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My Best Friend ...In Another Sport

Oct. 10, 2005
Oct. 10, 2005

Table of Contents
Oct. 10, 2005

SI Players: Life on and off the Field
SI Players: Life on and off The Field
Features
Bonus
Departments

My Best Friend ...In Another Sport

HIGH-SPEED EDITION

JIMMIE JOHNSON
NASCAR DRIVER

This is an article from the Oct. 10, 2005 issue

MARCUS GILES
BRAVES SECOND BASEMAN

JOHNSON WAS three years ahead of Giles at Granite Hills High in El Cajon, Calif. "He was so good at ball. You always heard his name [on] the morning P.A. broadcasts," says the driver. The friends, who once hung out between classes, see each other rarely--"Thank God for text messaging," says Giles--but meet for big occasions. On Sept. 10 Johnson sent his helicopter to get Giles in Washington, D.C., and take him to the NASCAR race in Richmond. The next day they celebrated Johnson's 30th birthday. Says Johnson, "Ask Marcus if he's healed yet from my party."

DALE EARNHARDT JR.
NASCAR DRIVER

ARTURO GATTI
BOXER

"HE DRIVES the way I fight: hard and relentless," says Gatti of Earnhardt Jr., whom he met in 2003. Last year Earnhardt walked Gatti into the ring for a WBC title bout; later he sparred with Gatti in the 16-by-16-foot boxing ring in the garage at Junior's home. "He showed me how to turn and stuff without moving my feet.... When he was done, I was throwing three punches faster than I'd thrown one," says Earnhardt, who plans to have Gatti's 1974 Stingray restored. Says Gatti, "I want him to modify it so that after boxing, I can be a race car driver too."

HELIO CASTRONEVES
IRL DRIVER

IVAN RODRIGUEZ
TIGERS CATCHER

THEY MET last February at a Super Bowl party in Jacksonville and hit it off immediately--three weeks later Rodriguez was at Castroneves's race in Daytona. Both men own homes in Miami and have lunch together in Coral Gables at the Italian restaurant Carmelo's. "He's a hell of a driver," says Rodriguez of the two-time Indy 500 champ, whom he phones before races to wish luck. Although Rodriguez made his 12th All-Star team this year, his skill remains lost on Castroneves. "I watch games," he says, "but I don't understand." --Sarah Thurmond

PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (JOHNSON)PHOTOPAUL ABELL/US PRESSWIRE (GILES)PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (EARNHARDT JR.)PHOTOCLAY PATRICK MCBRIDE (GATTI)TWO PHOTOSROBERT BECK (CASTRONEVES, RODRIGUEZ)