Question Quest Story and photos by Dwight Drum Web work by Larsen & Drum
In the fast world of motorsports often little measurable differences separate champions from close contenders. Motorsports has so many variables, human, mechanical, even weather conditions that influence the results of seasonal championships.
If there were a way to measure the complex human ingredients it takes to produce a top sanction champion there would be a mad rush to buy the formula and hasty searches to find drivers with the right mix. Life and science doesn't work that way.
Motorsports champions know a lot about driving, winning and communicating, but they can't be expected to identify all it really takes to excel to the top. The human and mechanical variables are simply too complicated.
All would agree that it takes a very brave person to have the fire to fly on a racetrack. No one is expected to be able to identify all that can be known about the chemistry of a champion, but when a single champion traits question was asked to scores of drivers nearly all had thoughts.
Racer comments are revealing, especially when displayed one after the other. What wasn't apparent was that the initial sum of their quotes could be hot fuel for a lasting and ongoing question search.
A sampling of answers in combination can be testimony triggering perception.
Select Quotes from: Tony Stewart, Richard Petty, Mike Helton, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, John Force, Gary St. Amant, Danica Patrick, Angelle Sampey
One Question: Do motorsports champions have common traits and abilities, and if so can you identify a few?
Tony Stewart (NASCAR champion)
"Wow. I don't know. To be honest, I mean, you look at some of the other champions, we all have a desire to win or we wouldn't be champions. If you don't have that desire, you just won't be successful. I don't care how good you are, you have to have that feeling in your gut that you want to win every week when you go out there.
"I don't know. I mean, I think there's similarities and I think there's differences. That's just people in general. I'm not necessarily sure exactly what all those common traits are other than the fact that you want to be competitive and you want to win every race that you run."
Richard Petty (NASCAR champion and legend)
"No. Everybody's got their own personality. Everybody approaches it different. You can't compare David Pearson with Jeff Gordon or a Richard Petty with Earnhardt or any of that stuff. You know what I mean? We came at different times under different circumstances under a different show. You know what I mean? Everybody faces it a little bit differently. What you see on the racetrack is the guy's true personality. Okay. When you talk to him it's his true personality. He tries to make it come out as good as he can, but that's really what he's got.
"Champions are all winners, OK. I think a lot of times I'm a big believer in fate. Fate puts you in the right place in the right circumstances and the good Lord gives you the ability. The good ones take that all together and they become champions."
Mike Helton (NASCAR president)
"Yes. Certainly they do but I think it's the traits that all athletes have that perform at that level. Some of them are fortunate to end up being champions and some of them may not be champions from a status or a trophy or a title or something. But I think champions have the same traits that all athletes that perform at that level have. That's just the passion, the desire and the talent that comes together."
Mario Andretti (Race car legend)
"I think we all have our different ways of approaching things, but I think it's passion. Passion for what you're doing will get you there and I think we all proudly share. And the will to win, the will to get it done. Not every race driver wins races. It's just how bad you want it. I guess some of us want it worse than others. That's what it comes down to, the willingness to get it done."
A.J. Foyt (Race car legend)
"Well, not really. You know the difference between a race driver and champion is the guy who is a champion has got to drive a little bit harder every time he goes out."
Jeff Gordon (NASCAR champion)
"I guess the trait is they have a sense and a way to find themselves winning races, surrounding themselves with good people and having confidence in their abilities."
Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR champion)
"I definitely think the drive to succeed is a common one. If you look at the champions over the past few years, they all have different personalities -- from Kurt (Busch) to Tony (Stewart) to Matt (Kenseth). But there is a drive inside that is common to every champion. I would even link that to other sports. The drive to be a champion is pretty common."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Popular driver) "I feel like I'm in science class. Yeah. I think some people have better peripheral vision than others. I think maybe all of us have the same peripheral vision, but others are more acute or aware to it. My father could look straight ahead but concentrate on something on the very edge of his vision, almost nearly behind him.
"I think a lot of drivers can, not only do that, but can actually concentrate on two things that they're watching. Reflexes, maybe, I don't know.
"One thing is -- one thing that makes a champion, I don't know if this is necessarily a trait, but it's sort -- there's a raw determination that you are instilled with as a child that nothing can really -- like fame and fortune and money can sort of take that away from someone and take away the drive, you know. You sort of lose the drive once you've acquired an enormous wealth or whatever. Some people do."
John Force (NHRA champion)
"I think you have to live it, you have to be dedicated. You can see on my TV show that I haven't lived with my wife for about seven years but we're still married, still honeymooning. The racing, my life, you dedicate yourself to winning championships, try winning 10, and you find out that you give up everything, but that gut ache, every day of your life to win.
"Bottom line, it is tough, but you have to dedicate your life to it. You've got to live it. Sometimes the family, it is sad, they get put in the second seat. In NASCAR, there are 40 guys out there trying to beat you and in drag racing there's 30 out there trying to beat you, and you've got to focus on that every day."
Danica Patrick (IndyCar popular driver)
"Common traits. You obviously have to be good. You have to be talented. You have to be determined. You have to have a good blend of aggression and patience, because you have to finish the race if you want to get that far."
Angelle Sampey: (NHRA champion)
"Common traits. I think they are all common. We just have an extra gene in us that somehow never quits no matter what. It's something I think every champion is born a particular gene that says 'I will not quit. I will not quit, no matter what.' I'm not going to quit, is the line of a champion. I think everything else is normal though. I think we're exactly the same. Normal people enjoy a normal life with family back home relaxing and hunting and fishing and doing whatever and doing what's fun. But when it comes time for racing and get on that racetrack there's something about us that we just won't accept defeat no matter what."
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