Fernando Alonso has walked the Formula One paddock in places like Monaco and Spa. He has strolled down Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis 500.
On Tuesday, he was somewhere much different: The Charlotte Convention Center, where he appeared on the NASCAR Media Tour.
Less than an hour after Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes wrapped up his media session, two-time F1 world champion Alonso plopped down in the same seat — a NASCAR-branded director’s chair in front of a NASCAR backdrop.
That’s pretty damn cool, and even drivers were impressed. The likes of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick made detours to greet Alonso, who was in attendance to promote his upcoming race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“I’ve been a huge Alonso fan for a lot of years,” Johnson said. “I mentioned to him out there that the way he came and ran Indy — he handled himself so well, really did a great job and I think brought a lot to the table. He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”
Alonso, in turn, said he was flattered by the respect shown to him by Johnson and other American drivers. Despite being an F1 champ, the Spaniard said he was “surprised” to get so much respect.
“I’m quite a shy person, and when I see these top names, I see them at a different level I cannot achieve,” he said. “In their category and their series, they are the masters. I’m aware that to reach that level, it would take me many, many years — if I can get there.
“When I see they respect me and they follow my career and my racing as well, it’s a surprise and I feel very proud, because I respect all those names.”
Alonso said he first heard of Johnson around 2003 while playing a NASCAR video game. He didn’t know who Johnson was, but he liked the color of the No. 48 car.
“I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car,” he said. “I remember playing with another friend of mine — he likes a chocolate company I will not name now — and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.
“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has had in the years of motor racing, he became a legend of our sport — and massive respect.”
Naturally, Alonso was asked if he would like to try NASCAR someday. He said maybe, but it would be far off because it would be tough to match the experience level of the NASCAR regulars. He’d like to test first and see if he’d enjoy it; if so, he said, it’s a possibility.
“The (NASCAR) races are great because they are all in a group,” he said. “It is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”