When Jimmie Johnson won his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship last year (just one shy of the record by legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt), his team dubbed the feat “Six Pack.” But the phrase could also apply to the fitness goals Johnson sets for himself. Being physically fit has been instrumental to his career, and his foundation recently launched a Wellness Challenge with four upcoming events throughout the Charlotte area.
You’ve won six championships. How do you keep your competitive drive?
I’ve been racing since I was five, and I’m 38 now. And it’s truly something I love to do. I feel like I’m now at the peak of my career, and I feel the best I’ve ever felt—competitively and in the car, and certainly from a workload standpoint and dedication.
Does being physically fit make you a better driver?
That’s really the way it all comes together. Compared to other athletes, in our industry we have the luxury of going deeper into our careers age-wise. But from a physical fitness standpoint, you still have to be on top of that. It gives me mental clarity in dealing with stress and the day-to-day challenges in our sport, with 39 races in 41 weeks.
How is racing in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway different than others in the series?
The May races are different because we have the All-Star event there the weekend before, where we can get some on-track experience, fine-tune our race setups, and get a grasp of things before we go into the longest race, the 600-miler (Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, May 25).
How do you carve out time for yourself during such a long NASCAR season?
There are some weeks that are busy every day, and you hope that your family understands and you can make it up on weeks that are not as busy. I’ve learned how to turn it on when it’s time to go racing and time to go to work. And then flip the switch and turn it off to take personal time and family time when I get the opportunity.
What does the Jimmie Johnson Foundation represent?
Our foundation, for the last three or four years, we’ve supported public education in the southern California area where I grew up, where my wife is from in Oklahoma, and where we live in North Carolina. We’ve had various fundraisers around the country and we have our anchor event, which is the golf tournament in San Diego. We wanted to do fundraising in the Carolinas where we live … . It’s a great environment. There are so many charitable people that attend these events.
Tell me about the importance of your Wellness Challenge and what impact you’re hoping to make.
I felt like a wellness challenge would bring the right type of person around and help awareness for public education, and also if I could lead by example for people of all fitness levels to get involved and be more fit, to experience and enjoy wellness in their life, it would be a perk for an individual, for corporations—health care costs are going up, and corporations are concerned about ways to keep their staffs healthy. It just made a lot of sense to me; it’s something I’m passionate about. I feel like our events are very well-rounded, where a beginner can come out and feel right at home and no pressure all the way up to some type of stud or triathlete can come out, have a great experience, and raise money for public education.
Jimmie’s Perfect Day in Charlotte
9 am, Fuel Up
I would probably start off at The Original Pancake House (in SouthPark) with my family.
11 am, Get Outside
Get out on my mountain bike or road bike—there are various places in the SouthPark area that are gorgeous for both. Maybe a little run through Freedom Park, or a swim over at MAC (Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center) uptown. Get that part out of the way and then a good, long lunch.
4 pm, Family Time
Then I’d want to enjoy some time at home, enjoy my backyard. We have a pool back there and grass, and I’d play with my kids.
8 pm, Out and About
Selwyn Pub’s (2801 Selwyn Ave.) always fun—maybe swing by there for some nachos and a beer. NoDa (North Davidson neighborhood) is fun to just wander around, great spots to enjoy. Everything I know about the city is kind of weekday-related, because on the weekends I’m providing entertainment.
For more information on the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Wellness Challenge, visit jimmiejohnsonfoundation.org.