How I Got Here with Josh Williams

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Josh Williams, who races in the Xfinity Series for DGM Racing.

How did this all get started for you? Did you grow up thinking you wanted to be part of racing?

I played normal sports as a kid, started racing when I was four and a half years old, running go-karts. Kind of the typical race car driver story.

Did you have a racing family?

I did. My dad started racing in Indiana and moved to Florida. He raced on South Florida short tracks and won championships. Most of the track records I had to break in Florida were his. He’s the reason why I race.

Always went to the racetrack with him when I was little. When I raced go-karts or quarter midgets or things, he’d race open-wheel modifieds or late models or sportsman cars. I just loved it. Something about it intrigued me a lot. It’s just a different feeling, winning races and getting your picture taken on the frontstretch and things like that. The checkered flag is addicting.

When you were little, were you thinking NASCAR all the way? That’s what you wanted to be involved in?

Not really. Up until I was about 14, I was racing just to race and go to the next level. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I want to be a Cup driver.” Probably the year before I started racing in the ARCA Series, when I turned 15, I started thinking, “Man, maybe we could make this a career and stick with it and maybe race in the Cup Series one day.” I’ve always tried to make that my goal and open every door I can. It’s a tough road to do it if you’re someone like me and trying to do your own deal. I wear a lot of hats when I’m at the racetrack, so it’s a little different story than your typical driver.

I’m assuming no one was ever like, “Congratulations, here’s a pile of money.” You’ve had to do this yourself. How did you progress from ARCA ultimately to where you are now?

My family supported all of my racing up until the ARCA Series. We did have Musselman’s Apple Sauce as a sponsor there for a little while. We’ve had a few smaller sponsors — Go Puck, Krankz Audio. We’ve had a few people come in off the side when we were running in ARCA and help us out a little bit.

And we were low budget. We’d buy scuffed tires from some of the bigger teams and practice on them. They quit selling us scuffs after awhile because we were beating them and they were a little upset.

You see a few family-owned teams, even in Xfinity, but it’s tough to race against these big guys with all the funding and somebody who says, “Here’s a couple million. Go play.” We haven’t opened that door yet, but we’re not going to stop until we find it. We’re working with some really good people now in the Xfinity Series on a lower budget scale with Sleep Well and also Star Tron. They’ve helped us out a lot to get to this point. So just trying to build relationships and open doors and hopefully we knock on the right one and they hand us a pile of money and we get to go play.

When you won a couple times in ARCA (in 2016), were you thinking people would notice and things would get a lot easier? What was the aftermath of that?

Not really. I knew the position we were in and the way the racing model is held now compared to what it used to be. For us, that was huge. That was like winning the championship — having one car, having a dually truck pulling a gooseneck trailer and just running against the big boys and winning races. I knew it wasn’t going to be something spectacular — like, “Oh, I’m going to get a Cup ride tomorrow” — but it did open some people’s eyes who didn’t know much about me. They knew who I was, they knew we ran up front. But sealing the deal and winning a couple races in the ARCA Series, people were like, “Man, this guy is actually the real deal. He’s pretty good.”

How’s it been so far in Xfinity? What are some of the triumphs and struggles you have here?

The struggles are always the normal struggles you have here — tires, pit crews, motors, cars, quality of equipment. The good thing about it is I’m getting a lot of seat time, I’m learning a lot about the cars and the different setups, different tracks, things like that. I like it. It’s just a learning curve. I haven’t run all the races this year, just a limited schedule. But I’m learning a lot and I’m OK with that.

Since you don’t have the same funding as those you’re competing against, what’s your goal when you go out there? Do you have certain numbers in mind?

I don’t know if you’ve heard Corey LaJoie joke about his “GT Class” in the Cup Series, but we call it different levels. So if we can win our class — 20th, 25th — that’s great for us.

In Vegas, we finished 20th on two sets of tires and no pit crew. For us, that’s phenomenal. It’s tough, but you’ve got to just race your race and not worry about the circumstances. Like when you come down pit road and you know you’re going to put on 30-lap-old tires, you’re like, “Man, these guys are going to drive away from me for a minute.” But once it all levels out, it’s not so bad.

So when you have days like that, are you like, “Oh my gosh, people need to be paying attention to this?” Because from a media standpoint, everyone is looking at the front and focused on that. But are you like waving your arms like, “Pay attention to this second race, too?”

It would be nice for a lot of people to maybe focus on the latter half of the field. That’s where most of the good racing is. A lot of people miss it.

Talking about Vegas and Ross (Chastain) winning, that was big for drivers like myself and a few other drivers in the Xfinity field. Ross is just like me. We raced at the same racetrack in Florida. We’ve beat each other’s fenders off, we’ve wrecked each other, we’ve fought. We’re past all that now — we were like 14 years old.

But we work hard Monday through Friday and we race on Saturdays. We don’t just race on Saturday and wait until next Saturday. We’ve got jobs. So (when Chastain won), I was like, “Man, that’s cool,” because I can do it. You’ve just got to get that opportunity. You’ve got to be in that good car, you’ve got to be in that good piece and show everybody what you can do. If you can get in a good car and run fifth, then run fifth. Don’t tear it up trying to win a race — unless you get wrecked by (Kevin) Harvick, and then it’s an unfortunate situation.

What is your week like? What do you do during the week?

Me and my fiancee, Trazia, we own a property preservation company. We clean out foreclosed homes, we do maintenance on them, things like that. Fix anything that’s broken to get it ready for the bank to sell. So we do that during the week.

I also own JW Motorsports, which is what we used for the ARCA Series. We build some cars for people, do a lot of short track stuff — street stocks, modifieds, late models. We build some road race cars for some people. So there’s a lot going on in the week and we try to race on the weekends.

So a bank forecloses on a house and the previous owner trashed it before they left, and someone calls you and your fiancee to come in and get it cleaned up before it gets sold?

Yep, that’s pretty much what we do. We’re a third party, so there’s a middle person in between us. They just feed us jobs, and we go in and finish them.

So you’re doing the work yourselves? Repairing walls, things like that?

(Chuckles) Oh yeah.

How did you get into that?

A mutual friend of ours was talking about it and thinking about doing it. I talked to her about and said, “Let’s just see what happens. We’ve got a truck, we’ve got a trailer, we’ve got some equipment. Let’s give it a shot.” We started with it, and we’re still gaining on it — we’re not making a bunch of money — but it’s helping us out a lot as far as getting things prepared.

I guess I would think that would be kind of humbling. Here you just finished 20th in a NASCAR race that was watched by a lot of people and then you’re cleaning out these houses the next week. It would be like, “The glory was right there — and now I’m here,” you know?

Yeah. I don’t mind it, though. That’s just who I am. I’m just a normal person like everybody else. I think that’s what people enjoy about me. I’ll sit down and have a conversation with you at the racetrack, even if I don’t know who you are. We’ll be pushing through the garage somewhere and somebody will just be standing there and I’ll say, “Hey, you want to push a race car?” They’ll be like, “Oh yeah!” They don’t know it’s because we’ve only got two people pushing; they think it’s cool.

But you have a conversation with them, you get to know people and you make fans. I think it’s cool to give people the time of day. I don’t know if you’ve seen these children’s hospital tours we do when we go to these racetracks, but we go visit them all over the country and try to share the love. I’m a normal person, man; I’m just a race car driver on the weekends.

What else would you like people to know about you or your story?

I’d like people to know I’m a real racer. I’m the old-school racer, where people used to enjoy watching NASCAR and they liked the guy who is a little rough who is not afraid to voice his opinion or get out and go rough you up a little bit. And I also get along with people in the same way. I just want them to know I am the old-school model and a real racer, and I don’t want them to give up on the sport thinking there’s none of us left.

I always ask people for recommendations for those who want to make it to where you are. For people who are reading this and have the dream of racing, is it still possible to make it the way you have?

I think it’s still possible. Is it getting harder and harder by the day? Yes it is. The biggest thing is to always be yourself, focus on your dream, accomplish your goals and do what you have to do to accomplish those goals. If you’ve got to put in the work and fly here to meet this person to see if they want to sponsor your race car, even if you waste two days of your time and they say no, you never know. That could change in a couple years. But they know who you are, you went there and put in the effort.

You have to want it. On my Twitter (profile), it says, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” I try to base my model off that and give it all I’ve got.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rides again, wards off old unpleasant feelings

As the laps wore on and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car kept running up front Friday night at Richmond Raceway, a familiar and unpleasant feeling began to come over him.

“A lot of those expectations I hated about this job started creeping back in,” he said. “And I’m sitting there going, ‘Nooo, don’t let this happen! Nooo! Don’t fuckin’ let this happen! Don’t get so freaking caught up in this that you make yourself miserable that you don’t win.'”

Pressure and stress were two sensations that robbed Earnhardt of so much joy in his racing career. And in his one-off return to NASCAR — fulfilling a sponsor commitment that helped his team survive — he wanted nothing to do with those feelings.

This was supposed to be carefree and fun, the opportunity to get out there one more time and even take a picture with newborn daughter Isla at his car before the race. A top-10 finish would certainly be enough to satisfy him, Earnhardt figured.

But as the competitive side took over and he realized he might actually win the race — he led a race-high 96 laps, after all — that happiness threatened to disappear.

As it turned out, Earnhardt didn’t win; a caution with 30 laps to go took away what seemed like a sure victory. One bad restart on the outside lane later, and he had to settle for a fourth-place finish.

But damn if he didn’t enjoy it.

“No expectations, no pressure, no points,” he said. “I could try any line I wanted. I could save the tires if I wanted to, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. I just felt a little more free.”

Earnhardt was asked about the last time he enjoyed himself this much in a race car. He thought for a moment, then replied: “When I was racing Late Models in the 90s, probably.”

There was a true sense of glee behind his smile Friday night. He didn’t just get out on the Richmond track, survive and make laps. Earnhardt proved to himself he still had his driving tools — even the peripheral vision and sense of where the other cars were, which he worried would be gone after a long layoff.

“The sport is elite, the drivers are elite,” he said. “This ain’t a hobby. You just can’t assume you’re going to miss eight months or 10 months and come right in here and win or run in the top five.

“I ran this race last year (while) racing in the Cup Series and I ran ninth or some shit. So it’s not easy to come in here and run well.”

But he did, and he also had enough fun to try it again sometime next year — perhaps again at Richmond or even Atlanta, he said. There’s just one catch: He wants to make sure his new job at NBC Sports is always the priority. And he felt a step behind with broadcasting on Friday because he was so focused on his own racing.

“Imagine (the racing media) showing up on race day without being here all weekend and trying to cover the race without all the knowledge you gain on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “That broadcast deal is something I want to work for a really long time, so I don’t want to take anything away from that.”

John Haverlin column: Ross Chastain dumped Kevin Harvick, but can you blame him?

By John Haverlin

Ross Chastain wouldn’t say whether he spun Kevin Harvick on purpose after the two made contact while racing for the lead in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington.

But it was pretty clear he did — and it was absolutely warranted.

Normally, Chastain competes with the lesser-funded JD Motorsports, and top-15 finishes are typically a good day for him. But Saturday was the first time he ran with a top-tier, Cup-affiliated organization — Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car — so the expectations were raised.

He lived up to them in the first 75 percent of the race, winning the first two stages after winning the pole. This was turning into a dream day for Chastain and had the potential to be one that launched his career to the next level.

But the incident with Harvick ruined all of that. What could have been the greatest race of Chastain’s life — and the biggest story of the Xfinity Series season — ended up with the Ganassi car finishing 25th.

With Chastain on the outside of Harvick’s No. 98 in Turn 2, Harvick pinched him into the fence. Then, going down the backstretch, Chastain turned left into Harvick’s quarterpanel and Harvick’s car ended up going nose-first into the outside wall.

Obviously, Chastain wants to prove he belongs in top-tier equipment. When Harvick pushed him against the fence, it’s understandable that Chastain would want to retaliate. His reaction was likely just a result of anger and frustration, so it’s hard to blame him.

Harvick was the one who initiated the contact and cost Chastain a chance to win in his first race with Ganassi. Chastain simply returned the favor to Harvick, who’s already a multi-time NASCAR champion with nothing to lose going for the win.

In addition to being a resume builder, a win for Chastain would have meant five playoff points and a guaranteed place in the series’ seven-race championship hunt.

Now Chastain potentially has only two races left to showcase his talent with Ganassi. The next two times he drives the No. 42 are probably the most important of his racing career.

That’s why it makes sense he retaliated immediately instead of waiting for another Xfinity start — or even a Cup race.

If Chastain — who drives for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series — wanted to make Harvick’s day difficult in the Southern 500, he certainly could.

But Chastain is mature enough to realize team owners want intelligent drivers who can see the bigger picture in their cars. So if he were to give Harvick a hard time on Sunday, it probably won’t do him any good.

12 Questions with Garrett Smithley (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Garrett Smithley of JD Motorsports. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I dream a lot in general. I’m actually fascinated with dreams.

How so?

I feel like it’s a gateway into a different realm. I don’t know — we’re getting deep here. But I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos (about dreams) and I think it’s cool. I wish I could go back and rewatch my dreams.

As for racing (dreams), I’d say 40 percent of the time. Before I was racing full time, I dreamed about it all the time. Now that I race full time, I don’t dream about it quite as much.

I have a recurring nightmare I’m not ready. I don’t have my helmet, I don’t have my stuff. I hate those dreams.

Do you think dreams mean something? Like they have messages?

I think sometimes. You can use them in your life. Different dreams have meaning, and I’ve looked some of those up — like when you dream you’re falling. I think they mean something.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Probably. A lot of drivers say it doesn’t matter if somebody apologizes. It actually happened a few races ago — somebody got into me and ended up wrecking us. He came over and apologized.

I think deep down you say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” but it does matter. Because this is such a mental sport. If you’re racing that guy, you’re going to say, “Well, he apologized, so…eh.”

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Probably that I belong. I don’t come from a racing background and I started late — when I was 15. I’ve always been told I wasn’t going to make it to this level. So when people say, “Man, you’re doing a good job. You belong here. You belong in a race car,” I think that’s a really good compliment.

4. NASCAR 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?

Can I have two answers for this? Any of the sharks from Shark Tank or Camila Cabello, because I have a crush on her.

Did you like Fifth Harmony before she left?

I didn’t know they were a thing, and then Camila Cabello did her own thing and I went back and listened. I was like, “Oh, this is Fifth Harmony. I get it. I understand.”

I used to like Ariana Grande, but now she’s like married to Pete Davidson or whatever.

That killed it for you?

Yeah. Like I don’t have a chance. They’re in love.

Well, if you’d been on Saturday Night Live, you could have had a shot.

I’m not funny like that. (Laughs)

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

No. If it was like for a month, maybe. I could eat some Chicken Alfredo. Wait, can I eat Alfredo?

Nope. That’s creamy sauce.

Oh my gosh. No. Absolutely not. Not even for a month. Sorry.

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 2016 Michigan Xfinity race. Do you happen to remember that one at all?

I was battling with Ryan Preece. I think we beat him by one spot. Uh…21st?

Nope. This was P17.

Seventeeth? Whoa! I need to give myself more credit!

You finished right behind Ross Chastain (his teammate) and ahead of Brendan Gaughan.

Brendan had some type of issue. I just didn’t think we finished that well. Seventeenth! Wow, sweet!

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Eminem. I’m not a huge rap fan, but yeah. Rap god.

Can I give a nod to Lil Dicky though? Because I really like Lil Dicky. I think he’s hilarious. He’s not the best, but he’s actually gotten me back into rap.

The music video for his song with Chris Brown is hilarious.

Oh yeah. “Freaky Friday.” All his stuff — “Save Dat Money,” “Pillow Talking.” “Save Dat Money” is my favorite.

I know he’s been around for a little while, but I just recently discovered him.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

(Laughs) How am I supposed to answer this? Well, I guess I could have another two-part answer, right?

Myself, I would want to punch somebody I could fight. Tyler Reddick is pretty short, so I could fight him.

You’d have a chance?

I feel like I’d have a chance with Reddick. I like Tyler, but I feel like we could fight. It’d be a good fight. I’m not a fighter though.

But if we’re looking at past situations, with people wanting to punch somebody, probably Brad (Keselowski), right?

It seems like he comes up a lot.

I like Brad. I wouldn’t punch Brad — he’s never made me mad. But if you look at stats-wise who has the most punchable face in NASCAR — like a Racing Reference for punches — that’d be it, right?

9. NASCAR 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 spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Well, Taylor is going to be the motorhome driver. So, yeah. She’s pretty cool. She can sing me songs when I have a bad race and come back to the motorhome.

LeBron is a champion, so I feel like he’d be crew chief. Because he knows how to get it done.

And then Tom Hanks — if I could have Woody (from Toy Story) spotting for me, that would be awesome. Woody or Captain Phillips or Forrest Gump. I could be like, “This car SUCKS, LeBron! What are you doing?” And Tom could just be like, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

I feel like we could make a whole race Radioactive with Tom Hanks up there. Let’s do it.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

This is a problem in NASCAR. I want every track to listen to your podcast. We need drivers’ bathrooms — like three or four or five of them right where our cars are.

A lot of people don’t like port-o-potties. I like port-o-potties because they’re private, you can get away, meditate. I think Watkins Glen is one of the tough ones. Some tracks are good — you’ve got to scout them out — because right off the truck, I’m going to the bathroom. I’ve never peed in my seat. Seriously, if there aren’t port-o-potties, you have to make sure you know where you’re going before driver intros.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

They’d have to give me lessons. I can backflip off the boat into the water.

Do you make it?

I mean, yeah. So last year, Harrison Rhodes was racing with us. He has a boat out on Badin Lake. We did a lake day with me, him and Ross — team bonding. And he’s got this two-level dock, and he said, “Hey, do a gainer.” That’s where you run to the end of the dock and do backflip. So I look over the edge — I had some “courage” in my bloodstream at that point — and said, “I’m just going to do it. Screw it.” So I start running and get to the end of the dock. But instead of keeping running, I stop and then do the flip — and I back-flopped. I was so sore — my back was red for days. It was awful.

So NASCAR would have to make sure I went and did lessons, paid for the lessons and if I get hurt, pay for the medical bills. I’m good with that.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with William Byron. His question for you was: Do you do iRacing, and how much does it help or hurt you?

I still do it. I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to. In the offseason, I’ll do it quite a bit because I’ll go crazy when I’m not in a race car.

It helps, especially for road courses — ahead of Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America, I’ll be on there doing a whole lot of it. It doesn’t hurt. Even going to an oval, you can’t get that seat-of-your-pants feel, but you get that visual. (It helps with) coming to pit road, exiting pit road, the bumps are mapped. I don’t think iRacing has ever hurt me inside the race car.

But I will tell a funny story really quick. I ran my first Truck race in 2015 at Atlanta with Mittler Brothers. The way I have my wheel mapped (in the game), I have paddle shifters to look left or right. I was going down the backstretch (in real life), and I looked right, but I went to hit my paddle to look right. (Laughs) Because to that point, I had only ever done NASCAR on iRacing. I looked, but I instinctively went to hit a paddle. I’m like, “I’m an idiot! Why did I just do that?”

I hope people don’t make fun of me for that.

Do you have a question I might be able to ask for the next interview? It will be with a sprint car driver.

What was the first time they ever got into a 410 sprint car and how long did it take them to get up to speed?

Brad Sweet answered Smithley’s question in his 12 Questions interview, which you can read here.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Garrett Smithley:

March 8, 2017

12 Questions with Kaz Grala (2018)

Kaz Grala has three top-10 finishes in seven Xfinity races since teaming with Fury Race Cars. (Getty Images photo)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Kaz Grala, the Xfinity Series driver who is now with Fury Race Cars after starting the year with JGL Racing. Grala’s playoff hopes recently came to an end after he missed the Kentucky race due to a lack of sponsorship, but the team is hoping to find funding for the rest of the season and beyond.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I’m not much of a dreamer — literally. I don’t dream much. But I don’t think there’s ever a time I’m not thinking about racing. Even when I’m not racing, I’m doing it online like a total geek or something. So my whole life is racing. That’s all I’ve got.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

I feel like yes. If someone gets into me, especially if it looks intentional, I do appreciate an apology. It won’t fix anything, and I still probably owe them one, but I do appreciate the gesture. So I like to at least give people the satisfaction if it’s intentional. If it’s not, then they can deal with it.

You said you still owe them one either way. So does it change the degree of how bad you owe them if they’ve apologized?

Yes, I think the way you handle an incident afterward completely dictates what the ongoing trouble is between the two of you.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I guess the biggest compliment someone could give me is just saying they respect the way I race. I try to race guys the way I would want to be raced, whether that’s from a contact perspective or just common courtesy on the racetrack. I think you have to race everyone as hard as you can, but everyone in the garage knows there are a certain number of things you can do that are just not cool to do to someone else, so I try to avoid those things. If someone says they enjoy racing around me, I take that as a good compliment.

4. NASCAR 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 a big fan of the Migos’ music, and I didn’t realize that they were at the race at California and I was pretty mad that I didn’t get to see them. I had no idea they were there until after the fact. So I wish I could get to meet them and lead them around.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

No. Not a chance.

You love your meat and cheese?

Yes. Vegetarian, maybe, because you can just overload on some pasta and some cheese — which you cannot deny is amazing. But if you’re taking cheese out of the equation, then it’s a no-go for me.

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 Loudon K&N race. Do you remember this at all?

Yes. Started sixth, finished third?

Started sixth, finished third! Wow.

Sweet.

That’s pretty amazing. This is a race that William Byron dominated pretty much, but you were able to move up.

So it was just a regular race in 2015. (Laughs) But I remember that one specifically because that was my home race, of course. I tend to remember the Loudon races.

7. Who is the best rapper alive? Oh wait, you just said you’re into rap with Migos.

Yeah, we actually covered that, but another good one that I can give you is I’m a big 21 Savage fan.

So you definitely like the new school guys.

Yeah. I’m more of a new school guy in everything. Everyone’s into these old vintage cars, the old music. I can attest to the fact that I’m totally into the new stuff only. No matter what it’s about.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

This is always a good question to read the responses of on your website. The problem with this question is there is no politically correct answer, so I’m just going have to go with, of course, my good friend Justin Haley because I think he would do me the honor of giving me the answer to that question himself.

He would like to punch you, so therefore you’ll just say him?

Yeah, we just like to give each other crap back and forth. So he’s got it coming.

9. NASCAR 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 spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

So our spotter is probably Taylor Swift because she’s got a pretty good voice. Then what are the other jobs?

Crew chief and motorhome driver between LeBron and Tom Hanks.

OK, I’m going to go with LeBron as motorhome driver because I think it sounds like it would be pretty fun to hang out with him.

And Tom Hanks is more of a serious guy. Like you’ve got to be serious to be the crew chief — you’ve got a job to do. So he’ll be the crew chief.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

That is important. You always have to eye out the closest port-o-potty or bathroom before driver intros because you have to make a stop there before the race. And some tracks do not make that easy for you. There’s been times I’ve missed the first word of the national anthem because I’m on my way back from the bathroom.

But I wish tracks would make that easier for you. They need to put port-o-potties where they’re gonna grid the cars because anytime that there is a port-o-potty nearby, you’ll see five drivers lined up before opening ceremonies to be in it. It’s important.

I did a interview with Denny Hamlin in the last 12 questions, and he was the first driver all year to go, “No, you don’t need port-o-potties, just go before you walk out to intros.” He didn’t understand why drivers need to wait until the last minute. Why does everybody wait?

For me, at least at some races, the particularly hot ones, I hydrate like crazy for the three days before. So I may go before intros, but I’m going to need to go after intros still. It’s either that or in the car, and the car is not a pleasant time to do it, so I’m going to try to squeeze it in before I get into the car.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

Not that much, just the medical bills. I don’t think I’d survive it. I’m not coordinated, nor do I have any balance, so I don’t think it would go well. But hey, if they cover the medical expenses, I’d try it.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with Denny Hamlin. He wanted to know: What’s the most disappointing loss you’ve ever had in your career?

The most disappointing race for me was Pocono ARCA last year. Going into that race, I had never in my career started on the pole of a race and lost. And I qualified on the pole for the ARCA race there and led the first half of it.

This was technically my second ARCA start, but my first was at Daytona so I’d like to say this was my first “regular” ARCA race. I was not aware of the restart rules — or lack thereof — and started on the front row with Justin Haley. He was well aware of them and we get within 100 yards of the box and he is gone and bringing guys with him, and I settled into fourth and was never able to climb my way back to the front and lost that race.

He knows that I’m still bitter about that because every time I’m at his house, he makes sure to put that eagle trophy in a different spot right in front of me.

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

Two-part question: Do they know anyone who can sponsor me, and if not, do they have a backup car they are willing to lend me, because I’d like to get to do as many more races this year as possible, and right now this (Daytona) is the last one we’ve got planned. So I hope that I can do more this year. (Editor’s note: Although Grala wasn’t able to find funding for Kentucky, he raced last weekend at New Hampshire.)


This is the first 12 Questions with Kaz Grala.

12 Questions with Christopher Bell (2018)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Christopher Bell, the Chili Bowl champion, Camping World Truck Series champion and current Xfinity Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed for those who would rather read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I haven’t dreamed about racing in a while. As a kid, I used to always have nightmares that I wouldn’t be ready in time. I don’t know why, but I would always have nightmares that I would miss my heat race at the Chili Bowl or something. Like I wasn’t dressed in time and the next thing you know, your heat race or the feature’s pushing off and you’re trying to get in your car. I would have those dreams quite frequently whenever I was a kid. Recently, I haven’t dreamed too much about racing.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

If you intentionally wreck someone, then there’s no need to apologize. If it’s an accident and you really didn’t mean to do it, I think you need to make that effort to connect with him. Generally, if I accidentally get into someone, I guess I don’t go immediately because everybody’s still wound up from the race. But within a couple hours, I’ll reach out and try to talk to him.

Like via text?

Yeah.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Honestly, this is gonna sound weird, but growing up and following (Kyle) Larson’s footsteps, the biggest compliment that people have given me is when they compare me to Larson, because he’s the greatest race car driver I’ve seen. And so for people to have me and him in the same conversation, it’s pretty cool.

4. NASCAR 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?

I don’t know. I don’t really follow too much of the celebrity scene I guess, but recently, I just watched Ride Along and get a good laugh out of Kevin Hart, so that’d be kind of cool.

He’d be fun to hang out with at the track.

Yeah. He’d make you laugh, anyway.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR 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?

No. I live on meat, so there’s no way.

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.

I’ll be good at this.

You have good memory?

Yes.

Then I probably didn’t go hard enough because I was like, “There’s not enough NASCAR races to where you would probably remember most of the NASCAR races.”

If you picked a dirt race in 2013, I’d tell you where I finished.

Well let’s see. Where did you finish in the 2014 Belleville Nationals feature?

Second. No, third. No, sorry, fourth. I think it was, Rico (Abreu) won, I finished fourth.

You did finish fourth.

Sorry, it was ’15 when I finished second to (Bryan) Clauson.

How do you have such a good memory for a race? I can’t even remember races from this year.

I don’t know, man. That’s just something that I’ve always had. For the most part, you can tell me any race and I’ll be able to tell you where I finished and pretty much how the race went. I remember at Belleville in 2014, the dash is what lines you up in the feature, and I think me and Rico were running first and second in the dash and I thought I had a flat tire, so I pulled in. So I finished last in the dash which was sixth or eighth, and I didn’t have a flat, so I felt really dumb and my confidence was beat down. Keith (Kunz) the car owner was mad at me because I pulled in and didn’t have anything wrong with the car. And then I started in the back, and couldn’t make our way up through there.

Wow. But you got to fourth.

Yeah, I did get to fourth, so that was OK.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Eminem.

He’s got a long track record.

When I was a kid, I used to love listening to Eminem and I could actually pretty much rap or sing most of his songs word for word.

Even now if it’s on the radio?

I lose some parts of it, but yeah, if the right song comes on.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Oh man. (Pauses) The driver in the number 60 car has wrecked me a couple of times.

They have rotating drivers.

Yeah, I think we know which one it is.

9. NASCAR 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 spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Taylor Swift, motorhome driver.

Just to be fun to hang out with?

Yeah, she looks good, too. So we’ve got Tom Hanks and LeBron for spotter and crew chief? I guess I’d have to put LeBron on the spotter stand and that leaves Tom on the pit box.

You feel like Tom’s leadership is gonna help steer your team in the right direction there?

Yeah, I don’t see LeBron being a crew chief.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

That’s (public relations representative) Donald (Edwards’) job, man. He’s always scoping it out for me. Sometimes they’re tough to come by. There’s a lot of these racetracks that we go to and it sucks. Like, that’s a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem. Port-o-pissers on pit road is a must-have. You’ve gotta have them.

You gotta wait in line sometimes?

Yeah. I’m trying to think…where did we go that’s bad recently? Vegas. We had like five or six drivers lined up in Vegas waiting to go into the port-a-potty. It’s an issue. It’s a real issue.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

I think they just need to give Daniel Hemric a different tapered spacer and it’d come back. (Smiles) No, Daniel has been doing it ever since I can remember, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to win in NASCAR. So there’s a guy out there that will do it if he ever wins, and he will win at some point. That’s not for me.

He says he can do it standing flat-footed on the ground. Do you think that’s true?

I’ve seen him do it, so yeah.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Kyle Larson. His question was, “What year will you win your first World of Outlaws championship?”

That’s a great question. So I’m in Xfinity now. The hard part is you don’t know how long your NASCAR career’s gonna last. And then after you’re done with your NASCAR career, do you have the opportunity to go Outlaw racing? But that’s a dream of mine.

I’m 23 now. I would say 50 is too old to win an Outlaw championship. So, maybe, hopefully by 20 years from now…that would be ’38, right? 2038? Hopefully by 2038 I’m an Outlaw champion.

So you have a long enough NASCAR career, but you don’t want to get too old to where you’re not competitive.

Exactly.

You have to find the right window there. I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, so do you have a question I can ask another driver in general?

I guess just, “What drives you? Why do you go race?”

Making sense of the crazy Xfinity Series race at Daytona

A few thoughts after the 100th race under the “Xfinity” Series banner…

— Whoa! We’ll remember that one for awhile. The first two-thirds of the race were completely wild, with Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott swapping the lead and throwing insane blocks on each other.

Then, the race got clunky and borderline comical with a rash of yellows — including a Big One and a record five overtimes.

To top it all off, Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler ran side-by-side to the finish and ended up in a near-tie, with Reddick winning the closest finish in NASCAR history!

“That was insane,” Reddick said. “I guess (the winning side-draft) was just enough and just soon enough.”

— So, about that margin of victory. The official number was 0.000, but that’s only because NASCAR’s scoring only goes to the thousandth of a second. But there had never been a margin that close since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.

“That’s, like, a tie, am I right?” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owned the cars of the top two finishers. “Either way, fine with me.”

The previous closest finish had been in a 1995 Truck Series race at Colorado National Speedway. The famous Kurt Busch/Ricky Craven finish at Darlington in 2003 had a .002 margin of victory.

— Before all the chaos, the race was shaping up to be one of the best restrictor-plate races ever.

That’s because of the ballsy moves and blocks being thrown by Elliott, Logano and Larson that made it look like they were going to wreck the whole field at any moment.

Earnhardt gave some insight into their thinking after the race.

“All of them out there feel like they’re the best plate racer that’s ever lived and they drive in that fashion,” he said. “If someone is leading the race and you’re not, it’s almost an insulting thing. The comfort in those (Xfinity) cars allows those guys to be more aggressive.”

— There’s still some confusion on the bump-drafting rule in the Xfinity and Truck Series. Drivers were warned in their pre-race meeting with NASCAR not to lock bumpers “in order to advance your position,” and Sadler interpreted that as meaning “to pass.”

But NASCAR black-flagged both Sadler and Elliott when they locked bumpers at one point — this despite not passing a car at the time.

“I’ve got a misunderstanding of the rule,” Sadler said. “I thought you couldn’t lock bumpers to gain a position.”

Sadler said he needs to get a clarification, because if they wanted to enforce it the way he was penalized, then “You could black-flag every single car in the field.”

— Despite six Cup Series drivers being in the race — and dominating much of it — the top seven finishers (and 10 of the top 11) ultimately turned out to be Xfinity Series regulars.

That’s fitting, considering Xfinity was promoting its 100th race as series sponsor.

“It’s ‘Names Are Made Here,’ right?” Reed said. “I think this is a testament to that being true.”

Though Cup drivers are restricted more than ever this year in their Xfinity participation, this seemed like one race a Cup guy would win. So in that sense, the season is off to a good start.

— The five overtimes were likely the most in NASCAR history for a national series race.

“Was it only five? I thought it felt like a dozen,” fourth-place finisher Kaz Grala said.

When NASCAR began the green-white-checkered rule in 2004, there was only one attempt. Then it was expanded to three attempts in 2010 and stayed that way until 2016, when the GWC rule was converted to “overtime” with the overtime line.

After the overtime line was moved to the start/finish line last year, the rule was changed to allow for unlimited attempts. But that hadn’t really occurred in any race until Saturday, when the overtime periods kept piling up.

— The race was 357.5 miles long, which was the second-longest race in Xfinity/Busch/Grand National Series history. Only the 1985 Miller 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was longer distance-wise.