Jimmie Johnson was born in El Cajon, California, and began racing motorcycles at the age of four. After graduating from Granite Hills High School he competed in off-road series racing. He raced in the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG), Short-course Off-road Drivers Association (SODA) and SCORE International, winning rookie of the year in each series. In 1998, Johnson and his team, Hezsog Motorsports, began stock car racing. He moved to the national American Speed Association (ASA) series for late model touring cars, and won another rookie of the year title. In 2000, he switched to the NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series).
He moved to Hendrick Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2002. After finishing fifth in the points in his first full season, he was second in 2003 and 2004 and fifth in 2005. Johnson won his first Cup Series championship in 2006 and wins in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. He became the first and only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships .He finished sixth in points standings in the 2011 season, and third in 2012, winning his sixth championship in 2013. In 2016, Johnson won his seventh championship, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most Cup Series championships of all time. Johnson is also a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 in 2006 and 2013. Between 2002 and 2016, Johnson has recorded seven championships, 80 career race wins, 219 top five's, 330 top ten’s, and 35 pole positions.
Johnson was very cordial about discussing his desire for speed.
Q. You’ve had quite a career starting at a very young age; what thrilled you about racing?
JJ: My grandparents owned the motorcycle shop on El Cajon Boulevard. My dad would represent the shop, go to the local tracks and help customers. He would bring me to the tracks when I was in a little carrier. At four I got my first dirt bike for Christmas. At five I started racing hometown track. I fell in love with riding and competing and spent my winters out in the desert hills near El Cajon and Santee. I was so fortunate to grow up in an environment with the dirt riding and hills in East County, and summers at the river and lakes. Eventually grandparents sold the shop, but the stars aligned me with opportunities, and I was able to turn it into a career.
Q. Besides the media and fan attention what has NASCAR done for you?
JJ: It’s taught me a lot about myself. I thought I was bad about handling pressure but throughout my career I’ve learned how to handle that and find out things I didn’t know about myself. It also helped me grasp the notion if you really want to do something, or you love something, pursue it and invest time in it and it can deliver for you. I started as a young kid racing dirt bikes and moving on to professional racecar driver and bridge the gap from two wheels to four. There were a lot of rocky moments but my love for the sport never wavered and I kept pursuing it and it turned out to be amazing.
Q. What was it like to be the first and only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships?
JJ: It was quite a rush on the first one, and then you move on and on. There was a lot of pressure to keep up that streak which I didn’t realize until it came to an end. Those five years were just magical.
Q. You have had any serious injuries, and how does your family deal with that and this career?
JJ: With NASCAR racing I’ve had a few concussions, but my major injuries came when I was younger and racing dirt bikes. In my last crash I broke both feet and seven toes. That was a good way to end it. So age 14 was my last year on bikes. I didn’t realize how my mom felt with me being a child, but now with two children of my own I can’t imagine seeing them hurt, in a cast, or an operating table as my parents experienced with me.
My wife has only known me as a racecar driver, so in the early days I tried to educate her about my safety. She was with me in 2002 and 03 when our sport really transformed with safer barriers on the seats. She’s been able to really dive in herself, and she’s been to the shop, looked at the restraint systems and is really good about trying to understand things. Sure there are risks but that’s all she has known me as and has really taken the time to understand our sport. My kids are very young so they don’t know anything but that drives fast cars.
Q. You have many fans in your home town of El Cajon and you do get back occasionally. What do they mean to you and when will you return?
JJ: It’s usually around the Fontana race, which is coming up pretty quick. With my car dealership in Kearny Mesa always I try to get back and see everyone. I make a trip to El Cajon and look around. I love the memories that flow through my mind when I get back home.
Q. For young boys or girls who want to pursue this sport what would you advise them?
JJ: No matter what it is if your passionate about it pursue it. I’m one in a billion who took a chance to ride this wave all the way. I know even if this had worked out for me with the racing at a top level I would’ve been involved in some sports somehow. But this is the industry and sport I love. I encourage people to keep an open mind where it may lead them; but definitely pursue things you are passionate about.
Q. There was some negative news about NASCAR on a morning show about fans losing interest in NASCAR. Do you want to comment about that?
JJ: There are always comments about those kinds of things and here’s the truth. All sports have less viewership these days. Through the digital era, life and society are changing, and every sport is seeing a decline, including ours, from viewership and attendance. Even the NFL is down about 19 per cent. We are dealing with our things and there are many reasons and theories. But at the end of the day I’m very proud of our sport. We have an amazing product there’s never been a more competitive era in all of racing. It’s just a matter of attracting fans, and we have a lot of them.