The Driven Life: Sherry Pollex on perspective and positivity

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Sherry Pollex, the longtime partner of Martin Truex Jr. who turns 40 years old on Friday — a birthday she wasn’t sure she would ever reach during a fierce battle with cancer.

Following you on social media after everything you have been through with your illness, I feel like you’re living life to the fullest and maximizing each day more than anybody that I know. So I want to talk to you and see if you can offer some tips for other people.

Thank you for that, first of all, that you think of me that way. That means a lot to me.

I do feel like I’m a really positive person and I try to wake up every day and live life to the fullest. I felt like I did that before I got diagnosed with cancer, but now that I live the way I do after cancer, I don’t know if I was fully living that way with that much joy and gratitude.

So I feel like now life after cancer is mentally and physically exhausting at times, but I try to wake up every day and see the positive in everything that I do. Even on the days I don’t feel good, I always think, “This too shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day and I’m going to feel better tomorrow.” Or “Something amazing could happen tomorrow and I’ll meet somebody that I can inspire or bring a smile to their face.”

Even just like if I’m at Target or I’m at the grocery store, it’s amazing what you can do when you’re at a checkout line and the person checking you out seems like they’re having a really bad day or they have a bad attitude. If you just smile at them or tell them they’re pretty or tell them that what they’re wearing is beautiful. It can be such a small compliment, but it can completely change somebody’s life.

I wake up every day and just have so much gratitude and joy for this life that I’m living, even though I have a chronic illness. And it’s so hard. People ask me all the time: “I don’t get it. How do you stay so positive and how are you happy all the time when you have Stage 3C ovarian cancer?” And I wake up every day and just think this life is amazing.

If you look around you, there’s so much positivity and there’s so much beauty in this earth. The people who want to make a difference and want to inspire each other — there is a lot of us if you look for us.

The first thing that I do when I wake up in the morning, first of all, is I pray, which I think kind of sets the intentions for my day. I thanked God for the warm bed that I slept in this morning, I thanked him for this amazing trip that I had with my girlfriends for my upcoming 40th birthday. I try to say at least three to five things that I’m grateful for. Like I do like a little gratitude moment: I just say what I’m grateful for and then I do a big stretch and I get out of bed and start my day. And I think that that’s such a great way to start your day.

So many people, the first thing they do (after waking up) is they get on their phone or they get news alerts on their iPhone, right? Or they get on Twitter or they get on Facebook or they get on Instagram, and there’s so much negativity on them. There’s so many great things about social media, but there’s a lot of negativity, too. There’s so much negativity on those outlets and for me to start my day like that, I’m not setting a good intention for the rest of my day, right? If I’ve already looked at that, I’ve already started my brain thinking that way and I don’t want to do that.

So I think if you start your day with thinking about the things that you’re joyful for, the things that bring you joy and you think about gratitude and all the things that you’re thankful for, you know then that kind of sets the tone for everything in your life and it makes every day seem that much better. It does for me, anyway.

So is it literally like you wake up and you force yourself to not look at your phone? You won’t pick up your phone?

Well I have this new rule — and I actually learned this from not only my counselor, but just some other holistic healers that I listen to and other spiritual leaders that I listen to. I listen to a lot of podcasts, too, and I learned that for the first two hours that you’re awake, you shouldn’t look at your phone.

I realize for everybody that’s not possible — people that have kids and have to work and have to go right into their day. But I wake up fairly early for me, so I make it a rule that for two hours from the time that I wake up on most days — not every day, it’s not possible every day because some days you have commitments and you have things you have to do and you think of something that you should have texted somebody last night, so you do it really quick. So some days it’s not possible, but I try to at least three days a week not look at my phone for the first two hours that I’m up.

I read my Bible. I write in a gratitude journal. I have a cup of tea and I sit out on the back porch and look at the lake and think about how beautiful the area that we live in is. I think about what I’m going to do that day if there’s an opportunity to inspire somebody with my story or my disease. I write a lot of blogs on SherryStrong.org, so I write that from my phone.

If I have to write on my phone, I try to stay away from social media. I try to just use it for whatever I’m using it for in that moment. Like for instance, my Bible app is on my phone, so sometimes I’m on it because my Bible app is on there. But I’m not looking at negative news outlets and I think that’s so important, just to not start your day with negativity.

So how do you avoid getting sucked into the negativity of the world once you do start looking at it? And not just on social media, but in life you’ll come across people who are negative. How do you try to keep the positive spirit going throughout the day?

Well for one, I think if you have negative people in your life like that, you shouldn’t be friends with them. That was one of the first things I did after I was diagnosed: All the people in my life who are what I call Debbie Downers, who just were bringing me down in my life, I just got rid of them. I’m not around them anymore.

I’m not mean or ungrateful for the people who have helped my through my life or have done things for me, I just don’t have friendships with those people. I don’t choose to spend my time with them.

So I think it’s all about choices, right? We wake up every day and we have a choice on how we want to live our life that day. Do we want to live with joy and gratitude, or do we want to be negative pessimists? I choose to wake up every day and I’m like, “Yeah, I have this disease and it sucks.” Nobody wants to have cancer and nobody wants to take chemo every day. But I always think to myself there’s so many people that have it so much worse than I do. I think about all the people that have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer or have cancers that are way worse than I do and can’t get out of bed in the morning and can’t even go to work and can’t function and can’t get up and make breakfast. And I think about those people and I pray for them and then I think about how lucky I am that I can do those things.

So I think if you just focus on what you can do and what you can’t do, it makes such a huge difference. Yeah there’s some things that I can’t do that I could do in my pre-cancer life. But it’s OK; the rest of my life is not going to be perfect.

Nobody’s life is full of sunshine and rainbows. That’s probably my favorite thing to tell people. No one’s life is perfect. No matter what you see on social media, nobody’s life is perfect. We have this idea of what our life should be like, with marriage and kids and everything is perfect and we live in this house with a white picket fence, but that’s not everyone’s reality. And it’s really no one’s reality, because everybody that even tells you they have that reality usually doesn’t have it.

So I always think to myself we all have this path we’ve gone down in our lives and we make a choice when we go down that path to be around negative people and to let negative things in life affect us — or we don’t. And if I come across something on Twitter or Instagram that’s negative, usually I scroll right by. I don’t read it. I don’t pay a ton of attention to it. 

Do I get mad and angry like everybody else? Yeah, of course I do. If you follow me on social media, you can see that I’m a firecracker. I have a sassy attitude and I do get upset about things. But I’ve learned to just take deep breaths and let those things go by quicker than I used to. I have my days where I’m not happy about stuff and there is negativity around me, but I’ve just found a different way to cope with it.

It’s interesting that you mentioned a couple times that you sort of seek a chance to inspire someone. I guess in my daily life it’s not something that crosses my mind where like I’m thinking, “Oh, I could actually improve this person’s day.” Which I should, because anybody can improve somebody’s day — you don’t need to have a license to do it or something like that.

Yeah, and you just hit the nail on the head, right? We all have different ways we inspire people. You don’t have to be a cancer patient to inspire somebody. You don’t have to have gone through some kind of tragedy or great trauma in your life to inspire someone. We all have our gifts that God has given us and we all have something we can use to inspire others.

I tell Martin all the time, “Your gift is that you are able to have this amazing talent to be a race car driver and you can use that platform to be a role model to other children and kids that look up to you and want to be you one day.” Or, “Use it to inspire kids that are battling an illness or whatever it might be.” There’s so many things that we can do.

And I think when you’ve gone through something like I’ve been through and then you come out the other side and you’re like, “Oh wow, I’m still here. I’m still alive and I still have this opportunity to live this amazing life even though I’m probably going to fight this disease forever until it kills me.” How can I use that? Like what is God trying to teach me? What lesson am I learning?

To me, it was like this huge awakening, like this spiritual awakening. Like God is trying to teach me something; what is this path that he’s put me on and how can I use it to do good in this world so that when I leave here I leave behind this legacy of wanting to help others and bring positivity and sunlight and happiness to other people?

So that’s really what I concentrate on with Sherry Strong and with our (Martin Truex Jr.) Foundation. Every time we go to the hospital or every time I talk to another cancer patient, sitting down with them and holding their hand and being like, “Yeah, I know it’s really tough right now and I know it sucks. But there’s going to come a day where you are going to feel better and this too shall pass.” That was my favorite thing to say to myself as I was going through my really rough chemo: “This too shall pass.” There’s going to come a day where I’m going to be sitting here like I am with you today and the sun is going to be shining and I’m going to feel great and I’m going to be like, “Oh my gosh, God gave me a second chance at life. Now what am I gonna do with it?” And for me that’s, “OK, how can I inspire more people and give more people with cancer hope?”

Because that’s my passion, right? We’re all gifted at something and we all have this path that we’re on, and for me it was I just wanted to help other people make it through this disease and teach them about integrated medicine and all the things that I used to help me feel better and the mindful practices that I’ve used to help me get through it. It’s just been amazing and I feel so lucky to be here.

Some days you’re tired and have to rally yourself. Some people drink coffee or tea; what do you take? Do you have, like…pills or something…?

Are you asking me if I like have a magic happy pill? (Laughs)

No, like some holistic something. I don’t know.

So I think I kind of know what you’re asking me. I do take a lot of supplements and a lot of vitamins, which I think helps me feel good. When we feel good as humans naturally, our mind feels good and our body feels good.

I’m a true believer in you are what you eat, you are what you live, you are who you say you are, right? So like for me, that’s practicing mindful connections every day. I do yoga a lot and I do a lot of meditation and I’ll even repeat little mantras in my mind, like, “I am healthy. I am strong,” because like the mind-body connection is huge to me.

If my mind feels good, I can teach my body how to feel good even though I’m battling this disease. So I do a lot of like green tea and dandelion tea and I make this essiac tea, which is like this cancer-fighting tea. I do a lot of things that boost my immune system, and I think those things all help my body stay strong so that I can fight my disease but also to keep my mind healthy so that I can be in the right state of mind to inspire other people and bring them joy and happiness and do things for myself, if that makes sense.

So I don’t think there’s like this magic pill that you take every day. CBD oil is huge right now and that’s proven to lessen people’s pain and anxiety and inflammation and so yeah, that’s sort of like a happy pill I guess if you wanted to say it that way. I mean there’s other things that you can do, but for me, those are the things that work for me. I’m not speaking for everybody, I’m just more speaking about what I do for myself and those things kind of set my intentions for the whole day after I do yoga and meditation and I take my supplements and I make a green smoothie. That’s kind of how I start my day and if I feel good, that kind of sets my tone for the whole day.

Are you on some sort of a diet where you’re strict about stuff, or do you just try to make healthy choices with what you put in your body?

Oh no, I’m on a really strict diet. Like a crazy strict diet. I eat like only really healthy foods. It’s crazy. A lot of it is on SherryStrong.org, but that’s probably the number one question I get asked from people on social media, is, “What do you eat every day?”

This morning, I made a green smoothie with a lot of fruits and vegetables in it and some mushroom powder and some collagen and some protein powder. Usually for lunch I have a big salad and then for dinner I have salmon and vegetables. So that’s like an average day. That’s not every day because I eat a lot of variety and stuff, but I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables mostly.

But I think that that’s huge because like we just talked about, you are what you eat. It kind of sets the tone. If you eat crappy food all the time and you eat junk food all the time and you eat a lot of refined sugar and you drink a lot of soda and all these things, then you don’t feel good, you know? And then when you don’t feel good, how can you be a source of happiness and joy for other people? Because you’re miserable with yourself and how you feel.

Some people can’t help it — they’re battling a terrible illness, so it doesn’t matter how they eat. They still don’t feel good you know? But if you have the opportunity to make that change, then what an incredible change that you can make.

Everybody has stuff that goes on in their life in varying degrees and it’s tempting to feel sorry for yourself. Why don’t you feel sorry for yourself? Or at least you don’t come across that way.

Yeah, so I had that in the beginning when I first was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Most people who have followed me on social media know that I really wanted to be a mom, and in the beginning, about three months before I was diagnosed, I was trying to get pregnant. I went to the doctor because I was like, “Oh my stomach hurts, I’m a little bit bloated,” I thought “Maybe I am pregnant.”

And then they told me I had Stage 3C ovarian cancer and I was going to be in surgery five days later and I was going to have a radical hysterectomy and I would never have kids.

I had that moment when I got home, that “Why me?” moment. I threw myself on the floor, like fully blown like temper tantrum fit like a four-year-old would do. And Martin just stood there and watched me and just cried and was like, “Oh my God, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help you, I don’t know what to do with you,” because he was so sad, too and he was so devastated that I was so sick.

We didn’t realize how sick I was until we saw the scan and all the tumors in my body — which there was like 40 to 50 tumors in my body.

So I think I had that in the beginning, that, “Why me?” And then I remember talking to a friend of mine that was getting chemotherapy and you might know him. His name was Steve Byrnes. He was sitting next to this 97-year-old lady on his right who was getting chemotherapy for breast cancer or something. And he was sitting next to a 19-year-old on his left who had testicular cancer. And he said, “Sher, I walked in and I sat down to get my chemo, and I was feeling sorry myself and I was thinking that, ‘Why me? Why am I here? Why can’t I live a normal life?’ And I looked next to me at this 97-year-old lady that was at the end of her life fighting and I looked to my left at this guy that was 19 and just starting his life and was fighting and I thought, ‘Why not me? What makes me any different? What makes me more special than them? What makes my life, my age, color of my skin, my social status, whatever it might be that makes you different — what makes me different from them?’”

And we talked about that a lot, Steve and I. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. No disease discriminates. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through in your life; we’re all going to experience some type of suffering or tragedy in our life, right? So how do you get past that point where you’re just like, at one point in my life I’m going to have something bad that’s going to happen and then I’ll come to a place where I’m OK with it?

It’s different for everybody, but for me it was just like, “I’m around these children every day that fight cancer and they’re five years old and three years old. They haven’t even had a chance to live their life yet.” And then I started to feel lucky that I was 35 when I was diagnosed and that I had lived 35 years of my life.

I was like, “Wow, look at all the amazing trips I’ve gone on, look at all the amazing things that I’ve done. How lucky am I that I have made it this far and that I’m not five or 15 or 19 fighting this terrible illness and might not ever have the chance to get married or have kids or do all the things you want to do in life?”

For me it was spending time with friends and family, traveling, inspiring people. Yeah, I wanted to be a mom, but I couldn’t be anymore. So it was like, “OK, do I want to adopt now? Do I just want to take care of these babies at the hospital and let them be my kids?”

And I haven’t felt sorry for myself a day since. I really haven’t. I haven’t had one day when I woke up and thought, “Why me?” Even in my worst, darkest days like when I shaved my head, when I was in the worst of my chemotherapy, when I had my recurrence, when they told me I had to go on oral chemo — I mean I’ve on chemo for four out of the last five years. I’ve never had one day where I was like, “Why me?”

I just thought, “I’m gonna get through this and I’m gonna live every day and I’m going to live it to the best of my ability. I’m going to be a happy person while I’m living it and whatever happens happens. God’s blessed me with this much time on this earth, if he takes me now, then whatever I’ve done and whatever I’ve blessed to do, then let that be my legacy here.”

If you could just inject the average person with some bit of knowledge that you just wish people could realize about life in general, what would it be?

As a cancer patient, that’s such an interesting question because there’s so many things, right? You wake up and you’re like, “Why can’t people see that butterfly that just flew by was amazing? That God made that butterfly and she’s so beautiful?”

The color in the sky is bluer and the grass is greener. It’s so hard to explain to people that you have to go through what I’ve been through to experience that, and I hate that. I wish everybody could just experience that and not have to go through tragedy to feel that. Because for me, everything about my life has been more vibrant and colorful and amazing and joyful. And I hate that it took cancer for me to see that, to see how amazing that all is.

But the one thing that I think every day when I wake up that I’m like, “Why can’t people just see this?” would be like when you think that you have a problem and you think it’s a really big problem, (it’s not). Like it could be sitting in traffic, right? Martin gets so frustrated when he’s sitting in traffic on I-77 and he starts to get all upset about it and I’m like, “Why can’t you just see right now that this problem is so small? Why can’t you see that there’s so much more out there, there are so many bigger problems and that there’s somebody right now who is praying for your problem?”

My mom tells me every night when you say your prayers, remember that there’s somebody across the world that’s wishing they could trade prayers with you — because they’re wishing they could pray for what you’re praying for. And it’s such a true statement.

It’s not just Martin, it’s not just me, it’s everybody. Every single person that wakes up and goes throughout their day is going to encounter some obstacle or some problem that they go through, and every time they hit that bump in the road, instead of thinking, “Gosh, this is a mountain I can’t climb,” instead of complaining about it…why don’t we offer a solution, or why don’t we talk about the positive sides of it?

And I realize that that’s not always going to happen. Like I was upset with the way qualifying was a couple weeks ago, too. Like I get it, we’re all going to have those moments. Nothing can be perfect all the time.

But we can choose how we react to those moments and we can choose what our attitude is to those moments and we also can make choices to say, “You know what, this is a really small problem in my life and this too is going to pass.”

Then when something big comes along, it’s like you’re ready for it, and then you realize all those little problems were just getting you ready for that really big one. Those things are just really small in the grand scheme of things.

So I think that’s probably my biggest (thing). I’ll be out to lunch with girlfriends and they’ll be talking about pickup at school and how they waited in line for so long and the kids didn’t want to go to school or something happened at school and bullied the other kid or something happened. And I’m like, “I wish those were my problems. I wish my kid was at school when somebody was mean to her today and I can teach her that that’s not OK and to kill people with kindness every day. I wish I had a little girl like that.” You know?

Like I wish I had a little girl that was healthy and awesome or a little boy and I could inspire her to be this amazing person to other people one day. But I’m never going to have that opportunity. So I think it’s all about perspective, right? We make a choice every day when we encounter a problem and putting it in perspective of what’s really going on in our life and people’s lives around us and the minute you do that and you have compassion for somebody else, it changes everything. It’s pretty incredible.

12 Questions with Tyler Reddick (2019)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Tyler Reddick, the defending Xfinity Series champion who drives for Richard Childress Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I don’t have a very good explanation; I guess I’m a creature of habit. Ever since I was really young, I had one of the first iPhones. I realize they are more expensive than most Android phones. But I’ve always been an iPhone guy, always been a MacBook guy ever since I was really young.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

I mean, in a minute I feel like you can get a lot done. You can sign an autograph, you can take a picture with a fan. What was the last thing, a comment?

Yeah, they could say something to you.

I feel like in a minute you can easily accomplish all that stuff. You can walk and sign easily — obviously as you’re walking they can say stuff to you. Taking a picture is sometimes hard (with) older phones. (With newer phones) the motion stability and all that stuff, you can pretty much take pictures of anything on the go now. So I feel like there’s plenty of time for all three.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

I handle what happens on the racetrack a lot better. I lose my mind on the road.

Really?

Yes. Absolutely. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the last incident happened on the racetrack and I handled it pretty well realizing I’ve got a long race to go. Like “I can get to the end of the race to win this thing.”

What happens on the road, there’s no race to win, I’m just driving. So I handle road rage off the racetrack a lot worse than I do on the racetrack. On the racetrack, I have no problem — I can run into the back of somebody and wreck them and I’m not going to go to jail for it. If I get mad at somebody and wreck them on the highway, I’m probably going to get into a lot of trouble and lose my license if you get caught. If there’s no witnesses, they never know.

Wow, you’ve thought this through.

I’ve gotten pretty mad a few times on the road. You know, it’s kind of funny when you’re a race car driver — you expect other drivers to drive the same level that you would and be smart on the road and not do dumb things like pull out right in front of somebody on a highway and then don’t speed up. When you’re a good driver, you expect people to drive like good drivers. But when you’re a bad driver, you’re just OK with everybody else being a bad driver.

I think Richard Petty got busted one time for doing something on the road. Have you heard of this?

No, I never have.

I’m pretty sure that Richard Petty was running for political office one time and he had to bow out because he put his bumper to someone in the fast lane who was riding slow, and he got impatient with them and he got in trouble or something and that ruined his political campaign.

One time I remember driving to meet BKR (he drove a Truck for Brad Keselowski Racing) for the bowling league and I flashed a guy in front of me that was just riding the left lane as fast as the people in the right lane. And he got mad, sped up, pulled over, then when he pulled over I went to pass and he tried to drive me off the road, blocking me, and then when he pulled up to the side of me, he pulled a gun on me.

Whoa!

He was crazy. And I’ve had other situations where I lost my cool on somebody and then they tailed me for 40 minutes. It’s funny because I don’t know what that guy was hoping to accomplish, but I had a full tank and I just drove around in circles for 40 minutes laughing while this person had his high beams on, his horn blasting constantly. They were videotaping me, but they didn’t catch beforehand what made him mad. They surely had the video tape of them tailing me. There’s some sort of law, I was told, that if you tail somebody for so long where it’s obvious they’re following you for so many miles it’s like against the law. But they had that on film at least.

I’ve seen some interesting things happen on the road whether it’s road rage or just pure accident. The other day when I was heading to RCR, I was just going down the road and I happened to glance over on the left lane, I saw a car hit the K-rail and just started flipping. It was wild. Right in front of me. And it was construction, so I couldn’t stop. There was nowhere to pull off the road and stop. I mean the car is still flipping and there’s people already out of their cars running towards the accident. It was crazy. I don’t know what ended up happening to that person, but crazy things happen in construction areas, that’s all I can say.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

One time when I was really young racing Outlaw Karts, I used to wear arm restraints. If you ran open wheel, you ran arm restraints, it was a given — unless you’re crazy and you just had balls of steel.

But my arm restraint, my dad used to help me to put my seatbelts on when I was really young. And this was probably the last time he ever put my seatbelts on for me. I was just so young, I didn’t know what I was doing; I was like five or six years old I think.

My arm restraint got underneath the latch, and I didn’t realize it because I just had my hands resting on my side. When I went on the racetrack and turned it in a corner with my arms for the first time, it undid my seatbelts in the go-kart. And that was an Outlaw Kart — I was only going 50 miles an hour — but those things flip and crazy things happen. So it was unsettling to say the least.

But in recent memory, I can’t remember having a seatbelt fail or anything like that, so I’ve been pretty fortunate.

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

Absolutely, yeah. I mean, we’re all in this together. Like I understand that there’s some grey areas they don’t want me to know about, probably to give them their own safety. The people work so hard on these race cars now and there’s such a tight window around each car and there’s so many gray areas and so different many places that I don’t know if anyone ever really is super blatantly cheating.

But if it ever was super super obvious, if I could know to help keep us from getting in trouble at times, that would be good. But maybe at the same time maybe it’s best that I don’t know.

Being the driver, working on my dirt cars and trying to push all the limits we could, I never tire doped, but apparently that something that was a huge gain on the dirt tracks. You can’t do that over here on the asphalt, just the way it all works.

It’s one of those things where if I could help keep our secret, then yeah. But if it’s an area where I can’t help keep the secret, then it’s probably best I don’t know, because then I’m not potentially messing it up and exposing it if we are trying to get away with said secret.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

So when I was in Vegas, I had lobster. I like eating seafood because I feel like I can eat a good amount of seafood and other than the one off-chance that it makes me sick, I feel really great on race day and I feel like I ate something that’s fulfilling but doesn’t make me feel bloated or whatever when I get in the race car.

But for some reason, the lobster I ate disagreed with me a little bit. I wouldn’t say I was having issues in the race car, but all day leading up to it, it was messy business.

That’s unfortunate. I don’t envy that.

It happens. When you grow up eating Taco Bell on the road and eating nothing but volatile food, you get pretty tough. So I’ve been fortunate to only have a few mishaps.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I mean there’s always racing of some kind, right? We have runners that race in the Olympics, we have swimming. That’s a race to me. Life in a sense is a race if you wanted to look at it. So, absolutely.

I think there’s something out there. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if human beings as we are today understand or can say that there is life, because life can mean a million different things and how something lives could be beyond our comprehension. I think there’s a possibility. If there’s planets out there, there’s got to be something out there. There’s a reason for it other than for us to look at and say, “Oh look, Pluto.” Oh, that’s not a planet now, my bad. It’s not good enough anymore.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

It depends on who you’re around. When I’m around guys like Matt Crafton who I know I’ve made really mad on the racetrack in the past, I like to go up (and say something). Sometimes when I was a little bit younger and I was a little more stupid at times…

I remember the first time I was ever in Kentucky when I got no practice, no qualifying and we lined up based off owner points. I went up to Matt right before the start of the race and I said, “Hey, Brad (Keselowski) told me we don’t have to lift around this racetrack.” And this was old Kentucky (more worn out), and he looked at me like, “No, you have to lift!” I freaked him out, I think. I’m going to tell myself I got to him, because I beat him on the start. My first-ever laps on Kentucky Speedway, I led them — and I didn’t even know where I was going.

So I’ve said stuff like that, and then I’ve been the guy that just sits there. Normally I’m pissed off so I don’t really want to talk to anybody right before the race since I’m never really happy unless we’re two or three tenths better than everybody. So I’m always mad when I’m getting ready for the race.

That’s so funny though. You trolled somebody — and a veteran at that. You’re just like, “I’m going to go troll a guy.”

Well, that first year I ran full-time up against him, he was always getting mad at me for racing too hard. I’m just a dirt guy and I like to race really hard, and I didn’t understand the consequences of side-drafting people too hard. So I just raced really hard all the time when I didn’t have to. And I’ve understood that a little bit now.

So when I asked him that, he thought I was being dead serious — and he really thought I was going to do it! Like I know he did. I think that’s why his reaction was such. He would have known I was joking now, but I had no experience and I was known for driving way too hard all the time. So I’m sure I had him convinced I was actually going to try it.

9. What makes you happy right now?

That’s a tough question. You know, having fast race cars always helps on the weekends. Going back to the house and having a good stable home — me and my girlfriend are doing a lot better, and having things good at home is nice too.

I’ve had a little bit of chaos with the lawn mower breaking down and my yard’s not the way I want it and stuff like that. That gets me a little bit. But race cars are fast, so my job, my career, everything like that is going well.

There’s a couple things on the other side I want to…well, you’re never going to be perfect, right? Life’s never going to be perfect, so you can always have ways to improve on it. But this year so far I’ve been really happy, I’ve been having a lot more fun at the races, and because I’m having so much more natural fun, I feel like I’m able to just focus on what I should be doing a lot more just naturally than I feel like I have in the past.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do as long as you’re driving.” Would you accept that offer?

Totally. I mean, stability is something people die for these days in this sport. So if I got to do that, by all means, let’s do it and win races. I don’t care. I mean, I’ll wear the wig. Whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

Because it’s Talladega, and because Barstool Sports is going to be here and this place is known for the party, the Big One, I’ve got to go with 69.

How often do you talk inside the car without hitting the radio button?

I did it a little bit at first when I came from dirt racing over here, because for some reason in the dirt car I just lose my mind sometimes and scream. But I realized when I come over to here I’ve got a lot more people I’m working with.

When it was just me and my dad we didn’t have radios. It was dirt racing, so no one is ever going to hear what you have to say. But no, I don’t really ever yell in the race car about this guy blocking, doing this or wrecking me. I stay pretty silent. If I key up, if I have something to say, that’s when it’s going to be said.

12. The last interview was with Ryan Blaney. He wants to know about your Xfinity championship and your celebration, like how did you celebrate it, do you have any stories from celebrating it that night, what was your whole reaction afterwards?

Well, it’s funny. This question’s actually been asked a lot because I guess people think I like to have fun or something, I don’t know. But you know, that night was great, we took the pictures, me and Dave (Elenz) had a couple beers as we were taking our pictures in Turns 3 and 4, enjoying the moment. We get home, we go to the classy joint of Saeed’s until it closed down and then we went to another fine establishment — that’s all I’m gonna call it.

We had a good night. We enjoyed that night. But from that point until the banquet I don’t think I drank, I didn’t do anything, I didn’t celebrate.

I got home from our party that night and went in the early morning and my cat was sick. I had to take her to the emergency vet, and I was at the emergency vet all night.

Then I had other things going on. I was running around like crazy until the banquet and I really didn’t have another moment to take it in and absorb it. It was odd. You know, Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) told me, “Make sure you enjoy this championship. It’s special. Make sure you take the time to enjoy it.” And I didn’t know what he meant by that at first, but I kid you not, time just moved by. I was doing this, doing that, and I never really — other than that night we got home and the banquet (and party) at Whiskey River — I didn’t really take and have a lot of time to celebrate it. But that’s life.

You said your cat got sick like right after you got home from Homestead?

Yeah. It was sick. My cat wasn’t doing well when I left for Homestead, I thought she was gonna snap out of it. You know, cats are creatures of habit and they get in weird funks sometimes.

My cat was hiding, no one could find her, she had lost like half her weight, wasn’t eating, wasn’t going to the bathroom. She had a blockage in her system that almost killed her. It was pretty crazy.

I mean, a cat’s a cat. Say what you will about cats, but my cat is pretty bad-ass, more bad-ass than most dogs. So I take pride in owning a cat.

So that’s how you celebrated? You just got back from partying and holding up the trophy and there you are in the vet’s office?

Yeah, I was sad thinking that my cat was getting ready to pass away. I was like, “What is going on?”

The next interview is with Erik Jones. Do you have a question I can ask him?

I’m terrible at asking questions. I’m not good at asking questions, just answering them. This part is new to me. I’m not used to asking.

My question for Erik refers to his 2015 Truck Series championship run. He was so fast all year long, looked to be the favorite to win the championship, but did not win in 2015 until June. What did he have to find within himself, what did he have to figure out to finally break through and win and then from there go on and win three races and ultimately close out and win the championship?

The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover spring race

Five thoughts after Monday’s race at Dover…

1. The natives are restless

How long did you think it would take before some in the NASCAR garage started making sharply critical comments about the rules package?

If you had 11 races into the season, you win.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and team owner Bob Leavine were among those who voiced…um…concerns about the rules package after the Dover race.

“The package sucks,” Busch told reporters, including Frontstretch’s Dustin Albino, on pit road. “No fucking question about it. It’s terrible.”

“Let me second @KyleBusch statement, this package sucks,” Leavine tweeted shortly thereafter. “Has nothing to do with where he finished.”

“Here’s the hard thing about the package,” Harvick told reporters, including Davey Segal. “NASCAR’s tried to accomplish a lot of things with one particular package, but you look at how the cars drive behind each other, and from a driver’s standpoint, it’s hard to race them. Anywhere.”

The NASCAR Foundation may be getting some donations after at least two of those statements, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. NASCAR certainly doesn’t want drivers to bad-mouth the package, but the majority of the drivers feel the same way Busch does — they’ve just been biting their tongues for awhile now.

This rules package, aside from greatly benefiting the Talladega race, hasn’t lived up to expectations at intermediate tracks and outright hurt the racing at ovals 1 mile or less.

At some point, if that trend continues, drivers are going to get bolder about speaking their minds. The frustration has been bubbling and building just beneath the surface, and it was only a matter of time before an outspoken driver like Busch said something.

Now, will that change anything? Not immediately. If anything, Leavine’s comment may carry more weight — because it’s the team owners who would have to agree to any midseason changes to the package.

But if drivers start to voice their opinions and the momentum builds for a change, NASCAR ultimately might be forced into going a different direction.

2. Gibbs World

A hot topic one month ago was the combined domination of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske — something that was interrupted only by a superspeedway-generated Hendrick Motorsports victory last week.

It was easy to look at JGR and Penske after eight races — back when JGR had won five races and Penske three — and go, “They’re kicking everyone’s butts!”

But now JGR has won SEVEN races (out of 11), so maybe it’s more like JGR is doing the butt-kicking by itself.

For example: Four Cup Series drivers have multiple wins this season — and three of them drive for JGR. Meanwhile, other traditionally strong teams like Stewart-Haas Racing haven’t won at all.

While Busch and Hamlin struggled on Monday, Truex stomped the field and won by more than nine seconds. So the organization clearly has speed, even on days when not all the team’s cars hit on the setup.

What’s the point of noting this? We’re starting to approach the time of the season where trends are identified and become storylines, like the Big Three hatching out of its spring egg last year. So just keep in mind JGR is starting to pile up a crazy total of wins — at least for the first week of May — and might have a chance to go on a historic run of trophy-hogging.

3. Dover needs a rain deal

Dover is one of the last tracks in NASCAR without some sort of weather protection plan for fans, which hurt some of the track’s loyal customers in the wallet this weekend.

Pocono has the “Worry-Free Weather Guarantee,” where if a race is rained out and your ticket isn’t scanned on the postponed date, you automatically get a refund.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp. have both adopted weather guarantees of their own, where fans can exchange any unused grandstand ticket for another race at an ISC or SMI track within one year of the originally scheduled race (or next year’s race at the same track).

But Dover — along with Indianapolis, as far as I can tell — are the lone remaining tracks without such fan protection programs.

Granted, a Cup Series race at Dover hadn’t been rained out in 12 years (which is a pretty incredible run). So it’s not like this was a big issue for the track.

After Sunday, though, the track should step up and implement a weather guarantee for the future. I received tweets from fans who had to eat the cost of their tickets because they couldn’t return on Monday — and some vowed not to make that mistake again.

It’s just not good to put your core customers in that position, which I’m sure is being made clear to track officials through fan feedback. Hopefully Dover can learn from this weekend and make an improvement soon.

4. Who needed it more?

Both Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman had great runs on Monday, helping Chevrolet retain some momentum and helping their teams move back into the playoff picture.

But in my view, Bowman’s finish was more important than Larson’s.

Larson finally had a race without a piano falling out of the sky and landing on his car, which is good for him. He needed a nice, clean run — and he got one. The thing is, I haven’t really heard people wondering aloud if Larson would ever get back to being competitive again. It was more a matter of time before his streak of misfortune ended and he started running well.

Bowman, though, is a different case. Since he’s yet to win in the No. 88 car and doesn’t run up front, it seems like he’s always getting mentioned as someone who could be on the hot seat. (His contract runs through 2020, if you were wondering.) So stringing together back-to-back runner-up finishes — with Dover way more impressive than Talladega — is a fantastic development for him.

Hendrick has obviously been down the last couple seasons, so Bowman has had somewhat of a built-in excuse. If a seven-time champion can’t run up front and win, would you really expect Bowman to do so?

But measuring success in that case really comes down to comparison against teammates, and Bowman was the best of the Hendrick drivers at Dover.

He’ll need more than that to stay with the team long term, but runs like that certainly help his cause.

5. What’s next

After three short tracks, a superspeedway and whatever category of track Dover is, it’s time for a return to the type of venues that make up the meat of the schedule.

Kansas is up next (a Saturday night race this weekend) followed by the All-Star Race and Coke 600 at Charlotte. Then it’s off to high-speed tracks Pocono and Michigan before an off week. 

Perhaps the package will work better at one of those tracks (Michigan, maybe?), thus temporarily alleviating some of the criticism. I’m sure NASCAR would more than welcome that, if so.

But it will also be worth watching these upcoming races to see if the Hendrick speed burst is an illusion, whether Busch can keep up his freakish top-10 streak (now 13 in a row dating to last year), whether the Penske cars can get back to the top tier of teams with JGR and whether drivers like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Larson can break through for their first wins of the season.

Take care…

The second-to-last time I saw Bill Fleischman, my college professor and mentor, we were on a beach in Florida.

He watched as I carried my infant daughter, Liliana, down to the ocean and dipped her feet into the water for the first time. He took a photo of my little family — me, my wife, Sarah, and the baby — and we strolled around the sprawling condominium complex that housed a rental unit he shared with his wife, Barb.

The Fleischmans were snowbirds from Delaware, and their annual trip to Florida’s Treasure Coast coincided with Daytona Speedweeks. How lucky for me, since he was no longer covering NASCAR races — as he did at several tracks for decades — in his retirement years.

We hugged goodbye, having shared several hours and a pleasant lunch together, and I began the two-hour drive back north. He was quick to follow up with correspondence.

“We really enjoyed our time with you,” he texted that night. “Your daughter is a cutie; we’ll always remember her first experience with the ocean. Hope your Daytona week goes smoothly. Take care…”

He almost always left things as “Take care…” although that was something I didn’t notice until going back through texts and emails this week.

But that day in Florida turned out to be particularly meaningful, because the last time I saw Bill Fleischman, my college professor and mentor, was Friday. We were in a funeral home, and he was lying in the casket.

Less than four months had passed between our visits, with a cancer battle, ultimately fought and lost, in the intervening period.

The finality of death brought the realization there would be no more guidance from Professor Fleischman. And that is difficult to accept. Even after I graduated from the University of Delaware — my head now filled with his knowledge of sports writing, copy editing and layout — he was always a trusted source of wisdom. I’d ask for advice about how to handle situations or seek input on the latest journalism controversy.

And now? He was gone. Class dismissed.

But a funny thing happened on Saturday, when his family and friends gathered to say their goodbyes in Wilmington. A common thread woven through those in attendance at the funeral revealed one more lesson — and it had nothing to do with journalism.

At least once a month, I would receive an email or text message from Fleischman (it used to be a phone call or a news article marked up with a red pen, but times change). He’d provide an update on what he was up to, comment on a current event or two (usually NASCAR-related), ask how I was and, of course, end with “Take care…”

If I didn’t respond in a timely manner, he would follow up by writing “Ahem. Just making sure you’ve seen this…” at the top of his next update. Once, after going too long between replies, he threatened to bring out “Rocco, the gatekeeper in the penalty box.”

When I finally wrote back, Fleischman opened his next email with: “Rocco, cool it. Jeff Gluck finally responded. I know you’re disappointed, Rocco: you were eager to head to Charlotte and pay Jeff a, um, ‘visit.’ Jeff would learn you are very persuasive.”

In truth, I received far too many messages that included “ahems” and “just making sure you’ve seen this…” I’ve been awful at correspondence and keeping in touch for years; my own mother recently commented on how we hadn’t spoken by phone in a month. Yikes.

I don’t have any legitimate excuses for this. When someone sends an email, text or leaves a voicemail, and I don’t respond in that moment for whatever reason (wrangling the baby? stressing out over something on Twitter?), it’s easy to let myself think, “I’ll get back to them later.” But then the days — or weeks or months — sometimes slip away, and maybe I never do.

Fortunately, Fleischman was always willing to follow up — even if it meant a good-natured scolding. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only recipient of his frequent correspondence.

I learned Saturday that Fleischman wasn’t just sending emails to a select few all this time — he was writing to dozens of people. He maintained all sorts of relationships — with former students, former colleagues, friends from all walks of life — by continuing to reach out to them and ask how they were doing.

As a result, his own life was enriched by letting others know he cared about them. I know this because of the turnout for an 80-year-old man on a Saturday morning, because of online tributes and news articles about his passing, because of the stories shared at his funeral from those who had scores of emails in their inbox.

What a beautiful cycle of communication and love. Instead of just meaning to get in touch with someone, Fleischman actually invested the time to do so — and on a regular basis. It’s really such a small gesture, but it holds so much value in life.

Are there people in your world who you care about but haven’t spoken to in awhile? Has someone reached out and you keep meaning to get back to them but haven’t?

Both those things are the case for me, and it’s time I do better at both. We can’t wait too long, because we never know when the clock will run out.

And after all, I’d rather consider it a lesson learned before Rocco comes showing up at my door.

The Driven Life: Rodney Childers on work ethic

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing.

I see on the walls of Stewart-Haas Racing, you guys have motivational quotes. And here in the hauler right here on the door it says, “I believe that we will win.” Why is that important to try and show that to the team?

I think our number one priority for any race team or any business or anything like that is you have to believe in it and all your employees have to believe in it. You see a lot of successful businesses — whether it’s a race team or not — they have the personality of people that believe in the business.

You look at the Disney mentality, and that’s what Ray (Evernham) preached at Evernham (Motorsports) for so many years: If you see a piece of paper on the ground, then pick it up and throw it away. Don’t walk over it. That stuff was started years and years ago and it has carried on through these race teams. You have to believe that you can perform and you have to believe that you can win and if you can’t do that, you really don’t have a chance.

Obviously you’ve worked for some great leaders and some great race teams and you are now heading up your own team. How much of what you do now is a product of lessons you learned from Ray, and how much is stuff that you’ve decided on your own?

I think most of my work ethic started with my dad (Gary). Totally different careers, but he’s been a car salesman in Charlotte for 45 years. He would get up and leave home at 7 o’clock every morning and he would get home at 8 o’clock every night and he never, ever complained. And he sold cars six days a week, he didn’t worry about whether he ever had a day off, he just got up and went to work and he enjoyed it.

That kind of carried on into me when I started racing go-karts and Late Models and All Pro series and different things. I just worked and I never needed an alarm clock; I got up when I needed to get up and I worked 12 hours a day like it was nothing. It didn’t bother me. So that kind of started it with my father and then it led into Ray.

Ray was probably one of the biggest influences on me and the way that he was a leader — I’ll be honest, I still miss that. I told somebody this week I wish Ray would come back. But he just conducted things the right way.

We had meetings every week, everybody in the entire company knew where we stood, what we stand for, what our priorities were and where we were going. He always preached that Disney mentality of keeping things nice and neat and clean, and if you got on an airplane and you were caught with an ink pen in your pocket, then you’re in trouble. You better have pencils on the plane because you didn’t want ink pens getting on the seats of the airplane. Man, I appreciated that stuff. Some people it aggravated the crap out of, but for somebody like me, I loved it. So he was a huge influence.

The rest is just watching people. I think watching Chad (Knaus) and the 48 team was my third-most thing that improved me as a person and as a crew chief — watching how he operated and watching how he expected his people to act and how they dressed and their equipment and how it looked and their cars and how presentable they were.

These guys who have been on the 4 team for five and a half years will tell you the first thing I said is, “I want to be like the 48 but better.” And that’s what we’ve tried to do. I think through some of these years they’ve proved to do that; sometimes we fall short of that, but overall we’ve done a good job.

Rodney Childers, then team director for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, speaks with Elliott Sadler during a test session in 2008. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

One thing I kind of struggle with sometimes is there will be days where I’m totally fired up to go work hard and put in a solid effort, but then I see myself sometimes where I’m just like, “Man, I’m just tired today” or something like that. On those days when you have that, when you wake up and you’re tired or your kids have something going on, how do you get yourself to go still work hard through that?

Well I’m fortunate that get to do something that I love. I wish I could say everybody in the United States and everybody in the world needs to just do whatever they love. Sometimes that’s not a possibility. Sometimes you just have to go get a job, no matter where it’s at, and you have to do something to make money and provide for your family.

Like last year, for instance, I felt like I ran on adrenaline the whole year. We were winning races and I never needed an alarm clock. I woke up five minutes before my alarm every day and I knew exactly what time I needed to be at work and my system was just working on its own. I would drive to work and have all this stuff in my head that I had thought about in my sleep that we needed to do better and what we needed to fix.

You turn around this year — it hasn’t been as good as what we have hoped — and yeah, there’s some mornings when you wake up and you’re like, “Oh God, we gotta go do this” or whatever. But the biggest thing is having people around me that also believe. The days that I’ve had a bad day, my group has a good day and they support me. And then you’ll have another guy on your team that is having a bad day and you have to bring him up and support him.

It works in any business. You walk in a Chick-Fil-A and you’re amazed at what they can do, or you walk into Jimmy John’s and you’re like, “Oh crap, they’ve got my sandwich ready already.” But they work as a team and they know how to help each other and get each other through days.

But like I said, all this stuff has started many years ago with great leaders and probably most of it started in the military. Ray used to always preach to us or give us things that came from military people and quotes and stuff like that. Sometimes you just have to be around the right people, and until you’re around the right people, you really don’t know what it’s like.

But you have to do something that you enjoy. I think that’s number one, and you have to do something that makes you happy every day and that you don’t dread to get into your car and go to work.

When you have success, how do you keep the pedal down and keep going forward and not just say, “Well, this is probably good enough?” Like, “Do I really need to put in this extra couple hours? We’re probably going to be fine.” Do you know what I mean?

I think you have to have that mentality that nothing’s ever good enough. Sometimes it drives my wife crazy. But you know, that’s kind of how I stay. Unless you can stay that way, it’s not going to be good enough. I hate to carry that home and say, “Well this isn’t right and this isn’t right and this isn’t right and this isn’t right” and it drives her crazy.

But on the other hand, we’ve got over 350 people walking around at Stewart-Haas Racing now. It’s so easy just to come in and do an eight-hour day and just do what you’re told and walk out. You’re really looking for those exceptional people that come in 30 minutes early and leave 30 minutes late and then come and ask you if there’s anything else that they can do before they leave. Those are the ones that really stand out.

It’s all about mentality though. You have to stay on task and stay focused and it really comes down to the total team. You know it always starts with a leader, but you have to have the right people under you. I’m fortunate enough to have a great group of guys that stay working hard. My engineer, my shop foreman, my car chief, all those guys — they help me corral the group and stay motivated. I have bad days, like I said, but overall we keep each other going.

Michael Waltrip hugs Rodney Childers, then crew chief for Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Reutimann, after Reutimann won the rain-shortened 2009 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I know a lot of success in any business has to do with a combination of talent and hard work; you can’t have one without the other. Do you believe if somebody is really talented, they can get by without working as hard? Or does success at the ultimate level require hard work no matter if they have talent or not?

I think you can have a lot of talent and somewhat make it. You see that in some race car drivers that have a ton of talent, but they don’t do everything that they could possibly do. And you look at it and you’re like, “That’s a shame that they don’t work any harder than they do, because they could completely destroy the field every week.”

And then you see other guys that don’t have as much talent and they work their guts out and they study and study and they run pretty good. So yeah, that’s possible.

I think there’s different ways of looking at it for different careers. I think most careers you have to work hard, and unless you work hard you’re not going to be successful and do the things that you need to do. So it really comes down to being focused and working hard.

What’s your lifestyle like as far as the amount of sleep you get or what you eat? Do you have to do anything to keep your energy level up? Do you have any secrets that people might be able to help themselves with that way?

I think the easy answer for people is to get up and drink three cups of coffee and then get their day going, but I don’t drink any caffeine at all in an entire day. I may have a little bit of tea now and then, but I try to stay away. I drink water the entire day and it would have to be a pretty bad day to catch me making a cup of coffee — which I do every now and then.

But over the last couple years I’ve tried to take care of myself better and try to eat better. Everybody’s like, “Well you never needed to lose weight,” but last year I lost 30 pounds and I feel 100 percent better. I may have gained about 10 back over the winter.

But overall, I try to eat a little bit more healthy and I try to drink water. I think if your body gets used to that, you’re better off because you don’t want to be relying on caffeine to get your through the day because at some point you’re going to crash.

And as far as sleeping, it changes every week. It can be eight hours or it could be five hours, and some nights you just don’t sleep well and you have a lot on your mind.

I put in a lot of hours at the shop and some people may think that I have a lot of toys and I like to play and this and that, but that’s kind of my way of getting racing off my mind. But I really don’t get to use them much. I love the lake and I love UTV riding and stuff like that and I love to be with my family.

Most nights, the boys (his 10-year-old twins, Brody and Gavin) are asleep when I leave to go to work and they’re going to bed as soon as I walk in the door. So I don’t get to see them but about 10 minutes when I get home in the afternoons and try to get them in bed pretty much.

A few weeks ago, somebody was talking about my week and I said, “Well I worked 14 hours on Monday, I worked 16 hours on Tuesday and I worked 14 hours on Wednesday. Thursday morning I stayed home and I got on an airplane and flew out Thursday, and then I worked at the racetrack Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And then I was back at the shop on Monday morning at 9 o’clock.” And everybody’s like, “How in the world…?” But it’s my job, and I enjoy it and that’s the only way you’re going to be successful, is to work hard.

12 Questions with Ryan Blaney (2019)

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Ryan Blaney of Team Penske. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I am an iPhone person. I don’t think I ever had an Android. I had a (Motorola) Razr was my first phone — a flip phone. I actually had a Blackberry for a little bit, it was like my second phone. And then I just had an iPhone ever since.

I don’t really know why. I think they’re just pretty easy to use. I see ads for other phones, Androids and stuff like that, and I’ve just never really thought of switching. They get a bad rap (from Apple users). You know, iPhone people give Android users a hard time with the green bubble (text) message, and I’ve never really gotten that. Like it’s his phone. Who cares about what it is or not?

But I’ve stayed with an iPhone, it’s what I’ve known for the longest time and I don’t want to relearn a new software.

So green bubble message doesn’t bother you?

No, I don’t mind it.

It annoys me.

It bothers you? Really? What’s the downside to it?

You can’t see whether it was delivered, you can’t see if it was read, it just pops up and you’re like, “Did it get there?”

Yeah, I see you on that, but it just has never really bothered me. You can’t judge someone for what they’ve got on their phone.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

Signing something is easy. Let’s say you want to sign a hero card. You can walk and sign a hero card and chat with them at the same time you’re signing with them; that’s the easiest part, so you kind of get the two in one.

The selfie thing I prefer. I like taking pictures with people, because I see a lot of stuff I signed for fans at the racetrack end up on the Internet. I’m like, “Oh, you just want me to sign this so you can turn around and sell it?” So people who want photos, it’s a lot more intimate. They are actually a big fan of you, they like it.

But they’ve got to learn how to learn how to use their phones. (Laughs) Going back to phones, I can’t tell you how many times guys are like, “Can I have a selfie?” I’m like “Yeah,” but he doesn’t have his phone out yet and doesn’t know how to work the camera. I’m like, “I’ll do it.”

But I like them all, but it just depends. I can get you an autograph and chat with you while you’re walking, which is great, or I’ll stop and take a selfie. But the only advice I have on the selfie stuff is to have your phone out and ready and know where the button is to take the photo.

Do you see cars you sign on eBay and stuff like that?

Yeah, sometimes. It’s out there and people do it. Some folks want you to sign with a certain color, especially on hero cards. I’m a black Sharpie guy and use a silver Sharpie for windshields. When people ask me to do blue Sharpie on a hero card — I don’t mind like gold Sharpies on windshields because it looks cool if it’s the right color car; I think it will look neat — but when they hand you their own blue Sharpie to sign that hero card, I’m like, “You’re selling this.”

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

I think you can compare it because most of the bad moves that people pull are unintentional. On the racetrack and on the road, sometimes they just don’t see you, they make a mistake, it’s usually not malicious. Other times it is, and I feel like it crosses over, too.

I hate on the street — it absolutely drives me insane — when someone pulls out right in front of you. I mean, right in front of you and you’re slamming on the brakes, they don’t even give you a wave or nothing like, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.” It infuriates me.

So yeah, I think it can compare, but most of the time I feel like it’s unintentional. But there are some times where people are actually being jerks on the racetrack and on the street. The other part about that is race car drivers, we do this professionally — so we’re supposed to be good at it. But drivers on the road, you don’t know their comfort level and there’s a lot more variation in their skills behind the wheel.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

Not really, not that I can think of. When I was young, I flipped a quarter midget pretty hard and the whole side of my helmet was almost scraped off from hitting it on the pavement, but it did its job. So that was interesting. But no, never like a failure, never like a belt coming loose or tearing or anything like that. So that side’s been pretty good to me.

5. If your team put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

I’m kind of torn on that. I don’t really know. We don’t do that over here at Team Penske.

I don’t think I’d want to know about it. I mean, why should I know about it? I wouldn’t want to know. You can’t really get away with that stuff anymore, the super secret illegal parts. NASCAR finds that stuff pretty quick. But let me focus on what my car is doing just like a normal weekend. I don’t want that in the back of my mind: “Oh we’re going to get caught, we’re going to get caught.” I just wouldn’t want to think about that.

Plus, if the media comes to you later and you got caught, you can say, “I didn’t know.”

Exactly. And I wouldn’t be lying if I didn’t know about it, so it’s good. I’d feel better inside.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

I think any kind of Mexican food will upset your stomach, if you have tacos or something. Things like that, beans or whatever, is probably not the best for your stomach. That or like Thai food, I’m guessing. Anything spicy I don’t think is going to be very good, especially if it’s a hot day. You don’t want that. I’m usually pretty easy; I’m a chicken and rice guy before races.

But yeah, I had a bad experience. I ran a K&N car at Sonoma two or three years ago, and I didn’t think I was going to make it. I really didn’t think I was going to make it. I was really hurting, and we ended up breaking — truthfully breaking! (Laughs) I didn’t wreck on purpose. We broke a gear or something. But I was feeling really bad. I think it was what I ate the night before.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I think there is life in outer space. There’s got to be. There’s too much galaxy to not have anything. If there wasn’t anything, that would be more terrifying than if there actually is something.

Do they race? Just depends how advanced they are, I guess. I mean, are we talking about living things as far as parasites on other planets or are we talking about full-grown aliens? I don’t know.

I’m sure they were racing when the cavemen discovered how to make wheels. They were putting them on these little buggies and they were racing their buggies, I swear. I mean, it’s just part of nature. So I’m sure (aliens) race if they have the knowledge of round wheels or hover cars.

That’s what I was wondering. Do you think that some of the stuff we see in Star Wars when they race in their kind of vehicles, do you think that exists somewhere? Can you envision that?

It’s hard for me to envision outer space movies as depictions of outer space. The only reason we think of that stuff is because they’re in movies. If we never would had seen a photo of Area 51 alien, we’d have a completely different idea of what an alien would look like. I’d like for aliens to look like us where they’re just other humans on other planets.

But it’s crazy how you pick up on things that are in movies that you’re like, “This must be right. Somewhere out there, they must do it this way.” They might. Maybe they’ll come say hey one day. That’d be nice.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

Oh, now you’re getting into the dirt. Really, it just varies. I mean, it really is just small talk. “How’s it going?” You don’t really talk about much of the race, like the upcoming race. We might talk about practice a little bit, like, “Oh, how are you?” and stuff like that. That or your week or if you have a crazy story from the weekend or something. I’m sure some of us will have some crazy stories about this Friday night after the bash (at Talladega); we’ll have some good stories we can share on Sunday at the intro stage. But not a lot gets talked about.

9. What makes you happy right now?

There’s a couple new things. My nephew (Louie) makes me real happy whenever I get to see him. That’s been a lot of fun to get to watch him grow over the last few months. And my dog (Sturgill), I’ve been able to watch him grow also and at about the same time period. So those two things make me pretty happy.

Honestly the nephew thing is cool because whenever he’s at a race and things like that, you’re like, “Why am I getting upset?” He actually calms me down. It’s just kind of neat, you just kind of think back on it. But yeah, those two things are two pretty recent things that make me really happy.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do as long as you’re driving.” Would you accept that offer?

That’s tough. That’s a good question. I’m curious what other people said about it. Like the rest of my career? However long I wanted to go, until I was 50? Full-time, 25 years. Every single interview. (Thinks for a moment)

I feel like after the first few years it would just become normal. The first year would be awkward and people would be like, “What the hell is he doing?” But I think after that it would be like, “Oh, it’s just part of the deal.” And down the road it just gets to be, “That’s just how it is.” So yeah, I would probably take that. Just have to fight through that first year of the public kind of humiliation, but I think after that you’re fine.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series. Actually, it’s not really completely random. I only have two questions for you to pick from. Basically it’s going to go odd or even for the question.

We’ll go even.

This question is a question that you’ve answered before, but I want to see how your answers compare because this was five years ago. You get to have a lot of cool experiences away from racing through your job as a NASCAR driver. What is one experience to you that sticks out?

I feel like a really cool experience has been just meeting a lot of people. You meet a lot of great people. I’m a big music fan and I’ve gotten to meet some of my favorite artists. I’ve been able to be on a couple of TV shows. To be a voice in Cars 3 was really cool because I loved that movie as a kid. To be on a couple TV shows has been tons of fun.

I just think the neat opportunities and the people you meet along the way is cool, kind of seeing and talking to them about their background, where they come from, how they end up doing this job, I think it’s kind of neat. And you respect other people, what they do professionally — and they have questions for us, too. I’ve made a lot of friends outside the racing world and like the entertainment business that have never been to a race before and they come out to Fontana or a race in Florida or something and they become fans for life. So I think that’s been a lot of fun to meet some great folks like that.

12. The last interview was with Josef Newgarden. He wants to know: What is your opinion on mullets and mustaches? Do you like them? Do you dislike them? Do you have one personally? And if you don’t, do you want to have one? And also, are you allowed to have one?

I saw this on social media, and when Ian (Moye, Blaney’s public relations representative) said I’m doing 12 questions with you, I’m like, “Oh, awesome. I get to answer this question.”

So Josef, a very clean cut guy. He’s like “Ken Doll,” we call him. And yes, I love mustaches. I like long hair, I like mustaches, that’s kind of how I’ve always been. I don’t know why I enjoy them; I just do.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to grow both pretty well, and that’s kind of my offseason look. I grow my hair out throughout the year, I might get it cut once a year, maybe twice; one and a half, really. And halfway through November I start on my mustache kick, and then I have a pretty solid month of a pretty full thick mustache after that.

Am I allowed to have them? No. That’s just the way it is. (Team Penske has) been very good being lenient towards it; they know I have a big fanbase that kind of likes that stuff. So that’s been nice to not be completely kind of shut off from everything.

But there’s times you have to know when to be presentable and not. The hair thing, Penske’s kind of let go a little bit and loosened reins on it. At the beginning of the year, I got a massive haircut and shaved my face for beginning-of-the-year photos and that kind of stuff, and then it just kind of grows throughout the year. I’ve done a pretty good job keeping my face pretty clean throughout the main part of the year.

But if I could, I would have long hair and a mustache all the time. But hey, you’ve just gotta be responsible and respectful for who you’re driving for and things like that, and that’s fine with me. They know my fans like it, but it’s a big give and take thing, which has been nice to have. Not just completely shut off.

Maybe the more vocal your fans are about how much they like it, the more they’ll let you go with it and keep it potentially?

No. They’ve (already) been pretty vocal about it. But like I said, I know kind of the limits and boundaries and things like that and when you have to be responsible. So it’s a good balance, I feel like throughout the year. Start the year off baby-faced and throughout the year the hair gets a little bit longer and then like the last month of the season I start on the mustache. So it’s kind of a progression.

The next interview is with Tyler Reddick. Do you have a question I can ask him?

We drove trucks together for a little bit (at Brad Keselowski Racing). In 2015 I drove a part schedule in that 29 truck, like five races. Most recent Xfinity championship winner — how did he celebrate? What was his favorite part about winning the championship, and what was the coolest thing he did? What experience did he have after that?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Ryan Blaney:

— Nov. 5, 2014

— Oct. 7, 2015

— Feb. 25, 2016

— July 5, 2017

Oct. 23, 2018

The Top Five: Breaking down the Talladega spring race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway…

1. Super superspeedway racing

NASCAR designed the new rules package to improve the racing on intermediate tracks, with the other circuits — short tracks, superspeedways and road courses — catching shrapnel from the impact.

Superspeedways weren’t an afterthought, but it wasn’t necessarily designed with Talladega in mind. But it sure as hell worked here.

Talladega was an excellent race, harkening back to some of the 2000s-style restrictor-plate racing (way before the tandems and before the block-and-defend racing of recent seasons). This was a race where drivers could move from the back to the front — after penalties, for example — and just as quickly move from front to back if they got caught in the middle.

If anything, the leader in the final laps was going to be at a disadvantage. Had the race gone green before the late wreck that caused a red flag, Joey Logano probably would have lost anyway; the second-place driver could have laid back to get a run on Logano, and he likely wouldn’t have been able to stop it.

That’s a big-time departure from recent years, where the leader just controlled the lines and stalled out the momentum from whichever lane had energy.

This form of plate racing — er, tapered spacer racing — was much more entertaining and exciting. And yet it also didn’t seem to be too extreme on the danger side — which was a real worry before the race, given the major runs the drivers said they were getting.

When a superspeedway produces a spectacle like on Sunday — thrilling, unpredictable racing without anyone getting injured — it becomes a can’t-miss event. For those who tuned in or came to central Alabama on a beautiful weekend, it was worth the time investment.

That hasn’t always been the case, including last fall. So this was a welcome and refreshing day.

2. Cheering Chase

The fans really, REALLY enjoyed seeing good Southern boy Chase Elliott win in Talladega. Dawsonville, Ga. is closer to Atlanta, of course — but ‘Dega is still only two and a half hours away from the Elliott Kingdom. And he felt the love.

Elliott soaked up the cheers after the race, calling it “one of the coolest moments of my racing career.”

“It was awesome,” he said. “Just the postrace was unbelievable. I’ve never had a crowd that just felt like (it was) in the palm of your hands. You get excited, they get excited. You walk, they don’t say anything. You pump your arms up, they get pumped up. That’s just something that I’ve never really experienced.”

Elliott won three times last year, so you would think the crowd at Watkins Glen or Dover or Kansas would have reacted similarly. But while those races had plenty of cheers, Sunday’s were especially enthusiastic.

“You don’t know if that will always be that way,” Elliott said. “People might not like you in a couple years. Today is something I’ll never forget.”

So what kind of impact does an Elliott win have? In the NASCAR community, it’s a jolt of electricity. He excites the fan base — especially the traditional fans — and generates a lot of good vibes. Beyond that, I don’t think an Elliott win crosses over into the mainstream sports scene like a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon win did.

But if he keeps winning, he’s got a decent chance to make that happen eventually.

3. Chevy power

Imagine being Chevrolet at the Daytona 500 and the winning driver — in a Toyota! — goes to victory lane in part because your marquee team helped him during the race.

Uh…

Clearly, Chevy was alllllll about making sure that didn’t happen again. No more Hendrick Motorsports/Joe Gibbs Racing secret alliance. No more questions about loyalty.

Chevy wanted its teams to work together — to the point where the manufacturer had meetings with all of its organizations during the weekend — and emphasized guidelines for doing so.

Race together on the track. Pit together. Don’t help another competitor. And above all else, make sure a Chevy wins.

“Fortunately, everybody did that and it worked out really well,” Elliott crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “We needed to win this. We needed to consolidate our efforts. We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here.”

Not only that, but Chevy needed to win a race — period. JGR’s Toyotas and Team Penske’s Fords had won all nine Cup races this season. And had Logano won, that streak would have been 10 and counting.

Chevy has been beaten up this year by critics, and rightfully so. The manufacturer as a whole hasn’t been up to par compared to Toyota and Ford, and it seems to extend across its various teams. They’re behind.

So this was a big day, even if it was on a superspeedway.

“I’m really proud of all the Chevrolet drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, spotters, competition directors and team owners on how they worked together to get the best results today,” Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell said. “It was great to see Camaro ZL1 drivers in the top three spots and six in the top 10.”

4. Flipping out

Kyle Larson — one of the planet’s unluckiest race car drivers so far in 2019 — went for an unexpectedly crazy ride on the last lap Sunday.

I say “unexpectedly” because all he did was get doored by a spinning William Byron, which sent Larson sliding on the backstretch pavement. You wouldn’t have thought it would be anything more than that based on the start.

But suddenly the slide turned into a flip. His car went airborne, and he hit the interior wall — luckily, since clearing it could have been disastrous for onlookers — and sent Larson flipping and barrel-rolling for what seemed like forever.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve flipped like that in anything,” Larson said afterward. “I just didn’t know if it was ever going to stop and where I was at in reference to the fence or anything. It was scary, but thankfully it came to a stop tires-down.”

It was unsettling to see the car turn over by itself, and Larson said NASCAR would likely look into it. But after looking at the replay, perhaps damage caused by the Byron hit played into the incident by allowing air to get underneath the car.

Actually, let’s hope that is the explanation. Otherwise, NASCAR may have to get to work on figuring out how a car could do that on its own.

5. Why the caution?

Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion caused by the timing of the race-ending yellow flag.

When the caution originally came out, it seemed obvious NASCAR was reacting to the multi-car crash triggered by contact between David Ragan and William Byron, which ended with Kyle Larson flipping.

Not so, per a NASCAR spokesman.

Right before the caution came out, NASCAR said officials spotted a large chunk of metal debris from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crash (later cited in Steve O’Donnell’s tweet) that was going to force them to throw a yellow flag. Officials didn’t feel it would have been safe to have the cars race back to the frontstretch with the debris there and possibly shoot it into the crowd if someone ran it over.

But just as officials were calling for the caution due to the debris, the backstretch incident happened and made it a moot point anyway.

The official race report listed the reason for the caution as the backstretch incident, but that’s not necessarily the case. Apparently, per NASCAR, the accident and the decision to throw the caution for Stenhouse happened at the same time.