Jimmie Johnson once sent a heartfelt email to a star driver he never had met — until now

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When his Audi R18 slammed a guardrail at 185 mph and ricocheted across the track into another barrier in pitch-black darkness at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mike Rockenfeller never expected Jimmie Johnson to check on his well-being.

An ace European driver who had won Le Mans a year earlier, Rockenfeller certainly knew of Johnson – who in the racing world wouldn’t know the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion? – but he didn’t know him. They never had met, talked or had any form of contact.

Until an email from Jimmie Johnson landed in the German driver’s inbox immediately after Rockenfeller miraculously emerged unscathed from the horrifying wreck in France. It was “was so unexpected” because it was among the most sincere messages he ever received from another driver.

“To get that email from a legend like he is, it really meant a lot,” Rockenfeller, 37, told NBC Sports. “When I got it, I was so surprised. To me, that showed the mentality of America. The racing spirit they have here. Watching other categories, having the respect for each other. Obviously, it showed what kind of guy Jimmie is.

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HOW TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24Full broadcast schedule on NBC Sports

“I replied instantly, and he replied back, saying, ‘Oh, I’m watching this. I love Le Mans, it’s so cool what you guys are doing.’ ”

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller (right) talks with Simon Pagenaud behind Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief for seven championships (Brian Cleary/bcpix.com).

The story will have another unbelievable twist at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with the teaming of Johnson and Rockenfeller (who goes by “Rocky” in the paddock) on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi.

Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson talk during Rolex 24 at Daytona practice Thursday (Tina Theriault Strader).

This will be Johnson’s eighth start in the Rolex but his first in 10 years, and he said it was the kinship he discovered in sports cars that inspired the email to Rockenfeller.

“My time around endurance racing in the U.S. just showed me the community that exists here and really reminded me a lot of the way I grew up racing motocross,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “And I didn’t know Mike prior to sending that email, but when I saw the crash, it just struck me.

“I just could not believe that he survived that. And then knowing we had mutual friends, I was able to track down his address and send him an email just checking on him and saying hello and introducing myself.

“So to have this all now come full circle and share a car in the Rolex 24 is really cool for me for many reasons.”

Johnson is a little fuzzy on how he was able to obtain Rockenfeller’s contact information, but he believes it was through a Chevrolet connection. Though he occasionally does Twitter shoutouts to strangers, Johnson rarely sends emails sight unseen.

“Especially back then, that was pre-social media for me,” he said. “Racers admire from afar but rarely engage. We’re all kind of weird like that. So it was a little out of character for me to do that, but I’m very thankful that I did.”

When asked last Thursday at 2021 Rolex 24 Media Day, Rockenfeller still didn’t know 10 years later how Johnson had gotten in touch.

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“Exactly, that was the first surprise,” said Rockenfeller, who idolized countryman Michael Schumacher growing up but later began following Johnson. “How did he get my email? He managed to do it, and again, that shows the effort to text somebody or ask somebody to get the email and immediately write me.

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller tapped Jimmie Johnson on the helmet before the No. 48 Cadillac went out for the Motul 100 qualifying race Sunday at Daytona (Tina Theriault Strader).

“It meant a lot really to see that. In a way, it made me proud that a guy like him I’m looking up to in all my career takes the time with all the schedule he had back then, because he was flat-out racing in NASCAR all those years, but he took the time and said, ‘Man, I’ll write him an email,’ and that really changed my mood.

“Schumacher in my early days is probably what Jimmie is for a lot of kids and guys in America in NASCAR. So to be with him on the car, it’s a great opportunity, and I’m so looking forward to it.”

Johnson and Rockenfeller connected face to face for the first time since the Le Mans email on Dec. 9, 2020 when their Action Express Racing team tested at Daytona International Speedway.

Mike Rockenfeller (IMSA)

“Super nice guy,” Rockenfeller said. “Great driver, obviously, but also a nice person. Which is always important in endurance racing. What’s good in our lineup, each driver had a good career, but there’s no ego. It’s not like we need to prove something. We want to enjoy what we’re doing and do our very best, and the big goal is obviously to get a new watch.”

Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson said he also learned of Johnson’s email for the first time when Rockenfeller shared it at the Daytona test.

“Rocky told the story, and I thought that was pretty amazing,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “Jimmie sees race car drivers as a big fraternity who look after each other. Rocky was quite impressed by that. He had one hell of a crash there in Le Mans.”

In another “small world” story on the No. 48 team, Johnson also already was good friends with Pagenaud, whose wife, Hailey, grew up in El Cajon, California, and is tight with Johnson’s younger brother Jessie. Jimmie Johnson and Pagenaud were in Jessie Johnson’s wedding together a year ago.

“It’s really cool; a great personal story for me to join the legend,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner.

“I feel like with Simon and Rocky there’s a very similar, passionate desire that we all have, and the way that we carry ourselves,” Jimmie Johnson said.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them, and hopefully this is just the start of things for us at this race, and maybe we can do some more racing with one another down the road.”

Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud were part of the wedding party for Jessie Johnson’s wedding last year.

Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series triples to 34 races in 2023

Xtreme Outlaw Midget 2023
Xtreme Outlaw Series
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After hosting 10 rounds in 2022, the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series 2023 schedule will more than triple to 34 races. The 2022 season featured seven different winners in the first seven races, a female racer in Jade Avedisian as the only repeat winner and Zach Daum as the champion.

“Dirt Midget racing is a growing entity in American motorsports, and the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota is proud to drive further into the growth of the division with both a diverse and lucrative schedule for 2023,” newly appointed Series Director Tyler Bachman said in a press release. “From the kickoff at our first indoor event, to each of the new tracks we’re set to visit next year, it’s a lineup we know both our teams and fans will enjoy.”

The championship purse fund has also more than double with an increase of $42,000 to $80,000 in 2023. The champion will win $25,000. Last year, Daum pocketed $10,000.

In addition, the series will offer tow money to the top 12 in points. Six drivers attempted to qualify for all 10 races in 2022 with 89 drivers attending.

The series will begin on March 10 at Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin, Ill. and end the same place it did in 2022 at I-44 Riverside Speedway in Oklahoma City on October 15.

During the season, they will visit 21 tracks in 10 states.

Some highlights of the season include the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series pairing up with the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars in 2023 at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo. in April for the Outlaw Showdown and again in August for the Ironman 55 weekend, as well as the creation of a five-day Midget Speedweek.

The Midget Speedweek will immediately follow the Ironman 55 with a swing through Pennsylvania and New York.

Xtreme Outlaw Midget 2023 Schedule

Friday, March 10 | Southern Illinois Center | Du Quoin, Ill.
Saturday, March 11 | Southern Illinois Center | Du Quoin, Ill.
Friday, March 31 | Farmer City Raceway | Farmer City, Ill.

Saturday, April 1 | Farmer City Raceway | Farmer City, Ill.
Friday, April 14 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Saturday, April 15 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.

Friday, May 5 | Humboldt Speedway | Humboldt, Kan.
Saturday, May 6 | 81 Speedway | Park City, Kan.
Tuesday, May 23 | Millbridge Speedway | Salisbury, N.C.
Wednesday, May 24 | Millbridge Speedway | Salisbury, N.C.

Thursday, June 1 | Tri-City Speedway | Pontoon Beach, Ill.
Friday, June 2 | Wayne County Speedway | Wayne City, Ill.
Saturday, June 3 | Wayne County Speedway | Wayne City, Ill.

Friday, July 21 | TBA
Saturday, July 22 | Southern Illinois Raceway | Marion, Ill.
Friday, July 28 | TBA
Saturday, July 29 | Atomic Speedway | Chillicothe, Ohio
Sunday, July 30 | Brushcreek Motorsports Complex | Peebles, Ohio

Friday, August 4 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Sat, August 5 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Tuesday, August 8 | Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway | Newmanstown, Pa.
Wednesday, August 9 | Action Track USA | Kutztown, Pa.
Thursday, August 10 | Linda’s Speedway | Jonestown, Pa.
Friday, August 11 | TBA
Saturday, August 12 | Bridgeport Motorsports Park | Swedesboro, N.J.
Friday, August 25 | Davenport Speedway | Davenport, Iowa
Saturday, August 26 | Davenport Speedway | Davenport, Iowa

Friday, September 1 | Paragon Speedway | Paragon, Ind.
Saturday, September 2 | Paragon Speedway | Paragon, Ind.
Friday, September 15 | Jacksonville Speedway | Jacksonville, Ill.
Saturday, September 16 | Red Hill Raceway | Sumner, Ill.

Friday, October 13 | Port City Raceway | Tulsa, Okla.
Saturday, October 14 | I-44 Riverside Speedway | Oklahoma City, Okla.
Sunday, October 15 | I-44 Riverside Speedway | Oklahoma City, Okla.

* Co-sanctioned with POWRi