Derrick Johnson’s day job requires him to go full throttle.
But when it came time to learn how to drive the pace car for Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR officials made sure the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker couldn’t open things up.
“They put a governor on me so I couldn’t drive as fast as I wanted to, but it was cool. It’s a little different being on an angle on the track,” Johnson said. “I’m just 45 (mph) right now. (The instructor) kept saying 45, and I went up to 55, and he was like 45, 45, so I kept it at 45. When we’re going live, maybe I’ll test it a little bit more.”
Johnson is used to performing in loud environments. Saturday’s race will feature an Arrowhead Stadium-sized crowd, with the addition of 41 race cars rumbling behind him.
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“It’s pretty cool. I’m always appreciative of other professionals and what they do best. You never take for granted what they do. Even though I can’t do it, you never lower the standards and say ‘It’s not that hard,’” Johnson said. “It’s a different world out there on the track, and it’s pretty cool to get a little taste of it.”
The role of honorary pace car driver is just one of the hats Johnson is wearing this week. He’ll host Derrick Johnson’s Celebrity Waiter Night on Monday at Grand Street Café, as a fundraiser for his Defend the Dream Foundation.
“My foundation provides resources for inner-city kids through education. That’s my passion, working with kids, and what better way to give back to Kansas City by bringing all my Chiefs players out, the star players out, and test our skills with a little bit of waiting on the fans of Kansas City.”
Saturday’s Go Bowling 400 is the first NASCAR race Johnson has attended, but the experience won’t be giving him a lead foot anytime soon.
When told that Chiefs teammate Dustin Colquitt drove about 130 mph recently at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Johnson didn’t take the bait.
“He’s a little bit more daring than me. I’m a lot smarter than Dustin,” Johnson said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ve been 100 before, but after 100, you’ve got to slow down. That’s just way too fast. My mom always says that. These guys out here going close to 200, probably more. It’s going to be a cool day for me to see cars going that fast, but it would not inspire me to drive faster at all.”
Johnson’s job on Saturday is just to put a couple of smooth laps together before the NASCAR drivers take center stage.
“It’s just 45 or 55 mph, but when you get out there and get on (the banking) like that, it’s a different atmosphere,” Johnson said. “When I mess up on the field, it may cost a play or a touchdown. But when they mess up, it may cost them their lives. It’s a pretty cool deal.”