The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG-Daugherty Racing. I spoke to Allmendinger at Phoenix International Raceway.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I would say 50-50. You’ve got to have natural ability to be here for sure. When you’re at the top level, you’re racing against the best in the world. With that said, the difference between the top and the bottom is very tiny. So you’ve got to really work at it to keep trying to hone your skills and especially as they keep changing packages figure out what makes these race cars fast.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
Nice hair. We’ll just go with that. Nice hair.
Do you give out free gel samples?
No, I still need a gel sponsor. I get a gel sponsor, and I’ll start giving out free samples.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
For me, it’s the mental strain of it. Whether or it’s good or bad, you’re always thinking about it. Especially when it’s bad.
There’s a lot that comes with the job — sponsor obligations and having to do things like that. So it’s hard at times to put on a good face when you’re struggling to figure out where you need to get better.
More than anything, especially since it’s every week and you’re racing every weekend and there’s so much going on, for me it’s the mental side of it. It’s hard, especially when you put a couple of bad weeks together and it kind of steamrolls.
I always tell people for sure it’s one of the best jobs in the world and it gives me a great life. All the things I want to do, I get to go do. But at the same point, it feels like the worst job in the world because you put so much into it and it feels like you get gut-punched half the time. Especially as I get older, I think that’s probably the toughest thing: I can’t let it go. It’s always there.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Depends on how hungry I am. If I’m really hungry, they probably shouldn’t come near me, because I won’t be the nicest person. I would make sure they come over after I’ve eaten, because I’ll definitely be in a lot more pleasant mood.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think everything gets too much coverage at times.
We overdo it on everything?
It’s everything. Everything gets covered so much now. There’s so many media outlets to cover everything. The only thing I’d think sometimes is when you’ve got drivers that are doing well and certain incidents happen that take away from guys doing well, I think that gets covered too much. But it’s the world we live in — we want those fights. We want those arguments. We want those rivalries. So I think that’s what we go to first.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Most of the drivers don’t like me, so I don’t really have to text back and forth.
Why do you say that?
Because I’m not a real pleasant person most of the time, and I was raised in a world where my dad taught me, “We bring our friends to the racetrack. We don’t come to make friends.” I think the last driver I texted was Tony Stewart, because I love me some Tony. We went back and forth, especially at Homestead, his final race.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
We definitely live in an entertainment business. I wouldn’t call us entertainers. Hopefully we bring entertainment to the people watching — otherwise they’re not going to watch. And to a certain degree, you don’t want boring racing because nobody is going to want to watch that. But I don’t want to say we’re entertainers; we’re race car drivers.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
Use it as much as I can. The thing is, nobody really knows I’m flipping them off because my arms are really short. So when I stick my finger out the window, it’s really just the tip of my finger so nobody knows I’m flipping them off. I try to wear white gloves, so if they do see me flipping them off, they’re going to see it a little easier.
The problem is now we have an in-car cam a lot, so I’ve got to tone it back a little bit. I make sure my team reminds me whether we’ve got an in-car cam that weekend or not to know if I can flip out inside the car without anyone seeing.
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?
Definitely. It’s one of those things where you race how they race you and how you want to be raced. There are certain guys you just know are going to race you harder than others. But you also know you get to certain guys and you’ve got that relationship where it’s that give and take. (And) you know at the end of the race, no matter what, the rules are off.
Tony Stewart was a perfect example. The first couple years, about every other race, he tried to come down and kill me because, as he told me, I was doing something really stupid. I think it was Dover, we got to one race, and he beat on me a little bit and we were having a great run and I got tired of it and I drilled him, and after the race, he comes stomping down.
I thought, “Alright, here we go again. I’m getting first punch in though, because if he gets his hands around me, it could be trouble.” And he slapped me on the back and said, “That’s how we race!” And he walked away, and ever since that time, we were racing each other fine. It’s definitely a give and take, and you have a list of who raced you how and how difficult it’s going to be.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I don’t have a lot of famous people that I’m — I’m really to myself, so I’ve got a really small group of friends. Jeff, I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t have anybody famous I’ve done dinner with.
You might be the most famous person you’ve done dinner with, apparently.
I guess, and I really tried to hide that fact.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
(Laughs) Everything? Except my hair. We can go back to the hair thing. The hair is pretty good.
You’re really selling yourself short in this interview. You’re saying you’re not pleasant and hard to like and difficult.
It’s been a rough few weeks, man. And I’ve spent about three days in Vegas, so my energy level is quite down.
No, there’s so much to improve. The good side of it is I’ve somewhat got a good heart. I love animals, so we’ve got that. The people I truly care about and they care about me, I try to show my appreciation in every way possible. There’s just a lot to improve on, let’s just put it that way.
12. Ryan Newman was the last interview. His question for you was if you could build any type of racetrack — oval or road course — what would be the ideal racetrack?
That would be fun. It would be definitely a road course. Just add all the famous corners you could figure out — whether it was the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the top of the (mountain) at Bathurst, Mulsanne Straight (at Le Mans). Just try to take all those cool corners from so many different racetracks throughout the world and just put it together and have one really badass racetrack. That’s what would be ideal.
There’s a golf course in Myrtle Beach like that, right? With the best holes in the world?
They’ve got a few golf courses set up throughout the U.S. that I know of like that. Kind of the same deal.
Do you have a question for the next interview?
If they had to be one animal, what animal would they be and why?