Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Marks, who drives for Turn One Racing. Full disclosure: Marks attended elementary school (in Los Altos, Calif.) with the interviewer.
SBN: People probably don't realize you were the test dummy, so to speak, for this year's version of the 12 Questions. And I think you suggested a couple of these yourself. So hopefully none of them will surprise you too much.
JM: That's OK if they do. I'm not scared.
SBN: Alright, here we go. Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
JM: I'm going to give you somewhat of a complicated answer. I can't give you one person because I haven't raced enough of these guys in truly equal situations to be able to have an opinion on this in terms of narrowing it down to one person.
But there are guys who I've raced with that have had chances and, for whatever reason, haven't been able to turn those opportunities into careers that are good enough to be at the top of the game. There are guys like Chad McCumbee and Jeremy Clements – these are guys that I've raced against and I've seen so much talent and they've just never been able to be in the right situation and the right time to take advantage of it.
Success in this sport is all based on timing and luck and being in the right place at the right time. There are so many variables in the equation that have to line up perfectly to make an entire career out of it. I've seen guys race with intelligence and race craft and skill that has really, really impressed me and I've thought it was unfortunate that they weren't getting more of a chance and more of an opportunity to run at the top levels.
I think Josh Wise is in that group. I think Michael McDowell is in that group. I've raced some of these guys at the ARCA level and watched them, with their own small teams, destroy guys in ARCA that had already signed Cup deals and were already on their way up.
Like Jeremy, he did it to everybody at Nashville; Chad McCumbee did it at Nashville and Pocono. I mean, they just worked guys – and the other guys were drivers who went on to have successful careers because their destinies were already paved for them – because (Clements and McCumbee) were trying to prove what they were capable of doing at the ARCA level.
SBN: What's a race that bugs you in your career because you didn't win it but felt like you should have?
JM: Frank Kimmel passing me on the last lap at Milwaukee in ARCA, 2007. I went on to win an ARCA race, but it was at a road course. And with road-course racing being my background, I didn't necessarily take the pride in it that I would have taken racing on an oval – because I didn't come up racing ovals.
That's just one I play back in my mind a lot, because it was right at the time where I had a couple people looking at me for possible opportunities in the future, and I think that if I could have done something different and held him off, things might have been a little bit different for me.
But more than anything, no one wants to get passed on the last lap, you know?
SBN: Let's say you're going to be in Sprint Cup. You're on a four-car team – you and three other guys. Who would you want your three teammates to be?
JM: Jamie. And...
SBN: How come?
JM: Because I like Jamie.
SBN: Oh, OK.
JM: I would want Jamie, I would want Michael McDowell and Jimmie Johnson. And I'll tell you why.
I think Jimmie is the total package. I think he's a very intelligent, a very classy and a very, very talented race car driver. I think he epitomizes every requirement there is in this age of racing that we live in to be the best in the sport. And I think he's got a lot people can learn from.
Other than that, Michael is a good friend of mine who I think deserves an opportunity, and I've gotten to know Jamie a little bit through the karting stuff. Aside from Jimmie, I'd pick two guys with Cup experience who are just really good people and who appreciate their opportunities and have the talent to get it done.
SBN: When you were coming up through the ranks, what driver did you want to model yourself after?
JM: When I was young, I was always more a fan of the sport and the competition than anybody in particular. But from a young age, I've always always idolized the guys that raced and helped build the sport. The guys that raced on the beach (in Daytona). The guys that raced in Formula One's golden era – guys like Graham Hill and Jimmy Stewart and Juan Manuel Fangio. Guys like Mario (Andretti) and A.J. (Foyt).
There's something about guys who raced every week and put their lives on the line every week for a passion that I felt was really, really pure and I think is sort of missing from today. So those guys have always been the ones I looked up to.
I've never really had any modern idols, because I've always had sort of a magic and a nostalgia about the guys who raced back when it wasn't glamorous and it was very dangerous – and that created a type of athlete and personality that I don't think exists in the sport today.
SBN: Drivers seem to bolt from the racetrack after the checkered flag to beat the traffic. What's a memorable post-race escape you've made?
JM: Well, when we left Las Vegas, I had a bunch of my friends with me. And we just drove across the open desert to get out.
SBN: Whoa, really? Where can you do that?
JM: We were coming out of the tunnel and there's one road that goes to the highway. And we just pulled off into the dirt and just drove into the dirt past everybody because we wanted to go back to the casino. We were really scared, because we thought for sure we were going to get thrown in jail. But I just didn't really care.
That's not really a normal thing for me though.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
JM: I don't know if anybody's said it already, but I'd probably like to meet the President – whoever the current President would be at the time. I mean, I think it's a fascinating job and it'd be fascinating to learn a little bit about how the world works and how the country works.
SBN: You have two options – you can either win the Truck Series title without winning any races or you can win four or five races but not win the title. Which would you rather do?
JM: I would want the races. One hundred percent, absolutely. They're an instant achievement and result from the hard work that's been applied.
I was always somebody in school who would rather ace the test than get an 'A' in the course. It was hard for me to work over a long period of time toward a big end result that encompasses everything. We all try to win the war by winning all the battles along the way.
There's satisfaction in working at the shop Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, loading up and going to the track, having a good practice session, qualifying well and having a good, competitive race. Then you're awarded instantaneously at the checkered flag and everybody drives home and we've achieved everything we set out to do right there.
If you win the championship without winning a race, you never get to stand on top of your truck and spray champagne and jump into your guys' arms and celebrate. You don't get to do burnouts on the frontstretch, necessarily. The celebration that comes with the achievement of winning a race is something that can't necessarily be replaced when you walk across the stage in a tuxedo and accept a trophy with a speech.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from? Is it for personal pride or because you're competitive or what?
JM: Insecurity, yeah. I mean, how successful you are in this sport is measured by the results sheet. It just is. My motivation to win is to prove to the world that I'm good enough and I deserve to be there.
It's a very personal thing. But at the end of the day, I didn't grow up driving go-karts and I wasn't a multi-time champion by the time I was 12. I didn't come up racing Late Models; I didn't start racing until I was 19 years old.
I've always considered myself a race fan, first and foremost, who is getting to live a silly dream. I think my motivation is that when I win races, it feels like it brings me closer to those guys that I idolized growing up.
SBN: How much does your personality differ inside the car and talking to me right now?
JM: I'm a very easy-going person – almost to a fault – and I can be a pushover. Some of that carries over in the race car, and I have a tendency sometimes to not really race aggressively as I feel like I should. I think that's an extension of my personality.
I like to be a very even-keeled person who just enjoys the experiences of life. But I am very, very competitive with myself. So when I make unforced errors and I make mistakes in the race car that I don't need to make, I'm very hard on myself.
SBN: Let's say you could switch lives with an athlete from another sport. Who would you want to be?
JM: Well, there's not really anybody in particular, but if I could trade places with any professional athlete, it would be a professional baseball player. I love just the pace of baseball and the lifestyle of baseball. I played baseball for many years and it was the first sport I ever had a love and a passion for.
SBN: If you could take a year off from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted, then come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you want to do that?
JM: I would want to do that, yes. I missed a certain element of my college years because I raced. And I've missed things since then because I've been so dedicated to racing that I now can't go back and relive again.
There's more to life than just driving race cars. And the amount of time and effort it takes to apply yourself to a sport like NASCAR takes away a lot of opportunity to live life for everything that it can be. I wouldn't want to wake up one day and feel like there were things I always wanted to do but never able to do them because I was too devoted to racing.
SBN: When you quit racing someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
JM: That I experienced it for all the great things that it was. That I took advantage of the fact that we're the luckiest people in the world to be able to do what we do. People forget that. I think they'll look back on (my career) and go, 'There's a guy who didn't take it too seriously and enjoyed the ride. He didn't get too high on the highs, but he didn't get too low on the lows.'
SBN: So you're looking to mostly soak up the experiences of being in NASCAR?
JM: Obviously, I work very hard at it and I get caught up in the moment and get frustrated when things don't go my way – just like everybody does. If you don't have an element of that, you're not going to have any kind of success.
The thing is, you never know when it's going to end. It could end tomorrow, it could end 20 years from now. And in most cases, when you lose grasp of it, it's gone forever – you don't ever get it back. And when it happens, I want to look back on it and say, 'I got the most out of the opportunity and I appreciated the opportunity and I don't have any regrets.'
What cooler thing is there to do than get on a plane on a Thursday and fly to a racetrack, put a suit on and go drive around in front of thousands of fans? What cooler thing is there in the world than that? Whether you win the race or finish last, that's an incredible thing.
It's very important for me to make sure I remind myself of that, because I'm not under any sort of false, romantic notion that I wouldn't be forgotten in a week if this ended for me tomorrow. That's what happens – one minute, you're on the lips of everybody in town; then you lose your ride and you move back home and 10 days later, no one ever remembers you were even there.
I'm trying to take advantage of it, because otherwise I'll spend my days bitter and feel like I came up short. But how could you ever feel like you came up short if you had an opportunity to go there and do it?
SBN: If you're going to win the Truck championship, would you rather wrap it up before Homestead or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?
JM: Turn 4, last lap of the season. We all want to go to the last race where all we have to do is start and win it. But that's not what I've been passionate about for the sport.
The thing I love about sports is you never know what's going to happen. What better way to give your fans their money's worth and show what NASCAR is all about than to win a championship off Turn 4 of the last race? That would make everybody turn their TVs on and buy tickets to the race.