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The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler of JR Motorsports. I spoke to Sadler at Bristol Motor Speedway. This interview is available both as a podcast and written interview, which is transcribed below.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I think it’s gotta be 70 percent from natural ability and 30 percent from working at it. From what I’ve learned in my career, I wish I worked as hard when I was 20 as I do now. I’m way in better shape than I was 20 years ago. I’m more mentally prepared each and every week for races now than I was 20 years ago. I just wish I knew then what I know now (about) working at it and staying right.
But I think natural ability and hand-eye coordination, just starting at an early age and getting adapted to it and adjusting to it as you go, I think helped me get to where I’m at today.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
Hey man, I’m kind of one of those old-school drivers, too. Don’t jump ship and go to these young guys yet. (Laughs) Stay with someone who raced against some of these guys.
It’s neat to see young guys coming in and I know our sport’s healthy, but fans, support the people who have been around for a while. Keep us going; stay on our bandwagon for as long as you can.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
The hardest part of my job honestly is leaving my wife and kids every week, especially my kids. They don’t really understand why I’m gone for a couple days at a time. My son really wants to come with me every week, but we’ve got to do school and we have some other things going on. So by far, leaving is the toughest part.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Oh, 100 percent. You know, I’ve always had this rule: If you’re nice to me, I’m nice to you. So come on over if you want. A lot of fans have been really good about waiting until they watch you finish eating because, look, man, I’m a pretty messy eater. You might not want me to shake your hand or sign anything if I’m eating some chicken wings or something like that. But I’ve always been, “Hey, if you’re nice and courteous to me, I’m the same with you.”
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
Wow, a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage. That’s really good. I don’t know of any right now because it’s not getting enough coverage, Jeff. (Laughs)
Everyone’s talking about the new stage racing and the bonus points for the regular season, but I don’t hear a lot of media people or TV talking about the actual bonus points that’s accumulated (for the playoffs). They’re showing all the bonus points that people are accumulating during the races, but they’re not making one for the actual championship Chase that you get to keep through the Chase the whole time.
That’s what they should be showing. That’s way more important. The one point that you’re getting towards the championship in the playoffs is more important than the 10 points you’re getting for leading the stage.
Yeah, it’s like, “This guy just got five points for the race during the regular season,” but you already know that he’s going to be in the playoffs. That bonus point, that’s what is really going to matter.
It is 100 percent way more important that I think the media or TV and all of that kind of miss the boat on. That’s way more important than the lists that they’re showing out now TV.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
I texted Dale Jarrett yesterday, does he count?
He’s a driver.
He’s won a few races. He and I were texting each other yesterday, laughing about some trips that we had to Bristol in the past when we were teammates. It’s good to have those memories.
I think the last one other than him that I raced with was Clint Bowyer.
That’s probably a good guy to text with. I’m sure he always keeps it fun.
Always, no matter what you text him. But you have to text him in really short sentences. He’s not going to pay attention, you know, (past) two lines on his phone. If it goes more than two lines, you’ve lost him. It’s got to be very short and concise.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
No. I don’t look at it that way at all. I think fans are entertained one way or another by what we do, but I don’t look at us as entertainers. I look at us as athletes trying to do our job and win races and run up front, and hopefully you’re entertained by that.
But I don’t think it’s my job to go out there and create a storyline on or off the racetrack to try to entertain what’s going on. My job is to try to put my car in victory lane.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I give it often and I get it sometimes. (Laughs) Mostly to the young guys that don’t really understand the procedures of the sport. You know, that’s the biggest thing why we miss Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin, some of those guys that will pretty much grab you and tell you what you did wrong. You can’t really do that anymore, so middle fingers are definitely used.
A lot of people use them. Just be careful what color gloves you wear, because they can pick it up pretty easy from outside.
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?
One hundred percent. I’ve always kept a mental note of, “I know this guy is gonna help me — like when we’re restrictor plate racing. This guy does this, this guy does that. This guy’s positive to work with. I’m not gonna work with this guy because he’s gonna bail on you as soon as something happens.”
So yes, you definitely have a list of drivers that you would rather work with or you can give and take more. Some guys won’t give and take at all with you. Some guys will, and you know that.
Bubba Wallace let me go by him last week, so this week when he gets to me, if he catches me from half a straightaway behind, I’ll let him go. So you give and take and understand who does that for you. Tony Stewart said from Day 1, “You race people the way you want to be raced.” So that creates a negative list and a positive list.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
The most famous person I’ve had dinner with — Vince Vaughn.
Vince Vaughn, that’s pretty cool. How was that dinner?
That was pretty awesome and this was right when Wedding Crashers came out.
That was like peak Vince Vaughn.
It was peak Vince Vaughn. It was in Las Vegas through friends of friends and we ended up at the same table and hung out that night for a few beverages and I learned that he talks just as fast in real life as he did on the big screen. But that was a pretty entertaining dinner that I was part of.
So you were with a dude who was in Swingers in Vegas, hanging out with him? That’s hard to beat right there.
Yes, it’s pretty cool. That might be the highlight of my life in Vegas. (Laughs)
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
My English, man. I’ve got a Southern drawl. A lot of times when I talk, my crew chief can’t understand me because he’s from Michigan. If I can work on that — is there some kind of tapes that I can listen to to help me speak? I know you’re shaking your head no right now, like you can’t understand me, Gluck.
I don’t Rosetta Stone has come out with something yet.
See? I know she helps you with foreign languages, but how about like a Southern twang?
Or Virginia. Why isn’t there that?
Exactly! We need our own Hooked on Phonics book in Southern Virginia.
12. The last interview was with Kyle Larson. His question was: You’ve seen all sorts of different drivers come through the ranks over the years. How has the racing style changed, especially with the influx of younger drivers coming in today?
The biggest difference I’ve seen is (that) younger drivers used to come in with not as good equipment. They used to come in on lower level — I don’t want to say lower level, but different-tiered teams. So they gave a lot more and went through the learning process.
Now I think younger drivers are in top-notch equipment right off the bat, and they can be more aggressive and they can afford to tear up a race car because they know they’re going to get another brand new one next week.
Before, when I came along, it was a lot different — you had to learn how to take care of your stuff, and if that meant that you had to slow down a little bit to make sure you took care of your stuff, you had to do that. So the biggest thing I’ve seen there is young drivers that are really good and they are also in really good equipment.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, so do you have a question I can ask another driver in general?
Yes. Does he or she think it would be great for the sport if they start pulling a pill and inverting the field right before the race starts? Let’s say you qualify and right before the race starts, and when we’re doing the national anthem — make a big deal out of it — the pole winner has to pull a pill out of a hat and it could be eight, 10, 12, four, whatever (amount of cars) NASCAR thinks is cool, and that’s how many cars are inverted, and you don’t know until right before the race starts.
You wouldn’t want to sandbag too much, but you’d want to maybe sandbag a little bit in qualifying.
Well it depends on what the rules are. Maybe it’s a pill in there with a zero on it. Make it unpredictable, but I think you could really build something around it, like see pre-race what (the polesitter) draws and then see teams scrambling because your car’s gonna run different depending on what you draw.
And you really have no time for strategy because it’ll happen right there.
Do it right before the race, ’cause that’s when the most eyes are on the race, it’s the pre-race, right? Everybody’s getting ready, national anthem, we want to see the start of the race, see what happens. Throw that kink into it.
I like that too because now it forces you to watch the pre-race.
That’s right, ’cause now you don’t know where your favorite driver’s gonna start, because you don’t know if they’ll be part of the invert or not.
I hope that happens.
Well, plug it along. It’s your idea. Go ahead and run with it. You could just cancel the tape, nobody knows it came from me and it could be your idea.
OK! I’m going to edit this part out, thanks!