Even if you’re not a diehard NASCAR fan, you’re probably familiar with Jimmie Johnson. During his time behind the wheel, the California-native won an incredible seven Cup Series championships and became a motorsports legend. His successful career, however, might not have happened if not for some stalking.
In the early days of his NASCAR career, Jimmie Johnson was hoping to step up to the Cup Series and decided to “stalk” Jeff Gordon in hopes of scoring some advice. While that might sound like a questionable strategy, it changed the course of racing history forever.
Jimmie Johnson wasn’t always a NASCAR star
During his time on the NASCAR circuit, Jimmie Johnson proved to be one of the most successful drivers to ever climb behind the wheel. His career, however, didn’t always include driving stock cars around an oval.
Johnson grew up motorcycle racing and first made a name for himself as an off-road driver. While there were some bumps in the road along the way—the 1995 Baja 1000, for example, ended in disaster—Johnson proved to be more than capable behind the wheel.
In 1997, though, he decided to make a change and moved into stock car racing. Johnson started out in the American Speed Association, driving for Herzog Motorsports; he claimed Rookie of the Year honors and, before long, began appearing in Busch Series races.
Eventually, it was time to take the next step up the ladder. At that point, though, Jimmie Johnson needed a bit of help.
Stalking Jeff Gordon for some career-changing advice
In 2000, Jimmie Johnson was ready to move up to NASCAR’s Cup Series. There was a problem, though: Herzog Motorsports weren’t’ able to help him get to the next level.
“The Herzogs said if they couldn’t find a sponsor, they didn’t want to hold me back, and that maybe I should put word out that I’m available,” Johnson told Jerry Bonkowski of NBC Sports. “Opportunities came along, but they all meant leaving Chevrolet. I was struggling with that and couldn’t do it.”
Johnson needed some advice, so he decided to seek out one of NASCAR’s top dogs. Getting a hold of Jeff Gordon in 2000, however, wasn’t as easy as just sending a text message or sliding into his DMs. Instead, he had to resort to some elementary school-style tactics.
“I went to the drivers meeting early and kind of stalked him and made sure that I sat close enough to him to get his attention — I had to like switch seats,” Johnson explained, according to Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic. “… I do remember being pretty nervous about it all and I do remember introducing myself to Jeff just in case he didn’t remember who I was.”
In Bonkowski’s NBC Sports piece, Johnson told a similar version of the story, saying that he “totally stalked Jeff Gordon at the August 2000 Michigan race.” That meeting, however, ultimately paid off.
The two men had a quick chat, with Gordon mentioning that Hendrick Motorsport was looking to start a fourth team; he also revealed that Johnson’s name had come up during the preliminary conversations. From there, the rest is history.
Jimmie Johnson went on to make NASCAR history
In a vacuum, stalking someone isn’t a great way to get ahead in your career. For Jimmie Johnson, however, everything worked out.
While Johnson spent one more season with Herzog Motorsports on the Busch Series circuit, he signed with Hendrick for the 2002 campaign. Before long, he was making waves in the Cup Series.
Although results tailed off in recent years, Johnson won a record-tying seven Cup Series championships, including an unprecedented five consecutive titles. Along the way, he also claimed 83 individual checkered flags, five Driver of the Year awards, and built up an estimated $160 million fortune.
Over the years, Jimmie Johnson proved to have plenty of talent behind the wheel. If he hadn’t pulled Jeff Gordon aside on that fateful day, though, NASCAR history could have been much different.