12 Questions with Brett Moffitt

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Brett Moffitt, who recently completed a two-race stint for BK Racing at Watkins Glen and Michigan. Moffitt, 25, was the 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year and won the Truck Series race last year at Michigan.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say up until I got to the Cup level, most of it was natural ability because it was all short-track racing. I didn’t really race any Truck races or Xfinity races, so it was all just short tracks — run as fast as you can and win the race.

After I got to the Cup level, it’s mentally a lot more challenging. I’d say that’s the biggest part I had to work at: Mentally how to break a race down and not get mentally exhausted by the end of the race, just know what strategy you’re on and everything like that. So I would say at this level, it’s probably 70 percent talent, 30 percent work.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I would say I need to get a full-time ride here first. But I guess if you like me, that’s great, and if not, I mean, everyone has opinions. So I don’t really have a pitch, but I’m always just gonna be myself and if you like it, awesome.

How is the search for a ride coming? Do you just have to bide your time? Do you have to make phone calls? How do you work on that?

It’s all of the above. Starting the year out with Red Horse Racing, which was gonna be a really great opportunity for me, I was really heartbroken when that fell through (Moffitt was 10th in the standings when Red Horse shut down after five races this season). I felt like I was finally in good equipment and we could make something out of this.

So it’s been tough, but I guess everything happens for a reason, and that light came out of the tunnel (in late July at Iowa) by running the Xfinity race for GMS and now these next two weeks, running back in the Cup series for BK Racing. But yeah, you’re making phone calls, trying to stay in front of team owners and crew chiefs all you can.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Finding a job. (Laughs) Yeah, for me, it’s trying to stay in a seat. I don’t have a bunch of money I can bring to the table, and I need to make a living doing this. So it’s really hard to just keep composure through all of this and not let your emotions get the best of you and just try to stay relevant.

Is it tough, staying patient like that and watching races on your couch at times?

It’s extremely hard. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they’re like, “Yeah, we really want you here, but we would need some (financial) backing to do it.” So it’s just tough. I want to be out there racing every chance I get, whether it’s Trucks, Xfinity or Cup. That’s why I’m just super excited for this month — I get to race at least three times. My birthday is (Aug. 7), so I guess this is a good birthday month. But yeah, it’s hard to watch.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

I’m all about it. Yeah. Bring me a beer, maybe. I’m good with that.  (Laughs) I’ll trade you a Bud Light for some talking time.

Seems like a pretty good trade.

Yeah! But even if you don’t, I’m good with it. That’s why we do this sport: We’re entertainers. I think I would honored to have people come up to me and ask me for my autograph.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I really like what they’re doing with all the pit crew guys now (on NBC), kind of spotlighting them because they’re extremely good athletes.

I would just say people don’t realize how much work truly goes into it, especially on these smaller teams who have a quarter of the employees and they still have to run the same 36 races that everyone else does. So just to see all these teams work with limited people is pretty amazing.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

It’s actually my hero, Jimmie Johnson. He was silly enough to give me his phone number for some reason, so anytime I have a question about a track or anything, I tend to lean on him first because he’s always been nice enough to respond. So I guess I’m not too much of a nuisance yet.

I’ve always looked up to him and so I asked him what the shift points were (at Watkins Glen), because I’ve never been here in a Cup car, and he was gracious enough to tell me what he does. He said, “I can’t promise you that with the new package (they’ll be the same), but that’s what I’ve been doing and I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

So totally open book from what you can tell?

Yeah, as far as I can tell, unless he’s holding out on me — which I don’t think he is because we’re not in the same caliber stuff right now.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers? I think you just said that you do.

I do. I think we’re definitely a sport, but at the same time it needs to be an entertaining sport. I think statistically we’re the second-biggest sport in the country, and I you’re not gonna compete with the NFL, at least in my mind. They play X amount of games in a week and everyone’s got a hometown city.

But yeah, I think we’re entertainers and it’s our job to put on a good show. I like the drivers that have been trying to have more personality outside of the car, too, and not just being a robot of just thanking sponsors and (saying) everyone had a good day and holding your tongue. I think that Monster helped influence that, where the more you speak out, the more rivalries, I think that’s gonna be better.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I’ve given it a few times. I’ve gotten it a lot. (Laughs) I don’t necessarily mean it like, “Hey, F you,” but like, “Dude, cut me a break next time.” Some people will race you way harder than they need to for a spot or make it harder to lap them for a spot. I’ll use it every now and then, but I try not to.

What’s your reaction when somebody gives it to you?

I normally laugh. Most of the time I know when I’m going to get it, and then if I don’t get it, I’m kind of surprised and I laugh a little bit. But you know when you’re kind of expecting to get it and when you’re not.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

For sure. It all boils down to respect. If I respect a driver, I’m not going to give him as hard of a time probably racing him unless it’s the last few laps. If it’s early in the race, it’s not worth slowing us both down.

But also the opposite of that. I mean, I’ve had guys point me to the bottom (to pass) and then get on my door. It’s like, “If you take all the air off of me, I can’t pass you.” So there’s definitely that list of how you race people.

Racing in Xfinity race (at Iowa), I haven’t raced many of those people, so I had to kind of learn that real quick. But the more you race around people, you kind of just have that, “OK, he’s gonna race me like this, I’m gonna race him like this,” and so on.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I always joke around about this, that the most famous person I know is Simon Pagenaud’s dog. So I guess we’ve had dinner at his house a few times, so probably Simon or his dog (Norman).

I hope you had different food at least.

We did. Well, he gives his dog some steak every now and then. He normally cooks a good dinner for us.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I guess lately I’ve been trying to open up more and be myself — I’d like to keep improving on that. And just keep learning, you know? It’s good to be in the place to learn and I’d like to get back to a place where I’m consistently at the track and consistently in a car and just able to keep growing my knowledge.

12. The last interview I did was with Johnny Sauter. His question was: If you weren’t pursuing racing, what would be a career path that you would pursue?

Oh man, I was ready for Blake Koch’s question. For some reason I thought that was the last one. (Laughs)

That’s the last one I published (as of the time of the interview), so you can answer that, too, if you want.

No, I’ll go with Johnny’s. My dad grew up homebuilding in Iowa and I was around that a lot. So I would say if I wasn’t in racing, I would be in the lines of being a general contractor or something like that.

Did you help him out on that kind of stuff?

Every now and then, if I was home, I would drive his truck around because he used to have to run from job site to job site, house to house all day. So I would drive along with him and try to pick up on a little bit of it.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but do you have a general question I can ask the next guy?

Hmm. Has anyone asked, “Whiskey or beer?”

I don’t think anyone has asked that.

I’ll say for the next driver: Are you a whiskey or beer drinker, and why?

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Johnny Sauter

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Johnny Sauter of GMS Racing. Sauter is currently second in Camping World Truck Series points, and I spoke to him at Pocono. The Truck Series heads to Michigan this weekend.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I do think there’s a certain element of God-given ability, but I also think there’s a lot to working hard and being smart about what you’re doing. Just because you have ability doesn’t mean you necessarily utilize it the way that you should in a lot of different ways. To put a percentage on both of those, that would be a tough one for me, but I do think you have to have a little bit of natural ability and you also have to work very hard.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Maybe because I’m in the same age group as those guys (Sauter turned 39 in May). I’m getting really close to it, so that would be my pitch. Those guys are great race car drivers obviously, but I think a lot of people need to pay attention to the Truck Series. We put on a good show.

3. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Sure, absolutely. I have no problem with that. It’s happened a few times. As a matter of fact, last night after I was done eating, the people that were sitting at the table next to us came over and wished me good luck and all that. So absolutely, it’s all good.

4. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Oh, raising kids. (Laughs) In today’s society, the way things are going, it’s tough to keep them pointed in the right direction. I have a lot of fun. I spend a lot of time with my kids. But I can see that it’s gonna be a challenge as they get older.

How old are your kids now?

My son is 7, my daughter is 6 and my second daughter should be 2 in September. And then we got another one coming Nov. 1st. So we’re gonna be busy.

That’s a full house right there.

(Laughs) Yeah. Four kids under the age of seven. That’s busy.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Man, where do you come up with these questions?

That’s what I have the offseason for.

I’d say just how much work this really is and how much technology has impacted the sport. I know it gets coverage, but when I talk to people even back home in Wisconsin and you tell them how many employees an organization like GMS has, with one and a half Xfinity cars and three full-time trucks, we’re pushing 100 employees. They’re like, “What do they all do all day?” So there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and obviously if you’re not around it day in and day out, you wouldn’t understand totally. But there’s a lot of work that gets done. Just because they all look the same doesn’t mean they are the same. I always look at it from that aspect, just how much work it really is.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Erik Jones just a couple of days ago. I’m not gonna tell you what for.

Well actually, (Matt) Crafton was wearing me out the other day, but I didn’t respond to him, so I got a mean gesture from him.

So you didn’t respond to Crafton and he just shot you the unpleasant emoji?

That’s exactly what it was. More than one. But I finally called him back, so he’s happy now.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think in a lot of ways, yes. A lot of people look to race car drivers to not only perform, but to have a good personality or whatever. So that leaves me out. (Laughs) But no, of course, I think people are entertained by this sport, but I also know if you’re not performing, not a lot of people pay attention to you. So it’s a double-edged sword.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I try to refrain from using it, but I know when somebody does it to me, it sends the wrong signal to me and I instantly get hot. But I’m not gonna lie, I’ve done it, but I try not to use it a lot.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Sure. And to be honest with you, you say that you’re gonna get a guy or you’ve had trouble with a guy, but to me it just goes out the window because I’m just focused on doing what I need to do to be in the best spot I need to be in.

But if a guy does cut you a break, absolutely. I actually feel like I think about guys cutting me a break more positive than I do on the negative side of it, just because they don’t have to do that. This is racing and it’s aggressive and you put yourself in positions on both sides of that coin. Yeah, I definitely keep a mental list of people who have raced me clean. But you never forget the guys that run into you, and sometimes you run back into them.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I guess it depends on what your definition of famous is. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty cool dinners with a lot of cool people, but I would have to dig deep in the ol’ memory bank to think through the years of all the people that I’ve had dinner with. I’m gonna have to get back to you on that one. I’d have to think about that one for quite a while.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve — aside from your memory, apparently?

(Laughs) Yeah, my memory is bad. But just leading by example. The old saying: Do as I say, not as I do? Well, ultimately you set a good example by doing things the right way. People pay more attention to that than the words coming out of your mouth. So for me, there’s a lot of things I can improve on, believe me. But just ultimately just trying to be a better role model for people and watching what you say and how you say it.

12. The last interview I did was with Blake Koch. His question was: Who was your favorite teammate that you’ve ever worked with, and who was your least favorite teammate that you’ve ever worked with?

I honestly have been fortunate enough to have worked with a lot of good guys. I’ve had good teammates, really. I can’t sit here and tell you that there’s a teammate that I did not like. There are guys that you got along with better than others or had more in common with or whatever, but I’ve never really had bad blood or anything like that. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time with Crafton and those guys over at Thor Sport and had our fun over there. But I even think back early on with Kevin Harvick and those types of guys, it was good.

Of course you want to beat your teammates, but I always had the mindset, “Don’t get caught up and try to beat your teammates, beat the competition and the other part will take care of itself.” But yeah, that’s a good question. But life’s too short to be mad at people, especially when you’re driving race cars for a living and they’re your teammate, it doesn’t make much sense.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but you have a question that I may be able to ask another driver in general?

I always am fascinated by the question, “If you weren’t pursuing racing, what would be a career path that you would pursue?” Because race car drivers a lot of times, they get the thrill or action part of it. So what type of profession would they pursue if they couldn’t have pursued a racing career?

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Blake Koch

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Blake Koch of Kaulig Racing. I spoke with Koch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This interview is available in both written and podcast form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Oh man. I would say that it’s probably 50/50. You can work as work as you want to, but if you don’t have that natural ability to drive a car at speed, it’s gonna be really difficult to make it. And if you have that natural ability to go fast but don’t put in the work, you’re not gonna make it, either. So I feel like both are equally important. You have to have that natural talent — that natural ability to drive a race car or for whatever you’re doing in life — and then you have to have the ability to work harder than anybody else at it to become successful.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I welcome all fans. I think that’s the most important part of NASCAR, are the fans that come out to watch us. It wouldn’t be as fun racing in front of nobody, you know? I truly appreciate the fans. I like to get to know them. I like to utilize my social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook Live or Instagram Stories, to just show my fans the behind-the-scenes of my life and also follow them, too, and get to see what they do and what they’re like.

And you know the story of the Koch Krew, and how I just welcomed those guys in (through a tweet) and now they’re my biggest fans. They have their own T-shirt line now. So I just encourage people to follow me because I’m a real person. I am a race car driver on the racetrack, but I also didn’t grow up in it.

Six years ago, I was pressure-cleaning roofs Monday through Thursday to pay the bills and then racing on the weekends. And only four years ago, I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome and spotting for Michael McDowell in the Cup Series, just trying to stay at the racetrack, be in front of the right people and just keep working at it like you have to in order to make it in the sport. Ever since I’ve met (LeafFilter owner) Matt Kaulig, he’s turned my career around and here I am competing for a Xfinity Series playoff position.

I love the story of the Koch Krew. They were people who were “Carl’s Crew” and they were looking for a new driver, like so many fans are now, and I retweeted them and said they were looking for a new driver. You were the only driver out of all the possible drivers to tweet them back. And now it’s like a match made in heaven.

It is cool. I remember they wrote a letter and you reposted it. I saw it and I was like, “Man, if they’re that big of fans of Carl Edwards, I would love to have those fans.” And then they just jumped all in and they showed up, I think Daytona was the first time I met them. Then they flew all the way to Vegas, they’ve been to Pocono, Dover, they go all over the place. And the Koch Krew is getting bigger now. I mean, they use the hashtag #KochKrew and they have the shirts like I said. We’re selling a lot of those shirts. And they’re just awesome people, man; they’re just really really nice and good people, and I’m proud to be their driver.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack would have to be just balancing time. I think that goes for any person that’s married with kids and has a career: just trying to balance that time, spending enough time with my kids, spending enough time with my wife, spending enough time working at my job and focusing on how to get better. So that balance is a constant struggle for me. And not really a struggle like I’m bad at it, but I make sure it’s a priority to have a good balance of time. That’s probably the most difficult part.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Absolutely! Yeah! Definitely come over for an autograph.

What if you’re in the middle of eating or something?

If I’m in the middle of eating, I would say still come over and talk to us. But if I’m with someone else, make sure you talk to them, too. It’s always kind of awkward when I’m talking to somebody or a fan and it’s my wife or friend sitting there and they’re feeling awkward. So make sure you say hi to everybody at the table.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I don’t know about a story, but I would like to hear the sponsors mentioned more. Like when you’re watching the races, watching practice, you hear, “Blake Koch, No. 11.” It would be nice to throw in LeafFilter. Every time you say my car, my name, it’d be nice to have sponsor plugs. We work really hard to get these sponsors and spend a lot of money. Anytime we can get their names mentioned on TV more is better.

6. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yes I do. I do think we are entertainers. Our job is to put on a good race and a good show for the fans watching on their mobile device or on their television or through Twitter. There’s so many ways to relive the race, but our job really is to entertain people, especially at the racetrack. If we’re doing a Q and A on stage at the Chevy trailer, you wanna be an entertainer; you want people to be excited and not just bored. So I think it’s important to entertain our fans.

7. Who is the last driver you texted?

Well that’s easy, let’s look. (Pulls out phone) Justin Allgaier is the last driver I texted.

Can you say what you were texting about?

It was last night at 8:30. We were doing media availability (on Friday of Indianapolis race weekend), and he’s like, “I figured out something about Indy where I didn’t really want to show my cars to everybody.” I texted him saying, “Hey what do you know about Indy? Call me.” And he said, “OK, I’ll call you.”

That’s a nice friend. He shared some info.

We’ll see if he shared. (Laughs) He gave me some info but it doesn’t sound like a big secret, so we’ll see.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Zero tolerance for the middle finger. It makes me more mad than I can even explain to you when someone flicks me off. The last person that did it, we ended up having a talk the next weekend. And I like to have a talk, I don’t like to jump to conclusions. So I just tell them, “You can’t flick me off. It’s not OK.” And I’m looked at as the nicest guy in the garage, so when I come up and have that serious conversation with you, I mean it. So that’s my policy: Zero tolerance.

So you’re just offended? If something like that happens, you’re like, “This is deeply offensive.” That’s why you’re so mad about it?

The way I was brought up, the middle finger means a particular word to you, and it would be like walking up to somebody and saying that to their face. What do you expect the reaction to be? It’s not gonna be good. So I literally see red on the racetrack, and I have to calm myself down and it kind of ruins my whole section of the racetrack. So it’s bad.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Absolutely. I entered into NASCAR with respect for every single driver I race around. I don’t really keep a payback list, like I have to pay somebody back, but they do lose my respect and I will race them differently than I race someone that does cut me breaks.

So you remember who races you which way. I race people the way I wanna be raced, and then they race people the way they want to be raced. So if they’re racing you like an idiot, they obviously want to be raced like an idiot. That’s kind of how I look at it.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

The most famous person I’ve had dinner with, well it was dinner in the hauler, more like a late lunch, but Mark Wahlberg.

How did that come about?

He sponsored my car in 2015 with the AQUAhydrate water company that he owns part of. So he came out to California Speedway and just sat in the lounge. We were up there for about an hour eating, so I can say we ate dinner together. It might not have been dinnertime, though. But I got to hang out with him and he sat on the pit box, went around the track after driver intros with him and spent some time with him. So that’s definitely the most famous person I’ve spent time with.

Did you find him to be down to earth, or did he have a celebrity air about him?

The most down to earth celebrity I’ve ever met was Mark Wahlberg. He’s just like he is in the movies; he’s just this tough guy. He was walking around, didn’t have any bodyguards with him or anything.

I think the funniest thing was he was walking behind me to driver intros, and you know at California you walk underneath that little tunnel. Well three people stopped me for my autograph and they didn’t even ask him for his autograph because they had no idea it was him — because why would he be there? So I think that was kind of funny.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

That’s always a question I ask good friends. I’ll ask Michael McDowell in particular or Lonnie Clouse, our chaplain (from Motor Racing Outreach). Like what do you see? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses as a person? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll work on those things.

But to improve would probably be something simple as remember people’s names. I wish I remembered everybody’s name. Our team owner Matt Kaulig, I feel like he knows every single person’s name at Leaf Filter and there’s like a thousand employees. Every time he talk to somebody, he says their name, and I think that’s very impressive and I’d love the ability to do that.

12. The last interview I did was with David Ragan. His question was: After a race, you typically go back to your hauler. What’s the first thing you look at when you get to your phone? 

If it’s a good race, it’s the text messages. If it’s a bad race, my phone’s blank. There’s not even one single text message. So I instantly go and answer some of my text messages and I’ll try to find my wife first and say, “Hi, I’m OK,” if it’s a bad race. Or if it’s a good race, thumbs up. So my wife’s the first one I text.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question I could ask a driver?

Yeah, one that’s already been asked that I thought was a really great question, and we’ll see if people will be open and honest about it: Who was your favorite teammate, and who was your least favorite teammate? I think that’s very interesting and when I was reading your responses, it was interesting to see that Kenseth said it was Carl. You would never think that anyone wouldn’t like Carl at first. I kind of like that behind-the-scenes information. So the next guy, I wanna know who their favorite teammate was or is, and who their worst teammate was or is.

12 Questions with David Ragan

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with David Ragan of Front Row Motorsports. I spoke with Ragan at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This interview is available both in podcast and written form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think it’s probably 60/40 — 60 percent natural ability and 40 percent working at it. You have to have good eyesight, good reflexes, you can’t get carsick … being closed in a confined area for long periods of time, have a feel for turning and braking, a tight and loose feel.

But I think you can work at it. The technology we have at our fingertips today that shows driver traces and Dartfish videos and metrics on pit road, metrics on the racetrack, you can definitely be smarter and have a better racing IQ.

I never thought about the carsick part of it, but yeah, I guess if you’re going around in circles all the time, it’s probably not something for you if you can’t handle that.

Some people get carsick in the simulator. I know there’s some drivers who are better than others when being tossed around, moved around. And your perception’s a little different looking at a video screen and you’ve got different things going on.

I knew that Mark Martin got a little sick on the sim when he tried it one time, and I think he even had to take Dramamine going to different types of road courses that had high elevation changes and different things. So you gotta be able to sit in there, withstand all the moving and bouncing around.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I’m just a normal dude that gets to drive race cars, so be a fan of David Ragan. I mean, I think NASCAR fans are generally fans of more than just one driver; they like a few drivers and maybe dislike a few drivers. I’m not a jerk, so you don’t have to dislike me. I’m just a normal guy, so you can pull for David Ragan. I’ll be here a few more years; I’m not getting ready to retire in the next six months, so I guess you can pull for me for a little while.

That’s good. So it’s like, “I’m normal and I’m not a jerk.”

What else do you need? That’s right.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think being away from family is probably the hardest part. Away from the racetrack, it’s the commitment to sponsors and traveling during the week for testing and other obligations that NASCAR has requested of your time or your sponsors or your manufacturer. I think just showing up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, sometimes that’s the best part — just getting in the race car and going through the motions. But it’s that test on a Tuesday and Wednesday and it gets rained out and you have to stay until Thursday and go straight to the racetrack and you’re only home for one day (that makes it difficult). Or you’ve got an appearance out of town and you’ve got to fly commercial and it’s tough getting there, it’s tough getting back. Just being gone from home is probably the toughest part.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, absolutely. Again, I’m just a normal person and I appreciate them asking for my autograph because one day, no one’s gonna care. So I think that while someone does care today to get an autograph from David Ragan or a picture, I think that’s pretty cool. And yeah, sometimes it’s a little drowning to be swarmed in an area that you’re getting a lot of requests.

I don’t take my motorhome to every racetrack, so when I’m staying at the hotel and you’re trying to eat breakfast and get to the racetrack and this one fan sees you and takes a picture, then the whole downstairs lobby eating continental breakfast, they’re all trying to take your picture and talk to you. And all you want to do is get out so you can get to the racetrack and beat the traffic. That does get annoying at times, but I’m grateful that they want that picture. And like I said, when I’m a little older and not racing full time, no one’s probably gonna care. So I’ll sign all the autographs you ask right now.

So you’re like in the hotel breakfast area, everyone’s getting their orange juice and their bagel or whatever, and somebody’s like, “David Ragan!” And everyone’s like, “Oh, wow,” and they’re all race fans so they’ll come over to you?

Yeah, that does happen sometimes. Like I said, I don’t take my motorhome every single week and when I don’t, I’m just downstairs getting my Raisin Bran and my bagel. There’s usually that one person who’s got that keen eye. He spots you, and then the other 20 people that aren’t paying attention, they’re like, “Well I want my picture, I want an autograph. Let’s call the kids up in the room and get them downstairs. Can you wait on them?” That happens, but you just kind of roll with it.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Have the lug nuts gotten enough coverage? Missing lug nuts? That was a joke.

I think the behind-the-scenes industry part doesn’t get enough coverage. What I mean by that is the guys back in the shop building the race cars, the sales department traveling to a random company to try and make a sales pitch or the licensing department trying to create new products for the souvenir haulers. All of the stuff that goes into making NASCAR what it is.

I think we could do some behind-the-scenes TV shows, some documentaries — it would be really interesting. My wife (Jacquelyn) is not a big stick-and-ball (sports) fan, but she loves Hard Knocks and she really loves watching the behind-the-scenes stuff on draft day. She could not care less (about football), but it’s really interesting to hear about the young kid out of college that’s getting ready for his life to change, depending on where he’s drafted at.

So I think in our sport, we all get to see coverage of cars going around in circles and interviews at the racetrack. But all that stuff (like) our engineering department working at the wind tunnel, I think it would be cooler to have some behind-the-scenes shows during the off-season and during the year. You know, the truck drivers trying to get back and get the trucks switched out, and the meetings where you’re having to decide, “Should we test here or do we not need to spend the money to do this or do that?” So it’s an interesting sport we have, and I think it would be really neat to tell that story.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I texted Michael McDowell yesterday. I brought my shotgun to New Hampshire and I was gonna see if he wanted to go to a clay and skeet shooting course not too far down the road, and to go shoot some. But we found out they were closed on Saturday, so I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to go now.

Who’s the better shooter: You or McDowell?

That’s a good one. He shoots probably a little more than I do; he’s an avid hunter and outdoorsman and we both enjoy doing stuff like that. I have knocked him out of a little competition before, but he’s probably a little more accurate and a little more consistent than I am.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Absolutely. I think race car drivers, whether you want to be or not, you are an entertainer. And I think that that’s one thing I don’t really enjoy about my job, is being an entertainer. I don’t feel like I’m really an entertainer kind of person. Like I’m not too big on building my brand and doing all this thrills and spills stuff. I just want to be David Ragan and go race and go home and spend time with my family.

And I think some drivers are like that, and that’s OK. And then some drivers are more active on social media, they’re more out there — and that’s cool, too. I think the sport needs both sides of that, but I don’t really wanna show my life to everyone and just be an entertainer. So I think about guys like Matt DiBenedetto — he does a good job on stuff like that. But David Ragan is kind of the opposite. I still watch black-and-white TV shows and I despise some of the social media stuff, so I don’t like being an entertainer. But that is part of the job description.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

My middle finger policy is that I usually don’t give the middle finger out too much. I only have one or two times in my career. I think that’s kind of equivalent to if you’re talking to someone face-to-face and don’t agree, you just shove him or push him. I think that you can have disagreements on the racetrack, but you don’t have to flip someone off.

Now if someone flips me off, I’ll try to wreck you if I can. That’s like the slap in the face while talking. So if someone confronts me, like pushes me, then we’re probably gonna fight. I think on the racetrack, if I get a middle finger, I’ll try to wreck you if I can catch you in the next few laps, and then I usually calm down and forget about it. But usually the person who gives you the middle finger, they’re driving away from you and you’re not able to catch them. But yeah, the middle finger, I do not like that. It makes me extremely mad behind the wheel of the car.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, I think drivers have a pretty good mental idea of who’s friendlier to race with or maybe who’s a little bit harder to race with. Some of the guys that you do cut slack to and they return the favor, that is nice to see that. So yeah, there’s a majority of the guys that all race each other really good, and then there’s some guys that you’re trying to pass and they make it really, really hard on you. And absolutely — when they’re trying to pass me, or when I’m a lapped car and they’re catching me, I don’t just move out of their way.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

That’s a good question. I’ve had dinner with Richard Petty before, and he’s pretty famous. You know, again, I’m not real big on like the glitz and glamour and like being friends with all the pace car drivers and movie stars that show up. I can’t even name half of them. I can’t name three quarters of them that are dignitaries, so I wouldn’t know if they were famous or not.

I’ve had dinner a few times with the governor of Georgia. I would say he’s pretty famous. The ex-governor, Sonny Perdue, is now the Secretary of Agriculture for the Trump administration; I know him pretty well. So maybe a political figure down in the state of Georgia.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I’m pretty tardy sometimes on seeing a text message and not responding, and then it kind of gets lost in the shuffle. And I was talking to my wife about that not long ago — her and I are both kind of bad about that, and you get busy with life or the kids are there and every time you pull out your phone, my two little girls are there and they wanna get it and play with it.

So I think just being a little more responsive when I get an email or text message — like if I read it, respond then, but don’t read it until you can respond because that’s probably not nice if someone sees you can read it through iMessage and you respond to them the next day. So try and be a little more up to date on that.

Do you have read receipts on where people can tell? You can turn those off.

(Turns to Front Row Motorsports public relations representative Shari Spiewak) I don’t know. Shari, you text me some—

Shari says that Landon Cassill has his read receipts on and David does not.

So maybe that’s by default, because I don’t think I changed that on my phone. So yeah, that’s just one of the things.

There’s always other stuff that I can do a better job on, but working out, getting up when my alarm goes off — the normal stuff that we all could do a better job on. If I see a piece of cookie or ice cream in the freezer, not eating it. Just to be a little better on that.

12. The last interview I did was with Matt Kenseth. He had gotten a question from Denny Hamlin and instead of thinking of his own question, he just decided to pass it on to you. His question is: Who is your favorite teammate you’ve ever worked with, and who is the worst teammate you’ve ever worked with?

That’s not fair. Matt’s got his seniority and he can do stuff like that. Matt just didn’t want to answer that question.

I’ve had some really good teammates over the years. I’ve always been kind of the younger guy on the team, and I felt like all the teammates I’ve had have been good to me. They’ve been nice to me around the racetrack, they’ve included me in some off-the-track opportunities, they’ve let me fly on their planes with them quite a bit. So I feel like I’ve had pretty good teammates.

But Carl Edwards would probably be one of the best teammates I’ve ever worked with. He was very down to earth, he would answer any questions that you asked, he would offer his opinion on how to improve things and would let me fly with him and do things like that. So that was always nice. Carl was a good teammate.

And now the tough question, the worst teammate. I don’t know. I haven’t really disliked any teammate that I’ve had. I think any teammate that I’ve had over the years, even when I was subbing for Kyle (Busch) and I got to work with Denny (Hamlin), Matt and Carl again, they welcomed me pretty good and were very cool even though I was gonna be there for a short amount of time.

I really haven’t had that one jerk for a teammate. If I do, I’ll have to let you know. Hopefully Landon and I can stay hooked up here at Front Row for a few more years, but Landon’s a good teammate. I got to work with Landon for the first time in 2017 and I didn’t really know Landon that well. I’ve seen him around the garage a lot, but he’s a cool guy. He’s an entertainer and I’m not, so we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum there, and so I’ve embraced that and that’s been pretty fun to try and watch him do his thing. I’ll let you know when I have a good jerk for a teammate and give you some good dirt on him.

I don’t know who the next interview is gonna be with. Do you have a general question I could ask of a future driver?

After a race, you typically go back to your hauler or your motorhome and you change, you hit the road, you go to your helicopter or whatever you’re doing to get back.What’s the first thing you look at when you get to your phone?  Do you look at the rundown of the race, do you look at your text messages, your emails, Twitter?

The first thing I look at is typically my text messages, if anybody texted me during the race. Or if my family’s not here, I’ll say that I’m headed to the airport. And then if it’s football season, I’ll immediately look at football scores on a Sunday afternoon. So see with other drivers what’s the first thing they look at.

I may have to steal that for next year’s 12 Questions. Is that OK?

Yeah, I’ll give you clearance to do that. You don’t have to give me any royalties.

12 Questions with Denny Hamlin

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is currently seventh in the point standings. This interview was conducted at Daytona and is available both in podcast and written form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

It’s probably 75 percent natural ability. I think 25 of it you can refine by just doing it and studying at it.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I really don’t have a pitch. You like me if you like me; if you don’t, then you don’t. I’m a true, old-school short-track racer. Got here the old fashioned way, just like all those guys did. So why not me?

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I don’t really consider my job hard on the racetrack or off the racetrack. It’s everything that I’ve really hoped it would be. The hardest part is just the time away from home.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

They can. I don’t think I’ve really turned anyone down that’s approached me about an autograph. Doesn’t mean necessarily it’s OK or I like it or I encourage it, but I definitely never would turn anyone away.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think the pit crews and how much of athletes they are gets a little bit of coverage, but we see within the race teams how all the pit crews rank, even individual positions. I think the TV or the media hasn’t seen before who has the fastest jack man on pit road, who has the fastest tire carrier, who has the faster tire changer. All those stats are available, but you never see them.

Are those stats kept by the teams? How would I get those?

I don’t know. Someone high up probably has them. But I’ve seen them.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Dale Jr.

Can you tell us what it was about?

We were actually talking about the refs. He thinks that things are getting pretty physical in his basketball league, so he’s asking whether he thinks my refs (in Hamlin’s “Hoop Group” league) could possibly control that or not.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah, absolutely. I think that we’re entertainers — we’re more than just race car drivers. I mean, we go to autograph sessions and fan fests and do Q&A’s and things like that, so absolutely I would say we’re in the entertainment business.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I used to give it a lot, but I don’t necessarily anymore because it bothers me when I get it. I stick my hand out when I’m frustrated, but I try to keep it at five fingers instead of one now.

That’s very gentlemanly of you.

I’ve never been called that before.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

I do. There’s handfuls of drivers that have cut me breaks more than once. Yeah, absolutely. You know who those guys are and you repay them.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Are you talking about one-on-one or with a group?

It can be in a group. The great thing about this question is that so many people this year have never really had dinner with that famous of a person, but you, on the other hand, have had so many famous dinners you actually have to go through and think about who’s the most famous one.

You have to put it in a category. I would say in a very small group, probably eight people or so, with the Kardashians and Lord Disick (Scott Disick).

What!? When was this?

This was at the grand opening of Butter (Hamlin’s former nightclub), probably six years ago.

So Kim herself came? Did anyone else come?

Kourtney, Khloe and the Lord.

What were they like?

Pretty quiet for the most part, but I don’t know. You could just tell they were a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but they kinda got into their groove by the end of the night.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Geez, there’s so many things. What I’d like to improve: my eating habits.

What’s wrong with those?

I’ve got a bad sugar tooth. I could eat until I’m about to explode. Like I eat a lot, and then I’ll still want something sweet at the end of the night. I have a bad problem with that.

12. The last question was from Ryan Blaney. Now, Denny, I am under strict instructions not to give you any context with this. I doubled back with him just this morning and said, “Are you sure you want me to ask it like this?” And he said, “Yes.” So I’m sorry.

Did he know it’s to me?

No, he just wanted me to ask this very awkward question to a driver. I figured you could deal with it. So are you ready?

OK, I’m ready.

Who shot first?

(Long silence) This is coming from Blaney, right? Who shot first? (Pause) He did.

I don’t know if that’s the correct answer, but —

I’ll change it, I’ll change it: I did.

You did? OK, that’s definitely the wrong answer. You should just go with “He did.” But it’s a Star Wars reference.

Oh, he’s such a dork. You know what? They can’t sell to the public how awesome Blaney is if he keeps coming up with this Star Wars dork stuff. Like seriously, he’s gotta, you know… Ugh. I need to have a talk with Blaney because this is just not the road he needs to go down.

You may have to do that after this. It was apparently a reference to, have you seen the original Star Wars?

No, I’ve never seen it. I’m not a sci-fi guy. I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek when I was a kid. That was when my dad was watching it.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask the next driver? Please don’t make it as awkward as the Blaney one was.

I have one. (Laughs) What I ask is that you interview someone who has at least six to seven years of Cup experience. And what I want know is: Of the teammates they have worked with, I wanna know who their favorite was. And the other side of that, and they have to be honest: Who is the worst that they’ve ever worked with?

12 Questions with Ryan Blaney

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Ryan Blaney from Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney is currently 13th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and is in the playoffs thanks to his victory last month at Pocono Raceway. We spoke a couple hours before the Sonoma race.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think it’s both. I feel like to get good at something, you have to work at it. You might be born with some of it, but I don’t think you can’t work at it and be great in any sport, whether that’s motorsports or basketball, football — you always have to practice and work at it.

There’s really great talented athletes out there in all forms of sports, but if they don’t try and get better, I don’t think they’ll be able to perform in the big leagues. You always have to keep working at it. I think that goes kind of hand in hand.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I’ve been asked that a handful of times — like a campaign speech as to why fans should switch drivers. I don’t know if that’s really my choice. If you like me, you do. If not, you don’t. Whether it’s the way I drive or personality off the track, you either like me or you don’t, so I don’t really have a speech, I guess. I just think go with what you think. If you want to be a fan, then great. If not, that’s fine with me, too. I don’t really have a big speech for that.

Fair enough. It’s sort of like one of those things where you can’t really convince somebody to like something. If you like vanilla and somebody else likes chocolate, you can’t be like, “No, you should like this!”

It’s personal opinion, and that’s with anything, whether it’s religion or government or political view. I mean, it’s anything. So I can’t convince you to like me; it’s either you do or you don’t.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think the hardest part is actually driving the cars. We do a lot of preparation before the races, trying to get ready of how we’re going to drive the racetrack or whatever, but actually trying to compete on race day, that’s one of the hardest parts, is trying to beat everybody else.

But the hardest thing other than that just preparing for each race weekend and trying to figure out how you’re going to be faster than everybody else before you even get to the racetrack. So that’s pretty tough.

I’m sure some people will say sponsor appearances and things like that, but honestly, that’s really nothing. That allows us to go race, so I don’t mind doing any of that stuff. But I think the work we do during the week (is harder). Granted, we don’t do tons of work during the week, just setting the cars up — our guys, they bust their butts to do that — but the little things we do to try and prepare us for the weekend, I think that’s pretty tough outside the driving aspect.

You’re known as a guy who doesn’t say no to sponsor stuff or when NASCAR asks you to go do something. Why doesn’t that seem to bother you?

I feel like it helps the sport. I’ll say no to a few things, but I’ll say yes to a lot more and the majority of it (because) we’re trying to grow the sport and we’re trying to get new fans. All of those things are kind of (helping) to go in that direction. So I don’t mind doing it. I think it’s good not only for the sport but for your team and for your own personal gain as well. I just enjoy doing it, whether it’s traveling or doing things around home. It’s nice to go around and meet people.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

So I actually had this happen. I will sign anything that you have or take a picture with you or anything if I’m out to eat or something, but either before my food comes or after I’m done. Like if my plate has just gotten sat down and I’m about to go in and you come up wanting an autograph, I’m like, “Come on.” Or if I’m mid-eat, I’ll probably still do it, but I’ll kind of have an attitude while I’m doing it.

But yeah, either before our food comes or after we’re done eating. I’m an aggressive eater, so while I’m actually consuming material, I kind of like to be left alone. But I’ll do anything you want, but it just depends if I’m in a good mood or not while I’m doing it.

So did the recent person come up to you mid-bite?

Mid-bite, yeah. Like two bites in, putting that second piece of food in my mouth, and (the person) comes up like, “I hate to bother you.” Well, then don’t! If you hate to do it, then don’t do it. Can you wait, please? I mean, I did it, but yeah — me and my food are in a tight relationship, so just wait until I’m done with that.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I honestly think the story that doesn’t get enough (coverage) is everybody working on the race cars. I would love to see a feature — it may be hard to do because you’d have to go in the race shop — of like what a week or two of preparation is, turning around cars. Like the Michigan to Sonoma turnaround is so quick, you’d be amazed at how hard these guys work to try and get everything situated. You know, we’ll get back super late (after Sonoma) and they’ll be back in the shop Monday morning getting our Daytona stuff ready. So they bust their tails and I would love for the media and for TV to see that side of them a little more and for the fans, too.

We have a very little role in it — they’re the ones who are able to make it possible for us. I haven’t really seen a feature like that before, not that I know of. Maybe there has been one, but I think that’d be really cool to show everybody.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I texted Dale (Jr.) last night. I had a question for him about his music and stuff. He has a band that he really likes, and I was trying to think of the band name. I had to ask him. I can’t remember the name, either, by the way.

That’s why it’s in text form. You can just go look back at it.

Exactly. I prefer calls nowadays, but texts are so nice because you have history — that could be a bad thing, too — but I think it’s like a reference. It’s like notes, but you’re not even taking notes. So that’s pretty nice. But yeah, Dale was the last person I texted. I had to ask for some help.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah. Oh, for sure. I think any sport, the athletes are entertainers. It’s our job as well, and our goal is to go try and win, but all these sports, they’re entertainment sports. That’s what fans come to the racetrack or a ballgame for: To be entertained and to like watching people do their thing and be amazed at what we can do.

I definitely feel like NASCAR is an entertainment sport for sure. (It’s) not strictly an entertainment sport, but fans want to come to the racetrack to be entertained. We’re not gonna put on a soap opera out here, but to some degree, it’s for the fans.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

(Laughs) I will shoot you the middle finger. I will shoot you the bird if you piss me off. I’ve gotten a little more relaxed about it, but as a kid, you wanna shoot everybody the bird. But yeah, I will if I feel like I got used up or something like that.

I’ve toned back on it, but there’s so many that go around, you can’t take it to heart. It’s just a little gesture that you do, because you can’t talk to the person right then, you kind of let them know that you didn’t appreciate what you did. And yeah, it’s pretty open. It’s a pretty open policy. A lot of drivers do it and I think it’s pretty good.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Oh yeah. That’s a really good question because everyone always talks about people on their bad list and what people did them wrong. They always keep that in their memory. But you do keep the good memories in mind as well. If someone does cut you a break, maybe let you in at a speedway or gives you a break on a restart or something like that, you remember that and utilize that if the situation comes up later in the race or the week after. You like to repay the favor. You’ve got to be generous out here. So yeah, you definitely keep a memory bank of that stuff too.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know. Like Roger Penske maybe. I mean, Roger is a pretty famous person, I think. Roger or Dale, maybe. I think Roger might beat Dale out a little bit; just a touch. Roger’s been around for a long time. I got asked, “Who’s the most famous person in your phone?” and that’s probably Roger, too.

Dale doesn’t have his name on the side of trucks driving down the freeway like Roger does.

That is true as well, and Dale doesn’t own pretty much half of Detroit, or Michigan, pretty much. So that’s why Roger has Dale beat just a little bit.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Personally, I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better at it, but I’m just like my dad in this aspect, which I hate: When the helmet goes on, I get very emotional sometimes. I can get upset pretty easily. And that’s not good for anybody. You can see that on (FS1’s) Radioactive, they like to call me on the Radio Sweetheart all the time — which is not cool, Race Hub.

Yeah, I’m a pretty level guy outside the car, and then, I don’t know, I get upset easily inside the race car. I don’t know if that’s me being passionate about something or what. That’s something that I’d like to improve. I’ve improved on it over the past handful of years since I got in it. It keeps getting better and better every year, I think, but that’s something I’d like to improve: Just being a little more calm on the radio and levelheaded. I think that would be nothing but good for myself and for the whole team.

12. The last interview was with Todd Gilliland. He wanted to know: What did you learn in the K&N race at Sonoma, if that’s any comparison to what you’ll do today.

We’ll find out if it carries over (Blaney ended up finishing ninth in the Cup race). The K&N race was nice too, and their cars are way different, their tires are way different, so that’s kind of rough to kind of carry over to this side. I messed with some line stuff (in K&N). My tires kind of got worn out to maybe help with this Cup car, but they are widely different. But I thought it helped out a little bit.

And then race etiquette, you kind of find out where passing points are a little more and how to set yourself up off a certain corner to have a chance of passing this one. So those two parts were pretty good.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question that I might be able to ask a future driver?

I think you did this last time.

I didn’t have a person prepared for you? Because I knew you could handle the off-the-cuff random question.

OK…”Who shot first?”

Who shot first? Like an Alexander Hamilton type of thing?

No, like Han Solo and Greedo.

Oh, I see. It’s a Star Wars reference.

So who shot first, and see if they know what the reference is.

What’s the right answer?

I don’t know.

Do you have a theory?

No. (Laughing) I want you to write every little thought and word that they say into the next one.

Like all the likes, umms, the stumbles?

Yeah. I want every single piece. Anything they say into this microphone from this question, you have to type and put in in your story.

12 Questions with Todd Gilliland

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with 17-year-old Todd Gilliland of Bill McAnally Racing in the K&N West Series. Gilliland, the defending series champion, is the points leader again this season and has 11 wins in 23 career starts. Note: This interview was conducted prior to the Sonoma K&N race.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Everyone at Bill McAnally Racing has given me fast cars every week, and I think that’s just easier to showcase my ability. I think everyone out here has great ability, it’s just putting all the right pieces together and surrounding yourself with the right people. Luckily, I have the right people around me. 

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I think they need to start looking to the future and obviously now, seeing the first guys of the new generation breaking through in the Monster Energy Cup, I think that’s really cool and inspiring for me. Hopefully people like me, Harrison Burton, people like that of the next wave that the fans can look to, we can really gain a fan base early on to naturally lean on as we move up.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

School, for sure. I’m trying to keep up with school. Going to the race shop, balancing all that time, has really made me more responsible over the last year or so.

What year are you in now, going into the fall?

I’m going to be a senior, so I’m excited to be done with it.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

I think so. I mean, why not? I think we’re all approachable, we’re all people. Especially right now, I don’t think anyone will know me, but hopefully that does happen in the near future.

So you’d sorta be like, “Oh hey, somebody knows me!”

Yes, I still get excited. In the past couple races, all the Cup races I’ve been to, I’ve actually signed like one or two autographs for fans. That’s been exciting for me.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think sometimes you could cover the guys in the back a little bit more. Like they’re the ones that are trying to work harder to be up front and everyone knows that, they see that. But I think sponsorship is hard in the Monster Energy Cup Series, so I think trying to even out the TV coverage or something — I’m not sure, but I think that they do a good job covering everyone right now.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably Derek Kraus, my teammate. We text a lot all the time, and now being teammates at Bill McAnally Racing he’s asked me some questions about the race last year (at Sonoma). We got wrecked on Lap 1, so we don’t know much about it either, so we’re both going into it kind of blind.

You’re like, “Sorry dude, I can’t really help you.”

Exactly. Hopefully he can help me a little bit this time.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah, in a way. I think that’s why people come to the racetrack, to be entertained and to watch a great sport that everyone loves. I think that once we get out there, we’re doing everything we can and we’re right on the edge and I think that is entertaining to some people.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Man, I’ve never flipped anyone off or something like that yet. I’m usually pretty calm in the race car. Maybe that will change someday. Just for now, I’m trying to stay calm and fly under the radar.

Has anybody flipped you off?

Yes. (Smiles) In my first Late Model race, I was kind of reckless and I pretty much hit everything out there. Yeah, I got flipped off once.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

For sure. I think I definitely pay more attention to who races me cleaner than dirtier. Actually, Ronnie Bassett comes to mind this year — some people look at them as racing really aggressive, but we’ve raced super clean this year and I think we’ve gained respect for each other. Everyone in the K&N Series has done a really great job of racing each other clean and respecting each other.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know about that one. Who are some famous people? Like race car drivers?

They could be the most famous you’ve met, yeah.

I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve been to dinner with anyone famous ever.

Kyle Busch? (Gilliland has made two starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports)

Kyle Busch, yes. Well, we ate at the same place at Dover. We were staying at the casino and they walked in. That’s pretty cool.

You’re in the same restaurant, but not the same table necessarily.

Yes exactly. Kind of the same, but different.

Maybe (dad) David Gilliland is the most famous person.

Yes, probably David Gilliland, that’s it. And Michelle Gilliland (his mom).

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I think being able to just get out of the race car and do interviews better. I think that I’ve gotten better before races when I’m calm and stuff, but I think after races with the adrenaline, I need to take a couple of deep breaths and just really process my thoughts a little bit more.

I haven’t said anything bad, but they’re just a little bit sloppier after the race just (from) being worn out and everything just racing through your head.

12. The last interview was with Erik Jones. He was thinking back to when he was 16 and talking about some of the pressure he felt to win big races for his resume. He felt like a lot of that was pressure he was putting on himself. So he wanted to ask you: Do you have the sense of, “I have to win these big races,” and do you feel like that pressure is coming from the outside or yourself?

I think there’s a little bit of pressure coming from the outside, but I think most of the pressure is what I put on myself. I expect to win races, but that sometimes hurts me going into these big races, like he said.

Sonoma’s a pretty big race for the K&N series: We have 30-something cars and I haven’t done much road course racing. Being out here with people like Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Kevin Harvick in today’s race is a big learning experience. I think today’s race would be successful just to make it to the end and learn from those guys. A win would be great, but we’ve just got the keep the pressure off. That’s when I perform the best. Just keep looking ahead. (Note: Gilliland finished sixth.)

The next interview is with Ryan Blaney. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask him?

When are you going to do that? Today or next weekend?

I’m do it tomorrow morning before the Sonoma Cup race.

Ask him what he learned in today’s race to take to tomorrow. I guess that’s a pretty common question though, I don’t know.

Well it’s not so common in that running K&N, I’m sure the cars are much different than running Xfinity versus Cup. K&N versus Cup I’m sure is a lot different, so maybe he did take something from it.

Yeah, maybe. You never know. Guess we’ll find out.