The other day, an e-mail popped into my inbox that read: "MEDIA ADVISORY: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya Interview Opportunity."
That sounded like something I should probably attend, so I RSVP'd "Yes" and showed up exactly one hour before the scheduled interview time.
Earnhardt Jr. and Montoya were supposed to spend a few hours learning to drift cars for a Degree Men sponsor video, then meet with the media afterward. I figured I'd watch the drifting exhibition for an hour, then get some quotes to post here.
But when I drove up to the video shoot, my stomach sunk. The cars were already parked, and I saw a group of people surrounding a couple men in firesuits.
My timing was way, way off.
I walked quickly toward the pack and arrived at a group interviewing Earnhardt Jr. in time for what was basically the last question. The driver was then called away by the shoot's director, and the interview was over.
As it turned out, Earnhardt Jr. and Montoya had finished the drifting portion earlier than planned, and Earnhardt Jr. had fielded questions for 20 minutes in what the other reporters described as his best interview of the year.
One of the other writers offered to give me the audio file, but I didn't feel that was right. They'd gotten there early – just in case – and the bottom line was I didn't arrive in time.
A sense of failure washed over me and my mood sunk. It was like showing up late for the last class before a big exam – the one where they review all the test material – and I hadn't gotten any of the information.
It was quite deflating to know I'd missed one of the best interviews of the year, and I'm sure it showed on my face. Mike Davis, who handles public relations for JR Motorsports, apparently felt sorry for me and said he'd try to get Earnhardt Jr. to answer a few more questions.
So as Earnhardt Jr. walked to a dressing room, Davis called out and told him there were a couple more questions to answer.
Now, let me pause for a moment and give you a little insight into these situations. Typically, a driver who has already talked to the media for 20 minutes is not going to want to do much more. Interviews are known in NASCAR as "media obligations," and obligations indicate chores or work. They are not something drivers do for fun (unless you're Carl Edwards on ESPN), and most of them understandably would rather be somewhere else.
Earnhardt Jr., though, stopped in his tracks. A handful of reporters – including the ones he'd spoken with earlier – followed him to a quiet room, where he sat and talked for another 25 minutes.
By comparison, most of the weekly "12 Questions interviews" posted on SB Nation take about 10 minutes.
There was nothing obligatory about the second part of the interview, except he knew there were more questions and he was trying to help us do our jobs (his quotes will help fill an otherwise-slow off-week around Easter).
That's a generous amount of time from a superstar athlete, but it's not all that uncommon for Earnhardt Jr. Here's a guy who could absolutely get away with being a jerk if he wanted to – after all, he's the most popular driver and we still have to cover him whether he's a nice guy or not – but he's never been anything but respectful.
With all the demands placed on NASCAR drivers, dealing with interviews can often be a pain. But Earnhardt Jr. has always recognized the media has a job to do – and for this tardy reporter, it's very much appreciated.