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.
"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."
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
GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (JOHNSON)
PAUL ABELL/US PRESSWIRE (GILES)
NIGEL KINRADE (EARNHARDT JR.)
CLAY PATRICK MCBRIDE (GATTI)
ROBERT BECK (CASTRONEVES, RODRIGUEZ)