5 Minutes with... Joe Gibbs

January 14, 2009 3:10pm | by:
There aren’t too many people out there that can say they have had a major influence in winning the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and an AMA Supercross main event. However, in 1982, 1987 and 1991, Joe Gibbs won three Superbowl championships as head coach of the Washington Redskins. In 1992, he decided to go NASCAR racing, and on Sunday, February 14, 1993, Dale Jarrett beat Dale Earnhardt to win Gibbs the 35th annual Daytona 500. In 2000, 2002 and 2005, Coach Gibbs, along with son, J.D., won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships. And then, on Saturday night, January 3, 2009, Gibbs’ son Coy, proprietor of the JGRMX/Toyota/Yamaha supercross team, watched on as his rider Josh Grant rode to victory in the opening round of the 2009 AMA Supercross Series. On Saturday afternoon, January 10 in the pit area of Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, Racer X was able to sit down and talk at length with Joe Gibbs. And while Gibbs, who was enshrined in the NFL Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1996, was into talking about football, he was much more interested in rapping about his sons J.D and Coy and the motorsports programs that have become so much of a family affair.

  • Joe Gibbs
Racer X: Joe, the last time I saw you was back in November in Canton, Ohio. You didn’t have much to say, though, as you were made out of bronze...
Joe Gibbs: (Laughter) When I went back to coaching, I said, “Can they melt that thing down?” (Laughter) “I wanted to make sure first that they couldn’t melt that thing down!” (Laughter)

Joe, many people may not know it, but you’ve been a gearhead your whole life...
Yeah, actually, what happened to me is that I grew up in North Carolina for 14 years and didn’t have anything to do with cars and I didn’t go to any races or anything. But when I moved to California, by the second year out there, I turned 16 and everybody had hot rods. So I got into hot rods and had every kind of hot rod you could think of. I got to working, but none of them would run (laughter). I’d say, “Me and Pat, my wife, got towed out of every Drive-In in Southern California.” I don’t think anything ran. Then, I got into drag racing and eventually sold my hot rods and had a Gas Coupe and a Gas Dragster. I had a Top Fuel Dragster. Luckily, I blew that one up, as I probably would have gotten killed. I fell in love with all kinds of motorsports. I then started coaching at San Diego State (Note: 1964-1966) and then the first job I moved to was Florida State (Note: 1967-1968). So I moved all the way across the country and sold all the cars and thought, “Well, we’ll never get back into that, probably.” J.D. and Coy would always go back to the races and loved it. They always had Jet Skis and motorbikes. We had every kind of thing like that.

So motorsports ran in the family.
Yeah, yeah, everybody was hooked on some kind of motorsports. So, I go about all those years of coaching, 25 years or something, and to all my friends, I’d say, “Man, I love motorsports.” And they’d say, “Well, you ought to try putting a team together.” It was a crazy thing. J.D. came out of school and said that’s what he’d like to do, so we put together a proposal, but the odds of somebody wanting to do that were astronomical. We prayed about it and everything and went out and the third company we talked to was Interstate Batteries. I said to Norm [Miller] (Note: Interstate Batteries President and Chairman), I said, “Norm, you’re the only guy crazy enough to do this.” We didn’t have a car, we didn’t have a driver and we had nothing. Norm said, “I think we ought to do this.”

So 1992 saw the inception of Joe Gibbs Racing and your first year of competing in NASCAR. You guys didn’t win anything, but you had a couple of top-five finishes. How was it?
We really had nothing. We struggled. All of a sudden we came out the second year with no wins and we won the Daytona 500. It was the first race of our second year. It was one of those things where, at that point, you go through the whole first year and go, “Gosh, do we belong here? Are we going to be able to make this?” And then, to get that win, it kind of energized everybody. And then we gradually kept working and working and working and it took us nine years to win a championship. It’s a long, hard process.

When you won the Daytona 500, for you, did it compare to winning a major football game?
It did, it did. And I think it was the same thing as winning a Super Bowl for us. It was the same thrill. Mainly, I think because you own it and plus, you got a sponsor like Norm that you talked into going into it. And it was a thrill seeing Interstate get that great lift and everything after them helping us get going. I remember that day, J.D. and Coy were rolling in the infield in the grass. Everybody was going, “Where’s the Winner’s Circle?” We couldn’t find it. We wound up that night at a hamburger joint with the Daytona 500 trophy. Everybody was taking pictures of it! We had a ball with that (laughter).

How did this supercross thing all happen? And, Joe, what did you think about it when your sons brought it to you attention?
It’s a little bit like NASCAR. I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” Both of them had a big interest in bikes. I did, too. I had Maicos and CZs. I raced a little bit when I was in Arkansas and stuff. They always had a big interest in it. But J.D. was consumed with the Cup side, and when Coy decided to come back out of football, he said, “Dad, my dream would be to start a motocross team.” So they went down and started doing the research and stuff. It’s really just like a smaller NASCAR. It’s all the same thing: You’re trying to get sponsors, you’re trying to get good riders and you’re trying to get good equipment and you’re trying to get a good manufacturer to work with. It’s all the same components, so it fits. It’s a younger male demographic, which is great, because a lot of sponsors are after that same demographic.

A question I really want to ask you: The common thought here is that in supercross, the sport requires a combination of 80-percent athlete and 20-percent bike. Coming from football as well as NASCAR, what do you think about that? This sport is certainly an anomaly, if you know what I mean.
Yeah, well certainly you have to have a great athlete and a great rider. Also, I think the components of the bike make a difference. So, it’s a little bit like Cup; I mean, how much does it mean to the car and how much does it mean to the driver? Other people are probably to ask about that than I am, but I would lean more it being 50/50, or even 60/40.

What do you think when you come here and watch one of these races? What do you think of the atmosphere here in the pits or when you’re inside the stadium?
I get excited about it, mainly because the interaction here with the sponsors and the team is a lot like drag racing. People come through here and it’s great for the fans because they can get up close and get an autograph and I think they feel like they’re more a part of it. I love that aspect of it. NASCAR has some of that, but normally we’re before the race and once the race starts, you’re done. This is all afternoon and all day long and people can come back and get up close to things.

  • Josh Grant's win was reminiscent of Dale Jarret's NASCAR victory in 1993.
What do you think of the sport itself?
I love it. I love the sport. I think it requires some of the best-trained people to ride these things. The main difference is here is that the manufacturers have more to do with the teams because they have been the teams in a lot of ways. Yamaha has been great to us. When you see smart people like Toyota marketing here, they’re after that young male. They want them to make their first choice to be a Toyota and to stay with them.

Okay, what were you doing when Josh Grant won last Saturday night?
I gotta tell you, I was traveling to Colorado Springs (laughter). So, the first time I get to see us on TV, I went from, “Oh my gosh, we got a chance to win this!” Then he hooked that hay bale, and I went, “OH MY GOSH, WE’RE GOING TO LOSE IT!” (Laughter) It was a very emotional thing for us. It reminded me a lot of our start in Cup and the first big win. I wish I could have been there, but I was working on a book project and I was out in Colorado Springs working with an author.

It was quite an accomplishment. Grant is a rookie, you guys are only in your second year as a team, and you go out and beat the factories at the elite level of the sport. It really was a mind-blowing result, wasn’t it?
It was. The thing about it, and what I appreciated was that Josh was fast in all the practices and at the mid-point of the race I know Reed and Stewart went down, but from that point on, Josh was kind of pulling away from the rest of the field. Yeah, obviously the two guys running first and second go down, but other than that I thought it was a real strong performance by Josh the whole weekend. I couldn’t have been happier. Coy started out the first year and we hired everybody as top-flight, first-class people, right from Jeremy [Albrecht] on down. Then we stepped up on the riders this year, and having that victory really helped us.

Do you miss football?
Obviously, there are parts of that over there that I really enjoy, but I felt like it was time for me to come back. I got a grandson with Leukemia and that was a big deal for me. I’ve been able to go to treatment and everything with him. For me, it was the right time. I felt like there were a lot of things for me to do on the Cup side and then, of course, starting this was big. So I think it was good timing for me.

So do you enjoy all of this?
I enjoy it. Of course, anytime your kid’s embarking on something, there is a part of the dad and the mom that want them to do so well. That’s a big part of life. We’re just hoping that we can make this a success for him. He’s been the one to put together, so any credit goes to Coy.

{LINKS}Okay, I have to ask you: How do you feel abut the 2009 Daytona 500? It’s coming up very soon...
Well, the 500... We’ve been there 17 years and we’ve won it once (laughter). It is a hard, tough deal. Last year, I thought we had a great chance to win it and I think we finished third and fourth (Note: Gibbs driver Tony Stewart finished third and Kyle Busch was fourth). It is a tough race. It’s long and everybody puts so much into it and there has to be a lot of things that go your way.