NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson as soon as despatched a heartfelt e-mail to a star driver he by no means had met — till now

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When his Audi R18 slammed a guardrail at 185 mph and ricocheted throughout the observe into one other barrier in pitch-black darkness on the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mike Rockenfeller by no means anticipated Jimmie Johnson to test on his well-being.

An ace European driver who had received Le Mans a 12 months earlier, Rockenfeller definitely knew of Johnson – who within the racing world wouldn’t know the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion? – however he didn’t know him. They by no means had met, talked or had any type of contact.

Till an e-mail from Jimmie Johnson landed within the German driver’s inbox instantly after Rockenfeller miraculously emerged unscathed from the horrifying wreck in France. It was “was so surprising” as a result of it was among the many most honest messages he ever obtained from one other driver.

“To get that e-mail from a legend like he’s, it actually meant quite a bit,” Rockenfeller, 37, informed NBC Sports activities. “Once I acquired it, I used to be so stunned. To me, that confirmed the mentality of America. The racing spirit they’ve right here. Watching different classes, having the respect for one another. Clearly, it confirmed what sort of man Jimmie is.

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller (proper) talks with Simon Pagenaud behind Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief for seven championships (Brian Cleary/bcpix.com).

“I replied immediately, and he replied again, saying, ‘Oh, I’m watching this. I like Le Mans, it’s so cool what you guys are doing.’ ”

The story may have one other unbelievable twist at this 12 months’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with the teaming of Johnson and Rockenfeller (who goes by “Rocky” within the paddock) on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi.

This shall be Johnson’s eighth begin within the Rolex however his first in 10 years, and he stated it was the kinship he found in sports activities vehicles that impressed the e-mail to Rockenfeller.

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“My time round endurance racing within the U.S. simply confirmed me the neighborhood that exists right here and stroke a chord in my memory loads of the best way I grew up racing motocross,” Johnson informed NBC Sports activities. “And I didn’t know Mike previous to sending that e-mail, however after I noticed the crash, it simply struck me.

“I simply couldn’t consider that he survived that. After which understanding we had mutual associates, I used to be in a position to observe down his tackle and ship him an e-mail simply checking on him and saying hi there and introducing myself.

“So to have this all now come full circle and share a automotive within the Rolex 24 is basically cool for me for a lot of causes.”

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Johnson is a bit fuzzy on how he was in a position to acquire Rockenfeller’s contact info, however he believes it was by a Chevrolet connection. Although he often does Twitter shoutouts to strangers, Johnson not often sends emails sight unseen.

“Particularly again then, that was pre-social media for me,” he stated. “Racers admire from afar however not often have interaction. We’re all type of bizarre like that. So it was a bit out of character for me to try this, however I’m very grateful that I did.”

When requested final Thursday at 2021 Rolex 24 Media Day, Rockenfeller nonetheless didn’t know 10 years later how Johnson had gotten in contact.

“Precisely, that was the primary shock,” stated Rockenfeller, who idolized countryman Michael Schumacher rising up however later started following Johnson. “How did he get my e-mail? He managed to do it, and once more, that reveals the trouble to textual content any person or ask any person to get the e-mail and instantly write me.

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller tapped Jimmie Johnson on the helmet earlier than the No. 48 Cadillac went out for the Motul 100 qualifying race Sunday at Daytona (Tina Theriault Strader).

“It meant quite a bit actually to see that. In a method, it made me proud {that a} man like him I’m trying as much as in all my profession takes the time with all of the schedule he had again then, as a result of he was flat-out racing in NASCAR all these years, however he took the time and stated, ‘Man, I’ll write him an e-mail,’ and that actually modified my temper.

“Schumacher in my early days might be what Jimmie is for lots of youngsters and guys in America in NASCAR. So to be with him on the automotive, it’s an important alternative, and I’m so trying ahead to it.”

Johnson and Rockenfeller linked head to head for the primary time because the Le Mans e-mail on Dec. 9, 2020 when their Action Express Racing team tested at Daytona International Speedway.

<strong><em>Mike Rockenfeller (IMSA)</em></strong>
Mike Rockenfeller (IMSA)

“Tremendous good man,” Rockenfeller stated. “Nice driver, clearly, but in addition a pleasant individual. Which is at all times vital in endurance racing. What’s good in our lineup, every driver had profession, however there’s no ego. It’s not like we have to show one thing. We wish to get pleasure from what we’re doing and do our easiest, and the massive objective is clearly to get a brand new watch.”

In one other “small world” story on the No. 48 staff, Johnson additionally already was good associates with Pagenaud, whose spouse, Hailey, grew up in El Cajon, California, and is tight with Johnson’s youthful brother Jessie. Jimmie Johnson and Pagenaud have been in Jessie Johnson’s wedding ceremony collectively a 12 months in the past.

“It’s actually cool; an important private story for me to hitch the legend,” stated Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner.

“I really feel like with Simon and Rocky there’s a really comparable, passionate want that all of us have, and the best way that we feature ourselves,” Jimmie Johnson stated.

“I’ve actually loved attending to know them, and hopefully that is simply the beginning of issues for us at this race, and possibly we will do some extra racing with each other down the highway.”

<strong><em>Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud were part of the wedding party for Jessie Johnson’s wedding last year.</em></strong>
Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud have been a part of the marriage get together for Jessie Johnson’s wedding ceremony final 12 months.

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Jimmie Johnson once sent a heartfelt email to a star driver he never had met — until now initially appeared on NBCSports.com

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