DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – J.D. Gibbs, who passed away on Jan. 11 after a four-year battle with a degenerative neurological disease at the age of 49, will be honored on lap 11 of Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500 on the FOX broadcast.
“We’ve worked with FOX, and J.D.’s favorite number from when he played football, his number was 11,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America. “FOX Sports during the Daytona 500 on lap 11, they will do a tribute lap for J.D., so it will give you an opportunity to be able to see that.”
Just a month after burying his son, team owner Joe Gibbs still feels the burden that has come with J.D.’s loss as he prepares for Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500.
“It’s been a time for our family and to see everybody in this sport and everybody that has stepped up to help us,” Gibbs said Friday. “Everybody, Toyota, our friends, Bob, everybody, there’s been so many people that walk up to me and say, J.D. did the following. There are so many small stories.
“J.D., I honestly believe, not just because he’s my son, I think J.D. was living a Godly life and was touching so many people, and it’s come back over and over again.”
Gibbs, who is devoutly religious and charitable, has used the loss of his son to help other people. It is also a tremendous way to honor the efforts of his son, who was active working with the underprivileged in the inner city.
“We’re using this weekend, too, to try and have everybody go to the website, which is JDGibbslegacy.com,” Gibbs said. “I can’t tell you how many people have walked up to me and said, that thing made a huge impact in my life. There were over 3,000 people there that day.
“J.D. lives on. He lives on in us, those four boys, his family, and all those that he’s touched. God in his Word said that those that have gone on before are in heaven cheering us on. I don’t want to let J.D. down, and I just really appreciate how many people here prayed. This is a close‑knit family in a lot of ways, and so many people have stepped up to help us. I can’t thank you enough.
“It’s story after story. J.D. had a vision of helping inner‑city kids with young life. The funds that have been flowing into that have been unbelievable. And so J.D. is going to live on in all those ways. I just thank everybody here that’s been a part of that.”
Gibbs also told a humorous story about the team’s first Daytona 500 victory with Dale Jarrett in 1993.
“J.D., when we first started the race team, our second year, we put him on the pit crew, and I don’t know how many of you have heard this story, but I’ve got my son now, and he’s a pretty good athlete, and in those days you changed right‑side tires, left‑side tires,” Gibbs recalled. “This is the second year we raced. We didn’t win anything the first year.
“So, we go to the race track, and all of a sudden, our car in the 500 with Dale Jarrett, we’re up front. So, man, I’m looking around, I say, oh, my gosh. Then all of a sudden it dawned on me, this is going to come down to the last pit stop. My son is changing tires. I was looking for someplace to throw up; know what I mean?
“So, this is what happened. The car comes in, J.D. goes to the front, Todd Meredith was with him changing tires, his buddy. They go to the back, J.D. hits about three lug nuts and they drop the car and it’s gone. J.D. stood up and Todd turned to him and said, did you get all those, and J.D. said, “I got about three of them.” And he goes, “Can we make it on that?” He looked up at Jimmy Makar, whose nickname is Mad Dog, that’s our crew chief, and he goes, ‘We’re getting ready to find out.’
“And the bottom line is he won that race. So that was the story with J.D. and our very first race that he ever changed tires. So, it’s a great story for us, and we keep that story. This is a hard race to win.”
Should one of Gibbs drivers win the Daytona 500 on Sunday, it would be an extremely special way to honor J.D. Gibbs.
“It would mean the world to us,” Gibbs said. “I think just in a way to highlight J.D.’s life and the fact that J.D. really is living on with so many things, just like this website that we’re talking about, his interest in inner city kids and what we’re trying to do there. I just think it would obviously be exciting for us.”