Say it ain’t so, Joe

Published 6:39 pm Friday, November 15, 2019

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I found out doing a little history search some time back that former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs’ dad was once the sheriff of Davie County in northwestern North Carolina. Legend has it back when the senior Gibbs wore a shiny star, he would chase moonshiners, taking a shortcut through his jurisdiction headed for places south and east like the Triad, the Triangle, and Charlotte.

Fast forward to 2019 and now the junior Gibbs has traded the NFL for NASCAR and he’s about to make another ‘Chase’, the one for the Monster Energy Cup, which will be decided Sunday Nov. 17 in Homestead, FL.

And just like odds were good his Daddy would catch the bad guys Coach Joe just might be catching another championship. You see, three of the four drivers competing for the season’s top racing title on Sunday drive for Joe Gibbs Racing: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, and Denny Hamlin. And just like the odds from his days when his ‘Skins were playing for Super Bowl crowns; the odds are pretty good that one of Gibbs’ three drivers is going to deliver a championship.

Gibbs retired from pacing the sideline in maroon-and-gold back in 1992 and for a while worked his new Sundays on TV for NBC Sports while his son J.D. held the fort running the race teams down around Charlotte. Gibbs never really left the game that brought him fame and after seemingly giving the impression he wanted to coach again, he succumbed to the siren call and returned to grab a clipboard and whistle for four more years, 2004-07, and it was back again with Washington.

When I covered NASCAR back in my TV sportscasting days I’d often run into ‘Coach’, as I never stopped calling him, in garages going through his pre-race routine on race day. I made it a point to always talk racing (new body styles, rules changes, driver movements), but never football. Not that I couldn’t hold the floor, though nowhere as masterfully as he could. It’s just that his track record in the gridiron game was more than impressive; for some reporters it was a little intimidating.

Gibbs is one of the best football coaches in NFL history, but his heart has always been in racing. He’s gone on to be as powerful a force in one sport as he ever was in the other, and this Sunday he’ll have three Toyotas going for his fifth title.

Funny how in 2002 Gibbs left the Pontiac stable. A year later, the carmaker disappeared from NASCAR forever and last rolled off a Detroit assembly line nine years ago. Not that Gibbs had anything to do with the demise, but it’s quite ironic.

Gibbs could’ve coached in the NFL as long as he wanted. He could’ve been the first coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers. And like other coaches who’ve left (Tony Dungy, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Cowher), he could’ve stayed in television, maybe forever.

Once a writer asked Gibbs about his dad and moonshine and life in Davie County, and he told about how he would listen to a police scanner at night as his father chased moonshiners across Davie County.

One of those moonshiners would later become famous in stock car racing. His name was Junior Johnson.

Gibbs later confessed that from the time he was a little boy listening to his daddy chase Junior Johnson across Davie County, he wanted to go racing.

Nowadays, Gibbs doesn’t live in Davie County, he makes his home in Charlotte; a town getting to be known almost equally for pro football as it is for professional stock-car racing. He also runs his race team out of Charlotte, a city that once courted him to be their football coach.

These days there are also writers who still follow Gibbs around the garage area. When able, he’ll politely break away and discuss that sport he’s come to embrace and love.

And it’s not the one with the oblong ball.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.