The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Danica Patrick of Stewart-Haas Racing. I spoke with Patrick at Martinsville Speedway. This interview is available both in podcast and written form.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
Are you talking about me, or are you talking about in general?
Your success as a driver, like how you got here. Is it because you’re naturally talented or your hard work?
Well, I got here by determination and believing I could. It’s that simple. And then I would say that to open it up to something that your question wasn’t exactly — I would say once you get to this level, I think we’re all talented, so then it depends on so many other circumstances, which is why you see a driver all of a sudden emerge and maybe submerge every now and again, depending on circumstances.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
Man, I don’t think you can pitch a fan. I think a fan is your fan because they decide to be and not because you’re offering free candies or a lifetime of happiness.
I think you decide who you cheer for based on perhaps history, family, maybe who you used to cheer for — like if you cheered for Jeff Gordon, you may cheer for Chase Elliott now just based on the alliance with that number and team and history. But otherwise, it’s personality, and I can’t fake a fan. You really can’t. It will all come out eventually if you can for a little while.
So I don’t think you can make a fan yours just by saying, “Be my fan” and telling them a good reason why.
But if you offered free candy or a lifetime of happiness, I might be convinced.
(Laughs) It’s a pretty good promise and I can do the candy part, but I can’t control the other one.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I would say that the hardest thing away from the racetrack is balancing out all the other things I have going on. It’s decompressing when things get busy. If I had to pick one thing, it’s when things get really busy, it gets hard to sort of regroup and you really have to look day by day instead of just the next month because you might not have a lot of room to breathe. But that’s just kind of in life for everybody; there are phases that you go through where you’re like, “Man, I just gotta focus on today.”
But I think pertaining to just what I do — it’s not necessarily hard, it’s just different — and this is just because of what we do and who we are and being exposed publicly, it’s just even simple things like the safety stuff. Just being smart about what you do and what you put your name on and access that’s available, things like that. Just simple safety protection, whether it’ll be safety from people or just safety from people wanting to know more about you.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
I don’t mind, but I would say if I was out to dinner, the most desirable communication would be if someone came over after dinner was over and just said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’m a huge fan, good luck this weekend.” That would be like, “Wow, that was super polite (and) they acknowledged, which takes guts.” I know, because I’ve been in that position before when I don’t want to go up to somebody and say anything because I’m embarrassed or I don’t want to bother them. So it took the bravery, but they were polite enough to keep it very simple and acknowledge instead of trying to have something to take with them.
So they get respect points for playing it cool.
Yeah, because the bravery is just coming over. That’s the hardest part. And sometimes it’s almost easier to say, “Will you sign this?” because it’s a very simple request, but it’s harder to have to say something sometimes, I believe. So for me, that’s the most perfect kind of situation that you can have in public with a fan.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I don’t know. I feel like you guys have so many races and so much time, there probably isn’t much that you don’t cover. Is there something that you wish you could cover more of that you’re not allowed to?
What goes on in the driver/owner lot. You know, who’s friends with who.
(Laughs) That’s easy, we’ll tell you.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Well outside of Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.), because we live in the same house … probably Ryan Blaney. We stopped by and said hi after we went to the Aaron Lewis concert, and so that was the last. He’s having a Halloween party, so I requested that he change the date from Sunday to Monday, but he informed me/us that he has something to do on Monday.
So you’re like, “This is much more convenient if you change the date to Monday,” and he’s like, “No?”
He said, “I could, maybe,” but he has something Tuesday morning or something. He had a good reason. So I understand now.
It’s gonna be a late night after the race.
I just thought it was a young buck in his 20s who was like, “Let’s party after the race,” and here I am, 35, like, “Can we do it the next night?”
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
That is pretty much what we are. If you want to know, you just have to travel to another country and get a visa to go work and your visa says, “Entertainer.”
That’s interesting. That’s proof right there.
When I raced in Japan, my passport said “Entertainer” on it.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
Bring it on. I can’t get my finger far enough out for someone to really see it, I mean, shoot, my fingertips (barely) get out there. Let’s say I’m hot and I wanna stick my hand out the window to bring in some cool air. It’s fingertips. That’s it. Like everyone can hang their (hands out), they’re resting on the window and hand all the way out. I can’t even get (fingers) out there. I guess if you saw one finger, just imagine it’s the middle one.
So you don’t mind if it gets done to you as well?
I don’t care. If I deserve it, you should give it to me.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
Yeah, for sure, absolutely. You’ve got the drivers that you know are difficult and you cut them no slack, therefore your situation perpetuates. And if you have someone that you get along well with, then that situation also keeps going because you treat them the same. Each are self-fulfilling.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
Jay-Z and Beyonce.
When you filmed the music video (in Monaco)?
Yeah. Could Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) say the same, do you think? He was there, too.
I think that was his same answer.
That was a pretty baller week.
How were they? How did you find them?
Jay-Z was very nice and he was excited that he could facilitate Dale and I meeting, because we’d never met before. And Beyonce was very, very quiet. So yeah, she’s kind of shy. So it makes sense why she has an alter-ego diva girl. But everybody was really cool, and it was a first class production. I mean, we were in Monte Carlo, so it was pretty good.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
I always kind of think to myself, “Be nicer.” But it’s just that my reaction to someone, if they’re not perfectly nice, is so ridiculous and over-the-top-mean that no one ever remembers the first blow. So yeah, I wish I could tone that down just a little bit. It doesn’t need to be so aggressive.
Like if somebody’s rude, you match them, so to speak?
Oh, no, no. I don’t even match. You can’t even remember the first mean when you get done with my mean. And I wish I could tone that down a little.
Maybe wait for Phase Three. Like Phase One, they’re mean. Phase Two, I’m like, “Come on buddy.” And then the next one is, maybe it’s (Phase) Four, and then he responds, and then it’s like, “OK, you wanna go? Let’s go.” Because yeah, I’m just not very shy and I have no problem with confrontations. So I kind of go right to the end of it. So I wish I was a little more patient in that category.
12. Last week I was at the F1 race and I interviewed Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and I asked them to come up with a question for you. Kevin wanted me to ask you: Who has bigger balls, NASCAR drivers or F1 drivers?
Collectively NASCAR, because we have so many more drivers. I mean, that’s 39 sets of balls versus like 22? How many are there (in F1)?
Twenty, I think.
Twenty. That’s a lot more balls in NASCAR.
But in a simple, diplomatic, honest answer, to get to the top level of anything is difficult. I don’t care who you are. And my balls are called ovaries, so I guess I count, too.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask a driver in general?
My first thought is to ask a really weird one so people will be like, “What?” My first question would be, would you rather stay on Earth and eat the steak and be kind of miserable but the steak tastes really good, or would you rather live on another planet in pure bliss? You don’t know what it’s gonna be like, though — you just know you’re always gonna be happy.
So basically, stay on earth in the current situation, how it is now, but if you’re taking a gamble, it could be way better on the other planet?
Yeah, what would you do? Would you take the chance, or would you stay here? Do you like it here?
That’s a good question. I may put that permanently next year on the 12 Questions.
Oh wow. I like that. Wow, what an honor! Thank you! I thought I’d be met with, “Yeah, think of another one.” (Laughs)