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Gibbs Find His New Life in the Pits

By Richard Justice
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 8, 1993

RICHMOND, MARCH 7-- On the second day of his new life, Joe Gibbs could have passed for the happiest man on earth. Far from the emotion and tension of Friday's goodbyes to the Washington Redskins, he was a picture of contentment on this cool, cloudless day as he schmoozed with sponsors of his auto racing team and greeted wave after wave of fans who stopped him to ask for an autograph, shake his hand or simply wish him well.

Not long after watching his Chevy Lumina finish a strong fourth to Davey Allison in the Pontiac 400, Gibbs wrapped an arm around wife Pat and took a relaxed post-race stroll -- a convenient metaphor for a life in which the furniture has been rearranged.

"I keep thinking about all the things I have to do at the office," he said. "Then I remember, 'Hey, I don't have to do anything.' "

Did someone ask about coaching?

"I wouldn't bet on me going back," he said. "I really wouldn't. I was trying to be honest the other day when I said there was a possibility I would coach again, but I don't see that happening. If a couple of years down the road, I felt like I was really missing football and Pat felt the same way and I was unhappy, I would consider it again. Right now, I don't think that's going to happen. I've got a lot of things I want to do."

He arrived at Richmond International Motor Raceway just after dawn this morning and left some eight hours later after watching nervously from the pits as driver Dale Jarrett's third straight high finish gave his team the NASCAR points lead. He offered no suggestions, called no plays, but monitored driver-to-crew conversations as the thunderous cars flew around the track. He was waiting with a handshake when Jarrett -- who won the Daytona 500 and finished sixth at Rockingham before today's race -- pulled into the pit area for the final time.

"We're light years ahead of where we were last year," Gibbs said. "We've been right up there pretty consistently. I'm not used to finishing fourth and considering it a success. But you can finish 40th in this sport, so to be in the top 10 is a big deal."

He seemed at home, even when a man in a Redskins shirt stuck out a hand and said: "I'm sorry you quit on us."

"Twelve years is quitting?" Gibbs shot back.

His day was nothing if not relaxing. He did an early morning news conference, attended a brief chapel service and hosted tours of his team's garage and pit areas. "Everything we need is right along here," he said, waving his hand along gleaming rows of cabinets in the trailer that converts into a portable office. He opens a door and points inside.

"Driveshaft," he said.

"Spare motor," he said gesturing toward another.

Then pointing toward the top of the trailer, he said: "Our other car is right above you."

Actually, most of what Gibbs seems to need these days was outside the trailer, around the barbecue grills and garage area, where Pat was bouncing from friend to friend, shaking a hand here, squeezing a shoulder there. She had a video camera to record the day and at mid-morning approached her husband and flashed a badge that said: "Daytona 500 Winner."

"Now, I feel like we belong here," she said, smiling.

What Gibbs also needed was down in the pit, where his oldest son, J.D., worked on the crew. For all the rumors about his health, the potential decline of the Redskins or the various other reasons that have been floated for ending a 12-year coaching career on Friday, the people who know Gibbs best say there was just one that mattered -- family.

Today, Gibbs recalled that when his father died in 1989 he "told me he was sorry he wasn't there for me and my brother. My dad was a great guy, a tough guy. He ran around the hills of North Carolina as a cop and sheriff. I admired him, but he was caught up in a lot of other things and wasn't there {at home} a lot. I started thinking about those things. I'm 52. My dad passed away when he was 72. I started wondering how much longer I had to really enjoy some of the other things."

He often complained that football kept him from "doing the other things I want to do." Now with that time, he intends to rent an apartment in Charlotte so he can be closer to his NASCAR headquarters. He wants to finish work on a new Virginia lake home. His agent, Robert Fraley, will be in contact with network officials in the hopes of landing Gibbs a job as a television commentator. There'll also be some motivational speaking and maybe a job in public relations if a Washington area corporation is interested.

He has a couple of ideas about an inner-city youth program and began training for his first marathon with a four-mile run Saturday morning.

"It came out like in some places like my resignation was about health," he said. "That wasn't it. I didn't feel good and that caused me to think a lot about my situation and my life. I think I was really looking at the last window for me and my boys, because there are some interesting things going on now. I feel like I'm fortunate because a lot of people don't have that choice with their jobs. Some people work two jobs to support their families. My situation is different."

Gibbs revealed that when last season ended he planned to coach another season. He'd felt bad for several weeks, but he figured his usual postseason vacation would snap him back to normal. He and Pat went to an Orlando resort for 10 days and Gibbs "slept almost the whole time."

But after the vacation, he still didn't feel well and was concerned enough to check himself into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for a battery of tests. He was diagnosed with "migraine equivalence" which, he said, is another term for exhaustion.

Asked if he felt relieved of having the burden of a 12-year grind lifted, he said: "In a way. But I'm still in the new phase of it. Financially, I have to do something. I can't afford to sit back and not do anything. It was a little bit of a weird feeling this morning getting up and not having a job. What do I do? Tomorrow is really going to be different. I normally have a place to go and a secretary to give orders to. I'm excited about the change, but I'm a little bit nervous too."

J.D. Gibbs joked that "he'll be in the house a couple of weeks and mom will kick him out. He'll come to Charlotte and start trying to run the race team, and we'll kick him out after two weeks. No, seriously, this is great. He's got a lot of other things he wants to do and we were all worried because he was so tired at the end of the season."

Gibbs said he'll spend a couple of weeks lining up speaking engagements "and really look for a job." But he made it clear that he already has one -- racing.

"It's going to be a family thing," he said. "I'm going to be involved and the guys will probably have to kick me out of there because I plan to be around a lot. I love cars and I love working on cars. I plan to spend some time with each of the guys at the shop on the days I'm there. I'd like to change a tire, but I'm not sure if I'll ever get enough confidence.

"My job as owner is to make sure we've got enough money to go fast and to keep our sponsors happy. But I'm certainly not retiring. If you ever see me on a tour bus or if you ever see me in the supermarket with my wife pushing the cart, just go ahead and wrap me up because I'm brain dead, believe me. I do not want to do that."

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