Spencer Gallagher‘s earliest NASCAR memory is one of “shock and awe.”
As an 8-year-old, Gallagher stood near the start-finish line as the green flag dropped during a race at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I could not believe what transpired before me,” Gallagher told NBC Sports of the moment the field roared by. “That is still one of my favorite sounds to this day, those things sounding like F1 cars made by Satan.”
A few years later, Gallagher got the final push to getting in a car himself after witnessing a Legends race at the road course outside LVMS.
“I thought to myself, ‘My God, that is the angriest swarm of bees I’ve ever seen,'” Gallagher said. “I kind of got hooked from there. I thought it looked really cool and I wanted to try it. … I was terrible for a good while, but eventually I got pretty decent at it and that kind of kicked off the saga of me.”
Gallagher’s saga carried him through the ARCA Racing Series, where he won his 51st and last start in 2014 at Kansas Speedway before he and his families’ team, GMS Racing, transitioned full-time to Camping World Truck Series in 2015.
Now Gallagher is 27-year-old rookie in the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 23 for GMS Racing.
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed
NBC Sports: What was your ‘Welcome to the Xfinity Series moment’?
Gallagher: I think the big welcome to the Xfinity Series moment is when you’re just racing your ass off, you are driving as fast as you possibly can and you remember that this is for 15th. This is really stepping into the bottom echelon of what I consider to be really big-time American stock car racing.
The Truck series is incredible competitive, but you go up to the Xfinity Series and it’s competitive in a different sense of the word. It’s no longer Christopher Bell and the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) No. 4. No, no. That’s Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing Camry, right there. You are officially in the deep end of the pool and with that comes a great deal of challenge.
NBC Sports: What was your first car?
Gallagher: I think it was actually, I’m probably going to get crucified for this since I’m a Chevrolet driver, it was actually a Prius. I got my mom’s used Prius in high school and I remember distinctly making extensive use of the brake mode feature to get into some corner and roundabouts going to high school around Vegas.
NBC Sports: The what feature?
Gallagher: It is a regenerative braking mode where when you put it in it’s like drive, but when you roll off the gas the electric motors get really aggressive about braking for you and trying to recoup some energy. So what that means if you wanted to be a hooligan, you could drive it off in the corner on the braking mode and the second you lift off the gas it is planting itself on those front tires and it will cut. So many a misadventure was had in that Prius.
NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?
Gallagher: I think you have to go with the classic, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” … I tell people that is actually how you know as a race car driver you’ve reached 200 mph despite not having a speedometer in the car. “Danger Zone” just automatically starts playing in your head. You ask anybody that, if they deny it, they’re lying.
NBC Sports: What’s the best criticism you’ve received over the course of your career?
Gallagher: I remember one of my first crew chiefs, he told me, ‘At the very least I don’t have to light a fire under your ass to get you to go. It’s slowing you down more than anything.’ I took that as a high compliment. If you got to pick one attribute to have in a race car driver I would think having to put a leash on them is probably a little better than having to light a fire under ’em.
NBC Sports: During the media tour back in January was really the first time I’d ever been exposed to you for an extended period of time.
Gallagher: Oh, I’m sorry.
NBC Sports: That’s OK. It was very obvious and clear you’re very comfortable with yourself. You’re very extroverted. Has that always been the case for you?
Gallagher: You know, I’d like to believe I’ve been confident in who I am and what I am for a while. I sort of learned when I was young that this is kind of the only go around you get so you may as well love yourself while you’re doing it. I’ve always believed very firmly in the idea of knowing myself. I know myself. I know who I am, what I am and where I want to be. That’s something that’s always given me confidence. As far as the extrovert thing. I tell people I’m an introvert that learned to become an extrovert.
In my early days I wasn’t like this, but when I found, especially NASCAR, when I started to interact with fans, I found the more I put myself out there and the bigger I let myself be the more they loved it. So give the people what they love. That’s kind of been my MO ever since. This is a sport that thrives on personalities. I think one of the chief criticisms you hear about drivers when they talk to someone or get in front of a camera, ‘He’s bland, he’s boring.’ There is no greater sin in an environment where you’re on TV than to be boring. I could do that. I could do that and go up and thank the sponsors, have a stone slab of a face and move on. I choose not too. Also, I think it’s a great waste of the potential of showing how you feel and showing that you love to do this every day.
NBC Sports: You see a lot of young drivers like having a personality on social media and in other environments. But once they are on pit road or in the garage with a camera or microphone in front of them, it’s one slate of emotions the entire time. Why do you think that is with this current generation of drivers?
Gallagher: That’s an interesting question. I think you could of course harken it back to the old idea, people get a camera stuck in their face and all of a sudden they become really cautious of themselves. I think that has a lot to do with it. Something I’ve observed in most people, you stick a camera in front of their face and they completely change. … Once they have a red light pointing at their face, they’re conscious of what they’re saying and you watch their personalities change. If there’s one thing I have to say I have a gift in life, I’ve never minded the camera. The camera don’t bug me. If anything, it encourages me. It hypes me up. I like to put on a good show and give them something to watch. I don’t think that’s a common instinct in people.
In drivers especially, drivers are in an odd position. They’re athletes that are simultaneously thrust into the position of being entertainers in a lot of respects. They don’t receive any training for that and in any other life they wouldn’t have been in any kind of entertainment because they don’t necessarily want the attention. You’re taking a subset of people who when they grow up and all their lives they were never necessarily wanting to be trained to be in front of a camera. Then you throw them in front of a camera. That doesn’t come naturally or off the cuff to a lot of people. For some reason, it does to me. … But that’s been me always. I’ve never minded public speaking. I was great in debate class. I don’t mind getting up in front of people and talking.
NBC Sports: Who was your favorite driver growing up?
Gallagher: I always liked Tony Stewart. For one simple reason. Something I always loved about Tony, whenever someone asked him a question, you never had to guess what Tony Stewart was thinking or feeling. You always knew exactly what was on his mind because he’d tell you. He wasn’t scared of it. I always admired and respected that.
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