Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday June 4, 2013
Fans don’t like drivers who win too much — unless you are a fan of that driver of course. I’m just as guilty as the next person. I used to rock a black T-shirt with Jeff Gordon’s Chevrolet Lumina on the front even though my favorite driver was Ricky Rudd (circa 1993), and then well, Jeff Gordon became Jeff Gordon. He won three out of four championships from 1995-98, won a ridiculous amount of races (including 13 in 1998) and I wasn’t wearing the Gordon tee anymore.
I think I was the one that invented the popular phrase, “Anyone but Gordon.”
I mean that’s enough already. I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, either. NASCAR fans either loved or hated Gordon for his dominance during that time. There wasn’t much of a middle ground. The same could be said of Dale Earnhardt before Gordon came along, and now it can be said for Jimmie Johnson.
And the only similarity between those drivers is their dominance.
Hearing Johnson’s name alone sends shivers down the spines of many fans. You’d think Johnson was Freddy Krueger, one of the aliens from Men in Black or Amanda Bynes.
But actually Johnson is a family man with a beautiful wife and daughter. You don’t hear him fighting with reporters, backtracking on previously made statements or getting arrested for driving under the influence. He’s humble, articulate and seemingly always smiling, but he still somehow carries this unjust stigma.
Whether you love or despise Johnson, he is class personified. During his championship years, he represented the sport with grace — never making a misstep — and even now, you won’t hear a driver in the garage say a bad thing about him. Off the track, his Jimmie Johnson Foundation has raised more than $5.6 million for various charities.
On Thursday, Johnson showed that class I was referring to when he visited tornado-torn Moore, Oklahoma. It wasn’t exactly on the way from Charlotte to Dover, either. It didn’t get much press at the time, but Johnson donated his winnings from the Coca-Cola 600 to the tornado relief effort. He didn’t quite have the run he was hoping for as he spun, didn’t hit anything, but then was swiped by an out-of-control Juan Pablo Montoya in the infield. Johnson ended up 22nd — tied for his worst finish of the season.
The five-time champ easily could’ve stopped right there with his relief efforts, but after his sponsor Lowes donated $1 million, Johnson decided to take the trip with Lowes representatives and the Feed the Children charity.
“I was certainly shocked and floored by what I saw,” Johnson told Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass. “Television doesn’t do it justice. Going in person and seeing the damage, it really got my attention.
“To meet people that were in their homes and a child that was in one of those schools, I could still see on his face and in his eyes the fear that he had and is still living with today. It really hits you deep.”
Johnson and his wife, Chandra, who is from Oklahoma, passed out supplies, signed autographs and just lifted the spirits of people who have been through a traumatic event most of us can’t even begin to imagine.
Johnson’s visit came about a week after Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant visited the town, and was so stunned by what he saw that he immediately donated $1 million. That was matched later in the day by the Thunder, and again by the NBA and the Players Association.
Durant and Johnson are similar in many ways. They dominate their respective sports and have that once-in-a-generation talent to do so, but both are humble and respectful. At a time when sports headlines are dominated by arrests, scandals and squabbles, Durant and Johnson are never involved. They are role models to the fullest extent who recognize that how they act off the court/track is just as important as how they act on it.
One of the biggest differences between them would be that I doubt Durant has ever been booed like Johnson is every week. It doesn’t seem to be slowing him down any or wiping that smile off his face. Johnson’s haters are going to have to hope he keeps jumping restarts to keep from seeing him in Victory Lane.
You can love or hate Jimmie Johnson, but he’s making it damn hard not to respect him.
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