Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo may be Australian, but he’s about the closest thing we have to an American driver on the grid. His love of the country runs deep, and that stems from a childhood love of NASCAR.
See, Ricciardo grew up watching oval races the same as most of us race fans did in America. He was an avid Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan, and his reward for scoring his first podium for McLaren was getting to drive one of Earnhardt’s NASCAR machines. When I sat down with Ricciardo earlier this year, it was with the intention of asking him for his opinion on all things America — including NASCAR.
This interview is actually an excerpt from a larger interview that I did with Ricciardo. If you want to check out what you missed, it’ll be published in the next edition of The RACEWKND; if you subscribe now, that edition will be released around the Miami Grand Prix.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Elizabeth Blackstock: So what was your first impression of the US when you were a kid? Like, did that come from NASCAR or did that come somewhere else?
Daniel Ricciardo: It was I would say a combination of NASCAR and Hollywood — the movies basically. So, you’d see the Sunset Strip, and it just always felt like a bit of a dream world or fairy land. Even like Disneyland or places like this, [America] just seemed like the best place on earth. And then from a racing point of view, yeah NASCAR. It was, I guess, so unique to America. I know we had like one oval in Australia.
EB: But it’s not a big thing anywhere but America.
DR: No. Exactly. And I was also like, “Okay, trust America to make this cool.” Any other place you’d say, “Yeah, they’re just going to go around in circles.” But they made it awesome. So yeah, that was some I guess early memories.
EB: Did you dream of going to America as a kid? I imagine like you probably did.
DR: Yeah. The first thing would’ve been to go to Disneyland, and then obviously once I started falling more and more in love with motorsport, it was like Daytona 500. It’s like, “I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go.” I still haven’t been.
EB: You’ve got to do it. I haven’t been either, but I’ve been to the Daytona 24, but not the 500 yet, but it’s on my list. Like, I grew up with NASCAR, and I just went to my first NASCAR race last year, so I get it. It took too long. It took way too long.
DR: Yeah. I went to Texas in 2017, and that was my first NASCAR experience, and by then I was late 20s, and I felt like it had taken too long as well.
EB: What tracks would you have wanted to go to watch NASCAR when you were a kid?
DR: I loved the superspeedways. All the restrictor plate races, so Daytona and Talladega were two definitely on the list. But also like a Richmond or a Bristol. Obviously as a spectator you’d see more of the track on the short circuits.
EB: What was your impression of the oval racers? It’s so different than road racing.
DR: For me it was a completely different discipline, and I always knew in my head, I’m like, “Yeah, like these guys would kick my butt on an oval.” But I feel like I would do well against them on road courses. But I definitely distinguished their strengths and then, vice versa, my strengths. I mean, the close racing, for sure, that’s a fascination, you know bump drafting and this and that — but also just the timing, so in terms of like the strategy and how early in the race to show your cards so to speak, and just kind of the cat and mouse and when to go and when to be patient, like the whole flow of the race — that really fascinated me.
EB: Would you be interested in ever racing on an oval?
DR: Interested, yes but…
EB: Theoretically, but in person it’s different.
DR: Yeah, maybe at a lower level, yes, just to kind of dip my toe in the water, but like if someone offered me, “Do you want to race NASCAR this weekend on an oval?” I’d be like, “No, I’ll walk before I can run.”