Typically, our series of "Defy The Odds" posts have focused on drivers overcoming adversity during NASCAR races.
But what about a NASCAR driver trying to make it in a field where it's hard for anyone to find success? In some ways, those odds might be just as long as getting back in the car after a broken leg or fighting through an illness to win.
Jimmie Johnson and wife Chandra have put out a new book called On The Road. But it's not just any book – it's a coffee table book, which are notoriously difficult to sell in large numbers.
Now, you're probably wondering: Why is that a concern for Johnson? It's the publisher's responsibility to sell the books, right?
That's true. But in this case, the Johnson and his wife are the publishers. As such, they're on the hook for all 2,000 copies of On The Road that have been printed so far.
It's not like Johnson will go broke if the book doesn't sell, but it's about the concept as much as anything: Typically more of a private family, the Johnsons essentially opened themselves up to the world in a passion project.
The results are impressive.
Johnson hired photographer Missy McLamb to follow the family throughout his quest to win championship No. 6, and the book acts as both a documentary of the 2011 Chase and a behind-the-scenes family photo album.
The books, for sale at Johnson's trackside merchandise hauler and on JimmieJohnson.com, provide an intimate look at the lives of Jimmie, Chani and daughter Genevieve (who was 1 at the time).
McLamb spent countless hours with the family, capturing 15,000 images. The Johnsons went through every picture – everything was recorded on film, not digital – and sorted them into three piles to fit into a book: Definitely yes, maybe and no.
The result was roughly 300 photos spread throughout a 208-page volume which sells for $29.95, which is reasonably priced for a coffee table book.
At a cocktail reception to announce the book last week in downtown Chicago, Johnson's competitors in the Chase sat on couches with their significant others and thumbed through the photos, pointing out ones they particularly liked.
(Above: Clint Bowyer flips through the book as Johnson looks on.)
When asked to name his personal favorite, Johnson picked up one of the copies and turned to page 156: A picture of driver Jeff Burton talking to Johnson at last season's finale at Homestead.
Johnson likes the photo for the significance even more than the picture itself. In that moment, Burton was saying "some of the nicest things a driver can say to another driver," Johnson said, and McLamb was able to capture the scene.
In other words, it carries personal significance to Johnson – and that's evident in many of the photos throughout a very personal book. As readers turn through the pages of On The Road, there are plenty of compelling images that deserve a few seconds or minutes of closer examination.
In one photo, Johnson is seen wearing his helmet in the family's motorhome, crouching down as Genevieve stares into his eyes. Another shows Johnson watching the replay of his crash at Charlotte – the one which doomed his Chase hopes – as his daughter plays nearby.
Perhaps the most powerful image is of Johnson and his wife solemnly staring at the news coverage of Dan Wheldon's death, their faces frozen and gazes locked onto the TV.
There's no caption necessary for some of the photos, but Johnson went through and added several detailed explanations about events and moments from the Chase. For example: At Martinsville, he felt Tony Stewart was able to win because Johnson left him too much room – in an effort to race cleanly – on a late restart.
So why is all this in one of our "Defy The Odds" posts? Because unfortunately for Johnson, coffee table books are often not a big seller. Even if just 5,000 are purchased, he said, it would put the book into the upper tier of all publications in that category.
Johnson initially approached publishers to help him distribute the book, but he learned the hard way about the 18-month publishing cycle. He was told a publishing house could put the book out next summer – maybe Father's Day 2013 – but Johnson knew a book about the 2011 Chase wouldn't be relevant by then.
He and Chani ultimately decided to go for it on their own, hoping book stores and Amazon.com would take notice if the first 2,000 copies sold quickly.
Then, despite the risk of self-publishing his passion project, Johnson will have defied the odds.