NASCAR »

Johnson award backs founder's belief

The image of a racecar driver hasn't always lent itself to inclusion among the world's elite athletes. Jimmie Johnson is helping to change that....

Perhaps the memories of Dick Trickle smoking a cigarette behind the wheel or Richard Petty streaking around the track in blue jeans and a T-shirt are hard to shake but, for whatever reason, stock car drivers - even at the highest levels - often haven't benefited from the same appreciation of their athletic abilities as have, say, Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali.

That's why Jimmie Johnson's selection by The Associated Press as its Male Athlete of the Year represents a paradigm shift in the way drivers are perceived. Johnson is the first driver to be honoured in the 79-year history of the award and, before he made his successful run at a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009, he ramped up his condition and fitness program.

Though not all drivers may share the dedication to training of Johnson or Mark Martin, it's obvious that conditioning can give a driver an edge in a sport that requires a unique combination of strength, endurance, hand-eye coordination and fine and large motor skills.

In winning the honour, Johnson beat off tennis superstar Roger Federer, who won his record-breaking 15th career Grand Slam title last summer at Wimbledon and later regained his #1 world ranking, and Usain Bolt, the track and field stand-out who became the first man in history to hold the 100- and 200- metre world and Olympic titles at the same time.

Johnson's selection also validated a view long held by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr - and spelled out in a recent letter to Johnson from his son Jim France, NASCAR's vice chairman and executive vice president - that was released to the media on Monday [read here].

“Over 60 years ago, my father set out to make NASCAR part of the traditional American sports landscape,” Jim France wrote to Johnson, “He believed the recognition of drivers as athletes was a key element in validating motor racing as a legitimate sport.”

Now that Johnson has joined a group of honorees that includes Jordan, Ali, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Joe Montana, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Ben Hogan, Joe DiMaggio, Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Ten-time World Series champion Yogi Berra welcomes four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey   [pic credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images/NASCAR]
Brian France, NASCAR President (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with his father Bill after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship following his fifth place finish in the DAV 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 8, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet SS, who is not in the Chase, qualified for 15th position Friday, November 7, 2014 for Sunday`s final Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Johnson won the NASCAR race last week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, who is in the Chase, finished in 2nd place and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet SS finished in 1st place Sunday, November 2, 2014 in the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase continues next week at Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS, races to his first place win Sunday, November 2, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The Eliminator 8 phase of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, which Johnson is not in, continues next week at Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory with a burnout Sunday, November 2, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The Eliminator 8 phase of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, which Johnson is not in, continues next week at Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory Sunday, November 2, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The Eliminator 8 phase of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, which Johnson is not in, continues next week at Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, celebrates with Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage and AAA VIP Employee Recognition Winner David Tiger with pistols in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Red Vest Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS qualified for third position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson is shown with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, talks with the media following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register before adding your comments.

Although the administrators and moderators of this website will attempt to keep all objectionable comments off these pages, it is impossible for us to review all messages. All messages express the views of the poster, and neither Crash Media Group nor Crash.Net will be held responsible for the content of any message. We do not vouch for or warrant the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any message, and are not responsible for the contents of any message. If you find a message objectionable, please contact us and inform us of the problem or use the [report] function next to the offending post. Any message that does not conform with the policy of this service can be edited or removed with immediate effect.


Matt - Unregistered

December 30, 2009 7:52 PM

Is Juan Pablo Montoyas car equal to the winners cars? Is his team equal to their teams? Maybe they don't know how to set up his car for him. I don't watch NASCAR so I am not sure. If his car/team is not equal, then that would be a contributing factor in him struggling. There's a lot of variables involved. By the same token, how would the top NASCAR guys fair in F1? Personally I think all motorsports require their own unique approaches and each have their own nuances that need to be learned.

Don - Unregistered

December 30, 2009 6:58 PM

Well, they do race on two road courses - Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. I'd like to see more also. It takes more athletic skill and conditioning to race on road courses than ovals, but driving ovals on the ragged edge requires real driving talent. Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya and numerous other world class drivers finding out that driving one of those beasts is pretty difficult. And the drivers in NASCAR are pretty good. I bet Michael Schumacher would have a hard time driving one and competing against 42 other cars.



© 1999 - 2014 Crash Media Group

The total or partial reproduction of text, photographs or illustrations is not permitted in any form.