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The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daniel Hemric of Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series team. I spoke to Hemric at Richmond International Raceway. This interview is available as a podcast and is also transcribed below.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I feel like for myself, the natural ability was always there, but given my upbringing and having to work on my own cars and build my own race cars and do all that stuff, I had to work at it — like work extremely hard at it.
As you get to this level, it seems like that is even more of a difference. So even if the natural ability is there, you’re also talking about, what, the top 120something best guys at this in the world? So you gotta have both sides of that in order to succeed.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years, and now Dale Jr. will be retiring. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I consider myself kind of like an old-school asphalt racer of those guys’ style because of just working on my own stuff and having to do it a different way from hard work and knowing the ins and outs of a race car — not just the showing up part of the racing. And that’s something that I felt has kind of set me (apart) to hopefully have fans from Dale Jr. and Tony Stewart.
Those (fans) who are looking for someone to attach themselves to: Do it with a guy that’s had to come up in kind of the same route in order to work hard to get to where they’re at. I try to pride myself on that, and hopefully it gives all the other kids opportunities that were in the same situation I am, fighting tooth and nail for their lives in order to have the opportunity of getting into a race car.
For me to be able to do that, I hope to help other kids do that someday and hopefully (fans) get attached to that.
Do you think knowing the car in and out so well can give you an advantage when you’re giving feedback to your crew chief, whether it’s for race setups or during a race?
Yup, I feel like that’s something my crew chief Danny Stockman and I actually live and breathe off of. The new package in the Xfinity Series, the new car for myself — we’re at Race No. 8 here in Richmond, and we’re kind of both learning on the go. So just the little stuff I’ve done, especially when we go short-track racing that has helped me in other style of vehicles, I feel like has applied and continues to apply as our relationship becomes better and better.
So I like to think that it gives me a little bit of the upper hand compared to a lot of the other younger guys as they’re trying to make a name for themselves here in the series.
The backside of that is sometimes you get in a situation where you’re trying to do too much of that, knowing the race car and stuff, so you’ve got to know when to disconnect from that.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I think from other levels, short-track racing to get to this level, there was never any time. I know a lot of guys say, “Oh, we never have enough time to do what we want to do during the week.” I kind of disagree with that because I remember the sleepless nights, building race cars all night, getting up and driving the truck to the racetrack.
So for me, it’s knowing what to do with the time, not having to come home every night to clean your fingernails and scrub your hands just to go to dinner with the wife and go back to the shop. It’s knowing what to do with that spare time that has allowed me to take on some other endeavors in life.
So you have too much time, or you have more free time than you’re used to?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say too much, but I have more free time than I’ve been accustomed to over the last 10 to 15 years, trying to make a name for myself in racing. But it’s allowed me to take on some other sports and pay attention to other world news and stuff like that. It’s something I never did growing up, so I’m trying to reconnect with stuff that I’ve lost out on in the past.
What’s something you’ve picked up with your additional time?
Golf is one thing that I never saw myself doing, but a round of golf is four to four-and-a-half hours, no matter how you want to look at it, so that’s something I’ve tried to take to. And it’s also helped in racing a little bit, just how you can mentally take yourself in and out of the game really quick. So I’ve tried to connect to that.
Throughout that, I’ve made some great relationships: I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and (Kyle) Larson a couple of times, and Christopher Bell’s a good golf buddy of mine, so all of us kind of go in together and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed.
In golf, you only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong, and you can get mad at yourself in a hurry, you know?
Yeah, I had an old golfer tell me something just two weeks ago that made me think about it. Golf’s four-and-a-half hours, but the backside of that is you’re only playing for 90 seconds. Your backswing and your full swing is three-tenths of a second, so in 90 seconds, you can completely be in left field or at where you need to be. So I thought that was a pretty good analogy.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Absolutely. I feel like with where our sport’s at today, having those one-on-one encounters is gonna go further than maybe doing some meet-and-greets with large groups of people.
First off, if somebody notices me, that’s a plus in itself. I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do here. But on the backside of that, if I’m taking the time to make their encounter that much more special, it can lead to them trickling your name throughout other people (and) their family, which can lead to a big following. So come see me.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think it’s everything behind the scenes. For me, I get a chuckle over a lot of the sponsorship stuff and how late some of these deals get put together.
A lot of people from the outside in, just the casual fans of the sport, don’t realize that there’s been plenty of times in all three garages, Truck, Xfinity and Cup, where cars are getting wrapped during the midnight oil and all that stuff, and (fire)suits are getting embroidered and all that stuff that makes the deal go around. A lot of people don’t get to see that side of it, so people in the background, they don’t get all the credit they need.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
The last driver I texted…here, let me look to be sure. I don’t wanna lie to you.
Brad Keselowski (his former team owner in the Truck Series). He’s the guy I always try to shoot a text to here and there, especially going to a new racetrack for the first time. And having a great relationship with him from running his truck, he’s always there to help me with what to look for and what not (to look for), so he’s the guy I always text.
So is he still willing to give advice?
Yeah, Brad’s honestly given some of the best advice, in my opinion. I know that I have a ton of depth in my RCR group as teammates, but Brad — doing all the things he’s done in the sport and being so successful in doing it a lot of the same way I’ve tried to come up doing it — he understands the trials of trying to jump in and not only go fast and perform, but do it at new places and do it in a quick manner.
It’s a lot to take in, so he kind of helps prep me on what to look for, what not to look for and how to get the balance of the race cars right. Just helping me do what I can do in the seat and trying to let the crew guys worry about the race car.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
Note: I forgot to ask this question. My bad!
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
You know, I think I’ve thrown two or three middle fingers out the window over time, I’d say more so in lapped traffic, going through those situations.
But when you’re racing a guy really hard and he’s not giving you any room, even for position or for the lead lap, I find a casual deuces out the window is more of a, “Hey, watch this, watch me drive away from you,” remark. I feel like it makes more of a remark than a middle finger.
So you’re like “peace out?”
That’s exactly right.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
Yeah, I think so. I feel like in the Truck Series, the racing was root and gouge. And the way the downforce in the trucks are, without getting too in-depth with the aero stuff, you can’t really get much room, so you find a lot of those enemies and things you want to pay back.
But in the Xfinity Series, having RCR and pretty much six cars, at the racetrack, we’re around each other a lot. So a guy like me and Austin Dillion spend a lot of time racing each other this year, and he’s a really smart racer at letting me go at times. We’ve both found each other in the situation of playing give and take throughout the course of the year.
Yeah, it’s crazy; you never forget all that stuff and it does go a long way.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I’d have to call it lunch, but I had a casual lunch in the hauler in my first year in the Truck Series (when) I was teammates with Travis Pastrana. It was such an interesting, crazy excitement, and the guy’s just always wound up.
I had a hard time eating and following where we were going with our conversation, but man, he’s such a cool dude and so down to earth, it was definitely an experience to sit down and have some time with that guy. Hopefully I can do a couple more of those.
It’s crazy how some of the bigger people in life don’t have the larger-than-life personality. I remember that Pastrana was so chill.
He was so chill, and if you can keep him on focused on what we’re talking about, it’s as good as it can get.
As we’re talking here, my mind goes one other place. It wasn’t a dinner, but just recently I had the opportunity to go to one of the top five biggest tennis matches in the world. I know nothing about tennis, but hell, I looked right, and three rows over sitting next to me is Bill Gates. I thought, “Man, here’s a kid from Kannapolis, North Carolina and Bill Gates is sitting less than 20 yards from me. Where am I at? How have I gotten here?” So that was pretty cool.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
You know, I keep going back to the short track side of things, but you work all the time, and the healthy eating is hard to follow suit. At this level, working on yourself, studying races, doing all that stuff — that’s just stuff that I live for and thrive on, and working out I love. But I feel like I work out so I can eat what I want. I love food, I just wish I could figure out a way to get a more healthy lifestyle that way.
What are some of your guilty pleasure foods?
In downtown Mooresville, there’s JJ Wasabi’s Japanese restaurant. That’s my go-to. My wife Kenzie (Ruston) gets mad because I probably eat there three or four times a week and have no shame over it. But that’s my go-to.
12. The last interview was with Elliott Sadler. His question is: Should (NASCAR) draw a pill and invert a certain number of starting starts right before the green flag? So the polesitter would come out and draw a pill and then they invert X amount of spots. Would you be down with that?
Yeah, Elliott coming from a short track background (like) myself, that’s normal at a regular Friday or Saturday night local show. To go up and have six or eight Coke cans sitting on the wall and have a fan come down and flip one over and there’ll be a Sharpie number, you know, one through six or eight, and that’s where you’re gonna start whether you’re the fastest qualifier or eighth, you could be on the pole.
I don’t like the (full) inversion, but I like where you pick your random spot and you don’t know where or who you’re gonna be around. So I’d be all for that at some of the races, where we’re looking to amp everybody up a little bit.
I don’t know who the next interview is with, but do you have a general question that I can ask another driver?
I’d like to know maybe from one of the guys who maybe haven’t had to come up through it like Elliot Sadler or myself or Brad Keselowski — maybe one of the guys who had financial backing at a younger age — how do they transform from being that guy to being a guy who’s known for his own ability and not that paycheck?
So basically, how do you overcome the money guy perception?
Yeah, how do you overcome the perception of, “His daddy got him there,” or, “His sponsor got him there,” to, “This guy here means business, he’s gonna be here for a long time.”
This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next month, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!