J.D. Gibbs, who followed his famous fatherâ€™s path from football to stock-car racing, died Friday evening. He was 49.
Gibbsâ€™ passing was announced by Joe Gibbs Racing, the familyâ€™s racing team, citing â€œcomplications following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.â€� Gibbs had undergone treatment for symptoms impacting areas of brain function in recent years.
Gibbs served as president and later co-chairman of Joe Gibbs Racing. Before joining the organizationâ€™s senior management, Gibbs was an over-the-wall crewmember and a part-time driver, making 13 NASCAR national series starts from 1998-2002.
Jason Dean Gibbs was born Feb. 21, 1969 near Los Angeles as his father served as assistant football coach at the University of Southern California. His upbringing included plenty of moves, according to a team biography, as his father was hired as an assistant at Arkansas before reaching the pros with stops at St. Louis, Tampa Bay and San Diego. But it also included a pursuit of speed, with J.D. and his brother, Coy, taking an interest in go-karts, jet-skis and motorbikes in their young age.
Before following his fatherâ€™s career arc into motorsports, Gibbs pursued another of his fatherâ€™s passions in football. The younger Gibbs played defensive back and quarterback at William & Mary from 1987-90, then transitioned to join his fatherâ€™s race team after his college career.
â€œI wasnâ€™t really stellar from an athletic standpoint,â€� J.D. Gibbs told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2006. â€œSo for me to go into business, starting a family business with my dad, was really great. Iâ€™m glad we had a chance to do that together.â€�
Joe Gibbs Racing formed as the elder Gibbs was wrapping up his first stint as coach of the NFLâ€™s Washington Redskins, a tenure that yielded three Super Bowl wins. Joe Gibbs Racing hit the track in 1992 with a staff of 17 people operating out of a 5,000-square foot shop.
J.D. Gibbs was a tire-changer for JGR in its earliest years, which included a breakthrough Daytona 500 win with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett in 1993. Back then, the younger Gibbs still thought his future was in football, becoming a fixture on the sidelines as his father had done.
â€œI figured Iâ€™d do this for aÂ couple of yearsÂ andÂ thenÂ Iâ€™dÂ go coach,â€� Gibbs said in a 2004 profile in The Washington Post. â€œBut we got in at a perfect time, the Lord kind of blessed us, and it has grown.â€�
Gibbs attempted a limited schedule in Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series competition, during the same time that he moved into an administrative role with JGR, becoming its team president in 1998. He tested for the first time at Darlington Raceway in March of that year, with plans to run 8-10 races later in the season.
Gibbsâ€™ brief audition behind the wheel was less than successful. Later in his life, he was able to make light of his driving days with self-deprecating wit. â€œIf it was just me, I could be a pretty good racer,â€� he told The Washington Post in 2004. â€œBut then you put 42 other cars out there and that causes some issues.â€� He also quipped at a convention with sponsor Interstate Batteries in San Francisco in 2014: â€œMy dad, he fired me in a nice way,â€� Gibbs said, with his father and driver Kyle Busch alongside. â€œHe gave me an office and said, â€˜hey, youâ€™re now the president, because youâ€™re a horrible driver.â€™ â€�
J.D. Gibbsâ€™ competitive spirit translated into his management style, fueling a period of dramatic growth for Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization grew to a two-car team in 1999 and quickly snared its first two championships â€” with Bobby Labonte in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2002.
When his father rejoined the Redskins in 2004, bringing Coy Gibbs with him as an assistant coach, J.D. Gibbs was solely in charge of JGRâ€™s day-to-day operations. J.D. said he was initially concerned for the added responsibility, but lauded the foundation that his father had established. Even then, he had plenty of support from within the organization.
â€œI think he underestimates his ability as the team leader,â€� Stewart told the Associated Press in 2005. â€œJ.D. is a really smart guy â€” a lot smarter than he lets people know.â€�
One year later, the team had expanded to a three-car effort, highlighted by a second premier-series title for Stewart and the debut of Denny Hamlin, who remains with the team as JGRâ€™s longest-tenured driver.
Joe Gibbs resigned from his second NFL coaching tour in January 2008 after taking the Redskins to two more postseason appearances, rejoining his son in JGRâ€™s senior management. Together, they navigated another season of change, adding Kyle Busch to the driver roster and shifting manufacturers to Toyota.
The younger Gibbs was also instrumental in forming the JGR Diversity Program in conjunction with his father and the late Reggie White, an NFL Hall of Famer. That initiative groomed Aric Almirola for a career in NASCARâ€™s big leagues and continued with the ascension of Mexican-born standout Daniel Suarez to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ranks.
J.D. Gibbsâ€™ health became a serious concern in fall 2014, when he exhibited symptoms that led to a neurological diagnosis. Joe Gibbs provided an update on his condition in March 2015 as his son began treatment for the ailment, which had affected his speech and processing functions.
The elder Gibbs said there were â€œvery few answersâ€� about the cause of his sonâ€™s condition. He pointed to his sonâ€™s action-sports lifestyle â€” with racing, football, snowboarding and mountain biking among his pastimes â€” but said doctors were unable to pinpoint a single traumatic event that caused his illness.
It wasnâ€™t the first time J.D. Gibbs had faced severe medical adversity. His son, Taylor, was diagnosed with leukemia as a 2-year-old in 2007. After numerous surgeries and treatments, Taylor Gibbs recovered, completing chemotherapy in 2010.
â€œTo have somebody go through what J.D.â€™s going through â€¦ and have all the tough times, never to complain. Not once, not once,â€� Joe Gibbs told the Orlando Sentinel in 2016. â€œI know Iâ€™m not strong enough to do that and he …read more