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Jimmie Johnson looks at Junior Seau awkwardly and shrugs his shoulders.
"That's what I'm talking about," Junior Seau shouts even louder. "WHAT'S WITH YOU, MAN?"
— 48 —
Seven years old. Jimmie Johnson—for his Christian name is Jimmie, not James or even Jim—knew that he could not take the double jump on his motorbike. He was too young, too green, too scared, and yet the voice of his hero echoed in his ears. Rick Johnson was the baddest man in El Cajon, Calif. Rick would win seven national motocross championships. Rick was 18 and the coolest thing going. Jimmie made himself believe that he and Rick were cousins, even though he'd been told they were not related. Jimmie needed to believe he had some of Rick in him.
"If you make that jump," Rick told him just before the under-10 race, "you will win! Do you hear me? You will win!"
Jimmie wanted to win. For himself. For Rick. But he was seven years old. He did not try the jump on his first lap or his second. The third time he approached the double jump, he saw Rick standing on the track—on the track!—and Rick was flicking his right wrist, a sign to pound the throttle. Jimmie sped up. The hill approached too fast. Jimmie would remember feeling something—fear, certainly, but something else too, something harder to describe. Jimmie rushed up the hill, impossibly fast, and his bike took off, and it cleared the valley, and it landed softly on the other side. Impossible! Absurd! Seven years old! A perfect landing on the double jump! Never been done!
Then Jimmie rode off the track and fell off his bike.
"You hurt him!" Jimmie's father, Gary, yelled at Rick as he rushed toward his son. "You pushed him too fast."
"No!" Jimmie shouted as he dusted himself off. "I'm fine. I'm ready to go again."
"What happened?" Rick asked. "Why did you ride off the road?"