CONCORD, N.C. — William Waters was not going to miss a chance to meet his racing hero, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Last weekend, Waters, a 64-year-old California transplant, showed up at the Books-A-Million store — blocks from Charlotte Motor Speedway — taking his place in line more than an hour early and slowly rolling a race-used Goodyear tire toward the book store for Johnson’s autograph. The grin was unremovable as Waters anticipated meeting his all-time favorite racer and having Johnson personally sign his new book: “One More Lap: Jimmie Johnson and the #48.”
RELATED: More on Jimmie, buy book
“He always just seemed to be a nice guy, always friendly, always took the time to sign autographs or high-five people,” Waters said of Johnson. “Other drivers are more standoff-ish, but Jimmie’s personable.”
Like Johnson, Water’s sister-in-law, Carol Flick, hails from El Cajon, California.
“One of the biggest streets in town is now Jimmie Johnson Boulevard,” Flick said. “He’s absolutely a big sense of pride for us. I have a few things with his signature, but this book’s going to be great.”
With the crowd growing exponentially outside, Johnson started his afternoon in the store’s back office, carefully placing his famous signature on books as he waited for his time to go out and meet his fans. And sign tires.
The expressions on Johnson’s face as he thumbed through each edition were a testament to the sentimental and highly personal story the photos tell — the story of a middle-class kid from blue-collar El Cajon whose talent and drive ultimately made him one of auto racing’s most celebrated champions.
Watching Johnson examine the pages of the book, it was clear each photograph evoked a powerful memory. So much so, he concedes, that more than once during the editing process, he insisted on adding a couple more photos and pages.
“Passion project, labor of love,” Johnson said, leaning back in his chair. “That’s definitely what this is.”
The completed book — produced by Condé Nast Corporate Photography Director Ivan Shaw — is 272 pages and features 175 photographs from nine celebrated photographers. NASCAR team owner and NBA Legend Michael Jordan wrote the heartfelt forward.
“I’ve always just archived what was going on and, at some point, realized it might be worthwhile,” Johnson said of the impetus for the collection. “But at the same point in time, I just wanted it for myself.
“We have tons of art books at home, and I look through these art books, and I just love documentation. I love docuseries, from a videography standpoint to a still picture standpoint. I’m just truly a fan of it, and that’s what I consume. I have all of this stuff, and now I’m at a point in my career, in my life, that we can share it.”
One More Lap is officially in stores.
So many memories captured by the most talented photographers… this book is a behind-the-scenes look into my career and it's really exciting to finally see it on the shelves! pic.twitter.com/vix6zsx603
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) October 11, 2022
Johnson shares photos from his childhood, from his early racing days on dirt bikes and off-road trucks to his humble ascension to what will certainly be a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
And, of course, amid the career highlights are heart-warming family photos — images of Johnson and his wife Chandra and their young daughters, Genevieve and Lydia — the real fundamental, he says, of maintaining his pace.
The photographs of Johnson’s motorsports beginning provide an intriguing perspective and include some very personal, previously unseen “snapshots.” An elementary-aged Johnson leaning against his bike with the “not another picture, mom” look on his face. There’s Johnson and one of his younger brothers — both barely waist-high — dressed in identical striped shirts and cowboy hats and a touching shot of a young Johnson stretching out atop his dirt bike, head resting between the handlebars and a huge grin on his face.
Beyond the pages of these early-day snapshots is a two-page photograph of the yellow van caravan that the Johnson family — his parents and two younger brothers — took into the California desert most weekends in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The van is pulling not just a travel trailer but also a trailer carrying the family’s dirt bikes and four-wheelers.
Johnson is convinced a triple haul would not be allowed down most California freeways these days.
“I have no clue how this is legal,” Johnson said, smiling and pointing toward the image. “That’s our van that we rode in. We rode in this down the road, and then this is the trailer with all our toys in it. I mean, that was our setup. Even in California now, there’s no way you can tow two trailers.
“But that’s San Diego in the ’70s. That’s it.”
Another of his favorite photos also spans two pages. It shows the yellow and orange No. 81 Chevy driven by Blaise Alexander with Johnson’s No. 92 red, white and blue Chevy alongside as they battled for position in NASCAR’s former Busch Series — now Xfinity Series — race at Richmond Raceway in 2000.
Alexander was one of Johnson’s closest friends. The two shared the joys, challenges and week-to-week survival as they made their way upward in the sport. Alexander, however, was tragically killed in an accident racing in the ARCA Menards Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 4, 2001. Johnson has ever since carried a decal on his No. 48 car honoring his friend Alexander.
“As they edited the book, they pointed to the photograph and were like, ‘We just felt like it was a good photo, it’s you in the old car, and the colors popped, and we loved the symmetry of it,'” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Well, here’s why this photo is important to me.’ Obviously, with it being Blaise [Alexander] and Blaise is nowhere else in the book, the photo ended up staying as a result.”
Questions inevitably arise about where Johnson sees his immediate future in the sport. A month ago, he announced that he would not continue racing in the IndyCar Series full-time in 2023 and instead focus on a “bucket list” of races.
Johnson said returning to the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time since he left following the 2020 season is a priority if he can find the right situation. He smiled, acknowledging that would probably mean his first NASCAR Cup Series race — ever — not driving a car with the No. 48 on the side. Alex Bowman now drives the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I would like to do a couple [of] races [ideally] to get a feel for it and have a good showing, but then it just depends,” Johnson said. “Running a couple [races] changes the dynamic of teams that would potentially be interested in running me, and then it gets complicated really quick.”
In the meantime, Johnson said he is enjoying the opportunity to meet fans and share the book — the stories and the photos. As with most of everything Johnson is involved in, the project is already a top in its class. The book is currently a “#1 Best Seller” in Celebrity Photography on Amazon.com.
Most of all, however, Johnson smiles and talks about the chance to spend more time with his family. He calls himself a “barn dad,” helping his daughters as they compete in horseback riding. And he looks forward to supporting his wife Chani’s endeavors as an art gallery owner in Charlotte.
“That’s the balance I’m trying to strike, filling that bucket of being a competitor and having those experiences in race cars and also balancing life, supporting my wife and kids and what’s important to them,” Johnson said. “Being around and having deeper relationships with my parents and my siblings and my friends. I’ve been on this hamster wheel since I was 19, chasing the dream, and I have no regrets. But I do realize life could be deeper in some other ways. Life could be richer in other ways. And that’s the balance I’m trying to find.”
From hard work, determination and ultimately, the success of talent and drive, Johnson fully concedes it’s been a fortunate life lived
“It’s all part of the journey,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anyone would feel sympathetic for me if I said, ‘I wish I had done something a little different.’ I’ve had this incredible career. I’ve been able to experience so much and work with so many great people. And each mistake made, which would be the point you’d want to go back and change, they have only made me better.”