What if NASCAR drivers could chat during races?

David Ragan spoke about a fun idea during an interview in 2016: What if drivers could talk to each other during every race, and fans could hear their conversations?

“(What) if we had direct communication with other cars and I could flip over to someone else’s radio and say, ‘Hey! What the hell did you do that for? What are you thinking?'” Ragan said. “We had that option (in 2011) when we were doing the tandem drafting. We had like 15 different channels, and that was a cool feature.

“That would be something fun for the TV networks and fans to listen in, absolutely.”

Building off that idea, I asked drivers on Daytona 500 Media Day about whether they’d be in favor of the concept.

Check out what they said:

A night out in Vegas with David Ragan

Free time can often turn expensive in Las Vegas, which is why I wondered if any Twitter followers wanted to meet up for dinner Tuesday night. I figured it would keep me away from the casinos and also be a fun time to chat with people about NASCAR.

But the night turned out to be way better than expected, and I want to share the story with you.

Three Vegas locals — Hunter, Bruce and Jose — were among those who saw my dinner invitation. But a non-local saw it, too: David Ragan.

After spotting the tweet while lying in bed scrolling through his timeline on Monday night, Ragan reached out with an incredible offer: Why not have the group join him and spotter Rocky Ryan for dinner at an Italian restaurant owned by Ragan’s friend?

So there we were — a driver, spotter, writer and three NASCAR fans — sitting at Ferraro’s, enjoying some crazy good family-style food and talking about all things racing.

As we dined on gnocchi and chicken Marsala and calamari, Ragan told us what it was like to be in the middle of a three-wide pack at Talladega. Ryan told us about his days as Ward Burton’s spotter. The fans told us about why they liked certain drivers and which races were on their bucket list.

While Ragan and Ryan spoke, I kept peeking at Bruce and Hunter and Jose to see their faces, and it was so cool to see them smiling and soaking up the experience. Meanwhile, Ragan and Ryan spent two and a half hours at the dinner — this despite being on Eastern time after just landing in Vegas — and could not have been nicer.

Anyway, that’s it. There’s no “catch” to this story. Ragan didn’t ask me to write about it or even mention it to anyone. He wasn’t trying to promote anything. The fans didn’t have to pay a dime.

Ragan just decided, completely on his own, to give three avid NASCAR followers the kind of memory they’ll treasure forever.

 

12 Questions with David Ragan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else do you need? That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

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

Who’s the better shooter: You or McDowell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Stenhouse, repeated

As the field lined up for the overtime restart on Saturday night, only one driver in the top nine already had a win this season. So surely, there was going to be a new winner and throw yet another wrinkle into this year’s unpredictable playoff picture.

Nooooope! That one previous winner in the top nine — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — used a run on the bottom to blow past David Ragan as the No. 38 car left the door open, then sailed through what was a relatively calm final lap (at least compared to the rest of the race).

Stenhouse has apparently gotten pretty good at this plate racing thing, which is weird to say. As recently as the first stage of the Talladega race, Stenhouse looked like a weapon. Then he ended up winning that race.

And Talladega wasn’t a fluke, because he led four different times at Daytona before securing his second career victory and second straight plate win.

Yes, Saturday was definitely a race of survival where the best cars were taken out. But you can’t use that as an argument to take anything away from Stenhouse, because when it was Big Boy Time, he put himself in position to win and executed in the end. Again.

“He’s learned a lot,” runner-up Clint Bowyer said. “He’s become a good plate racer. I remember when he came in, he was a little bit chaotic, but he’s not now. He’s got it figured out, and he’s won two of them.”

2. What might have been

Stenhouse was a nice story because he hasn’t won very much, but his presence in victory lane oddly felt like a letdown because of all the potential new winners late in the race.

Ragan or Michael McDowell would have been major stories for NASCAR, with underdog teams launching themselves into the playoffs at a to-be-determined star driver’s expense.

Or a Bowyer win would have triggered a major victory party that would have rolled on until the sun came up — and it would have been good for NASCAR fans to see him win again.

Or maybe the dawn of the new Young Guns could take another step with an unexpected victor. Rookies Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez had shots to win and ultimately got shuffled back, as did Bubba Wallace (how huge would that have been for NASCAR to have an exciting young talent win in the No. 43 car on July 4th weekend?).

Anyway, you get the point. But one reason it didn’t happen is because the inexperienced drivers made moves that either didn’t work or were incorrect.

Take Dillon, for example. Dillon sought out Bowyer for a conversation after the race on pit road because he was unsure if he did the right thing by pulling out of line to try and go for the win (no one went with him and he got shuffled back to 16th).

Could he have done anything different? Ultimately, Bowyer told him there was no right answer.

“I’m kicking myself, because the finish doesn’t show what we’re capable of,” Dillon said. “But I think I’d be more disappointed just sitting there riding and not making something happen. I’m a go-getter. My personality might have gotten us a bad finish, but it also got us up toward the front.”

Suarez got stuck in the bottom lane on the last two restarts and called it “bad luck.” But there was also an element of inexperience that played a role.

“I’m still learning, so I don’t really know how aggressive you need to be to win these races,” he told me. “So maybe I have to push a little bit harder.”

Ragan, of course, has plenty of plate experience and just didn’t realize Stenhouse had that big of a run coming on the bottom (he was more concerned with trying to protect the top). He was disappointed, of course, but it won’t be the worst thing he’s experienced.

“Hey, I lost a Daytona 500 down here,” he said. “Losing a Coke Zero 400 — that ain’t nothin’.”

3. Wreckfest!

The wild race included 14 cautions, which is a record for the summer race and the second-most of any Daytona race ever — including all of the Daytona 500s except for 2011 (16 cautions). That’s saying a lot, considering there were 100 fewer miles for something to happen.

Of course, two of those cautions were for stages. But that’s still 12 cautions, and for all the chaos over the years, there have only been double-digit cautions at Daytona 10 times in 141 races here.

What happened? Well, Brad Keselowski tweeted a theory. He said it had something to do with a softer tire brought by Goodyear.

It certainly had an unusual feel, even for a plate race. Aggression really seemed to pay off in a big way (look at McDowell, who drew drivers’ ire with his moves but ended up with a career-best fourth-place finish).

“You’ve got to block hard, you’ve got to cut people off, you’ve got to push hard, you’ve got to stick your nose in there where it doesn’t belong — all the things that you know are capable of disaster,” Bowyer said. “But if you don’t, the next guy is going to, and nine times out of 10, it works. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

4. Dammit, Dale

Beat-up cars can end up winning plate races depending on the circumstances, so when Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied from two laps down and got himself back into the top 10, I was starting to wonder if we were witnessing an Earnhardt Miracle.

But that thought didn’t last long, since Kevin Harvick had a flat tire and spun in front of Earnhardt. That’s a shame, since Earnhardt fans were really craving a win and felt Daytona might have been their driver’s last, best chance to do so before the playoffs.

So now what? Well, there are nine races left for Earnhardt to win and make the playoffs (it’s not happening on points). In theory, he’s got a shot at places like Pocono and Michigan, where he’s run well and won before. But time is starting to run out, and it’s a very real possibility fans won’t get to see Earnhardt get that feel-good victory like Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon had in their final seasons.

That shows two things: First, it’s a reminder of how hard it is to win any race in NASCAR (which should give us more of an appreciation for those who win often). Second, that should permanently put to rest any dumb conspiracy theories of NASCAR being rigged — because you know execs would love nothing more to have Earnhardt as part of the playoffs.

5. What’s the point?

Earnhardt isn’t the only one with playoff worries. Joey Logano’s encumbered win looms bigger and bigger every week.

There have been 10 different winners with non-penalized wins, which leaves six playoff spots open. Those currently belong to Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth. Logano, who finished 35th after crashing, is currently out by three points.

Logano will probably rally points-wise, but if one more new driver wins who is below him in the standings — say AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen, for example — Logano might actually miss the playoffs. That seems inconceivable given how good that team is, but it’s possible.

Of course, Logano could put all this to rest sometime in the next few weeks with a win, but it’s certainly an interesting development to watch — particularly because he’s 12th in the standings, and you don’t typically see drivers that high up miss the playoffs.

Do NASCAR tracks really have four turns?

It’s been 13 years since I covered my first NASCAR race, but there’s something I’ve never understood about the sport.

Why does everyone say there are four turns at most tracks when there really seem to be two?

I get it at Indianapolis — there are four distinct turns separated by straightaways. But at Daytona? It seems like there are two giant turns (maybe three if you count the trioval).

And if that seems like a stretch, can you really say Martinsville has four turns? It’s two drag strips connected by a pair of turns.

Anyway, Daytona 500 Media Day seemed like a good time to try and get to the bottom of this. I’m not sure I did, but I hope you enjoy the video below: