My Favorite Mistake: Jimmie Johnson
Setoodeh, Ramin, Newsweek
Byline: Interview by Ramin Setoodeh
Jimmie Johnson on the death-defying crash that saved his career.
It was November 1994, and I was driving in a race called the Baja 1,000. It started in Tijuana and ran all the way down the Baja peninsula to La Paz, Mexico. I was 880 miles and 20 hours into it, and of all things, I was leading. I still had a ways to go, and I was exhausted. It was dark, and I was so badly wanting to see the sun come up. I felt like if I made it to sunrise, I'd find some energy again. I didn't make it to sunrise.
I fell asleep around 3 in the morning. One of the innocent head nods you do on the interstate, and it turned into an ordeal. I was driving 90 miles per hour at the time. This was in the mountains--I was working my way out of a mountain range and was finally on a straight road. That's when I just dozed off. I was in high gear. When I fell asleep, I let off the throttle. I was still coasting but at a very high pace. When I woke up, I realized there was a turn in front of me, and there was no way I was going to get the vehicle to stop. I went off the road, and I hit a really big rock. The rock just flipped my truck around, and it started somersaulting in the air. When that happened, I thought I had gone off a cliff. I'm somersaulting in the darkness, wondering how far I'm going to fall. Luckily, it was just a small downhill into a sand wash below. …