TROPHY CLUB, Texas – Five-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was never the star quarterback on his high school football team, so it took nearly 36 years later for him to finally experience the thrill of being honored at a spirited high school pep rally.
With chants of “Jimmie” “Johnson” and “40” “Eight” reverberating around the gymnasium between the upper and lower classmen on each side, more than 1,900 students from Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club provided Johnson with a raucous sendoff as he begins his quest for his sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Click here to see photos from the event.
Johnson was treated to an old-fashioned, Texas high school football pep rally with the band, cheerleaders, dance team and the school’s Bobcat and “Blue Man” mascots as well as the entire student body for the school named after the late legendary golfer. And it would not have been complete without Johnson busting through a student-made spirit banner that read “We Love Jimmie Johnson” and onto midcourt for his grand entrance.
The event, in conjunction with Texas Motor Speedway, was part of NASCAR’s Chase Across America program, where drivers headed to the markets hosting Chase races Wednesday to help raise awareness of the upcoming events.
“Wow! What a welcome and what a school, you must be very proud of this amazing school,” Johnson told the students. “The 12 drivers that qualified for the Chase are all off doing different media things and I guarantee you that I’ve got them all beat with the coolest thing, so thank you all very much for this today!”
Johnson addressed the students about his road to success, including the determination, drive and motivation it takes to reach the level of a champion. He also discussed safe driving with these young adults, including don’t text and drive.
“The thing that led me through it all and led me to my career path was a passion and desire to follow my dreams,” Johnson said. “There is something in there that is leading you down a certain road for what your career is going to be and the type of person you are going to be in your life. Follow that. It’s easy to win, it’s easy to come out on top, but the moments I learned the most were the tough moments. In those moments, stop and look around a little bit and learn from it and I promise you’ll be proud of who you’ve become.”
Johnson followed with a Q&A session with the students that included an invite as a homecoming date. “Sure, but I’ll have to check my schedule first,” he said after being prodded by the student body for an answer.
Johnson then was presented a No. 48 Bobcats football helmet by head coach Brian Polk as a memento from the visit. He returned the favor and presented the school with an autographed white racing helmet that featured the school’s logo on the side and No. 48 on the back.
Johnson also had the opportunity to display his racing skills as he competed against Byron Nelson High School Principal Linda Parker and Polk in an office chair race. With fire extinguishers strapped tightly to the chairs to serve as the power boosts, the participants were sent hurdling across the court with Parker crossing the line first as Johnson was slowed by “Blue Man” hanging onto him for a ride.
The highlight of the event for the students came when Johnson announced that he, in cooperation with Texas Motor Speedway, would provide each student at the pep rally with a free frontstretch ticket to the Nov. 6 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the eighth stop in the 10-race Chase. Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage further enhanced the experience by including “mosh pit” passes for the AXE Salute Our Troops Pre-Race Show featuring Trace Adkins as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver introductions for all those students who plan to attend the race.
“This was a great day for the whole student body and Byron Nelson staff,” Parker said. “It’s always exciting when a celebrity comes to visit, but to have a celebrity with the caliber of five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and what he stands for has absolutely made our day.”
Johnson also had the opportunity to meet with Peggy Nelson, widow of the legendary golfer and namesake of the school.
Johnson remains focused on capturing his sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship and understands this may be his most difficult challenge yet. Johnson will start the Chase in the sixth position, far different from starting no worse than the top three in the previous five seasons. He is nine points behind co-leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
Despite entering the Chase with just one victory, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team aren’t pressing the panic button. He remains focused on the final 10 races – including the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway – that will determine the champion.
“The first 26 is the regular season,” Johnson said. “What takes place in the final 10 really wins the championship. I hate that we missed some opportunities and didn’t capitalize on them in the regular season, but it’s in the past now and we just have to buckle down and get 10 good ones.”
Tickets for the Nov. 6 Texas 500 Sprint Cup Series race still are available by contacting the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500, or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.