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Fast Take   Story by Dwight Drum
Web work by Larsen & Drum    Images by Larsen & Drum

The champion edge: Force, Johnson & Gordon
[PART 2]

Itís often said that champions dig deeper but itís less certain if champions know why. Follow the mental shifts as these legends describe digging toward the edge.

ďDigging deep is really funny to me,Ē Force admitted. ďYouíve got to be right there in the game. Because if your car is equal to their car and they run side-by-side, theyíll beat you on a holeshot because they are the best. I was the best, but Iím not anymore in the driverís seat. And I just gathered it down deep and I think it brings your energy to a level.

ďYou have to find that real energy that God gives us that makes you want to win. Itís kind of like when a car falls on a parentís child and the parent can lift the car off that child and they say how can they do that? Because the brain, and Iím not going to get into the theory of all this or the facts of it, but we know that we only use a percentage of our brain. We know that we only ask our body to do a certain percentage. I really believe that a person can give more than 100 percent. Iím not going to put a percentage on it, because we donít use our brain to its potential and we donít use our body strength to our potential. And that doesnít mean that youíre out of shape, thatís good. But Iím talking about the potential to go beyond what it takes.Ē

A simple explanation can make big differences according to Johnson.

ďTo me itís really getting what you can out of the car,Ē Johnson said. ďItís so easy to overdrive these cars. Digging deep to me is just knowing the limitations I have to deal with and putting the best lap that I can together with the circumstances. If you look at F1 guys that come in or open-wheel drivers their threshold is a lot higher so you can probably push yourself more mentally than what you do with these cars. But for us itís really about making sure youíre tidy and run a good lap.Ē

Sometimes itís just as hard to stop Force when he is to talking as it is to catch him at the racetrack, but even though he shifts mind gears swiftly he brings a lot of thought along for the ride.

ďIíve got days that Iíve got to the gym and Iíll be honest, Iíve cried,Ē Force said. ďAnd Iíd get in there and you get in there with no strength and all of a sudden you start working out and your body gets better and better and halfway through your work out, man youíre like, ĎWhy didnít I come in here?í

ďThat other person takes over that other personality and thatís where youíre forced to dig deep. And thatís what you have to do on the racetrack and I think any champion has to. Itís just -- the hardest thing for me is racing my own team, because I get mental against them. I just get mental that I donít want to get up for the fight. And Iíve got to do that because otherwise Iím going to lose my job. Even though Iím the owner, Iíd have to take myself out of the seat if I didnít deliver, so Iím trying.Ē

Johnson understands much about champions too and his study of their quest for the edge over his career has helped, but as for the mix of ingredients that equal wins; he is puzzled.

IĎve always looked up to Jeff Gordon and tried to pick his brain and understand what it was that made him four-times champion and 80 wins and all that stuff,Ē Johnson said. ďHe would always laugh at me and say ĎI donít know. It just turned out. It just worked out.í As Iíve experienced my stuff, I kind of say the same thing.

ďI donít know what separates me. I see a lot of the qualities I think are important in a lot of drivers in our field. I donít know what that exact thing is. Through the years my commitment to the sport has helped me. There were a lot of dark moments, but I stayed committed to the sport and eventually it worked out.Ē

Jeff Gordon described the edge at one of NASCARíS most challenging tracks, Darlington Raceway where the ďLady in BlackĒ uses her walls to deliver (crash) stripes to the very best drivers. As a four-time champion he expounded on the scary part of being a race car driver and what the edge means to him.

I don't know if there is a place that's more edgy and white-knuckle and almost fearless than this place,Ē Gordon said. ďBut I've always felt that a good race car driver is somebody that knows how to get to the edge without going over it. If you're fearless, you just go out there and crash every time. I don't want to crash. I definitely have a fear of that."

"I don't care if you have a safer barrier or a Hans or better seats, it still hurts when you hit, and you don't want to do it,Ē Gordon admitted. ďYou've got to hit things to know what it feels like and know that you don't want to do that many times. Sometimes, when I was young and coming into this sport, I crashed a lot. It took me a while to find that edge. You just don't see the young guys crashing as much as years and years ago. You always just waited for the rookie to just hit something. The more things you hit, the more you learned and the more you learned where that edge is and how to get to it without going over it. And the more you know how hard it hurts to hit walls.

Gordon brought laughter to the media center packed with journalists and TV crews when he described the edge and how all modern safety features in racing shouldnít be stretched beyond sensible limits.

ďI don't think anybody is out there going, I got the Hans, good seat, safe race car and a safer barrier and I'm just going to hold it wide open even if I hit it. If there's somebody out there like that, I want somebody to let me know so I can stay as far away from him as possible. And that ought to about cover it (laughter)."

With Gordonís final comment this two part Force-Johnson-Gordon champion edge is hopefully covered.



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