NASCAR's Juan Pablo Montoya: 'It’s a Lot Harder Than People Realize'
July 25, 2013 – 1:30 PM– 1 Comments
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By Peter Malamud Smith
In May, PARADE sponsored a car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Dover, Delaware. Jamie McMurray drove the #1 PARADE Chevy SS to victory—or, well, it looked like he would, until a piece of debris from another car bounced off the track and took out his radiator. (You can’t win ‘em all.) But in a finish that had us glued to our seats, McMurray’s Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya hurtled up from the middle of the ranks to come in second, barely passed by Tony Stewart. We spoke with Montoya about being a NASCAR outsider, working to help his native Colombia, and the perils of having too many hobbies.
On being among the few Latino drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
There’s a couple of Mexican drivers in the smaller classes, and a Brazilian driver in Nationwide, so people are trying. It’s such a hardcore American sport that it’s not easy. But you’ve got to realize how much the Hispanic community in the U.S. has grown, how many Hispanic fans there are, how many Hispanic people watch NASCAR—it’s huge. And the crazy thing is, just because they’re Latinos doesn’t guarantee they’re a fan of me! [laughs] If you run well, they like you, if you don’t, they don’t. That’s in any country.
On winning over older fans as an outsider.
The hardcore fans are very protective of the sport, so it’s always hard because there are fans, old-timers, Dale Earnhardt fans. For them, I’m just different, and some people don’t like different. But overall, fans are great.
On the biggest differences between NASCAR, IndyCar, and F1 (Montoya has competed in all three).
There’s really not much in common. You think, it’s a car and you just have to drive it. But each one behaves so differently from the others that to learn to drive them is a hell of a challenge. You know, in F1, the cars were unbelievable. Nothing drives like an F1 car. But the racing was terrible, because the cars are so even, and they’re so air-dependent that it’s not easy to pass. In NASCAR racing, the cars aren’t as good as you want them, but the racing’s unbelievable. Something that’s cool is the new cars, Generation 6, are a huge improvement over the old cars. They handle so much better.
On NASCAR’s outgoing personality.
In F1, you don’t really talk to your teammates—you’re really by yourself in the pit. It’s just the way it is. You come to NASCAR and everybody’s nice and everybody talks to you. That was a hell of a change.
On his charity, Formula Smiles, which helps underprivileged Colombian children grow through sports.
I was very lucky—I always had the support of the country and the people there, and my wife and I felt it would be great if we could return the favor. We thought we’d start a foundation to help the kids in Colombia, and myself being a sportsman, I thought the best way to do it was a foundation based in sports, giving some basics to the kids: learn to share, learn to take care of equipment, learn to be a team player. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes it’s frustrating because you don’t get as much support as you want. That makes it a little hard. But we work with what we’ve got, and we make the most out of it.
On his many hobbies—golf, windsurfing, boating, paintball, remote-control planes, and more.
I can’t stay still for five minutes. I’m always doing something. The problem is, I like doing too much stuff! I love golf. But we travel so much for races that, when people say “Bring the clubs,” it’s like, I’m not coming for a holiday! I’m going to the race to work. It’s not like Saturday afternoon let’s go and golf. I can hit a golf ball pretty well, but if you don’t practice, your accuracy’s not going to be as good. I know how hard you have to work to succeed at something, because I had to [laughs]. I love windsurfing, but it’s so frickin’ hard. I like flying remote control planes—I just love them. But it’s the same thing. If you don’t fly enough, you go back to basics.
What’s the biggest thing people don’t know about racing?
People think we race on Sunday, party Monday [laughs]. It’s a full-time job! We go practicing, we have meetings, you’re always on the go. It’s a lot harder than people realize.