|EKN One-on-One: NASCARís Jamie McMurray
| Jamie McMurray|
When spending roughly 40 weekends a year at the race track, you would think that when given the opportunity for some time off, youíd look to spend it at the golf course, the beach, or just relaxing at home. Not so for NASCARís Jamie McMurray. The new driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevy for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has a passion for speed and motorsports, so rather than sitting at home during the days between Christmas and New Yearís Eve, McMurray was back behind the wheel as he competed at this yearís World Karting Association Daytona KartWeek Manufacturerís Cup Series event at the World Center of Speed.
The trip was actually McMurrayís third straight trek to KartWeek to run on the 7/10-mile circuit that is located inside turns three and four of the Daytona International Speedway oval, where he will be competing at the upcoming Daytona 500 in February. The seven-year NASCAR Sprint Cup driver from Joplin, Missouri began his racing career in karting, running across the country in nearly every form of the sport with every sanctioning body. From there, he moved up the ranks of the Midwest ovals and eventually earned his way to the pinnacle of stock car racing.
Most recently, McMurray has regained the Ďitchí and is experiencing the joy of karting once again. Quoted in a ĎNASCAR Illustratedí article last year of having eKartingNews.com as his computerís homepage, we knew we had to sit him down for a few questions.
eKartingNews.com: Hi Jamie. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Jamie McMurray: My pleasure.
EKN: To begin, for those not familiar with your background, how were you introduced to the sport of karting?
JM: My dad did drag racing and stock cars, however, he ended up trading out something for a kart through somebody. He would race it now and then. I remember going with him when I was six to eight years old, being really interested in it. At the time, eight was the youngest age that you could race a kart. Back then, they didnít have the Kid Karts we do now. It was just Junior 1. So three days before my eighth birthday, my family bought me a kart - a Bug Wasp. It had a 5hp Briggs on it, so thatís what got me going in the sport.
EKN: The bulk of your karting career took place from 1984 to 1993, competing in everything from road racing, sprint, and oval karts, winning at all levels. During that time, what was your favorite style of karting and why?
JM: I have always liked 2-cycle sprint racing, which is actually what I got to do the least of because it was the not as popular in the Midwest. There was a lot of 4-cycle sprint racing in my area, but when I turned 16, we started racing 100cc Open or Unlimited at the sprint track. We always ran a K-35 on alcohol with this monster carburetor. It was so much fun to drive, probably comparable to a TaG today. The only thing the TaG is missing is the nitro, alcohol and nasty oil that we used to run, which would smell. I never met anyone that didnít say Ďman, that smells really goodí. But I still really enjoyed doing that. We did a lot of road racing, and that was fun going to all the big venues such as Daytona, Charlotte, and Rockingham. To go to those big tracks was just a really big deal growing up in the Midwest.
| McMurray began going to the kart tracks with his father at age six|
(Photo: J. McMurray)
EKN: When we spoke with you last year, researching a different article, you said that you competed at a karting event in Russia in 1992. At that time, did you have any aspirations of competing in the open wheel ranks? Did you consider running in F2000 to put you on the path through Toyota Atlantic and into CART like others from karting did during that time?
JM: I didnít know anything about any of that type of racing. These days, I listen to Gary Carlton talk, plus I pay a lot of attention to the drivers coming up through karting more so now. I really have just learned and Iím still naive about all those types of racing. When I got out of karts, we just started racing stock cars locally and we thought thatís what you did. It seems to me that it is very expensive to do all types of open wheel racing, whether itís a school or something else, as you need to find sponsorship or have your parents pay for it. That seems really expensive for the seat time you get when itís compared to going out and buying a late model or a modified and racing it.
I didnít really have that goal of making it to Indy Car, I wanted to race stock cars. I started working at a race shop at 14, welding chassis and doing whatever they asked me to do building stock cars. Thatís what I grew up around and you basically want to do what you see growing up.
EKN: Following karting, you hit the oval scene in late models. What were those years like leading up to your for your first NASCAR start in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1999? Was there anything during that time you took from your experiences in karting to help you progress?
JM: Race cars drive so much different than karts do. That is honestly my biggest struggle getting back into karting. Certainly being smooth is a good asset to have in karting. Iíve learned so much watching different guys drive karts, Gary (Carlton), for instance. I think Gary is the best karter in America. Every time he gets in a kart heís fast. I always get mad at him as he takes the settings from the CRG factory, throws it on the kart and is fast with it. And if you didnít know any better, you would assume he had a trick set of hubs or something else. But really, he is just a good driver. He has a different style.
| Competing in a number of karting events during his early years, McMurray was successful at all levels, seen here with an IKF Duffy|
(Photo: J. McMurray)
I was really impressed with Dan Wheldon at Daytona. To watch him throw a kart into the corner, I was very envious of his karting skills. Itís very hard to take skills from karting and apply them to a stock car, but what you can take is the format and the discipline of the sport. The competition in karting is better than it is in anything I have every done. Thatís why I love. You never really see anyone dominate at kart races. Youíll see a guy from fourth or fifth and heíll drive to the front. And youíll automatically assume heíll just drive away and he never does. Itís like he struggles to stay in the lead. Itís so much fun.
EKN: We know that your introduction at the top-level of NASCAR is a storybook tale, winning in your second race out followed by earning the Rookie of the Year in 2003. Of those first years, what is the favorite memory that you carry with you today?
JM: Winning at Charlotte, Iíll never forget it. At the same time, I donít remember a lot about that race. It all happened so fast. I think back to that night and honestly I donít remember a lot about it. Iíve seen highlights during a race or pre-race show, and then it clicks in. Sitting here talking to you, however, I donít remember much. Probably my favorite racing experience was winning at Daytona. Just because, as a kid, you either dream of the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500. To be able to come off turn four of the last lap and battle someone to the start/finish line by that close, that is something hard to top. Those are just really exciting memories that I have but I hope I get to have something more thrilling than that in the future.
EKN: Before NASCAR, you were able to run the high-banks in a kart with WKA. Is it a lot different from going 100 mph to 200mph around the track?
JM: The laydown guys that I see out there today are crazy. But I know if I got in one Iíd probably love it. Itís just crazy how fast some of the karts go around Daytona. I would probably compare the karts on the big track to the Daytona Prototypes because they race on the same track. Speedway is about drafting and timing out your moves. I donít remember that much from karting out there in my past but it is a lot different.
EKN: Your dad continues to race karts, road racing when he can. Would you like to road race a kart at Daytona in the future?
| From karts, McMurray moved on to the competitive oval scene in late models|
(Photo: J. McMurray)
JM: Well, I donít know. Thatís why I do the sprint racing. New Castle (Indiana) is a primo track for me. Itís got long straight-aways and some tight stuff. I like that size race track. Road racing is a little more laid back and more family-oriented. Everybody is friends with one another, yet itís still competitive, but itís not anything like the Manufacturerís Cup Series or if you go to a SKUSA race. When you go to those races, it is so intense. Itís not the same as road racing.
EKN: During your early NASCAR years, did you get out to the kart track much?
JM: I did zero karting back then. As soon as I made it to stock cars in í93, I had no desire to get into a kart again. My dad never quit and he would hit me up about getting back to the kart track. I honestly thought there was no way I would do it, as karts just didnít sound like fun. Around 2007, he kept asking me to head out to Charlotte (Loweís Motor Speedway sprint track) and I finally just went out there just so he would quit asking me. I drove one of his TaG karts and it took me less than a week before I ordered one. I couldnít believe how fast they were. It was about as fast I had ever been before on a kart and the idea of the onboard starter and driving off was fun.
Shifter kart racing was just coming in before I got out of karting and, after trying it a few times, I really liked it. The problem initially was getting the karts to shift and making the right types of karts. They would end up breaking and the shifter karts I saw continued to have mechanical issues. But I really, really like the Stock Moto. I wish they could get that as popular in the Midwest and on the East Coast to what it is on the West Coast. To me, that is the best form of kart racing we have. With the Stock Moto, the motors arenít that expensive initially and they last forever. Driving one feels so real, like shifting and the front wheel brakes. I love that and itís probably as fun as it gets in a kart.
| McMurray returned to karting in 2007, running a couple WKA Manufacturer's Cup Series events and the Daytona KartWeek for three straight years|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: That was my next question. Back at the í08 SuperNationals S3 final - where you placed second - many feel it was one of the best shifter kart races people had witnessed in a very long time. I was going to ask which you prefer - shifter or TaG - which I assume would be the shifter.
JM: I like the shifter. What I donít like about the TaG is the vibration. You are driving around and coughing the whole time on the race track, issues with the starter and other things. Its fun to drive, but the Stock Moto, dollar-for-dollar is more fun than the TaG. For me, the Stock Moto is not for the guy who just gets into karting, as itís much harder to drive, but itís probably my favorite. And if I could ever figure out how to drive an ICC that would probably be my new favorite. I tried it a couple times and really struggled with it, but Iím sure with the power they have it would be fun to race.
EKN: What is the motivation to attend such high profile events like the WKA Daytona KartWeek or the SKUSA SuperNationals, not just a local club race to get some laps in?
JM: I always find out what race has the most entries and the toughest competition. I would rather run 20th at a big race than win a club race. Thatís just not fun for me. I really enjoy going to the SKUSA SuperNationals. That has to be the most fun you can have in karting. I know they are doing a race in St. Louis this year and that happens to be on my off weekend, so Iíll probably go do that. I just like showing up with all the big tents and bigger teams being there. I like to be part of that. I like to see other peopleís stuff and see what trick parts each manufacturer has on their karts, and the Ďwowí factor that goes into those big races. To go run a club race just doesnít sound fun. I would rather struggle at the big events then win a small one.
| McMurray was involved in one of the best shifter kart races ever, the 2008 SKUSA SuperNationals S3 final|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: What is it like working with three-time national karting champion Gary Carlton? Is there anything you can take from your debriefing with your Cup crew chief and transfer to the kart track and your relationship with Gary?
JM: Gary is very technical. When I came up in karting, I vaguely remember moving hubs in and out, and that was it. I donít remember moving the seat, or different axles. We didnít do that when I was racing karts. I feel old saying this, but I remember the guys that wore the gauges on a belt. I remember guys having those and thinking how out of date they were. We had the Digatron gauges with the cylinder head temp and the tach, but you had to switch it back and forth.
And thatís another thing when I went out with my dad a few years back, was all new technology and the data accusation products. I really like to be able to download and look at all of that. Gary is really good at that, but he gets frustrated with me. Even though I won at New Castle, the set-up we had to be fast there was exactly the opposite everyone else had. When we got to Daytona, we could almost put a Ďnormalí type set-up on it and Gary was helpful with that. But the last couple times he was out with me, everything he wanted to do just made me slower. So, he would laugh and get frustrated.
The one thing that we always talked about, and most karters can relate to this, was when you changed almost everything on the kart and you still go the same speed. The common factor, however, is the thing you havenít changedÖyou, the driver. Last year, we went to Daytona, we changed everything and went the same speed. I said I knew what the problem is, but weíre not changing it, because itís me (laughing). Iím paying for all this, so Iím staying in the kart.
| Multi-time national karting champion Gary Carlton has been working with McMurray during his karting events|
Itís great for me to have Gary as I have learned a lot. I tell you, he and Randy Neal from PCH Motorsports, both who were at Daytona with me, I really enjoy their friendship more. When I went to the SuperNationals, Randy let me pit under his tent and Gary was racing alongside me, and we became friends. I would just do anything for either one of those guys. Itís a lot of fun for me to be around them and I really enjoy listening to Garyís stories about racing in Europe and the way they do things over there. The friendship has been great.
EKN: Speaking of friendships, youíre back with Chip Ganassi and with a new teammate Juan Pablo Montoya - a karting veteran of his own. Will we ever see a karting battle between the two of you?
JM: I donít know. Iíve talked to him about karting a little bit already, but Juan is like everyone else. When you have your hobby, you do your hobby and everyone elseís is retarded. Heís really into RC Planes from what I hear and I donít know if heís really into karting that much now. But, you never know. He certainly has a karting background but I donít think heís into near as much as I am right now. I would really like to have some type of a charity kart race and with Juan being my teammate this year hopefully it will be easy to get him to come.
EKN: Youíll have to keep us updated if anything is put together. My last question is this, what karting events do you have planned for 2010? It looks like you have maybe two off-weekends in the summer from your busy NASCAR schedule.
JM: I look at my off-weekends and find a big race. I saw that SKUSA is doing the Pro Tour and I hope their California and St. Louis events are like what the SuperNationals is. So I intend on the SKUSA St. Louis weekend, but with the way the schedules work out, I didnít see anything else on my other off-weekends. However, if something pops up in August, I could go do that. It would be hard for me to go to California, but anything on this side of the country would be great.
| McMurray is a big fan of the PRI-CKI All-Star Karting Classic, having raced in the event the past three years|
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
EKN: Is PRI still on your schedule for 2010?
JM: Oh yeah, I will definitely do that. You know, that event, it happens so fast, you get frustrated, but its fun and you canít wait for next year. Everyone Iíve talked to like (AJ) Allmendinger and others like it, but it can be frustrating because you want to do so well. Itís such a cool event, however I wish they could get the event done sooner. It gets done so late at night, that you donít have time to go hang out with anyone. Thatís the fun part of the event is seeing all the other drivers, but getting done at 11:00 pm leaves no time to hang out with the other drivers. But, it is a fun and cool event and I canít wait for the next one.
EKN: With the Daytona 24 just around the corner for you, and then the NASCAR season kicking off, we wish you the best of luck in 2010 and hope to see you at the kart track soon.
JM: Thanks guys.