The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with a double edition: Front Row Motorsports teammates David Ragan and Michael McDowell are both included in this one. Given the format, it’s highly recommended to listen as a podcast — but it’s also transcribed below for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
DR: I have dreams every night in general, but I don’t really remember them. Sometimes about racing, sometimes about other things. But when I do dream about racing, it’s never really about the competition and trying to race and win, it’s always about trying to get to the racetrack or the cars being on the track on the pace laps and I can’t find my helmet or I’m stuck in the (hauler) lounge and I can’t get out or something weird like that. Or I’m late or I can’t get my window net up. It’s always things I’m worried about that.
MM: It’s very funny he said that. I have dreams about seeing the cars start the race, too, and you’re not in it. And you see your car and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” That’s crazy. But I would say maybe once or twice a month. Like David said, it’s hard to remember. I do remember last night’s dream. It was turkey hunting, not racing.
DR: You should write them down and see if you see a correlation to certain things that are going on in your life.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize? I didn’t mean for this to be awkward right after you guys got into each other. (Note: This was recorded the week after the two crashed at Las Vegas.)
DR: It’s perfect timing. (Laughs)
MM: I don’t know if you picked up the audio, but my crew chief, Derrick Finley, was walking through David’s hauler and he just snickered as you asked that question. (Laughs)
DR: I’ll go first, being as I wrecked Michael last week and myself. I do think it’s important. Whether you wreck someone intentionally or whether it’s an accident, I think you should bring it up. If you wreck someone intentionally, you need to let them know you don’t like what they did and why you wrecked them. If you do it unintentionally, I think it’s important say, “Look, man, I’m sorry. I hated I did that.” Just to clear the air. Communication is important. We race with each other 38 times a year and the last thing we need are grudges on the racetrack that bring both teams down. Certainly that’s important with teammates, but even other people in the garage. I try to make it a point to reach out to someone if I wreck them.
MM: Yeah, I think it’s super important. Having been on both sides of it, the intentional part is hard, right? Because if you truly did it intentionally, there were things that built up to it. It doesn’t just happen. But a lot of times, those are the ones that are left undone. Like Ross Chastain and (Kevin) Harvick (in the Darlington Xfinity race). I mean, Ross hooked him. There’s no question and nobody can say anything otherwise. Harvick knows he hooked him. So then not having that conversation, that will be an issue down the road in their careers for both of them. So just being able to bring it up (is important). I had it happen with (Marcos) Ambrose— I intentionally crashed Ambrose at Martinsville. And he waited for me after the race. He came up to me — I’ll never forget it, because it was like the most awkward conversation ever — and he was like, “Well what happened?” I said, “Well, you chopped me two or three times and then I crashed you.” And his face, his jaw dropped. Because he’s like, “You’re saying you did that on purpose?” I said, “Well, I don’t want to lie to you. You chopped me off two or three times, so I crashed you.” And I think he said something like, “I should kill you” — it was something very angry and violent, which I get, because I get ramped up. But I remember the next week he’s like, “Most people would have lied to me. Most people would have said, ‘Hey man, I got in too deep, I locked up my tires and I ran into you.’ I didn’t know how to respond when you actually said you did it on purpose.” But just talking through it, what he said made a lot of sense. He said, “I figured you weren’t going to run the whole race.” Because at the time, I was start-and-parking, but Martinsville was always one of the places we ran because we could be competitive. So he said, “I chopped you because I figured in 10 laps you were going to come in, and if anybody could cut me a break, you could.” Well then all the sudden it made sense to me and I was like, “Maybe I overreacted a little bit because that’s fairly logical.” So what I’m saying is even though sometimes it intentionally happens, walking through it is an important step.
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
DR: Just saying I’m a good dad and a good husband is the most. The racing thing is my career right now, but it’s not going be my career one day. It would be flattering if somebody told me I was a great race car driver or really fast, but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So I think the biggest compliment someone could give me is I’m a good son or a good husband or a good dad.
MM: I don’t really care. To me, compliments…it is what it is. Racing in particular, you’re only as good as your last race. So when you get done with your career, nobody is really going to care. So for me, it’s the areas that matter. It’s my faith and family. Those are the areas I want to do well in. But honestly, whether someone thinks you’re doing well in those areas or not really doesn’t matter.
4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?
MM: I actually got to do it. One of the authors and pastors and guys who have been really influential for me who I hadn’t met was Francis Chan. He was a guest of ours at California, which was really cool. I love racing and there’s lots of people I would like to host, like ex-Formula One drivers and things like that. But you can only talk about so much for so long. It’s cool to get somebody outside our circle who is doing other things aside from going around in circles.
DR: I’m at the racetrack to race. I would love to meet some different people outside the racetrack if we were going to sit around the campfire and tell a couple stories. But a lot of time, I feel like celebrities are kind of fake in whatever field they’re in, and I don’t care to hang out with anybody like that. I would say so no, I don’t have any interest in entertaining anyone at the racetrack, as long as I’m working. I don’t really care. I’m not big on celebrities.
I happened to know that.
DR: That’s why I don’t like being a “celebrity.” I don’t even like that. I want real people. I want the poorest person in the grandstands who had to borrow money to go buy their ticket. That’s who I want to hang out with.
MM: Yeah. And I think the reason some of us are like that is we know what it’s like to be in that role of celebrity. When you go to a dinner and you’re the person and all that, you feel this pressure to entertain. You feel like you’ve got to turn it on, like you’ve got to tell good stories and have good jokes. When David and I hang around, you can just be normal and have normal conversations. It’s hard when you got to a setting where people think you’re the celebrity. So you don’t get the authentic person — even myself — because you’re like, “OK, they invited me as the guest — as the race car driver — so you’ve got to tell race car stories and you’ve got to be funny and charismatic and all of these things,” and it’s like…eh. It’s not worth the pressure.
5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the pole for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?
MM: I haven’t really studied the vegan diet. But I’m on the Keto diet. And I don’t know if there could be a greater separation between vegan and Keto. I only eat fat and meat. So no. You can give me the No. 1 stall, but I’m sticking with Keto.
DR: I would go vegan for a month. I do eat a little steak and chicken and fish. It would be kind of a pain in the butt to do that, but if I had a chef that would help, I’d be OK with it. I wouldn’t want to do all the work — that would be a lot of effort. But as far as eating, I love vegetables and fruits. I could do it, and I would. I want it for Martinsville.
Real quick, for Michael: Does the Keto diet really give you more energy, as is billed?
MM: This would be a whole other 12 Questions, but it’s the best thing I’ve done in my life for my health. I’ve lost 35 pounds since doing it, and I’m stronger and better in the race car than I’ve ever been. I’m sure there’s lots of science behind both ends of it, but for me, I did it because I didn’t feel great after Sonoma. I was constantly fighting headaches and feeling depleted. I tried something different and it’s been amazing for me. It’s really been something that has changed my overall performance in the race car.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from both of your careers and you have to tell me where you finished. In the spirit of this interview, I went back and found a race where you guys finished back to back. This was the Kansas race last fall. Any idea where you finished?
DR: I know exactly where I finished.
MM: I don’t exactly where I finished, but I know real close.
DR: It was 16th and 17th. I was 17th, you were 16th.
MM: I was going to say 18th for me.
It was actually 17th and 18th.
DR: Who was 18th?
David was 17th, Michael was 18th.
MM: Oh, there we go!
DR: I remembered I was 17th, but I thought you finished in front of me!
MM: That’s funny! You know, I don’t forget top-20s the last few years because you only have a handful of them. So you remember them for sure.
7. I know I’ll get a great answer here because you guys seem like huge rap fans. Who is the best rapper alive?
MM: Well, I am a lyrical gangster. Not a lot of people know that. Eminem is by far the best rapper to walk this planet.
DR: I know rappers, but I don’t know who the best one is. I guess whoever has still got a job and has got the new CD that is out. I have no idea.
MM: I think Eminem is unchallenged, though.
8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?
MM: Joey Logano. He’s just goofy. He’s just silly.
It’s just his face? You don’t actually want to punch him?
MM: No, I love Joey Logano. He’s one of the nicest, realest guys in the garage. But he definitely has a punchable face.
DR: I think whoever is winning a lot. Back in the mid-2000s it was Jimmie Johnson, just being so perfect and winning all the time. Now it’s probably Kyle Busch. He just wins everything.
MM: Fans ask me all the time to punch him in the face. Fans are weird, they’re like, “Hey man, just do me a favor. Just crash Kyle Busch this weekend.” I’m like, “OK, yeah. That’s exactly it. I’ll do that. Thank you for the advice.”
DR: Kyle is a friend of mine. I think he’s one of the best drivers this sport has ever seen. I like Kyle. So I’m not trying to punch anybody. Well, I don’t want to punch anybody first. But yeah…Kyle. (Laughs)
9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Pick one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.
MM: Tom Hanks would be the coach driver because I think he would actually be a cool guy to hang out with. He seems like an interesting guy. LeBron James would be a good spotter. He’s got a lot of energy. And Taylor Swift could be the crew chief.
DR: Well, we’re going to outrun Michael that race. (Laughs) I’d probably put LeBron on the pit box because he’s probably a good leader and a good coach. Taylor has been living in the motorhome on tours for the last 15 years, so I’d probably let her drive the motorhome. And then Tom, I’d let him spot.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
DR: Good experience.
MM: You’ve got to have it scoped out before it actually starts. If you’re waiting until you get off the truck and you go, “Where’s the bathroom?” — you’re done.
DR: I usually look when we’re walking out to qualifying. Less crowded, a little more time. I’m pretty religious about going to the bathroom right before qualifying or the race. So you’ve got to know.
11. NASCAR decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the former Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?
MM: Just whatever it would take to get proper training. I’ve always wanted to be able to break dance and do some flips. I don’t really have the physique for it, but if they’d train me, I’d do it.
DR: Yeah, if we could be trained, that would be awesome. I think a signature deal like that is really cool. If you get to win often during the year, it would be neat. I’d like to be able to do it if they provided a trampoline out by my car.
MM: Or a mat. Just a mat. My biggest fear would be if your toes hook the roof. Then it’s going to look real bad and feel real bad, too. That’s a lot of momentum.
DR: I’ll just do a cartwheel.
MM: I think David could probably do (a backflip).
DR: On a trampoline. I wouldn’t want to do it in front of everyone for the first time and fail, though. That wouldn’t be fun.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Timmy Hill, and he wanted to know: If you play fantasy sports, what is the name of your fantasy football team?
DR: I do play one league of fantasy football. With all the shenanigans in the NFL, I tried to back out of it this year, but I’m with a group of my friends so I stayed on board. I’m a pretty boring guy, so my team name is “Team Ragan.”
MM: Mine is worse than that. I don’t play at all. I did when I was at (Leavine Family Racing). One of the guys got fired and I took over his fantasy football team. I’ve never watched it. But that was actually really fascinating for me, because once I downloaded the app, I started to watch. Because I was like, “Ooh, I’ve got a guy running tonight.” So it made me realize how important that is for our sport. Because even if you’re not a David Ragan or a Michael McDowell fan, if you have us in your fantasy lineup for the day, you still want us to run top 15 and if you see us passing cars, it’s exciting. So it’s a cool element.
Do you have a question I can ask the next interview? It’s with Ryan Blaney.
DR: You want to ask a question the fans would enjoy. His dad and uncle are big sprint car guys. What’s the reason (he doesn’t) go back and run some sprint cars and dirt cars or something like that?
Previous 12 Questions interviews with David Ragan and Michael McDowell: