‘Alter Ego’ On and off the track: ‘Will the real NASCAR driver please stand up?’
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
Sometimes, when watching how NASCAR drivers react off the track compared to how they behave behind the wheel, the old TV game show “To Tell the Truth” comes to mind.
At the end of the game show, where a celebrity panel tries to decide which of the three people before them is the central character and which two are impostors, the host asks: “Will the real (the central character’s name) please stand up?”
Jeff Gordon, who usually is as pleasant and professional as can be outside the car, is at times a tiger behind the wheel.
So which is the real Jeff Gordon?
Here’s what he had to say about the differences in drivers off the track and on.
“I always like to think that on the race track that’s kind of your alter ego,” he said, adding that the environment on the track affects behavior. “When you put the intensity that goes on inside the race car, especially at a place like Bristol … the patience level, the frustration level, is to me equally as intense as it’s ever been.”
He said that it’s not just race drivers who get put in situations where a different side of their personality comes out.
“If you’re in a calm, controlled environment, then your emotions and your personality is going to reflect on that,” he said. “You go into a highly intense environment with a lot of pressure, a competitive intense environment, it’s going to affect your personality and how you react to things.”
But Gordon said the bottom line answer is that the person behind the wheel is closer to who a driver really is.
“I think you really find out truly who you are in those moments, probably more so than you do outside the race car in a more controlled environment,” he said.
Racing also has a way of affecting relationships between drivers. People who might otherwise find lots in common and get along well end up with strained relations because of situations that occur on the track.
Kevin Harvick said that’s true of him and Carl Edwards, a driver he’s had a run-in or two with over the years.
“Sometimes I just think people don’t see eye-to-eye on things,” he said. “I enjoy racing on the race track with Carl (Edwards) and that is all that matters.
“It doesn’t really matter if he likes me or if I like him, and I think we both race each other, and off the race track doesn’t really matter as long as on the race track we race hard and enjoy racing with each other.”
Edwards, who has had several on-track incidents with Brad Keselowski this season including intentionally wrecking him two times, also talked about the differences in the way a driver acts inside and outside his race car.
Interestingly, the in-car side of the usually affable Edwards seemed to come out when asked to discuss the subject.
“It’s really simple,” he said. “I treat everyone the way they treat me. I’m not going to let somebody take advantage of me. That’s all there is to it. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out and been the aggressor of a situation or a bully or anything like that, but I’m not going to let somebody take advantage of me …
“The people who know me and know what I’m about, it makes pretty good sense to them, but, for some reason, I guess some people don’t like that or don’t understand it.”