Long before he became a health-conscious triathlete and cyclist in his spare time, Johnson was a pudgy off-road driver who was helping set up an awning for Papis’ CART IndyCar team at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
“Jimmie was pretty chubby back then,” Papis said with a laugh during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I was joking with him and said ‘So, are you training to become a stock-car driver?’ Back then, a stock car driver was thought of having a bigger build.”
Eight years later, Papis watched his first Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, where Johnson started on the front row. By then, Papis had begun testing cars for Hendrick Motorsports, developing a bond with Johnson. After once teasing him about his fitness, Papis often has trained with the fitness-conscious Johnson, giving him his first heart-rate monitor as a gift.
“The relationship with Jimmie is something dear to my heart, one of those things that extended way beyond racing,” Papis said. “From setting up an awning to becoming a seven-time champion, it’s just an honor to see that good things can happen to good people.”
With Johnson’s support, good things have happened to Papis. The veteran of NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars and Formula One developed a safer high-performance steering wheel that Johnson was among the first to use. Max Papis Innovations steering wheels quickly became a popular choice for NASCAR drivers. All 40 starters in the 2017 Daytona 500 used an MPI steering wheel.
“I’m just amazed how a dream can come true, servicing the sport, providing better safety can lead into something creating a business,” said Papis, whose company also makes steering wheels for Late Model, sprint car, off road and drag racing. “This is a true American dream.”
During his appearance on the podcast, Papis also discussed:
–His memories of racing in the IndyCar series;
–A long career in various racing disciplines (and which he considers to be the most pure);
–His work in tutoring young NASCAR drivers such as William Byron.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.