Before Jimmie Johnson turned 21, whenever he was in Vegas to race, he would go to hotel arcades to try to become a better driver by playing racing video games.
"When the NASCAR games came out -- 'Daytona USA' -- I would just sit there and run that game, over and over and over, thinking it might teach me something about the cars and how to drive them," Johnson, 35, told me.
Did "Daytona USA" teach him anything?
"I wouldn't say that it did. But I won a lot of races and made a lot of people mad" by beating them, he said.
Now he's NASCAR'S biggest champ. And on Thursday, the bearded Johnson met with me and a few other game writers in a Bellagio suite to show us his first video game, "Jimmie Johnson's Anything with an Engine." It comes out in 2011 for Xbox 360, PS 3 and Wii.
It's a wacky "combat kart racer," not a realistic driving simulator. You speed insane vehicles with engines -- a golf cart, a lawn mower, even a drivable bomb -- on super-fast roads inside mythically large stadiums, firing weapons at rivals, while dodging tidal waves, asteroids and other disasters.
I asked Jimmie whether there's anything in the game that would be cool to have in his real NASCAR races.
"The rockets," he said. "You'd love to blow someone up in front of you."
He also likes the James Bond-esque rear bomb-drops.
"That would come in handy in a race," he said.
Would he like to bomb any particular racing rival?
"It depends on the race weekend," he said and laughed.
He and his crew are so gamey, they once set up "Rock Band" in the Waldorf Astoria's Presidential Suite.
Today, he is the man of the hour at NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series awards ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas, broadcast live on the Speed channel.
If you remember a column I wrote a year ago about the incredible Bonanza Cat Hospital, where injured cats live in peace, then you should love this:
From 9 to 4 p.m. Saturday, you can take your cat there (Lake Mead Boulevard at Bonanza Avenue) and for a $10 donation get your cat's picture taken with Santa. If you're a cat lover, this is a don't-miss, I'm telling you.
Doug Elfman's column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at delfman@ reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.