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 Spencer Gallagher

This week’s Social Spotlight interview focuses on the always-entertaining Spencer Gallagher of GMS Racing. You can follow him on Twitter @23SpeedRacer.


It seems like you choose your spots when you tweet. Sometimes, you only tweet every few days but try to unleash a gem. Is that your basic strategy?

I’m all about quality over quantity, you know? Twitter is full of enough noise as it is, so I try not to add too much to that. If I’ve got something valuable to say, I’ll say it. But I just try not to let people know what my breakfast was every single morning. I find most people find that boring. So I’m the kind of guy that tries to focus on having a real thought. When I have something to contribute to the conversation, that’s when I speak up.

So are you not on Twitter all the time? Or do you look at it and decide not to chime in?

I check somewhat sporadically, but I will say I’ve gotten more frequent with its updates. It really is my source of NASCAR news. So I get on there and I check it, but you know, opinions are kind of like elbows — everyone has them and they’re all really awkward. (Laughs) You like that that was a good modification, wasn’t it?

Yeah, you really saved that there.

Thought I was going somewhere else with that, didn’t you?

We could have bleeped it out if you needed me to.

That’s actually a good idea. What the hell am I saying? You run your own independent site; you can do whatever you want right now, right?

But I try to check often. Whenever I feel my opinion is going to be valuable on a subject or I can contribute some insight, that’s when I try to chime in. I don’t need to tell everyone what’s on my mind at all times, because usually it’s as much nonsense as the rest of ‘em.

What type of reaction do you typically get from your Twitter followers? Do you read all your replies?

I do. I try to go through every single one of my replies and give back to the fans. That’s the real strength of Twitter. That’s why I like it a lot as a platform — it lets you have a direct connection to the people who are putting their butts in seats to go watch you race around on a Saturday. So that’s something I like to do.

Everyone loves seeing that little notification come up. That’s that little hit of dopamine in the arm, when you see that notification come on that someone has touched one of your tweets in some way. It’s really cool. That’s why I like it — it lets you talk to the fans in a very direct way. I think that’s a really cool thing.

That’s a very good analogy. You get that little notification and you’re like, “Ooh, somebody wrote back!”

It is, man! Honestly, that’s why I try to kind of limit my social media usage a little bit, because I see people getting sucked into that a whole lot, and I think it can be a very addicting process. That’s a little piece of noise that sometimes I try to keep out of my life a little bit, but it’s a very valuable thing, and you’ve got to have it. But no lie: Whenever you get that little notification, whenever that little red circle comes up, it’s like, “Ooh! Piece of candy! What have I got now?”

So how do you deal with the negative side of it? Do you have haters? Do people take shots at you sometimes?

Oh God, yeah. Listen — if you’re going to be in the public eye, there’s going to be someone out there that doesn’t like what you’re doing. But I’ll be honest, my way of dealing with it? I remind myself tomorrow I’m going to wake up and drive a race car and they’re not. That’s how I avoid getting too mad about it.

If you get mad on the internet, you lose. So I’ve developed a couple strategies for being very zen about my interactions. Everybody is always going to have an opinion and not everybody is going to like you, and that’s life. But at the end of the day, I still get to do what I love. So how much am I going to let their opinion affect me?

Do you ever go with the block button?

Honestly, no. Because most times, I make it an exercise to find the entertainment in someone like that. That’s my way of helping myself stay zen. If it’s getting really out of hand, then yeah, the hell with you; I don’t need to hear from you anymore. Honestly, most times, I get a laugh out of it.

Do you ever mute people, particularly those who you follow but don’t want to offend by unfollowing?

I think if the mute function had been around when I was following Kenny Wallace, it might have gone onto him. But no, honestly. If I don’t have the inclination to see what you have to say, I don’t need to follow you. I don’t care about hurting feelings that way.

Let’s talk about some other platforms. Do you not have Instagram at all?

I keep that one pretty private. I like to keep a couple platforms just for friends and family. I think that helps you create more meaningful moments and more intimate conversations with the people around you. I do post some public stuff to Instagram here and there, but that’s something I try to keep between my friends and family and my close circle.

Do you treat Facebook the same way?

Yeah, I’ve got an alternate Facebook account (to his fan page). I post sometimes to the public one, but Facebook is the social media platform of record, if you will. So that’s somewhere where I like to be at home, in my loafers — not out in the public eye, so to speak.

I get that not everyone likes that. People love overexposure, but that’s something I really do try to avoid in my life. I like to keep my public things public and my private things private. But don’t get me wrong: It’s a great platform for communicating with your fans. But I think a lot of drivers do that, because honestly, dude, you don’t know how many random requests and, frankly, creepy things get sent over Facebook. I think a lot of drivers keep alternate, private profiles — whether they’re willing to admit it or not.

Like on Facebook, even if you’re not friends with someone, they can slide into your DMs, essentially. You might not look at your messages every day, but you look at it eventually and you’re like, “Whoa!”

Yeah, “Who the hell are you?” Facebook can be a real deluge of people trying to get in contact with you. And a lot of it, you need to reply back to, because it’s a fan legitimately and earnestly reaching out for some communication — and a lot of times, all they want is a card, so I try to get that sent out whenever possible. Some people are a little more obsessive, and that is when they go in the trash bin. But hey, that’s the nature of what we do. You’re a public figure. You’re going to get that kind of exposure.

Where does Snapchat fit into that for you?

Snapchat is friends and family right now. I’ve considered making it public — I’ve gone back and forth on it. I’m really more of a passive Snapchat user; I just love seeing what my friends are doing at any given time. And I do love recording some moments and sending it out.

But as a person, I’m a very in-the-moment kind of guy. I go to a concert and I see all these people holding their phones up, recording, and I’m like, “What the hell are you doing?” You’re missing the whole show because you’re looking at a screen. As much of a nerd as I am, I’m really kind of a technophobe. It’s weird — I know that’s a contradiction — but I’m someone who believes this is a short life and our number of experiences in it are limited, so I try not to experience it through a screen when possible.

I’m making up terms here, but essentially you’re a “soaker” — you want to soak everything up — instead of a “sharer,” where you think, “I want to show this through my phone and share everything that’s going on.”

Yeah. And you know, I don’t want to pass value judgments, but I see a lot of people getting sucked into their screens. I just try to be present in the moment, man. That’s just me.

If you keep parts of yourself off limits, does it create more interest in you? Because you’re not completely out there as much to where people are like, “Yeah, we get it.”

I think it certainly could. When you never shut up about yourself on social media, eventually people get tired. You kind of said it right: It’s supply and demand. When you oversaturate people with information from yourself, you can turn them off. That’s why I try to keep my postings to things I think are valuable and insightful. Because when I speak, I want my voice to be something that provides clarity, something that provides a laugh or entertainment. It’s easy to ruin that by sharing too much. It’s easy to ruin that by oversaturating the people that are listening.

As you’ve moved up to Xfinity, I feel like you’re getting more TV exposure. Are you seeing a rise in your replies and more people trying to interact with you?

Definitely. The other week, I was on Twitter and I posted something and it instantly got like 10 retweets and I said, “Oh my gosh. Well, would you look at that? I actually have a little following. That’s nice!” It’s one of those humbling things that comes along with rising in the ranks, that people are really looking and listening to what you’re saying — which is again another reason to make sure what I say is valuable.

How much do you get in trouble — if ever — for your tweets? Do you ever get slapped on the hand like, “Spencer, you shouldn’t have tweeted that” from your family or PR people? For example: My mom doesn’t like it when I retweet drivers’ curse words from the radio.

I’ve been lucky enough that recently, I haven’t been slapped on the hand for any of my social media escapades. There was a time there when I was, dare say, a little more adventurous. Certain people in the room (his PR people) recall an incident involving me saying something about Tony Stewart covered in chocolate sauce wearing a banana hammock. (PR people laugh nervously)

But no, I’ve kind of learned where the line is and isn’t. And if I think there’s some fun to be had on the other side of it, I ain’t scared of it. But that’s one of those things you save for few and far between.

So would it take to get you to do some public Snapchatting?

Actually, I have to say, I feel a little guilty about not using my Snapchat more publicly, because I’ve got a pair of the Spectacles that were gifted to me.

Oh my God, what a waste!

I know, I know. Hate me, hate me. I don’t blame you. But I really need to start incorporating those more. It’s just one of those things: I leave them on my desk and I forget about them. But they’re so cool when I use them. I really need to start getting more (snaps) out. And Snapchat is a great platform for that, honestly. They’re cool, little disposable snippets of life that you can share. So you’re right: Guilt me into it, everybody. I need the encouragement.

You seem like an old soul, but you’re still a Millennial, and they say Millennials are down on Twitter and less of them are using it. Do you think there’s a future for Twitter still? And what’s the future for social media overall?

I guess I am an old soul, apparently. I rather enjoy Twitter still. I find it an informative, instant platform. It’s a great platform for news, for public conversations, for people to air their thoughts out in a very public way. I like the openness it has. I hope it’s got a future. Apparently the Silicon Valley class to disagree a little bit, but I’ll hope against hope that it keeps going.

As far as the future is concerned, Snapchat is trying to get on strong, but man, Instagram is trying to steal their thunder real hard (with stories). It’s becoming more and more difficult to deal with the juggernaut that is Facebook, if you will.

I think you’re going to see a continued evolution toward more integrated messaging. There was a grand experiment in network design that really Twitter sort of founded where everybody wants things public, right? I sort of see a little bit of a reversal of that trend; people are trying to bring it in, make it more private circles, more intimate content. I think that’s kind of what Snapchat is bringing along, and Instagram, to a certain extent.

Why do you use the @23speedracer name? Did someone already have your name, or did you just think that was cool?

Apparently there’s a Spencer Gallagher that’s in the technology industry over in the U.K. I never have contacted him; I really should. We should have a Spencer Gallagher meet-up. Once I saw that wasn’t available, I’ve always like the “Speed Racer” moniker. It speaks to me a little bit, just my career and how I’ve come to be here. So I took it and ran with it. 23SpeedRacer — it’s distinctive and it’s as good as any name, so use it.