Six Pack of Pop: Chipper Jones
June 11, 2013, NASCAR.com
Chipper Jones retired after last season as one of the greatest players ever for the Atlanta Braves, and a likely future first-ballot selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The former third baseman and eight-time all-star has followed NASCAR since his days growing up in Pierson, Fla., not far from Daytona Beach. He gave the command to start engines as grand marshal for the recent Sprint Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway.
How did you become such a big NASCAR fan?
I grew up about 20 miles inland from Daytona Beach, Fla., and I think when they revved the engines up, you could hear them in my backyard, to be honest with you. It was always a fun time to go over to Daytona twice a year. Back then it was the Firecracker 400 in the summer, and obviously the big Daytona race every February. We always had a blast. That’s where my love of NASCAR started.
Who are your favorite drivers?
I was in the house for Richard Petty’s 200th win. Ronald Reagan flew in on Air Force One. Richard wasn’t my favorite, though. I was a Cale Yarborough fan. I loved Cale’s grit and determination. He’d fight you in a heartbeat on the backstretch if somebody wrecked him. That was always something that I liked. But I always thought he had one of the prettiest cars, to be honest with you. That Hardee’s 28 and Valvoline 27 were some good-looking cars. Now, I’ve gotten to know so many of the racers over the years going to driver’s meetings and going to Daytona so many times walking up pit road, it’s hard to put a finger on a favorite. I guess if you held a gun to my head, I’d probably say Jeff Gordon and I go back a long way. We’ve had some of the same representation, and he’s gotten me tickets in years past. So I’d probably have to say Jeff is my guy.
How has life been post-baseball?
I’m knocking off bucket-list items left and right right now. I’ve been to Augusta (for The Masters), which I’ve never been able to do. Been able to go turkey hunting for the first time in my life -- on purpose, anyway. I’ve always said, my love for NASCAR has never faded. I’ve wanted to hop in a bus or hop in a camper and do the tour. I’ve always wanted to go up to Bristol. I’m a big either short-track guy, or super speedway guy. I’m not big on the mile-and-a-halves, but I’d like to go to some and continue to make the circuit as much as I can.
What about jumping in a race car?
I’ve done it in Las Vegas, actually. Did it a couple of years ago. I have a couple of outdoors shows on the Sportsman Channel, one on the Outdoors Channel. So the big Shot Show for the outdoor industry was in Las Vegas, and we jumped in a car out there. I think I got the most careful driver of the bunch. I probably went the slowest out of everybody. But I’d love to do it again. It’s something that if I wasn’t a baseball player, I’d have wanted to be a race car driver or a country singer or something like that. Not that I can sing. But I can dang sure drive. I like to go fast.
Where’s your favorite place to watch a race?
I used to watch from the stands as a kid at Daytona, and I thought that was great. But getting down on those pit boxes --I’ve stood on Richard Childress’ tower with him at Daytona, and being able to see those cars go all the way around … that’s a thrill for me. I like to be down here in the midst of it.
Are you surprised your adjustment to retirement has been so smooth?
For the last 23 years I’ve been living out of a suitcase, playing the game of baseball. I’ve loved every minute of it. But I think now, just being able to set up some roots, being able to see my kids whenever I want to -- I’ve got four boys, ages 15, 12, 8 and 7. Being able to go to games on Saturdays. Being able to actually sit down and watch a race on the weekend from the drop of the green flag to the drop of the checkered flag. Most of the time Sunday afternoons, I’m having to catch the last 50 laps on the radio driving home from the ballpark. There are a lot of cool things that I want to do. People are so surprised that I haven’t had more trouble adjusting to life after baseball. I wasn’t just a baseball player. I have a lot of other interests in life, whether it’s NASCAR, whether it’s deer hunting, whether it’s coaching my kids’ baseball team, or whatever. So I’m going to be just fine, and I’m having a blast thus far.