MOORESVILLE, N.C. – As a young boy growing up in El Cajon, Calif., Jimmie Johnson used to attend the Long Beach Grand Prix and marvel at the sleek, speedy Indy cars of CART.
His dream was to one day drive one of those cars.
Tuesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion got the chance to fulfill that dream during a test session with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Today was a really special today,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s test. “I’m thankful to Chip Ganassi Racing, Mike Hull, Scott Dixon, Barry Wanser – everybody involved to help this come together and give me an experience in an Indy car today.
“I grew up wanting to be an IndyCar racer. I grew up in Southern California, going to the Long Beach Grand Prix watching races there and wanted to be on the inside of the fence in one of these cars,” he added. “Today was fulfilling a childhood dream to be in an Indy car whipping around and I had a blast doing it.”
Johnson is in his final season as a full-time NASCAR competitor for Hendrick Motorsports. He has said numerous times he wants to drive in different forms of racing in the future, including a street and road course schedule in IndyCar.
Johnson got his first test in a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“What made today so fun is all of the aggression you remove to be successful in a Cup car, you can apply in an Indy car,” Johnson said Tuesday. “You really do get rewarded for aggression and commitment. Finding that limit and trying to figure out how to operate on that edge is what I spent most of the day trying to figure out. The amount of time you have to respond to the car getting out of control is so much smaller in one of these.
“I spun out twice trying to find the edge, but as the day went on, I was able to identify the early cues from the car and what was taking place.
The driver who was coaching him through the process was five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
That’s a total of 12 major series championships between the two drivers.
“Experience is everything,” Johnson said. “To have a lot of familiar faces and friends on this team that I have known for years, including Scott Dixon coming out and hanging and talking and shooting straight and lead me go down the right road was really, really helpful.
“Chip even came out and when he showed up, my heart rate went up a few beats,” Johnson said of team owner Chip Ganassi. “A great group of people, a welcoming group of people who were there to help me and we had a successful day today.”
Johnson was originally scheduled to drive an Arrow McLaren Racing SP Chevrolet at Barber Motorsports Park the day after the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but both the race and the test were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson was later scheduled to do a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few days after this year’s July 5 Brickyard 400, but that was cancelled after Johnson tested positive for COVID-19.
Later that week, Johnson received two negative tests taken more than 24 hours apart and the Hendrick Motorsports driver returned to his NASCAR duties.
Dixon was very impressed with Johnson’s ability to understand and adapt to the different style of racing in an Indy car from a NASCAR Chevrolet.
“To me, it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve been a big Jimmie Johnson fan for a long time and it’s cool to work with him,” Dixon said. “He did a fantastic job. The hardest part is knowing baselines and when you don’t have a teammate running with you during the day, you don’t know where you stand. The biggest thing for me is when we went through the data and even video, how he was replicate when I told him, ‘Jimmie, do this’ or “Do that’ he would be able to just do it. That’s really difficult to do and comprehend when it’s not your comfort zone.
“Honestly, he did a tremendous job. Times are tough to read because of track conditions, the heat today and tire conditions, he did a mega job,” Dixon added. “For him, he was so excited to get to the test, get in the car and get running. It’s been a lot of fun to spend the day listening to what he feels and how different it is.
“You couldn’t get two more polar extremes from NASCAR to IndyCar, especially on a track like this.”