Super Bowl not enough for Joe Gibbs: He's racing to fulfill boyhood dream

February 07, 1992|By Selena Roberts | Selena Roberts,Orlando Sentinel

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Joe Gibbs' teen-age years were a drag, an endless street race from hamburger stand to hamburger stand.

He was fast, sliding into his '39 Chevy and slipping his arm around his high school sweetheart. Then he was off, leaving his mark behind on the asphalt.

He raced on drag strips mostly, though he clocked some fast times beneath a street lamp or two.

"Maybe one or two," said Gibbs by telephone from his Winston Cup team's garage in North Carolina. "It was the '50s. I really got into drag racing as a kid."

The adult Joe Gibbs, coach of the Washington Redskins, spends his nights scrunched on an office couch at Redskin Park, falling into the cushions when his eyes are too tired to blink.

It's the sleep depravation of a Super Bowl season, one that ended Jan. 26 with a victory over Buffalo.

He has had some rest since then. Now for the dream.

Gibbs formed his own Winston Cup team last year, which will start its first race in the Daytona 500.

"I had a lot of street rods as a teen-ager growing up in Southern California," Gibbs, 50, said. "I blew up just about all but one of them. I had to sell it when I decided to go to Florida State to get into coaching. A part of me died the day I sold that car."

Here's his new Chevy. The Day-Glo green and midnight black No. 18 sits beneath the garage at Daytona International Speedway. The driver, Dale Jarrett, is standing beside it.

"The first time I ever spoke to Joe Gibbs was on the phone," said Jarrett, who won his first Winston Cup race last year at Michigan. "It was a Sunday night last June after the Dover race. He called and said it was Joe Gibbs, and I started laughing. I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me. Then he convinced me of who he was."

It took more convincing to get Jarrett to leave his success with the Wood Brothers. It took a trip to Washington, where Dale and his wife, Kelly, met the Gibbses.

They went to dinner at the Palm restaurant, where President Bush is a regular. And so is Gibbs, who orders swordfish every Thursday night of the football season.

On this evening late in June, he was trying to draft Jarrett.

"I researched all the drivers like I would if I were looking for a quarterback," Gibbs said. Gibbs did his homework on Jarrett, as if he had been watching game films.

"He even knew my wife was an athlete in high school and a tennis player," said Jarrett, whose brother-in-law, Jimmy Makar, is the team's crew chief. "It was kind of scary.

"When we went to Washington, he took us to Redskin Park. He showed me about how they select players. It's not done on athletic ability alone. They want to know what kind of background they have, what they were like in school. They even make them take an intelligence test."

Some might wonder where Gibbs' head is. Racing is a million-dollar investment, a lot to put into what he admits is part of a mid-life crisis.

"There's risk in this, but it's a dream come true," Gibbs said. "I thought about it a long time, researched it and talked it over with Pat."

Pat is his wife and high school sweetheart, the one who has always been in his passenger seat. "She said I could do this as long as I wasn't driving," Gibbs said. "I want to win and I think we will win, but I'm going to have fun with this."

He's relaxed and even sleeping these days.

"I think you'll get to see a whole other side of Joe Gibbs when he gets to Daytona," Jarrett said. "He really feels good about this. It's like he's a kid again."

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