DAVIDSON, N.C. — The NASCAR family paid its respects to J.D. Gibbs on Friday, mourning a devoted father and team owner who touched many facets of the stock-car racing community.
J.D. Gibbs died Jan. 11 after a long-fought battle with a degenerative neurological condition. He followed his father, Coach Joe Gibbs, into a life immersed in sport, from football to extreme sports and ultimately to auto racing.
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Though tears flowed freely during Friday’s service, there were many moments of levity as the congregation remembered J.D. Gibbs’ reputation as a practical joker and a rambunctious, fun-loving team member. A montage of light-hearted videos starring Gibbs played at the conclusion of the service as well-wishers formed long receiving lines to share their memories with the family.
But Gibbs was also remembered for his devotion to his religion and his family, a theme that resonated through the 90-minute service.
“We were young kids, but they just had a passion for what they were doing and loved it, and we loved them. You were just a part of the Gibbs family,” said Bobby Labonte, who brought Joe Gibbs Racing its first premier series championship in 2000. “They welcomed you in. J.D. was amazing as far as that smile and all that stuff that you see and you hear, it’s so true. There’s so many stories, but the bottom line is the fact that he rubbed off on people the way they said today. I’ve always said that for my career at Gibbs, it was not only about winning the championship, which we were able to do, but they helped me in my life more than anybody will ever know.”
Gibbs’ wide-reaching impact could be measured by attendance from representatives from the NFL’s Washington Redskins and from all corners of the racing industry. Current and former Joe Gibbs Racing drivers joined NASCAR officials, track owners, and executives and crewmembers from rival teams and manufacturers — competitors on the track united in their respect for J.D. Gibbs.
His embrace of life was also remembered, as were his numerous roles growing up in sports. Gibbs was recalled for his maturation in football, his role as a young tire-changer for Dale Jarrett’s first victory in the Daytona 500 in 1993 and his growth into a top team executive with the family racing team. Kyle Busch recalled Gibbs as a mentor who would make periodic check-ins with his drivers and often placed high expectations on him, pushing him to be better.
“We just tried to keep that relationship not always a business one,” Busch said at a productions day last week at Kyle Busch Motorsports. “We’re all in this together to strive and achieve the same things, but he was instrumental in some of my growth, even though my growth wasn’t as fast as he probably would’ve liked to have seen, but he was instrumental in that. It’s probably a bad thing for giving him some of the credit because I was so bad. It doesn’t come off very well for him, but he’s a part of the reason and he’s a part of the story of what Joe Gibbs Racing is and was and forever will be.”
The event was held at Davidson College’s Belk Arena, where the Gibbs family attended basketball youth camps and held season tickets. Melissa Gibbs said they raised their children in Davidson, making the college town a sentimental choice for Friday’s memorial.
The team last week established the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund to honor his memory and to benefit the Young Life Ministry, a non-profit organization that Gibbs supported for more than two decades on a local and national level.