The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with John Hunter Nemechek of GMS 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’m an iPhone person. I’ve been Apple pretty much my entire life, other than middle school when we had to use Microsoft computers. I feel like the Apple generation of being able to share notes and have everything backed up from an iPad to a Mac to an iPhone is definitely way easier than having to transfer files on a Microsoft computer. Once you learn the software, it’s a little bit easier to use and more user friendly — even though Microsoft is what we use here at the racetrack for all of our data and everything else like that.
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?
Normally I can sign and take a selfie at the same time, so I’m pretty good at multi-tasking. I feel like when people say stuff to you, it goes to heart. So whether I’m in a rush and running around, you’re always going to make time for the fans. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re able to do what we do.
I definitely think being able to take a selfie and sign an autograph is more than just someone saying something, because it gives them something to look back on from then taking a picture with me — especially kids. When you see a kid in the garage, you want to do everything in your power to make sure that kid gets an autograph or that kid gets a picture.
Growing up in this sport, growing up around Dad (Joe Nemechek), I was in a little different situation where I necessarily wouldn’t take pictures with drivers just because I was always under Dad’s wing. But being an outsider looking in from a kid’s experience, that’s something that they’re going to remember for the rest of their life — no matter if they cheer you on or the next guy on. Whoever it is, when you take that picture and you sign that autograph, that’s something they will remember.
Do you think the way you view fans is shaped in part by what you saw your entire life growing up?
I would say so. Seeing where the sport was, where it’s come to and where it’s going back to, I would say it’s huge from every perspective from growing up in the sport. I was two weeks old the first time that I came to a racetrack, so I pretty much grew up here. And to see the younger generation starting to come back to the racetrack and kids and more interaction from Monster being the title sponsor for the Cup series and Xfinity doing events and stuff like that, it’s pretty spectacular to see the growth in the sport continue as I grow in the sport as well.
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?
No, I don’t think so. I more or less laugh at people on the road from the perspective of them getting mad from being in traffic or whatever it may be. I mean, it’s part of life. There’s cars on the road, there’s people on the road, everyone is driving the fastest they can go on the road doing the speed limit.
Traffic jams do suck, but I think it’s funny when you’re sitting in a traffic jam and everyone’s blowing the horn, flipping each other off and stuff like that. It’s like, where are you going to go? If I move over, you’re going to go one spot forward. It doesn’t really matter. So I sit there and laugh and just take it all in.
4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?
Yes. When I was young coming up through the ranks, I wouldn’t wear a HANS in a quarter midget. We would just wear a neck brace. And I flipped once in a quarter midget — and I wore a HANS after that the entire time.
There’s also been times where I’ve been out on the racetrack and have reached back and only one HANS tether was hooked up, but that was early on. Now I get in with everything strapped on, make sure it’s all bolted up and ready to go.
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?
I think me being on the technical side, I’d like to know what it is that’s making me go so fast. But from a driver’s standpoint, I’m more or less trying to focus on the driving aspect more than the engineering aspect like I was on the truck side. I think I can continue to grow as a driver if I focus on that, I think it’ll only help me in the long run.
So I’m going to have to say I don’t want to know about it. Let’s just show up to the racetrack, let’s continue to make adjustments and if there’s something secret and fast, the less people that know, the better. Because most of the time when you have an advantage, it ends up beating you to the racetrack because someone can’t keep their mouth shut at the shop or whatever it may be.
So the competitors get wind of it?
And it shows up in the garage?
Exactly. So the less people who know, the better off it is.
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 don’t eat a lot before races. I’ll have like a bland salad and chicken or something along those lines. I haven’t really had any personal experiences before from eating foods or like getting disturbed in a race car or anything.
I have had butterflies so bad when I was young that I’ve thrown up before as I was strapping in before a race. Those were pretty interesting times with nerves.
Thrown up in the car?
Yeah, so that was during my transition from motorcross back to stock cars. So I really hadn’t done it that much. We qualified on the pole at Motor Mile, my first ever pole in a stock car. And I threw up right before the race, which wasn’t good. I didn’t throw up in my helmet, so that was good. I didn’t have to deal with that the whole race.
But I would say you don’t want to eat anything heavy before the race, anything that’s going to upset your stomach because you’re stuck in there. I’ve heard stories of guys who have had accidents in their seats or thrown up and whatnot, and I don’t want to be that guy that sits there in that for three hours, four hours, however long it may be. The smell after the race, could you imagine? That would be so bad.
You couldn’t pay the interior guy enough.
7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?
I’m going to say yes and yes. I’m not really one to say there’s aliens or whatever it may be, but I would definitely say there’s other universes and stuff out there that we don’t necessarily know about, and I definitely think they would race. Why not? Race spaceships, whatever. I mean, in theory it sounds cool, right? I would love to do that. That’d be awesome, that’d be a lot of fun.
As soon as we get the technology to get to other planets, we can start exchanging drivers or pilots or whatever they call them.
I would say we already have the technology in my theory to go to other planets and stuff like that. I think we have sent life to other planets, just no one knows about it. I have that theory. There’s a bunch of different theories from watching documentaries and stuff like that that you can come up to, but I like to have my own.
8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?
I’m not a huge conversation person before the race; most of the time I’ll have earbuds in listening to music or kind of getting in my zone. When Cup guys are around like Logano or Kyle (Busch), I like to pick their brains. They’re some of the best in the business, right? So pick their brains about what they’re kind of fighting, trends of the race. I have raced against Kyle forever in Late Models and trucks and now the Xfinity Series, so we talk about Super Late Models before the race. If I see CBell before the race, if we talk, we’re kind of just hanging out mentioning race car stuff or talking about fitness or whatever it may be. But really not a huge conversation person before the race.
9. What makes you happy right now?
Being here at the racetrack, being able to do what I love and just being blessed with the opportunity that I have to be one of the 40 guys competing full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and trying to make a living out of it. It’s a rare opportunity. There’s a bunch of kids who are at home sitting on the couch who say, “Hey, I want to be there someday,” and sometimes reality’s not there. I’ve been blessed for this situation and the pieces of equipment I’ve been given to continue to grow and continue in this sport, and I’m just really thankful for that.
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 forever.” Would you accept that offer?
Yes, I would. NASCAR as a sport has come to more of a sponsorship standpoint sport rather than a driver’s ability or whatever it may be. It’s very rare that you see a guy get hired for talent now. It’s mostly the “Hey, what can I do as far as business to business with the team owner and his companies?” or “What sponsors can I bring to the table?”
So to be able to grow in the sport and continue to progress and have the opportunity and have a sponsor that’s going to back you for a lifetime, that’s something that is unheard of right now in this sport. So to have something that would come and say wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig? Heck yeah I’d wear it! Why not?
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.
We’re going to go with 23.
This is from the 2011 12 Questions. When you eventually quit racing, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
When I eventually quit racing, my retirement story, I want to be one of the best in the sport — one of the guys that when he walks up and down pit road, his smile shines and he’s known in the garage area. I feel like with my family’s history in the sport, my last name is definitely a present in and around the garage area just from Dad’s success.
But I want to outdo him. I want to be one of the best in the sport. I want to win Cup races, I want to win championships and I feel like it’s a realistic goal to get there with the hard work and the determination and the commitment I have to the training aspect, the hard work aspect and just continuing to try and make myself grow as a person and become my own person is huge.
I want to have some Tony Stewart stories, Richard Petty stories, just stories that you can go back to after you’re retired and tell. I think Ken Schrader is one of the best for telling stories just from being around the garage, and he was Dad’s teammate at one point and we’ve raced around him at Eldora and stuff like that. He’ll sit down and he’ll just tell stories. It’s pretty remarkable to hear what has happened in the past and what those guys went through. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.
You mentioned working hard. I hear you’re one of the most hard-working, driven guys — that you really go above and beyond. Why do you think it’s so important for you to stand out like that?
Whether I get recognized as a hard worker or not, it’s self satisfaction. I want to know that I’m coming into this sport giving my 100 percent. Whether it’s watching video, taking notes, being on a bike, running, being in the shop with the team guys, being hands on — whatever it may be, I’m going to put 100 percent into it. And if I don’t, then I don’t need to be here.
I was brought up the way that you better do stuff right the first time, and like I said, not everyone gets an opportunity like myself to be able to be in this garage and continue to progress through the ranks like I have, and have great people around you and great supporters and great sponsors that have backed me for many years. So I feel like I owe it to myself to be 100 percent on my game each and every week that I show up to the racetrack.
12. The last interview was with Corey LaJoie. In light of the recent McDowell-Suarez dustup, he was noting that Suarez wasn’t necessarily that guy that people would have picked to be the tough guy in the garage. He wants to know: Who do you think is another sleeper in the garage who is a sneaky good fighter that maybe nobody would anticipate?
Cup garage, Xfinity garage or Truck garage?
I’ll leave it open to wherever you want to go with it.
Well, I’ve seen a few guys throw punches at a couple MMA training events from the Truck Series who have now moved up to the Xfinity Series, and none of them can really fight. So I’m not going to go with any of those guys. (Laughs) I’m not going to name names. But when you punch with your fist upside down, you know that is not going to be very good.
I would say from the Cup garage, probably Matt DiBenedetto. He’s a strong guy, right? Like he does Crossfit and stuff like that. I’ve never seen him throw a punch and he’s always seemed like a nice guy, but every nice guy has a hot side. So if you push certain buttons, I would say that it could come to that.
I would not want to fight Matt DiBenedetto.
No. You would probably get knocked out first punch. I would say Ross Chastain or Jeremy Clements. I know that they got into it at Bristol, but I would say on the Xfinity side, those are two guys that are nice guys in the garage and always have a smile. But like I said, you push a wrong button, they’re coming after you, that’s for sure.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask another driver?
So I got my first tattoo yesterday.
Are you serious?
I did. So I’m going to say, if you could get any tattoo in any location on your body, what would it be and where would it be?
Do you care to share yours or are you going to keep it a secret?
Yeah, I got a cross yesterday. Last night actually. When it heals, it will lighten up a bit. So it’s a wood grain cross. Something that went into a lot of detail and thought. I’ve been a Christ follower all my life and continue to go to church. I think things happen for a reason, right? I mean, He’s watching over us and I’m blessed to be in the spot that I’m in and he’s always Lord on board.
But when I go up and shake someone’s hand, I’m a man of my word and a man of God, so you know that you’re getting the truth out of me and 100 percent out of me. I’m right handed, so that’s why I did it on my right arm.
Right where your wrist is.
Yup, right there.
You can see the detailed little waves in the wood.
Yeah. So the same guy that did Ryan Blaney’s tattoos actually did this last night. London Reese is pretty good, check out his artwork.
This is the first 12 Questions interview with John Hunter Nemechek