Gibbs takes time out to dream of winning Daytona 500, too

January 17, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Washington Redskins helmet hung in the locker behind coach Joe Gibbs, but the logo on his sports shirt was a checkered flag with the words "Joe Gibbs Racing."

Yes, it was 10 days before Gibbs' Redskins would meet the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI, but there was Gibbs on a satellite hookup smiling over the prospect of winning the Daytona 500.

"I can dream, can't I?" said Gibbs, when asked if he'd ever considered the possibility of winning the Super Bowl and Daytona within a month of each other. "I tell you what, our team is the only team that has a shot at it."

Gibbs, who owns the newly formed Interstate Batteries/Foodline Chevrolet team on the Winston Cup stock car racing circuit, was planning to be here in person yesterday, to meet the racing press on a preseason media tour.

Shortly after midnight Wednesday, he decided he couldn't make it.

"I tried to get everything done, so I could get there," he said. "But I finally realized I couldn't do it. There were just too many demands here, and we've got to get the game plan finished before we leave for Minnesota next week. I finally was forced to make the call about 1 a.m. to cancel."

It was then he discovered how many people were anticipating his visit.

"He kept saying he was sorry to disappoint me, but that 'they [the football media] would crucify him if he left town,' " said Charlotte Motor Speedway spokesman Eddie Gossage. "I told him not to worry about me, but what was he going to do about the 107 motorsports reporters who expected to see him here?"

That's when Gibbs said he'd call back. By 2:20 a.m., he had rousted sportscaster George Michael at Channel 4 in Washington and started the process that resulted in a satellite hookup through the NBC affiliate here at a cost estimated at $1,300 for about 30 minutes of air time.

"It would have been the wrong thing for me to do, to come," Gibbs said. "As much as I want to be there, Redskins fans -- and a lot of stock car fans are Redskins fans -- want us to win the Super Bowl and I've got to make every effort to do that first.

"But I'm so excited about this. I was laughing with Jimmy [Makar, crew chief] that I'm never going to lose an auto race. As the owner, I'm going to sit back and second-guess everything they do.

"A while ago, my owner, Jack Kent Cooke, told me I was going to coach this team [Redskins] better than I ever imagined," Gibbs said. "At another time, he was told one of his horses had a broken leg and, after checking the insurance papers, called his trainer and told him, 'You are going to save this horse.' So, Jimmy, you're going to make this race car go faster than you ever imagined."

The venture is a major undertaking for Gibbs. Estimates of the cost for starting a new team range from $1 million to $1.5 million. And Gibbs has assembled a first-class team.

He is starting with five Chevrolet Luminas and engines built by Hendrix Motorsports, recognized as the maker of one of the most powerful and reliable engines in the business.

Driver Dale Jarrett, who won his first race with the Woods Brothers team last season at Michigan, is known as a growing talent in the sport.

Makar is a noted chassis specialist, who spearheaded Rusty Wallace to the Winston Cup championship in 1989.

"I always dreamed of two things when I was growing up, playing sports and being a race car driver," Gibbs said. "When I reached age 45, it dawned on me that I might be getting too old to drive a race car and that's when I started thinking seriously about this idea."

Gibbs said he will be in Daytona for the two weeks of practice and qualifying leading up to the Feb. 16 Daytona 500.

"I think you really have to understand the love of the speed and the competition that I have to understand just how much I want to be there," said Gibbs, a former drag racer. "I plan to be very involved with this team. J.D., my son, will be down there working with the team after graduation, and my son Jimmy will be involved somehow, too. It's going to be a family thing."

With regard to when it might become his full-time business, Gibbs said yesterday he has no timetable, thus denying a rumor that he would retire from coaching if he won the Super Bowl next weekend.

"There are tremendous highs and lows here," he said from Redskins Park. "I love the competition. I do talk about the future, but as long as I feel good about it, I'll continue to coach."

Gibbs said when he sees Jarrett driving his No. 18 green and black Chevrolet out of the fourth turn on the opening lap of the 500, "I'll be as excited about that as about anything I've ever done in my life."

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