The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing, who is currently fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. I spoke with McMurray at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I think everyone is a little bit different. I think I work at it more than most. … That microphone is really close, Jeff.
I don’t have very good mic technique. Do the other interviewers, like the professional ones, hold it farther from your mouth usually?
(Laughs) I think the angle is off, Jeff. The angle’s a big deal.
So I need to hold it more straight up and down. I was holding it horizontally, and you’re saying that I need to hold it vertically. OK, that makes sense.
Yeah, I think I like this angle better. I don’t feel like you’re feeding it to me at this point.
Seriously though, I feel like through my whole career that I’ve worked a little bit harder than most. That’s not to take anything away from some people, but we know there’s some drivers who we say are just very naturally talented, and if they cared more, what could they do? I don’t feel like I’m that guy. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and I still feel like I study harder and work harder than most.
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?
I don’t have a pitch. I don’t feel like you should try to sell somebody on becoming your fan. I think when you watch races on TV or you see interviews, if you like those people, if you like the way they race or if you like the way they live their life or if you just…you know, we all are turned on by different things. And I’m not a salesman.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I think the hardest part in general is always trying to be turned on. The reality is that we’re all probably not in as good of a mood as we show we are. My wife (Christy) tells me a lot of times, “It’s crazy how you kind of turn that on when you’re supposed to.” I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t consciously think, “Oh, Jeff Gluck’s going to interview me, I need to be this way.”
But we do, because the truth is, there’s some days where you’re not in a good mood, and what you really want to say, you can’t. So to me, that’s the hardest part — just trying to always be turned on and say the right thing.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Everybody is different about this. I am completely different when I’m with my family than when I’m alone. If it’s a team dinner or if I’m with a couple of guys, that’s totally different. I would say no all the time because you’re eating, but it’s totally different.
When I’m with my family, I get really defensive of people that come up, and I’m not as friendly or as outgoing. I chose to race cars and to be on TV, and I know what comes with it. My 4-year-old and 6-year-old did not (choose that), and they don’t really have a choice when they’re with me. So it’s completely different when I’m with my family.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
Well, I’m into fitness right now, so I think the story that should be out there, especially with what Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) and I did, and a lot of the crew guys in the garage did last week (the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile bike ride with a climb of more than 10,000 feet). I think that covering the fitness level of a lot of people in the garage would be interesting.
There’s this huge debate of whether people are race car drivers or athletes or if they’re not, and I think people would be shocked by what some people are capable of doing outside of a car.
Do you think that since you’ve gotten more in shape, you can notice a difference in the car?
There’s maybe a small amount in the car. Honestly, what I have noticed, the biggest change is the attitude of everyone on my team. I think when those guys see you putting in the effort and the work — we have a super fitness-oriented team anyway. There’s a lot of guys who do marathons and a lot of training, so I have noticed the attitude of them.
This is the deal: If you’ve never driven a car and you work on a team and things don’t go well at the end of the race, in my mind I know that maybe the handling of the car went away. But I think there’s always a little skepticism in people, like, “Well, did they get tired?” You maybe hear the little rumblings, and I think the attitude on our team has been awesome with all that’s been going on this year.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
I’m gonna look at my phone because I don’t know. (Pulls out phone) Greg Biffle. I texted him 32 minutes ago. Before that it’s gonna be Jimmie or Matt because we did that race on Monday, so probably Jimmie and Matt.
Are you a frequent texter?
No. My wife is the person who you can text and she will read your text then respond whenever she feels that she should respond. If I read, I do respond immediately because I know that people know that I have read that, or at least I feel like they know because they see (text) bubbles, right? But I’m not as into my phone as a lot of people are.
Does your wife put the read receipts on so you know what time she read it?
My wife doesn’t really care about her phone. If my wife lost her phone today, it would not matter. She would be like, “Oh well, it’s not that big of a deal.” So I don’t even know if her read receipts are on because she doesn’t know either.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
I think some are more entertainers than others. Clint (Bowyer) would come to the top of my list as someone who’s an entertainer. He can turn it on, right? Although I will tell you that I have been around Clint a lot, and I don’t know if he turns it on. He’s basically that goofy the whole time. He’s always in a pretty good mood.
But yeah, I think that some people are certainly more entertainers than others. I don’t feel like I am that guy.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I haven’t done that in a long time. That used to be fairly common. That was once a weekend it happened. I don’t even see that anymore. I don’t know when the last time was when I got a middle finger.
I get a kick out of — I think they call it “Radioactive” (on FS1’s Race Hub) — I don’t know what that show is and I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I love how mad people get. I have listened to like two of those, and they’ve been like after I’ve been at the airport, and the guy that MF’s me on the radio is like my buddy an hour later, so then you hear that and you realize that he was mad at what happened. So I love that they play that because that’s real.
Do you give anybody crap afterward? Like, “Hey, I heard what you said. That didn’t come up on our plane ride home or anything.”
No, because I know that’s the way you feel right then, and I don’t care. They feel how they feel.
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?
Yes. Look, we all race each other the way we are raced, and for the most part, you build relationships throughout the year or throughout your career with people who race you very well. What comes and goes, it goes both ways. So absolutely.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I don’t even know of anyone famous that I’ve had dinner with. Let me think.
I’m gonna say Matt Kenseth.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
I want to improve a lot of things about myself. But I think being kind to others. I feel like I try really hard at that, but I don’t go a good enough job, and I try really hard when I see someone to kind of know that they’re having a struggle and I feel like all of us should do a better job of being kind to others.
12. The last interview I did was with William Byron. He wanted to know: “What other sports do you watch outside of racing, and what things does NASCAR need to take and apply from other sports?”
That is a really deep question from Mr. Byron at (19) years old. I do watch some other sports, but mostly it’s racing: F1 or drag racing or IndyCars or sports cars or motorcycles.
My answer to that is what we’ve kind of done that this year with Monster being a part of it. When you watch Supercross or you go to a Supercross event, they do a really good job with the laser light show and those guys come out and ride wheelies and they do a little more interaction. I feel like we’ve had a little more of that this year, not because Monster is here, but because all the sports are trying to gear towards a younger audience and that’s kind of the way to get there.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but I’m trying for an IndyCar driver because I’m going to the Indy 500. So do you have a question to throw out there?
Are you excited that Fernando (Alonso) came to run the Indy 500 and got a crazy amount of attention, and at the same time how did you think that he did?
I just wanted to say thanks again, because I feel like you’ve changed my life now with holding this microphone. I feel like I’m doing it the right way now. So thank you for that help. It’s like having something in my teeth the whole year and nobody’s told me I had something in my teeth until you said I was holding the microphone wrong.
That’s funny, because I knew that was going to happen because we’ve been talking about it behind your back the whole time. They’re like, “Wait until Jeff Gluck interviews you, because the way he holds his microphone is really weird.”
I don’t believe that, but thanks for joining us.
This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next week, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!