The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Ryan Blaney from Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney is currently 13th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and is in the playoffs thanks to his victory last month at Pocono Raceway. We spoke a couple hours before the Sonoma race.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I think it’s both. I feel like to get good at something, you have to work at it. You might be born with some of it, but I don’t think you can’t work at it and be great in any sport, whether that’s motorsports or basketball, football — you always have to practice and work at it.
There’s really great talented athletes out there in all forms of sports, but if they don’t try and get better, I don’t think they’ll be able to perform in the big leagues. You always have to keep working at it. I think that goes kind of hand in hand.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I’ve been asked that a handful of times — like a campaign speech as to why fans should switch drivers. I don’t know if that’s really my choice. If you like me, you do. If not, you don’t. Whether it’s the way I drive or personality off the track, you either like me or you don’t, so I don’t really have a speech, I guess. I just think go with what you think. If you want to be a fan, then great. If not, that’s fine with me, too. I don’t really have a big speech for that.
Fair enough. It’s sort of like one of those things where you can’t really convince somebody to like something. If you like vanilla and somebody else likes chocolate, you can’t be like, “No, you should like this!”
It’s personal opinion, and that’s with anything, whether it’s religion or government or political view. I mean, it’s anything. So I can’t convince you to like me; it’s either you do or you don’t.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I think the hardest part is actually driving the cars. We do a lot of preparation before the races, trying to get ready of how we’re going to drive the racetrack or whatever, but actually trying to compete on race day, that’s one of the hardest parts, is trying to beat everybody else.
But the hardest thing other than that just preparing for each race weekend and trying to figure out how you’re going to be faster than everybody else before you even get to the racetrack. So that’s pretty tough.
I’m sure some people will say sponsor appearances and things like that, but honestly, that’s really nothing. That allows us to go race, so I don’t mind doing any of that stuff. But I think the work we do during the week (is harder). Granted, we don’t do tons of work during the week, just setting the cars up — our guys, they bust their butts to do that — but the little things we do to try and prepare us for the weekend, I think that’s pretty tough outside the driving aspect.
You’re known as a guy who doesn’t say no to sponsor stuff or when NASCAR asks you to go do something. Why doesn’t that seem to bother you?
I feel like it helps the sport. I’ll say no to a few things, but I’ll say yes to a lot more and the majority of it (because) we’re trying to grow the sport and we’re trying to get new fans. All of those things are kind of (helping) to go in that direction. So I don’t mind doing it. I think it’s good not only for the sport but for your team and for your own personal gain as well. I just enjoy doing it, whether it’s traveling or doing things around home. It’s nice to go around and meet people.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
So I actually had this happen. I will sign anything that you have or take a picture with you or anything if I’m out to eat or something, but either before my food comes or after I’m done. Like if my plate has just gotten sat down and I’m about to go in and you come up wanting an autograph, I’m like, “Come on.” Or if I’m mid-eat, I’ll probably still do it, but I’ll kind of have an attitude while I’m doing it.
But yeah, either before our food comes or after we’re done eating. I’m an aggressive eater, so while I’m actually consuming material, I kind of like to be left alone. But I’ll do anything you want, but it just depends if I’m in a good mood or not while I’m doing it.
So did the recent person come up to you mid-bite?
Mid-bite, yeah. Like two bites in, putting that second piece of food in my mouth, and (the person) comes up like, “I hate to bother you.” Well, then don’t! If you hate to do it, then don’t do it. Can you wait, please? I mean, I did it, but yeah — me and my food are in a tight relationship, so just wait until I’m done with that.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I honestly think the story that doesn’t get enough (coverage) is everybody working on the race cars. I would love to see a feature — it may be hard to do because you’d have to go in the race shop — of like what a week or two of preparation is, turning around cars. Like the Michigan to Sonoma turnaround is so quick, you’d be amazed at how hard these guys work to try and get everything situated. You know, we’ll get back super late (after Sonoma) and they’ll be back in the shop Monday morning getting our Daytona stuff ready. So they bust their tails and I would love for the media and for TV to see that side of them a little more and for the fans, too.
We have a very little role in it — they’re the ones who are able to make it possible for us. I haven’t really seen a feature like that before, not that I know of. Maybe there has been one, but I think that’d be really cool to show everybody.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
I texted Dale (Jr.) last night. I had a question for him about his music and stuff. He has a band that he really likes, and I was trying to think of the band name. I had to ask him. I can’t remember the name, either, by the way.
That’s why it’s in text form. You can just go look back at it.
Exactly. I prefer calls nowadays, but texts are so nice because you have history — that could be a bad thing, too — but I think it’s like a reference. It’s like notes, but you’re not even taking notes. So that’s pretty nice. But yeah, Dale was the last person I texted. I had to ask for some help.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
Yeah. Oh, for sure. I think any sport, the athletes are entertainers. It’s our job as well, and our goal is to go try and win, but all these sports, they’re entertainment sports. That’s what fans come to the racetrack or a ballgame for: To be entertained and to like watching people do their thing and be amazed at what we can do.
I definitely feel like NASCAR is an entertainment sport for sure. (It’s) not strictly an entertainment sport, but fans want to come to the racetrack to be entertained. We’re not gonna put on a soap opera out here, but to some degree, it’s for the fans.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
(Laughs) I will shoot you the middle finger. I will shoot you the bird if you piss me off. I’ve gotten a little more relaxed about it, but as a kid, you wanna shoot everybody the bird. But yeah, I will if I feel like I got used up or something like that.
I’ve toned back on it, but there’s so many that go around, you can’t take it to heart. It’s just a little gesture that you do, because you can’t talk to the person right then, you kind of let them know that you didn’t appreciate what you did. And yeah, it’s pretty open. It’s a pretty open policy. A lot of drivers do it and I think it’s pretty good.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
Oh yeah. That’s a really good question because everyone always talks about people on their bad list and what people did them wrong. They always keep that in their memory. But you do keep the good memories in mind as well. If someone does cut you a break, maybe let you in at a speedway or gives you a break on a restart or something like that, you remember that and utilize that if the situation comes up later in the race or the week after. You like to repay the favor. You’ve got to be generous out here. So yeah, you definitely keep a memory bank of that stuff too.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I don’t know. Like Roger Penske maybe. I mean, Roger is a pretty famous person, I think. Roger or Dale, maybe. I think Roger might beat Dale out a little bit; just a touch. Roger’s been around for a long time. I got asked, “Who’s the most famous person in your phone?” and that’s probably Roger, too.
Dale doesn’t have his name on the side of trucks driving down the freeway like Roger does.
That is true as well, and Dale doesn’t own pretty much half of Detroit, or Michigan, pretty much. So that’s why Roger has Dale beat just a little bit.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
Personally, I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better at it, but I’m just like my dad in this aspect, which I hate: When the helmet goes on, I get very emotional sometimes. I can get upset pretty easily. And that’s not good for anybody. You can see that on (FS1’s) Radioactive, they like to call me on the Radio Sweetheart all the time — which is not cool, Race Hub.
Yeah, I’m a pretty level guy outside the car, and then, I don’t know, I get upset easily inside the race car. I don’t know if that’s me being passionate about something or what. That’s something that I’d like to improve. I’ve improved on it over the past handful of years since I got in it. It keeps getting better and better every year, I think, but that’s something I’d like to improve: Just being a little more calm on the radio and levelheaded. I think that would be nothing but good for myself and for the whole team.
12. The last interview was with Todd Gilliland. He wanted to know: What did you learn in the K&N race at Sonoma, if that’s any comparison to what you’ll do today.
We’ll find out if it carries over (Blaney ended up finishing ninth in the Cup race). The K&N race was nice too, and their cars are way different, their tires are way different, so that’s kind of rough to kind of carry over to this side. I messed with some line stuff (in K&N). My tires kind of got worn out to maybe help with this Cup car, but they are widely different. But I thought it helped out a little bit.
And then race etiquette, you kind of find out where passing points are a little more and how to set yourself up off a certain corner to have a chance of passing this one. So those two parts were pretty good.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question that I might be able to ask a future driver?
I think you did this last time.
I didn’t have a person prepared for you? Because I knew you could handle the off-the-cuff random question.
OK…”Who shot first?”
Who shot first? Like an Alexander Hamilton type of thing?
No, like Han Solo and Greedo.
Oh, I see. It’s a Star Wars reference.
So who shot first, and see if they know what the reference is.
What’s the right answer?
I don’t know.
Do you have a theory?
No. (Laughing) I want you to write every little thought and word that they say into the next one.
Like all the likes, umms, the stumbles?
Yeah. I want every single piece. Anything they say into this microphone from this question, you have to type and put in in your story.