Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Martin Truex Jr., the Michael Waltrip Racing driver who is currently second in the Sprint Cup Series standings. We caught up with Truex at the recent Texas race weekend.
SBN: What percent of the races in your career can you remember?
MTJ: Like 99.9 percent.
SBN: What!? That's the highest number any driver has said so far. How do you do it?
MTJ: I don't know. Like, I don't have a great memory – I forget everybody's name – but you can ask me what shocks and springs I had on my Modified in '98, and I can tell you. I can tell you what weekend it was, what happened – it's crazy. It's the weirdest thing.
The only person I've ever talked to who can remember crazy things about his race car like that is Mark Martin. He can tell you what he ran in the '70s in his ASA car, and what track it was at. It's like a weird part of the brain that stores setup information. (Laughs)
SBN: So you have no excuse if you forget a birthday or anniversary someday, right?
MTJ: Well, no. I do forget stuff like that! Birthdays, anniversaries, people's names. I'm horrible with names. I forget everybody's name. It's so embarrassing, because I'm really good at remembering people – like their faces. I'll see someone and go, "Oh wait, I know that guy!" But I can't remember his name for nothing. It's terrible. (Laughs)
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of racing?
MTJ: My first win was in a go-kart. I was 11, and it was actually my first day at the racetrack. First day, first heat race.
SBN: Wow. How did you win so quickly?
MTJ: I was just fast.
SBN: You're just that good?
MTJ: I was faster than they were. I mean, I was pretty much a maniac on a four-wheeler since I was 5. So I wasn't scared. I just went out and...went!
SBN: How'd you celebrate that first win?
MTJ: Nothin'. Stopped at Wawa on the way home and got a hoagie. (Laughs)
SBN: Who is a clean driver in NASCAR you enjoy racing with?
MTJ: Mark Martin. Matt Kenseth. There's a bunch. I mean, Tony Stewart, he's like that. There's a handful of guys who race like that. But you've got to give it back, too – that's the thing. If you don't give it back, they're not going to give it to you, either.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, who is a driver you think races you extra hard?
MTJ: For some reason, Jimmie Johnson has always made it really hard on me. And it's surprising, because racing around him, I don't see him doing it to other people a lot. But for some reason, he gives me a hard time every chance he gets.
SBN: Weird. Have you ever asked him about it?
MTJ: No...no, not really. There are some other ones out there, too. But he seems to be the toughest one for me to pass.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
MTJ: For the most part, just race 'em how you want to be raced. I'm pretty respectful to everyone, unless they do something to make me mad, you know? The guys that give you room, you give them room. That's kind of the way I do it. But even when I get mad sometimes, I probably don't take it out on them as much as I could or should. I tend to stay to the safe side more than not.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of the guys who you owe for payback? Because I don't recall you ever getting payback on Gordon after the whole Sonoma incident a couple years ago.
MTJ: I guess I'm probably not a payback kind of guy, but the opportunity never really properly presented itself, either. I do know that after that happened, Jeff changed the way he raced me – and so there was no reason for me to pay him back. It actually made me race him cleaner than I ever had before. It's almost like he knew he did something wrong and I was mad about it; I don't know exactly how he felt about it, but I feel like he races me more fair and clean than he ever did before that.
I don't know if it's maybe the fact that he still thinks I haven't gotten him back, and he's waiting for it? So in that respect, maybe I've got the upper hand. Maybe that's why you don't want to pay people back, so they're always worried about it. (Laughs)
SBN: If you could turn back time and team up with a driver who is no longer active, who would you want to team with?
MTJ: I mean, how can you not say Earnhardt? I'd like to see how he did what he did, you know? How he was so good. And Harry Gant, I was a big fan of his. He seems like a cool guy to work with. I was big fans of both those guys.
SBN: What was the last time you got nervous about something?
MTJ: Probably driving my (remote control) boat. I get more nervous trying to set records with my boat than I do driving race cars, because I'm out of my element. This (racing) is my job, this is my life, this is what I do. That's kind of out of my element.
SBN: As drivers, you guys do a bunch of fan appearances and autograph signings, but sometimes things can get a little awkward.
MTJ: Sometimes? (Laughs)
SBN: OK, often. Can you share a recent awkward fan moment?
MTJ: I mean, they happen so often, it's hard to pick one. One happened to me just recently that blew my mind...but now I can't remember it. See, these are the kind of things I forget! If you'd just asked me what right-front spring I ran in my Modified in '98, I could tell you.
I can't honestly remember the last crazy thing right now.
WE INTERRUPT THIS 12 QUESTIONS INTERVIEW FOR A LATE-BREAKING REVISION TO THIS ANSWER.
On Tuesday night, the phone rang and Truex's public relations representative put him on the line.
"I was just asked to sign a dinner roll," he said.
At a restaurant?
"No," he replied. "At our race shop. We had a big NAPA get-together, and some lady asked me to sign her dinner roll."
So how were Truex's bread-signing skills?
"It was very difficult," he said with a laugh. "The pen kept trying to poke through."
WE NOW RESUME THE PREVIOUSLY RECORDED 12 QUESTIONS INTERVIEW
SBN: If you had to pick one of the following jobs after your racing career ends, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or high-ranking NASCAR official like Robin Pemberton or John Darby?
MTJ: Definitely a NASCAR official. I enjoy being inside the racing garage, doing hands-on stuff, talking to the guys. I don't really have a whole lot to say on TV. That wouldn't be good. I know I could do it, I just don't think it would be as much fun as being in the garage and being involved in the competition stuff.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
MTJ: A lot of them. There's a lot of questions I get annoyed about.
SBN: Oh, really? Are you easily annoyed by questions?
MTJ: Sometimes. (Laughs)
SBN: I'll keep that in mind. Well, this next question comes from Kyle Busch, not me. He wants to know: "Why are people from New Jersey assholes?" But he said it in a joking way.
MTJ: We're not! Where'd he come up with that crap?
SBN: He said Ray Evernham (who is from New Jersey) told him that.
MTJ: Why are all people from Vegas a bunch of jerks? Why are people from Vegas psycho? Ask him that. (Laughs)
SBN: Well, I actually need a question from you for the next guy, not Kyle. Can you help me out?
MTJ: But I really want to go see Kyle now, because I really take offense to that.
SBN: I really was supposed to make sure you knew it was in a joking way.
MTJ: Well, there are a lot of people from New Jersey who are assholes. But there are a lot of assholes in Vegas, too.
SBN: OK, well, I still need a question for the next guy.
MTJ: Whoever is next, ask him where I'm going to win my next race. Because it's coming soon.