The Driven Life: Matt Tifft on the keto diet

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: Matt Tifft, the Cup Series rookie who drives for Front Row Motorsports.

You’ve obviously been through a lot more than average person has, at least at this age in your life. You had a brain tumor that had to be removed. As a result, as I understand, you’re on the keto diet. I think that’s a result of the tumor, correct?

Sure, yeah. It wasn’t for probably a year and a few months (after surgery) that I really found (the diet), but I had a friend over at the National Brain Tumor Society who I worked with very closely through my recovery process and everything. She was a track runner at UNC Chapel Hill years ago and she said, “Hey, I know you’ve been struggling a little bit with getting the last bit of your mental clarity and stuff back after the recovery process.” She goes, “Hey, I heard of this ketogenic diet. I’ve been on it for a few weeks and I’m feeling great, and there are some clinical studies that are showing that the keto diet can help prevent a brain tumor from growing” — or coming back, in my case.

I was feeling OK, but I hadn’t made a full recovery back from how I was feeling after the surgery and stuff. This was probably September 2017. We were going to Dover that weekend for the playoffs and I went cold turkey one day, going from normal eating to the next day starting full-out keto. Hardly any carbs, hardly any sugar. So I was feeling it that weekend for sure, but it’s been a year and a half since then.

Wow that’s amazing. And you’ve stuck to it all that time?

I have. I can probably count on one hand the amount of cheat days I’ve had in the year and a half. My teammate Michael McDowell is on it too and my fiancee is on it now.

But what’s cool about it to me is I was able to go on it and I’ve gotten much better mental clarity. I was feeling great and all of a sudden I started dropping weight, too. From when I started, I’m 45 pounds down or something.

You’re not a huge guy to begin with.

No, it was just kind of back to my high school weight, really. But I just feel better than I ever have.

I love it because there’s so many (keto-friendly food) alternatives. In the beginning there weren’t so many, but it’s become so popular that people are making alternatives for cookies and chocolates and breads and stuff. I don’t indulge in all of them, but it makes it sustainable.

And I think the cool part about it too, as I’ve learned more of the research side about it, is how it can help reverse type 2 diabetes, it can prevent against epilepsy and dementia and Alzheimer’s — which was the original goal for it. And (helping) my brain tumor effects are in there, too.

My crew chief, Mike Kelley, just started it last week. I talk to (Austin Dillon crew chief) Danny Stockman about it last year when I was over at RCR, because he saw how much I lost and how well I was doing and stuff. I said, “Danny, why don’t you just try that out?” He said, “Alright, alright, I’ll try it.” And I think today he’s down 70 pounds and the dude looks like he’s lost six or seven years. He just looks so young now.

It’s cool to see that for me, to know that “Hey, I helped a guy in the garage area do that.” It helped my fiancee; she’d have a high heart rate sometimes for no reason or just everyday stuff, she wouldn’t be feeling so great and all of a sudden it helps her feel better. So I just love it just because I feel better on it, so that’s why I’m a big advocate of it.

Wow, you make it sound really good. So if somebody is reading and all they’ve heard is the term, can you go over the basics of it and why does it help you?

So the basic formula to achieve a keto diet is 75 percent of your daily calories come from fat sources, 20 percent come from protein, and 5 percent come from carbs. And so what it ends up being is 20 grams or less of carbs per day. That’s one Fig Newton. So that’s a big adjustment for people in the beginning, is just finding what has carbs and what has sugar in it and what doesn’t. Sugar-free doesn’t mean carb-free.

So the whole science behind it — not to get too crazy with it — is your body has two energy fuel sources: there’s glycogen and there’s ketones. So glycogen is sugar, and when you intake carbohydrates or sugars, your body breaks it down and uses glycogen to fuel your body. That’s why people have blood sugar spikes — ups and downs, peaks and valleys, whatever you want to call it.

With ketones, at any given time you have about 32,000 calories worth of fat in your body. So marathon runners, endurance athletes, they run more on their ketones after they’ve kind of burnt through that initial phase. So it’s a more efficient process for your body.

And the other thing is the insulin response from the things you eat on a ketogenic diet is extremely low. So it’s kind of like eating similar to a diabetic, but what it does is it reduces the inflammation of your body, which is why it has the cancer-positive effects to it. I don’t want to say (cancer) curing, I don’t want to say that at all. But I’ve seen examples of that because of the reduction of inflammation in your body — and that’s why you kind of just feel better, because you kind of just feel like this heaviness and fog has been lifted off.

So this sounds kind of complicated, but I understand that part of it is you have to check your blood levels or something?

You don’t have to. My teammate Michael McDowell, he likes to, but I think he’s kind of a nerd about it. He’s super into it. I’ve checked it twice in the year and a half I’ve been on it.

So it’s not a necessity.

No, not at all. You can do that. It’s a cool tool because you can see exactly how you’re doing. I just go more off of feel.

I guess my thing is we’re all busy, right? And you are on the road too, so you’re as busy as anybody. How do you keep this up when you’re traveling, when you’re out at dinner, when there’s not great food options available? How do you maintain this?

Well, so there’s two things about it. There’s something called lazy keto, which you kind of have to go on the road. That means not everything is all organic or all grass-fed — because on a very clean keto diet, that is what you would have. Ultimately, (organic and grass-fed beef) is the optimal thing, just like any clean-eating diet you talk about. Would I say that’s achievable? I think it’s way too hard to do it all the time.

But for me, the essentials of the keto diet, I would say for somebody starting, is bulletproof coffee — which is essentially butter coffee. So I have that every morning. Avocados are a great source of fat and a healthy fat, too, to where you’re not going to feel like you’re eating fat. That’s a good healthy fat. And nuts.

But also if you go to a restaurant — last night I got a 12-ounce New York strip steak. You can do steak, you can do vegetables, you can do burgers without buns, you can do smoked chicken wings if you want to. So that part of it makes it easy for me. And you can do cheese. So you can do all the things where you kind of feel like a fat kid, but you just take out the grains and the bread and stuff from there. For me, that makes it super sustainable.

You can also do like almond milk and things like that to where, you know, it doesn’t feel like you’re missing out on much. They have so many products now like Quest bars and cookies and stuff. It’s great to have those options now, because when I started they didn’t have that many. But now that’s it’s so mainstream, they’ve come out with so many things. You can go to a gas station and pick up something you can fit into your daily macros of that 75 percent split of calories in there.

Do you have to keep some sort of chart or track of what you’ve eating and stuff to maintain that?

Yeah, so I use My Fitness Pal, which is an app from the App Store. I do the premium membership because it allows you to put in all your goals for your macronutrients, between the fat, carbs and protein.

But you don’t necessarily have to. I think people who are starting off on it, it’s good to do that just to see where you’re at because you kind of learn what foods have higher percentages of proteins and carbs that you don’t really necessarily need to have or want to have in there. So it’s good for the first month or two.

Past that, people get in a rhythm and don’t really need to do it that much. But if you’re trying to be at an optimal state of it to either lose weight or try to get blood pressure down, whatever the heck it is you’re trying to achieve, it’s nice to have that just to confirm what you’re doing.

But a lot of it is off of feel. Like I know if I go eat a pork chop or something, I need to have ranch or blue cheese. You have to have a little bit of a fat source with it. That’s another thing, too — you can do wedge salads and Cobb salads and Caesar salads and things like that. You just take off the croutons and it’s not too bad.

So do you miss having a cake or a cupcake or something like that?

You know, I have a bad sweet tooth. I’m totally guilty of that. So the first six months, that was kind of tough for me. But like I said, they didn’t have those bars and stuff like they do now, and that really takes care of my sweet tooth. So I can go in my trailer and I’ve got chocolate chip cookies in there that are totally fine for keto. So that’s where I can kind of solve it with that.

Certainly you do have those urges, but if you just substitute it out with a keto-friendly one or a lower carb count one of those, then you’re generally OK. But the cool thing about it was, the higher amount of fat you do have and when you start getting regulated in that, those cravings go away. So I can sit down at an Outback and look at the brown pumpernickel bread, and that used to kill me because I wanted some of that so bad. And now it’s like, “Eh, I’m good,” you know?

But one thing I would tell people is that if you do have those urges or cravings in there, it’s OK to have one fry, it’s OK to have one onion ring. The thing is, you don’t go overboard because you can still fit it in. There’s no keto unfriendly foods, it’s just getting it in the daily count. So it’s not like you’re going kill yourself doing it, you just have to know, “Hey, if I have one or two fries, that’s gonna get me five carbs out of the 20 I’m allowed to have per day.” And sometimes it’s 30 carbs or whatever, but you just know, “Hey, if I have one or two and it kills that craving for me,” you kind of enjoy it inside your system.

So it’s not that it’s banned, it’s just the amount is so small that you have to choose what’s going to be your one thing.

Yep. So you have a cap on how many carbs you can have, and the hardest part is that you have to think away from the usual things. So like white chicken, turkey, pork chops, anything that’s been told as a healthy lean meat, you actually want to have the dark, fattier ones to fit in there because your body will turn the protein back into glycogen and use it as sugar. So you have to be careful with those things. So that’s probably the hardest adjustment for most people the first 60 days or so.

Let’s say I want to do this tomorrow, go cold turkey like you did. What is the adjustment period like? Am I going to suffer through two weeks of being the most miserable, unpleasant person to be around?

No. So typically the first three days you’re on it, you’re adjusting and you’re feeling pretty good. You’re not going to feel many benefits just yet. Somewhere between the five- and 10-day period, you enter something called what might be referred to as the “keto flu.” What’s happening is that your glycogen, your sugar stores are going away and is now being replaced by those ketones, which is the process of becoming fat adapted, and now your body is using fat for fuel. So you’re not going to feel terrible in there, but you might feel a little cramps here and there, you might feel a little lethargic, maybe a bit of headaches.

The easiest thing you can do in that period is salt everything, because it holds onto the water better. Because when you lose those carbs, that’s holding onto water, so you’ve got to drink a lot of water. Put some salt on stuff, and get electrolytes — get little electrolyte packets or Vitamin Water Zero, Powerade Zero, whatever — and that will help you through it. And it normally lasts only three or so days, but it’s only one day where you’re really feeling it.

But then once you get to Day 20, typically what happens is when you get to that three-week period, and all of a sudden the mental clarity picks up like crazy. You start to see the fat loss, and that’s where people turn the corner.

So it’s not something you can do for two or three weeks. You’ve got to commit for 30 days, I would say, and then you decide if it’s not for you or not. For me it’s a lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for you, doesn’t mean it’s right for the other person. But I know the people it has helped.

For me, being on a clean-eating diet, I’m so tempted with cheating that I couldn’t stay on it. So keto is a lot easier for me because I feel like I’m cheating, but I’m actually not.

Let’s move on to a different topic before we have to go. Obviously as I’ve mentioned before, you’ve had sort of a traumatic life experience. Do you look at life differently, and you feel like you have a different perspective now?

I do. I feel like it took me some time to mature and realize what it meant at the same time. It wasn’t like a light switch where BAM!, it happened.

I was told by doctors I’d never drive a race car again. I was told that I probably wouldn’t be able to drive a street car again, I would have to undergo chemo and radiation and all this stuff. And I went to different doctors and got different opinions in there.

But ultimately, I think if you look at the second half of 2017 and our 2018 season, all of a sudden I started to get a lot better. Our results started getting better, I started to perform better, this opportunity with Front Row came up to jump to the Cup Series.

I think that happened because I learned that I love racing. I absolutely love racing, it’s my passion, it’s what I want to do for my career and I live and breathe racing. But at the same time, when you have a really crappy day, when it just sucks and you’re pissed off and you’re just like, “Damn, this really sucks” — you just have those days sometimes in racing.

What I think it allows me to do is when I get back on the plane, I’m able to digest the things that happened, learn from it, go home and reset. Because I know that for myself there’s been much worse days. Also, when I went through that whole process, there were people who had grade four tumors. My step-grandmother had a grade four tumor and passed away. There were people who had it much worse off than I did.

And you know what? I get to go around and drive a race car in the Cup Series for my living. Like that’s pretty sweet. That’s a dream of most people, that’s a dream of mine; I was a fan, that was my dream to do this.

So I think it puts it in perspective that you are allowed to have a bad day, you are allowed to be pissed off because you love it and you want to do better and you want to succeed. But when you go home, it resets and you enjoy those little things.

I got engaged over the offseason, I’m looking forward to (being married). Just little things like that that you just kind of soak in and enjoy those parts of it more, and I think it allows you to be better gelled with the (crew) guys because they know you want it, but at the same time things don’t carry over from week to week. It’s kind of an on and off switch that I’ve been allowed to now turn on and off faster because I can compartmentalize things better.

What are some things that you feel like you’ve learned that you just wish you could apply to everybody else. Like if people just knew this –without learning the hard way — it would help their perspective on life.

I think it’s different for every person. But at the same time, I think allowing yourself to step back and enjoy moments.

The Daytona 500 pre-race and the pace truck ride there and watching the Thunderbirds go by, I allowed myself to soak that in. Yeah, I was nervous as crap because the Daytona 500 was my first Cup race. It’s like, “This is nuts!” But I allowed myself (to enjoy it), and I can remember that whole thing in my mind. If I had been stressed out and just so focused on the race car at that moment, I would have missed that whole thing. And when I got in the car and put my helmet on, you better bet I was ready to go. But I think it’s just enjoying those things and enjoying the people who you’re friends with, who are your loved ones or whatever.

My whole thing with my journey is I’ve been seen as a very positive person through all this and I try to serve as an inspiration to people. The biggest thing you can do is, and it’s an old saying, but treat people the way you want to be treated with stuff. I think people get too lost in the every small day to day thing, they lose track of bigger picture stuff.

Like I said, it’s OK to be mad at things, it’s OK to be human. But at the same time, try to do something good in the world, try to be nice to people. Even if it’s just petting your dog, whatever the heck it is, it’s just taking those little times to not let time fly by.

I didn’t know going into that surgery room what was going to happen to me, and I certainly then realized after (things like) going to a concert, that was fun again. Just you enjoy those little moments more and I think time flies by and crazy stuff happens and you gotta sit back and enjoy that stuff.

And realize that for us in this industry, we get so down on things and we are so stressed out about stuff, but we get to work in NASCAR. That’s one of the top sports in America — in the world — and that’s pretty dang cool. I like to sit back and realize that so many kids have this dream of being a Cup Series driver, and I get to do that. So I want to make sure that I do the best job that I can.

NASCAR’s 2020 schedule changes, ranked

NASCAR unveiled its 2020 schedule on Tuesday, marking the most impactful changes in years. Here are 15 of the biggest changes, ranked in order of best to worst.

1. Martinsville will decide who goes to the final four

If you thought the fall Martinsville race was intense before, when it was the opening race of the final round, just wait until next year. The Nov. 1 race at Martinsville is going to represent the final chance to make it to the championship race at Homestead — er, Phoenix! — and you can bet the aggression levels will be off the charts. There might be a legitimate brawl on pit road after this one.

2. Martinsville gets a night race

Helllllllllll yes! This is a great move and has been long anticipated ever since the track installed lights. A Saturday night race at Martinsville (May 9) should make for quite a spectacle — and tickets might make for an easy gift for Mother’s Day (the day after the race) if you have a NASCAR-loving mama.

3. Pocono Doubleheader weekend

This is innovative and smart. Major kudos to whoever was involved in pulling this plan off, because obviously it took some give-and-take between the track, NBC and NASCAR. Two Pocono races in the span of eight weeks have seemed excessive for years now, so it’s nice to see both Pocono Cup races in a single weekend (June 27 and June 28). That’s a ton of value for fans, a unique demand on drivers and teams and a huge unknown as to how it will all unfold.

4. Atlanta moves toward warmer weather

Poor Atlanta had seemed punished with its race date for the last few years, but now NASCAR will start the West Coast Swing right after the Daytona 500. Maybe three weeks won’t make a huge difference, but the odds of a nicer weekend certainly increase by putting it on March 15 instead of Feb. 24, as it was this year.

5. Bristol Night Race as Round 1 cutoff race

Having Bristol as a playoff race (Sept. 19) is a cool concept and there’s going to be a lot on the line given it’s the end of Round 1. The big worry would be whether this detracts from the traditional Bristol Night Race date — which obviously sold out for decades but has recently taken a hit. Now kids will be back in school and it will be up against college football. Racing-wise, though, it should be a must-watch.

6. West Coast Swing after Daytona

The order of the races is changed a bit — Fontana (March 1) now goes in front of Phoenix (March 8), but everything is moved up a week starting with Las Vegas (Feb. 23). This is a good thing overall, but there are some potential weather concerns. That weird Vegas snowstorm would have happened during race weekend this year, and there could still be some rain at Fontana (weepers!) as Southern California exits winter. NASCAR has to go somewhere, though, and it’s better to try their luck with the West Coast instead of Atlanta.

7. Vegas playoff race exits the extreme heat

There’s some potential relief here. The Vegas playoff race, in mid-September for its first two years, will now be two weeks later on Sept. 27 (though the track had advertised the date on posters as October). As a tradeoff, Vegas loses the playoff opener — but is now the opening race of the second round. So there won’t be the same pre-playoff hype, but still a pretty solid deal for the track.

8. Olympic off-weeks

NBC and its networks are broadcasting the Olympics again next summer, so NASCAR chose to accommodate its TV partner by installing back-to-back off weekends (July 26 and Aug. 2). It’s sort of weird to not have any Cup racing at that time of the summer, but it’s also such a long season (that will only end one week earlier, despite the schedule shakeup) that it could provide a nice break for drivers, crews and fans alike while also rejuvenating everyone for the final push.

9. Round 2 of the playoffs

Wow, check out this lineup of races for the second round: Las Vegas (Sept. 27), Talladega (Oct. 4), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 11). Yes, two wild card races in the same round. That really has the potential to knock out a championship-caliber driver or team, which isn’t ideal in the competition sense. But it certainly makes for drama, and we’ll all be talking about that round of the playoffs all year long as drivers scramble to give themselves a buffer with playoff points. Your view of this round comes down to how you feel about the playoff concept in general, I’m guessing.

10. Daytona as the regular season cutoff race

Sooooooo many fans are going to be angry about Daytona losing its traditional July 4 Weekend date. I get it. Another tradition gone, this one dating back to when the track opened in 1959 (!!!). That’s tough to swallow. On the other hand, Daytona as the regular season cutoff race (Aug. 29) is intriguing. If a driver hasn’t made the playoffs by Race No. 26, should they really be upset if the Big One ruins their shot? It has the potential to be a cool last-chance type race. I just wish it didn’t mean another loss of tradition. (But hey, at least NASCAR backed off the possibility of not starting the season with the Daytona 500. Phew.)

11. Dover loses playoff race

This stinks for Dover and I feel bad for them, but I guess sacrifices had to be made. Dover’s second race now goes from early October to Aug. 23. There’s not really a lot to say about this one, but it was a change in the schedule, so I had to rank it.

12. Southern 500 opens the playoffs

The Southern 500 is one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races — maybe second only to the Daytona 500 now that the Brickyard has gotten watered down by its constant date movement and lack of crowds. So having Darlington open the playoffs? That means the race winner might get out of his car in victory lane and say, “I’m so happy we’re locked into Round 2!” Shouldn’t the Southern 500 — the SOUTHERN 500! — be able to stand on its own? That said, I assume NASCAR was in a box here if it wanted to shorten the season by a week and still be able to let Darlington keep the Labor Day date. So maybe it couldn’t be avoided.

13. Homestead loses championship, moves to random date in March

I absolutely hate this. Homestead is the perfect intermediate track and has consistently produced classic championship races. There’s been no better place to end the season. “Homestead” has become synonymous with “championship” in NASCAR. Now Homestead has not only lost the championship race, but isn’t even in the playoffs. It’s March 22, between Atlanta and Texas. The weather should still be decent, judging by the recent news reports about the chaotic Spring Break crowds overrunning Miami Beach. But it’s a bummer to see such a great track lose its importance on the NASCAR calendar and become just another race.

14. Indianapolis hosts July 4 Weekend race for Brickyard 400

Last year, we were told Indianapolis needed to be the regular season finale in September to get away from the unbearable Indiana summer weather. Now the race is back in the summer — on July 5, of all dates (a Sunday afternoon race). It will have the humidity of a Daytona July race, just without the beach or attractive vacation spot for race fans.

15. Phoenix will host NASCAR championship weekend

If Homestead had to lose the championship race, for whatever reason, was anyone out there stumping for Phoenix as the finale? Vegas or Fontana…maybe. But Phoenix? Look, the track renovation was great and the infield looks cool. But the racing at Phoenix, aside from a couple exciting laps on restarts, doesn’t exactly scream “championship.” In addition, this is a series with 15 races out of 36 races contested on intermediate tracks and only three contested on flat 1-mile ovals. And now the championship will be one of the latter. The plus side would be if this started a new trend of changing the finale every year — but NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said the plan is to try it at Phoenix for awhile and see how it goes. So it might turn out Phoenix ends up as the new championship race for years to come.

12 Questions with Paul Menard (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Paul Menard of Wood Brothers Racing. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

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

I’m an iPhone guy. Not really sure why. I had an Android probably 10 years ago. I could never figure the damn thing out. I’m a big music guy, so I went to the iPhone because I could put all my music on there and just not have to carry an iPod or anything. I think it’s a lot easier to work, too.

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?

It probably depends a lot about when it is. If you’re rushing to the car for practice or something, they better be prepared to walk and I’ll sign whatever in the time that it takes to get to the car. If it’s something like this where we’re kind of just hanging out (Editor’s note: This interview took place in the garage), I see there’s a couple kids over there, I’ll just hang out and sign for them.

NASCAR does a good job with doing the red carpet thing for driver intros and stuff to actually give you some time to actually spend a little bit of time and sign, but if it’s practice or it’s a pressure situation, you gotta keep moving.

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?

A jerk move? (Laughs)

I was trying to be polite there.

I gotcha. I’d say it’s similar. On the track, you get mad and you get over it pretty quick. On the road, you just kind of feel like bad about it because there’s so many other people that are out there. You know, soccer moms, minivan packed full of kids and somebody’s driving aggressively on the road. I never really understand that.

I’d probably get more mad on the road honestly than on the track. One little mistake’s going to wad up a couple of cars and hurt some kids and adults too. So yeah, it’s pretty dumb.

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

No, not really. Nowadays, you crash a car and you get new seatbelts, so everything’s brand new. Back in the day, Late Model racing and things, we had those old latch and link system of belts where you had to kind of put everything together and basically run a piece of metal through and latch it, and I’ve had those where I’ve hit them with my wrist before and it’s come off. But that’s usually just sitting in the car waiting for changes and I’ll move my hands. I’ve never had it on track, so knock on wood, I’ve been pretty lucky, I guess.

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?

Probably not. I’d hope that they wouldn’t do that, knowing that it’s glaringly illegal. But if they did, I wouldn’t want to know about it, no.

Just be like, “Whatever you gotta do?”

Just play stupid, I guess. Easier to do when you don’t know.

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

A couple years ago I had some outdated yogurt before the Atlanta 500. Luckily it was a night race, so it cleared up, but I was pretty nervous. So yeah, stay away from the outdated yogurt. It was Labor Day Weekend, too, so it was like 100 degrees out. It was pretty brutal.

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

(Laughs) Yeah, there’s something out there. We don’t know what, but there’s definitely something out there. And if they’re smart enough to build machines, I’d say they probably do race or have fun with it somehow. That’s a really weird question. But yeah, I think there’s something out there, and they probably do race. Hell yeah.

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

Depends who you’re talking to. Usually not racing-related stuff. You might open up with, “Hey, how’s your car?” Then you might segue into, “What did you have for dinner?” the night before or something. It’s usually very random.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Being a dad, honestly. I have two little kids at home that are growing and they change all the time. I spent all winter with both kids and I went away for a weekend in Atlanta, I got home and my daughter was different than she was when I left and picked up new things. My son, he’s walking and he’s starting to talk and they grow up really quick.

How old are they?

My daughter’s almost 5 and my son is 16 months.

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?

At my age, life’s too damn short.

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.

There’s 100 questions total that you’ve asked?

There’s actually a little bit more, but I cut some of the bad ones.

So if I do 105 you won’t know?

I wouldn’t know.

Let’s go 50.

This is actually a question you have answered before from 2011. 

Let’s see if my answer matches.

How different is your personality inside the car than outside of it?

Pretty similar, I’d say. I’m pretty laid back until I get pissed off or something, then the gloves come off. But I’m pretty easygoing. You get in the race car and obviously your competitive juices start flowing and you do other things, but I’d say pretty similar.

Apparently you haven’t changed in eight years because you said back in 2011, “Probably pretty similar. I’m a pretty calm guy inside and out. I go about my daily affairs kind of the same way I go about driving the race car.”

There you go.

12. The last interview was with Hailie Deegan. Her question for you is: if you had to pick a driver to be your ride or die BFF and spend every single day with them, which driver in here would you pick?

That I’m racing against currently?

Yes.

Oh man. I’d probably go with Almirola. We go way back. We’ve known each other a long time. We’re pretty good friends. He’s my ride or die. (Smiles)

The next interview I’m doing is with Corey LaJoie. Do you have a question I can ask him?

I was walking in this morning and somebody said, “Hey Corey.” So I want to know how many times he gets called “Paul.”

It must be the beard, right?

It must be.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Paul Menard:

March 30, 2011

April 11, 2012

June 25, 2014

Sept. 14, 2015

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville spring race

1. Does Brad get enough love?

Is it possible Brad Keselowski has been underrated all this time?

Keselowski is certainly a star driver and a regular contender, so it’s not like he gets ignored. But when people discuss the best of the best — the absolute top drivers in NASCAR — Keselowski feels overlooked.

For example: While it’s not a hot take to say “Brad Keselowski is a great driver,” it seems like you’d get more pushback if you said, “Brad Keselowski is the best driver in NASCAR.”

But why is that? People would probably say Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were among the best, or even Kyle Larson when it comes to pure talent.

Keselowski isn’t always mentioned in the same breath. Penske teammate Joey Logano, the defending Cup Series champ, gets more recognition lately than Keselowski does.

Maybe it’s time to change how we view Keselowski after he led 446 laps (!!) on Sunday at Martinsville.

After all, this wasn’t a one-off performance. Keselowski has now won five of the last 18 Cup races dating back to the Southern 500 — more than anyone else during that time.

This is a 35-year-old who can win on superspeedways and intermediates and short tracks — and every size oval in between. His combination of smarts, talent and aggression seems to consistently allow him to run up front.

I’m not saying he’s the best — Kyle Busch has a pretty firm grip on that label at the moment — but I also don’t think Keselowski is that far behind.

2. Straight as the aero

This is getting to be an unpleasant topic, and I really don’t want to dwell on it much because it seems repetitive. But Martinsville was more evidence the new aero package may have had impacts beyond just the intermediate tracks — and in a negative way for short tracks.

Keselowski had a great day, but it seemed like Chase Elliott actually had a faster car when he passed Keselowski under green. Once Keselowski got the lead back in the pits, however, Elliott was never able to pass him again.

“I think the stats maybe look a little bit more dominant than I think it really was,” Keselowski said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day today, and he passed me there with 150 or so to go. I thought that might be the end of our day.

“(My) pit crew did an excellent job gaining or retaining our track position all day, which is critical here at this racetrack. … That was so, so key to being able to win today, because I think Chase, if he’d have been out front that run, he would have drove away from the field with what I saw from his car.”

Considering this is a short track we’re talking about, that is…not great! Of all places, you’d think Martinsville would be immune to aero issues. But as Denny Hamlin noted, the huge spoilers this year make traffic “just a little bit tougher” than before — and perhaps that’s all it took to put a damper on passing.

Again, I don’t want to harp on this because there’s clearly more to be determined this season. But if the short track package was enough to hurt the Phoenix race and perhaps even affect Martinsville, what’s it going to do to Bristol, Richmond and New Hampshire?

3. Call it maybe?

With David Hoots out of the control tower, NASCAR has new direction when it comes to calling races — including determining what is a caution and what isn’t.

But Martinsville showed the circumstances for throwing a yellow flag still aren’t clearly defined.

During a long, green-flag run, William Byron had contact with Ty Dillon that resulted in Byron doing a half spin. Byron saved it, gathered the car back up after momentarily slowing and kept rolling.

NASCAR called a caution, labeling it as “#13, 24 Incident Turn 4” on the official race report.

Shortly after the ensuing restart, Erik Jones got damage that ended up giving him a flat tire and a torn fender. He limped around the track, shedding potential debris, while unable to get down to pit road. He finally did — under green — and there was no caution called.

The difference between those two moments seemed slight. If either was caution-worthy, it might have been Jones over Byron. But the Jones incident didn’t really go with the flow of the race, while Byron’s half-spin came at a time when a caution was helpful to reset the field.

So when is a caution necessary and when is it not? Is it a 100-percent safety-related decision? Does the flow of the race help determine when a yellow comes out? I don’t know those answers.

It would be nice to hear NASCAR lay out why a flag is thrown in some instances and why it is not in others. Perhaps it could even spell out what the tower deems caution-worthy for future races, because fans and competitors alike would benefit from that kind of transparency.

4. Panic time?

Chase Elliott finished second and could have won the race on Sunday.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, was 24th — two laps down.

What gives? While it’s true Johnson hasn’t been his former self at Martinsville for awhile — aside from his 2016 win, he hasn’t finished better than ninth since 2014 — you wouldn’t have expected him to be so far off.

Surely there’s an explanation for this and the team has more answers, but as an outsider, it’s baffling. Johnson is still in amazing physical shape — he’s training for the Boston Marathon! — and presumably still has great hand-eye coordination. What’s lacking is the proper feel he needs from the car.

It’s one thing for Hendrick to miss it as a team at intermediate tracks. But at Martinsville, which should be an equalizer? And on a day when Elliott was performing so well? Seeing Johnson struggle like that is just strange, and it raises far more questions than answers.

5. More short tracks

Even though the race was tame by Martinsville standards (Sunday was only the fourth time since 1997 there were less than eight caution flags), it was still a better race than at most intermediate tracks.

Keselowski, despite being dominant, never really drove away. And there was always some battle going on somewhere on the track — as opposed to the field getting strung out and single-file.

Expectations color everything in NASCAR these days, and Martinsville definitely has very high expectations based on its history (especially in the fall races). This may not have lived up to the hype, but it was still a fine race.

So yeah. Let’s keep beating the “More Short Tracks” drum. Because a short track race on a bad day is still pretty decent.

The Driven Life: Mike Arning on team-building, public speaking and staying organized

Mike Arning (right) has moderated some major NASCAR press conferences, including the one where Tony Stewart announced he was retiring and that Clint Bowyer would replace him. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via 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: Mike Arning, founder and senior vice president of True Speed Communication.

If someone out there is wanting to get started in the PR world and they’re not already down the road in their career, what’s a good first step for people who are in college now?

Probably the biggest thing is — and I don’t care how much media changes — the written word is still incredibly valuable. That might be counter to what some people think, as the print industry continues to consolidate and things like that. But even with digital media, how you frame a social media post, regardless of the platform, how you word it can really be the difference between something that gets a lot of engagement and something that doesn’t.

Even as media continues to become more socially driven and more digital, traditional media still exists. It hasn’t gone away, nor do I think it will ever go away. So something like a concisely written press release that also is a bit creative that helps cut through the clutter — because how many press releases do you get in your inbox on Sunday? It’s a ton. You can’t read them all. But if someone can deliver you quality news that’s accurate, that is concise, that’s not going to waste your time and is actual news — not just a bunch of fluff — you’re far more likely to click on that than anything else.

So the written word is massively valuable. I feel like I can teach anybody a lot of different things, but if they can’t write, that’s a tough one. So if they can work on that, they already have a big step in the right direction. But then they have some tangible stuff to show, whether it’s a newsletter, a press release, social media post, and then I can see what they’ve actually done, and to me, seeing is believing.

So when you started doing this, I think you were just a one-man show at the start, right? And now how many people work for True Speed?

So including me and my wife, we have 11 people now. So it was me, myself and I for a long time. We took a bit of a leap of faith. Kellye, my wife, was the breadwinner of the family. She was the station manager of Radio Disney down in Atlanta, had Disney benefits and everything, but we were like two ships passing in the night. I’m traveling to all these races, and she’s pulling off events for Radio Disney — because you aren’t so much selling AM radio as you are creating events around Radio Disney. So she’d have events 5 to 7 o’clock at night during the week and here I am getting on a plane leaving Thursday and coming home Monday because we lived in Atlanta at the time.

After beating my head against the wall to try to grow the business from handling Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing and Tony Stewart, we finally started scoring some wins. We started representing GlaxoSmithKline and Interstate Batteries with Joe Gibbs Racing and SunTrust and IMSA with Wayne Taylor Racing, and I needed to hire people.

It just became a lot, and Kellye’s really smart — she’s my best friend — and we went all-in on True Speed Communication. It was nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, because it’s truly all on us to make it work. But it has worked. I think the fact she’s smart and knows things that quite honestly I don’t and is better at things that I’m just not as good at, but then there are things that I know well, and that’s what allowed us to really grow this thing.

And then I still keep my hands dirty. I try to give all my folks, especially on the NASCAR side, eight weekends off. It doesn’t always end that way, depending on what events we have on a race weekend or things like that. But like this weekend, I’m subbing for one of my reps — so I am a PR rep, I’m representing the No. 14 IT Savvy team with Clint Bowyer.

So I know what goes on during a race week and I know what my reps are dealing with. I know the demands on the drivers’ time, I know the expectations of the media, I know what NASCAR expects with the new post-qualifying and the new post-race procedures in regard to media. And I feel like if I didn’t have my hands in it, I don’t know how understanding I’d be of it. So I think that helps keep me pretty nimble in terms of what’s happening.

As a boss, for people out there in management roles, how important do you think it is for whatever the job they’re overseeing that they occasionally dip into it and do that?

I think it’s really important. There isn’t anything I’m asking of my folks that I haven’t done in the past or are doing right now. This morning, before I left the hotel, I built the post-race template we use to send to all the internal partners at Stewart-Haas Racing, who are one of our clients. So it’s ready to go so as soon as we have results. There’s someone who’s not at the track who can just plug in the stats and everything, turn around and hit send, so that whether (the recipient is) a CEO or the motorsports marketing manager, they know what went on with Stewart-Haas Racing right after the race. I had someone build that, I proofed it and edited it, and that went out this morning.

So it’s little things like that, but it helps grease the wheels, it helps for a quick turnaround. But most importantly for me, I know in my head what the stats are for our driver. For instance, if Kevin Harvick wins today, that will be his 10th win here at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, and he’ll join only six other drivers who have 10 or more wins at a specific track. If I don’t put that together, I don’t know that stat. So if Harvick does win and I’m in victory lane and FOX is there or MRN radio is there, I can help my rep Joe Crowley, who is on the 4, as he’s handling a bunch of other things. Knowledge is power, and I’ve got these kind of stats in the back of my mind that I can help out with in addition to all the logistical support as well.

You mentioned that you have 11 people now, and so you’ve had to build that team.

When I first started, I really looked at hiring (people with) experience. And I still do, but one of the nice things about having the growth that we’ve had, we’ve finally had the infrastructure and the support to start looking at some younger talent so that we can bring them on and not just throw them at the fire, sink or swim. We have the bandwidth to nurture some of those folks as well.

The learning curve is still steep — it doesn’t mean there’s this long runway. Because quite frankly, drivers, sponsors, media, NASCAR, you can’t make mistakes. Nobody really has any patience for you. You can stub your toe a little bit, but honestly, that’s (why people starting out should) work at your local tracks and then move up to a Truck or Xfinity program. Cut your teeth there, make some mistakes where the spotlight is not as bright so that you are ready for big things here in the Cup Series. Because the spotlight is bright. This is akin to Major League Baseball or the NFL; it’s just not a stick and a ball, it happens to be a race car and an engine and four tires. So it’s the same, and the expectations are high.

Your group spends a lot of time together on the road. How do you make sure that you have the right chemistry on your team? You have to manage conflicts if any come up, so you have to make sure that people are getting along. How do you make sure that you’re hiring people who have the right fit?

I think it’s always a moving target. You try to find people who right off the bat are passionate about the sport and what they do. If they don’t want to be here (that’s a problem). You need to be a fan of the sport, but not a fanboy. There is a difference, because I think I left the hotel at 6:30 this morning and we’re going to have a full race day, we’re going to fly back and we’re going to get (home at) maybe 6 a.m. That’s just what it is, and if that’s going to make you unhappy, then this is not the place for you.

And if you’re just sort of “eh” about racing and it’s just not as big of a deal, each day starts early and there is no end time. The end time is when you’re done. So you have to buy into that, and if someone’s not bought into that, then it’s probably not going to work.

So you’re looking for folks who have the same mindset. At the same time, I also make a bit of an investment in it. I give all my folks their own room on the road, so they have a place to work, a place to just chill out, a place where if they want to call home, they don’t have to worry about going out into the hallway or telling their roommate, “Hey…”

It’s just a little bit easier. It’s more expensive, my margins aren’t as strong, but I think long term it helps me keep the people that I have. Because trying to find a work-life balance in this sport is next to impossible, but if we can at least try, I like to think that the effort we collectively make to try and make those things a little bit better — having their own room on the road, having a sub on a race weekend, when the sub is there theoretically, they don’t have to do anything. It’s handled, because we’ve got an experienced person who is empowered to make decisions. Not just any decisions, but they have the background to make the correct decision as well. So if someone wants to go to a wedding or go to their kid’s birthday or just have a weekend and see what their neighbors do on a Saturday, they can.

I’m kind of jumping around here, but I feel like you do a lot of different things well. One of them is public speaking. You’ve hosted some very high-profile press conferences in the past, whether it’s Danica Patrick coming over to Stewart-Haas or when Tony Stewart had his first press conference after the Kevin Ward incident. If somebody might be nervous about giving a presentation in their own office, what are some tips that you could pass along?

Practice and repetition. I’m able to do that stuff now, and I was not good at it back in the day. I just wasn’t. It’s hard. So here are the things that I’ve found, and it goes back to college to where you just stand and deliver and you take opportunities and you do it.

I was editor of the (college) newspaper. And I think people have a variety of opinions about fraternities, but where I went, I felt like it was practice for the real world. I could run for office and then you had responsibility — you had to engage with the chapter, you had to speak in front of the dean or things like that, all those things helped.

And then as I started working my way up, I first started with Kenny Wallace and FILMAR Racing, a Busch team that went to Cup, and they were a single-car Cup team. So I just had more and more opportunities, and the more you did it, the better you got at.

Now, there are couple of other things that I’ll do. I’ll build a detailed run of show to where, if you write it out, you know what it is, so there’s nothing that can surprise you, you’ve kind of already built your schedule.

And then the second thing that I’ll do is wherever we are, I will go in — ideally when no one’s around — and just see, “Alright, what’s the podium like? Is the microphone voice-activated? Do I have to touch a button? Is there a podium? Do I need to hold the microphone?”

All those little things matter to where if you show up and you haven’t done that prep work and you think there’s a podium, you can put your hands on it, and sort of steady yourself, especially if there is a stressful time — but all of a sudden there’s no podium, you’re just holding a microphone and you’re nervous and it can throw you off your game.

And I know that because I’ve had events where I’m like, “I did a good job on that,” and other events where I literally walk out and hang my head and I’m like, “That was just not my best effort.” But the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more prep work you put into it, in terms of building out a schedule, it just gets you mentally right to do it.

Mike Arning (right) moderates the Stewart-Haas Racing press conference on the 2014 NASCAR Media Tour. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Building out a schedule, managing a team of people, the logistics — you have the F1 stuff that you do for Haas F1 Team as well, so you have people literally all over the world working for you. So how do you stay organized? How do you stay on top of it and not let stuff slide?

In this sport, you can’t just think two or three steps ahead, you’ve got to think 10 or 12. As much as we travel — I’ve got a great wife, I’ve got two awesome kids — when I’m home, I want to be home. So if I’m on an airplane, my head is buried in the laptop. If I’m here in the media center, if I’m not actually facilitating something or executing something, I’m working on what needs to happen with our NASCAR clients in Fontana or what needs to happen with Haas F1 Team in Australia and even Bahrain. I’m just trying to get ahead so when I do get home, I can be somewhat 9 to 5.

It doesn’t always work that way because things always pop up, but if you know you’ve got these deadlines and you can at least get ahead of them, you’re far more ready to deal with the things that will inevitably pop up.

I have an iPhone, I still have an iCalendar, I still do all that digital stuff. But I’m a little old school and I still have a monthly planner where I am writing stuff down. I feel like just writing it down, it’s embedded in my head. Like I know that I’ve already built out Tony Stewart’s schedule for Fontana, but I also know I need to pay attention to practice and qualifying for the race in the Australian Grand Prix, and I know immediately after that we need to turn around and there’s a Bahrain GP advance that needs to get done. But I also know Martinsville is coming up, and I also know there’s the 12 Hours of Sebring with Wayne Taylor Racing. So what do we need to do to get all that stuff together?

Thankfully I have been doing it a long time so I kind of know what needs to happen. But I’m also aware of these series, where they’re racing and the stuff that needs to be done to prepare ourselves and to deliver what we said we were going to do for our clients.

You guys have Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch — and you’re trying to make them look good PR-wise. You have to have some difficult days and challenges with that. So is there anything you could pass along to people as far as what happens on a difficult day — how do you get through it, how do you not lose your cool and how do you just keep moving on without getting your feelings hurt?

I think you always just put forth your best effort. If you get yelled at or if the day just becomes a disaster…if you at least put your best effort forward to where you did everything you knew how to do and tried to do, you were as prepared as possible, even if it all just fell apart you can walk out of the track or lay your head on the pillow and say, “You know what, I honestly put forth my best effort. I did the best that I could.” You take all those learnings and if you’re in the same position on down the road, you’re like, “Alright, if this happens again, I am not going to do that, but I am going to do this.” That’s probably the best thing you can do.

I haven’t batted 1.000, I haven’t even batted .500. There are many things, even when people say, “Hey, that was really good,” if I could have done that over again, I would have done it this way. I am constantly trying to figure out a way to do better, be more efficient, figure it out.

People in this sport get most testy when someone isn’t putting forth the effort because quite honestly, crew chiefs are putting forth the effort, the drivers are, the mechanics, the truck drivers, the media, everybody else is. So if someone’s half-assing it, that’s the thing that will just draw someone’s ire.

And so just don’t half-ass it. I mean, it sounds simple, but we were the first ones to walk into the media center this morning and turn on the lights in the PR room, and we’re prepared for today. I have the time now to talk because we are prepared. We’re good. So put forth your best effort.

Mike Arning was Tony Stewart’s public relations representative for most of the driver’s career.

12 Questions with Hailie Deegan (2019)

(Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Hailie Deegan, a 17-year-old who recently won a K&N West Series race for the second straight season. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but transcribed for those who prefer to read.

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

iPhone all the way. My mom used to have an Android and I was like, “I cannot use this thing. It’s weird. No. Not normal.” (Laughs)

So did she have it when you had the iPhone and you would get the green bubble?

Yeah, so I had to get the green text and you never know if it delivered, you never know if they read them. And I like to be the person that sees if you read it.

You have your read receipts on?

No, I don’t have mine on — but I like it when other people have theirs on. (Laughs)

You expect that from other people?

Unless like I’m purposely ignoring you, I don’t have it on.

I’m not in favor of turning mine on. But I also like when other people have them on because it’s just like, “I saw what you did there.”

Like, “Did you leave me on read?” If not, then it’s like not delivered, which is even worse.

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’ll talk a lot. Like once you ask me a question, ask questions and stuff, I won’t stop talking. I won’t just give you one word answers. I talk a lot.

So if they bring something up, you’ll sit there.

Yeah, I’ll sit there and talk. I’ve got time.

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?

Yes. I will go and get close to you and stuff like that.

One time, Todd Gilliland — I was getting on the freeway in Mooresville and all of a sudden this guy in this Toyota, he goes and he like pinches me in the wall and I was like so man, laid on the horn, and then Todd pokes his head out the window and I was like, “Oh my God.” (Laughs)

So he saw it was you, you had no idea it was him.

Yeah, I had no idea it was him. He knew it was me.

You were like, “Dude!”

Yeah. I was mad. (Laughs)

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

No, not really. I’d say the only time is like when I’m on fire and your belt gets stuck when you’re getting out of the car. That’s like the biggest thing on your HANS, and so you’re just trying to get out like you have to angle your helmet the right way to get out of your car while like the flames are going. But other than that, not really.

There’s like a brief moment of panic?

Panic. It’s like a half second, and you’re like, “Ugh!”

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?

Yeah, that’s one thing about me. I like to know everything. I’m good at keeping secrets, but I like to know everything. I hate when people withhold information from me. It’s like the biggest thing I hate.

Just in life in general?

Yeah, in life in general. I hate when people keep secrets from me, like, “Oh?” I won’t say anything — just tell me though!

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

OK. So I can eat just about anything and not get sick, but Waffle House, I wouldn’t suggest Waffle House. I threw up after I had Waffle House.

Like on the morning of a race?

It wasn’t before the race, but that’s the only time I’ve ever really gotten sick from eating something. And I eat like a ton and don’t get sick; it doesn’t really mess with me, I don’t know why.

You have an iron stomach?

Yeah, but like Waffle House, for some reason…

It’s like your kryptonite?

Yeah. But it tastes really good.

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

Man, this question! Me and my dad have had talks about this question (of life in outer space). I think there might be something. I don’t think they race though.

So some sort of life, but they’re maybe not advanced enough to race? Or they’re just not into racing?

Maybe too advanced or something, and they’re just like past the point of NASCAR racing.

They’re like, “We don’t need to race, we’re just so civilized.”

Yeah, probably something like that.

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

It’s usually really not about racing or about sketchy people that are racing. It’s usually just little drama, like what’s going on. Like everyone like spills the tea in their little group circles. Everyone usually has like their little clique circles, but occasionally you’ll go and you’ll hop in another one and hear their little drama that’s going on.

So like talking about some dude that doesn’t belong out there, that kind of thing?

Yeah, you talk about a guy out there that wrecks everyone in the back of the field that you’ve got to watch out for. It’s like those guys you talk about, and then there’s all this little drama. And usually we’re all like roasting each other just about stuff. That happens a lot.

Hopefully you haven’t walked up into a conversation about you.

Oh, you know when it’s about you. No…usually when I walk into a conversation and they’re talking about me, they usually just don’t even care and keep talking.

9. What makes you happy right now?

What makes me happy is winning. That’s the only thing. That and food. I love food.

But not Waffle House.

Well, I do like it, it just doesn’t like me. It’s like New Smyrna — like I love that track, it just doesn’t love me. (Laughs)

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?

I’m down. I’ll do it. Do I get a PSA?

Like a what?

Personal (service) agreement.

Oh, like a vehicle deal out of it or something?

Like money besides racing.

Yeah, you can have that.

Yeah, I’d do it.

Yeah, they’ll do everything in this scenario.

I’ll promote it. I don’t care.

I’m fine with looking stupid. I usually make myself do that anyway.

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’ll do 19. I’ll do my race number.

This question is from 2011. It is: “What is the first thing you do when you get home after being gone for a long race weekend?”

I eat.

You’re really committed to the food thing.

Dude, I LOVE food.

What food are you so interested in that it keeps popping into your mind? Are you like pizza, sushi?

I get on kicks, like kicks of certain food. I’d say two months ago, I was on this California Pizza Kitchen kick, where like I went there and ate a gluten free pizza like every single day. And now I’m on this P.F. Chang’s kick. But like, I’m on a sushi kick too; I love sushi. And honestly, I love Mexican food. I love everything. Everything.

Just not that spicy. Not a big spicy person. But I’ll eat pretty much anything.

What food are you not touching? What cuisine?

Stuff that’s spicy. So like, I’ve never had wings before.

But they can make them mild though!

I’m not a big chicken person. I like chicken lettuce wraps from P.F. Chang’s.

How did chicken get the dunce cap of all your food selections?

We have chickens at my house, and my little brother is supposed to take care of them, but he doesn’t really take care of them and they kind of just live in their poop over there. And I see them and they’re just nasty, and I’m like, “I’m not eating that.” They have eggs and my mom will try cooking them and I’m like, “I’m not eating that” — even though I’ll go buy store-bought eggs and eat those.

So you’re not anti-eggs when you’re eating out, but just anti-chicken. You see the chickens and they’re dirty and you’re just like, “No.”

Nuh huh, not feeling it.

12. The last interview was with Chase Briscoe. He wants to know, do you think there should be multiple Cup races on dirt?

I think yes.

I’m not too surprised there.

I think because there’s so many guys out there that don’t know how to drive dirt and probably never have, that it would mix it up pretty good and make for a good race. Because how often would you see guys that are really fast in the Cup Series spin out on a dirt track? Not very often. So make something new.

The second part of his question is, can you name a couple of track where you think that would be a good idea?

I’m not big on the dirt track scene, so I don’t know what good tracks there are. But something like ARCA races on, because those tracks aren’t bad. I think we should put them on the Vegas dirt track just to show them how much that dirt track is, how hard it is to drive.

You might have an advantage.

I might, yeah.

Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

If you had one person to be your ride or die friend for everything, like you had to hang out with them every single day, which driver would it be?

So they have to pick a driver?

It has to be a driver.

To be their BFF forever?

Yeah, forever. Just one, no one else. Just one.