The three things you’re most likely to see in a NASCAR garage:
2. Gas cans
3. Juan Pablo Montoya blowing off an autograph-seeker.
Now, to be fair Montoya isn’t the first or last person to brush by a Sharpie-holding admirer. Tony Stewart was quite blunt a few years ago explaining that he doesn’t come to the race track to sign autographs. Even Jeff Burton, dubbed “The Mayor” in the garage for his diplomatic ways, said earlier this year that he’ll ignore a fan’s request with no regrets if need be.
Stewart and Burton were essentially saying the same thing: There’s a time for fan appreciation and a time to work on winning races. Especially at times when the team is struggling, they need every spare second for the task at hand.
That’s OK. What’s not OK is categorically hating to sign autographs, and an insider in NASCAR circles who I trust told me a couple of years ago that Montoya can’t stand the process.
Just in the last few weeks I’ve noticed him on TV refusing to sign for a lone person waiting for an autograph next to his hauler. I’ve seen him power-walk by fans holding out pictures on his way to a drivers’ meeting, as opposed to others who happily made their way to the barricades to sign away.
On the other hand, I was 10 feet away from Greg Biffle at Pocono as he BSed with fans like they were old friends while giving his John Hancock. I marveled at Jeff Gordon’s cool demeanor at Dover once. He walked out of his hauler, calmly explained to a throng that he was running late for the drivers’ meeting, but reassured everyone that if they walked with him that he’d sign. I followed the pack as he briskly made his way to the meeting but satisfied just about everyone’s request along the way.
Then there’s the simple but brilliant logic Richard Petty gave in a TNT interview on why he always took time to sign for everybody.
“OK, I go to the racetrack and I run a race. And when the race is over the promoter gives you money. Where’d that promoter get that money?”
Montoya isn’t required to be like Biffle, Gordon, Petty or anybody else on the circuit. I’m just trying to figure out how his actions at the track jibe with his words when he first came into the sport. In just about every interview he gave, he talked about how cold and unfeeling pit road was in Formula 1, and how he felt at home in the family atmosphere of NASCAR circles.
It would seem that someone who had finally found his happy place would be a little more giving, a tad more appreciative.
But then again, the guy had a prickly attitude in Formula 1. Twelve-step programs say that if all you do to change your life is move, you’ll just bring your problems with you.
Maybe some of NASCAR’s best — those who actually “get it” — can offer an intervention.