For ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 18 Music Issue, we persuaded 14 athletes to re-create some of the most memorable album covers. As part of our supplemental coverage on Playbook Sounds, we will be running behind-the-scenes interviews with each athlete, as well as their own personal playlists.
• Athlete: Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR driver
• As: Bob Dylan on "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan" (1963)
What was the selection process like?
Jimmie: I said to my wife, Chani, give me five iconic covers that you think I could re-create. Chani and I kicked around some ideas. From there we tried to see who I looked the most like and where we could go with that. We saw the "The Freewheelin'" cover and there was a woman in the photo, and I thought, that would be something fun we could do together.
What were some of your ideas?
Chani: There was another Bob Dylan cover. I thought about [The Beatles'] "Abbey Road" with the four Hendrick drivers. That would've been cool.
Jimmie: We saw "Freewheelin' " early on, and it just seemed to trump the others. I thought I could look close to Dylan, and I had a tie to New York and the West Village, so it just pulled us into this one.
Any connection to Bob Dylan?
Jimmie: I've always been a fan of Bob Dylan. I grew up listening to Bob Dylan as a kid. When I was looking at different album covers to do, I thought that I could maybe pull this one off, because out of all the choices it just seemed like I could make myself look like him. Plus, there are some similarities: On the cover they're walking in the West Village [Jones Street and West Fourth] and we live in the West Village, very close to where this was shot. It just seemed like it was the right choice. Plus, when I needed a lady to be in the shot, rather than hiring an actress, it just made sense that Chani would do it. Chani doesn't like to do a lot of media, but I basically committed her without telling her.
What was the transformation process like?
Chani: It's freaking me out that he has no beard. He shaved his beard for this shoot.
Jimmie: I offered to shave my beard for this photo shoot. I haven't shaved it in years, I've always had a beard. People haven't seen me like this in a while. My daughter [Genevieve] is 2 1/2, and she's never seen me without my beard, so it was big deal to do it. I made it a point to have her in the bathroom when I shaved so I wouldn't freak her out. We did it together. I wanted her involved, because I remember when I was young, my dad always had a mustache, and one day I came home and it was gone. He had shaved it, and I remember freaking out about it."
About that pose ...
Jimmie: It's been so cold here in NYC the last few days, on our way home from dinner Chani would put her arm through my arm, and we'd say, 'Oh, we're practicing for the shoot.' So we had a couple good laughs about that.
This isn't your first run-in with the music world, correct?
Jimmie: I had a radio show on Sirius with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, I am friends with Chris, and we somehow got an idea to do a show. I think we were in there for hours, just talking about random things, away from racing. I think they cut it up into six shows. It was entertaining.
Do you listen to music before a race?
Jimmie: Music prior to a race is tough. I leave the motor home, we do driver intros, I do an introductory lap in the driver pickup and the cars for pre-race ceremonies. There's a long, drawn-out process where it's impossible to listen to music, so I really don't listen before my races, but I definitely listen to it on the ride to the airport or at home. There's also music on in our house all the time. We have a record player, and we enjoy putting an album on and winding down in the evenings. It's more of how we unwind.
What artists are you listening to right now?
Jimmie: Chani is so on the cutting edge with music, I really just listen to what she has on the playlist.
Chani: I feel like you've been listening to Mumford & Sons.
What song best sums up your racing career?
Jimmie: "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty.
Sum up the overall experience.
Jimmie: Very fast, fun, a perfect day for the shoot, very cold, I think it's awesome ... proud to be a part of it.
The Playlist: Jimmie Johnson