Jimmie Johnson steps on the gas for AVSC
The Aspen Times
Jimmie Johnson, like any ski racer, lives on the edge.
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson — a ski racer?
Johnson shifted gears from his regular auto-racing gig to support a popular fundraising effort in Aspen this week.
The six-time NASCAR champion, who owns a home in Aspen, raced in the sixth annual Audi Ajax Cup on Aspen Mountain on Wednesday. The event is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the 2,300 youngsters it serves.
“Truthfully, I’m very fortunate to have friends who are associated with the group (AVSC),” Johnson said. “We’re new to town. We’re learning our way around … understanding a little more about the community here and the giving that takes place.”
Johnson said the Audi Ajax Cup and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club offer a great opportunity for his family.
“It’s a great opportunity to get involved; it’s been a great fit,” said Johnson, who has been visiting Aspen for 15 years.
An avid cyclist and mountain biker, Johnson said Pam Alexander opened the AVSC doors.
Johnson responded by sponsoring a team in the sixth annual Ajax Cup, a team race competition based on a handicap system.
Each team included a professional skier along with AVSC supporters.
Johnson headed one team.
Professional golfer Justin Leonard, also an Aspen resident, headed another team.
The skiing celebrities included former World Cup standout Daron Rahlves along with five-time Olympian Casey Puckett of Aspen, who also is an AVSC coach.
“I’m a bit out of my element on skis,” Johnson said. “I’m much better on wheels. But I love to ski. I love the snow.”
Their two daughters, ages 5 and 2, also like to ski, he said.
“Both of my daughters are proficient on skis now,” Johnson said, with the evident pride of any ski-town dad.
He said he and his family have been spending summers of late in Aspen, where they recently purchased a home.
“In the summer months, I really enjoy cycling and mountain biking (in Aspen),” Johnson said in an interview with The Aspen Times.
He said the family enjoys the active nature of the Aspen community.
“The kids want to be outside … go for a hike, go to the skate park, go to the Roaring Fork (River),” Johnson said.
When asked about his prowess for driving on snowy roads, the NASCAR superstar didn’t hesitate.
“I’m a little nervous, I am,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “I love two-wheel drive. But I have some friends who’ve had some issues with two-wheel drive.”
The answer: Four-wheel drive and drive with care in snow.
Johnson, who won the NASCAR title five years in a row (2006-10), said he and his wife and family plan to spend more time in Aspen. She recently opened an art gallery in North Carolina, where they also live. Johnson, the 40-year-old with 75 career NASCAR wins, won his sixth overall title in 2013.
The thrill, he said, is alive and well.
“There’s no more fun than that moment when you run out of traction,” Johnson said at the Audi Ajax Cup opening reception at the Caribou Club. “I’ve built a career on it. I live my life by it. Whether it’s skis, a bicycle or four wheels on a race car … on the edge of traction, that’s my life. I love it.”
He said that he and his family are in a transitional stage as they spend more time in Aspen.
“We’ve built a lot of friendships and met a lot of people,” Johnson said. “It’s interesting. Everybody is here for a reason; we have the common denominator of the outdoors.”
Johnson’s new NASCAR season will open in February with the Daytona 500.
Then, it’s off to a hectic racing schedule.
And as the family grows, the schedule is even more difficult, Johnson said.
“We’re like any other parents. Dad works. Mom works. We’re just trying to throw it in the bucket.”
Johnson said he also appreciates Aspen’s heritage in motorsports.
A number of top drivers have lived or still live here, including Danny Sullivan, Eddie Cheever (both Indianapolis 500 winners), Janet Guthrie and Mark Webber.
Webber, an Australian, is a world champion in endurance racing.
“It makes me smile,” Johnson said. “It’s something … with the Dallenbachs and their history in Colorado.”
Wally Dallenbach and Wally Dallenbach Jr., from Basalt, were top motorsports drivers and race officials/commentators in their eras.
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The Aspen Rec Center is beginning to reopen for indoor use after the coronavirus pandemic effectively put a bolt on the door in March. The ARC staff hopes to have the facility — or at least most of it — open to its members as soon as Oct. 5.