USA TODAY US Edition
Racing on ovals easy call
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Paul Menard, who qualified for his first career Chase for the Sprint Cup last weekend at Richmond International Raceway. He spoke with USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck:
Q: If NASCAR allowed you to listen to music while you were racing, would you want to?
A: I’ve tried it at Daytona testing, and I thought it would be pretty easy there because you’re just wide open by yourself. But it actually wasn’t, so I never tried it again. I thought it would just be cool to have music going in your left ear and the (team) radio going in your right ear, but it was actually too confusing, so I stopped. I tried it, and it did not work.
Q: Where did your first paycheck come from?
A: From Menards. I was probably 10 years old and making minimum wage, which was $3.25 an hour. They put me in the accounts receivable department, and I was stapling rebates. People would buy something at the store with a mail-in rebate, and it all shows up in this room. So I worked there with a bunch of adults who directed me, and I just sat there and stapled rebates for hours.
Q: That doesn’t sound like too much fun.
A: Well, this was a long time ago. But you had to match the receipts with the rebates, so there was a little bit of numbers involved. It was not that complicated for a 10-year-old, though.
Q: Whose autograph did you get as a kid that seemed to be a big deal to you at the time?
A: I still have this hat, actually — it’s one of our old Team Menard racing hats. I tried to get every driver in the Indy 500 on it, and I got a couple years’ worth of autographs on it. We’d go down to Indianapolis for the 500, qualifying, Pole Day, Carburetion Day, and the drivers were always going back and forth between the garage and pit road. If I saw one I didn’t have on my hat, I’d just go ask him — if I could get to him.
The one I always wanted that was hardest to get at the time was Mario Andretti, and I finally got him at Road America years later — I was still carrying the hat around with me.
Q: Where’s a place you’ve never been that you’d like to go visit?
A: I’ve never been to the Alps in Europe. I’d love to ski the Alps sometime in Austria or northern Italy or somewhere like that.
Q: Do people ever accuse you of being addicted to your phone?
A: No. I mean, I’m on it — but when I’m on it, I’m reading emails or reading the news, and I don’t really use it for anything else. I check the news every morning.
Q: So you don’t lurk on social media or anything like that?
A: No. I have — I’ve gone on Twitter and things if there’s something going on. But for the most part, no.
Q: If a genie promised you a championship in exchange for never being able to do your favorite hobby again, would you accept that offer?
A: I’ve got a lot of hobbies, so I could give up one of them.
Q: What’s your preferred method of dealing with an angry driver after a race?
A: Talk to them face-to-face or call them. If all else fails, text. But I always try to get them face-toface first.
Like at Darlington, I spun out David Ragan and it was totally unintentional — 100% my fault.
As soon as I got back after the race, I called him. He didn’t answer, so I sent him a long text message. And we wound up texting quite a bit the next day. So I think we’re all good now.
Q: Do you ever get mistaken for another driver or celebrity?
A: It used to be David Stremme a lot, and he always got confused for me, too. But not so much anymore.
Q: Would you rather have the ability to fly or be invisible?
A: Fly, I think. Being invisible would be cool and would definitely have its upside, but flying would let you get a lot more done and would be a lot more practical.
Q: I’ve been asking each person to give me a question for the next interview. The last interview was with Jeff Gordon, and he wanted to know if it was a tough decision for you to go the stock car route since the Menards’ history was in open-wheel racing.
A: Well, I’m not really sure there was ever a conscious decision to do it.
Where I grew up in west-central, northwest Wisconsin, there were a ton of short tracks and a lot of Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night racing.
I started racing when I was 8, but I didn’t run my first oval race until I was 16. Before that, it was all go-karts and ice racing. But my cousin and I went to Minneapolis and got two Legend cars, then went to Golden Sands (Speedway) in Plover, Wis. We showed up — I’d never been on an oval track — and got our (expletive) kicked.
We wound up winning races toward the end of the year, though.
But with Legend cars, we could race four or five nights a week if we wanted. We could just race so much more on ovals, I’m not sure there was ever a decision to do it.
Q: And do you have a question I can ask the next driver?
A: I actually thought about this one (in advance): How many ounces of water do you drink in the car during a typical race weekend? Landon Cassill and I were talking about that, and I’m kind of curious to see what people say.
Q: Why, do you drink a lot?
A: I drink more than I thought, yeah. After adding it up after Indianapolis and then at Darlington, it’s close to a gallon.