Par­ents’ worst fear hits the Gibbs fam­ily

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS + - Paul Woody [email protected]­

Joe Gibbs loves to tell a good story, and there were two he en­joyed about his older son, J.D.

The first year J.D. was old enough to work at train­ing camp for the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins, the team his father coached, the elder Gibbs went sev­eral days with­out see­ing his son away from the prac­tice fields.

One af­ter­noon, as Gibbs rounded a cor­ner, he prac­ti­cally had a head-on col­li­sion with his fast-mov­ing son. Young J.D. was laugh­ing, Gibbs re­called, and looked as if he hadn’t slept for sev­eral days. Gibbs shook his head and smiled.

Then, there was the first day of foot­ball prac­tice at Oak­ton High School. J. D.’s plan was to play quar­ter­back.

When the elder Gibbs ar­rived home that day, he asked how prac­tice had gone. “Great,” J.D. said.

“What po­si­tion are you play­ing,” Joe asked.

“Cen­ter,” J.D. said with­out a men­tion of quar­ter-

back and with­out a hint of dis­ap­point­ment.

“Cen­ter?” his father thought, never men­tion­ing the quar­ter­back idea.

Even­tu­ally, J.D. Gibbs played quar­ter­back at Oak­ton High School in North­ern Vir­ginia.

He played de­fen­sive back at Wil­liam & Mary.

Then he en­tered the fam­ily busi­ness that wasn’t foot­ball — Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. He mar­ried and started a fam­ily.

And that gave J.D. a story to tell about his father.

He used to never see his dad away from the of­fice or race­track, J.D. said, un­til his first child, Joe’s first grand­child, was born, Jack­son Gibbs, named for his grand­fa­ther, Joe Jack­son Gibbs.

“All of a sud­den, he’s com­ing up with ex­cuses to stop by the house ev­ery night,” J.D. said, and it was his turn to smile.

The worst thing that can hap­pen to a par­ent is los­ing a child to an ill­ness or ac­ci­dent.

Chil­dren, no mat­ter their age, are not sup­posed to die be­fore par­ents. It is not the nat­u­ral or­der of life.

The worst thing that can hap­pen has oc­curred in the Gibbs fam­ily. J.D., the heir ap­par­ent to the lead­er­ship at

Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, died Fri­day from com­pli­ca­tions fol­low­ing a long bat­tle with a de­gen­er­a­tive neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease.

He was 49, hus­band of Melissa and father of four sons.

One rea­son Joe Gibbs started his race team was to make it a fam­ily busi­ness. He en­vi­sioned a time when his sons and their wives and chil­dren would live nearby in Char­lotte, N.C., and all would be in­volved with the race team. That dream came true.

J.D and his dad even coached a sand­lot foot­ball team to­gether. Joe, in a de­par­ture from his NFL days, coached de­fense. J.D. ran the of­fense.

Af­ter one loss, J.D. told his de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor the team could have used some help. Joe said some­thing sim­i­lar about the of­fense.

Both had a good laugh.

J.D. was the pres­i­dent of JGR when the team an­nounced in 2015 that he would step back from his in­volve­ment in rac­ing to fo­cus on the treat­ment for his neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lem. Despite all the ef­forts of the doc­tors and prayers from friends, fans and the Gibbs’ fam­ily, who have a deep re­li­gious faith, there was noth­ing any­one could do.

J.D. Gibbs was a bright, per­son­able young man. He drove pro­fes­sion­ally, but rather quickly moved to the busi­ness side of the op­er­a­tion.

He moved through the ranks, go­ing from an “over the wall” pit crew mem­ber to the top of JGR’s op­er­a­tion.

J.D. had an eye for tal­ent. Af­ter watch­ing Denny Ham­lin test-drive cars JGR was con­sid­er­ing buy­ing, J.D. told his father Ham­lin was a driver they needed to con­sider adding to their team.

JGR signed Ham­lin, J.D. was listed as the owner, and Ham­lin has be­come one of the top driv­ers on NASCAR’s high­est cir­cuit. He has 31 vic­to­ries at the Cup level and ap­pears to be driv­ing to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Ham­lin said via Twit­ter: “His car. His num­ber. His sig­na­ture above my door. I will al­ways be grate­ful for what his fam­ily did for mine and the op­por­tu­nity he gave me 14 years ago. Now more than ever #doit­forJD.”

When Joe Gibbs was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, he ended his ac­cep­tance speech by say­ing, with a big smile, “I just want to thank ev­ery­body, be­cause I got it all.”

He was talk­ing about four Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ances, three Su­per Bowl vic­to­ries, mul­ti­ple play­off ap­pear­ances, the ac­claim and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity from pro­fes­sional sports. Even more, he was talk­ing about the time with and close­ness of his fam­ily, some­thing he had been fear­ful he had sac­ri­ficed for foot­ball.

To­day, Joe Gibbs would give up all he has ac­com­plished in foot­ball and rac­ing to have his son again.

Any father, ev­ery par­ent would.


J.D. Gibbs (third from left) ap­peared at a 2014 presscon­fer­ence with his father Joe Gibbs, and now for­mer JGR driv­ers (from left) Daniel Suarez and Carl Ed­wards. J.D. Gibbs diedFri­day from com­pli­ca­tions of a de­gen­er­a­tive neu­ro­log­i­caldis­ease.


Team owner J.D. Gibbs (left) sprayed Denny Ham­lin with cham­pagne af­ter Ham­lin won the Po­cono 500 in 2006. Ham­lin, a Manch­ester High grad­u­ate, is grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity Gibbs gave him.

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