Spencer on speaking out, wrestling and being an athlete
Winston Cup veteran Jimmy Spencer is known as one of the most opinionated drivers on the circuit. After one especially frustrating race, it's been reported, he said his engine couldn't pull him out of Lake Norman on a pair of skis. He sat down and talked with us at Daytona International Speedway for this edition of 10 Questions.
1. Do you ever worry that speaking your mind might get you in trouble?
I don't think it will ever get you in trouble. It may get some people upset. But if you tell the truth, that's the truth. You have that right in America. A lot of people in this sport pay good money to watch racing, and they want to hear the truth. If everyone keeps saying the same stuff -- "That's just racing" -- I think our sport will be hurt. A lot of guys will push off, avoid the question ... they'll do anything they can to get around it, and I don't think the fans enjoy that.
2. Do other drivers get ruffled at what you sometimes say?
I'm sure a lot of the drivers do. But we're all allowed to say what we want to say. If someone doesn't like what I say, they're allowed to say what they want to say.
3. What bugs you about some other drivers, or what people might perceive about those drivers?
What a lot of people misconceive is how an image that some people portray in this sport -- Mr. Goody Two Shoes or whatever -- they really aren't. If you get to know them off the track, or you get to be a crew member of theirs, you see they really are a bunch of ... whatever you want to call it. That's something, I guess, the fans don't really need to know.
4. Any regrets about anything you've ever said?
There are some times you do say some things that you regret saying. I'm no different. But the tongue is a very, very powerful thing.
5. Do you ever try to stir things up intentionally?
I think if there's nothing to be said, there's nothing to be said.
6. Let's switch to your sport as a whole. It has some image problems. People compare NASCAR to professional wrestling or something. What do you think?
That is so far-fetched. ... There is nobody set up to win this race. There is nobody set up to win the pole. That's a bunch of bull. And we need to speak that. When we start to being compared to things like that ...
7. Not a big believer in the pro wrestling?
If I hit you in the head with a chair, your ass ain't getting back up off the floor. I think our fans need to understand that. When the media and people compare us to wrasslin', that really upsets me. It upsets me a lot. When there's an accident out there, somebody can get hurt. And that's real.
8. What's the biggest misconception fans have about NASCAR or race drivers or racing as a whole?
I think the biggest misconception the fans have is that when they say things like Richard Petty was the best ever, or Dale Earnhardt is the best ever, I think that's wrong. I think that they were graced with a good race team. But that's not saying there's not a lot of other drivers and a lot of other crews that can't do that if they mixed things right. I think there are certain drivers who have abilities who do better in certain places, certain situations. But what people don't understand is that it's far, far from just the driver. If you don't have the whole package, you will not win. If it was just the driver, that tells me that Bobby Labonte can get in someone else's car -- let's use Jimmy Spencer's, for example -- and win the championship. And I don't think that could happen.
9. So what percentage does a driver play in the success of a team?
In my opinion, probably 25 percent. It used to be a lot more. But it is so critical, the team. They can't lay down. There are so many circumstances that could take a driver out of the race. A lot of people don't realize how important the team concept is.
10. Age-old question. NASCAR drivers: Athletes or not?
Let's take a guy that's a pretty dang good golfer, or bowler. I challenge him to a match and he outbowls me. Can that guy get in my race car? I don't think so. Athletes are different in every sport. Look at a lineman on a football team. They are so overweight. But let me tell you something. They are strong. They are athletes. Every athlete is trained differently. They are athletes in their own ways. We have to do a lot of cardio and mind things to stay focused. We are athletes. Not marathon athletes. I can't play basketball. I can't play tennis. But I know they can't get in my race car and drive my race car.