As Johnson drives, he points out running paths where he trains and the shop where he bought bikes for his family. Though he lives in Carolina, splitting time between his other homes in Aspen and New York, he still talks California. He was born in El Cajon, outside San Diego. His mother drove a school bus, and his dad worked at a tire factory. He started racing motorcycles at age 5, and, by that measure, he’s been racing, in some fashion, for 38 years. Growing up, he raced buggies and off-road trucks in the desert, too. When he was 19, he was competing in an endurance race in Baja California, Mexico, when he briefly fell asleep behind the wheel and flipped his Chevy. He could’ve died, but he and his mechanic riding shotgun were unscathed.
In 2000, Johnson was sort of discovered by Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup Series champion, when Johnson was still driving in the Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series), NASCAR’s minor-league circuit. Johnson asked Gordon for some career advice, and Gordon, in turn, who was already impressed by Johnson, ended up co-owner of Johnson’s team and later brought him to Hendrick Motorsports, where he remains. At the 2002 Daytona 500, Johnson was only the second rookie ever to get the pole position, a spot reserved for the driver with the best qualifying times headed into the race. Three miles from the park, Johnson turns the truck into the parking lot of a 13,000-foot warehouse.
“I needed a place to put all my shit,” he says. “I’ve collected some cars, and then my mom has kept everything from my childhood.” Inside, the place is filled with the spoils of his career: trophies, checkered flags, pictures, helmets signed by all the NASCAR greats. Behind a long wooden bar, glisten- ing under track lighting, sit gigantic bottles of Moët & Chandon champagne, bigger than