherever they land.

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