FOR THE LOVE OF JIMMIE: Hettinger resident takes her NASCAR fandom to the next level

Jimmy Johnson is an internationally known, professional stock car racing driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Jan Braaten holds one of her autographed pieces of Jimmie Johnson memorabilia. She has over 100 items related to the champion driver. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Jan Braaten holds one of her autographed pieces of Jimmie Johnson memorabilia. She has over 100 items related to the champion driver. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

By COLE BENZ
Record Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

Jimmy Johnson is an internationally known, professional stock car racing driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. He’s a four-time Sprint All-Star Race winner, five-time Driver of the Year, and six-time Sprint Cup Series Champion; and he’s won the heart of one Hettinger resident.

Jan Braaten has been a die-hard fan of the champion driver for over a decade, really warming up to Johnson when her grandson started working for him in Charlotte, S.C.

“He’s Jimmy’s right-hand man,” Braaten said. “Whatever Jimmie wants, [her grandson] gets.”

Braaten keeps her collection of Jimmie Johnson items in her spare bedroom. She has over 100 different pieces. (Photos by Cole Benz/The Record)
Braaten keeps her collection of Jimmie Johnson items in her spare bedroom. She has over 100 different pieces. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

Her love of racing started years ago, when Braaten and her late husband attended races around the region. Her love for the sport grew from there.

“I’ve always liked races, I don’t know why but I’ve always [liked racing],” she said.

About 10 years ago, Braaten took a trip to Charlotte to watch a NASCAR race, and with the help of her grandson she was given the red carpet treatment at the track. She and her family were taken to special box seats and given a backstage tour of the facility, including a peek in Jimmie’s office.

“I’ve been in Jimmie’s office,” Braaten said. “He’s a nice fellow.”

There she was able to get a close-up look at her racing hero, trying on his helmet and touring his space and eventually meeting the driver himself. She even got a kiss from him. Braaten likes to joke that she hasn’t washed that side of her face since he leaned over and gave her the memorable smooch.

On Sundays, during racing season, you don’t have to search too hard to locate Braaten. She’ll be sitting on her couch cheering on Johnson.

“If they have anything going on [outside], I’m right here,” Braaten said.

Braaten’s family gave her a personalized autographed photo of her favorite driver, Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Braaten’s family gave her a personalized autographed photo of her favorite driver, Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

In a male-dominated sport, Braaten said she keeps up with the rest of the guys at the coffee shop when it comes to NASCAR talk, some even surprised with her extensive knowledge of the sport.

“Some of the guys they used to just kid me, and [try to] figure out why an old lady like me would be interested in racing,” Braaten said. She was even given the nickname ‘hot rod’ by a few people around Hettinger.

To go along with her passionate fandom, Braaten has spent the last decade accumulating over 100 pieces of Jimmie Johnson memorabilia, her collection has a dedicated corner in her spare bedroom.

Included in the collection are cars, pictures, custom license plates, bears, pendants, shirts, jackets, signs, keychains, pens, and a jigsaw puzzles. She also cuts out newspaper and magazine articles that talk about Johnson.

But her most prized collectable is one she recently received as a birthday gift, and it is a little more personalized then the rest of her items; an autographed photo of the driver with a personal message to Braaten.

“I cried, I cried,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it, because it was [written] to me.”

The inscription reads ‘Jan, Happy 90th Bday!, Jimmie Johnson.’

The framed photo was a gift from her family for her 90th birthday, which she recently celebrated during an open house on Sunday, July 3 in Hettinger.

Braaten’s son and his wife brought it for her for the celebration. The two had received it from Braaten’s grandson and they had stashed it away in anticipation of the birthday party.

The new photo has quickly became her favorite piece of memorabilia, Braaten said.

Braaten will continue to add to her collection, she said. She even has a special edition, Superman-themed collectable race car on pre-order, something she’s anticipating receiving in the mail.

Though she has already been to five NASCAR races (in Charlotte, Kansas City, and Las Vegas), she would like to attend more.

“I’d sure like to [go to another race],” Braaten said. “If anybody asked me to go I’d be there.”

And if she was granted one wish, she would be the one to kick off the race by announcing to the racers: ‘gentlemen, start your engines!’ “Oh I’d love do do that,” she said.