Gibbs' career takes a strange turn--NASCAR racing Does he tire of coaching? Wheel he quit football?

August 14, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

CARLISLE, Pa. -- Winning the Super Bowl is quite an experience, but it may not quite be the first turn at Daytona.

That seemed to be the unlikely message yesterday from Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who took off his football cap, put on his racing shirt and was as proud as a new papa as he unveiled his new NASCAR racing team and one of his seven cars.

"I've got to tell you the truth," Gibbs gushed. "When that thing comes off the first corner at Daytona, I think that'll be one of the thrills of my life. That may be hard for some people to understand."

Yes, it was hard to understand. But that was Gibbs on the track at the Dickinson College football field -- 19 days before the opening of the NFL season -- at a full-scale news conference promoting his new NASCAR team.

What would Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown think of this?

"Paul Brown probably wouldn't think much of it," Gibbs conceded. But for Gibbs, it was a dream come true.

"You always have dreams. A lot of people probably dream about being in the NFL, and they're in other fields. I had a fantasy of getting back into racing cars. There's a time in life you either grab a dream or let it slide by, and I grabbed it," he said.

Gibbs' dream goes back to the days when he competed in drag races as a teen-ager in Southern California. Would you believe Gibbs as the Fonz, or cruising in "American Graffiti"?

"When I was growing up in the '50s, it was cars and hamburger joints. I had just about every kind of street rod that you could have on the street. It was a great time for us, as a matter of fact. Coach [Rene] Simmons, who's on my staff, we started in ninth grade, and we wound up marrying our high school sweethearts. We were running around all the hamburger joints and having a ball, really," he said.

Gibbs' career then took a turn into football and he became the prototype of the obsessed football coach, one who sleeps in his office three nights a week during the season.

That's why the return to his racing roots is so startling.

What does it mean? Is this a mid-life crisis? Is he losing his interest in football? Is this the beginning of the end of his coaching career? Will he leave football in the near future and turn auto racing into his full-time career?

Those were the questions Gibbs faced yesterday.

His answer was that his interest in racing will make him even more interested in football.

"How long would I do it [coaching]?" he asked. "Hey, I don't really know how long I'd do it. I know I'm excited about doing this [coaching]. For the time I can see ahead, I'm going to continue to do it. When you get something that's exciting in life, it makes everything else seem much more exciting. When you have a dream and it looks like it's going to come true, you get excited about everything. There are very few times when somebody gets to live two dreams and I'm going to get to do that."

This is not a passing fancy for Gibbs.

"I think this is something . . . that someday my sons would want to be involved in," he said.

When he was asked if racing would be a distraction, he said: "I had a talk with [owner] Mr. [Jack Kent] Cooke and with John Cooke and John Cooke's statement was: 'Hey, Joe, this is great. You need a distraction.' "

There's also the chance that if Gibbs loses a lot of money on this venture, he'll have to stay in coaching -- earning more than a million dollars a year -- to pay off his debt.

But Gibbs has attracted four major sponsors -- including a battery company, a hotel chain, a juice company -- and the NFL. He's also got the backing of an American car company. His driver, Dale Jarrett, and his crew chief, Jarrett's brother-in-law Jimmy Makar, are highly rated in NASCAR.

Gibbs' team will make its debut at the Daytona 500 in February.

"You'll have won the Super Bowl by then," Jarrett said, who then learned his first lesson about working for Gibbs -- no rash predictions.

"I don't know about that," Gibbs said with a smile. "We're not talking that tune. We're trying to find a way to beat somebody in preseason."

NOTES: The Houston Oilers, who are offering holdout DE Sean Jones to the Redskins and the Los Angeles Raiders, were distracted yesterday by attempts to sign their first draft pick, Mike Dumas, and the swap they made for San Diego DE Lee Williams, and the the Jones talks were placed on the back burner. But reports out of Houston are that the Oilers rejected Washington's offer of LB Wilber Marshall because of Marshall's $1.2 million salary and another offer of DT Tracy Rocker and Darryl Grant. Talks are expected to continue, but it's uncertain if the Redskins can satisfy the Oilers.

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