Long before he won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup championships, Jimmie Johnson received good advice and guidance from countless individuals in the early years of his career.
Johnson is now paying things forward. At NASCAR’s recent Young Driver’s Conference, where NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series rookies were given instruction on what to expect in their new series, Johnson imparted some of the lessons he learned years ago.
Jones and Suarez are already NASCAR champions. Jones won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title; Suarez won the 2016 Xfinity Series champ.
“I was excited to speak, excited to share some of my stories,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “A few of those stories and the points I made consisted of you’ve got to be you. And as you get going through your career, you’re going to be labeled with something if you like it or not.
“People have thought, the first one I had, was that I had a silver spoon in my mouth. People didn’t realize the upbringing I had and how hard I worked to get into those quality rides that provided so much for me. And the other is being vanilla.
“I think that’s all kind of behind me now. But my point to the rookies is you’re going to be labeled something, be you, don’t let the outside world change you. You have to stay focused on who or what you are and what got you to this point.”
Another element that Johnson conveyed to those who are following in his footsteps and tire tracks is patience.
“I’ve given plenty of examples of being patient in my career and how they’ve worked out for me,” Johnson said. “It’s the hardest thing to hear as a driver, to be patient, but it does pay off.”
And never forget where you came from, Johnson added.
“The other piece is remember everybody as you’re climbing this ladder because at some point, you’re going to have come down that ladder,” he said. “Not everybody makes it to being a full-time driver and has a driving job.
“Rodney Childers (Kevin Harvick’s crew chief) is my example for that. Rodney and I came in and were both racing for rookie of the year honors in the Busch Series in 2000. Our paths took far different routes, but we still ended up with championships (Johnson with seven Cup championships, Childers won the 2014 Cup championship with Harvick).”
In conclusion, Johnson summed up what he told the young drivers.
“So you never know where you’re going to end up, don’t burn bridges, remember how to handle things and worry about your reputation.”