WHERE DO THE VANILLA INTERVIEW ANSWERS COME FROM?

We have heard the criticisms of racecar drivers being dull and boring in their interviews. Especially the post-race and victory lane versions where a standard template seems to be used and the driver’s team information can easily be inserted in to his remarks.

But is it actually their fault?

In addition to paying close attention to what a driver says, pay close attention to what is asked. Or rather what is said.

Sometimes reporters are not asking questions but making statements and then putting their microphone up to a driver to record.

This sets up the standard sponsor and crew thanking words we have heard repeatedly over the years. Better comments would come from racers if they were asked something about a specific topic to address.


Imagine yourself as a race car driver. I walk up to you, say “Nice third place finish today,” and hold up my voice recorder. What would you say? This sets you up for those vanilla quotes race fans complain about.

But if I were to say “Nice third place finish today. Do you think taking 4 tires instead of just 2 on your final pit stop would have given you a better chance at winning?” you are set up to give some insight about a particular topic. If you choose to also thank those that helped get you there, that is up to you.

Chris Economaki is the longtime publisher of the just-folded National Speed Sport News and considered the Dean of American Motorsports. He is a man that covered auto racing decades before it was even close to becoming mainstream and certainly helped in advancing its popularity.

Economaki has written in his weekly columns about this same situation. As a veteran reporter himself, his journalistic methods set good examples to fellow reporters. What he has preached for years is still an interviewing issue today.

Television broadcasts as recently as Martinsville last week illustrate the point.

Jeff Gordon was asked about finishing fifth. “Good run today but not the best. Didn’t win it. What would it have taken to win the race today?”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked about coming so close to victory. “Was there anything you could have done different?”

Both are solid questions that can retrieve good insight.

Yet questions are not always asked and the driver winds up with a broad subject range on which to speak. In the victory celebration Kevin Harvick was told “Kevin Harvick has now scored wins at Martinsville in all of NASCAR’s top three series. A great bump and run and then Dale Jr. almost got the move back on you.” True statements but no question was asked. At that point the microphone was shown to Harvick. Cue the sponsors.

So do we blame the drivers for the vanilla flavoring? To me, not entirely. An interviewer needs to think about what he asks and offer the opportunity for quality responses. Make only a statement to a driver and he will respond in kind.

The sources of the plain NASCAR quotes are shared between racer and press.

In order to get a good answer one needs to ask a good question.

(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)

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