We have a big stage in this country, but the fame it offers is short-lived.
A friend of mine, well-known for his collection of classic automobiles, won so many Best of Show titles at major Concours d’Elegance events that he was asked to remove his cars from competition and enter them in an “exhibition only” class.
And when it comes to winning – again and again -- just how genuinely excited can any rock group be while on-stage playing their 50-year old hits for the 1000th time?
This peculiar “Here today, gone tomorrow” American phenomenon is nowhere more powerful than in the world of sports.
Now, winning a fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title championship, is it time for Jimmie Johnson to leave NASCAR?
Absolutely. And he can’t do it soon enough. He should announce it at the NASCAR Awards Banquet this week in Las Vegas.
We Americans love our winners, but we soon come to hate anyone who hangs around too long, who overstays their welcome.
We’ve even placed a limit on how many times anyone can occupy the job demanding the best skills, most popularity and practiced, highly-specialized experience in this country and, arguably, the world: President of the United States.
Two times and you’re out, no matter how loved and popular the incumbent might be. The fact that this particular term limit was added to the Constitution fairly recently (within many of our lifetimes) shows that “out with the old, in with the new” remains more than a catch phrase; indeed it has become a staple of American life.
(And another fact -- that political term limits don’t allow the public to vote for whoever they feel might be the best candidate, which some argue makes for a somewhat less-than-free nation -- is rightful fodder for another posting altogether).
Johnson is about to get swept-up in America’s own “What have you done for me lately?” mentality.
It’s already a reason why, for all his amazing accomplishments, including the one this past Sunday, he is rarely mentioned as deserving to be a member of that rarefied group: the world’s greatest race car drivers.
Yep, boys, that there's nothing other than a Tucker all set-up for NASCAR racin' back in the far-away '50s!
Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Roger Penske and Carroll Shelby, Americans all, are considered among the world’s greatest drivers (and racing engineers) because they have excelled in more than one major form of motorsport.
Compared to those listed above, are Johnson’s five NASCAR titles enough for the price of his admission to best-ever club?
Apparently not. For all JJ’s success, even NASCAR’s TV announcers, who never met a driver they didn’t love, while occasionally calling NASCAR drivers as a whole “the world’s best race car drivers,” have yet to call Johnson, as far as we’ve heard, the leader of that (somewhat generic-sounding) pack.
Johnson is from Southern California and excelled in dirt bike motocross racing before entering the four-wheel world. Perhaps his west coast origins and his start as a two-wheel racer contribute to this “not best-ever” feeling for Johnson from so many NASCAR fans. This is a guy who now gets boo’d as often as Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, and that’s saying a lot about the sport, its fans and their expectations, their likes and dislikes.
If Johnson expects to be admitted to the “all-time great” club, he either has to create a lasting legacy in NASCAR apart from his title-winning dominance, or he (and “his people”) will have to be more creative in building a public reputation for his greatness, off the race track, which will outlast his natural lifetime.
In other words, Johnson and Company need to “get out in front” of his existing and still-potential greatness, planning for a future which takes full advantage of his skills and talents. And that future should absolutely not include NASCAR racing. Been there, mastered that.
Which means Jimmie Johnson needs to leave NASCAR, now, and begin examining the potential for his careers, racing and otherwise, beyond those 3,500 pound stock cars. We know Johnson has been approached by other racing series (and competes in endurance racing and has been investigating Formula 1 for some time) and this is the perfect time for him to take on a new on-track challenge, full-time.
And Johnson has a young and growing family, and that’s reason enough for a lot of racers to put the prefix “ex-“ in front of their job descriptions.
It was 1968 when cars like this 428cid Mercury were running NASCAR tracks ragged
And let’s face it: NASCAR’s growth and popularity has leveled off. Empty seats are so common at big races that talking about them has lost its significance. It’s just a given that NASCAR’s slowing as a sport needs to be stemmed.
It still has not, and probably never will be, become a truly national sport as tracks in the Northwest, Northeast and other major-venue areas near vast population centers have been roundly rejected by the local populace.
Another telling aspect of NASCAR’s supposed national and worldwide popularity: the sport’s major race, a grand finale which for the first time in years would actually decide the sport’s champion, was broadcast not on FOX or ABC, but ESPN.
And just one more very recent example of the sport making the best of a sometimes bad situation: on today’s show from Miami-Homestead, one of the NASCAR announcers excitedly teased an e-mail they had received from a NASCAR fan … a fan in England, of all places!
If the e-mail had been from Poland, Thailand, Tokyo or somewhere a bit more exotic, the announcers might have had a point. But England? The UK has the only officially-sanctioned National Hot Rod Association dragstrip outside the U.S., so finding NASCAR fans there is no surprise … at all.
NASCAR will never be respected nationally as long as the Confederate flag continues to be proudly flown at seemingly every track and prayer invocations before races seem to purposely exclude all but Christians.
NASCAR's Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC is open for business; built and opened during what turned out to be the worst of the recent W. Recession, only time will tell if this sport's HoF can succeed on a level commensurate with those of baseball, basketball, football and etc.
One more thought: how much does the U.S. military spend on providing support, sponsorships and services to NASCAR tracks, teams and the sport as a whole? Every major service group sponsors individuals racers, cars and/or teams and part of all that money goes into a ton of advertising buys on whatever network is carrying the sport throughout the year.
Including those impressive aircraft fly-overs as the cars ready for the green flag at almost every Sprint Cup event, you’ve got a nice piece of change going into the sport from Washington.
Haven’t heard too many complaints from Tea Party members about these aspects of a favorite motorsport, one often associated with a super-conservative audience.
Sure, it’s a great recruiting tool for some targeted audiences, but how can such secular prayers be allowed at events supported in large part by our own taxpayer money?
It should be noted that the National Guard is a major sponsor within the Rick Hendrick team, and their stickers can be found on all of the Hendrick-associated cars, including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin (greatest driver to never yet win a Sprint Cup series title) and, of course, five-time Sprint Cup title-winner Jimmie Johnson. Five times … in a row, that is.
Most Americans smart enough to know that when things like the Confederate flag-waving and the exclusionary prayers have been such an integral part of the sport for so long, they are as good as officially sanctioned by the business.
Back to Jimmie Johnson and his future, in and out of race cars.
He created a charitable foundation years ago, before the mega-publicity hit; to keep things in perspective, he’s been in NASCAR only nine years.
Johnson’s foundation, according to its website (www.jimmiejohnsonfoundation.org) “…is dedicated to assisting children, families and communities in need.”
The site also says, “We currently support Habitat for Humanity, Hendrick Marrow Program, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Victory Junction through our partner programs.”
Not to criticize, but all that is about as eye-catching and exciting as is Johnson himself, which is to say, unfortunately, not very much. And that’s unfortunate for the sport, the sport’s sponsors, TV viewers, fans in general and, ultimately Johnson himself and the Hendrick racing operation.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series monster Ron Hornaday (l) and perennial Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup winner/challenger/title-holder Carl Edwards congratulate Jimmie Johnson on one of his five SDpritn Cup Series victories ... we foegte which one, but does it matter?
Known as “The Iceman,” Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus might not even be noticed on NASCAR tracks if it weren’t for the checkered flags and titles they keep collecting. “Low-key” doesn’t even begin to describe how boring these guys come across to NASCAR fans and media.
In terms of what the public has come to expect of race car drivers and their often-entertaining penchants for excess, humor and even the occasional fist-fight or two, the Johnson/Knaus Un-dynamic Duo have developed an obviously winning combination on the track.
But there are questions about their off-track behavior. Specifically, do they have what it takes to stay on top of the publics’ mind when the racing season is over? Am I saying they are “too nice, too tame” for this age of impudence?
Not exactly. The truth is that sponsors, while they all have morals clauses in their celebrity contracts, don’t go rushing to enforce those sections if the celeb winds up, say as the lead story on Harvey Levin’s TMZ television show.
A little heat is not necessarily a bad thing, but Johnson/Knaus generate virtually nothing but audible sighs of relief when off the race track.
Example: Charlie Sheen is currently the highest-paid personality in the history of TV, garnering an estimated (by some) $2.5 million per episode of “Two and A Half Men”.
Back when Detroit's then-Big Three were flush with cash, something like this near full-size Hemi Merry-Go-Round was possible to conceive of, design, style and build; things are different nowadays, with serious questions as to whether Chrysler will be represented at all starting next year in NASCAR, or if they and new owners Fiat will take some time off from the sport. Roger Penske fielded competitve Dodge truck, Nationwide and Spreint Cup teams this immediate past season, and his driver Brad Keselowski won the Nationwide Series driver's title (Joe Gibbs' Toyota team won the team title)
Yet, the latest Charlie Sheen news I have seen was not about his getting fired or suspended, but a tease for this Thanksgiving week’s ABC-TV network news with segments of an interview done with Sheen’s New York City “escort,” the only witness to Sheen’s recent craziness in a room at the Plaza Hotel. You think CBS is going to fire ol’ Charlie anytime soon? And what a heartwarming effort for the traditional kick-off to the holiday season. ABC’s marketing and programming people are to be commended … for, uh, something … One must wonder what the escort is being paid for her recollections. It’s a wonder she had time to do her nails and hair before the cameras started rolling.
Vulgarity and nuttiness may not be trademarks for Knaus and Johnson, but a bit of it won’t get either thrown off the Hendrick Motorsports team, either. We do know, almost for certain, that Johnson, at least, has been involved in sex. His new baby attests to that.
Will Johnson’s future, non-racing efforts be aimed at, for instance, bringing minorities into NASCAR on all levels of the sport in meaningful ways?
Are there any health problems concerning Johnson’s family which he might want to address on a national or worldwide level through donations and research?
Johnson and his foundation could easily go the way of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They’re ultimately contributing vast amounts of monies to developing sustainable fuel and food systems, clean water wells, malaria protections and other crucial projects already happening worldwide.
But a run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen foundation whose signature event is an annual golf tournament? Come on, now, Jimmie … you know better than that!
Not to minimize Johnson’s efforts, or any other similar charities, but this is the 21st century and now that his legend is secure, at least in racing, JJ should put together some of the world’s best minds in charity and marketing and come up with something so exciting, hip and different that wallets will be opening on their own.
And JJ making a stop or two in LeMans, Rally Racing, F1 or even NHRA drag racing wouldn’t hurt his chances for even more well-deserved future recognition.
Where might Johnson find himself most challenged and best qualified for the job?
Seemingly perpetual NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is one of the few drivers in the world with the tenacity, exuberance and sheer unabated enthusiasm to challenge Johnson not only on the track, but at a much more essential level.
Where’s that place? The one in the center of the gut, the place where, if you’re very lucky, your breath gets taken away every time you see or even think of your “significant other”. You know where that is. Imagine capturing that feeling on TV, sprung from perhaps the two best, and certainly most important, drivers of the first decade of this century.
Pitting a clean-cut, non-sweating, no-body-odor driver like Jimmie Johnson against this ... John Force! ... could only be fun...and extremely profitable! Come on, you driver agents! Put something together here!
Competition of almost any sort between those two would capture the world’s sporting attention. It would be inspiring to see Johnson and Force, such apparent polar opposites, learning from each other, perhaps trading engineers and crews; the possibilities are endless and these two All-American drivers would make for great TV. Talk about reality TV … this time really based on what happens on the track between them!
No doubt Johnson will go on from this point and own some car dealerships (he may already, or at least have his name associated with some), have a public school or two named for him and lend his name to a few driving schools across the country.
If this were an earlier era, Johnson would probably buy a couple of bars, one around San Diego (he was born nearby) and, naturally, another one Down South somewhere.
Then, perhaps, when all that is over, and JJ has served as fill-in host for the last time on Regis and Kelly, Jimmie Johnson can relax, retire and watch his name become part of the eternal racing firmament.
But NASCAR? Come on now, Jimmie. No way. Get out now. You don’t need them anymore.