12 Questions with Corey LaJoie (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Corey LaJoie of Go Fas 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 a normal human being, so I’m an iPhone person.

That makes you a normal human being?

Yeah. Are you an iPhone person?

I am an iPhone person. Actually, you continue the streak. Not one driver so far has said Android.

Yeah, I wouldn’t know how to operate it. I wouldn’t even know how to turn one on.

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 think the selfie is the best way to go. Like have the camera ready, and, “Hey, can I take a selfie?” “Yeah sure!” Snap. There it is.

A lot of people don’t even know what my name is anyway, so if you can call my name out and it’s not “Paul Menard” — because I get that about five times a weekend. If you can call Corey LaJoie and “Hey, can I have a selfie?” that’s automatic brownie points in my book.

So people see a firesuit and they’re like, “You must be somebody!”

“Paul Menard!” I say, “Yeah, I wish.”

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 get way more mad when somebody pulls a jerk move on the road than on the track because on the track you expect it, right? You’re racing. But on the road when somebody does something stupid, it can put other people’s lives in danger, right? So that gets me way more fired up.

But I’m a little more tame in my older age now. I’m not one to honk, I’m just one to get really close or put you in the median or really use my car as a weapon sometimes. But I’ve toned that down a little bit.

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

Not that I can recall. My dad would get pretty mad at me if I did (Randy LaJoie’s Joie of Seating builds race car seats). There’s been times where I’ve raced a Super Late Model or something without a HANS device, and you just figure either “Ah, I forgot it,” or “I’m not going that fast.” So there might have been a couple of times when I raced without a HANS device.

But for the most part, my dad would get pretty pissed off if I didn’t have all my stuff in order and I got hurt, because it would look bad for the business obviously. So in that regard, I try to stay pretty safe.

So his interest goes beyond just the seats, obviously.

Yeah, if I get hurt — even if my toe gets hurt in the race car — it’s a bad representation of the business. So I’ve got to make sure all my stuff is dialed in so if something does happen, I don’t get too terribly hurt.

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’d be interested to know what it was so I can apply it to another car, whether it’s a Super Late Model or something.

So you want to take his idea later after you race it and be like, “Oh, OK.”

Yeah. That’s what a lot of the big guys do with the risk versus reward. The reward is so much greater, because if you can run an illegal part — like spoilers for four months at a time and not get caught until the end of the year and you’ve already made the Chase and you’ve already made the final two rounds of the playoffs, then that was worth it. So I would run an illegal part because there’s everybody else in the gray area. They can tell you that they’re boxed off all they want to, but everybody’s pushing the gray area. Some guys push it a little more, some guys don’t.

Is that a misconception among fans? Because I think fans only think people are cheating when somebody gets caught. But everybody’s doing it all the time, pretty much.

The further back in the garage you get, the less bending of the rules happens because the fines versus the budgets are way, way smaller, right? On a team with a $3 million budget, a $100,000 fine is quite a bit. To a $30 million budget, a $100,000 fine is nothing. So that’s got to be taken into account.

And also, if we roll through pre-qualifying inspection and we fail the first time, we’re really worried about the next time we go through being right because we can’t afford to lose another guy. (Editor’s note: Crew members get ejected for the weekend if a car fails inspection twice). Like we’re not maxed out on our roster numbers anyways — we’re probably two shy — so when we roll through and we fail, we’re like, “Oh boy, we can’t afford to give John away for the rest of the weekend for just qualifying tech.” So we’ve got to make sure we’ve got all our stuff right when we go through.

And those (bigger teams) just have another mechanic to pull from or they’ll put the crew chief in the driver’s bus for the race. Like those guys aren’t going anywhere, right? And they have the resources where they can bend the rules and have it not be that big of a penalty.

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 would venture to say a Taco Bell run would probably not be well-advised before a race. I haven’t had that.

So don’t make a run for the border right before a race.

No, I don’t recommend that at all. I usually get Taco Bell after a race. But there’s certain things where you don’t want to be burping up something and have it just be smelling really bad. It’s not fun when your stomach is rumbling for 400 miles.

And you can smell inside the helmet?

Oh yeah. There’s not a whole lot of escape for that, so…

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

I don’t think so. That could get in a real deep conversation, but for the most part, I’m going to say no. I’ll leave it at that. I have other theories, but not enough time today.

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

A lot of them talk about their kids and what they do away from the track. There’s not really a whole lot of racing talk because you’re going to get a whole lot of racing fix for the next four hours, so you don’t really want to. Sometimes there’s a little bit of talk, right? Just “How’s your car driving?” and “This happened the other day.”

But there’s going to be a little more talk this Sunday (at Phoenix, in the wake of the Daniel Suarez-Michael McDowell fight), maybe pinning different drivers against each other, maybe head-to-head fights. So see who will win what. I think there’s going to be some more conversations about that.

So after the McDowell-Suarez thing, people will be like, “Hey, do you think this guy can take this guy?”

Yeah, I think so. 

9. What makes you happy right now?

My wife and just the state of my career right now, everything is going really good and I’m happy here at Go Fas Racing, bringing some fast cars to the racetrack. And just reading the Bible quite a bit, just been digging into that, it’s been really good. So I’ve got a lot of good things rolling in my life. I’m pretty content and happy where I’m at right now.

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?

It depends how much I would be getting paid out of the deal because funding my career making $80,000 a year for the next 20 years is different than funding my career and me making $15 million. So if they’re funding my career and I’m making $15 million, I’ll wear a nose, hair, bell bottom pants all they want. So I haven’t had that opportunity come to my attention yet, but it would depend on what I would be making on the backhand, because every man has a price.

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.

Let’s do 71. That was my Bandolero number back in the day.

Do you keep a mental list of people who you owe for payback?

No. You know the guys that you owe one to, but you also want to make sure that it’s right time and it’s beneficial to you. So I would like to say no because I’m not a revengeful type of person, but there are certain times where you cut guys a little bit more of a break than others sometimes just from the way they’ve raced in the past. So whether or not it’s putting somebody in the wall, that probably isn’t how I think. It’s just a matter of how hard I’m going to race somebody at what time in the race versus how they race me or did something to me weeks prior.

12. The last interview was with Paul Menard. As you mentioned earlier, he asked how often you get mistaken for him.

Four to five times a weekend.

That sounds very often.

Yeah. I wish I was Paul Menard. But I’m not, and eventually people might start mistaking Paul Menard for Corey LaJoie.

He said he was walking in the garage and somebody said, “Hey, Corey LaJoie!”

Wow! First for everything. Yeah, I’ve gotten Paul Menard for the last three to four years before everybody kind of knows I’m even here. So that’s a small improvement.

Maybe putting your face on a car has helped raised awareness.

Yes, it definitely has, no doubt. Old Spice got their money’s worth out of that. But yeah, that’s actually funny that Paul Menard got Corey LaJoie because I’ve been getting Paul Menard for several times every weekend for the last two years.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

I would ask somebody if they ever raced hung over, but nobody would be truthful in answering that. Unless it’d be like Clint Bowyer, then it’d be like, “Hell yeah!”

I like the fighting thing. But I think that one comes up a lot — what driver would you fight? Everybody says Ryan Newman, right? Because he’s like cornbread fed and he’s got no neck, so he can probably take a punch.

Do you think Suarez could take down Newman?


So even Newman could take down Suarez? Newman’s that indestructible?

Newman is an oak tree. You could like run into that guy, you’d bounce off.

So I think a legitimate question would be, we all didn’t consider Suarez a fighter, right? Or strong. Who is another sleeper in the garage that you probably wouldn’t want to get into a fight with? Like Chris Buescher, somebody like that.

So not the main guys you think of, not like the Newman type, but who’s a guy that’s sneaky strong, that’s going to be able to…

Kinda squirrely, like punch you in the face before it even happens. I wouldn’t even have bet Suarez. I would put Suarez on the map, but I wouldn’t have seen him yanking down Michael McDowell like a little boy. So I’m trying to visualize the garage. Maybe Kevin Harvick.

He has a wrestler background.

Because he has a wrestler background and he’s training with Cowboy (Cerrone), I’m sure he’s picked up some tips here and there to put you in an arm bar before you even knew what happened. So I probably wouldn’t mess with Harvick. I’m sure Cowboy’s taught him some things. Like say, “Hey man, show me an arm bar!” And then that’s that. I wouldn’t mess with Harvick.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Corey LaJoie:

Feb. 20, 2018

The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway…

1. It was better…but why?

Recent races at Texas Motor Speedway, to put it kindly, have not been the most interesting on the circuit. Like you, NASCAR officials watched those events — along with other races on many 1.5-mile tracks — and thought, “UGH. Surely this can be better.”

So they came up with the 2019 rules package, which by now you’ve heard is the most dramatic change to the cars in years.

Until Sunday, the package hadn’t really worked as intended yet. And it was somewhat of a head-scratcher to those who saw glimpses of it in action before the season began.

But as it turns out, perhaps all the package needed was some chilly weather, sprinkled with a little love — in the form of VHT/PJ1/traction compound/whatever you want to call it.

“I feel like it was good racing,” Daniel Suarez said. “We were able to make runs and move around, get a little crazy on restarts — which is what people like and what we like. Hopefully we can learn from this and repeat it.”

Of course, that’s the tricky part. The rules package clearly isn’t going to work on every track — and it requires the right combination to be successful. As it turned out, Sunday was much closer to the ideal conditions of the Las Vegas test (which was misleading at the time).

On the first day of that test, the temperatures were cooler and the simulated racing looked great. The next day, it didn’t seem to be quite the same.

“We all drafted well and we were putting on a hell of a show — hell, it was fun in the car,” Clint Bowyer said Sunday of the Vegas test. “Then the next day at that test, the sun was out, it was 20 degrees hotter, we were single file and it wasn’t very much fun.”

Texas was more like Vegas in that temperatures were in the 50s, and it unlocked the key elements of the package when drivers could run around the track mostly wide open (except for Turns 1 and 2).

Since its controversial repave — where Texas built those turns to be flat compared to the more traditionally banked Turns 3 and 4 — the racing had struggled. So officials put a heavy amount of traction compound on the upper groove and it led to the track widening out.

That’s the first time the sticky stuff has been used successfully on a 1.5-mile track, following other trials at shorter tracks Bristol and New Hampshire.

“I was pretty bummed when I landed and saw the VHT on the track,” Bowyer said. “I was like, ‘Damn it, what are they doing?’ Because I haven’t had the best experience with it. But I felt like it helped this place.”

Erik Jones said the better Texas racing was caused 70 percent by the VHT and 30 percent by the temperatures.

“I actually thought the racing was better than what it was in the last few years with the low downforce package, and it’s probably the first week I would have said that,” Jones said. “… Cooler weather helping us be wide open was benefitting our package of racing. The other part, being able to move up in both ends and get completely clean air, was letting you get big runs.”

If those circumstances could be replicated more often, NASCAR might really have something to work with. Unfortunately, the weather is about to get a lot warmer.

2. Hockey pucks

If Sunday was a good race, it was in spite of the tires — not because of them.

Races are best when drivers have to manage their tires, choosing to push hard for short term gain or take care of the rubber in hopes of making passes during a long run. Tire wear creates passing and comers and goers, regardless of whatever cars or rules package might be on track.

Clearly, Goodyear could provide a little more in this area. The tires at Martinsville last week were said to have 3,000 laps in them and Texas didn’t seem much different.

“We’re basically running on brick walls, so they’re pretty durable,” Chase Elliott said.

“I don’t build tires,” Kevin Harvick said. “The tires suck every week.”

Aric Almirola said he was running as fast on 70-lap-old tires as he was on a restart with new tires. And Kyle Busch said the pace “didn’t fall off one bit.”

“We ran 28.80s to 29-flats the entire run,” Busch said of his lap times.

That’s two-tenths of a second for many, many laps at a time! Yikes.

It’s no surprise, then, that a pair of fuel-only calls ended up winning the race for Denny Hamlin. Crew chief Chris Gabehart said the object was to spend “minimum time on pit road” instead of worrying about tires and thus opt for track position. That helped his driver overcome two pit road penalties and another time when Hamlin missed pit road and lost six spots on the track.

Bowyer, who finished second thanks to another no-tires call, said he started to realize the strategy would work when he looked in his mirror on the straightaway and noticed no one was gaining on him.

“When you’re that far ahead you start to wonder ‘Can we get in and just do a splash-and-go and prevail?’” he said. “It’s a different kind of racing, there’s no question about that.”

Hopefully, as Goodyear adjusts to the slower speeds and increased downforce — and sees how these first races have played out — it can start introducing a softer tire into the mix.

3. Survive and…adapt?

On Sunday morning, Gabehart told Hamlin the No. 11 team had a winning race car.

Hamlin said he thought to himself: “He’s full of shit.”

After all, the team had struggled with the balance of the car all weekend and gave Hamlin little reason to believe the race would be any different.

But once it started, Hamlin realized Gabehart was right — he had a car that could pass anyone.

Though the car was obviously fast, Hamlin himself had to adjust to what was required from this form of racing. He ended the day with his first 1.5-mile track win since 2015 and joined Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski as the season’s multi-race winners.

If you look at those names, along with Joey Logano (the season’s other race winner), you have to wonder what they have in common aside from driving for great teams.

Perhaps the answer is adaptability.

None of the drivers have raced a package like this before, so they all have to get up to speed on it. Whoever wins these races might just be the ones who aren’t committed to a certain style or feel and are able change on the fly.

“I’m still learning as a driver,” Hamlin said. “This is a complete different style of racing than what I used to do in the past (and that) just doesn’t work that well. I have to adapt. Seems like I’m adapting quickly.”

As noted by the excellent stats account @Talon64, Hamlin is off to the best start of his career as a result. He has two wins and hasn’t finished worse than 11th.

4. A brief word about attendance

I got a lot of tweets today from people ripping Texas for the sparse grandstands. But while it certainly wasn’t a NASCAR crowd from 10 years ago, it also wasn’t awful by today’s standards.

Yes, really.

Here’s the thing: It’s all about the optics. Texas still has 133,000 permanent seats, which is second only to Bristol. It hasn’t torn down large sections of grandstands like most other tracks.

I have no idea how many people were at Texas, but I’m going to say somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 if I had to take a guess. Tracks don’t release attendance numbers anymore, so that’s just a shot in the dark.

But the point is, if you take the Texas crowd and put it at Phoenix (capacity 42,000) or Martinsville (44,000) or even Homestead (48,000), people wouldn’t be as critical. In fact, I’d bet money some people would tweet, “Great crowd, Phoenix! Way to go!”

Sunday’s numbers would have been horrifying in the not-so-distant past. But the reality is in 2019, any NASCAR attendance of 50,000 or more for an average regular-season race would be a good crowd. Even 40,000 is OK.

I’m not saying any of this is ideal, but let’s just be real about it. We’ll likely never know, but I highly doubt Texas had the smallest crowd of the season so far.

5. What’s next

Intermediate tracks are going to take a month-long vacation now as two short tracks (Bristol and Richmond) and a superspeedway (Talladega) take the spotlight.

Some of the upcoming storylines to watch include the effect of the high downforce on Bristol — drivers have said it could take a physical toll on them — and whether the rules package will put a damper on passing. Then it’s off to Talladega, where there will be no more restrictor plates and we’ll see NASCAR use tapered spacers instead (how that will go is anyone’s guess).

It’s also worth keeping an eye on whether Stewart-Haas Racing can join Gibbs and Penske as the only teams to win a race since November, whether Martin Truex Jr. can win his first race of the year and whether the signs of a Hendrick Motorsports resurgence are real or glimmers of false hope.

Cup qualifying takes on bizarre feel again

Despite some tweaks to the Cup Series qualifying format, Friday at Texas looked a lot like previously messy qualifying sessions at Fontana and Las Vegas.

Drivers were upset with how the session unfolded, with cars mostly waiting on pit road until the final minutes and then scrambling to try and get laps recorded before time ran out.

“You just can’t qualify these cars this way,” Kevin Harvick said. “I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the racetrack.”

“It’s frustrating and that’s all you can really say about it,” Denny Hamlin said. “It’s just frustrating.”

“It’s chaotic,” Aric Almirola said. “It’s silly.”

But NASCAR in turn criticized the drivers, believing they could have done more to avoid the session turning into a strange spectacle.

NASCAR Cup Series Managing Director Jay Fabian said officials were “disappointed” to see drivers stay on pit road for so long before making their lap and cited Daniel Suarez as a driver who didn’t need the draft to qualify well. He questioned why other drivers didn’t follow Suarez’s lead.

“It’s disappointing they give reasons why they don’t go, then someone goes and they choose not to follow them,” Fabian said of the drivers. “A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume somebody would follow them — and they chose not to.”

Fabian vowed NASCAR would “take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”

“Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward,” he added.

Fabian also said Clint Bowyer’s complaints about Ryan Newman clogging the middle at the end of Round 1 were a product of Bowyer being “upset…probably because he didn’t get to make his lap” — and Newman didn’t do anything worth being penalized.

“There were plenty of TV views that showed there was room to go by (Newman),” Fabian said. “I’m sure (Bowyer) is upset.”

Bowyer was indeed upset, feeling like NASCAR should have learned from its previous qualifying “failure” and changed the format before this happened again.

“It’s sad,” Bowyer said. “Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here to watch a qualifying session where people try to go out and do their best, and you’re just sitting around waiting because you know your best is only good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job.  That’s not qualifying.”

Martin Truex Jr. said the solution would be to “Take the plate off and let us qualify like men — drive them,” he said.

But while many drivers were fuming, Joey Logano wasn’t. Asked about how to fix qualifying, Logano said, “Who said there’s a problem?”

“I think it’s entertaining,” Logano said. “There’s a lot to talk about for you guys. You guys all have microphones out and there’s a lot to talk about, so I think it’s OK.”

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?


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