NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson signs a fan's racing tire at the National Press Club
It's not a normal stop on the NASCAR circuit, but No. 48 Jimmie Johnson, the reigning two-time Sprint Cup champion, touched down in Washington today, where he met with fans and the media, including a few political types like us here at Whispers who couldn't resist a political question or two. Like: Has he chosen a presidential candidate to back? "I have not, and yes I will, I absolutely will," said the Lowe's driver. OK, then, toward whom does he lean? "I like the experience [Sen. John] McCain has. There's something about his experience and how much time he's been serving our country, the history he has serving our country," he told me at a reception before addressing the National Press Club. But he said since the election is just heating up, he's only now starting to pay attention. And like many Americans, he finds the attacks from campaigns harsh and sometimes confusing. "It's so tough in today's world to sort out what is fact and what is something that is edited creatively to make people look bad," he said.
Normally, NASCAR stars try to steer away from controversy, and politics is certainly one of those topics. But the soft-spoken yet intense Johnson, accompanied by his wife Chandra, had no trouble talking politics. For example, he talked twice about the political leanings of the NASCAR fan base, a group Republicans like to think they own. While he figures McCain will win the group, he also noted that many of his neighbors in New York City are big-time NASCAR fans and Democrats. "Our sport touches a lot of people," he told me. "My wife and I have an apartment in New York City, and there are plenty of Democrats running around the city who are junkies for NASCAR. It's a big sport, it really is."
Still, he thinks the core fan base will back McCain over Sen. Barack Obama. "I have to think McCain. I think our core fan base being strong Republicans like they are, that's going to be the first choice. I also think his credits in history and what he's done for our country, certainly for our country, a lot of those things will be fully noticed by our fan base," says Johnson.