NASCAR on NBC podcast

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 85: Max Papis on his bond with a Jimmie Johnson he knew then and now

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The first time Max Papis saw Jimmie Johnson 20 years ago, he saw a stock-car driver – even though the future seven-time Cup champion then was unrecognizable in many ways.

Long before he became a health-conscious triathlete and cyclist in his spare time, Johnson was a pudgy off-road driver who was helping set up an awning for Papis’ CART IndyCar team at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

“Jimmie was pretty chubby back then,” Papis said with a laugh during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I was joking with him and said ‘So, are you training to become a stock-car driver?’ Back then, a stock car driver was thought of having a bigger build.”

Eight years later, Papis watched his first Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, where Johnson started on the front row. By then, Papis had begun testing cars for Hendrick Motorsports, developing a bond with Johnson. After once teasing him about his fitness, Papis often has trained with the fitness-conscious Johnson, giving him his first heart-rate monitor as a gift.

“The relationship with Jimmie is something dear to my heart, one of those things that extended way beyond racing,” Papis said. “From setting up an awning to becoming a seven-time champion, it’s just an honor to see that good things can happen to good people.”

With Johnson’s support, good things have happened to Papis. The veteran of NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars and Formula One developed a safer high-performance steering wheel that Johnson was among the first to use. Max Papis Innovations steering wheels quickly became a popular choice for NASCAR drivers. All 40 starters in the 2017 Daytona 500 used an MPI steering wheel.

“I’m just amazed how a dream can come true, servicing the sport, providing better safety can lead into something creating a business,” said Papis, whose company also makes steering wheels for Late Model, sprint car, off road and drag racing. “This is a true American dream.”

During his appearance on the podcast, Papis also discussed:

–His memories of racing in the IndyCar series;

–A long career in various racing disciplines (and which he considers to be the most pure);

–His work in tutoring young NASCAR drivers such as William Byron.

Papis also will appear on NASCAR America today from 5:30-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, breaking down Kevin Harvick’s win at Sonoma Raceway with Leigh Diffey, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 84: Alba Colon on keeping secrets and Chevy’s ‘secret’ simulator

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Chevrolet Program Manager Alba Colon likes joking the NASCAR teams she oversees are her kids, and the primary challenge is getting them to play well and share together.

And just as with any sibling rivalry, even when the cooperation is strong, there still is the potential for a family squabble.

“They’re all hiding something from each other, right?” Colon asked with a laugh during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Because they need to go win Sunday, but it’s the whole concept of we have to develop the tools to get better.”

That plan seems to be working this season with Chevy leading the series in manufacturer wins (seven) that are spread across its three key partner teams, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Colon said the departure of Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2016 season engendered a renewed spirit of collaboration between the three organizations. The podcast was taped in a conference room at Ganassi’s shop, where Colon had met with executives from all three teams as part of a monthly meeting.

“A lot of things changed for Chevrolet at the end of (2016),” she said. “We always had a key partner concept, and when the changes happened, we got together and said, ‘Now there’s three of us. We have to get better and improve the way we do things.

“We work together as much as we can during the week, but Sunday, it’s one against the other. I’ve seen how we’re getting better and better at working together and that’s been fascinating.”

The teams have split the work of building and testing a wheel force transducer vehicle that should help optimize aerodynamics, and when they joined forces recently on another top-secret project, “it nearly gave me a heart attack,” Colon said.

The trick is General Motors can foster only so much team spirit without infringing upon proprietary information that can’t be shared across its teams. Colon sometimes takes copious notes to ensure she is cordoning off data.

“You need to have a conversation with teams to put that data in your brain but as soon as you get out of the building, you need to forget it,” she said. “Trust is a big deal. If you lose the trust, it’s not going to work. We have to know a lot of things. How do you help to give an answer without giving away (other teams’ information), that’s the magic that we need to all work together. How do you make things happen without giving away your trust?”

Colon, who has worked in NASCAR for General Motors since 1994, said it depends on the dynamics of those monthly meetings with Ganassi, Hendrick and RCR, finding the right people “to make decisions so that everything seems open but stays in the room.”

Another facet of Chevy improvement stems from a driver simulator that opened in Huntersville two years ago. (Chevy hasn’t showcased it to the public yet, and when asked if it’s in an undetermined location off I-77, Colon joked, “that’s very true and as much as we can discuss.”)

Ford Performance and Toyota Racing Development were ahead in building their driver simulators, but Colon said Chevy recently has been validated by buy-in from several drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested on the simulator before Dover International Speedway, and Colon said Jimmie Johnson logged several sessions of making laps in virtual reality.

“You see drivers asking for that, you’re doing something right,” Colon said. “We are not near where we need to be with it, though. We still are working on it.”

Other topics discussed by Colon on the podcast:

–Her joy at seeing the No. 3 win for the first time in nearly 17 years in Cup. At one of her first sessions as a GM engineer in 1994, Colon was told at Talladega Superspeedway by Dale Earnhardt that “I will not give you more than a year” in NASCAR.

“It made me a little bit mad, but he helped me,” said Colon, who has a prized photo with Earnhardt after his 1995 Brickyard 400 wins. “When someone says you can’t do something, that inspired me more. He helped me to get to where I am. He told me, ‘I knew you could do it.’ He’d be so amazed with everything his son has accomplished. He’d be proud looking at all of us.”

–The impact of engineering in NASCAR and the quest of Colon, who has a mechanical engineering background, to drive more women into the field;

–The battle to recruit more engineers to NASCAR away from Silicon Valley.

–The future of NASCAR in an era of autonomous cars.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 81: Will Power

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IndyCar champion Will Power joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast in advance of the 101 running of the Indianapolis 500.

Power, who won the series title in 2014, is seventh in the standings after getting caught in a crash and finishing 23rd at the Indy 500.

The Team Penske driver discussed why he is in better shape than a year ago because of a new diet to alleviate food allergies, his tales of using Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s motorhome at Indy and the difficulty of finding a good game of squash in Charlotte.

The native Australian also talked about raising his newborn son in America and his comfort with becoming a more outspoken veteran in the series.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 80: Jeff Burton on stage racing and its origins

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Stage racing started in NASCAR this season.

But NBCSN analyst Jeff Burton believes that is only the first stage of the new approach to counting championship points.

“You’re going to see stage racing in other forms of motorsports,” he said on last week’s episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Any series that have people racing for championships and points, stage racing is more exciting to watch and more exciting to do and rewards people that run the best the most.”

Burton discussed the origins of stage racing in the podcast. The NASCAR veteran was among the key discussions that led to its implementation, including a large meeting at Las Vegas late last year.

There were many options considered (including heat races) before the new system was announced in January.

“There were some crazy ideas, and many were mine,” Burton said with a laugh, adding that the vetting process had an air of good faith in the greater interests of racing. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in. The process was right, 100 percent.”

Other topics discussed on the podcast:

–Why the “win and you’re in” concept under the old system actually meant “win and you’re done”;

–Why drivers are never trying as hard as they think they can;

–How stage racing was a good example of how NASCAR could learn from what works in other professional sports while maintaining its differentiation.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 79: Jason Weigandt on Supercross, Monster and Jimmie Johnson

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Motocross journalist and broadcaster Jason Weigandt joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss the Supercross finale and the start of Outdoor season.

Weigandt, the editor of Racer X online magazine, also discussed how Monster Energy’s new title sponsorship of NASCAR has been perceived in Supercross, which the company has backed since 2008, and why he believes Jimmie Johnson isn’t NASCAR’s most popular driver despite his success.

Weigandt is the play-by-play announcer for the 2017 motocross season, which will be shown on NBCSN as well as on the NBC Sports Gold package (which will offer all motos, qualifiers and practices for the 12-round season as well as on-demand access to the past two seasons).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.