Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jimmie Johnson Makes Cover of Sports Illustrated

It takes talent to profile Jimmie Johnson and leave the reader actually liking him. Yet that's exactly what Lars Anderson does in SI this week, and I've been lucky enough to receive the story before it hits newsstands. Here are an excerpt I enjoyed, along with the cover:

Away from the track, team owner Rick Hendrick says, "nobody has more fun than Jimmie." The ultimate guy's guy, according to one of his close friends, Noah Lazes, an event planner in Charlotte, who offers this snapshot: On the morning of the AFC and NFC championship games two years ago Jimmie phoned him in Charlotte: "You want to have a man day and go see the NFL games?"

"Uh, games, plural?" responded Lazes.

"Come on," Jimmie said. "Two guys, two games, one airplane and a bottle of Goose. Let's go."

An hour later they were airborne in Jimmie's six-seat Gulfstream G450, heading from Charlotte, where the Johnsons own a 12,000-square-foot house, to Chicago for the Saints-Bears kickoff. Then they flew to Indianapolis to watch the Patriots play the Colts. "The thing you've got to realize about Jimmie is that his success has afforded him the chance to do amazing things," Lazes says. "As serious as he is at the track, he's as fun-loving away from it. I wish more people saw that side."

Hendrick saw that side a few days after the 2006 season, when Jimmie called to report that he'd just had an "accident" while playing in a charity golf tournament in Lecanto, Fla. Full of an afternoon's worth of liquid courage, Jimmie had hopped on the back of a friend's moving golf cart, climbed onto the roof (at the full-throated urging of spectators) and pretended he was surfing. The improbable target proved too tempting for players in the following group, who began hitting golf balls at Jimmie. One of the balls startled the driver of the cart; he swerved, sending the surfer tumbling onto the fairway. Jimmie split his lip and broke his left wrist.

The injuries didn't cause him to miss a race, but Jimmie feared he might have lost the respect of his fans and the support of his sponsor, Lowe's. (Not the case at all.) "I can be a jackass," he says. "I sometimes wish people could hear the voices in my head because there's some crazy-ass s‑‑‑ in my brain."

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