Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on his or her career path. Up next: Johnny Gibson, the voice of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
What do your duties entail as part of your current job?
Basically, I am the series announcer. My job is to provide information and help the fans at the racetrack understand and enjoy what they’re seeing and to describe everything to the people watching and listening at home on DIRTVision.
How did this all start for you? Did you grow up as a race fan, did you grow up wanting to be an announcer?
Grew up as a race fan, never had any thoughts or really any real ideas of being an announcer. Started going to races very young in Pennsylvania with my dad, met people involved in racing just from being around as a fan. Met more people through the people I met originally, and one thing led to another and I started going to World of Outlaws races and helping them sell programs.
There was a gentleman named Bill Woodside who was selling the programs at all of the Outlaw races. I moved from Pennsylvania to Indianapolis in 1994 and started going to the Outlaw races to help Bill sell programs. I had met him through Kevin Eckert, who I had met as a race fan. Started walking through the stands (saying), “Hey, get your program here.” It was a way to get into the races for free, maybe make a couple of bucks.
I went to help him at a race at I-96 Speedway in Michigan on the Monday after the King’s Royal in 1995, so that would have been July, and Bill wasn’t there. And the Outlaw merchandise people said, “Hey, can you sell programs tonight? We haven’t heard from Bill, we don’t know what’s going on. Can you do the whole thing tonight?” Sure, I can do that.
By the end of the night, they said, “We still don’t know what’s going on with Bill. We race Wednesday in Memphis, Houston on Friday, and Devil’s Bowl Speedway on Saturday. Can you come and do those races for us?”
I really didn’t have anything pressing going on at the time. Let me back up just a second. At that point, I was a musician. I was playing in rock bands and working like a series of day jobs that were pretty much dispensable. If I had a gig come up and had to leave a day job and worry about the next one when I came back, that’s what I did.
What were you playing in the band?
I played drums. And actually at that time I wasn’t in a band. I had played in bands in Pennsylvania and moved to Indy with the idea of just a change in scenery and getting in a different band there. And while that was sort of in the process of happening, the Outlaw thing sort of happened.
So I decided to go to Memphis and Houston and Dallas to do those races and by the end of the night, that Friday at Houston, they said, “Bill has definitely resigned. Do you want to do the program gig from now on?” And so basically I’d be traveling with the World of Outlaws full-time selling programs. Thought about it for about a half a second and said, “Sure.”
So I did that for the remainder of ’95 and for all of the 1996 season. Back in ’95 and ’96, World of Outlaws was televised on TNN. So when I was done selling programs, I’d go work for the production company and maybe be a spotter for a cameraman or be a runner or whatever. That’s how I met Bobby Gerould, who was doing the pit reporting at the TNN races, and Bobby was doing a lot of PA announcing in California.
So in September of ’96, we raced at Kings Speedway in Hanford, California, and Bobby came up to me before the races. He was on the mic that night, and said, “When you’re done selling programs, come up to the booth. I’d like to do an interview with you about what it’s like being on the road with the World of Outlaws and seeing all the races.”
So I went up to the booth and talked to Bobby for a little bit. One of the things that Bobby had learned about me, just from being around me, is that I had taken notes on the races from the time I was a really little kid. I had just always done that as a way of keeping up with what happened and keeping a little bit of a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
So in the process of this interview, Bobby says, “You take notes on all these races, you know these guys, you know the sport — have you ever thought about being an announcer?” And I said, “Not really.” And Bobby hands me the microphone and says, “The first heat race is coming up. Give it a shot.”
Really? Just like that?
Just like that. I had never ever called a race, never done any announcing, nothing at all like that before. So I did the one heat race, and Carlton Reimers, who was still the series director for World of Outlaws, was at the race that night. He went back and talked to Ted Johnson, the founder and president of the Outlaws, and they decided to make me the announcer.
Ted called me into the office three weeks later and said, “We’re going to do something different next year” — which at the time I thought meant, “I guess I have to go get a real job.” Until he said, “You’re going to be our announcer.”
The Outlaws didn’t have a full-time announcer at that point, they just used the track announcers wherever they went. And a big part of the reason for me being hired full-time had nothing to do with my ability to call a race or anything like that, it was solely for the purpose for making sure the sponsor reads got done at every racetrack. They have a list of a series sponsors and all of their PA stuff, and sometimes the local announcer wouldn’t take care of the sponsors the way that the Outlaws wanted them to. And so my original reason for hiring was just to make sure all the sponsor stuff got taken care of.
It seems like you’re a total natural. Is it something that you have honed and perfected over that time?
Sure. I mean, it’s been 22 years now, so I’ve kind of developed as I’ve gone along. The biggest thing was when Ted told me that I was going to be the announcer starting next year, I spent a lot of time that winter watching the videos that Greg Stephens of Motorsport Video put together with the sound turned down and trying to call the race and trying to learn.
But looking back on it now, it is nearly unfathomable to me that a major series like the World of Outlaws took a chance on somebody who had never done any broadcasting or anything like that.
Again, it was kind of a gradual process where in that first year, there were some nights I did all the announcing, there were some nights where the local announcers still called the races and I just did the sponsor reads. It took a while to develop it to where it is now.
The other thing is for having no experience in that first year, I had gotten for what most local announcers be five or six years of experience because we were racing 100 nights. So I was on the mic 100 nights, where a local announcer might do 20 a year if they’re lucky. So I got a ton of experience right off the bat.
If there’s somebody out there who’s like, “Gosh, I would love to do that someday,” where would you recommend if people wanted to get started, doing some announcing?
Basically, I would say go talk to your local racetrack and see if they have an announcer, if they’re looking for someone else, if they know any other tracks that are. It might not be a bad idea, especially with the technology available today, to put together a bit of an audition tape, run a race video and record yourself calling the race over top of it. Just get your name known. Even if it’s not announcing yet, offer to come and volunteer at the track or work picking up trash or something like that. Be around. That’s what happened to me. I was in the right place at the right time.
I feel like you have such a natural voice, too — you have a booming announcer voice. Did you have that when you were selling programs as well?
Probably. I think that’s something that came from it, just being out there and being, “Hey, get your program here!” It’s not a whole lot of difference.
I even saw this video recently where Kyle Larson had Owen playing with his cars, and he’s imitating you. That’s got to feel kind of cool.
It is. It seems so surreal at time. This is just me and what I do, and it doesn’t really strike me that people recognize it. I don’t know. I don’t feel like I do anything special. I’m just the luckiest race fan in the world. I get to see the best sprint car drivers night after night and I get to talk about it.
What it is that you love so much about this where once you got in this role, you thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I’m sure there other things you could have done and I’m sure you’ve been approached by other people over the years. But it seems like you really love this.
It is. Other career paths may have been an option. I definitely have been contacted by other forms of motorsports. But this is where my passion is. This is what I love. I’m not a NASCAR person. I couldn’t tell you who the NASCAR champion last year was. I don’t really watch it. I understand people love it and that’s fine for them — I’ve been to NASCAR races, it just doesn’t thrill me like the sprint cars do.
I think if anything, what I bring to the announcing is my passion for sprint car racing, and I think if I tried to do anything else, that passion wouldn’t be there. And in the very worst care scenario, I’d be faking it. I don’t ever want to be accused of that.
Part of this genuine enthusiasm, as I mentioned, it’s not a World of Outlaws race if you’re not doing the famous four-wide salute phrasing. How long have you been saying that same catchphrase before these races?
I honestly don’t know. Again, it evolved over the first couple of years. I’d say probably by the end of the second or sometime during my third season is when I kind of started to coalesce what I do for the four wide, and then I’ve added little bits and pieces here and there. I will admit that the “often imitated, never duplicated” part of it came during 2006 when the NST was a rival sanctioning organization, so it was kind of a little dig at them.
You were trolling them!
Exactly! Before anybody knew what trolling really was. (Laughs)
My other question would be, because you are having to react so quickly to things that are in front of you, you’re having to see things with your brain, process them and then have it come out in an announcer way. Have you ever messed up really big?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, any announcer will, especially in a high-speed environment like this. I say this probably in more of a joking way than I should, but I probably have the only job where having a bit of ADD kind of helps because I do process things rather quickly, I talk quickly and this is just my normal way of talking. It’s not just the way I call races. If you talk to me on a Thursday afternoon away from the racetrack, I still probably talk like this.
But I just kind of have this ability to look at something, decide what I’m going to say about it while looking for the next thing that I’m going to talk about. And again, maybe it’s just the fact that I have grown up around sprint car racing and I’ve gotten used to watching races in a certain way.
Can you close by telling us something about your life? Because I think that your life on the road constantly, you don’t really get to go home much…
Actually, my home is now parked on the outside of Turn 2 here. I lived in Minneapolis for four years most recently and then decided to get a nice motorhome and live in the motorhome year round. The last apartment I had in Minneapolis, I was home 89 nights that year. So it didn’t really make sense.
I was in the process of moving, I was going to look for a different apartment, and I found a really cool place right in downtown Minneapolis, walking distance to the Target Center and all that kind of stuff. And I started to think about the money I was going to pay for it and the amount of time I would be there and I thought, “You know, for that kind of money, I can actually put that toward a really nice motorhome and be able to have home with me all the time.” And I wish I would have done it 20 years ago. I really enjoy that. That’s made it new and fresh for me again after 20 years of traveling up and down the road with a little variation, but for the most part seeing the same places and the same thing year after year.
And that’s why it’s really cool to go and do things with people who are maybe out on the road for the first time and see things through their eyes, they see something you’ve seen year after year and don’t really recognize anymore, but to somebody with fresh eyes they’re like, “Oh this is so cool!” Then you remember, “That is pretty cool. I just kind of take it for granted now.”
But as far as about my life, again, I am just the luckiest race fan in the world. I get to go to races and talk about it, and drive down the road and go do it again.
The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with sprint car driver Rico Abreu, who won the Gold Cup earlier this month in Chico, Calif. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
Usually if I’m thinking about a race or if I’m leading up to a big race, obviously I’ll be thinking about it all the time and I’ll have some dreams about it. But I think the biggest thing is I’m around race cars all the time and here working on the sprint cars. So it’s basically my life and it’s all I think about.
The biggest thing is just the work ethic that we all put into this team. I have had some dreams where things go wrong and then some dreams where things go good. Sometimes when I have good dreams, big dreams, I’ll jot them down or I’ll remember them three or four days later.
But I haven’t had any serious dreams about racing, just a few here and there of my car. Maybe just sometimes I’ll think about the attitude of my car and how it feels when I’m on track and that’ll come into a dream one time. But I’ve never really thought about that.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize? I assume no one would really get into another person intentionally in sprint cars because that would pretty dangerous. But if you do have an incident with somebody, does it matter if you apologize to them later?
I think it does later on. If you run into somebody or crash with somebody and they’re upset with you — or if they’re not — I think it just shows the level of respect if you go down there and apologize even if it wasn’t your fault. Sometimes people think things are different than you think.
I had an incident with Sheldon Haudenschild a couple weeks ago where I ran into the side of him and took us both out of the race. I think it was more of a racing incident, but I just made sure that the water was cool when I walked over there — more so even if everyone was angry, it just shows a level of respect if I go on over and say, “Hey, I didn’t obviously do this on purpose, but I took you guys out.”
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
I think it goes a long ways when people that you don’t think pay attention to your racing or what you’ve got going on in your career — when things start to change and your career can kind of go in a different direction and like it looks like it’s going downhill based off results — when people reach out to you and just show they see what’s going on and understand how difficult things can get. People who’ve reached out who you don’t realize that are paying attention to your career or racing and say, “Hey, keep working hard,” or, “Good job,” or anything on that level.
Or winning a race, I feel like your true friends or your true fans who are close to me reach out and said, “Good job,” just because of the people, they know the work that gets put into this and how difficult it is. Even in any level of racing, when you run a race team at a high level and you win or you run good or you’re competitive every night, people pay attention to that, and I like reaching out to people that I see that put a lot of work in or have a lot of drive and passion for the sport and have success. I like to reach out to them and say, “Hey, that’s really cool that you won,” or “You had a great run.” I just think it means a lot to those people, it means a lot when I get a message like that.
I won earlier in the year, and a guy like Chip Ganassi, he reached out. I don’t know if he follows my path lately just because of the direction it’s been going which is not NASCAR-related, but he’s seen I won and he reached out and said, “Good job” and that he likes winners. So I just have something like that with Chip, or Tony (Stewart) reaches out all the time even though my relationship with him is where I see him so often, but he still takes the time to reach out.
So when Chip reached out to you, he reminded you, “I like winners” just like he says on Twitter?
Yeah, he just said, “Good job” and “I like winners,” which is really cool.
4. The World of Outlaws comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?
I think it’ll be really cool to bring LeBron or Steph Curry or someone who’s a real spotlight in the world right now just to kind of show them what our sport is. I think some of them have been kind of NASCAR racing and seen that side of it, but more of the grassroots stuff (is) no different from them going back and playing high school basketball or playing with the high school they went to or just shooting some hoops. It would be cool for a guy like that to come in and just kind of see how it all goes.
5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, the World of Outlaws decides to offer the pole for an A-main for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?
I don’t know. I don’t think so.
No? You like your meat?
Yeah, I do way too much. (Laughs)
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2015 Dover K&N East race.
I finished second…no, third.
Yes. And one of the Rev Racing cars won. I don’t remember.
I think he was in a Rev Racing car.
He was. See, you remembered this right away.
Yeah, so the first half of the race, the Butler Built seats have the head inserts inside of the head restraint, and it actually fell off. In the East race, there is split, so I think you do, I don’t know if you do 100 laps, if you do 50-50, or if it’s 50 laps. So I ran the first half and then you get a five-minute break. Well one of HScott/Justin Marks team (crewmen), they jumped in the car and like tied or taped my headrest on my seat. And then I ended up running second in the race. I was actually really good. Mardy Lindley was my crew chief. That was a fun year in stock car racing for me.
I was looking at some of the people who you beat in that race who are current NASCAR drivers.
Yeah, Byron, Landon Cassill, Corey LaJoie, Justin Haley, Kaz Grala. You were on it.
Yeah, I feel like that’s one of the tracks that really suited my driving style while I was in stock cars. Just the high banking, the fast rolling corners, it kind of raced more like a dirt track where you, a lot of on throttle time. I really enjoyed that race.
7. Who is the best rapper alive? Are you into rap at all?
I don’t really listen to much. I know Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, those are all old music I used to listen to. I listen to a lot of country and a lot of rock and roll.
8. Who has the most punchable face in the World of Outlaws?
I don’t know…Donny Schatz? He just wins everything.
He wins too much.
9. The World of Outlaws 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 crew chief, one to be your team owner and one to be your motorhome driver.
Definitely LeBron the team owner, I feel like just because of his positioning and how he’s built his team and how he won all those championships in Cleveland, or went to the Finals so many times in Cleveland. I’ll put Tom Hanks as the crew chief and Taylor Swift as the bus driver because she’s probably a good cook.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
I honestly go down to all the haulers, look at the nicest hauler, and ask the guys if they have a bathroom and ask them if I can use it. I go to Donny Schatz’s trailer a lot and I go to Jason Sides’ trailer.
So you just walk in and it’s like family and you just ask, “Hey, can I use the bathroom?”
Yeah, I just ask and make sure. It’s a big topic around here because sometimes the bathrooms at the racetracks aren’t too nice and no one likes going into a hot port-a-potty at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. But I go to Donny Schatz’s trailer, I’ll ask Scuba, the car chief, if the bathroom’s OK to use and Scuba will say yes or no; and if he says no then I’ll go down to Jason Sides’ trailer, who usually tells me yes.
11. The World of Outlaws decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the former Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s more about the money than getting hurt. I’ve seen videos of Tyler Walker doing backflips after he won and then Carl Edwards. There’s a video of Tyler Walker tearing his ACL or something on YouTube when he does a backflip at Grandview Speedway.
I just don’t know if I could really get the flip, all the motion all the way over, or you see those videos on Barstool where the guys do the flips and land halfway on their neck. So it doesn’t look too comfortable.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Will Power. His question for you was: Would you ever like to try an IndyCar, and if so, would you like to try it on an oval or a road course?
I definitely would love to run an IndyCar someday. My goals going into my whole racing (career) — if I had to put goals at the top that people dream of doing — it was always to run the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. So I definitely would like to run in an IndyCar on an oval. I think they put on some great racing.
I would like to run the Daytona 500 as well, which I thought was going in that direction, but things shifted and things change through people’s career paths. I still haven’t given up on all that (with NASCAR), I just feel like there’s a better time later on down the road. I don’t know. I think, I definitely, if I’m going to do an IndyCar race, it’ll be on an oval.
I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but it’s going to be with a NASCAR driver. Do you have a question I might be able to ask somebody in NASCAR?
Ask them what they see most about drivers giving back to grassroots racing, as in Kyle Larson coming sprint car racing. Yes he loves it, but how he handles justifying coming to sprint car racing, going through that transition, and it makes it all work of going back and forth back and forth, and why some guys don’t do it more. Why Kyle Busch doesn’t go run more Late Model races or why does Christopher Bell not come and run more sprint car races?
I know that some of them are limited, but why are they so limited to it? Why doesn’t Chip Ganassi let Kyle Larson race on Thursdays before a Cup weekend? Yes, I see the money they have invested in him, but I just feel like the more of those guys that race, the better they are on track. I feel like we’re dirt racers, we’re all used to being up until 2 a.m. and the next day, getting up at 11 o’clock and going to your next race.
That’s the biggest talk right now, is these drivers coming back to the grassroots. I feel like there wasn’t as much as it until you had Kyle and Christopher and Tony doing all of these races. And you know, I feel like they have such big fan bases in this market or this sanctioning body, the World of Outlaws or any just local races, they could draw so much out of this. And why wouldn’t their sponsors want to be a part of this sport as well? They get so much more, coming here and being attached to them. I don’t know. It’s all cool to see it all going on.
This is the first 12 Questions interview with Rico Abreu.
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their career path and journey to where they are today. Up this week: McKenna Haase, a 21-year-old sprint car driver, team owner and college student. Haase is the first female to win a race at the famed Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
I understand you grew up in Iowa. Were you a race fan growing up or anything?
No, I wasn’t. My family was kind of your typical ball sports family. We grew up in Des Moines, but I went to school in a small town called Carlisle. We played like every sport, especially softball was big in my family.
When I was in third grade, we went on vacation to Tennessee and we were walking through a shopping mall (the Opry Mills Mall in Nashville) going to dinner and we ran into Kasey Kahne. But I didn’t know it was Kasey Kahne at the time.
I knew he was famous, because all these girls were around him wanting autographs. Being a third grader, obviously you want to see what’s going on. But we almost didn’t go over there, because it was kind of out of our way to see what was going on. Finally, I reluctantly went over and there was some lady there and she said, “Sorry, this is this is over. Kasey is done.” And so I’m like, “OK. I didn’t come here to see him anyway.”
So we left and we were walking back to our parents and they said, “Turn around.” Well, (Kasey) had followed us, because he thought we didn’t get his autograph.
He starts talking to us and asking us about racing in Iowa and all of this stuff, and it was really awkward because I had no clue what he was talking about. But I was trying to act cool. I was trying to read this sign with his name.
So we left the mall and I was stoked. My parents just thought it was a fad, you know? Like, “Oh, she met some famous guy in this mall. Now she thinks she’s a fan.” I eventually got his T-shirt and I wore it like every day. And I just became obsessed with not just Kasey, but just following racing.
In the meantime, I had a cousin who lives in Arkansas who started racing micro sprint cars. I went on vacation to watch him and I like fell in love with the idea that kids could race. And in between that time period, I went and watched Kasey race.
What kind of race did you see him in?
K&N, actually, at Iowa Speedway in 2008. And at Iowa Speedway, they had a display for Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville (a slick track). These cars looked like my cousin’s and they were sprint car-style go-karts. The guy who was working there was like, “Well, you can drive one.” And I like died, you know?
So we came to Slideways here in Knoxville and they just go like 20 miles per hour and it’s just like a little track. But I took it really seriously and I started going out there every weekend and I’d put in like 200 or 300 laps. Months went by, and there’s about 15 different cars there. So I would memorize all the cars, the way they handled and the different ways they were set up.
I was 11 years old at the time and in the midsummer/fall they had a kids league on Thursday nights. I really wanted to join that, so I begged my dad. We went down on a Thursday and they were like, “We’re sorry, but no other kids showed up for the league.” So I was super disappointed. They said, “But there’s a men’s league and you could do that instead.”
I look at my dad and he’s thinking “No way,” because I’m just this little girl and there were like 30 men here to race these go-karts. But I decided to do it and I ended up doing that every Thursday for two years. I would always get the trophy for youngest participant at nationals and stuff like that. And it was just really fun.
In the meantime, I went to watch my cousin race and died over the fact that kids could race. I was just just mesmerized. This dirt track I watched my cousin at was in Oklahoma. So my parents lied to me and they told me the only dirt track in the world was in Oklahoma. So I could never be a race car driver because it was too far away.
So I became obsessed with this racetrack and the drivers — like I idolized these kids. You would have thought these were NASCAR drivers. I memorized every kid who raced there, their background. I memorized the rulebook. I memorized the prices of all the cars and I tried to come up with this financial plan to go race in Oklahoma. I’m 12, and I re-crunched the numbers like 100 times and there was no way, because micros were $6,000 and the gas to get there, there was no chance.
Like I said, I grew up in a small town. I was going to school there, and there was a local sub shop/ice cream shop that’s really popular. So I start going in there, and lo and behold on the counter was a picture of a sprint car-style go-kart — like what I’d seen my cousin race. But it looked a little bit different from my cousin’s. And so I freak out.
I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Surely there’s a racetrack in Iowa, because this race car is on dirt and this sub shop is in Iowa.” Side note: It was a picture of an Outlaw Kart, but I didn’t know that at the time because my cousin raced micro sprints and this was an Outlaw Kart. All I knew was it looked like a funny looking little sprint car, you know?
This was before like phones and smart phones — for me, anyway. So I would memorize a sponsor a day on the race car. I’d go to the sub shop, look at the picture, memorize the sponsor and go home and Google it to see if it would lead me back to wherever this car was. The name on the car was too small. The name of the driver, so I couldn’t read it.
You would think I would just ask the owner, but he was friends with my dad and my family wanted nothing to do with me being a race car driver. So I was always going behind their back to do this.
So you’re sneaking a peek at this picture without letting on that you’re actually quite interested.
I mean, my parents knew I was obsessed with all this stuff, but they were kind of trying to keep me from it. My parents knew about Knoxville Raceway — they went here in the 80s.
Oh, so they definitely knew.
They knew. They just…lied. (Laughs) So in late 2009 I went to Slideways with my grandparents one day and they were bragging about my cousin racing micros and all this stuff. And the guy working at Slideways goes, “Oh that must be like the cars those kids race at English Creek Speedway.”
I paused and was like, “What did you just say?” He’s like, “Yeah, you know — English Creek Speedway, that go-kart track south of town.” And I freak, because this has been like months and months and months now, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh. This must be the place.”
So I’m memorizing it. Again, I don’t have anything to write it down on or a phone to look it up. I’m like, “English Creek Speedway. English Creek Speedway.” And I go home and I Google “English Creek Speedway” and lo and behold, up pops this car in the sub shop! I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” And so I freak out.
They just didn’t look like sprint cars. They were like funny-looking little cars, because Outlaw Karts weren’t popular at all at the time. I showed it to my dad and my dad was basically like, “Those cars look dumb and we’re not going to watch them.” Finally, I talked him into it and we went and watched. And of course I’m just freaking, because this is just like the track in Oklahoma, and I’m like, “There’s more than one! And it’s right here in Iowa.” Obviously, I come to find out years later there’s thousands of dirt tracks. But at the time I’m thinking, “This is a gem.” And so I took him there as much as I could talk him into it.
So in 2009, I found Knoxville. I came here in May of 2009 for the first time and we came to the 360 Nationals and were walking around town and there’s a shop here that sells Outlaw Karts. So I go in with my mom — not my dad — and I meet the owner of English Creek Speedway in this go-kart shop.
He’s trying to explain Outlaw Kart racing to me, but everything he would start to say, I would finish the sentence. So he’d be like, “The 125 class…” and then I would finish the sentence and say, “This is the age range.” Because I had memorized the rulebook at this point.
He would just kind of look at me funny, like, “Whoa…how do you know all this, kid?” And I was like, “I read it on the Internet,” and he’s like, “That’s crazy. Well here’s my business card. My grandson races box stock. If you ever want to get in his car one night after the races and drive it, you can.” So I’m just freaking out, you know?
And at this point in time, this kart shop where they sell go-karts, it was my dream to buy a firesuit from them. Because I knew I was never going to be a race car driver, so if I can’t be a race car driver, at least I want to own a firesuit.
Just the suit?
Just the suit. And so if you look back at pictures of me racing at Slideways, I had the same outfit I’d wear every week. It’s all-black — long-sleeve black shirt and long black pants and then black wrestling shoes. That was the closest thing I could get. I thought I was a stud walking around in this.
And so I run home with his business card like, “Dad! Dad! This guy gave me a business card and he said I can drive one of these cars after the races.” My dad looks at me and he goes, “McKenna. You’re not doing that. That’s only for kids that might be race car driver someday and you’re never going to be a race car driver, so you’re not doing that.” And I’m crushed.
So I kept his business card forever, and we keep going back to watch. You can read in my diary, I talk about about taking my dad to the races and one of my favorite lines I wrote was, “I think Daddy really likes this deep down, he just doesn’t want to admit it.” And then I wrote, “He said I can’t be a race car driver because only the kids with nice equipment win and only the kids who have parents that know how to work on race cars win.” And my dad doesn’t know how to work on a race car.
So I start saving my money. My parents said, “When you’re 16, you can get an Outlaw Kart. When you can drive yourself there and drive the car there and pay for it yourself.” So I came up with this financial plan on how I was going to have enough money by the time I was 16. An Outlaw Kart is like $3,000.
So I start saving my money. Now I’m 12, and so I have this plan set up for when I’m 16. I have $800 saved, roughly. And finally it’s almost the end of the season at English Creek and my dad agreed to let me get in this kid’s car. It was only because this was my second year at Slideways and I could run like second in the feature — but I was so tiny, I couldn’t beat the guys because like they weighed more, so they went faster. No matter how good I could drive, I could never win. It just got to the point where we were constantly fighting every night coming home; I would just cry and cry, like, “I want to be a race car driver.”
What do you think was his biggest hesitation? Was he worried about safety?
At the time, I just thought he was being a mean dad. Looking back, I think it was because even though my dad didn’t know much about racing, he’s a smart guy in general and he knew enough to know that it was expensive, that it was dangerous and that we knew nothing about it. It was risky and just something he didn’t want to put me through.
He was trying to save you essentially from getting your heart broken or physically hurt or something, right?
Right. And also at the time, we had a couple of family tragedies at this time period, too. So it really wasn’t the best time to be asking, also. It was very risky on my part to be pushing for this so hard at the time.
So you were saying you were about to get in this kid’s car?
Yes. So we bring my helmet and we go to the race and I get in this car and I’m nervous. Because here I’ve been begging now for years and this is my shot. I had no choice but to be fast, because otherwise my dad was going to say, “No, you’re not good at this.”
I remember the kid’s dad pushed me out there and I was like, “OK, what line do you want me to run?” He’s looking at me like, “Just figure it out, kid. You can take it easy. It’s not like the Daytona 500 here.”
I had watched like a million YouTube videos — in-car cameras — and memorized them from inside the cockpit. I was just going to mimic exactly what they did. So they fire the engine up on the straightaway and I just like take off and I was just on the fence — about scraping the wall. The kid later on — the driver — said, “Man, I thought you were going to wreck that thing.” So I went for forever. I kept going and going. Eventually, the car ran out of gas.
I didn’t know this, but my dad was standing in the infield. Apparently, the dad looked at his son and said, “Well, son, it looks like I found myself a new driver.” We’re good friends with his family now.
But yeah, the car runs out of gas and I pull in and I was like, “Did I do it right?” They’re like, “Yeah, you did fine.” At that point, I look at my dad and it’s like, “Well now what?” And a week later, I heard him like on the phone with some people.
I had every single go-kart that was for sale in the nation memorized by heart. I checked every day, all day, the classifieds. Had every price memorized. I still have the ones I wanted saved on file. I have newspaper clippings in my house with highlighted trailers that I was going to buy for sale, little flatbed trailers that I got in a local newspaper.
So I had this all planned out. I gave my dad my documents. Remember, I idolized these kids, and there was a girl who raced there and she had my dream go-kart. And it was for sale for like $2,800 and my dad called them.
I came home from school — I was playing volleyball at the time and hated volleyball, and I’m ticked after practice. My dad was like, “Let’s go get in the car. We’re going to go look at this go-kart.” I was freaking out. So we went and bought it and I gave my dad $800 cash I’d saved and he helped out with the rest. And we went racing.
So there’s those cars at Slideways that I’d memorized all those years, and I’d memorized the setups and the way they drove. The fastest one was the 55. So I picked the number 55 — and to this day carry the 55.
That’s so cool.
Seven years later, I went to Victory Lane at Knoxville on Slideways Karting Center Night and put the big 55 in Victory Lane. So it kind of all came full circle.
Now I have my own driver development team — box stock and Outlaw Karts — and they carry the number 55.
That’s so crazy. So you’re in school now. You’re at Drake. And are you a finance major?
I was finance. Now I’m business studies with a concentration in finance.
So you’re basically learning on the job and at the same time completely turning this into a business for yourself while raising funds to compete. How do you juggle that? What what all goes into that?
I would say that’s probably the number one thing most people don’t know about me in racing is they kind of see me running the race team and they think that comes from what I’ve learned in racing, in a sense. Long before I was into racing — since the time I could talk — I was going door-to-door selling whatever I could find to sell.
I fell in love with the stock market in third grade and was into investing ever since. I fell in love with Warren Buffett around middle school/high school and he became my idol. So when I went to college, I became a finance major on an investment track as an analyst — which really has nothing to do with racing. But learning how to sell and learning numbers and finance did give me the ability to sell sponsorship. I was never into marketing and never really interested in that, but I would sell hand sanitizer at sports complexes when I was a kid for a quarter a squirt and make $70 a weekend.
Wow! That’s amazing.
Yeah, stuff like that. I didn’t really like people that much when I was younger; I didn’t like talking to people. My parents used to say that one of their arguments against me being a race car driver was, “You just want to be a race car driver so you can get down in that little cockpit and shove a helmet on your head and hide from the rest of the world and never talk to anybody.” And then I get into racing and I’m like this bubbly, outgoing, talkative person. I think that’s just because I found my place.
But in terms of selling, I learned how to sell. I went banging doors down trying to get sponsors. I moved from Outlaw Karts to micros, micros to sprint cars. And that’s what allowed me to be able to do that, and to do it ethically is huge for me.
Which means what?
Paying sales tax. Keeping good records. Trying not to backdoor anybody else’s sponsors or hopefully not step on anybody else’s toes and deals. Providing sponsors with the services that I promised. Same thing on the merchandise side — having good customer service. Hopefully giving discounts where deserved. Stuff like that and following through with that.
Behind the scenes in motorsports, the business side of it can be pretty nasty and pretty unethical. So (ethics are) something I try and integrate into my business, and a lot of that stems from Buffett, for me. Buffett was big on that as well.
So what all falls under your umbrella right now? Obviously you’re driving, and that has to be the number one thing.
You’re getting sponsors yourself.
And you’re doing the deals with them yourself. You’re handling the finances and the books of the team. What else are you doing?
Yeah, so THR — Team Haase Racing, LLC — is the sprint car team. I do operate that. Like you said, I do all the sponsor acquisition. I do the accounting. I have an accountant and I have an attorney that I work with, but I do most of that. And the sales tax and stuff like that.
I process all the merchandise. I do all the ordering for the merchandise. I process the orders in my basement and mail those. Obviously, the appearances. Obviously, I drive the car. I used to work on the car lot more than I do now, but now I’ve hired a full-time crew chief. I had to get to the point where I was able to do that.
And then I also own Compass Racing Development LLC, which is my driver development program. So for each kid, I kind of coach/mentor them. I help them with their funding, I do their marketing presentations. I do all the graphic design also, by the way — I forgot that — for the marketing presentations. The website, I keep updated. I run all the social media — nine accounts total on that.
And then I go to college at Drake. I’m the president of the Drake Investment Club. I’m in the American Marketing Association, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the College of Business Leadership Council, which also entails the service committee.
And then outside of kind of all that, I have a job. I work at a promotional products company. And then outside of that, I do ninja warrior training, as well as I’m a second degree blackbelt in martial arts and Krav Maga. I don’t do all that full-time anymore; I do ninja warrior full time as an athlete.
How do you sleep or do anything, ever?
You know, I get asked that a lot and I don’t want to sometimes I hate sharing how much I’m involved in, because I don’t want to promote the sense I’m higher than anybody type of thing. You know what I’m saying?
I believe in living a life that’s simplified and having quality happiness in life and I think the world is too stretched. I think there’s too much tension. And so I don’t want to try and promote that.
But I think it comes down to what you can handle. For me, it hopefully comes down to not me. Compass is a great example of something that’s not about me and I don’t want that to be about me. I don’t want thanks. I don’t want anything in return. I want that to be me giving back to the sport.
Same thing with the investment club. That’s not really for my benefit. I just hope to share and educate others on investing. Do I really have the time for it? Probably not. But I try and make time for things that involve other people and impact other people.
So with the investing in the stock market, you’ve done well enough to help support yourself with the team and your funding efforts? Is that correct?
Most of the investing has been with my personal money. There is a way to invest in terms of actual stock market with an LLC’s funds. And I’ve been looking into that more going forward. I’m huge on asset allocation and profit maximization — that’s very big for me with this sprint car team. And in motorsports in general, I think that’s the biggest thing I focus on.
Where do you go from here? You’re still so young, but you’ve accomplished a lot. You’re starting to live your dream. You have accomplished more than you probably originally thought you were going to. What’s next?
I got my first win here in Knoxville in 2015. That was in a 305 sprint car (which means it had a 305 cubic inch engine). I won three times in the 305. And then this year, I won in the 360 also and I did that twice.
I mean, no chance was I ever going to be a sprint car driver — let alone win. And so those were big accomplishments for us, and if I died tomorrow, we’d be proud of that. But I don’t feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished everything I’m supposed to accomplish.
As far as what’s next, you can never be 100 percent sure. I want to race professionally and I want to impact the world in the most significant way possible. I think the race car is just the medium and the platform in order to do that. I’ve always said the goal is NASCAR. That would reach a lot of people, and I’d like to have a larger voice and a larger impact and I think that would give me a medium to do that.
If that’s not in the cards and that’s not part of God’s plan for my life, then maybe it is midgets and sprint cars professionally. But regardless, I want to be behind the wheel. I know I’m involved in a lot of things in life, but being behind the wheel of a race car has always seemed right no matter what.
A couple more follow-ups here. First of all, Kasey Kahne — I’m sure he knows the story by now? Have you talked to him about all this?
Back in 2014 was the first time I’d seen him since. And I gave him my driver resume, and it had the story inside along with a little newspaper article. And I just gave it to him and I’ve never talked to him since.
So it is funny after all these years — I probably say his name every day or every other day in my life because I get asked all the time, “How did you become a race car driver?” I think I’m his personal marketing assistant in that regard because I do talk about it all the time. But the funny thing is is I’ve never talked to him about it.
That’s funny. And second, I assume once you started getting more into it, your parents are fully on board now and happy to see you doing this?
Yep. So my dad and I ended up learning how the cars work. He and I worked on my race cars all through the Outlaw Karts, all through the micros. And then the first year of sprint cars, it was kind of still him and I, but we had some help and some people teach us the ropes.
It wasn’t until last year that I hired a crew chief for the first time. That was the first time my dad wasn’t the head guy. It was really cool to see my dad go from having nothing to do with it to being so knowledgeable about the race cars.
And then my mom, she still really didn’t have a lot to do with it up until my sister graduated and moved to Nashville, and now my mom doesn’t have to spend as much time with her traveling to softball games and stuff. My mom has been a big help with the merchandise and not necessarily the racing, but helping me do other things in life so that I can focus more on racing.
Does my mom like sprint car racing? No. Or at least she doesn’t like me doing it. She likes NASCAR. She likes IndyCar. But she supports me and I think they’re both proud. They’re both still nervous. We do still fight about decisions in racing and my mom still tries to get me to quit.
But deep down, I think they want to see me achieve all my dreams, you know? And they want to see all my hard work pay off, because they’re really the only people who have seen what I’ve truly gone through behind the scenes. When it comes to just the darkest of days and the depressions and the losses and the heartaches, they’ve seen all that. And I think they want to see that pay off.
When you look back at it now, if you had never gone to the mall and gotten hooked on racing, are you the type of person who is going to get so obsessively focused on something and so driven about something where there would be something else to replace that? Or was it racing that brought that out of you?
I think all the stars had to be aligned just right — not just even in the mall, but so many times in my career. I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time. And I truly believe that’s a God thing. I do ask myself a lot: “What would have happened if you wouldn’t have walked over there (to see what the fuss was about with Kahne)?” Because I was standing in the doorway of the restaurant and I left. I’m like, “What if you just walked into a restaurant?”
I think my cousin racing also had a lot to do with it. So I feel like I would have found it either way. But without Kasey, I just don’t know.
I also think my sister, by the way, had a lot to do with it in the sense of I never wanted to do anything like her. She was a softball player and cheerleader and she was really good at all that stuff, and I never wanted to do anything like her. So when I found racing, it was the one thing nobody in my family liked or wanted anything to do with, and I was bound and determined to prove them otherwise. This was going to be my thing and I was going to have something special in my life. Because (sister) Makaila’s softball was really a big thing for my family.
I had a lot of activities I was involved in also. But I think if my parents wouldn’t have been as resistant, I don’t know if I would be where I am today, because I was bound and determined. I was so stubborn and I was going to prove everybody wrong.
In the beginning, even with my friends — nobody in my school raced or knew anything about racing. (They thought) it was lame. And even when I started out, I was 13 or 14 and racing Outlaw Karts against little kids. So it wasn’t cool.
Now people see (the success) today, and it’s hard to take them back to that time and say I kept fighting. I would walk out of school. I did leave school twice at least, just from getting bullied about being a race car driver, wanting to be a race car driver, how lame it was and stupid. I wouldn’t wear race shirts to school.
When I graduated high school, I saw kids wearing my race shirts to school. So to persevere despite all that resistance, I think there’s no doubt today. Sometimes it’s hard (not) to second guess and to doubt and say, “Man, am I really supposed to be doing this?” Like, “Who do you think you are, McKenna?” But then you look back to that, and it’s like, “There was something there.”
Ten years after I met Kasey in the mall, I went down for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine. And there was a hurricane in Daytona, so we had to drive in instead of fly in — and we went through Nashville, Tennessee and stopped at the Grand Ole Opry shopping mall, 10 years from the time I met Kasey there.
It’s just little things like that. I feel like I probably still would have found it, but there is definitely something special that happened in that mall that night.
The 12 Questions series of driver interviews continues with Brad Sweet, the Kasey Kahne Racing sprint car driver who just won the 2018 Knoxville Nationals last weekend. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed below for those who prefer to read.
1. How often do you have dreams about racing?
I probably dream about racing a few times a year — but I live, eat and breathe it while I’m awake. So luckily, I don’t have to dream about it too much while I’m sleeping.
You do what, 90 races per year?
Yeah, we usually have about 95 races on our schedule. And we don’t get to go home all that often because there are a lot of midweek races — Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays. So we pretty much live, eat and breathe racing from February to November.
2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize? I realize there would be a lot higher consequences for that in a sprint car race than a NASCAR race.
Yeah. Obviously, when we get into each other, a lot bigger crashes happen. Our cars are open-wheel, so usually it’s very unintentional, because if you get into someone, it can hurt you just as bad as you can hurt them. We don’t really have the bump-and-runs because your front tires are exposed and your rear tires are exposed, so if they touch tires, usually you both go crashing.
But there are times you make move and wipe someone’s front end out or something. And then it just depends. If they race you like that, a lot of times you might get them back. It’s just the way it is. Then there’s other times where it was a complete accident and you really want them to know it was an accident, because we race against each other so much, you don’t want any grudges happening throughout the season.
Is the World of Outlaws community tight-knit like the NASCAR community is with the motorhome lot?
Absolutely. Just as tight; there’s certain guys who are probably even tighter, just because we do travel so much. The drivers are literally the motorhome drivers and set up the T-shirt trailers. We all help each other get down the road. And then all the teams work together to get up and down the road.
It turns into a family. You see these people out here just as much or more as you see your family members back at home. There’s friendships that are closer than others, but for the most part, everyone gets along really well and you can almost count on a lot of people to help you out throughout the season.
3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?
That’s tough. I would say the biggest compliment in my life right now would be I’m a good dad and a good husband and a good person.
4. The World of Outlaws comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?
I’m kind of a big The Rock fan — Dwayne Johnson. I got really into him after watching Ballers on HBO. I feel like he’d be super into it. He’s that type of guy who just embraces everything. Plus I’d love to ask him questions. He just seems like he really understands how this world works and knows how to do a great job. He works hard at what he does. I admire him a lot.
5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, the World of Outlaws decides to offer the pole for an A-Main at an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?
I guess it would depend on the race a little bit. If it was the Knoxville Nationals, probably. Because I’d probably need to lose a little weight before we get there anyway and get in good shape.
There are some races I would do it for — our big three races are the Knoxville Nationals, the Kings Royal (at Eldora Speedway) and the National Open (at Williams Grove Speedway). If it was just one of our standard races, probably not.
Well, you got the pole for the Knoxville Nationals without having to go vegan for a month anyway, so…
Yeah. We’re in good shape and I didn’t have to go vegan, so I’m pretty happy about that.
6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2013 Texas fall Xfinity race. Do you happen to remember that one at all?
I’m going to say I finished 10th.
You finished eighth in this race. Started ninth, led seven laps. Matt Kenseth won.
Yeah, I remember getting a top-10. I couldn’t remember where I finished. I had a couple good runs, but not as many as I’d like to.
When you look back on your NASCAR career, would you have done anything differently?
I’m super happy with where I’m at now, but there were a couple years where I really beat myself up because those opportunities just don’t come around. I had a great opportunity to do good. I wish I would have just gotten to learn a little more in a stock car before getting thrown into Trucks and Xfinity.
I did two half-seasons in Xfinity. So basically I felt like the second half of what would have been my first full season, I started to kind of figure it out. I feel like if I could have gone and done one full season, it would have been a completely different story.
But looking back on it, now I’m actually just really happy where I’m at and I don’t actually miss it — at all. So I’m in a really happy place in my life and I think a lot of that would have been different if I had been successful in NASCAR. That’s just how life works, I guess.
I just wish I would have gotten more training, basically. I don’t have that Kyle Larson or maybe Chris Bell natural ability — I’ve always had to work harder at doing it. But I always feel like once I get something and work at it, I can run just as good as anybody.
7. Who is the best rapper alive?
Best rapper? Oh man. I’m really not into rap music very much. Me and Kyle Larson always listen to Afroman and he seems pretty good. But I’m sure he’s not the best rapper alive. (Laughs)
8. Who has the most punchable face in the World of Outlaws?
I mean, I like Donny Schatz, but damn he makes me mad sometimes. (Laughs) So Donny Schatz.
It seems like a lot of fans boo him because he wins so much — not because they dislike his personality. Is that right?
Yeah, he doesn’t have the Kyle Busch personality. He has somewhat of a nice personality. But he wins, you know? And everybody always cheers for the underdogs because they get tired of seeing certain people win. That’s half of why people don’t like Kyle Busch, and it’s the same with Donny Schatz — they just want someone else to win. That’s in any sport. They always don’t like the winning team; we always cheer the underdog.
Luckily, I’m kind of considered the underdog over here just because Donny Schatz has won so much. So I actually get a lot of people saying, “Please beat Donny, please beat Donny.” I get that night in and night out. “Anybody but Donny. Please.” We’re always trying, so it gives the fans a little extra to get excited about.
9. The World of Outlaws 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 crew chief, one to be your team owner and one to be your motorhome driver.
Man, that’s tough. I think LeBron James will probably be my crew chief. He seems to think about how things really work. He might not be the most mechanically inclined guy, but if we could explain it to him, I think he could really get it.
Taylor Swift, we’ll go ahead and make her the team owner. She seems like she’d be good at that.
And then we’ll have Tom Hanks be the bus driver because he’d be fun. He’d be a good guy to make jokes and probably have a couple drinks with.
10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?
Luckily for us, we have our trucks and trailers a lot with us and we basically pit out of there. We don’t have to go out like in NASCAR onto the grid and do the whole deal. So we have a bathroom right here in our trailer that’s pretty much money in the bank.
But actually this week here at Knoxville, we don’t have the bathroom (because the trailers are parked outside the track). So I don’t know. I have a hard time with public restrooms, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Here you just go to the closest one, because there’s really no special one. When I was in NASCAR, I remember there were always some special hidden gems along the way. I know you don’t want to get any bad ones.
11. The World of Outlaws noticed the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips when he was in NASCAR and wants a sprint car version. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?
(Laughs) If I could do a backflip, I would probably do it for free because that’s cool. But they’d just have to pay for the training, and there’d be a lot of training because I don’t think I’m anywhere close to being able to do a backflip.
It would be hard to do it off the wing, too.
You’d almost have to do a double backflip because you’d be so high in the air. It’d be a lot more dangerous. Maybe off the front tire. You could maybe stand up there and do a backflip. That’d maybe be a little lower than where Carl did it off the door, but not that much lower. But you’d have to pay me a lot, because I feel like I’d hurt myself in a hurry for sure.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Garrett Smithley from the Xfinity Series. His question is: What was the first time you ever got into a 410 sprint car, what was that feeling like and how long did it take you to get up to speed?
That’s a good question. The first time I got in a 410 sprint car was 2005. (Editor’s note: World of Outlaws sprint cars have 410 cubic inch engines and are referred to as “410s.” Other series run 360ci engines and are called 360s.) I’d driven 360 sprint cars, so that was a good transition from go-karts. I remember the first time I got in a 410, I could not control it. I couldn’t believe the amount of power it had. It’s definitely taken years to be able to figure out how to control that type of power. It’s an unbelievable amount of horsepower for how light the race cars are. I remember just being blown away. And still to this day, it blows me away how fast and how much power we really have.
Do you have a question I can ask someone back in the NASCAR garage?
If they’ve never driven a dirt car, what dirt car would they choose to drive and what racetrack?
So like in terms of a sprint car or a modified or something like that?
Yeah, just see what their interest is. If they only grew up on pavement, do they have interest in driving on dirt? To some NASCAR guys, it seems like sprint cars are kind of voodoo — like, “Man, those are just dangerous.” So is it a dirt Late Model maybe? Or do they want to try it? I’d just like to see what their interest in dirt racing is.
This is the first 12 Questions interview with Brad Sweet.
Logan Schuchart made a soul-crushing brain fart on Wednesday night, and it would have been easy to run away and hide for the next 48 hours after that.
Instead, he did the opposite: Schuchart showed his face and did interviews, owned his mistake, took all the blame on himself and didn’t shy away from discussing the error — as embarrassing as it might have been.
Then, on Friday night, Schuchart did something even more impressive: He went out and made up for it on the track, completely redeeming himself in the process.
Hey kids, want to know how to handle adversity after a self-inflicted mistake? Be like Logan.
Of course, Schuchart would rather not have been the example for this — and at the start of the week, his story seemed like it would be much different.
Schuchart, a 25-year-old from Pennsylvania, went out and set the quickest time in qualifying on Night 1 of the Knoxville National prelims on Wednesday.
Pretty great start for the biggest sprint car race in the world.
Qualifying so well results in a poor starting spot for the heat races, and Schuchart ended up in the B-Main.
But then he went out and won the B — even driving past the legend Donny Schatz — and put himself in a points position to get an excellent starting spot for Saturday night’s A-Main.
But then the mistake happened.
Drivers at Knoxville are required to drive straight to the scales after every race so officials can ensure they’re within the legal weight rules. That’s different than the World of Outlaws, where drivers just go to the scales after the feature.
Schuchart, already thinking about competing in that night’s A-Main and used to the WoO format, skipped the scales and drove back to his pit instead. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late.
Officials had no choice but to disqualify Schuchart, stripping his finish and leaving him well outside the points position needed to lock into the Saturday feature.
It was every driver’s nightmare: A great performance on the track erased by a procedural error off it.
Schuchart could have thrown a fit about it, arguing his case with officials or blasting the rules in the media.
Instead, he spent Thursday doing interviews — including two in front of live audiences — where he owned up to the mistake.
“They call it a driver’s meeting for a reason, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention at it,” Schuchart said Friday night. “They tell you where you’re supposed to go, and I’ve been here in years past and I should know that. It was my fault and it’s the driver’s responsibility.”
I apologize to my team, they gave me a really fast race car and I made a big mistake. One that I know won’t happen again. I will do my best to make up for it on Friday.
Fortunately, the Knoxville format gives drivers one more chance to lock themselves into the A-Main before Saturday — though it’s arguably much more difficult (four spots available vs. 16 spots on the first two nights).
But guess what? Schuchart went out and got himself into Friday night’s A-Main, started from the pole and won the race after a fierce battle with local favorite Brian Brown.
“I was expecting (the team) to come in and be all mad at me and not talk to me or whatever, but they just went right back to work and started getting it ready for today,” Schuchart said of the fallout. “They gave me a great race car to come up tonight and come back swinging.”
And that he did — this despite Schuchart’s grandfather/team owner, sprint car great Bobby Allen, hospitalized nearby. Schuchart said the race was the first his grandfather had missed since the driver was 10 years old.
Nevertheless, Schuchart will start 17th in the A-Main on Saturday night. And even though he likely would have been higher in the field had the error not occurred, there’s no time to dwell on it now.
Anything can happen on Saturday, including an even happier ending to this redemption story.
“We’re lucky to be there and happy to be there,” Schuchart said. “It’s a long 50 laps.”
If you’re wondering what it’s like to ride in a sprint car and rip the cushion around Knoxville Raceway, I took mental notes on a once-in-a-lifetime experience Thursday night.
Long story short, I hit the jackpot and got to be the passenger in a two-seat sprint car just before the heat races at the Knoxville Nationals. We ran three laps, and I can distinctly remember my thoughts on each one.
On Lap 1, I was thinking this: “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!!”
On Lap 2, I was thinking this: “HOLY FUCKING SHIIIIIIIIIT!!!!!”
On Lap 3, I was thinking this: “I CAN’T BELIEVE PEOPLE DO THIS!!!!”
Sorry for the bad language, but those were my true, honest feelings while we were making the laps.
In fact, after the first two trips around the track, I realized I wasn’t even breathing. The stands were just a blur. Gravity was smashing me to the right side like a sumo wrestler was trying to squeeze into the seat.
They’d installed a fake wheel in my seat behind the driver — like how toddlers have a wheel in their car seat while mom drives them to preschool — and I noticed I was gripping it so hard, I could feel my pulse through my hands.
Honestly, all of that shocked me. I did not expect it was going to be that intense. I’ve been lucky enough to do some NASCAR ridealongs before, and those felt more like I was watching an in-car camera except with a sensation of speed. Those experiences were: “Yeah, that was really cool but pretty much what I thought it would feel like.”
But the sprint car was the opposite of how I thought it would be. Of course I knew it would be fast, but I thought the drivers sort of floated it into the turns and feathered the throttle while trying to manage the back end without spinning out.
Uh, no. Not in this case, anyway. The speed was up the whole time, and there was SO MUCH GRIP! The driver was wide open, and I was stunned how much we stuck to the tacky track. If we slid, I couldn’t really tell.
Anyway, I can’t even fathom being out there with other cars and no spotters with people trying to slide-job you while driving THAT all-out. Are you serious?
Anyone who races a sprint car, whether it’s a local track or in the World of Outlaws, I am now officially in awe of you. You people are insane, and I’m perfectly fine with my balls not being big enough to ever attempt something like that.
Kyle Larson found himself in hot water with some NASCAR fans this week when he responded to the World of Outlaws Twitter account during a Q&A session.
Larson, whose first love is all things dirt racing, tweeted he’d like to run full-time with the Outlaws by the time he’s 40. He’s only 25 now and has already been running in the NASCAR Cup Series for five seasons, so that could potentially mean running 20 years in Cup before he leaves.
Still, some fans seemed to be angered by Larson’s tweet, inferring he loves sprint cars more than stock cars. And this isn’t the first time recently Larson has drawn some sensitivity from those in the NACAR world; some were offended in January when Larson said he’d rather win the Chili Bowl than the Daytona 500.
So on Friday at Sonoma Raceway, Larson suggessted he hasn’t communicated well enough what he really means.
“Maybe I don’t do the best job in the world of talking about how much I love NASCAR as much as I do sprint cars — but I do,” Larson said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing. I enjoy sprint cars and I feel like I talk about sprint cars a lot just to open people’s eyes to that style of racing because it’s a great form of racing — and so is NASCAR.”
Larson said his goal is to have fans support all forms of motorsports — not just NASCAR and not just sprint cars — because that’s what he does. He loves to race anything on four wheels.
“Most fans get it, but some fans aren’t quite open-minded enough,” he said.
And though Larson wants more NASCAR fans to support grassroots racing, he said it works the other way as well.
“I have multiple fans come up to me each and every night (at a dirt track) and they are like, ‘Man, guys like you and (Christopher) Bell you are the reason why I’m watching NASCAR again,'” he said. “That makes me feel really special. It makes me feel like I’m having an impact when I am going to race that stuff or racing here even.”