While protests continue throughout the country in the wake of George Floyd's death, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson has been doing a lot of thinking. The seven-time NASCAR champion, like many fellow NASCAR drivers and countless Americans, has driven to be an active participant in ongoing conversation surrounding racial injustice and police brutality.
During a Zoom conference call with media members on Friday, June 5, Johnson opened up about his thought process during this trying time in American history.
"I'm trying to learn and educate myself and really listen during these times," he said. "I find the more I listen, the more I learn."
"I think for those of us that ask ourselves 'Is there more that we can do?' that's the start of it. I think that's, ultimately, what a lot of the protestors far and wide want to ignite in people. Do you think you can do more? And when that really hits inside of you, will you act on it?
"I do think there's time to do stuff this weekend. There's a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes with many drivers with our sport, the leaders of sport."
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Johnson also opened up about conversations he's had with Bubba Wallace, who is currently the only African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. On an episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Wallace shared a heartbreaking story about a cousin who was fatally shot by police in Tennessee when Wallace was only nine years old.
"Bubba has been a great friend of mine," Johnson said. "I've been in conversation with him with some of the depression issues that he's battled over the years that he's been able to share publicly. Things that drivers talk about and the challenges we have in our teams, our jobs, relationships, life and things like that - he and I have always had an open line of communication and talk on a deep level.
"To start, I just called to check in with him. I just wanted to know how he was doing. In that phone call, I learned a lot about him, his family and the things that they've been through. His cousin was killed while he was young, to learn that story, I just had no idea. I had no idea the challenges he's been faced with. It's part of that listening."
Johnson, who first addressed the George Floyd protests after finishing third at Bristol Motor Speedway's Cup race on May 31, also runs the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, along with his wife, Chandra. He hopes that through the foundation, which supports K-12 public and charter schools throughout California, Oklahoma and North Carolina, he can play a key role in helping communities in need.
"(Wife) Chandra and I both grew up in public school systems," Johnson said. "We understand the diversity in the public school systems, we understand the challenges in the public school systems. And to us, we've always felt that starting with kids is the most important part of the equation."
"The earlier you start, the more hope you have for change in education and knowledge, and ultimately, better citizens in the country, citizens of the world, understanding culture abroad."
"Education has been very important to us and I think, in general, should be a point of focus. It has been for us. As I look into the future at what I do when I'm not a full-time racer, it's a little unclear right now where I take the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
"But our focus has been on children for a reason and we really feel like we can make change and really effect individuals' lives if we start young enough."