Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Sprint Cup Series rookie Andy Lally of TRG Motorsports. Lally, an accomplished road racer who also dabbles in street luge and MMA, sat down with us at Indianapolis.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
AL: I'd have to say right now, it's Michael McDowell. He's got a ton of talent. He doesn't have 10 or 15 years in this thing like some guys have and didn't start out on the stock car side, but he's developed into a really solid guy in a short amount of time.
SBN: What's a race that still bugs you because you didn't win it but feel like you should have?
AL: Oh, man. There's a ton of road races, endurance sports car races, probably a couple Daytona 24s. But the one that's the freshest in my mind is probably my ARCA race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2008. We had the pole, we were fastest in every single practice session and we had the field covered.
We led the first 30 laps or so and pitted for fuel. We came out in fourth, and as soon as we got going again, it rained and they called the race (chuckles and shakes head).
We had it in the bag, and unfortunately we just didn't get the right call at the right time. It is what it is, but, yeah, it still bugs me.
SBN: Let's say you're going to be on a four-car Sprint Cup team – you and three other guys. Who would you want to team up with?
AL: Not having any teammates right now, the dream situation would be to pair up with some veterans who really have a good feel for not only what to do with car setup, but strategy and how to go about mentally preparing for a weekend. I know how to come into a weekend mentally, but when it's a specific track – like if we were going to a place you knew coming in you had to focus on making sure the right front (tire) lasted, or whatever it may be – it'd be great to have a veteran to help me out. So somebody like a Jeff Gordon or a Mark Martin would be great.
And then everything I hear about Jimmie Johnson and how he goes about his work ethic, his note-taking and how methodically and strategically he plans out his weekends, I'm sure that's something I could learn a lot from.
Is that three guys?
SBN: Gordon, Martin and Johnson. So basically, you want to be at Hendrick Motorsports right now.
AL: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly! That's obviously a good, solid lineup. But to be honest, I'd take anybody right now. Just somebody to bounce some ideas off of.
SBN: When you were growing up, what driver did you want to model yourself after?
AL: I had heroes when I was a kid. My first real driving hero and somebody I looked up to was Davey Allison. We lost him, unfortunately, in '93. After that, it was Jeff Gordon. I think he was inspiring because, at the time, he was around 20 or 21 years old and he was the youngest kid in racing.
Now, you look and there's a couple kids out there who are 21 years old and they call them 'vets' because they got their start so young.
But at that time, I was able to identify with Davey and Jeff, and they were big heroes of mine. That's who I wanted to model myself after.
SBN: Do you think Gordon knows he was a hero of yours?
AL: No, probably not. I try not to bug any of these guys. If I get any time with these guys where I get to talk to them, I try not to show the fan side of me. I'm extremely appreciative of where I am in this sport right now, and although I'm sure there's a whole bunch of people out there who are wondering how I got here and why I'm here, it's one of these deals where I got the opportunity and when someone offers you your dream job – whether you think you're absolutely the best-prepared for it that you can be or not – you've got to say 'yes' and swing for the fences when you get the opportunity. And that's what I'm doing here.
I'm positive there have been times this season where there have been some guys I've ticked off just because I don't have the etiquette down yet. I don't know the order of things yet. I'm trying to get there and hopefully by the end of the season, I can win enough confidence to either stay here or find a good place to be and continue my career in this sport.
SBN: After these races, there seems to be a mad dash for the airport. What's a memorable post-race escape you've made?
AL: See, I don't have anything cool like that yet – because I'm still flying commercial! (Laughs) At least 50 percent of these races, I'm here until the next day.
I guess my most memorable one was probably my first one. I wasn't aware of how crazy it is post-race to get out of here. The guys were asking me to nose it into the gate just after the checkered, and it seemed like everyone was moving faster on every team to get out of there than they were during the race.
I hopped out of the car, I went to the front of the hauler, I changed, dried off and I wasn't rushing. And by the time I actually got out of the hauler, the car was in the truck and I was the last one out. The entire truck was packed up.
I'm used to normally debriefing after a race, and I was kind of wondering where the guys were. I was like, 'Holy cow! This traveling circus packs up almost instantaneously.'
But unfortunately, no private jets for me yet. No motorhome to go relax in. I'm in the hotel with the crew and flying commercial. Hopefully we'll be able to do this next year and I'll have a cool story for you.
SBN: Well at least you're piling up the frequent flier miles, I'm guessing.
AL: Yes. A lot of frequent flier miles.
SBN: That's good. That'll pay off. Anyway, who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
AL: Well, fresh in my mind after watching the X Games would be Travis Pastrana. He is an absolute maniac, and I love total, absolute commitment from people. And in my view, there is no greater commitment to a moment in sports than in Best Trick in Moto X in the X Games. Maybe rivaled by Big Air in BMX and skateboard or Best Trick in the snowmobile stuff.
But, man, when you leave the earth and grab that much air on something with a motor at that speed and that height, that is just epic commitment. You've got to be fully committed when you leave the ground or it's going to end up in tragedy. There's times when you're pushing the limit that it's going to end up in tragedy, and those guys are just absolute, committed maniacs – and I love it.
SBN: Last year, Jamie McMurray won some huge races but missed the Chase; Jeff Gordon made the Chase and contended but didn't win any races. Which type of season would you rather have?
AL: I want to do donuts. Wins. All day. I'll take the wins. The championships will come. Even if they don't, you can just keep stockpiling the wins and the memories and those moments. To win the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard, not only does it make your career, but what an intense, incredible feeling of accomplishment for you and the team – and it'll always be remembered. So I'll take the wins any day.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?
AL: I'm ultra-competitive, to a point where I have to constantly think how I need to chill out when I'm not in an actual competition. You know, it could be anything. I compete in so many different sports and I enjoy recreationally so many different sports. And it doesn't have to even be a sport. It could be the dumbest thing in the world, and I'm going to want to be the best at that. And I don't know why or where that drive came from. My parents are great, they're athletic.
I think the biggest thing I've actually learned, funny enough, with my competitive side, is my sportsmanship side. You've got to be humble, because there's always going to be someone better than you out there, no matter what. But the competition definitely drives me. It's some unreal, crazy competitiveness somewhere inside me that drives me to do all this traveling and getting my butt kicked in an attempt to get better and someday be on the other end of the ass-kicking.
SBN: How much does your personality differ from standing here talking to me and when you get inside the car?
AL: I'm a little more reserved here, and I'm a lot more passionate inside the car. I'm probably actually a tick more reserved on the NASCAR side, as I'm still taking some of it in and learning it. I think on the sports car side, when I'm doing Grand Am races, I've been doing that for over a decade and I'm more sure of myself.
So if there's a situation that I feel strongly about, whether it's a pit call or a setup change or something that's gone on in the race – like a bad move from another competitor – when I'm sure of myself, I'm going to be more passionate about it. And my road race guys have told me often that they want to just shut the radio off because I just keep on talking. (Laughs)
SBN: If you could switch lives with a different athlete from another sport, who would you want to be?
AL: Oh, man. We should re-do that fourth question there. It's going to be Pastrana again, for sure.
SBN: Yeah, I figured when I was asking that.
AL: If I could live the life of the Nitro Circus every day, I'd be all about it. Fun, crazy, epic moments of brilliance and trying to combine talent with ingenuity is what I'm about.
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR at some point in your career and do whatever you wanted and come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do that?
AL: For sure right now, no. Maybe if you were asking me the same question and I was 12, 13 years into my road racing side and gave me the same option, I'd like to go do two things. It wouldn't be a vacation where I'd go relax and do nothing, but the first thing is I'd want to go race the full world championships in the downhill skateboarding and street luge.
I'd love to take a year and do that, because they travel around the world and go to very cool spots. It's a very mellow scene with cool people, and I have a blast when I get to do it once or twice a year. There's definitely times when I look back at the reduced level of personal stress I put on myself and go, 'Man, I should just do this.' Obviously, there wouldn't be as much career opportunity, but it'd be a blast.
The only other thing I can think of that I'd like to do would be to really up my training on the (Brazilian) Jiu Jitsu side and enter a couple of amateur MMA events, just for fun – to check it off the list. I've had such a blast doing what I've been doing now, and it's my newest passion that I can tell is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.
SBN: When you eventually leave racing someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
AL: I guess, 'Champion,' you know? No...not 'I guess.' For sure: 'Champion.' That's what I'd want it to say. And also, someone that was never going to shy away from a challenge. Just like what I've got right here.
I was very fortunate to be teamed up with successful co-drivers and teams and engineers on my road racing side and accomplished wins in major races like the 24 Hours of Daytona, Petit Le Mans and have multiple championships. And I was looking for that next challenge.
For me, NASCAR was the very first bit of racing I ever experienced in my life – and I always wanted to do this. My opportunities came elsewhere, but I always wanted to get here. So finally, even at 36 years old, to get to Cup, I wanted to take that challenge and go with it.
I want to become a champion, but I want to be known as someone who never backs down from a challenge and tries his hardest to make it happen.
SBN: Let's say you are going to get that championship. Would you rather have it wrapped up after Phoenix or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season at Homestead?
AL: Oh, man. Without a doubt, I'd like to do it not just off Turn 4, but sideways, flipping, upside-down, tow truck dragging the thing to Victory Lane as I'm hopping off the stretcher to get out of the ambulance, refusing to go to the doctor and limping to Victory Lane. That would be the way to do it, hands down. Because that's going to be the best memory ever!
Oh – and we won the race, too. We won the race, we won the championship, we destroyed the car – and I get the girl (laughs).