It difficult to imagine Joe Gibbs as A. J. Foyt, but the Washington Redskins coach dreamed of becoming a race-car driver when he was a youngster.
He turned to football instead, but now he's going to do the next best thing to driving a race car: He's going to own a NASCAR racing team.
Gibbs, who is preparing to open training camp Sunday for his 11th season (only 11 coaches in the history of the league have coached the same team at least as long), had a busy off-season.
Besides starting to set up a racing team, he wrote a book and attended a reception for England's Queen Elizabeth II. He said his wife insisted they accept the invitation for the queen.
Gibbs isn't a high-society kind of guy. He's more comfortable with race-car drivers.
"That's always been my fantasy [owning a racing team]," Gibbs said as he discussed his racing plans for the first time yesterday. "It's like a dream. I grew up in Southern California racing cars and stuff. I love that crowd. It's a lot like the football crowd. I like the thrill of it. It's a lot like putting together a football team."
Gibbs said that for him, owning a racing team is similar to a horse lover owning his own horses.
Gibbs said the deal for the racing team isn't completed yet. He's stillworking on sponsors, but he's got a driver (Dale Jarrett) and hopes to have his team in place for next year's racing season.
Gibbs has made some shaky investments in the past (he lost more than $1 million early in his Redskins career in one deal that went sour). He was asked what his wife thought of his investment in the auto-racing business.
"She was happy when I said I wouldn't drive," Gibbs said as he laughed. "What you do is put together a group of sponsors."
He added, to a reporter, "I thought maybe you'd want to invest in this."
Gibbs' book "Fourth and One" will be published in September. He said the project, published by a Tennessee-based publisher of Christian books (Thomas Nelson Co.), won't be the usual football book.
"It's basically about things in my life," he said. "My hope is some people read this and realize I've made a lot of foolish mistakes and, hopefully, it'll keep them from making some of the same mistakes."
The ill-timed investment was one of the mistakes. Gibbs, who first went public with the story at a breakfast at the Super Bowl last January, spent the better part of the decade getting back in the black.
As he starts his 11th year as a head coach, his division (the NFC East) has a total of only three years of head coaching experience among the other four coaches. He's third in the league in longevity among active coaches with the same team.
"It seems like a short time ago [that he was named head coach, in 1981], but in NFL terms, it's been a long time," he said.
He seems to be as enthusiastic as ever. "I'm excited about this year," he said.
His major problem this year will be at quarterback, where neither Mark Rypien nor Stan Humphries has established himself as a dependable starter. Rypien is unsigned and may be a holdout.
Gibbs, who said he talked to Rypien earlier this week, said the situation is unsettled, although Rypien will go in as No. 1 if he signs.
"We don't have a situation like Buffalo [where Jim Kelly is the starter]. Our situation isn't like that. It's been a problem the last four years," he said.
When Gibbs was asked if it's important for Rypien to be in camp for the first workout Monday, he said, "I think it's important . . . to start everybody on the same page."
One thing about Gibbs hasn't changed. He still likes the underdog role.
He was aghast when he was told some forecasters are picking the Redskins to win the NFC East and even go to the Super Bowl because the New York Giants are coping with the problems of being a defending champion and the San Francisco 49ers seem to be in transition.
"I don't think anybody in their right mind will pick us to win this division," Gibbs said.