The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?
Well I’m iPhone now; been that way for probably eight years now. I had an Android when they first came out and then I switched to iPhone right after. Back then (the iPhone) was better — I don’t know if they’re better or not now, but I’ve just stuck with it ever since.
Did you know up to this point we have had no Android people all year?
From how many drivers has that been now?
This is probably 12. (Editor’s note: Actually 14.)
All iPhone? I’m trying to think of who would have an Android. Do you have an Android?
No, no. Come 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?
If I remember when I was a fan and I would go and try to get autographs, I would always just try to say something to a driver, whether it was, “Good luck,” or “Nice job” on this race or that race. I think that means more than any autograph or picture you’re going to take.
Even just going up and a pat on the back — some drivers might not like that, but I don’t mind — and just saying, “Hey, good job,” or “Good luck,” I think you remember that more than any time you get an autograph.
You kind of get into a mode when you’re giving out autographs when you’re not even sometimes looking at who you’re giving them to and you don’t really remember that interaction.
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?
For me it probably does. I mean, I’m not a very aggressive driver on the road, but yeah, it feels really similar.
It’s funny to me how bad people road rage on the road. It’s not frustrating for me because during the weekends, obviously road rage is 10 times higher than anything you’ll ever experience on the street. So it’s always kind of funny to me to see people get angry about it.
I just got flipped off last Monday driving down the road. This guy was talking on his phone and he was just in the way. I wasn’t really tailgating him, I wouldn’t say, but he looked up in the mirror and I guess he saw I was just behind him. So I went and passed him on the right and I looked over and him and his girlfriend were flipping me off.
The girlfriend too?
Oh yeah, both of them. It was a combined effort.
What a team they are.
I’ve never seen a team effort like that.
4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?
Probably a couple. I had to get in a car once in NASCAR — I’m not going to say what car it was because I don’t want to get into trouble for this — but I had to get into a car and I put the lap belts on and it was a last-minute deal and the lap belts didn’t fit.
I was like, “Man, I don’t know what to do.” We didn’t have time to change them and they weren’t adjustable. They were sewn belts. So I took them and I just wrapped them up and then put them together and I finally got them tight by wrapping them like a rope. So I pretty much had a rope around each side of my hips — which I don’t know what would have happened if I crashed.
But yeah, that’s probably the weirdest situation, something like you shouldn’t have done safety-wise. Other than that I’ve been pretty good safety-wise. I usually focus on it pretty good.
Were you thinking about that once you started driving? Was it in the back of your mind like, “Uhh…”
Yeah, a little bit. You think about it at first, but once you get racing you kind of zone in, lock in, you don’t think about it. I noticed it later in the race because it was uncomfortable. You kind of had basically a rope around your waist, so it wasn’t the most comfortable thing.
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. I would want to know. I would be upset if we got busted for something I had no idea we were doing on a Sunday after the race. I would just be frustrated, like, “Why didn’t you tell me about this? You could have at least told me and I wouldn’t have been upset if we got busted after the race.” But if we win a race and we get caught for something illegal and I didn’t know, it would be frustrating.
Because you’d be blindsided.
You’d be thinking you’re celebrating this big win and have no thoughts (about losing the win). But at least if you knew in the back of your mind after the race, you’re like, “Well…”
You’re like, “I hope they don’t find this.”
“Eh, it might not work out.” That’s why I’d want to 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?
Skyline Chili. Not personal experience, but I know someone that ate it before a race. It was really hot and they had a couple bowls of Skyline Chili and it didn’t go well for them. They finished the race, but it doesn’t sound like it was very pleasant.
This must have been like a Kentucky race or something?
It was a Late Model race years ago and it was in Nashville at the Fairgrounds. It was hot — July or September or August race. Yeah, I’d stay away from it. I usually just eat chicken.
7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?
Yeah, I think there’s life somewhere. I mean, the universe is too big I think to not have something out there. There’s so much we haven’t been to.
But do they race? I don’t know. You think of life out there and you can only think of your own logic, right? It’s human logic how we think. You wouldn’t know how they think. If you’re thinking like us, then they race. I mean, everybody races, whether it’s cars or on foot or anything. Everything becomes a race if you want it to be. So I have to imagine that they do race in some form whether it’s cars or anything they’ve got out there.
8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?
You know, I don’t really talk to the other drivers.
No, not really. I’ll go up and see a couple of my buddies out there, but for the most part I don’t really like making small talk. Most people that know me know that, so I just don’t enjoy going up there and being like, “What’s up man? How’s your week been? What have you been up to?”
I’m trying to go race. I mean, I always tell people (about being at the track) that I’m at work. Like I’m here working. It’s fun — I love to race — but I take it pretty seriously.
I’ve never been one to make small talk, but when we do, it’s usually about the car. If it’s one of my buddies, we’re talking about next week, maybe we can get together, grab dinner, go golfing, get out on the lake or something. Pretty small talk.
I’m kind of picturing your approach is like when I get on an airplane and I really do not want people to talk to me.
I’m the same way.
If people start I’ll kind of be like, “Yeah, uh huh, that’s right.” And then I’ll just kind of put my head down. So if you are at driver intros and somebody comes up to you and tries to strike up a conversation, are you just kind of like, “Yup, yup…”
Yeah, pretty much. I’ll go with it. If it’s someone I like, I’ll talk to them. But there’s some guys I don’t like, so I’m not going to like strike up a fake conversation with them just to be cordial, I guess.
But yeah, I’m the same way. I get on an airplane, I’ll just put headphones on right away. Hopefully I’m the first one in the row, and I just throw the headphones on and be done with it.
9. What makes you happy right now?
Right now probably my dog (Oscar), he makes me happy. My girlfriend (dirt racer Holly Shelton) makes me happy right now. Those two things are good for me I think.
Oscar’s been a really good addition since for almost the last two years now, and I’ve just enjoyed having him around — especially at the track. I get a lot of weekends by myself here, so it’s nice to go back to the bus at the end of the day and just see someone who doesn’t care what happened during the day. They’re just happy to see you, right? So that’s always kind of nice for me.
And your girlfriend’s kind of a badass.
Yeah, she’s a good race car driver. She’s not here this weekend (this was recorded at Talladega); she’s actually racing in California in the Outlaw kart stuff.
So that’s pretty cool and it’s been nice to have her around, to have someone that kind of understands the racing world and what goes on. If you have a bad day, they know how to handle that because she’s been in that situation and it makes things a little bit easier.
Do you ever get to watch her race? Do you get to go to her races?
I haven’t actually been to one. I watch her online. She’s actually racing tonight and I’ll be streaming it on my phone here after qualifying, so that’s kind of cool. Hopefully I get the chance to see her in the Indy one — she’s going to do hopefully the midget race there.
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 as long as you’re driving.” Would you accept that offer?
Just during the interview?
So like right now, or…?
I guess on TV, you’ve got to have that clown nose on, you’ve got to have the 80’s rocker wig on. But they’re going to fund you so you never have to worry about sponsorship again.
I could walk around pretty normal. Yeah, I guess I’ll do it. A TV interview is what, 45 seconds? I’d put it on for 45 seconds a couple times a weekend, and if that’s what it took. I guess you’re probably going against some moral standard in a way in some people’s minds, but yeah, I’d do it. Why not?
11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.
How about 69?
This is the second straight interview that somebody’s picked 69.
Really? (Laughs) You want me to pick a different number? I don’t want to do the same question again.
I was going to make a different question anyway. I had good intentions to assign a number to every question and now I’ve just been pulling random crap out of my butt.
That makes sense. It makes the interviews better anyway, right?
This is something you’ve answered before in 2015, so I wanted to compare your answer now. What is your preferred method with dealing with an angry driver after a race? (Editor’s note: This was recorded before Jones clashed with Clint Bowyer after the Kansas race.)
I feel like my answer’s probably going to be pretty close. For the most part, if they’re mad at me, I’ll try to shoot them a call if I can. But for the most part, it’s not going to make things a lot better. If I can see them after the race, I will.
I haven’t made anyone mad in a long time, which has been nice. There have been a lot of people that made me mad. I’ve had guys call me right after the race, it’s like, “Honestly, I don’t want to talk to you right now.” So I’ll wait a couple days and try to get ahold of them. But a lot of times it doesn’t seem like it’s going to help. But if they want to talk, I’ll talk.
What did I say then?
Back four years ago, you said basically it would be nice to call. You had just had an incident with Ryan Blaney, I guess this is Truck racing at the time, and you said you guys had talked about it and you respected him for that. So probably over the years you’ve realized it doesn’t make a difference.
Yeah, so that’s pretty early in my career still and now I’ve kind of realized it’s like, man, you talk to them and then they kind of yell at you for a minute on the phone. It’s like, “I don’t know if you feel better or not” — I mean they’re still going to be mad at you next week when we go racing. You’re not going to get raced very good.
And then I’ve had more incidents with guys who don’t ever call me. So it’s kind of like now you kind of just move on. It’s racing. You race so much in the Cup level that you can’t pick every battle each week to go out and try to fix.
12. The last interview was with Tyler Reddick. He wants to know about 2015 when he was running against you for the Truck title. His question was: That year, you had really fast trucks and you had a dominant season in the end but you didn’t win until June of that year. So what clicked for you that season or what did you have to find within yourself to finally win that season and then how were you able to keep that up and go to the championship?
Well that year was odd. We had really good trucks all year, really from start of Daytona to the end of Homestead. And for me it was like, man, things just wouldn’t come together. It was one of the hardest years I had in terms of having a lot of speed and not being able to put the whole race together.
We came really close. That was the year Kasey Kahne just beat us at Charlotte. Kansas we ran out of fuel leading; we led the whole race with two or three to go. There’s a lot of races at the start of the year where it’s like you’re just missing out.
And then we got into a situation where I felt like I started pushing too hard and making mistakes, get myself in trouble, and I actually sat down with Kyle (Busch, his team owner at the time) and talked to him about it.
I was like, “We have really fast trucks and this and that, what do I need to do?” And he said, “You just need to think now that you can just top-10 it every week, and if you can top-10 these races every week, not only are you going to win some of them along the way but you’re going to win the championship.” And then I’m like, “Well, that’s probably right.”
So we switched our mentality, I did, even Rudy (Fugle) did, my crew chief at the time, and went into the races more of just saying, “Let’s top-10 them. Let’s stop getting into this mode where we know we’re fast, quit trying to go out and just lead every lap and dominate the races. If we can win and those days are allowing that to happen, then let them come to you. But if it’s a day where you need to run sixth and things aren’t going your way, take that sixth.” And that’s what we weren’t doing at the start of the year.
So it turned around for me and the wins came with that and even at some places where I wouldn’t have thought we would have won at. But it just kind of worked out from that point forward.
You’re off the hook for a question for the next guy because the next one is going to go into the Indy 500 and I had to already do the Indy interview for that. So you don’t have to think of one.
That’s good. It’s hard to come up with questions. I struggle with that anyways.
Previous 12 Questions interviews with Erik Jones: