The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series. These interviews are recorded as a podcast, but also transcribed for those who prefer to read instead of listen.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
I just had one last night, actually. We’re doing some experiments and I dreamt that I was driving it. When I was a kid, I used to dream of driving a lot — almost every night. I used to put myself into the thinking mode as well, hoping I was gonna dream about it.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?
For me, personally, I don’t talk with the others. I know we’re all different. I feel like if I did something wrong and I know it’s completely wrong and it was my fault, I always apologize. Because I want to others to know that when I’m going for it and I’m in my right, I’m in my right.
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
For me, the biggest would be the dedication. When someone tells me that they’re impressed how dedicated and professional I am, that’s the biggest compliment I could take.
4. IndyCar comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?
There’s a lot that I’d like to host. I think one I really would like to meet and have come to the race is Jimmy Fallon, actually. I really enjoy his show and his personality seems like we could get along pretty well, so I’d love to have him here.
Have you ever gotten to go on any late night talk shows like that?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t had that opportunity, unfortunately. I hope I will someday.
5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, IndyCar offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?
I mean, anything for a little advantage. But it would be very hard for me because I do love my chicken, my meat. It’d be a tough month. But I’d probably do it, yes.
Is the No. 1 pit stall a big advantage in IndyCar?
It is an advantage because you get a straight out. You can go straight out, you don’t need to swing around somebody. So there’s a bit of an advantage to that, yes.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished.
That might not be easy for me. (Laughs)
This is the 2014 Long Beach Grand Prix, since we’re here at Long Beach.
I was with Schmidt. I’ll try to remember the color of the car, that helps me. ’14 —was that the Lucas Oil? No, it was the Charter car, I think. Yeah, it was the Charter car. I think that’s the race I got into it with Will (Power), so I finished fifth.
Yes, you did finish fifth.
(Laughs) Which was a really good recovery.
You started sixth. You finished fifth. Mike Conway won and Juan Pablo Montoya finished just ahead of you.
Yes, we got together with Will at that race. If it wasn’t for that, I think I could have won the race. That’s why I was pretty upset. (Laughs)
Sorry to bring up a bad memory.
It’s OK. Part of it.
7. Who is the best rapper alive?
Eminem. No question, in my mind.
8. Who has the most punchable face in IndyCar?
Punchable? Woah! Punchable…who would I punch for pleasure? Let me think…(Alexander) Rossi. (Laughs) He’s gonna hear that and be like, “Oh yeah?” (Imitates monotone voice)
9. IndyCar enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your head mechanic, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.
I’d put Tay-Tay as my head mechanic so she can send me on track. She can do that really well, I’m sure. LeBron James, I’d put him as my bus driver because then we could have a little chat afterwards.
And some motivation?
Yeah. He would be really good motivation before the race, too. He could massage me, too. My bus driver actually massages me. He’s a chiropractor.
LeBron knows about sports science.
I’m sure LeBron could do that. It’d be good preparation.
And then yeah, so strategist would be Tom Hanks. I think he’s a really smart guy, so terrific.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
I always make sure I know where it is. It’s funny; I don’t even think about it, but I always check where is it depending on my grid place. It’s second nature. But there’s also another thing — when you step off the truck after the parade lap, just follow another driver.
Just draft off them.
Yeah, exactly. We’re usually all going to the same place.
11. As you know, Carl Edwards used to do backflips in NASCAR.
Is he still doing it, do you think?
I don’t know.
Maybe in his backyard.
On the farm? Yeah. So IndyCar wants their own backflipper.
By the way, my mother-in-law was really upset he retired.
She’s a fan?
Oh yeah. She was really upset.
Who did she move on to?
She moved on with me. That’s it. Nobody else. (Laughs)
So IndyCar decides it wants its own backflipper after a race. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?
Pay me? Several hundred million. Because I could really hurt myself and I’d probably land badly, so yeah. So several hundred million would be a good payday. I’d take that. (Laughs)
12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Ty Dillon. His question was: “Why does it seem that NASCAR drivers can come to IndyCar and run well, but when IndyCar drivers come to NASCAR, the learning curve seems a lot steeper?”
That’s a shitty question. (Laughs)
He said he might be the most punchable face after asking that.
Yeah, he’s become the most punchable face. Exactly. Let me punch him the next time I see him.
I actually would agree with him. I think because we have so much grip on IndyCars that finding that limit is a little easier than NASCAR — where the limit is so early on for them, they always have to always drive under. And it’s very hard for a driver to drive under the limit, because we always want more. I do think it’s easier when you have wings to find that grip level and extract the best out of it. When you have very little grip, you’re always on the edge. So I think that’s the reason.
Also, their cars are heavier, so it’s harder to manipulate, and they have very strong competition — which we do, too. But that would be the reason I think: the grip levels of the cars, the tires are skinnier on a NASCAR, heavier car. It’s a bigger machine to move around.
My next interview is with Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie Johnson! Do you know he’s one of my favorites?
I did not know that.
Wow, that’s cool! And his brother is one of my best friends. But I do not know Jimmie.
You don’t know Jimmie personally?
No, I don’t. Yeah, I do hang out where he grew up actually because Hailey (McDermott), my fiancee, she’s from El Cajon. They all know each other there, and Jimmie used to live in El Cajon when he grew up.
Do you have a question I can ask Jimmie?
So Jimmie’s got eight championships, right?
Seven? I thought he had eight.
He’s going for eight.
Foreshadowing! So, “For your eighth championship, Jimmie, what are you gonna do different when you celebrate, and what was the most epic moment during your celebration of your first seven?” I’d like to know that.