Social Spotlight with Noah Gragson

Each week, I ask a member of the motorsports community to shed some light on their social media usage. This week: 19-year-old driver Noah Gragson, who is currently ninth in the Camping World Truck Series standings for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

One thing that caught my eye recently on social media has been your, “If you give me a certain number of retweets, I’ll do this crazy thing.” And you ate a huge thing of wasabi because of it. What is wrong with you, Noah?

We were at lunch. I was with my helmet painter — a guy named Greg Stumpff, he paints all my helmets at Off Axis Paint. We were eating sushi, and it was me, a couple of my buddies and Matt Crafton was there, too. One of my buddies said, “If you get 1,000 retweets, you have to eat the wasabi. Tweet that right now.” And I was like, “Hell yeah” (because) I’m not gonna get 1,000 retweets, you know?

So he’s like, “That’s too much, you have to get 500 retweets.” And so I tweeted it out, 500 retweets and I tweeted a picture of the wasabi deal. And the deal was if I got 500 retweets by the end of the meal, I had to eat it.

So I was like, “I’m not getting it. It’s 30 minutes, it’s not going to happen.” Anyway, let’s say it’s a 40-minute meal and we’re 35 minutes in and I’m rushing to get the check and everything because I’m like, “Hell yeah, this ain’t happening.” And 300 retweets in, I’m like, “There’s no way.”

And then Crafton tweeted Dale Jr. and NASCAR and few other people, he tweeted the Nascarcasm guy, and he said, “Listen guys, retweet this.” And we have five to 10 minutes left in the meal, and in 30 seconds, Dale Jr. retweeted it. And 30 seconds later, it was already up to 700 retweets. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this guy is a God, Dale Jr.” So that was the highlight.

I think I’ve watched that video three or four times to see your face. What was the reaction after that?

I kind of cheated the system. I haven’t told anyone — don’t tell anyone this — but as I took the wasabi, I kind of rolled it up and got a lot of it in my hands so I could make the ball smaller, like rub some off. And so I put it in my mouth and it all pasted down my throat, like rubbed down it. It was the most disgusting thing.

And I don’t really throw up from that kind of stuff, but I started gagging instantly. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so hot” and everything. So I put that in, and it was burning for about an hour. I’d say I had a rock pit in my stomach for two days straight. It was not good. But hey, I got retweeted by Dale Jr., so it was well worth it.

I was more asking about the social media reaction than the physical reaction. I mean, I’m sorry that happened to your body, but…

(Laughs) Oh, so the social media reaction, it blew up. I honestly didn’t think it was as big as it was going to be. I had people tweeting me like, “I’m watching TV in Canada right now and you’re on the TV.” Another guy tweeted me like, “Hey you’re on the ‘Mike & Mike in the Morning’ TV show right now.”

I didn’t even know you made Mike & Mike.

SportsCenter and USA Today Sports tweeted it. So I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool.” My dad follows me on Twitter and everything, he saw all that stuff and I was with him and he was like, “Man, sports must really be struggling right now if you’re making all those headlines.” It was pretty cool. I got a lot of followers off it.

So now are people expecting you to do more crazy things because they followed you because of this and they’re like, “Well geez, what’s the next crazy thing?”

It’s actually kind of funny. So I did that and I got 1,000 retweets on that tweet and a few people followed me. And then we went to Texas and it was my first time at Texas Motor Speedway, and they have this big gas station Buc-ee’s there. Have you been there?

I just went there on a road trip recently. Yeah, that’s crazy.

It’s like a Walmart-sized gas station. It was so awesome. So I took pictures in there and I was standing in the middle of the store; I took it of one side of the store and then the other side. I tweeted those two pictures, I said, “This is a gas station in Texas. They really don’t lie that everything is bigger in Texas.” And that got like 3,000 likes and 1,000 retweets. I’m like, “Man, we’re doing something on social media.”

And then for the Fourth of July, I got these visor sunglasses. They’re like the most total redneck thing you can find. So I had those and (tweeted), “500 retweets and I’ll wear them at Kentucky.” I got 500 retweets, so I had to wear them all weekend.

You wore them in TV interviews, I saw.

Yeah, so that kind of blew up and everything. I gotta be innovative and try to get myself on other people’s Twitter pages. That’s kind of my philosophy: How can I get my Twitter on other people’s Twitter pages that aren’t following me? And so that’s kind of like why I do those retweet deals and all that. And just to be a funny guy.

It seems like it’s a natural fit for your personality because you’re a fun dude. But on the other hand, it is very strategic in some ways because as a young driver, it helps to put your name out there, get people knowing who you are. So I’m sure there’s some pressure on you to keep trying to come up with cool stuff where you can continually do more viral-type things.

Absolutely. I don’t wanna say everyone’s like this in the garage, but people are just so kind of scripted, like even on TV interviews and all that. So I try to be that guy that people want to see. You can rattle off your sponsors, which is good because the sponsors are the reason why we’re out here racing. But I like to be that guy where people want to tune in for your next interview and be like, “What’s he gonna say?” instead of being that guy where they’re like, “Ah, he’s gonna thank his manufacturer and his three sponsors and he’s gonna say the car is good.”

I guess people would say I’m kind of out there, kind of like Kenny Wallace. I wouldn’t say I’m as bad as Kenny Wallace — because Kenny Wallace is a hilarious dude, but he’s a wild man. So I’d say I’m kind of a wild man, too. Just gotta keep the people wanting more.

What are all the forms of social media that you use, and can you rank those from your favorite to your least favorite?

I use four of them, I guess the four main ones. I’ve got Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. So Facebook, I’d say that’s the lowest. I have a lot of friends on there that are back in Las Vegas, older people like my grandparents and my parents’ friends who don’t normally have Instagram or Twitter. So I like to go on Facebook sometimes and post on my personal one to my friends. I also have a Facebook page that I post on for fans and everything. I don’t post as much on there (as on Twitter); I just scroll on the timeline and watch what seems to always be funny videos on there that people are sharing.

And then Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat. I’d say those are my top three. I’d say order-wise, I’ve noticed that on Instagram, the more I post, the more followers I get. So that’s why I kind of post quite a bit compared to some people that post maybe once a week or a couple times a month. So for me, I’m pretty daily on there for the most part. I don’t want to over-post, but I don’t want to under-post, either.

And then Twitter, I’d say that’s my top one, where I can connect more with the fans. I feel like stuff spreads more on there, like more people can see it just by retweets and everything. I can connect more with the fans just through messaging and just tweeting back and forth.

And then my Snapchat, I can connect with just my friends directly. You have to be following me to see my Snapchat story, so that kind of sucks because on Twitter, you don’t have to be following me to see my posts.

I get a pretty decent following on my Snapchat stories. I like to do funny stuff, like if I’m driving down the road and I see a car that’s all beat up, every time I see something like that I’ll put ‘Five minute clock, coming to ya,” and then it’s kind of an ongoing joke.

That makes sense about Snapchat because we were just talking about how on Twitter, you have some incentive to do crazy stuff since there’s a chance that other people could pick it up. Where on Snapchat, you can be as creative as you want and it’s gonna be completely missed — no one can really forward it out there, and they have to already be following you. So it’s sort of like Snapchat takes away that incentive. It would be good if they could do something where you could have it promoted in some way.

Yeah, I mean you can tweet your link to your Twitter and everything of your Snapchat handle and everything, but like you’re saying, you have to be following that person. It kind of takes away a little bit from it. Just being able to drive your Instagram followers or your Twitter followers over to Snapchat to follow you is really the main goal of mine.

You have all these accounts in public that you’ve talked about. Do you have any way to just privately communicate with your friends? Like if you want to post a picture or something just for your friends, not for public consumption, is there another way to do that?

I don’t have any other accounts. Back in Las Vegas — well, I think it’s gotta be countrywide or worldwide — but they call them finstagrams. I guess it’s like fake Instagram or whatever. Like let’s say someone has their public one for everyone to see — mom, their grandma, aunt, uncle from Zimbabwe or whatever they want. And then they got their private one where their close friends follow it and they post whatever they want while on that.

So I don’t have that. I’m not the type of guy that would post anything differently on the finstagram account that’s private just for close friends. What you see on my real Instagram is completely me. That’s what my private one would be.

So you don’t need a finsta because people are seeing how you are anyway?

Yeah, absolutely.

You talked about Twitter and how that helps you connect with fans. I feel like a lot of people around your age group, they’re not using Twitter as much anymore. They think it’s lame. Do you feel like you’d still find it valuable if you weren’t doing it for your job?

I feel like with the job, you have to grow your fanbase and you have to grow your following. I’m kind of the guy who likes to be in the spotlight; I’m more outgoing and talkative. I’m not real quiet. So I don’t know.

Like what I do on Twitter right now, just the position I’m in, I don’t think it would really work if I’m a normal 19-year-old kid who’s going to college. I don’t think it would work, because people wouldn’t find that really interesting. They’d be like, “Oh yeah, he’s just my buddy. I’m not a fan of his.”

I definitely wouldn’t have the following that I have now. I really don’t have a huge following (6,800 followers) compared to what those Cup guys do, but I appreciate all the people that do follow me right now. It’s cool to watch how much it’s grown this year and what it can possibly be in the future.

Well, thanks for joining us. I appreciate it.

Thank you. I’ve got question for you. Are there any other Jeff Glucks out there?

Yes. There’s a dude in Canada named Jeff Gluck and he has the @JeffGluck Twitter name, so I have to be @Jeff_Gluck.

I have the best idea. Times have obviously changed and you couldn’t get paid for expressing your thoughts or capturing what you do day-to-day like bloggers do, vloggers and all that stuff. You wouldn’t get paid for that 10 years ago. But times are changing and people are making money in different ways now.

I’ve been thinking about about it, and when a new social media app comes out, I’m going to make a bunch of accounts for it, like take the username “Kim Kardashian” and all those big usernames. And then you can go and sell it to those people and make money off it.

So the first week an app comes out, you’re going to take all these big celebrity names and you’re gonna make bank off it.

Wouldn’t that be smart? Would you pay a little bit of money for regular @JeffGluck?

Yeah, I don’t want the underscore anymore. Dude in Canada, if you’re listening, call me.

I totally understand. Thankfully, I have a unique name. Noah Gragson, like what kind of name is that? It’s cool just having it my name. I would have to have like two underscores after it and like a seven and random numbers and stuff. That would suck.

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).

Social Spotlight with Tommy Joe Martins

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. This week: Tommy Joe Martins, who will drive for B.J. McLeod Motorsports in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.

A lot of people don’t get to hear the perspective of the “other side” of sport, and you are really good at letting people know it’s not all glamorous. I saw a recent tweet of yours where somebody was saying, “You have a nicer house than I do from money you made off racing,” and you were like, “Actually I don’t get paid from racing. I get paid from my job out at a driving school in Las Vegas.” So from that perspective, what’s your social media philosophy in the messages you try to send out there?

I got called out for being a little bit of a shit-stirrer last year with a lot of the stuff that I did on social media. I had my blog that I wrote a lot about our adventures through the Truck Series and our perspective on things from a small team that you’re kind of referencing there.

I don’t think a lot of people heard that story before, so it’s kind of interesting getting a lot of feedback from it. And I’ll tell you, it was 95 percent, really positive feedback. And then there was also the side saying, “Quit complaining,” kind of like the comment you were referring to there. It’s like, “Oh you’ve got it made anyway, you’re getting to drive a race car.”

I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth here at all. I know how lucky I am to get to do this. But I think the business model and the way all this works and how you get a ride and how you have to wheel and deal back here, I don’t think it’s in a spot where it should be.

When I look at the other side of the garage, obviously it’s hard not to sit there and go, “Man, that looks really nice.” I wish, not even me personally, but just the guys on the team had it a little better, thought it was a little easier. So it’s hard for me not to press “send” sometimes when I see kind of the disparity that’s going on.

What kind of feedback, in general, do you get from people? Have you noticed that you’ve been able to build a following talking about this kind of stuff, where people like the underdog?

I just don’t see it as a detriment. NASCAR, the way they portray this is that they just don’t portray it. It’s just not talked about. So it’s not that they’re portraying it in a bad light, just nobody’s really talking about it.

And with the media and everything, here’s the crazy thing: I ran basically almost half the year in Xfinity in 2014 … and I only had one media member ever even come up to me to even learn my name. So when you see that, if you’re not aligned with a big team, if you’re not a driver that’s coming in with a PR staff (then you don’t get media attention). As a kid, I didn’t know any of that kind of stuff.

So I just think that’s a little weird how the media has kind of handled that. You’ve got basically half the garage area that nobody says a word about, and that just seems weird because it just seems like the stories back here are better. I can probably tell you 15 stories about Mike Harmon, how he’s had a blowout tire on the side of the road and had to get a local gas station crew to come out, bail him off the side. That’s interesting! I mean, that’s funny!

Especially when you’ve got practice coverage (on TV). Like what are you talking about? You wanna talk about Ty Dillon’s struggles the last weekend and how he battled back from qualifying 17th? That’s just not as interesting from a story standpoint.

So that’s it. I just like telling the stories that we have to go through. I find it interesting. In a way, it was almost cathartic for me (while blogging last year) because I was creating kind of my own narrative of the whole thing. And I thought if no one else even read it, it was gonna be my narrative and it was gonna be out there. People would be able to find it.

It’s interesting that social media has allowed people to do that, right? You wouldn’t really have had a platform before to send that message out, even if you had started a blog. If you can’t send the links out to get people’s attention with it, there’s no way to flag people down. So social media, in some ways, has given a small team or a small situation an opportunity to get a bigger spotlight in some ways.

I had Sports Illustrated call me for a story last year. They wanted to attribute me in a story about Dale Jr. when he came out and said he was gonna take time off for concussions. Like what chance did I ever have doing that running 25th in the Truck race? Never. But I had the platform and I had credibility.

I come from a journalism background, so for me the writing part was fun and it was interesting. But the way that I framed it, I was telling the story of the race, but it was in a bigger context. Journalists like yourself and a few other people — especially when I was controversial and said something that stood out — people wanted to latch on that a little bit and go, “OK, well this is really interesting.”

So I had a guy from Sports Illustrated call me and literally say, “I would have never called you if you were sending out press releases. What you did was so interesting.” And I had the credibility because I was a full-time Truck Series driver, had our own little small team and I was writing all of this stuff that was pretty eye-opening stuff and I just thought it caught a lot of people’s eyes.

Quite frankly, if I hadn’t done that, you probably wouldn’t be sitting here, Jeff. And that’s what weird to me: We still would have finished 11th (at Iowa), but nobody would’ve probably known my name. It would have just been something you wrote off, and you’d probably talk to another underdog that finished up there. But just kind of the way that I’ve branded myself, even though it’s not a conventional way, at least it was an effective way where at least some of the media now and other team owners in the garage know your name.

And that’s the biggest thing: You just cannot be irrelevant. That’s in any professional sport, but especially this one — in a sport where you need sponsors and you need eyeballs on you to be able to attract them or for owners to give you a shot — they’ve got to at least know who the heck you are. And unfortunately, I think we’re at a point now where you can’t do that just driving. There has to be something else that’s interesting about what you’re doing, and I think that’s what allowed me to get some attention and at least some notoriety.

That’s true, because I saw your blogs a couple of times, I wasn’t following you on Twitter at the time, and then basically I was like, “Wow, he has so many interesting things to say, I guess I’ll follow him on Twitter, too.” So that really opened a lot of doors, as far as people knowing who you were. That said, you don’t seem to do the blog anymore. Why not?

I didn’t do the blog this year, and you’re not the first person to ask me that. There has been so much indecision from us that I couldn’t even put together a coherent story. It would have taken me three weeks to write out one of them because it was, “OK, we’re going Truck racing. OK, now I’m gonna get a ride with MDM at Daytona. Well now we’re doing our own thing at Atlanta. Well now we’re not doing anything. Well now Brandon Brown is running our truck at Martinsville. Now we’re trading the number to another team. Now I’m getting this opportunity with B.J. (to drive the No. 78 Xfinity car).” And I get that all of those are individual stories, but to me it didn’t even make sense.

I do want to write something on the opportunity that B.J. has given me here, because it has been absolutely tremendous. But honestly, it’s kind of hard for me to write about happiness. That’s kind of this weird place that I’m in. It was easy for me to write about the despair. I think it’s tougher to write about just how happy I am with the situation I’m in right now, and I’ve been really thankful, but that almost sounds repetitive because everybody’s thankful. That doesn’t stand out.

We joke about it on the other side of the garage: Well yeah, they’re happy. Everything’s comfortable, everything’s cool. And so when I’m sitting here going, “Man, this is the best situation I’ve ever been in, everything’s happy, everything’s cool,” I think that’s worth probably one “like” where somebody goes, “Nice. Tommy Joe finally got a good shot. Good for him.”

And then after a while, you’re like, “Eh, I kind of miss the old Tommy Joe where he’s writing and ranting and raving,” because you get a following from writing controversial stuff. But I wasn’t always trying to be controversial. If anything, I was trying to be really open and truthful. And some of that might have come across as controversial. When you get a following from that, I think that there’s a need to have to keep doing that. I didn’t want to always be the guy stirring the pot, so I’ve kind of taken a little bit of a step back.

If I ever see anything that really makes me go, “Man, we have got to change this,” then I’ve gotta say something. It might not be longform journalism like I was doing — I mean good grief, I wrote a few posts that were probably eight to nine pages on my laptop. But I’m gonna tweet about, I’ll say something about it.

I don’t know if you’re allowed to say, but when you’re putting that stuff on social media, obviously NASCAR is seeing it as well. Some high-level people are seeing it, and you’re writing about the economics of the sport not being so great. Did you get any blowback at the time when that was going on?

When I wrote “The Problem,” which was kind of the big one last year, I made a very critical error as a writer. I should have published the complete thought at one time. And I’d broken it into two parts. So when I released that as Part One, it didn’t really end in the greatest place. It was pretty damning, and I actually think we can probably look back and find the tweet because you quote-tweeted me on that one and said, “Wow, this is tough,” or something like that and I was like, “Oh boy, this is probably gonna go in a negative direction here.”

I got a lot of positive feedback from that, because I said what a lot of people were feeling, and maybe I’d put some backbone to it. But I didn’t do a very good job of explaining the reasoning for it was because I love NASCAR so much, and I’m so passionate about it and I care about it so much. I think I did that better in the second part, so I should have just released the whole thing.

But it was like so long — like 10 pages long — I was like, “Man, nobody’s gonna read this!” Johnny Sauter’s wife came up to me at Bristol, said she read it and said, “Man, I loved this. This is so great. I made Johnny read it.” You know Johnny, how stubborn that guy is sometimes. And Johnny said, “It was good. It was too long.” Typical Johnny Sauter, short and to the point. But he was right, and that was one part of the blog, not even the whole thing!

So I think I did the right thing breaking it up, but I did the wrong thing. So when I did that little cliffhanger in the middle, obviously that didn’t sit super great with NASCAR. They didn’t love that. And they called me and said, “We just don’t see how this helps the sport.” I honestly think they had a pretty good point — it probably did not help much. But I made them talk about it, and at least maybe got the discussion going if nothing else happened.

But they were right. They said, “We don’t wanna fine you for conduct detrimental to stock car racing.” So they were actually pretty nice about it, but it was also kind of a heated talk, I think all the way to the top of the food chain. And that’s kinda crazy to think, “Man, I wrote a blog on my personal website and there was like this inner-circle meeting between Jim Cassidy and Brian France and all these guys like, ‘What are we gonna do about this?'”

I probably put them in a weird box because if they fined me 15 grand, I’m probably out of business! So then how does that look? So they were in a no-win situation and I stirred it up, so I probably didn’t make myself look a lot better. And they were saying, “How does this help you? This makes you look like you’re talking crap about something that you’re doing.” So after that, there was kind of a tipping point moment where I was like, “OK, I probably need to think about this a little differently.” That was probably the worst one.

But Claire Lang had me on her show saying, “NASCAR said they’re not gonna fine you, here’s some drivers backing you up saying, ‘You were right!'” It was just this big, weird thing that happened for like three weeks, and I could just see everybody in the garage area looking at me different. And it’s so weird because I’m a driver, I’m not trying to be a writer! It’s cool, I enjoy it, but I’m trying to be respected as a driver. It kind of like shifted the narrative for me in this weird way.

For people that don’t know a lot about your background, and I’ll include myself in that, what’s your story? How did you get latched onto racing in the first place?

So I started racing go-karts when I was young — typical story as everybody else — but not as young as everybody else. I started when I was 16.

This is in Mississippi?

This is at the local dirt tracks in Mississippi. This is like Meridian, Pontotaoc, Water Valley — I mean small-town Mississippi dirt track racing. And we ran WKA. We ran a few select events. We were pretty good. I think we finished in the top 15. It was me and my dad. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing at all.

You dad didn’t have a racing background?

None of my family had a racing background. I’ve been the only one who has ever cared anything about this. My dad has played along, because he has a successful business, he’s been able to finance 99 percent of this. And that’s why I’m sitting here; that’s why I get to do this.

I don’t know why so many guys have run from (talk about bringing money), honestly. I’m so thankful that my dad has let me do it. The thing is that we don’t have just as much money. If my dad had multiple millions of dollars, I would be over there at RCR. Without a doubt, I would. But we don’t have that. We only have a few thousand dollars. So that’s why we’re sitting here in this very eclectic trailer (from the late 1990s).

But we ran Late Models, and we did that over there at Nashville Fairgrounds for a long time. Ran ASA in 2009, something called the ASA Challenge Series, where we ran big tracks. Man, we were at Rockingham in a Pro Late Model. Like wide open, the whole way around there. And Nashville Superspeedway in a Pro Late Model. So kind of crazy stuff.

Came close to winning a few races out there, really close, a couple of heartbreaks and stuff. Memphis Motorsports Park was one of them, sat on the pole, broke the track record there. I think that still stands, actually; I think we’re still holding onto that one. That’s kind of a home race for me, being near Mississippi.

Then finally my dad kind of made this decision, which is, “We don’t have a lot of money, so if we’re gonna go do this, we might as well do it at a high level. I’m just gonna buy a couple of trucks, and let’s just go run trucks.” And that was kind of a foundational shift for us, where we were like, “Well Tommy Joe isn’t gonna get picked up by a team,” because we’d had teams come up to us and say, “We want you to bring a couple hundred thousand dollars for the year.”

So we learned that and went, “This isn’t gonna happen unless we just do it.” We got that mentality shift of, “We think it’s worse for Tommy Joe to be running around at local levels. Even if he’s competitive and winning, nothing’s gonna come from it. So if he wants to get to NASCAR, we just gotta go.”

And we did that with our Late Model team in 2009. We ran four races, finished around 20th. Didn’t do that great, but not bad. This was when the Truck Series was pretty good — 36 trucks showed up, and we were around 20th every time we ran. That’s pretty good for a Late Model team, and I had never done it.

Literally my first race in the truck, we took it out of the trailer at Nashville Fairgrounds, we ran it out there at an open Late Model practice — in a Camping World Truck Series truck! I ran two laps, and they said to take it easy because we’ve got to load this thing and run tomorrow. And that was it: I got two laps of practice before my first truck race. They wouldn’t even let me have a license if they knew that.

And so I did that in ’09, ran ARCA, a couple of races at Daytona. We just kind of bounced around. In 2014 we took a real shot at it. We wanted to run in Xfinity full time, and we tried to do it from Nashville, which as small team, that was a horrible, horrible decision. NASCAR was making so many design changes to the Xfinity cars back then, aero package and everything, we felt like we were changing the car, we spent so much money changing the car, running back and getting parts and everything. Our guys were just so worn out, being a small team. It was just an absolute mess. Our equipment wasn’t probably good enough anyway. We kind of set them up to fail. And so we took another shot at it in 2016, we came back.

So I think a lot of people ask me, “What makes you think that you deserve to be out there in NASCAR?” Quite frankly, I think a lot of guys deserve to be out here in NASCAR. They deserve to be, but unless you go and make it happen yourself, it’s just not gonna happen. So I see guys that I have so much respect for like Bubba Pollard, Jeff Choquette, a lot of these guys, and I just wish that one of them would kind of do what we did, which is just go buy one truck and one motor. And it’s gonna cost you a little bit, it’s probably gonna cost you $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 to do it — but then you’ll just have it, and you can go run four or five races a year at the short tracks or something. I’d just like to see that.

NASCAR (needs to) get to a point where that point of entry isn’t as quite as high, the car isnt quite as much, the engine isn’t quite as much, the per-race cost isn’t quite as much. If you did that, I think you’d see guys like that take a shot. But right now the point of entry is so high, it’s just really tough to get those guys in here. So it’s what we did: We just took a shot, figured if we just finish and not tear it up every time, we can come close to breaking even and only lose a little money. So we’ve just kind of done that for a few years.

You are here racing, but you had to come here and leave your day job, which is at a driving school in Las Vegas. You said you’ve been there for a few years?

Yeah, I have been. And that’s just a deal where that’s like the dark secret. I’m sure some of those guys (on the good side of the garage) are getting paid, but who’s paying them? Is the team paying them?

I’m sure in the case of the Cup drivers, it’s the team paying them, and they see them just like any other artist, right? Like if you owned a ballroom and you said, “I’m gonna get Adele to come play tonight,” well the expectation is you’re paying Adele, but you think that you’re gonna sell enough tickets that it’s gonna make you money.

And I’m sure you view Kyle Busch the same way: We’re gonna pay Kyle Busch, but we’re gonna sell sponsorship and make money on this. Same thing in Xfinity: they seem him as a property. And that’s fine. He is, and he is unbelievably talented.

But some of these other guys, I’m just not sure, because I have always had to bring at least some money to be able to run. Like with B.J. McLeod, he’s basically put me on a silver platter here, I’m basically running for him for nothing. So this is without a doubt the best deal I’ve had in my entire life. It just doesn’t come around for a lot of guys.

The best deal you’ve had is you don’t have to pay to drive?

That’s basically it. So I’m not making anything, but we’re not losing that much money, either. We just basically help him out a little bit on the tires, do other little things, but it’s not nearly as much what we’re spending on our own team– and I don’t make any money from it. We’re not really losing a lot of money. So it’s been a great deal, and I think a lot of guys would probably say the same thing.

And so I don’t know how (other drivers) are getting paid. Like if they’re bringing sponsorship to a team, they would probably have to take a cut out of that for them to make money. The way the business model is there is just really strange, and I just don’t think a lot of people know that. Or maybe they don’t wanna know that.

You think that you’re a professional athlete. I mean, I guess I am. I don’t really see myself that way, I’m a race car driver. I don’t feel like I’m a professional athlete. But we are racing in the second-highest series in the country! This is it, you know? We’re equal to IndyCar ratings-wise! This is it. There’s only one more bar here, and for three-quarters of the garage to not be getting paid as drivers, that’s just weird. I’m gonna sound like a crybaby, but I’m saying it, because I wanna get paid. We probably should get paid racing at this level, you know?

The people that are following you at your Tommy Joe Martins account, @TommyJoeMartins on Twitter — will this story have a happy ending? How do you see this going for yourself over the next few years here?

OK, we gotta think of the end goal here. So for me, I’m 30, and I look around and see William Byron. He’s 19, and he’s a badass, and he’s a great kid too, he’s awesome. He’s gonna get a Cup ride at Hendrick. So if I’m thinking I’m gonna get a Cup ride at Hendrick, that is the wrong thought.

So realistically, all I can hope to do is grow enough of a following that I can raise more sponsorship for myself. And not even to go to a better team — that’s not really the goal here — it would just be to have a career. Just have a career.

I’d like to do this for five or 10 years and get to drive, and then shift into the business of the sport because I love that part of it, as tough as it is and as crummy as it is. It’s almost like banging your head against the wall. Like how do you make money with a business that only loses money? How do you do that? I guess part of me enjoys the challenge of it.

But that’s it. That’s my career trajectory here, just hang around, get to race. I’d like to race full time and be in the points. That’s really the main thing, even if it’s on a small team. Even if it’s for B.J., just run full-time and see where we wind up, finish in the top 20 in points a few times.

I learned a long time ago I’m probably not going to be given a chance to win many races. And I just know that, running in the middle of the pack for smaller teams. You’re not gonna get a chance to win.

But you do have a chance to gain a lot of respect in the garage. And so that’s kind of currency for me, is if I can get other team owners, respected people in the garage to go, “Tommy Joe’s a pretty good driver. He’s got a goofy name, he talks a lot on Twitter, but he’s a pretty good driver and I know if I got him in my car, he’s gonna take care of it, he’s gonna get the best he can out of it and he’s gonna bring it back to me in one piece and not do anything stupid and a lot of other drivers respect him,” well that’s about the best situation I’m gonna find myself in. I’m 30 years old. I got a late start on this deal. I’m kind of in the middle of my career. I see it ending in five to 10 years if I’m lucky.

I think that’s a good trajectory. I don’t wanna look back on that and say, “That was bummer.” If I got to race in NASCAR at the higher levels — Trucks and Xfinity for 10 years — man, that’s really cool. So I don’t have any crazy ambitions here.

But I think it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. It always is, running where we’re running. When we’re running for a small team, there’s more bad days than good. So if you follow along, don’t worry, I’ll probably satisfy your taste for blood here. Because there are probably gonna be more bumps in the road.