J.D. Gibbs – From Parts Room to President
Leader of Joe Gibbs Racing One of the Most Respected Executives in NASCAR
Editor’s Note: In honor of Interstate Batteries’ and Joe Gibbs Racing’s 20th anniversary together in NASCAR, a series of press releases highlighting 20 big moments are being distributed throughout 2011. This is the 11th of the 20 releases.
As the 1992 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season began, Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, had just come off the team’s fourth series title in 1991 with the late Dale Earnhardt. Jack Roush, owner of Roush Racing (now Roush Fenway Racing) was in the midst of building his powerhouse organization and the 1991 season saw Mark Martin win the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway and finish a solid sixth in points.
Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, guided Ricky Rudd to a runner-up finish in the Sprint Cup Series standings on the strength of two wins. Roger Penske, owner of Penske Racing, oversaw Rusty Wallace’s effort that netted two wins and a 10th-place finish in the Sprint Cup standings, and Rick Mears won the 75th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race for Penske’s IndyCar team.
While Hendrick, Childress, Penske and Roush were preparing for the 1992 season, little did they know a future competitor and fellow owner named J.D. Gibbs was graduating from The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where he played defensive back and quarterback on the football team from 1987 to 1990.
Two decades later, four of the most successful owners in the sport know the name J.D. Gibbs very well, and he is one of the most respected participants in NASCAR. J.D., the son of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) founder Joe Gibbs, has served as president of the company since 1997 and, in that time, he’s overseen an organization that has produced three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles (Bobby Labonte, 2000; Tony Stewart, 2002 and 2005), three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series owner titles (2008-2010), one Nationwide Series driver title (Kyle Busch, 2009) and more than 150 NASCAR victories.
But just because his last name was Gibbs, the presidency of the company wasn’t just handed to him. It was earned as J.D. spent his early years at JGR doing everything from washing parts to organizing travel to marketing and sales. He even dabbled in competition, serving as a tire-changer when former JGR driver Dale Jarrett won the 1993 Daytona 500, and later drove in NASCAR Nationwide, Camping World Truck and K&N Pro Series races in the 1990s.
J.D. Gibbs is often self-deprecating about his driving career and often jokes that the employees of JGR don’t let him touch the cars. But make no mistake, the younger Gibbs may have come into NASCAR from football as a racing novice but, after several championships and 20 years in the sport, he is one of the most knowledgeable racing minds in the industry.
“People probably don’t recognize how far J.D. has come in the sport,” said Jarrett, who was JGR’s first driver from 1992 to 1994 and is now an analyst for ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. “In the first years of JGR, you’d see him walking around and, in his defense, he was walking around taking notes at a time when we weren’t sure what he was doing. We knew he wanted to be there, though, and that was the key thing. He wasn’t sure what direction he wanted to go, but that wasn’t any different than a lot of people who were his age.
“He did a lot of things and he wasn’t afraid to take on any challenge and anything that Joe and Jimmy (Makar, former crew chief, now vice president of racing operations) asked him to do, he was willing and able to do. I think that paid huge dividends because, now, even though he’s still a young man in my eyes, he’s got his hands around the sport and the running of a major company and he does a tremendous job.”
In 1997 J.D. Gibbs was named president of JGR, although his father was still the face of the organization.
“In reality, you probably could have taken any title you wanted,” J.D. said with a laugh. “If somebody there wanted to call themselves a PGA Tour pro, then there you go. I think, had I gone into coaching, I’d have been following in his footsteps. In racing, we started together, so neither of us really knew what we were doing. It was fun to grow and learn together. I think in the first five years, or so, Jimmy Makar was the crew chief and he kind of ran everything. And he did a great job. I think, by ’97, we were still small but my role began to get a little more defined. That said, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in titles or anything like that.”
But J.D. was thrust to the forefront in 2004 when his father shocked the racing and football worlds by announcing that he was returning to the Washington Redskins as head coach. With his father in Washington, D.C., J.D. was now the face of the organization and oversaw the expansion to a third Sprint Cup team in 2005, as well as Stewart’s title that same year.
“When he went to coach the Redskins the second time, it was a good chance for all of us here to grow,” J.D. Gibbs said. “He is super valuable but, in those four years he was gone, we did pretty well. The guys who have been here a long time – Jimmy (Makar), Todd Meredith (vice president of operations) and Dave Alpern (vice president of marketing) – they all did a great job.”
And his father couldn’t have been more proud.
“When I went back to coaching, you kind of know how demanding that schedule is going to be,” Joe Gibbs said. “I felt as if J.D. was doing a great job operating the race team and that we really had the right people in place which was a great comfort to me in the decision to return to football. J.D. and everyone here did such a great job in those four years I was back up at the Redskins. We expanded the team and won a championship. I’m surprised they let me back in the building.”
“We sort of learned our way in this sport together and I couldn’t be prouder of what he’s accomplished in the last 20 years. We put this team together as a family business, and to get to work with J.D. and Coy (son) and Pat (wife) has been tremendous. The Lord has really blessed us.”
And the similarities between the elder and younger Gibbs have not gone unnoticed.
“J.D.’s a lot like his dad,” Jarrett said. “He understands people and how important it is to surround yourself with people who are going to make the team successful. He’s done a great job with that. He has the ability to be your friend, but also tell you what he thinks even though that may be a little difficult at times. A lot of people don’t have that ability. He’s a great family person and he’s just the type of person you like to see be successful because he’s worked hard at it and deserves everything that has come his way.
“He’s in a high-profile position and everyone in NASCAR respects his ideas and his thoughts and there are not a lot of people out there who can have that said about them.”
Gibbs was successful again last week as he watched Kyle Busch take the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for JGR to victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Interstate Batteries was the first sponsor to sign with JGR back in 1991 and it has been one of the longest-running sponsorships in NASCAR.
“For us, it’s special in a lot of ways,” said J.D. Gibbs. “For Norm Miller (chairman of Interstate Batteries), everyone at Interstate Batteries, that whole team there was our first sponsor 20 years ago. And, 20 years later, you’re in victory lane with them and that is special. It’s been an amazing ride and we’ve been really blessed by the Lord.”
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