J.D. Gibbs

J.D. Gibbs, left, laughs with his father, Joe Gibbs. J.D. Gibbs died Jan. 11 from complications of a degenerative neurological disease.

J.D. Gibbs, former president of Joe Gibbs Racing and longtime Lake Norman area resident, died late Friday at age 49.

The Huntersville-based race team announced that Gibbs died “from complications following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.”

Gibbs, who played football at William and Mary from 1987 to 1990, joined his father’s racing enterprise after college. He drove in 13 national NASCAR series races from 1998 to 2002 before eventually moving into a leadership role with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Gibbs joked that his father told him it was getting too expensive to replace all the cars he wrecked.

“My dad, he fired me in a nice way,” Gibbs said at a convention with sponsor Interstate Batteries in San Francisco in 2014, with his father sitting next to him. “He gave me an office and said, ‘Hey, you’re now the president, because you’re a horrible driver.’”

Gibbs thrived in that leadership role as he helped JGR become one of the most-competitive operations in racing.

“We were privileged to watch J.D. Gibbs grow within the sport, displaying an endearing personality, a keen eye for talent and the strong business acumen that helped grow Joe Gibbs Racing into a pre-eminent NASCAR team,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “The NASCAR family has lost a truly special member.”

Many drivers shared their condolences on social media.

“Heartbroken for the entire Gibbs family,” tweeted Tony Stewart. “J.D. was a great person – a family man who loved sports & racing in particular. He played a big part in my career, both as a driver & as a team owner. When he asked how you were doing, he genuinely cared. I’ll miss that the most.”

Gibbs was diagnosed with a neurological disorder in 2014. Doctors were never able to identify a cause for Gibbs’ symptoms, which included difficulty processing thoughts and speaking.

Gibbs’ involvement with the race team diminished as he dealt with his health challenges. He was named co-chairman of JGR before the 2016 season, and was replaced as president by Dave Alpern. But those who knew him say his impact on them and JGR was undeniable.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to succeed and for guiding me along the way,” driver Kyle Bush tweeted after the announcement of Gibbs’ death. “We won together and we lost together, but you had a way to light up a room and bring peace to all. It was truly an honor to call you a friend. Love you JD.”

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