How to become a NASCAR driver

How a German got into NASCAR

( - When it comes to NASCAR, there is no way around Klaus Graf in Germany. The 37-year-old racing driver from the Black Forest is not only a welcome, competent 'Premiere' TV expert and co-host on NASCAR broadcasts, he is also the only German who has ever contested a Nextel Cup race .

© Klaus Graf

Klaus Graf in the cockpit of his Dodge Intrepid 2004 in Sears Point

In this respect, he has a unique level of expertise in this country, of which he revealed a lot in an interview with ''. In addition, as a columnist for '', Klaus Graf will regularly present his point of view on current NASCAR topics.

Here is the first of several parts of our large exclusive interview. # W1 #

The only German in NASCAR

Question: "Klaus, are you really the only German who has ever driven in NASCAR ..."
Klaus Graf: "Yes. There are always a few objections from some fans because Rolf Stommelen once drove a race in Riverside. I don't know when that was exactly, it was a long time ago. But in the end it wasn't a championship race because you once drove an invitation race in Riverside for a while. So I'm probably the only German who has competed in a Winston Cup or a Nextel Cup race in modern times. "

"That was the first time I saw the dimensions of that in America." Klaus Graf

Question: "Now the whole thing took place in 2004. Back then, very few people, especially as far as the media were concerned, were involved with NASCAR. A lot of people don't know the story, so I would ask you to read the story, how it came to that, briefly touching on. "
Count: "That was a really long road. I first really came into contact with NASCAR in 1999 when we had the sports car engines from Robert Yates Racing with Panoz, at that time still the NASCAR works team from Ford. I often go to them Factory came and saw for the first time what it all means - what NASCAR actually organizes, what kind of dimensions it has in America. "

"And then of course I started to follow NASCAR more and more, to watch the races, since I lived in the USA. I also went to a local race in Atlanta."

"Man, NASCAR would be something completely new"

"NASCAR would be something that has at least the same status as Formula 1 in the USA." Klaus Graf

Question: "At the time you were over there as a Panoz works driver in the ALMS."
Count: "Exactly, and then I dealt more and more with the topic of NASCAR and at some point I knew: 'Man, that would be something completely new!' For me as a driver, Formula 1 was ticked off for many years and NASCAR would be something that has at least the same value in terms of sporting value, especially in the USA. "

"You have to know that the whole structure of NASCAR with its many sub-classes - after all, we only know the Nextel Cup - works like a closed circle."

About the good old boys mentality

Question: "Is it really the case that NASCAR is, as they often say outwardly, a pretty protectionist clique, with classic male friendships and so on?"
Count: "Yes, the 'Good Old Boys', that's the way to say it, that still counts. That is definitely the case. There is a lot that has not been written - you belong or you do not belong. That is the mentality and that's why it was It is also very difficult for Christian to have anyone's hearing at all. "

"We already had an appointment in 2000 or 2001 with George Smith, who is actually the CEO of Roush Racing. We also tried to get Mike Kranefuss to the table."

Question: "Mike Kranefuss, you have to add, was the team boss of Roger Penske's NASCAR team at the time ..."
Count: "Exactly. He was Roger Penske's partner at the time. Mike Kranefuss is still known to many in Europe from his time as Ford Motorsport Director during the great, glorious days of Ford in touring car racing."

© Klaus Graf

Finally the first NASCAR tests in 2004 at BAM Racing in VirginiaZoom

Question: "And he couldn't help you there either?"
Count: "He could, but he didn't really want to. He gave us a few tips, but he didn't really want to risk anything. In the end we stayed on the ball anyway. Christian was very busy implementing everything. He worked his way into this more and more and then came into contact with BAM Racing in 2003. "

Finally tests with a Nextel Cup team

"BAM Racing was a very young team at the time. Beth Ann Morgenthau was the only female owner in NASCAR, apart from Theresa Earnhardt maybe, but okay, let's leave that out. Beth Ann is the only one you really can do as the owner. They were a young team and they were open to the idea of ​​trying something new with a German, with a European. "

"Then they said, okay, let's go have a test. We went to Virginia on a roadcourse to test in January 2004 and the test went very well. At the beginning, team manager Eddie Jones gave me a few old tires that were still there I just thought: 'Oh, that slips brutally' and didn't get any lap times. I think to myself: 'Okay, c'est la vie, it'll just be so good.' "

"When I equaled the unofficial lap record, of course the ice was broken." Klaus Graf

"But then Eddie said: 'You, stay calm, we still have a few sets of new, current tires'. Yes, then we strapped them on and suddenly things went as they should. And then I equalized Boris Said's unofficial lap record. Then of course the ice was broken and then they wanted me to definitely drive the road races. "

Question: "But Boris Said didn't drive for BAM Racing back then?"
Count: "No. Boris has been a specialist in road races for various teams for years, similar to Ron Fellows. And he is also used by the teams for driver coaching or test drives. He is on the road a lot on the NASCAR road courses."

Relatively quickly to the oval

"Because the race at Infineon Raceway didn't take place until June and they didn't want me to develop into a specialist in road races, the idea came relatively quickly that I should develop as a stock car driver. And that's how BAM got me Racing brought to the oval relatively quickly. "

"If they see that he suits us, the performance is also good, then you can quickly gain a foothold." Klaus Graf

Question: "That should perhaps be mentioned again: On the one hand, NASCAR is a very protectionist society with this 'good-old-boy' mentality. On the other hand, they say that once you're inside, you've made it How did this turnaround come about? Was it just the test results?
Count: "They are very performance-oriented. If the performance is right and the person fits, then they switch from one moment to the other. There is a lot of black and white mentality. When they see, okay, we can do a lot with that achieve, it suits us, the performance is also right, then you can quickly gain a foothold. "

Where is the joke about oval driving, please?

Question: "In connection with the ovals, a very fundamental question, what the average, Formula 1-watching Central European doesn't understand. He says: Where is the joke about oval driving? There are four simple left turns. Where is the trick, what is it about it there? "
Count: "The bottom line is precision. Oval driving is very multifaceted, there are many different track configurations. And each track configuration has different requirements. Pure driving is then this almost robot-like driving, always doing the same thing. This exact driving, this one The feeling of always driving precisely, that's what it is for me. "

"Plus - and that's the big NASCAR fascination for me - you can do a great job with a reasonable budget, a good crew chief, a good driver and a good crew, if you take the big teams like Hendrick and Roush out of the picture leaves."

NASCAR is still handmade

"You can do a great job at NASCAR on a reasonable budget." Klaus Graf

"That means: NASCAR is still man-made. It is made by the people who work in it. In Formula 1, for example, this is only partially the case. You also need the right people, but technology, resources and Money plays a major role. And in NASCAR it is the driver / crew chief combination. If that succeeds, then you can be successful. "

"There are no data or telemetry recordings during the races or during testing. That means, ultimately, the statement made by the driver still has a lot of weight. And the crew chief needs to know how he receives these statements and how he then translates them Implements changes. As a driver, you have a lot of influence and that gives a driver a relatively high level of satisfaction. "

Question: "Did you already realize all this when you were first sent to an oval?"
Count: "Of course it wasn't, I have to be very clear. That was of course completely new territory for me. I knew that it would be a completely different, special story. And one thing - I'll never forget: When we tested in Kentucky and I drove down the pit lane for the first time, I said to myself: 'Man oh man, where did you end up here? (laughs; editor's note)' Because the car is completely asymmetrical, it then drives to the left independently. "

"Where did I end up here?"

"My steering wheel was not yet optimally positioned, which means I wanted to take it off again and put it on again. I stopped again, but rolled the last few meters and took the steering wheel down while I was rolling . "

"At that moment there was no longer any steering wheel on the car, and the car immediately turned two meters to the left (laughs; editor's note). And I thought to myself: 'Yes, what's going on here?' Virtually without turning the steering wheel, the wheels were 30 to 40 degrees to the left. "

© Klaus Graf

And suddenly Klaus Graf was a NASCAR driver at BAM-RacingZoom

"And then I noticed, okay, so we have a completely different construction site here. Then I didn't do the first five or ten laps on lap time. And Kenny Schrader, who was my team-mate at BAM Racing at the time, naturally did that and said: 'Okay, you have to change a bit, you have to do it this way and that and just change the way you drive.' Suddenly at the end of the day I was driving almost as fast as Kenny, and it just clicked. "

"It probably suits my driving style very well, I was very fast on the oval right away. Some of them may have a harder time. You shouldn't be afraid of the walls and of course not of the high speeds. Kentucky is a 1.5- Oval miles, you drive average speeds of 175 to 180 miles per hour, i.e. 270, 280 km / h. "

Part two of the big Klaus Graf interview will follow on Friday. Look forward to a detailed description of his NASCAR experiences.