What can you say about this guy? His racing career could have led him to Nextel Cup had the circumstances been slightly different. But his career continues at a high level as he enters an age where he's considered the old man to the youngsters he runs against.
As strange as it may seem, the letter "F" vividly describes the hows and whys of Johnny Rumley. First of all, he's almost 50 and says the career will continue as long as he's competitive.
He's also a friend and advisor to the younger drivers in the Hooters Pro Cup series, where he presently competes. Hooters Competition Director Fritz Augustine explains: "We use Johnny to talk to the young drivers [about] how to drive the tracks in our series. They respect this guy and believe what he [has] to say."
Family is so important to this Summerfield, North Carolina, driver. First, he has the firm support of his wife, Carolyn. But for Johnny, there are criteria that govern the economic aspects of his racing. "I will never take any money from my family to support racing," Johnny says. "That's the way I've always been. But also, I never take any money I might have earned from racing. I give it back to the owner to put back into the team." That's certainly a unique outlook in today's racing environment.
Fan favorite: That's but another aspect of Johnny Rumley, whose laid-back attitude will always make time for the fans.
"Johnny is ferocious in his love of the sport," Augustine says. "There have been some times that I have sent cars out on the track after a rain to check for dampness. Except for Johnny, they all tell me that the track is still too wet. Johnny usually tells me, 'It's ready. Let's go racing!'"
Fixture is defined as something permanent. Again, that's J.R. You know what to expect when you are racing against Johnny. He'll race you as you race him. One driver indicates, "If you want to trade paint with Johnny, he'll do the same to you. But Johnny has no thoughts of every trying to wreck anybody. That's just not his style."
His performance on the track is firm and consistent. In his Hooters career, which began in 1998, he has been in 83 races. More than half of his finishes (43) were in the Top 10, with 18 Top 5s. Also add his 10 poles, an aspect where he excels.
Fun: That's the way many friends and fellow drivers view this wily veteran. Watching him in action, you never see him without a smile. There's no pressure here, as he considers racing an avocation, not an occupation.
His occupation, by the way, is that of a self-employed roofer. It has made him as strong as the nails he drives by the thousands. Many days consist of being on a roof in 100-degree weather, pounding nails for hours. Racing in the heat is not a problem for this tough guy.
You would probably assume that Johnny started his career in his early teens, or even earlier. "I started at the [elderly] age of 29 in 1987 in stock cars after running karts for a couple [of] years," Johnny says. "[I] ran Late Model Stocks in the mid-Atlantic area at Motor Mile, Orange County, and South Boston Speedways."
Things quickly came together for Johnny when he won the Winston Mid-Atlantic region title in 1991: "I was also Second nationally in the class and won 24 of the 42 races I ran. During those years, I raced with Bobby Labonte and Dennis Setzer. The Labontes, especially dad Bob, really helped me out during that period."
Then, quite by chance, came the opportunity to drive a Busch car for owner Don Beverly in 1992. "Jimmy Hensley was supposed to drive the car, but he moved on and I got the ride," Rumley says. "The first race, I led 135 of the 200 laps, but had mechanical problems. Then they gave the ride to Shawna Robinson, who brought money. Heck, I sure didn't have any."
In 1993, Johnny put together his own Busch deal with two Virginia coal miners and won the fifth time out at Hickory. "It was the last Oldsmobile to win in Busch," he says. "Hey, we only spent $100,000 to run five races, which included a couple [of] Top 5s. I am really proud of that."
The year 1995 saw Johnny hook up with Beverly again and run 17 Busch races. "In an underfunded situation, I was able to win the Dover race in the last Lumina to win in Busch," says Johnny. "The following year, we tried again, but the money situation would only allow four races.
"That was about it for my NASCAR career," he continues. "There was just no way I was going to beg somebody for a ride-just not my style. You know, even when I was winning or running well, nobody paid any attention to me. My age was probably against me, but nobody ever said that. Maybe it was my personality.
"I told those guys that I was going to get a Pinto and a pop-up tent and put it out there with their big RVs at the track. That made some people mad. Big-time racing is no longer performance-oriented. It's money-based, and that's sad for the sport," he says.
Would he have done things differently if he could do it all over again? "Not really. About the only thing I might have wished for was to have been about 20 years younger when I tried NASCAR.
"Things have really changed today with the young talent," Rumley says. "I see a large percentage of them showing up in front-line equipment. It never used to be that way. I really think that it's easier today for them. Also, they don't ask as many questions as we did. Guess they figure they know it already. But if they get in my way on the track, you better believe I'll tell them about it."
This old-school guy thinks that the driver is being taken out of the equation with modern cars on the longer tracks. "Today, it's all about the air flowing around and over the car," Johnny says.
"On the longer tracks, it takes away the driving with the only consideration being to hold on to the draft. I don't like it. That's why I like Hooters, which is all short track racing with no appreciable aerodynamics involved."
But even though that Busch chance died, Johnny wasn't ready to quit racing: "I had my roofing business and still wanted to race, so I hooked up with Mark Huff and started with Hooters Pro Cup."
There's still that same overpowering attitude to win with Johnny, but to also have a ton of fun doing it.
Believe this: There is still a fire burning in his gut, and he's ready to prove to the kids that he still has it.