At it’s heart, auto racing is a thinking man’s sport, not a poor man’s sport, not a Skoal dippin’, Dorito-eatin’ man’s sport as Americans have been foolishly led to believe. The mechanics behind fielding an automobile are enough to impress a NASA physicist, not to even mention the cost. NASCAR is no exception. It’s the second most watched sport for a reason:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oIqkaZU8sY&feature=related
Team BYT recently headed down to Martinsville, Virginia to get in on the racing action. Despite calls for crappy weather, we drove seven hours, almost to North Carolina, to bring you a day in the life of a NASCAR race.
Here’s the thing, though: NASCAR answers to a higher calling. Doppler. And when Doppler calls for a high chance of precipitation, you can feel the collective hearts of 65,000 racing fans sink down into their stomachs. Just as G.W.A.R. does not joust, NASCAR does NOT race in the rain. There are a number of reasons for this. At the point where Old Man Doppler gets involved, the race becomes a waiting game.
So you wait for the rain to fall. And when the rain falls, you wait some more. And the crowd waits with you. They come prepared for this, though. They’ve got parkas emblazoned with Jeff Gordon’s likeness and Jimmy Johnson Ponchos. And for the ladies there are Danica Patrick-branded umbrellas. NASCAR’s got you prepared for just such a weather-related delay. They are like the FEMA of motor-sports.
And the pit crew wait, too. Which is probably not such a monotonous dilemma. They’ve got all the Red Bull they can drink (if they’re on team Red Bull), and one can probably swap any leftover Amp or Red Bull or Monster Energy drink for the other teams’ leftover Cheerios or Coke or Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. There’s gotta be a black market for Sponsor Swag on the NASCAR circuit. We just feel bad for the Bass Pro Shops crew. What are you gonna trade with?
So we wait, and they wait. And if they’re lucky they might catch a few minutes of shut-eye…
Hell, even the firemen wait. Word from above is pointing to no fires today.
And finally, the drivers wait. These guys just want to race, so the frustration must run pretty thick as the storm clouds darken the sky. They seem patient enough, but beneath the calm exterior there runs a rushing current of angst and anticipation that can only be calmed by getting behind the wheel of the car and driving it 200 miles an hour.
So while we waited we wandered amongst crew and drivers and tried to get a feel for what it’s like traveling around the country, setting up shop and driving fast cars for the fans. We caught up with Italy’s Max Papis, a racing veteran who has raced just about every type of car…
BYT: Can we get a few minutes of your time?
Max Papis: Sure. What do you wanna talk? Do you guys just wanna talk a little bit?
BYT: How long have you been racing over here?
Max Papis: You mean my NASCAR adventure? I start racing, basically, 2004 was the first time I tested a (cup) car and I was a test driver for Hendick for 6 years. And I worked on the development of this car for Hendricks Motorsports for four years. And after I started having some roadcourse opportunity for NASCAR. And after that I got more and more racing opportunity until I got the opportunity to drive for Geico Racing and the opportunity to drive Sprint Cup car this year. So it’s just basically one of the few things left in my career, I’ve raced everything else that you can race, from racing go-carts when i was a young kid to do all the (ladder series?) to racing Formula One when I was in Europe to come over here driving the (Indy) 500, LeMans 24 Hour, [12 Hours of] Sebring. You know, driving the ChampCar, IndyCar and now this is the last chapter of my career.
BYT: So you’ve done it all, what’s your favorite type of racing?
Max Papis: There’s not really favorite type of racing. I don’t really have a favorite car or anything like that, you know, what I do enjoy most is the people involved in the business. And I really enjoy that people are racing, not racecars are racing. I think it’s the right mix between cars and machines and people.
BYT: Do you like the traveling around? Does it wear on you?
Max Papis: Traveling has been part of my life since when I was 16 years old I was in Australia, racing go-karts. Lived in Japan, lived in England, lived in Germany. I’ve been traveling everywhere around the world to achieve my dreams and my goals and I’d have to say that traveling has been something special in my career because I’ve gotten to see things and places that I would have never known otherwise.
**At this time the NASCAR Jet Dryer came around the track near where we were speaking with Max and drowned out what he was saying. The Jet Dryer is pretty much a jet engine mounted sideways on the back of a pickup truck that is driven slowly around the track. It is quite possibly one of the loudest things you’ll ever hear.
BYT: So it looks like the rain is going to be pretty heavy today, do you think they’re going to cancel [the race]?
Max Papis: I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re gonna race today. They’re trying their best to keep the track warm so that the track is gonna be somehow doable when the race is gonna start but I doubt.
BYT: So if that’s the case then you race tomorrow?
Max Papis: Yeah, you definitely race tomorrow. But, I’m kind of envision a place like this, I kind of would like to see a great architect or someone thinking about a place like this and do like a soccer stadium that opens and closes. I think that will be the next generation of short track. That would be something very special. It’s actually not that far from soccer stadiums, just a little bit bigger.
BYT: How many laps do they do on this short course?
Max Papis: It’s a 500 lap race. Each event is different. They only run 200 laps at Daytona. 200 or 250. You could put this (Martinsville) track in the middle of Daytona and still have space to run.
BYT: So you’ve been given the nickname ‘Mad’ Max, I’ve seen that around, is that something that you embrace?
Max Papis: Mad Max is my personality. I’m all out. It came about in 1996 when I came to America and I was racing for Ferrari and I was hard charging and I was (field from the front. They didn’t know much about me and they’re like ‘that guy is driving like Mad Max’. Not because I’m a guy who is crazy or upset, just I’m a guy who’s all in.
BYT: How dangerous is this sport? It seems as if, since the beginning of the sport, that the crashes have always been a big part.
Max Papis: I can tell you guys that it’s more dangerous to drive on the 77 highway than it is to drive in my car. The enacted safety on the car is huge. And of course they drive the shit out of it. Like in every sport you’re gonna reach your limit and sometimes you go above your limit and things happen and… you know. And that’s not what you want but…
BYT: It seems as though you’ve entered into a racing family [Max is married to Tatiana Fittipaldi, daughter of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi]. Are your kids gonna grow up racing, do you think?
Max Papis: (Pauses for a long while) My kids. The only thing that I want them to do, I want them to see the determination and the will that it took for me to arrive where I am. And I would not encourage them to become race car drivers because I only know the effort that it took for me to arrive here. There are a lot of other guys that never made it and maybe they even had more talent than me, but maybe they had less talent in other departments. I’m just encouraging my kids to understand that life is full of opportunity, and it’s up to you to realize which one is the one that you like.
BYT: NASCAR’s the biggest stage, there’s only like 40 drivers, it’s not like Major League Baseball where there’s hundreds or thousands of players.
Max Papis: That’s exactly it, what you’re saying. Here there is not a second chance to throw the second serve like in tennis. There are no second serves. There is always the last second throw in football. There is always the last second Michael Jordan shot in basketball. It’s a very cut throat sport but the opportunity to arrive at a top level, there are not many.
BYT: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Max Papis.
Max Papis: Likewise, thank you.
Squeezing down the corridor between the Cheerios trailer and the Aflac trailer and wouldn’t you know it, we almost tripped over Tony Stewart being interviewed by Fox Sports. Here was the big chance. Scoring an interview with Tony would be like talking with David Beckham or Andre Agassi or playing pool with the ‘Black Widow’.
Rain delays do strange things to ordinary men. The idle time of the waiting game had me almost hallucinating. It wasn’t boredom, because there was a lot to do and see. Perhaps it was the anticipation of the race. You find yourself needing to hear those engines fire up, you’re begging Doppler and the rain gods to give the track officials on high some sort of sign, a ray of light, a rainbow, anything. Would the race start? Would it be cancelled? I ended up closing my eyes and imagining myself working for Fox Sports.
But Fox Sports couldn’t and wouldn’t engage Tony in the type of ‘pull-no-punches’ questioning that readers have come to expect from BYT. So scratch that, I imagined myself hijacking a Fox Sports camera crew, stealing a microphone and fancy blue ‘Nascar on Fox’ jacket and elbowing my way into an interview with Tony Stewart for BYT. In my mind’s eye, the Stewart interview would go a little something like this…
***So we don’t get sued by NASCAR, this is a fabricated interview, it never took place***
BYT: Tony, if we could just get a minute of your time to talk about sponsorships.
Tony Stewart: Sure, always happy to talk about corporate sponsorships and product placement. In fact, there’s really nothing that I’d rather speak about with my fans or the media. How do you like my jacket?
BYT: You’re working with Office Depot these days, they’re one of your biggest sponsors. The question on everyone’s mind: Inkjet printers. Would you be inclined to go with Lexmark or Epson?
Tony Stewart: Oh, without a doubt, Lexmark. Office Depot, where I spend a lot of my time when I’m not racing, has this Lexmark™ X5650 Color Inkjet All-In-One Printer/Copier/Scanner/Fax Machine which is just a God-send. As you can probably imagine, I’m pretty interested in office supplies, and this baby is top of the line. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to compare the X5650 to my ‘number 14’ Sprint Cup car. They’ve both got that winning combination of design and aesthetic.
BYT: And as far as toner cartridges?
Tony Stewart: No comment. I have no comment on toner cartridges.
BYT: Okay, that’s weird. I gotta ask another question, because I’ve been wondering. It’s not a coincidence that you always have the Coca Cola label facing directly out for full view of the logo when you drink it during interviews, is it?
Tony Stewart: No. No, it’s not. But I do really love Coca Cola products. I don’t even drink water. Hate the stuff. I can say with full confidence that I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the refreshing taste of Coca Cola driving me to the finish line. Coke Is It. Always Coca Cola.
BYT: Uhh, Tony, those are Coca Cola slogans from 1982 and 1993, respectively. Their newest slogan is ‘Open Happiness’.
Tony Stewart: Yeah, I’m not on board with that one. I take Coca Cola too seriously for that sappy bullshit. Coke is it.
BYT: What about your Old Spice sponsorship? I haven’t really worn the stuff since I was all out of ‘CK One’ in high school and had to borrow a dab of my dad’s brand before a hot date. Old Spice has come a long way since then. Your thoughts on their brand diversification?
Tony Stewart: Let’s get something straight. Old Spice single-handedly invented odor protection back in the 1930’s. They didn’t need to diversify their product line. For 60 years they were selling more of their little buoy-shaped bottles of cologne and aftershave than you can shake a frickin’ stick at. You know why? Great advertising. And brilliant marketing strategies.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtrBZOyYJBM&feature=related
Tony Stewart: So along comes Procter & Gamble in the 90’s and buys up Old Spice from Shulton and expands the brand from, like three products, to over thirty. Like I was saying, though, it’s not about selling more product, they sell enough as it is. It’s about fighting odor. These guys at Procter & Gamble are seriously committed to fighting odor the same way in which I’m committed to racing cars. We should all be thanking them for their dedication. In fact, I’d like to be the first to go on record to publicly thank Old Spice and the generous folks at P & G for everything they’ve done to combat odor and perspiration.
BYT: Your knowledge of the products that you represent is vast and all-encompassing, Mr. Stewart, it’s quite impressive. Are you a connoisseur of the Old Spice line of deodorants?
Tony Stewart: Actually, nobody has ever asked me about this before. It’s interesting, I’m actually more of a body spray kinda guy. I really do enjoy their ‘Swagger’ and ‘Afterhours’ body sprays. And it’s not even because I’m contractually obligated to wear at least two Old Spice products before any public appearance, either. I genuinely enjoy the way Old Spice makes me smell. And feel. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I race better when I’m wearing Old Spice.
Tony Stewart: I’m not kidding. I was wearing Old Spice Aftershave when I won the ‘Coke Zero 400’ race in Daytona in 2009.
BYT: Yeah, but you won that race because Kyle Busch had a horrible wreck that you were controversially involved in.
Tony Stewart: Close your eyes and imagine if I hadn’t been wearing ‘the Spice’, though. Things could have turned out completely different.
BYT: Thanks for your time, Tony Stewart.
Tony Stewart: Always.
As we parted ways with Tony Stewart, we received word that the race had been rained out and would be postponed until the next day. A Monday. Our cursed bosses weren’t going to give us a Monday off to watch motor-sports, so we headed back to DC with schemes to attend the next regional race: Richmond on May 1st. And the one after that: Dover, Delaware on May 15th.
A little rain isn’t going to to get in the way of the NASCAR dream. We’ll be back soon with some actual racing pictures, but in the meantime, Toyota is letting you design your own car. Check it out…