Gibbs No. 2 slides into driver's seat

With Joe back in NFL, eldest son is presented with keys to family cars

Auto Racing

February 15, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Growing up in the Joe Gibbs family, J.D. was the quiet one. The thoughtful one. Nothing much seemed to worry him, and it was rare that he felt so strongly about something that he would make a point of it.

"But when those times happened, he had this thing he'd do," said car owner and Washington Redskins coach redux Joe Gibbs. "His finger would come up and he'd point it at his mom and me and say very directly and very slowly, `I'm ... telling ... you.' He was doing that to me a lot more lately. After two or three times, I said, `OK, he's ready!'"

Joe Gibbs was talking about his son being ready to step into the leadership role at Joe Gibbs Racing, the family business he had turned into a two-time championship organization with drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart in what is now the Nextel Cup Series.

Today, the Gibbs team has Stewart starting fifth and Labonte 13th in the 48th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

"We really started this together," said J.D., 34, who is president of the company. "We built it. And now it's nice to let him go off and still have confidence the race team will still be well-run."

A restart for dad

Gibbs, 63, returned to his previous job as Redskins head coach Jan. 8, a place he said yesterday he had never planned to go.

"It just all fell into place," he said. "For 11 years, I was at peace and then Coy came to me and said he didn't want to race anymore, that he didn't think he was good enough."

Gibbs' son Coy, 31, finished 14th in the Busch Series standings last season but told his father he didn't want to continue, that he wasn't good enough. "He said he wanted to go coach," said Joe Gibbs. "It played a big part in my decision."

Coy, who was a four-year starter at middle linebacker at Stanford, has joined his dad as an assistant coach with the Redskins.

"The way I see it, football is a short-term opportunity, while racing is the family business and will be here forever, with J.D. or someone in the family running it, my grandbabies following into the business," Joe Gibbs said.

"Really, the first words they [the grandchildren] could say were, `Booby' [instead of Bobby] and Tony. They don't know anything about football."

J.D. Gibbs doesn't seem too worried about his new undertaking, though he had a few nervous moments last Sunday when both his cars qualified slowly.

"Thank goodness, we did well in the 125s," J.D said. "I told everybody before we came down here, `Don't screw this up. I'll look like a moron.' Really, I can still blame this one on my dad, though, because the cars were all done before he left. But, seriously, you want to do well with more responsibility."

J.D. can look around the team garages and the people he sees have all been with the program a long time. He also expects his father to be "at a bunch of races" through at least the early part of the season, and only a phone call away when he's not.

Over the years, Joe Gibbs' primary function has been to acquire and work with sponsors. Yesterday, he introduced a fertilizer company that will sponsor a 16-race Busch Series program for rookie J.J. Yeley. Others have run the technical and racing sides, and J.D. said that division of labor will continue.

"When Dad came into racing back in 1992, he used the NFL side to promote the racing side," J.D. said.

"Now, there are a lot of entertainment things in Washington with the Redskins that he can use to promote the racing side. We'll have a [race team] corporate box at the games where we can entertain sponsors. There can be tours at training camp. Sponsors can have lunch with him. A lot of things.

"The place he'll be missed the most is on Sunday mornings at the hospitality tent. I probably won't be quite as entertaining as he is."

J.D. is much like his father was when he became the Redskins' coach in 1980. Like his dad was then, he is relatively low-key, but also like his dad, he comes into his new role well-trained.

If you looked over Joe Gibbs' shoulder at any time over the past decade, J.D. was always somewhere in the background.

"J.D. has seen every nut and bolt go in place from Day One and couldn't have better preparation," Gibbs said. "He's real conscientious. He comes in early and stays late. He does all the things you do when you have a real passion."

Ricky Hendrick, who this year is also gaining more responsibility in his father's organization by sharing the ownership of the No. 25 car being driven by Brian Vickers, said he has watched J.D. Gibbs do all the grunt work associated with running a race team.

"He's been the hands-on guy, the guy who went to all the team test sessions and made sure everything was running smooth for three straight years," said Hendrick, who is the son of car owner Rick Hendrick.

"I know how he feels. He wants to be an asset to the team and not just someone who inherited it and goofed off.

"To me, moving into more responsibility is frightening, but J.D. has been preparing for it and he'll be fine."

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