JUSTIN, Texas - If anyone knows how a champion should be crowned, it is Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, paid a special visit Friday to Clara Love Elementary School in neighboring Justin to crown the inaugural champions of Texas Motor Speedway's "Speeding To Read" educational program.
Before an enthusiastic full-school assembly of nearly 625 students, faculty and visiting parents, Johnson arrived to a thunderous, continuous chant of J-I-M-M-I-E J-O-H-N-S-O-N in the auditorium to present the winning classrooms of the "Speeding To Read" program with their championship trophies.
Johnson presented the Kindergarten-Second Grade Division championship trophy to Ms. Abrams' first-grade class, which read 10,457 books. He then presented the Third-Fifth Grade Division championship trophy to Ms. Baker's fifth-grade class, which read 913 books that were longer and more in-depth than the younger division.
The 29 classrooms read a combined 80,083 books and more than 80 percent of the student body met or exceeded their reading goals for the year.
"I don't know how that number shapes up against other schools, but that is a pretty amazing number of books read," Johnson said. "When we started the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, the mindset of (wife) Chandra and I was to give back to communities. We both came from public schools and we would think back fondly of certain teachers and how they impacted you. Anything kid-related, I'm all over it. This Speeding To Read program is a very cool deal and it's great to see Texas Motor Speedway taking the initiative to create an educational program like this in their community."
Clara Love Elementary Principal Julie Nerby reciprocated on behalf of the school and made Johnson an honorary "Lil' Texan" and presented him with a plaque and school t-shirt.
Following the assembly, Johnson visited with the winning students that also were presented with champions t-shirts and four tickets each to Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to watch Johnson and his fellow competitors. He signed each one of their race programs as a memento, posed for photos with the championship classrooms and conducted another Q&A with the winning students.
"Speeding To Read" is an incentive-based, NASCAR-themed reading program created by Texas Motor Speedway to encourage students to read more frequently during the school year. The competition began at the beginning of the school year in August and culminated Friday in conjunction with the kickoff of the racing season at Texas Motor Speedway with this weekend's Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I could never have imagined how successful the Speeding to Read program would turn out," Nerby said. "Students were revved up about reading all year and the race to the finish line was full of competition and good times. Thanks Texas Motor Speedway for your partnership and support!"
In addition to taking in Saturday's Sprint Cup event, the winning classrooms also will get to visit Victory Lane and take photos with the race trophy immediately following.
"We are ecstatic that Speeding To Read was a huge success from an educational standpoint and that we were able to make the challenge to the Clara Love students fun and enjoyable with the NASCAR-based theme," Texas Motor Speedway Vice President of Media Relations Mike Zizzo said. "We appreciate the willingness and support of the Northwest ISD and Clara Love to embrace the Speeding To Read program and make it an immediate success. It was only fitting to have a five-time champion - Jimmie Johnson - visit to culminate the inaugural year of the program."