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NASCAR Legend Jimmie Johnson on Staying Fit, Focused—and Alive

The Daytona 500 champion tells MF about his passion for driving and competing in triathlons.

It’s worth mentioning that the relationship between Johnson and Yon is very different from what you’d expect between a famous athlete and his trainer. Sure, Johnson gets his own custom training and nutrition plans drawn up, and if he were to call Yon at four in the morning to inquire about the number of carbs in a Rice Krispie, the trainer would probably oblige. As far as the workouts are concerned, however, Johnson doesn’t like to get special treatment, preferring the camaraderie of a group training atmosphere instead.

“The cool thing about Jimmie is he’s just a normal guy,” Yon says. “I train 30 to 40 other athletes here in Charlotte, and we get together at 5:30 a.m. for different workouts. He fits right in, and no one treats him differently.”

The topic of Johnson’s humble nature is nothing new. Next to his skill on the track, it’s the quality he’s praised for most frequently by his fans and critics alike, and, of course, his teammates. “His demeanor is, I think, what appeals to me the most,” says Dale Earnhardt Jr., the AMP Energy driver and fellow Hendrick Motorsports athlete who finished second behind Johnson at this year’s Daytona 500. “He’s able to go out there and do a monumental thing, winning five championships in a row, but it hasn’t changed him as a person. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In fact, in a moment of sheer coincidence, when this editor flipped on the TV for a brief moment while writing this story, pro drag racer and NASCAR prospect Nicole Lyons, wrapping up an answer to a question posed by CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield, closed with, “I love Jimmie Johnson. I just think that he is so humble...and how he basically devours the track, politely, is pretty unique.”

That last part is important, though. Humble doesn’t win trophies. Skill, drive, persistence— those are what count on race day, and Johnson is a poster child for all three. His intrinsic competitive nature is the root of his success on the track. It’s in his DNA. “I love racing,” he says. “I’m not concerned about top speed or running a fast lap—I love racing people and overtaking other vehicles. That is like the purest enjoyment I get from motorsports, just passing people.”

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