NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson reveals his personal connection to the Man of Steel

By Kara Warner
Updated March 18, 2016 05:00 PM
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Credit: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Warner Bros./AP Images

Batman and Superman are taking their rivalry to the NASCAR race track, thanks to the good-natured support of decorated drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Hendrick Motorsports teammates are driving superhero-themed cars for their race this weekend at the Auto Club Speedway in southern California as part of a partnership with the upcoming release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet is wrapped in a custom Superman design for the race, says he’s always excited for any opportunity that brings a new audience to NASCAR.

“It’s an awesome experience,” Johnson told PEOPLE Thursday, minutes after meeting and chatting with actor Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the film, during a promotional event Los Angeles. “Being involved in a program like this is just great for the sport.” Plus, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ says he and Superman have a history.

“One year I was racing a fellow competitor for the championship and he called me ‘Superman’, ” recalls Johnson. “So the team has embroidered the Superman logo on the center of my steering wheel and a few of the race cars. When the program came out and I found out I would be the Superman character, it was very fitting because in our industry that nickname has been around a bit.”

Johnson is hoping the partnership might also earn him some points with his two daughters – but not because of his access to Superman or Batman.

“My oldest daughter has asked me about Wonder Woman,” Johnson says, referencing the empowering Amazonian character played by Gal Gadot. “Maybe I can find her something.”

For those unfamiliar with NASCAR, Johnson says the best way to get a feel for the sport is to attend a race.

“An experience at the track just blows everyone’s minds,” he says. “Each car has almost 900 horsepower and there’s 40 of them on the track going about 200 mph, so your senses are so lit up when you’re at a race track. That’s what I always encourage people to do is to try and go in person.”

Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. and their Superman- and Batman-themed cars will face off at the Auto Club 400 on March 20 in southern California. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens March 25.