JUAN PABLO MONTOYA DISCUSSES 'BAD GUY' REP
Nate Ryan, USA Today
CONCORD, N.C. — Juan Pablo Montoya giggled as he loaded voices onto a GPS navigation system he planned to use in his new Chevrolet Volt.
First up was Darth Vader. Followed by Foghorn Leghorn. Then his own accented English leading a driver through a rotary ("now it's time to go round and round, round and round").
"Pretty cool!" he gleefully exclaimed. "Boys and toys, you know?"
At his penthouse apartment in Miami, Montoya is a stay-at-home dad four days a week who ferries his children between soccer practice and dance recitals, plays golf and flies remote-control planes. His latest passion is the electric car that arrived last week ("It's really cool. You think electric and think, 'Boring.' This has so many integrated features.").
It seemingly runs counter to Montoya's on-track persona as the cutthroat racer whose take-no-prisoners style results in run-ins such as a skirmish last month with Ryan Newman at Richmond International Raceway that landed both on probation.
"I always had the reputation of being the bad guy," said Montoya, whose aggression was well documented when he was a CART champion and Formula One winner before he reunited with Chip Ganassi to run the No. 42 in Sprint Cup five years ago. "I don't feel I like being the bad guy, but I hate taking (crap) from people. If that's being the bad guy, then I'm the bad guy."
Munching on a Caesar salad in his motor home last week in the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield, the Colombian discussed how his racing philosophy affected him personally and professionally:
Q: So you still feel justified about what happened at Richmond?
A: Yeah, but you look over the past year, I hadn't had any issues with anybody. It gets to a point, though, where they can't run over you. I guarantee you I will never have another problem with Newman. I guarantee next time I get by him, he'll give me room and I'll give him room. He wants to run the (crap) out of me, I'll keep running the (crap) out of him. We don't get anywhere. It's all about making our lives easier in the long term.
You've got to be smart. There's so many races here, especially in these cars and running side by side with people around you all the time. Over the years, you learn to play the game. … Some people think I'm an idiot who races the (crap) out of people. But it's simple. Like (Matt) Kenseth. I'll get out of the racing line to let him go. And he'll do the same for me. Tony (Stewart) will do the same for me, and I'll do the same for him. But there are guys that you spend half the race trying to pass a guy because he runs the (crap) out of you. And the guy expects when he comes back that you let him go. Why? If you treat me bad, I'll treat you bad. I understand, if it's 30 laps to go, I'm not going to give you an inch, and you don't give me an inch. But early in the day, why? It's avoidable contact.
Q: Have you learned to live with the repercussions of your style?
A: The priorities are: No. 1, your boss; No. 2, the sponsor. And family after that. As long as you don't do something that your sponsor or boss is going to regret, you're OK. If your boss thinks that you were too aggressive in trying to defend yourself or racing hard, then you shouldn't be there. You're here to get your job done. It gets frustrating for everyone here. You get to this level of NASCAR, it's so hard. If you're not in an ideal spot and everything's going your way, you don't win. There's four guys at Hendrick (Motorsports), and the only guy who wins really is (Jimmie Johnson). It's a tough environment.
Am I the most social guy? No, I'm not social at all. When you run open wheel, it's about yourself. In open wheel, you don't share the road with anybody. But here you have to learn to share the road.
Q: But you can do it without making friends with your rivals?
A: Jamie McMurray and his wife, for example, they're very good friends with the Kenseths. What happens if it comes down to those two for a championship, and you have to make an aggressive move? Are you flying together in the same plane home after that? I admire them for that. I couldn't do that. And I've learned to be a lot smarter, and being here made me a lot better person and understand racing in a lot different way. You have to be selfish, but in this sport, you've got to be smart, too. You have to know which battles to fight and when.
Q: Have you gotten better at knowing when to fight those battles?
A: Absolutely. Is it perfect or pretty? No. But you've got to do it. I've been wrecked by Newman probably three times and never did anything.
Q: Does it bother you that some fans think of you as the bad guy?
A: The problem is that I'm a foreigner here. Literally. Right now I have to thank Kimi (Raikkonen), because now we're the only two guys who aren't Americans. It's a huge nationwide and worldwide sport, but locally, the people who come and watch the races, they've been here forever. And I'm different. I think a lot of people think I don't respect the sport. I think the older the fan is, the worse it is. I'm here like any other guy in the garage and have a lot of respect, and it's great. I enjoy what I do.
Q: Has your fan interaction through Twitter helped show another side of you?
A: The Twitter thing I started July 4, 2009. They said, 'Oh, it'd be good if people can see a little bit.' I just write what I think and I?m very polite about how I write things. I think it's great. I didn't do it for the sponsors or anybody. I know Target likes it, but you've got to be smart about what you put. I can't say, "This idiot is a freaking ..." When things go bad, I don't tweet. I just put I had a bad weekend.
Q: That's why people seem to like it, right? Because they see another side of you?
A: People want to follow me and see what I am. I'm a boring guy who loves the freaking electric car and plays golf and flies RC planes. That's it. That's me. I'm lucky that I can make really good money doing what I do. I think I'm really good at what I do. I don't do it for anyone else.
Q: Will the Volt replace the Escalade as your new vehicle for carting your kids around town?
A: It's a four-seater car! It actually has a lot of space. It's not a Ferrari. It's a very different concept. It's an amazing-looking car for what it is. I'm not a small car guy. It's actually entertaining to drive. I like it. Am I going to be a Greenpeace guy? No, I'm a fuel junkie. But if you can help a little bit, why not? And have fun in the meanwhile.