My favorite part of last week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was an interview with Jimmie Johnson long after it was clear that his GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team would not be visiting Victory Lane.
Johnson announced that he would be back, and SPEED’s interviewer asked about the challenge of being away from his family for the event, considering that the NASCAR schedule is already so lengthy.
Johnson responded that it would be hard… “if I let my mind go there.”
In that moment Johnson revealed the secret to his success. He is able to compartmentalize his thoughts to the point that martians could hover over the racetrack, and his only concern would be that the spaceship blocking the sun would make his car tight.
That kind of focus is rare even for the most elite athlete, as Jeff Gordon and Tom Brady are discovering.
As the NFL season concludes and Daytona awaits, it’s clear that Darrell Waltrip’s ramblings about marriage and childbirth being good for performance are just that…ramblings.
Both Gordon and Brady won early and often as “GQ” darlings. Both had high-profile relationships that flamed out. Then both found true love and embraced fatherhood with their life partners.
And combined, they have won zero championships since.
It’s a little naive to look at their strikingly similar career paths and dismiss their current droughts as mere coincidence. You can say you’re putting as much into your preparation as you did before, but the truth is it’s just math: You have less time to spend perfecting your craft if you’re truly submitting yourself to family first. Chase appearances and MVPs notwithstanding, the difference tends to show up in the postseason.
I did two things before watching the Super Bowl Sunday, and neither involved exhaustive pregame shows. I watched HBO’s magnificently produced Vince Lombardi documentary, which chronicled his stint as an absentee husband and father in the pursuit of rings. Then I listened to one of my favorite Gary Allan tunes, “Right Where I Need to Be.” The song ends with a man leaving a first-class seat empty — when an almost-certain promotion was at the destination — because it just wasn’t worth robbing his true love of the attention she deserved.
There are a lot of definitions of success, and a lot of routes to get there. Gordon and Brady may have chosen paths that mean they will never win a championship again. An old “60 Minutes” interview with Brady ran Sunday morning on ESPN Classic, and he said after three Super Bowl wins there had to be something more in life. There was: a gold band and diapers to change.
Unless Gordon and Brady have the robotic-like focus of Johnson, it may come down to a choice of being Lombardi or Allan.
After sampling both tales, I’d sure as hell take the latter.