Jimmie Johnson sipped on an energy drink Wednesday morning as he huddled underneath a shielded area beneath the straightaway suites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I was one of the media members circled in to chat with the seven-time Winston Cup Champion. And quite frankly we picked an awful area to get away from the rain because there was an opening that the water snuck through on top of us.
But when you’re talking with the GOAT, you make adjustments. JJ didn’t seem to mind it too much.
So onward we go.
Wednesday was a special day from 16th and Georgetown. Joined alongside fellow rookie Romain Grosjean, the two vast experienced but raw IndyCar drivers took the first slice of their rookie orientation for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Grosjean was sporting his new dark yellow, red, and black DHL fire suit and the number 28 Andretti Autosport Honda; A big change from his purple and teal machine that he rocked in the GMR Grand Prix for Dale Coyne Racing.
Unfortunately for both drivers, rain poured down shortly after they hit the track for the first time.
They got back out later in the afternoon, but the morning precipitation delay gave us a chance to see Grosjean and Johnson look around at an empty IMS and soak in what they saw.
For Johnson, he told a story in the small group of his grandfather taking a trip to the 317 before the Pagoda was even built. Johnson’s grandpa told story after story when he was growing up about how special it was.
When JJ won in Indy for the first time at the Brickyard, his grandfather had already passed away. But a twinkle in his eye right as he said that was all I needed to know that racing in the Indy 500 is more than a “check list” item for his career.
It’s about passion.
Johnson was part of NBC’s coverage for the 105th Running of the Indy 500 this past May. While he sat on the podium in a suit with the sounds of the machines blazing past him, it manifested a new itch.
“The itch level is high,” Johnson said. “To watch the cars in person back in May, I found it to be way more special than I imagined. I can only imagine what a full house is. It really started this conversation to go test, work through these steps, and get comfortable. Today is that next step and we’re off to a great start.”
Sporting his familiar number 48 in the dark blue Carvana machine for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson was calm and cool walking along Gasoline Alley on Wednesday.
Like he belongs there.
JJ has learned lesson after lesson on the road and street course slate through the NTT IndyCar Series season. From the streets of Nashville with safety teams in boats on the water under the giant bridge, to the bumpy Detroit experience, to driving in the “wrong direction” on the IMS Road Course, he has seen a brand new world.
So why does a seven-time series champ from across the racing spectacle and one of the greatest of all time want this?
The dream of drinking a glass bottle of ice cold 2% milk on a warm and sunny day in Speedway isn’t about a resume chip.
It’s about conquering a long standing dream for someone who doesn’t get to experience many new things anymore behind the wheel.
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