Losing traction coming out of turn two at the Brickyard 400, Erik Jones starts to slide out of control. He hits Brad Keselowski in car No. 2 and sends them both slamming into the outside wall. Jones slides down the track backward without another impact but Keselowski isn’t so lucky.
After the first impact, Keselowski careens across the track, narrowly missing two other cars. He slams into a narrow tire barrier in front of a concrete wall that sits nearly perpendicular to car two’s trajectory. The car ends up on top of the tire barrier nearly upside down. Keselowski is able to pop the window net and climb out.
All in a day’s work for NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski is a professional NASCAR driver racing the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Mustang full time for Team Penske in the Monster Energy Cup and part-time in the Xfinity series, NASCAR’s “minor league.” Racing in the Xfinity series since 2004 and the Monster Energy Cup since 2010, Keselowski has won over 60 races between them. He’s one of only four drivers ever to win a championship in both.
Autotrader, the massive car shopping website, is going into their sixth season sponsoring Team Penske (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) and is the primary racing sponsor for some of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races for 2019. When they offered the opportunity catch the first race in the playoffs in Las Vegas, we jumped.
Lounging in the 100 degree heat of Las Vegas Speedway infield we chatted with Brad about racing, legacy, and his favorite shoes just before the Southpoint 400.
The Manual: For physical and mental training, what’s your regimen? Does it change from race to race?
Brad Keselowski: That’s a good but kind of funny question. And here’s why: I grew up watching basketball and when I was like five or six years old, Michael Jordan was like a god, not that he isn’t a god now to some people, but like that he was basketball, everything. Like LeBron is now.
I grew up in the generation that if you believe it you can achieve it. I believed that one day, I was gonna dunk a basketball.
And I practiced in my backyard. All summer long, one time, I didn’t get any closer to dunking a basketball. At some point in your life, you realize that there are things that you can train for. And there are things you either got, or you don’t got. Driving a race car, there’s some part of it, you can train for. Most of it, you either got it, or you don’t. And I can keep trying to dunk a basketball. It ain’t happening. And Michael Jordan one time tried to be a racer, and it didn’t happen.
So there are certain things that I believe God’s given us and there are certain things I believe he hasn’t.
Our calling in life is to find what those are and make the most of them. So I’d like to say, because it sounds cool, that I have the greatest workout program in the world. And you watch these hard knocks shows and they show Antonio Brown jumping in the water and doing all this crazy stuff. But the reality is at some point, you either got it, or you don’t. And the preparation mentally and physically that you do, it’s really more like housekeeping. You’re not going to build the house. You can keep it clean. And so I believe that from that perspective, that’s my guiding light to training. I don’t like to get into any specifics, because I feel like that’s always foolish to do. I don’t want to really teach my competition. I want to beat him. And so that’s my guiding principle.
TM: Off the track, what are your hobbies and favorite things to do when you’re not driving?
BK: Well, I like to read a lot. You’ll probably find me reading. I like video games a lot. I like boats. So I have those three things.
TM: Powerboats, sailboats?
BK: Ski boats.
TM: Yeah, wakeboard or slalom?
BK: So I’m a driver. I drive. Yeah, I don’t actually wake surf. I like to pull people, though.
TM: And for books, any favorite books lately?
BK: I just got this new book from Ryan Holiday,.
TM: Do you find stoicism and these kinds of ideas help you on the track?
BK: I really like Holiday’s Obstacle is the Way concept. I hate to over-endorse stoicism, but I do like the concept of that which is your hardest to do is what you should double down on and appreciate. Obstacle is the Way is my favorite book from him. But that whole concept is really strong. Because a lot of people run from pain. Over time you start to realize that pain is your body flushing out weakness.
TM: What track are you least excited for in the playoffs?
BK: That’s interesting. Probably the Charlotte Roval. Yeah, a lot of wrecks there. That’s going to be a grueling race.
TM: What was your first personal car?
BK: 1994 Chrysler LeBaron. A hand-me-down from my mom.
TM: If you could stick a quote or saying or something for everyone to see on a giant billboard somewhere, what would it be?
BK: Oh, wow. I only get one quote? That’s a lot of pressure. “Good is the enemy of great.”
TM: What’s it like with two teammates in the playoffs? How do you think that’s all gonna play out? Do you guys work together?
BK: Yeah, there are definitely opportunities to work together. It’s co-op-etition. We’re stronger together than we are apart, although all three of us can’t win. So you come together, you come apart, we come together, you come apart. In the end, we’re better together.
TM: Do you find it tough sometimes to get critiqued on social media, Facebook, blogs, wherever it is or do you put it in the back of your mind and keep driving?
BK: I’ve gotten used to the point that no matter what I do, it’s wrong by somebody. So it’s not that you don’t care but you just build up some thick skin.
TM: Any advice for kids around these days? For those looking to get into the sport, to start racing? How do you start?
BK: First, don’t rush it. I see a lot of kids they get burnt out because they rush it too early. That’s probably my No. 1 piece of advice. Don’t forget your education. That’s 1a and 1b. E-sports is a good place to get started. Maybe that’s No. 2. Start in e-sports.
TM: How’s the Checkered Flag Foundation going? Are you still actively involved with that?
BK: Yes. So we’ve got a number of programs going on at any time. So many, I can’t keep up with them. In fact, I had a board meeting last weekend. We’re deciding on grants. We’ve got a number of great programs.
It feels good. You know, I’ve been given a lot in life. And I feel like with that privilege comes some responsibility to give back. I try to do what I can when I can. No one can do it all. I believe that we all can do something. And that’s kind of my guiding light at least. The foundation has helped a lot of people and it’s something that makes me proud.
TM: What’s your favorite part of that work?
BK: Meeting the actual people it helps. I really don’t like the meetings. I don’t really care so much for fundraising. That’s a lot of work. I’d rather just meet the people. At the end of the day, they’re what it’s about. It’s easy to get lost in the noise of everything else.
TM: Do you have any stories that really stick out to you from meeting people or anyone it’s helped or inspired?
BK: Yeah. Meeting the quadriplegics. You know, when you think you’re having a bad day, go into a hospital and see someone with no arms or legs or both. You get some perspective real quick. I went into the hospital one time, I can’t really name names, but I met this soldier and he lost his arms and legs. And he was just clinging to life. His mom was there. And he was not conscious. But I’ll never forget, walking in there. And that person was about the same age I was and that hits your real quick, right? It’s pretty heavy stuff.
You realize just how fortunate you are you do these [things] we get to do. At the end of the day, this is an entertainment sport. We’re not curing cancer. It’s quite a privilege to get to do things like this. I’m thankful for what we have. You know that that doesn’t come free.
I like to support those that have or are willing to make sacrifices to allow us to do the things we do. It gets lost sometimes. We all get lost in the noise. Everybody gets lost in the noise of whatever’s going on.
Things can be terrible. And don’t get me wrong, terrible things happen every day. But a lot of great things happen and they far outnumber the terrible things that happen every day and I’m thankful for that.