Jimmie Johnson is one of the most accomplished professional athletes of his era. The only race car driver in history to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, he is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, sharing the all-time record with stock car racing icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. He is the author of one of the greatest championship runs ever seen in sports and continues to break new ground with his accomplishments both on and off the track.
With an appeal that extends well beyond racing, Johnson was the first athlete ever to co-host ESPN’s flagship news show, “SportsCenter.” He has been a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “The Late, Late Show with James Corden,” “LIVE with Kelly and Ryan,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “Ellen.” Johnson made a cameo on NBC’s “Superstore” and was a presenter at the 51st annual Country Music Association Awards which aired in primetime on ABC. He has appeared as himself numerous times in scripted series, including on Nickelodeon’s animated “Bubble Guppies” and as character “Jiminy Johnson” on Disney’s “Mickey and the Roadster Racers.” In print, he has twice been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, along with publications such as Success, Parade and TV Guide. Johnson has been profiled by lifestyle magazines Architectural Digest, Garden and Gun and was featured in the New York Times style section. He has also been highlighted in business publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review.
Away from the track, Johnson focuses on his rigorous and well-documented fitness regimen. An avid cyclist, runner and swimmer, he has competed in numerous half marathons and triathlons, including a half Ironman where he placed 15th overall. His attitude toward training and fitness is contagious as he has motivated other drivers, crew members, fans and journalists to embrace health and wellness. Johnson’s outside interests have landed him on NBC’s coverage of both the Olympics and Tour de France and on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine.
In 2006, the Johnsons launched the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, which is dedicated to helping children, families and communities in need. It focuses on funding K-12 public education, primarily through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, Champions Grant program and the annual Helmet of Hope initiative. Grants have been awarded nationwide to hundreds of school projects focused on science and technology, health and fitness programs, trade-based programs, school improvements, language and literary programs, and the arts. The foundation raises funds through an annual golf tournament and a series of special events held throughout the year. To date, more than $11 million has been contributed to various organizations. Johnson also partners with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to grant children diagnosed with critical illnesses life-changing experiences and he has granted more than 48 wishes throughout his racing career.
Johnson learned the value of giving back through his humble upbringing. Growing up in working-class El Cajon, California, just outside San Diego, Johnson was a motorcycle prodigy at a very early age. With the support of his family, Johnson’s racing career started on 50cc motorcycles at the age of 5. His father Gary worked for a tire company while mother Cathy drove a school bus. With Jimmie and younger brothers Jarit and Jessie in tow, the family spent most weekends camping and doing what they loved – racing on two wheels and dirt up and down the west coast.
At just 8 years old, Johnson won a 60cc class local track championship despite sustaining a severe knee injury with several races remaining and finishing the season in a cast. From motorcycles, Johnson graduated to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group Stadium Racing Series, where he had even more success.
A 1993 meeting arranged by Johnson’s mentor, supercross champion Rick Johnson (no relation), proved fortuitous. While racing at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Rick introduced Jimmie to Herb Fishel, the executive director of General Motors Racing. The protégé lived up to his billing, impressing Fishel with driving ability and business acumen. Fishel kept his eye on Johnson that year and later helped him land with an off-road racing team.
Johnson seized the opportunity, spending the next few years driving buggies and trucks in off-road stadium and desert races. He also improved his ability to connect with fans and potential sponsors by reporting for ESPN in the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association Series (SODA). In 1995, the effort paid off in another way as Johnson met future car owners Stan and Randy Herzog while working in the series.
In 1996, Johnson began driving the Herzog brothers’ off-road truck. After two years, he was ready for the next opportunity and crafted a proposal for Fishel, who gave the owners and their ambitious driver a shot. In 1998, Johnson climbed behind the wheel of an American Speed Association (ASA) car for his first taste of pavement racing. His ASA victories opened the door for his move to NASCAR.
Johnson had success in the competitive NASCAR Xfinity Series, running a full schedule for the Herzog family from 1998-2001. He racked up 24 top-10 finishes and his first career NASCAR win at Chicagoland Speedway in 2001. But midway through the season he received news that his sponsor would not return and the team would potentially fold. Concerned for his future, Johnson boldly introduced himself to NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. The conversation would change his life.
Perennial championship contender Hendrick Motorsports was starting a fourth team. In the following weeks, Johnson met with NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Rick Hendrick and Gordon. He signed with Hendrick Motorsports in September 2000 and began his stories NASCAR Cup Series career with a three-race schedule in 2001.
Now in his 18th full season in the Cup Series and backed by a new partnership with Ally Financial and crew chief Kevin Meendering, Johnson will continue his quest for a record-breaking eighth title. He is the all-time winningest Cup driver at Dover (11 wins), Charlotte (eight wins), Texas (seven wins), Fontana (six wins), Las Vegas (four wins) and Kansas (three wins, tied with Gordon). He is the only driver to have qualified for the championship-deciding NASCAR Cup Series playoffs every year since its inception in 2004.
Johnson married Chandra Janway in 2004 and is a father to daughters Genevieve Marie and Lydia Norriss. He has a vested interest in art and photography as Chandra owns SOCO Art Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the family resides. He also has longtime personal relationships with blue-chip brands such as Gatorade, Blue Bunny and Seiko watches. Johnson is an avid snow skier and enjoys spending time in Colorado and New York City.