Joe Gibbs strides briskly through his new racing headquarters, showing off every nook and cranny of the gleaming 130,000-square-foot glass and steel structure. He begins with the display cases of memorabilia from his football and racing careers, points to an area where a Joe Gibbs museum will be built and continues down a corridor to a 100-seat auditorium.
As workers move quietly from room to room, building engines, painting cars and attending to a thousand other details, Gibbs winds through a brightly lit maze of hallways, pointing to a weight room, a conference room and an assortment of computers and other engineering marvels. There's even an area where his teams practice pit stops.
Finally, as if saving the best for last, Gibbs opens a door leading to a hangar-like showroom, where final assembly of his stock cars is completed. Down one side of the room are five green-and-black Pontiacs being constructed for his senior driver, Bobby Labonte. Along the other side are the orange Pontiacs to be driven by Tony Stewart.
Gibbs has given this same tour to hundreds of sponsors, friends and journalists over the past eight months, but as he finishes one more, he clearly is proud.
"I'm so busy that maybe I don't stop and think about how we've grown," he said. "Our first year, we had 18 employees and worked in a leased building. My main concern was hoping we'd have enough money to stay in business. I couldn't imagine it would come to this."
Perhaps sensing the inevitable questions about football and a possible return to the Washington Redskins, Gibbs answers before being asked.
"You know," he said, "this is where the Lord wants me to be. I was excited about returning to the Redskins last winter, but when that didn't happen, I realized this is where He wanted me."
For a few weeks last winter, Gibbs believed he still might have a career in football when he joined one of the groups bidding for the Redskins. Phoenix shopping center magnate Sam Grossman offered him part ownership in exchange for Gibbs lending his name to Grossman's effort and then serving as a part-time consultant on football matters if Grossman obtained the team. At no time did Gibbs consider returning to coaching or becoming the full-time director of football operations.
"But I did spend 28 years in football," he said. "I felt I had something to offer."
He was especially intrigued about a share of ownership.
"For me to return would have to be something I was excited about," he said. "I met Sam, and we hit it off. What he was offering was something that I could have been part of and then pass down to my sons and to Jackson [his 18-month-old grandson]."
But when Grossman's bid was rejected, Gibbs said, he realized returning to the Redskins "was not what God had planned for me."
He said he has spoken to the Redskins' new owner, Daniel Snyder, "a few times," but won't say if a job was discussed. What he will say is that he won't be returning to the Redskins, period.
"The deal with Sam was one of those unique opportunities," he said.
Snyder has told friends how much he admires Gibbs, but that further discussions regarding a job in the Redskins' football operation might be considered a lack of faith in Coach Norv Turner.
Gibbs declined to offer an opinion about Snyder, but he did reveal one piece of advice he offered the new owner. He told Snyder that General Manager Charley Casserly was Snyder's most important employee, at least at the beginning. He told Snyder that Casserly's intense work ethic and intimate knowledge of the franchise, the NFL and the people who matter could be invaluable as Snyder moved into his new business.
Snyder demoted Casserly shortly after that conversation took place, after he'd fired more than two dozen employees the first week he had control of the team. Gibbs worked closely with many of those people, including a respected administrative assistant who telephoned this week to say she had been dismissed.
If Gibbs disagrees with how Snyder has operated the Redskins, he won't say so. He is more clear on where his heart will be this football season.
"Let me just say this: I'm a fan of the Redskins," Gibbs said. "I follow the Redskins, and I root for them. I couldn't feel any other way. I had too many good experiences there. Those fans were great to me and my family. I will always feel that way."
Just Like Football
When Gibbs walked away from football after the 1992 season, he left a legacy that may never be matched. In 12 seasons, he led the Redskins to eight playoff appearances and four Super Bowls, three of which they won. Three years ago, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and NFL Films is working on a biography entitled: "The Greatest Coach Ever."
These days, he is proving that many of the talents that made him successful in football translate well in his new arena.
His NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams finished first and third last weekend in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan Speedway. Labonte drove to the winner's circle for the fourth time this season, tying him for second behind Jeff Gordon in victories this season on the circuit. Stewart, in his first full Winston Cup season, has all but locked up the circuit's rookie of the year award. And as the Winston Cup Series began its stretch run with Saturday night's Goody's Headache Powder 500 in Bristol, Tenn., Labonte was third in the season points race, and Stewart--last night's pole sitter--was fifth.
"Until this year, we were the kind of team that could win a race," Gibbs said. "And we did, here and there. We were also the kind of team that would have our bad days. You can't have bad days and run for a championship. This year, we're good at every track. I'd say most people would say we've taken a step up. I'm not sure why, but it has taken eight years. I tell people the Redskins went to the Super Bowl our second season. This has been eight years, and we're still trying to get it right."
In eight years, Joe Gibbs Racing has grown from 18 employees to more than 125. To his original operation, he has added a second Winston Cup car, two Busch Series Grand National Division cars, a drag racing car and a funny car. He constructed one state-of-the-art headquarters, then last year, built an even bigger one here on the outskirts of Charlotte. He bought one plane a few years ago, then recently added a Lear jet to fly the crew to tracks and to take him to meetings with sponsors in places such as Dallas and Perry, Okla.
At a time of explosive growth and popularity for NASCAR, Gibbs has been successful enough to ride the wave far beyond what he envisioned when he began putting his racing team together in the summer of 1991.
As he was preparing for his 11th season with the Redskins that year, he spent his summer vacation schmoozing sponsors, recruiting a driver and crew chief and hiring a skeleton staff.
His original plan was for longtime friend Don Meredith to run the racing operation while Gibbs continued coaching the Redskins. That plan changed when Gibbs retired from football in 1993 and moved to Charlotte to devote all his energy to racing.
"Every single thing we do here parallels football so closely," Gibbs said. "It's really amazing. When we make decisions, we sit down and discuss them just like we did with the Redskins. I'm the owner. The crew chief is the coach. And the drivers are the quarterbacks. I go down there sometime and see them getting migraines planning for a race, and it's just like putting a game plan together. On race day, they have to make split-second decisions--the same as coaches do."
Perhaps Gibbs is a successful owner because, in some ways, he always had an owner's temperament. On Mondays after Redskins games, when fans and journalists would be screaming about the way Joe Theismann had played, Gibbs was the one running the videotapes over and over, saying things like: "Wait a minute, we can't blame him for that pass. He had a hand in his face."
"I have a tendency not to be critical because I've been there," Gibbs said of his approach to his racing teams. "My job is to get the sponsors and make sure we pay the bills and have the resources to keep going. It's unlike any other business. J.D. [his oldest son] said it best: We make decisions based on going fast--nothing else. They come in and say, 'We've got to have this $30,000 piece of machinery because this is what everyone's getting and this is what you have to have to go faster.' Well, we've got to go faster, we've got to be in the top group, so we've got to have it. We don't make decisions based on asking: 'Can we afford it?' "
When Gibbs speaks to corporations, he tells them: "My life has been about picking the right people."
When he began the Winston Cup racing team, there was driver Dale Jarrett and crew chief Jimmy Makar. When Jarrett left for another team, Gibbs hired Labonte, who was highly regarded but never had won a race. Two years ago, when he decided to add a second Winston Cup Series car, he hired Stewart.
Gibbs also believes in defining short-term goals, communicating a simple plan and making every individual feel he's important.
"How do you do that?" Gibbs asks. "You do that by telling them. You tell them in front of their peers. You also show them. Some of the things people might laugh at became some of the most important things we did with the Redskins."
The day after a Redskins victory, Gibbs called out a long line of players for praise during team meetings. He awarded special parking places to some and small gifts to others. He paid $100 for every special teams tackle inside an opponent's 20-yard line. He gave Sony Walkmans for other accomplishments.
"These things are important because in any business, you want to be recognized by your peers," he said. "We had guys making $500,000 who thought making $100 for a special teams tackle was the most important thing in the world. Dexter Manley would kill for a Walkman."
Gibbs does the same things for his race teams. All of his employees split 12 percent of each week's winnings. His pit crews earn bonuses for every stop under a certain time and another bonus for a pit stop that helps win a race. There also are staff parties, nights of organized Bible study and catered lunches.
"The point is, this is a team, we're all in this together and it takes every single one of us to win," he said. "There's got to be an appreciation that everyone contributes. We want this to be the best place you can work."
Two Dreams Come True
These days, life is good for Gibbs. Far from the 20-hour work days at Redskin Park, when he seldom saw his family, he works alongside his sons, J.D. and Coy, takes morning runs and spends many afternoons at the golf course. He and his wife, Pat, travel frequently.
And then there is his grandson, Jackson.
"I'll tell you, I wake up at night thinking about that little guy," Gibbs said.
J.D. Gibbs, Jackson's father, jokes: "I don't think he knew where I lived until Jackson was born. Now, he's always thinking up reasons to come over."
Joe Gibbs, a few weeks from his 59th birthday, laughs when he hears what his son has said. Then he turns serious.
"I'd say I'm the most blessed guy in the world," he said. "Most people don't get the chance to live out one dream. I've been able to live out two of them."
CAPTION: "I follow the Redskins, and I root for them. I couldn't feel any other way," Joe Gibbs said.
Life in the Fast Lane
Joe Gibbs's racing team has enjoyed much success this season in the NASCAR Winston Cup series. A look at how drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart have fared heading into last night's race:
DriverPointsWinsTop 5Top 10Winnings
Bobby Labonte3177 (3rd)41516$2,383,591
Tony Stewart3031 (5th)0614$1,482,661
Other highlights -- Labonte: Has won four poles this season ... had a seven-race stretch in which he finished no worse than fifth, including two victories ... has an average starting spot of 7th, and an average finish of 10th ... is still within striking distance of Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett for the overall season title.
Stewart: Started the season on the front row at Daytona ... has started from the pole position twice ... has a best finish of fourth (four times) ... has finished seventh or better in nine of his last 13 races, heading into last night's race.