Faith on the Frontstretch: Being vanilla is the best thing about Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images     

“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

Another NASCAR season has raced by us, culminating in Jimmie Johnson hoisting the 2013 Sprint Cup championship trophy. Whether you’re a Johnson fan or not, it’s hard to deny he's an amazingly talented racecar driver who is making history with his No. 48 team.

Johnson’s nickname of “Five-Time” has officially retired as the “#6pack” hashtag has become a reality. Oddly enough, despite the respect he has earned with his on-track dominance - winning six championships in the last eight years - a segment of fans still insist on using the term vanilla to describe Johnson.

And they don't use the word in a positive way. It's used to mean Johnson has a bland personality or lacks the exciting persona of a celebrity. Jimmie Johnson as plain and boring? That just doesn’t ring true. The vanilla-sayers are mistaken on multiple levels.

Vanilla isn’t the absence of flavor, it is a flavor. Did you know vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream in America? There’s a reason for that. Vanilla is soothing and mellow. It’s calm, smooth and goes well with other desserts.

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a humble guy with a positive outlook, then yes, he’s vanilla.

During the post-race press conference at Homestead-Miami, both crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick had lots to say about Johnson. Knaus complimented Johnson on his low-key personality and his optimistic attitude:

“The thing I think that's the best about Jimmie is he always has the positive outlook,” Knaus said. “When we get into situations where they aren't the most comfortable, things are a little bit stressed, it's really a good spot because I can look at him and he has been a mentor for me in understanding there's more to life than just racing.”

Hendrick commented on Johnson’s calm demeanor. “If you monitor every driver out here all through the race all year long, you see how many times they get excited, go off on the radio, lose their composure - you won't ever hear Jimmie do that,” Hendrick said.

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a person who cares about people and quietly takes care of them, you bet he’s vanilla.

According to Rick Hendrick, Johnson does good deeds without bragging about it. In fact, his foundation’s charity work and relief efforts after tornadoes ravaged his wife’s home state of Oklahoma led to Johnson being named NASCAR Illustrated 2013 Person of the Year.

“He does so many things for charity, Make a Wish,” Hendrick said. “They raise money, build houses, do things. He doesn't try to do things to gain attention or say, ‘Look at me.’ He's more about letting his actions speak for himself.”

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a guy who chooses the high-line when insulted, then he’s vanilla for sure.

You probably heard former quarterback Donovan McNabb’s assertion that Jimmie Johnson is not an athlete, which rallied NASCAR Nation to Johnson’s defense on Twitter. Johnson’s comeback tweet was courteous, yet clear:

“The debate continues... Everyone is entitled to an opinion. #DriversAreAthletes

When a fan replied to Johnson, “don’t be vanilla now” and urged him to counter McNabb’s claim, Johnson’s answer displayed the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1, A gentle answer turns away wrath.

He tweeted: “I choose to be respectful. There is way too much venom spewed these days.”

If being “vanilla” means being humble and optimistic, helping others and responding calmly when people speak foolishly, bring it on. The world could use a little more vanilla.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1
Still not convinced that Johnson’s brand of vanilla is a good thing? ESPN’s Marty Smith describes in vivid detail why Johnson’s greatness as a human being is even bigger than his talent behind the wheel.

“Faith on the Frontstretch” appears every 1st & 3rd Wednesday and explores the role of faith in motorsports. Comments or twitter follows welcome: @bbreinke. See you on the Frontstretch!

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for female racing fans.

Faith on the Frontstretch: Being vanilla is the best thing about Jimmie Johnson Faith on the Frontstretch: Being vanilla is the best thing about Jimmie Johnson Reviewed by Beth Reinke on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 Rating: 5