Exclusive: Jimmie Johnson talks kids, disappointment, White House
Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson spends most of his time at the track focused on going fast in his familiar No. 48 car.
But the Hendrick Motorsports driver carved out a few minutes during the fall race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway to talk with FOXSports.com NASCAR writer Jared Turner about parenthood, how he stays calm under pressure, where he would like to visit and much more.
Turner: Where do you see yourself in 30 years?
JJ: Thirty. Gosh. I've been always asked about five or 10. Thirty's a whole different game. I guess potentially enjoying grandkids. That would make my daughters 34 and 31, so somewhere in that part of life definitely enjoying traveling, which has been something that my wife and I have always enjoyed. There's a lot of places we want to see and experience, so I would assume that would be layered in there, too.
Turner: What's the one place you've never been that you'd like to see and experience?
JJ: We've been through Europe, I've been to South Africa, but Vietnam, gosh, there's just so many places. I've never been to Russia and just have a little bit of intrigue about Russia. Indonesia, that whole area, China, Japan. I've only been to Europe, really, and then throughout North America. I've always just had a better appreciation for life and things in general by traveling and experiencing other cultures, and I usually come home and I realize the things about America that I love and then that I also dislike. I think having that worldly mindset is important. It's easily forgotten once you're back home, so to have that exposure and really see so many other people across the world and what their cultures are about and what their lifestyles are like is always interesting to me.
Turner: If you could change one thing about America, what would it be and why?
JJ: For me, when you're in these little villages through Europe that I've experienced so far, the day is treated so much differently -- from your shopping habits to your appreciation of the day and the people you're around and the respect you have for everything. We're in such a rush. We make sure we go to a big box and buy 20 of everything that we need, usually flip off two or three people on the way to the big box retailer, fight for a parking spot, stuff some fast food down our throats while we're inside and then head home and have a little bit of road rage again and pull in the driveway and try to be a good parent. It's just different. And the places I've experienced so far, you really wake up and live for the day and just have a different appreciation for the day.
Turner: How is Jimmie Johnson the father of two little girls different from Jimmie Johnson the race car driver?
JJ: I've always felt that I was a patient man, but being a parent has taken my skill set for patience to a whole new level. I do find that I've got to put these little compartments together so there's the work face, the race face. Then there's the at-home presence, and I'm working hard to keep those two worlds as separate as possible. It does happen where you bring work home, and everybody has those moments where you walk in the door a little upset about the way things went, and then that cliche that's out there: When you see your kids, it just changes everything. That is very accurate and true ... but just being present and being present for both, because both are very demanding. I need to give all that I can to my career, but at the same time, when I get home I need to close that compartment door and be into my family.
Turner: Would you rather be liked or successful?
JJ: I don't care. I'm just going to be me. I've worried about different aspects along the way through my career, and I started off not having success and was liked by everyone through my younger years. Found my way into some success -- and especially the outside world at this high level is far different -- and found that I wasn't liked as much as I was used to, and it started to wear on me for a little bit, but then two things happened. One, I realized that in pro sports, you're going to cheer for your person or your team and then boo the rest. The other thing is, if I don't have a chance to get to know someone, why do I care what their opinion is of me? And that's where most of my weight lies. If I have a chance to get to know someone and they don't like me, that would bother me far more than a fan being a fan.
Turner: In what ways do you think you've been able to show more of your personality in recent years?
JJ: I don't know what it is. I don't feel like I've made an effort to do so. I can say that social media has been a big tool and helped, not that I looked at it and said, 'Wow, I'm going to use this for that,' but when I'm at my workspace I take it serious and I'm focused. People have had different opinions of me in that space, and I guess if I'm going to be accused of being too focused and too serious about my job, I'm fine with that. But social media's allowed others that don't know me to see the day-to-day stuff and more casual side of me.
Turner: When was the last time you felt scared in a race car?
JJ: Ah, it happens throughout each and every weekend. There's different levels of it, but in a race, in qualifying. (At the fall 2014 race) in qualifying we were so aggressive in the cars at Texas, and there were plenty of moments in qualifying. And then the last restart where I got the lead, Brad (Keselowski) was on the outside of me through (turns) 1 and 2, and I was afraid I was going to spin out, and we went down into (turns) 3 and 4 and I committed to either crashing or winning, and I came out with the lead. So that happens.
Turner: What has surprised you, if anything, about your White House visits?
JJ: That the president has time to say hello, and granted, it's a small window of time -- about 10 or 15 minutes of interaction and he's gone and off to work -- but No. 1, it's that you're able to be there with the president. No. 2, it's just how small it all seems at the White House. There's some grass and an old White House and some more rooms and offices, and that's really it. I mean, I'm sure there's a lot more there that I just haven't -- and very few -- get the access to see, but it isn't this monstrous palace that you see in other countries where their rulers live or did live. It's an old white house.
Turner: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
JJ: I wish I could always spin things in a positive manner. Some people just have that peaceful presence. It's very easy in our sport to live by your success on the track, and having a year like this year where we've been frustrated, it's very easy to have that drag you down. So I just wish that I could naturally stay just peaceful and happy at all times.
Turner: What makes you so calm under pressure?
JJ: Everybody has a mechanism in how they deal with the pressure, and that's just been my trait since I was a young kid. Others go in the complete opposite direction, but for me it's just the way I was wired.
Turner: What person from world history do you admire the most and why?
JJ: Man, world history. I think of the early pioneers and settlers and how brave someone like Columbus was. Everyone thought the world was flat and it was like, 'Nah, I don't believe so. I'm going to keep sailing this direction, and I don't think I'm going to fall off into the abyss,' or off into space or whatever they considered it then. That's one great example. But you don't have to go too far back to where you lose all these luxuries and amenities that we're used to today like motor barred vehicles and warm showers, a nice roof to stay under. So you can even go back 200 or 300 years just in American history and find some great examples. In world history I guess I'd go with Columbus because he had the balls to keep on sailing.
Turner: How do you deal with disappointment?
JJ: I try to learn from it. There's lessons in everything and I've had the most impactful lessons given to me through failure. If failure falls on your shoulders solely, it's real easy for me then. I know where to look and dig. It's a little more painful and probably a longer process. If it's shared between me and the team, it's probably a little easier. If it's somebody else's mistake, it's even easier, yet, so it just depends on where the responsibility lies.
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