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No Ordinary Joe

By on July 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Anyone who knows easygoing Joe Gibbs can appreciate the humor in the tongue-in-cheek headline: “Gibbs Is a Racing Menace.”

During the NASCAR off-season, Gibbs was participating in a just-for-fun exhibition race when he crashed into the car of another driver, almost flipping him over. When the dust settled, Gibbs took a lot of good-natured kidding because such battering-ram behavior runs contrary to his nature.

Or does it?

“Never underestimate Coach Gibbs,” says NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte, who gave Gibbs his first championship as a team owner. “He’s very quiet and soft-spoken, but he’s also a very fierce competitor. He always plays to win.”

And win he has: three Super Bowls as coach of the Washington Redskins (1983, 1988, 1992) followed by three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships (2000, 2002, 2005).

Gibbs, 67, shocked the sports world when he first swapped the NFL for NASCAR in 1991. He returned to his former Redskins team for a short stint, leaving son J.D. in charge of his racing operation, but was drawn back to the track after the 2007 season.

“Racing is where my heart is,” says Gibbs, whose need for speed dates back to his teenaged years in California.

Although he was born in the stock car hotbed of North Carolina, it was not until his family moved to the West Coast that he became intrigued with fast cars.

“Everybody out there had a hot rod,” Gibbs recalls, “and I had to have one too.”

He became involved in drag racing and eventually made the transition to stock cars.

Gibbs found immediate success as a race team owner. He laid the groundwork for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 1991 and the next year his driver Dale Jarrett won NASCAR’s crown jewel, the Daytona 500.

Labonte took the wheel and delivered JGR the 2000 NASCAR championship. Tony Stewart added two more titles in 2002 and 2005.

Gibbs says the key to success is no different in racing than in football: “Surround yourself with good people and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs.”

But Labonte insists there’s more to it than that.

“I’ve never been around anybody who can motivate you the way Coach Gibbs can,” he says. “He’s very well-organized and he gives you the resources you need to succeed. But he also has the ability to bring out the best in people.”

Just as Gibbs had to deal with some contentious players during his NFL days, he likewise had has to ride herd over a couple of NASCAR’s most volatile drivers: Stewart and his young teammate Kyle Busch.

Stewart in particular is known for his tantrums, but bowed to Gibbs’ blend of patience and firmness.

“I like Tony’s competitive fire,” Gibbs says, “but as I told him, it has to be kept under control. I expect my drivers to be passionate about what they do, but it has to be a controlled passion.”

This season Stewart left Gibbs to form his own team, and was replaced by rookie sensation Joey Logano, who joined Busch and Denny Hamlin to give JGR one of racing’s most talented trios — one that promises to contend for yet another Gibbs championship.

“I’m very fortunate, very blessed,” says Gibbs who says he is guided daily by his deep personal faith. “Coaching and racing have allowed me to make a living doing something that I enjoy tremendously.”

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