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NASCAR Legend Jimmie Johnson on Loving Fitness, Living Fearless

By Chris Privett | July 15, 2016 | Explore NC

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You don’t have to be physically fit to drive a car. I prove this every day.

But racing a car is entirely different from simply driving one. That’s why they call it NASCAR racing instead of NASCAR driving. The point of racing is to win, not simply to participate. And if you want to win – races and championships – fitness can give you an edge over the rest of the field.

“Driving a race car is a physical sport,” says six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. “I think there are obvious benefits that come from physical fitness, and that includes proper nutrition and hydration. Heat training as well – the more time you spend out in the heat with your heart rate up, the more comfortable you’re going to be in a race car. And fitness is key to preventing injury in a crash.”

When North Carolinian Jimmie Johnson talks about what he thinks will give a driver an edge behind the wheel, other NASCAR racers would do well to listen closely and take good notes. Johnson has earned his place among the greatest drivers in motor racing history. His string of five consecutive Sprint Cup championships won’t be equaled any time soon, and his total of six leaves him just one behind the all-time leaders Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Staying Ahead of the Pack

But Johnson’s legend extends beyond his win totals. In recent years, Johnson has also gained a reputation for being a world-class fitness fanatic. His commitment to exercise and proper nutrition has become stronger in recent years, as he sees the next generation of young guns getting closer in his rear-view mirror.

“I’m 40 now and I’m looking to stay competitive against the younger guys,” Johnson says. “That puts even more importance on being fit.”

But Johnson wasn’t always so disciplined: “I’ve been in and out of different phases and I look at photos from my early years in the Cup Series and it’s clear that fitness wasn’t top-of-mind for me. I’d say ’07-’08 is when I really kicked my fitness into gear.”

The summer of 2007 brought record-breaking heat to North Carolina, causing Johnson to make the switch from a bicycling/running regimen to something cooler.

“I swam in high school, so after spending much of that summer melting in the Carolina sun, I went to the local YMCA and swam,” Johnson remembers. “I really enjoyed it. I spent a couple of weeks getting my swim stroke back and I met some other guys there who were all training for events. That planted the seed in my mind to work toward a triathlon.”

Once that goal was reached, Johnson started setting others: “After doing my first event, my competitive spirit kicked in and I knew I could do so much better with a little more focus and training. And that’s what really kicked it all off.”

Johnson has found that his exercise routine has benefits that extend beyond the improvements to his endurance.

“There’s a mental side that goes with the physical part,” he says. “It takes a certain amount of desire and motivation to get up early to train, to put your time in and push. And that carries over into the car. I think you gain mental strength from knowing you’re in good physical shape.”

Living Fearless in Charlotte

Johnson says living in Charlotte makes exercise more accessible, offering plenty of open spaces and trails.

“Just in my own backyard in Charlotte, there are a number of mountain bike trails that I thoroughly enjoy,” he explains. “I like to get out to the Mint Hill area where there are some amazing cycling trails, just beautiful countryside. The US National Whitewater Center has always been fun. And I enjoy swimming at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club downtown, where some Olympians train. It’s pretty neat to see those pros doing their thing. I also spend a lot of time in Freedom Park on the greenway running and biking with my kids. I’m a big fan of Charlotte.”

As a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Live Fearless ambassador, Johnson is sharing his fitness message across our state, encouraging North Carolinians to embrace active lifestyles and test the limits of their own comfort zones.

“For me, living fearless means tackling things I’m not sure I’m capable of completing,” Johnson says. “A few weeks ago, I rode in a 103-mile amateur bike race with 10,200 feet of vertical climbing. We rode about 80 miles and then had to climb Mt. Mitchell! I was pretty nervous and scared to do that, but I enjoyed the challenge. That’s living fearless.”

VIP Racing Experience with Jimmie Johnson

It takes a Live Fearless attitude to speed around a track 36 weekends a year, pushing car and driver to the limit – and sometimes beyond. Jimmie Johnson lives his whole life with this attitude. So can you.

In fact, you could meet Jimmie Johnson and experience his Live Fearless philosophy firsthand by sitting in the passenger seat with Johnson behind the wheel. Enter to win the VIP Racing Experience with Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All you have to do is take the Live Fearless Pledge before July 31. Look for details at the link.