First person essay: Kaitlyn Vincie on her pregnancy journey

Editor’s note: Kaitlyn Vincie is a reporter for FOX Sports who regularly appears on Race Hub, RaceDay and as a pit reporter for Camping World Truck Series broadcasts. I’ve known Kaitlyn since she was trying to break into the NASCAR world, and I’m honored she agreed to do an essay for JeffGluck.com on the story of her pregnancy in advance of Mother’s Day.

By Kaitlyn Vincie

When I first found out I was pregnant with my daughter, Kadence, it reminded me of a scene from the movie Knocked Up. It’s the part where Katherine Heigl had all the pregnancy tests in her hand, wondering if ONE of them would have a different outcome. Like Katherine’s character, all four of my tests said the same thing — and all four were positive.

Yes, there were four.

A quick visit with a doctor gave the final and official verdict after an unsettling 17 hours: Ready or not, my fiance Blake Harris and I were going to be parents. Off to the races, as they say.

I went into last offseason thinking 2017 would be about planning a wedding with Blake, who is the car chief for Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 team. But while we were ready to get married, we definitely weren’t in the right mindset to have a child. I could barely seem to keep plants alive at my home, much less fathom raising a kid.

However, there was a different plan for us than we anticipated. And I am certain now it’s the greatest turn of life events I could have hoped for.

Blake and I are both career-oriented and like-minded people. As a key member of the No. 78 team, he lives in Denver, Colo.; I have been working the last six years in NASCAR television out of Charlotte, N.C. with a variety of roles for FOX Sports.

We met while working and traveling on the racing circuit at an unusual restaurant near New Hampshire Motor Speedway (just your conventional NASCAR love story). But Blake was easily the partner I had been hoping to find, and through this entire process he has handled our turn of life events with grace and dexterity — while I’ve been the temperamental and often emotional one.

Getting pregnant wasn’t my current dream. Working in sports television, however, was something I had my eye on since I was 18 years old, and I wasn’t anxious to have something sidetrack my current career trajectory.

But once the reality set in we were going to be parents, the biggest thing that worried me about our pregnancy situation was the logistics. “How’s this going to work?” I asked more than once.

Figuring out how to balance a long-distance relationship is hard enough as it is. Now factor in long-distance parenting, a time change and both individuals traveling every weekend for work and — voila! — you have our current dynamic.

Somehow, we are balancing our careers amidst wedding and nursery planning, as well as baby appointments in both Colorado and North Carolina, NASCAR travel and living in separate states across the country. My home is littered with bridal magazines, how-to baby books, doctor bills, airline tickets and NASCAR notes.

In addition, I was tapped to cover four Supercross events, which required learning a new sport in addition to my NASCAR duties. The SX events often put me in different locations than where Blake was for the weekend with the Cup Series, so we had to get even more creative to see one another.

As you can imagine, this year has been nothing short of a whirlwind — and we are only in May. While there’s never really a great time to start a family with the long racing schedule, Kadence is due on Aug. 23 — which happens to be on one of two off-weekends we have all year. If everything goes according to plan, she will arrive in between the Bristol and Darlington events.

It’s funny when you work in NASCAR how everything is referenced in relation to race dates and venues.

Kadence is due Aug. 23. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Vincie)

My current plan is to continue traveling right up until I’m no longer allowed to fly. I never even realized there were restrictions on flying while pregnant — which further proves how little I knew about this whole process. I’ve also learned quickly to always choose an aisle seat now that I am pregnant, because people find it annoying if you have to use the facilities three times during a flight to the West Coast.

Once Kadence arrives I’ll take some time off, but I fully plan to return to work before the season ends; I have a target race in mind. Blake will be by my side when our daughter is born but will have to return to his team obligations in Denver and be back on the road very shortly thereafter.

The life of a road crew member is one of the most demanding positions in the whole garage, and I understand the responsibilities that are on the line. Although it will be hard to operate as a single parent in some ways during that time, I am fortunate to have the support of both my family and his, along with a small, close group of friends.

As far as FOX Sports and my producers behind the scenes, they have all been very supportive — which I am very grateful for. They’ve encouraged me to take all the time I will need in terms of maternity leave, and not rush the process. Many of them have families of their own and understand what my new normal will be.

One of the very first calls I made to share the news was to Krista Voda, my former colleague at SPEED Channel. In a panic, I asked her, “What do I do now?” I remember working with her on our Trackside broadcast when she was pregnant with her daughter, so I knew she had firsthand experience. Needless to say, she talked me off the ledge and continues to be someone I lean on for advice concerning motherhood while working in the sport.

My FOX Sports colleague Jamie Little also has become a sounding board for my various questions about pit-road reporting while pregnant, and was the first to send me a racing-themed onesie.

Jamie and Krista have and continue to be my biggest role models in more ways than one. The job of pit-road reporting is hard — even if you aren’t carrying a small human inside you — and I’m thankful I can learn from several women who have done it before me. But in reality, there aren’t many of us — it’s a small club.

Kaitlyn on the job with FOX Sports, seen here interviewing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Vincie)

All the logistics aside, I’m determined to make it work. In today’s society, there still seem to be some traditional ideas that women have to choose between career and motherhood. And that is simply not the case. It’s harder — as I’m finding out — but it’s possible.

I don’t want to transition into a lifestyle that doesn’t involve the career I have worked so hard for; that’s not me. I want to be an example for my daughter of a working mother, because I think that’s a very important message to send.

My new family dynamic really is an example of two working parents who have to do everything it takes — even before her arrival — to provide for the family. It’s a constant balance between fostering the careers you have worked your whole lives for and adjusting to what the new normal will be once the latest addition to the family arrives.

When it comes to Blake, racing brought us together. And even though we live in different states, racing still brings us together every weekend. The sport will very much be a part of Kadence’s life as well, as we will likely be bringing her on the road this season and beyond.

Actually, NASCAR is already been part of her life — thanks to a few challenges that I’m thankful Blake has helped me through.

Recently, we had our largest ultrasound scheduled for a Denver appointment on April 26. Well, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans might recall, he announced his retirement on April 25 — the day I was supposed to fly out to Colorado on a 3 p.m. flight.

When the retirement news came out that morning, I didn’t even give it a second thought: I changed my flight. As a journalist, I didn’t want to miss what would likely become one of the biggest news days of the entire season. Those are the moments you remember as members of the media — being there, being a part of it and fielding your question to Dale Jr.

So I switched to a later flight, went to the news conference, drove straight to the airport, arrived in Colorado after midnight and was at my doctor’s office with Blake at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Of course, it was all worth it when we got to see Kadence’s face that day on the ultrasound, along with a plethora of other organs.

Why the name “Kadence?” The musical term “cadence” means rhythm. Our little girl has completely thrown off our life rhythm, so it seemed more than appropriate coming from two parents who are both musically inclined (I sing, he plays multiple instruments). But although this chapter in life has not been without its share of struggles, I am looking forward to what’s next, and I am grateful for the new challenges that have been thrown our way.

Blake and I are expanding from a two-car team to a three-car team. And as any team president would tell you, those expansions usually come with some growing pains along the way.

The announcement of Kadence’s impending arrival. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Vincie)

Fan Profile: Kendra Corneliusen

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Kendra Corneliusen
Location: Kansas City metro area
Twitter name: @kcorneliusen

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1994.

2. How many races have you attended?

I’ve attended 15 races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

It’s been Brad Keselowski for the last five years.

4. What made you a fan of his?

His tenacity and go get ’em attitude.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Tony Stewart.

6. Why didn’t you like him?

He gave the appearance that he was above everyone else. He let his emotions get the most of him and didn’t race with respect for the sport.

7. What is your favorite track?

Kansas Speedway of the ones I’ve visited, but Pocono is on my list.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Certainly not the new rules that were announced this year. It’s made for an interesting year for sure!

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The ability for one team to only have a certain number of cars. That way, it gives everyone a chance and there’s not one MAJOR player in the sport.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

It depends on if I am watching the race alone or with others.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Just enjoy it. The sport is great if you can get past your “friends” mocking your love for the sport of left turns.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Enjoy life each day — I do!

Social Spotlight with Jim Utter

Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Jim Utter of Motorsport.com. This interview is also available in podcast form.

What is your general philosophy when it comes to using Twitter? Are you using it as your business account, personal account, a mix of both? How do you look at it?

Well, I don’t know if you remember this, but I was actually one of the last NASCAR beat writers to go on Twitter (he joined in July 2009). I vigorously resisted doing so, more because I saw it as more of a personal thing. … At the time I just really wasn’t interested in it.

Then I started to get some blowback from the (Charlotte Observer) office about utilizing it as a work-related tool. And so I really only got on Twitter because I was kind of encouraged by work to start doing that. But I told them when I did it, I was like, “Look, this is gonna be me. I’m not gonna try and pretend to be someone else, I’m not gonna try to not say stuff.” Because I always thought and viewed it as a representation of myself: What I like, what I don’t like, how I feel.

But at the same time, I always viewed it as something — and I still don’t understand to this day why people do this — that shouldn’t be used as an escape mechanism to say nasty things to people that you wouldn’t otherwise say to their face.

So I was one of the last to get on. When I did, my theory was I was just gonna tweet about what I was doing related to work, the racing stuff.

At one time, there were so many (NASCAR media) people on Twitter that there was a running joke. Like you would say, “Caution,” and 17 people would say, “Caution,” on Twitter all at the same time because we’re all right (next to each other).

So my thing was always during races to try to listen and tweet things that other people weren’t necessarily tweeting about. I would try to — and I still do this to some extent — tweet snippets from radio conversations.

I do keep track of the race on race days, but I try not to just (tweet), you know, “Here’s the lineup,” or, “Caution.” Sometimes you still do that, but I can understand the other perspective of people looking at their timeline and watching it blow up with the same exact tweet 15 times if you’re following 15 different NASCAR media people.

And then, while I was still at The Observer, I went to a Poynter Institute seminar about tweeting — it was like a webinar, I guess, through your computer. And the people who put it together basically said that they found the best use of one’s Twitter, if you’re also using it for work, was to use the “one-third rule.

One third of the time you tweet about the work that you’re doing, the actual work that you’re doing that goes on Twitter or sending out link, stuff like that. One third (is) about the things you like/dislike, your own personal stuff — like I travel and visit lighthouses, I’m a big Civil War buff, the shows that I watch on TV, I’ve met WWE people and I’ve been to see The Voice taped in Los Angeles, so I tweet about that a lot. And one-third (is) communicating with the people that you follow.

So I’ve kind of followed that. I’ve never been one to think about having your own personal account to follow, because I kind of figure it’s probably hard enough for me to get somebody to follow me anyway, I don’t need to ask them to do it twice.

Well it’s funny, because I don’t watch The Voice and I try to keep up with your hashtags and try to mute them. So I’m like, “Gosh, Utter’s tweeting about The Voice again, how do I — ?”

One time you said something on Twitter about it, and I responded to you, “For somebody who’s so social media savvy, it’s kind of odd that you would criticize a show that is one of the best at utilizing social media.” They incorporate Twitter when they got to their live shows.

Peter King from the NFL, he’ll just start tweeting about his dog or coffee or something, and I really don’t care about it, you know? I’m like, “Dude, I’m just really following you for the NFL news. I do not need to know about your dog.” You know what I mean?

Yeah, and I understand that there’s people who follow you for a particular reason. But my response generally to people who say that is: It’s my Twitter, and work is only part of what I do; it’s only part of me.

And you would be surprised. As many people as you might get who say, “Man, I don’t want to hear about that crap, blah blah blah,” I get just as many people who go visit a lighthouse, they send a random picture and share it with me, they ask me if they know which one it is, if I’ve been there and visited it.

We’ve had a lot of people within the NASCAR community who are also big Civil War buffs, and even drivers and stuff, so I get comments when I post pictures if I’m visiting somewhere. And you’d be surprised, but there’s a few that follow The Voice too, but they don’t always tweet about it.

In addition to your lighthouse pics and your Civil War stuff, you’re also known for rarely backing down from your opinions on Twitter. If you have an opinion, you’re going to state it and then if other people disagree, you’re going to take them on. You’re not going to say, “OK, yeah, that’s fine.” You’re going to say, “No!” And then you’re go back and forth with them.

The arguments, do you enjoy going back and forth with people or are you frustrated they’re not seeing your point of view?

I have absolutely no problem with going back and forth with people. In fact, I enjoy it. Where I draw the line is if you can’t have a civil conversation without turning to profanity and calling people names and stuff, or just people saying, “Well that’s just stupid, you’re a dumbass,” and all that stuff.

Look, opinions are opinions; that’s what they are. They’re supposed to be what you think. If your opinion can be swayed every time by someone disagreeing with you, then you really don’t have an opinion; you’re just going with the flow. So when people say, “You never back down from your opinion,” that’s probably (why).

There’s a difference to me between things that are factual and can be looked up and decided whether you’re right or wrong, and things that are true opinions, where it’s just me and you or whoever just stating what they think the situation is or is not. And it’s alright to disagree with people.

And I know you hear a lot of people complaining about me blocking them, but I can promise you that every person who complains about that said something really nasty in their tweet. Usually I send them a reminder of what they said; I usually send the reminder before I block them. So like, “If you’re wondering why, this is why.” And people complain all the time.

The kind of funny thing is, when I was at the Observer, there were people that I blocked who said really nasty things — and they would complain to my editor. And it would be like, “Well, you said this.” (They would respond by saying) “Well, you didn’t have to take it so seriously.”

Look, you choose your life; we’re all responsible for what we say.

But there were people who wound up saying something to me, who I blocked, who went to the Observer website. When you write bylines at the Observer in the paper and online, it had your e-mail address underneath — (so they would) would email me and apologize and ask me if I would unblock them.

Did you do it?

Honestly, I have relented a couple of times. And I don’t make a big deal about it. You know, look, if somebody’s willing to realize that they made a mistake and can carry out a conversation without being a jerk about it, that’s OK.

Some people say some things that are really nasty, and I’m just like, “Ugh, no, sorry. You had your chance.” One and done.

Do you ever worry you’ve blocked too many people? If you have a story that you need to get out there, it could impact the overall scheme of page views?

No, because in general — and this wouldn’t necessarily be true for you because you’ve kind of branched out on your own now — but for me, far more people see what I write by going to Motorsport.com and looking it up in various ways or having it shared on Facebook and their Twitter account than ever see it just from mine, even if I do have a lot of followers.

And that’s the other thing: Twitter is a tool, but it’s not the only tool, and it frustrates me sometimes. I had this conversation with you, about trying to make generalizations about the fanbase or the world in general based on who shows up on Twitter, because everybody is not on it and everybody who uses it is not on it at the same time.

It’s (one) method of gauging response — but it’s not necessarily an accurate method for gauging response. The funny thing to me is how many people, and you’ve probably run onto it, who actually believe that most people are on Twitter.

It’s really, honestly, less than 20% (actually 21% of all U.S. adults, according to Pew Research).

Yeah, it’s very small. And then you take that number and then divide it down to a NASCAR fan, right? Twenty percent of the general population — what level of that is the general NASCAR fan who’s on Twitter? The number keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller. So the world that you’re talking to is really not that big in the general sense.

But before Twitter existed, we never had a method to communicate with people, fans, other drivers, people in the sport, other sports…

You had to wait for a letter to the editor.

Exactly, a letter to the editor or they emailed you, when email came around. That’s the part I think that has changed the dynamic and it has made it where people — even if it’s an unrepresentative sample, and even if it’s not the majority — they still have a method to communicate with you that they’ve never had before.

So I try to appreciate that, but at the same time I also try to keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a representative example of all that’s going on. One thing I saw that’s very interesting was, you know, NASCAR has the fan survey that’s entirely not anything to do with Twitter or social media.

The fan council thing.

And the responses the fan council gets are, in many times — and I’ve seen some of the stuff — dramatically different than from, say, a random Twitter poll. So that’s why I say you’re talking to a group of people who happen to be on Twitter at that moment. They may all agree at that moment that it’s a bad thing.

But you have to remember why you follow people, too. Do you necessarily follow people that you don’t like what they say? Generally not, right? On your personal side, you’re generally following people that you’re interested in, you like what they say, you share their opinion, maybe share their politics.

So you’re not, in general, going to expose yourself to people who have contrary views, which is why many times on social media, everybody always seems like they’re complaining about something — because they’re hearing something that they don’t like to hear in general.

What’s interesting when I think about this sort of echo-chamber concept for Twitter is even though the data might be different from what NASCAR sees on the fan council, doesn’t it feel sometimes that NASCAR makes decisions or reactions on stuff based on what they’re seeing on Twitter?

So it’s sort of this very powerful thing, and you’re right: It may not be representative of what’s going on, then NASCAR makes a decision, then all of a sudden people are mad. And they’re like, “What happened? Everybody on Twitter felt this way.”

And the reason is because all the people who are fine and dandy with it didn’t say anything: “I have no reason to complain. I’m happy with what they did.”

Then they make the decision, and then the other side is what you hear from because they’re the ones that are upset now because they changed it: “I didn’t want it to change.”

But it’s the truth if you look back at the letters to the editor in the newspaper. Most people don’t write in to say that something is wonderful — they write in because they don’t agree with something. There are exceptions, of course, but let’s face it: Even responses to stories online, most people are saying something contrary to the premise of the article — they don’t agree with it, they think it should be more this way, less that way.

Most of them don’t sign on to say, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read.” I mean, sometimes they do. You’ll write a great story and you’ll get people who will call you out on Twitter and say, “You should really check out this story that Jeff wrote. It’s really good.” But by and large, that’s not what you see.

Do you view your real life persona and your Twitter persona as the same thing? Do you play it up as sort of a character at all?

I don’t try to change. If your only interaction with me is on Twitter, like if you never hear me speak or you’ve never met me in person… (and) the only time you come across what I do is on Twitter, (then) maybe most of the time it appears I’m in an argument with somebody, right? So you probably think, “Wow, that guy’s a jerk. Every time I turn on Twitter he’s arguing with somebody.”

But that’s what we do. Do you know what I mean? That’s part of our jobs: we all have opinions and we share (with) each other. I’ve actually joked about this with NASCAR people who say, “I hate that tweet. I really hated that tweet.” I say, “You know what? Next time that happens, wait five minutes, and I promise you I’ll have moved on to something else.” You get too wrapped up in things.

The other thing I can’t stand is being corrected about spelling. First of all, I don’t get graded on spelling on Twitter. I don’t get any prize if I spell correctly. I don’t get paid more — I don’t get paid a dime to tweet, by the way, it’s just part of what I do. So I don’t care about spelling on Twitter. I don’t care if I used the wrong verb tense or anything.

The things that irk people sometimes are just really strange to me. Why would you even care? It’s like writing on Facebook — do you check your grammar before you do a post? I use Facebook generally more for family and stuff, I don’t really do too much with work. Sometimes I’ll share articles.

But you’ll get people who are like, “Well that was a crappy picture. You should have used a better camera.” Well I’m like, “I don’t have a better camera! I used the camera I have! Thanks, though.”

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and I think if we just accept that not everything is and everybody has faults, you just have to get past them.

One last thing. If some people read this and are like, “Man, Jim, can you unblock me?” How can they get through to you? Do you want people to email you, or what can they do?

(Laughs) If you’ve been blocked and you really have a good reason why you shouldn’t be, you can e-mail me at jim.utter@motorsport.com.

But to be honest with you, I have this little comeback when people say, “Jim Utter blocks everybody on Twitter!” And I’ll be like, “I have almost 60,000 followers. So you’re saying that I would have 125,000 or 300,000 followers if I unblocked everybody?” I can promise you that’s not the case.

This interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Week 10

Dang it! I was so bummed to see Zeke go last week, even though it was only a matter of time (I had him ranked No. 9 entering the episode). Unfortunately for Zeke, he was too good at the game AND had a compelling story, which made him a giant target.

So who’s next? Well, with the six-person voting alliance shrinking to five (Cirie, Andrea, Aubry, Michaela and Sarah) and possibly getting shaken up, the game seems wide open.

Here’s how the final nine players stack up, ranked by best chance to win:

1. Sarah (Last week: 1). It certainly seems like the Survivor story is being told from Sarah’s point of view, which means she’s controlling much of the action. Even last week, when her ride-or-die ally Zeke ended up going home, it was based around her decision not to fight it and make waves. So she’s still in a very good spot, and I love how she’s playing this year.

2. Cirie (Last week: 3). For as good as Cirie is, she’s still playing a bit under the radar. Is that even possible? Well, she’s quietly pulling all the strings and people are approaching her to see if they can make moves. And yet she’s not mentioned herself as a huge target! Until someone figures out how dangerous she is, she’ll stay in a power position. They’d be foolish to let her reach the end.

3. Andrea (Last week: 4). You have to hand it to Andrea: She knew Zeke was going to come for her — he said as much — so she got him out first. Well-played, Andrea. I don’t know about her long-term prospects of winning, but she’s in a good spot with the majority alliance for now. However, I think Sarah will turn on her and convince others to do the same.

4. Aubry (Last week: 2). I like Aubry’s game, but it feels like she’s more along for the ride than making moves herself. I’m not sure that will result in a winning strategy unless some of the more prominent players get the boot and she can really start playing. Sarah indicated she doesn’t trust Aubry, so where does that leave her in the big picture?

5. Troyzan (Last week: 6). He was clueless after the majority alliance voted Zeke out. His hope is that the group falls apart and he’s able to grab onto some of the pieces. I want to pull for him, but he doesn’t seem to be in a great spot. At least he’s still got the idol in his pocket.

6. Brad (last week: 7). He really needed that Zeke alliance to work out, and it didn’t. Zeke proposed a final five with Brad, Troyzan, Michaela and Sarah. Maybe Sarah can salvage it and pull something together that involves Brad and Troyzan. Otherwise, Brad might be in trouble.

7. Sierra (Last week: 5). Oof. Sierra told the main alliance she wanted to flip and would do whatever they wanted, and they told her to vote for…Tai! They left her out of the Zeke vote completely. That’s not a good sign, because they didn’t even care about building trust with her. At least she saved herself last week, but she’s a top candidate to get booted tonight.

8. Tai (Last week: 8). His own alliance — Brad, Troyzan and Sierra — all voted for him last week! People will gladly throw Tai under the bus, and he’d better play one of those two idols soon or he’ll go home with both of them. He still has a chance to make the final three, but he wouldn’t win if he got there.

9. Michaela (Last week: 10). Not going to happen. Her best chance is to stick by Cirie and Sarah, both of who want to work with her, and keep voting with the majority. But she’s not making big moves herself and people on the jury don’t seem to like her attitude enough to give her $1 million.

12 Questions with Daniel Hemric

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daniel Hemric of Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series team. I spoke to Hemric at Richmond International Raceway. This interview is available as a podcast and is also transcribed below.

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

I feel like for myself, the natural ability was always there, but given my upbringing and having to work on my own cars and build my own race cars and do all that stuff, I had to work at it — like work extremely hard at it.

As you get to this level, it seems like that is even more of a difference. So even if the natural ability is there, you’re also talking about, what, the top 120something best guys at this in the world? So you gotta have both sides of that in order to succeed.

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

I consider myself kind of like an old-school asphalt racer of those guys’ style because of just working on my own stuff and having to do it a different way from hard work and knowing the ins and outs of a race car — not just the showing up part of the racing. And that’s something that I felt has kind of set me (apart) to hopefully have fans from Dale Jr. and Tony Stewart.

Those (fans) who are looking for someone to attach themselves to: Do it with a guy that’s had to come up in kind of the same route in order to work hard to get to where they’re at. I try to pride myself on that, and hopefully it gives all the other kids opportunities that were in the same situation I am, fighting tooth and nail for their lives in order to have the opportunity of getting into a race car.

For me to be able to do that, I hope to help other kids do that someday and hopefully (fans) get attached to that.

Do you think knowing the car in and out so well can give you an advantage when you’re giving feedback to your crew chief, whether it’s for race setups or during a race?

Yup, I feel like that’s something my crew chief Danny Stockman and I actually live and breathe off of. The new package in the Xfinity Series, the new car for myself — we’re at Race No. 8 here in Richmond, and we’re kind of both learning on the go. So just the little stuff I’ve done, especially when we go short-track racing that has helped me in other style of vehicles, I feel like has applied and continues to apply as our relationship becomes better and better.

So I like to think that it gives me a little bit of the upper hand compared to a lot of the other younger guys as they’re trying to make a name for themselves here in the series.

The backside of that is sometimes you get in a situation where you’re trying to do too much of that, knowing the race car and stuff, so you’ve got to know when to disconnect from that.

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

I think from other levels, short-track racing to get to this level, there was never any time. I know a lot of guys say, “Oh, we never have enough time to do what we want to do during the week.” I kind of disagree with that because I remember the sleepless nights, building race cars all night, getting up and driving the truck to the racetrack.

So for me, it’s knowing what to do with the time, not having to come home every night to clean your fingernails and scrub your hands just to go to dinner with the wife and go back to the shop. It’s knowing what to do with that spare time that has allowed me to take on some other endeavors in life.

So you have too much time, or you have more free time than you’re used to?

Yeah, I wouldn’t say too much, but I have more free time than I’ve been accustomed to over the last 10 to 15 years, trying to make a name for myself in racing. But it’s allowed me to take on some other sports and pay attention to other world news and stuff like that. It’s something I never did growing up, so I’m trying to reconnect with stuff that I’ve lost out on in the past.

What’s something you’ve picked up with your additional time?

Golf is one thing that I never saw myself doing, but a round of golf is four to four-and-a-half hours, no matter how you want to look at it, so that’s something I’ve tried to take to. And it’s also helped in racing a little bit, just how you can mentally take yourself in and out of the game really quick. So I’ve tried to connect to that.

Throughout that, I’ve made some great relationships: I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and (Kyle) Larson a couple of times, and Christopher Bell’s a good golf buddy of mine, so all of us kind of go in together and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed.

In golf, you only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong, and you can get mad at yourself in a hurry, you know?

Yeah, I had an old golfer tell me something just two weeks ago that made me think about it. Golf’s four-and-a-half hours, but the backside of that is you’re only playing for 90 seconds. Your backswing and your full swing is three-tenths of a second, so in 90 seconds, you can completely be in left field or at where you need to be. So I thought that was a pretty good analogy.

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

Absolutely. I feel like with where our sport’s at today, having those one-on-one encounters is gonna go further than maybe doing some meet-and-greets with large groups of people.

First off, if somebody notices me, that’s a plus in itself. I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do here. But on the backside of that, if I’m taking the time to make their encounter that much more special, it can lead to them trickling your name throughout other people (and) their family, which can lead to a big following. So come see me.

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

I think it’s everything behind the scenes. For me, I get a chuckle over a lot of the sponsorship stuff and how late some of these deals get put together.

A lot of people from the outside in, just the casual fans of the sport, don’t realize that there’s been plenty of times in all three garages, Truck, Xfinity and Cup, where cars are getting wrapped during the midnight oil and all that stuff, and (fire)suits are getting embroidered and all that stuff that makes the deal go around. A lot of people don’t get to see that side of it, so people in the background, they don’t get all the credit they need.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

The last driver I texted…here, let me look to be sure. I don’t wanna lie to you.

Brad Keselowski (his former team owner in the Truck Series). He’s the guy I always try to shoot a text to here and there, especially going to a new racetrack for the first time. And having a great relationship with him from running his truck, he’s always there to help me with what to look for and what not (to look for), so he’s the guy I always text.

So is he still willing to give advice?

Yeah, Brad’s honestly given some of the best advice, in my opinion. I know that I have a ton of depth in my RCR group as teammates, but Brad — doing all the things he’s done in the sport and being so successful in doing it a lot of the same way I’ve tried to come up doing it — he understands the trials of trying to jump in and not only go fast and perform, but do it at new places and do it in a quick manner.

It’s a lot to take in, so he kind of helps prep me on what to look for, what not to look for and how to get the balance of the race cars right. Just helping me do what I can do in the seat and trying to let the crew guys worry about the race car.

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

Note: I forgot to ask this question. My bad!

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

You know, I think I’ve thrown two or three middle fingers out the window over time, I’d say more so in lapped traffic, going through those situations.

But when you’re racing a guy really hard and he’s not giving you any room, even for position or for the lead lap, I find a casual deuces out the window is more of a, “Hey, watch this, watch me drive away from you,” remark. I feel like it makes more of a remark than a middle finger.

So you’re like “peace out?”

That’s exactly right.

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 so. I feel like in the Truck Series, the racing was root and gouge. And the way the downforce in the trucks are, without getting too in-depth with the aero stuff, you can’t really get much room, so you find a lot of those enemies and things you want to pay back.

But in the Xfinity Series, having RCR and pretty much six cars, at the racetrack, we’re around each other a lot. So a guy like me and Austin Dillion spend a lot of time racing each other this year, and he’s a really smart racer at letting me go at times. We’ve both found each other in the situation of playing give and take throughout the course of the year.

Yeah, it’s crazy; you never forget all that stuff and it does go a long way.

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

I’d have to call it lunch, but I had a casual lunch in the hauler in my first year in the Truck Series (when) I was teammates with Travis Pastrana. It was such an interesting, crazy excitement, and the guy’s just always wound up.

I had a hard time eating and following where we were going with our conversation, but man, he’s such a cool dude and so down to earth, it was definitely an experience to sit down and have some time with that guy. Hopefully I can do a couple more of those.

It’s crazy how some of the bigger people in life don’t have the larger-than-life personality. I remember that Pastrana was so chill.

He was so chill, and if you can keep him on focused on what we’re talking about, it’s as good as it can get.

As we’re talking here, my mind goes one other place. It wasn’t a dinner, but just recently I had the opportunity to go to one of the top five biggest tennis matches in the world. I know nothing about tennis, but hell, I looked right, and three rows over sitting next to me is Bill Gates. I thought, “Man, here’s a kid from Kannapolis, North Carolina and Bill Gates is sitting less than 20 yards from me. Where am I at? How have I gotten here?” So that was pretty cool.

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

You know, I keep going back to the short track side of things, but you work all the time, and the healthy eating is hard to follow suit. At this level, working on yourself, studying races, doing all that stuff — that’s just stuff that I live for and thrive on, and working out I love. But I feel like I work out so I can eat what I want. I love food, I just wish I could figure out a way to get a more healthy lifestyle that way.

What are some of your guilty pleasure foods?

In downtown Mooresville, there’s JJ Wasabi’s Japanese restaurant. That’s my go-to. My wife Kenzie (Ruston) gets mad because I probably eat there three or four times a week and have no shame over it. But that’s my go-to.

12. The last interview was with Elliott Sadler. His question is: Should (NASCAR) draw a pill and invert a certain number of starting starts right before the green flag? So the polesitter would come out and draw a pill and then they invert X amount of spots. Would you be down with that?

Yeah, Elliott coming from a short track background (like) myself, that’s normal at a regular Friday or Saturday night local show. To go up and have six or eight Coke cans sitting on the wall and have a fan come down and flip one over and there’ll be a Sharpie number, you know, one through six or eight, and that’s where you’re gonna start whether you’re the fastest qualifier or eighth, you could be on the pole.

I don’t like the (full) inversion, but I like where you pick your random spot and you don’t know where or who you’re gonna be around. So I’d be all for that at some of the races, where we’re looking to amp everybody up a little bit.

I don’t know who the next interview is with, but do you have a general question that I can ask another driver?

I’d like to know maybe from one of the guys who maybe haven’t had to come up through it like Elliot Sadler or myself or Brad Keselowski — maybe one of the guys who had financial backing at a younger age — how do they transform from being that guy to being a guy who’s known for his own ability and not that paycheck?

So basically, how do you overcome the money guy perception?

Yeah, how do you overcome the perception of, “His daddy got him there,” or, “His sponsor got him there,” to, “This guy here means business, he’s gonna be here for a long time.”

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next month, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

An act of kindness in a coffee shop

So I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Albuquerque — a place called “Zendo” — and working on my laptop.

A woman walked in a few minutes ago, and she appeared to be homeless and disturbed. She was wearing a hospital gown with the back loosely tied and wore a pair of blue scrub pants on underneath. Her hair was in dreads.

“Can you give me food?” she asked loudly. “Can you give me water?”

Conversations stopped for a second and the shop briefly got quiet as people turned to look in the woman’s direction.

But it didn’t take long for people to react in a positive way.

The barista nodded, stopped what she was doing and poured the woman a cup of ice water. A customer walked over and put some change into the homeless woman’s hand. A second customer approached and, in a very comforting manner, asked what food the woman wanted.

“A sandwich,” the woman said loudly. She was confused.

“They don’t have sandwiches here,” the customer said gently. “Would you like a pastry?”

The woman said yes. It looked like the customer bought it for her, though I’m not sure.

After five minutes, the woman had a pastry and a cup of coffee with five yellow packets of sugar. She abruptly walked out the door, made a left turn and started wandering down the sidewalk into the Albuquerque sunshine.

The customer who bought the pastry swept up the crumbs left behind and threw them away. The barista cleaned some of the coffee spilled by the woman when she took a sip (she insisted on no lid) and tossed the ice water, which the woman didn’t end up taking.

Conversations and work had resumed. No one seemed to pay the incident any mind.

But I was a bit thrown off — in a good way. Did this woman know she could come into Zendo and there would be friendly people to help? Or was it just random?

Either way, it was nice to see people spring into action. When helping strangers is that normal, maybe this world isn’t as bad as it seems sometimes.

Fan Spotlight: Bob Morris

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Bob Morris
Location: Bullhead City, Ariz.
Twitter name: (Bob doesn’t use Twitter)
Age: Old

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1976.

2. How many races have you attended?

Ten.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4. What made you a fan of his?

He’s a true old-school racer and not full of himself.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Rowdy Busch.

6. Why don’t you like him?

He is the opposite of the answer to No. 4.

7. What is your favorite track?

Talladega.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

I would like more night races, like at our local tracks.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Double-file restarts.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Depends on the track. When the races are at tracks of one mile or less, I yell constantly. Other tracks, not so much.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Attend at least one race in the front row on the straightaway! Nothing like it.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I prefer beer to wine and trucks to cars.