FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson returned to the race track Friday still mourning the loss of his brother-in-law in a California skydiving accident.
Jordan Janway died Sunday in San Diego County after apparently colliding with another parachutist during freefall, and then failing to open his parachute.
Janway was the 27-year-old brother of Johnson’s wife, Chandra.
“This week has been very difficult for the Janway family. It’s been so tough for myself to sit back and watch the people I love deal with so much pain,” Johnson said at Texas Motor Speedway. “Things are progressing and everybody is as good as you can hope. Last night, the family spent a lot of time telling stories about Jordan, and smiling a little bit, smiling instead of tears. The healing process has definitely started.”
The six-time champion opened his weekly media availability by thanking those who reached out via various means to offer support since Monday, when Janway’s death was confirmed.
“I just wanted to come in and make a brief comment before we got busy racing, and then try to switch my mind into this racing reality and focus the next couple days on going racing and just go try to win a race,” he said.
Johnson had not had any time to consider running a tribute decal on his No. 48 Chevrolet or helmet, but said now that’s he’s at the track, he can consider a proper way to honor the free-spirited Janway.
“He was a very adventurous guy – base-jumping and parachuting and wearing the squirrel suits, like you see the guys flying along the cliff sides, that’s what he did,” Johnson said. “He’s in a lot of those videos shooting that footage. Tragic death, for sure. But he was doing something he loved. He was very passionate about it. Never met a stranger, very warm, caring young man.”
Earnhardt recalls basketball days: With his favorite team eliminated long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will root for Florida in the Final Four.
NASCAR’s most popular driver loves basketball, but not because he excelled on the court. Although he tweeted a photo of himself Thursday with the junior varsity team from Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military School, Earnhardt said he was the weak link on the squad.
“I sat on the bench a lot being the smallest guy,” Earnhardt said Friday before practice at Texas Motor Speedway. “I didn’t have any skill. I only played because you got to leave campus for road games.
“Being able to leave even for a day in military school was an amazing vacation to be able to leave for a few hours. You’d go after the game and get the pizza or whatever. You didn’t have those kind of luxuries being on campus. I had fun.”
Earnhardt said he scored a whopping two points in his playing career.
“Some guy was jumping at me and I just closed my eyes and threw it up,” said Earnhardt, who only knew the basket was good because older sister Kelley and his 10 or so family members in attendance began screaming.
“It was rough back then, but a lot of good memories and a lot of fun practicing and being on a team,” he said. “I hadn’t played much organized sports at that point in my life so that was pretty fun. Plus, like I said, being able to get out of military school for a day was great, being able to see the outside world.”
His favorite team, North Carolina, was eliminated in the third round by Iowa State, leaving Earnhardt to pull for the Gators, who face Connecticut. Earnhardt said he had plans to attend the Final Four games Saturday in nearby Arlington, but instead will watch on TV.
Earnhardt said he has continued playing basketball since his high school days.
“We have a small little group of guys that get together and play,” he said. “I’m not skillful at all, but it’s fun. It’s a good way to get some energy and exercise.”