Excerpts from Jimmie Johnson: A Desert Rat's Race to NASCAR Stardom, byRon Lemasters Jr. and the editors of Stock Car Racing magazine.Published by Motorbooks International, the book can be purchased atbookstores nationwide, or go to www.motorbooks.com for details onordering.

Introduction

A Two-Wheeled Start to Life on the Track

Like many of today's top NASCAR stars, Jimmie Johnson began hismotorsports career early--before he entered kindergarten. Starting whenhe was just four years old, he and his family pulled to tracks allacross California and the Southwest, unloaded, and went racing, justlike thousands of youngsters do every year all over the country.

Of course, being a native of El Cajon, California, there was a betterthan even chance Johnson was racing something other than quarter-midgetsor go-karts like most of his contemporaries. Being on the West Coast,where motorcycles are as popular as cars, he began his racing career ontwo wheels rather than on four.

His family, led by father Gary and mother Cathy, was one of those racingfamilies that seem to dot America's motorsports world: They believedthat racing is the main thing, not winning or getting the biggesttrophy. Johnson looked up to his father, who was a mechanic on a desertbuggy, and his father's varied racing interests soon rubbed off on him.

When Johnson was 15, the Mickey Thompson Stadium Off-Road Series wasjust cranking up in a big way, so Gary Johnson arranged for his son toget a tryout with a five-buggy Superlite team. At the time, Gary wasworking for BFGoodrich as a truck driver on the West Coast, and he askedBFG's Dan Newsome for some help in getting his son a shot.

That shot paid off as Jimmie Johnson became the youngest driver inMickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) history that season. Thefollowing year, he got a ride in the second Chevrolet-backed GrandNational Truck in the showcase division of the MTEG. A star was born.

As the young Johnson began to be more and more successful, his parentsdecided that he should focus on staying loose and having fun on thetrack. "If I ended up never getting here, they still would have beenvery proud of me and happy of what I tried to do," Johnson said of hisfamily, which includes brothers Jesse, also a racer, and Jarit. "That'sthe thing with my parents . . . they just want to see you work hard andwhere you land is cool. It's all about working hard."

Hard work is the hallmark of Johnson's career. Back then, he wassuccessful, yes, but he also had fun, something that many other parentsseemed to miss the importance of. "I'd watch these parents that wouldforce their kids to win, force them to jump the big doubles, force themto do all this stuff, and my dad would be over there leaning up againsta tree whistling at us as we went by.

"If we got off the bike and we'd tried as hard as we could, he was fine.It didn't matter where we finished. That's been something I've beenextremely lucky about--that my parents took that approach with us."

Flush with the guiding principles supplied by his parents, Johnsonentered the world of off-road racing as a teenager. Three straightstadium titles led to desert racing for John Nelson and the Herzogfamily. That latter association, along with the careful consideration ofChevrolet's global racing boss Herb Fishel, carried Johnson all the wayto Winston Cup. The Herzogs, led by father Bill and sons Stan and Randy,owned the vehicles Johnson drove from 1996 through 2001, when he quicklyrose through the American Speed Association and Busch ranks and became adriver that everyone in NASCAR has their eyes on. --Ron Lemasters Jr.

Section 1

The Early Road to the Top

Off-Road Racing and the ASA are Short Pit Stops Along the Way

If there's an 800-pound gorilla in today's motorsports world, it'sNASCAR. Every racing driver wants to be there, racing Nextel Cup onSundays for the big bucks, the media exposure, and the chance to driveright into the record books as the best there ever was.