Going Green with Team Lowe’s

It was a chilly April day in the office, a typically busy day yet there was a buzz of excitement in the air in anticipation of a yet to be named NASCAR driver who would be making an appearance in the afternoon. He was coming in as a partner with one of the charities we support and to promote our sponsorship of the Daytona 500.  Being employed by a sponsor involved with several pro and collegiate sports teams has it’s privileges, having had several sports entities and other celebrities grace our hallways at different times. But this day was different.  This wasn’t the NFL or NBA, or even MLB.  This was a racecar driver, this was badassery.  I was fairly new to motorsports fandom, and didn’t really have a favorite, per se.  I was new to this adrenaline rush, excitement and thrill of realizing that those guys tearing up a banked track at 200 MPH really were doing more than just driving in circles, and that those athletes had more balls than traditional “team sports”.   This was no LeBron James.  Although I had cut my fandom teeth on open wheel, I was moving toward stock car racing now as well.  I had a meeting to attend and missed the announcement identifying our visitor, but still had time to run down to the reception area to meet and greet and maybe snag an autograph if I so desired.  As a non-race fan coworker was returning from lunch, I inquired as to who was down the hall.  In passing she responded with “Some dude named Jimmie Johnson.”  Some dude!  Jimmie Johnson! Had she lost her mind?   The phenom who drove with the distinctive Lowe’s logo on his cars.  But most impressively, a three time champion (that was SO four Cups ago).  Although I had been to NASCAR events, I hadn’t really had a personal interaction with a driver.  At that point I made a beeline for the door to get down there, just to see.  Lo and behold, there he sat. in all his glory.  Jimmie freaking Johnson was just sitting at a table at the front of a fairly long line of coworkers.  As I got closer, I began to feel nervous, which is not like me.  What would I say?  Would words even come out of my mouth?  How would I act?  Did my hair look ok?  Did I smell like the Skyline I had for lunch?   But I hadn’t time to brush my teeth!  Did Jimmie like Skyline chili?  Would he be like Ricky Bobby in person?  My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, oh no.  I was fangirling without intention!  Minutes felt like an hour.  Finally, it was my turn.  He looked up from the table, smiled and said “Hello”.  All of a sudden all of that trepidation I had felt leading up to this was gone.  I reached out my hand and said something about how cool it was to meet him. He was surprisingly soft spoken and wasn’t rushing.   How about that relatively soft spoken enunciation.  Although he was very well spoken on TV, there is a difference between TV interviews and speaking with someone in person for yourself.  I can’t even recall how the rest of the conversation went, but he took his time, talking as he signed a hero card, and I was no longer nervous.  I liked this guy.  I liked his style as a person now as well as a driver.  He was receptive and engaged in conversation as an individual, as opposed to a corporate puppet with a stern face like some other drivers.  Then, it happened.  I kind of broke the PR code I think.  I asked if we could get a photo, and after glancing at his handler, nodded and started to lean up over the table.  I was so excited that he agreed to this opportunity that without thinking, I ran behind the table.  Not in an aggressive or dangerous way, mind you, just positively excited.  He took it in stride and posed with me, as I hoped he was flattered and not scared of this possibly overly enthusiastic woman turned 12 year old backstage at a Jonas Brothers show.  His escort appeared amused and just rolled with it as well.  This was the best work day ever!  As I thanked him profusely and excused myself to make way for the next person in line, I knew at that moment I had found my driver.  My team.  My personal fandemonium.  This was the beginning of my era with Lowe’s Racing and Jimmie Johnson.  What a great day, to be followed by a decade long ride in the fast lane.  The next time we would meet in person was a Q&A with Rutledge Wood involved, but that’s anther story for next time.

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