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NASCAR Cup Series

FIVE MINUTES WITH … Max Papis

Starting with Formula One in Europe and then coming to race Champ Cars and NASCAR in America, Max Papis has done it all in the motorsports world over the past 20 years. The 46-year-old racer has wheeled single-seaters, sports cars and stock cars across the globe.

Now a business owner, Papis hasn’t been able to race as often as he would like but remains busy working to improve safety equipment in stock cars and helping young talents progress in their careers.

Humble Beginnings

Papis, a Como, Italy native, grew up racing go-karts on European road courses in his early years. Throughout his teens, he competed in intercontinental championships with a goal of making it to the top. Papis made his debut in F1 in 1995 and drove in seven Grand Prix events with virtually no success. He never scored any points or stood on the podium in the series, but still holds pride in making it that far.

“Although it was not really a spectacular experience, I still raced it, and I feel that it is a great accomplishment to say that you raced there,” Papis told POPULAR SPEED. “I was a kid with a dream, and if you were a racecar driver, you wanted to race in Formula One.”

After the 1995 season, Papis wanted to continue his career. He had such a passion for motorsports that he wouldn’t give up, and came to America for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in April 1996.

“When my dream crashed in 1995, I had people tell me I had a great personality for racing in America,” Papis said. “I came to race at Daytona in the 24-hour race for Ferrari in 1996. I put my name on the map by racing hard and finishing second. When I look back, it was pretty special.”

American Digs

Papis ran three races in the 1996 CART season and scored one top-10 finish — ninth at the Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America. The following year, he began racing full time for Arciero Wells Racing and remained with the team until joining Team Rahal in 1999.

In 1999, Papis had one pole and three podium finishes with Bobby Rahal’s organization. In the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2000, Papis won his first career Champ Car race. After that, he claimed two more wins and had seven more podiums until getting his feet wet in stock car racing.

Papis made his NASCAR debut in the 2006 Watkins Glen Busch Series race, where he finished an impressive 14th after starting 43rd. As a road course specialist in the series, he notched four top fives in 14 career starts, with a best finish of second at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2010. But one of Papis’ favorite memories as a racer was making his first Daytona 500 in the Sprint Cup Series six months earlier.

“The two things that always stick in my brain are my debut in America [in the 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona], and qualifying for the Daytona 500 and having my hero, Mark Martin, coming over to congratulate me,” Papis said.

Papis started 31st in the 2010 Daytona 500 for Germain Racing. However, his No. 13 Toyota suffered an engine failure after 89 laps and wound up 40th in the Great American Race.

Coach Pap

Papis hasn’t raced a full season since the 2011 Camping World Truck Series campaign, but he works with other drivers who are trying to make a name for themselves in Trucks and the XFINITY Series.

He’s been a driving coach for Richard Childress Racing, specifically for brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, and taught them how to improve their road course performance. Papis worked with Austin until he made it to the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time driver for RCR, and now coaches William Byron in the Truck Series.

Byron, 18, is running full time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 9 Toyota. In nine races this season, he has won three times and leads the points standings. Papis is astonished by the rookie’s performance and says the youngster is surpassing expectations.

“William is a very fast learner, a great student of the sport and a very intelligent person,” Papis said. “He races as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone and that is what has impressed me the most. He has the heart of a lion and the face of a little angel.

“Usually, you don’t find that in people like him and I’m very thankful because it’s a joy to see our on-track and off-track communication work. The merit, his talent, his ability, his KBM team — it’s all him. I am an advisor and a coach; a coach speaks to people to improve communication, and I bring my 30 years of experience.”

Steering into a business …

When Papis raced open-wheel cars in the 1990s, he needed a uniquely-shaped steering wheel to be compatible with his six-foot stature. Then when he sat in the cockpit of a stock car for the first time, he felt the steering wheels were antiquated. So in 2009, Papis and his wife, Tatiana, founded Max Papis Innovations, a company that specializes in designing safer and more comfortable steering wheels.

The idea for MPI wheels spawned from a necessity Papis felt, which was that racecar drivers needed an improved wheel to maneuver while driving. The company has a manufacturing plant in Italy and their products are widely used by drivers in the United States, ranging from late model dirt racers to NASCAR champions.

“I’ve been in the steering wheel business for 20 years, and I used to build steering wheels for myself because of my height,” Papis said. “I learned a lot about how steering wheels were produced and what characteristics were in the product, and I applied that knowledge in MPI. We use very innovative safety and construction mechanisms, and we’re extremely proud to be successful with people who have won championships like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. It’s an honor because it means we are helping the sport, and we are growing the company.”

… and resolving some unfinished business

Between his coaching duties and his concentration on MPI, Papis dedicates his time to helping others with their careers, putting his own racing career aside. He hasn’t competed in NASCAR’s top three series in three years but doesn’t consider himself retired. In fact, his biggest goal is to win a NASCAR race, which he has come so close to achieving.

“I’ve been focusing a lot to develop my business, MPI, and I haven’t been able to focus enough to find a road course ride,” Papis said. “Ideally, I would love to be able to run the three XFINITY Series road course races and the Truck [Series] road course race next year. I’ve tried to achieve my goal, and I’ve finished second, but it is still on my agenda to finish that goal. The word ‘retirement’ does not belong to me.”

Papis has raced his entire life and has been a part of the world’s greatest motorsports events, including two Indianapolis 500s, seven 24 Hours of Le Mans and a Daytona 500. He is proud of his accomplishments and cherishes the memorable moments from his racing career. But he isn’t ready to hang up the helmet.

“Racing has been my life,” Papis said. “But I expect my best memory to be the one that’s going to come.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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CALINOFF: I’m Not Abandoning NASCAR

I know the title doesn’t match the photo. That was actually by design – but stick around and you’ll see where it comes into play.

One of my favorite idioms is “Letting the Tail Wag the Dog.” (There’s the connection to the picture — that’s Leo)

To paraphrase, it means allowing something small to have a significant influence on something much bigger. I’ve been guilty of it for most of my business career. I take a little idea, and I let it consume me until I can gain control and put it back into the correct perspective. That’s when I do the wagging.

If you know me, you’ve figured out that I’m rarely at a loss for things to do. I’m never bored – always on the move. I keep the plates spinning and the balls in the air. Spare me the balls in the air jokes. I wrote most of them anyway.

When we started PopularSpeed.com three years ago, it was quite an undertaking – finding the right name was a project in itself. Then we had to figure out who we wanted to be and what we would stand for. And then there was the design and finding writers and getting photographers. (We have Nigel Kinrade and his group – it doesn’t get better than that. No charge for the plug, Nigel.) And then we had to make sure we deliver engaging content and maintain our momentum.

The wind-up? It’s become bigger and better than I had ever imagined. We didn’t get to this point by accident. We’re here because of the people. Everyone who has his or her fingerprints on this site makes a difference. And I’m grateful to have each and every one of them.

After I launched the site, I made a promise to myself – and everyone around me – that this will be the extent of my website business. I’ll just stick with this.

I lied. It was totally unintentional.

abc123pow
A few months ago I was looking for information about Formula One. I don’t even remember why. But, aside from what you can get from the series page, there weren’t any independent sites, and nothing much to speak of for IndyCar either.

When I say “independent” I mean sites dedicated to those premier worldwide disciplines of motorsports. There are plenty of, what I call, “tab sites” which are all things to all people. Nothing wrong with that – but I’m not inclined to sift through NASCAR  INDYCAR  F1  NHRA  SCCA  RALLY  SPORTS CAR  MOTOGP  POGO STICK and UNICYCLE tabs to find the information I’m looking for.

So today, I’m pleased to introduce PopularOpenWheel.com.

We’re only covering IndyCar and Formula One – as well as their support series, IndyLights and GP2, respectively. There’s also something called “The Road to Indy” which serves as a feeder system. I know, I’m a little confused myself.

Aside from the lack of information, I figured two things:

  1. a) IndyCar has made some changes in the off-season to management and the rules package. The racing is supposedly going to be as good as it used to be. I know this because someone told me. I’m confident there will be a heightened interest. So, that was appealing.
  1. b) Gene Haas is fielding a U.S.-owned Formula One team for the first time. I figured that not only will there be more interest by Americans, but from NASCAR fans as well. Stewart-Haas has four marquee drivers with lots of fans, and you know how that goes — we all support each other. So I thought that was attractive. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong – but I love risks. I love starting new things. It motivates me to have a kick-ass day. I do it for sport.

Many of you may ask, “Calinoff, what do you know about IndyCar or Formula One?” It’s a valid question. I know nothing about this stuff. That’s the truth. But I know Roger Penske. And Chip Ganassi. And Dario Franchitti. And Nelson Piquet, Jr. – and those people know people who also know people.

But really, I found the magic bullet.

Lewis Franck, who has covered motorsports for over 30 years, including 22 years at Reuters news service, is the guy. I don’t need to know anybody – just Lewis. Because he, too, knows Roger Penske. And Chip Ganassi. And Mario Andretti. And everyone else in that world. I know nothing. Lewis knows everything. So, he’s the Executive Editor and will be hands-on. He has assembled a great staff of editors and writers.

Lewis is funny. (Actually, he’s quite comical) But funny, because he calls and sends me emails about all these things he’s doing and relationships he’s leveraging. To that, I respond, “Great job, Lewis,” and “That awesome, Lewis” and “How did you possibly pull that off, Lewis?”

I have absolutely no clue what he’s talking about. But it must be really good because he’s excited. And that makes me excited.

That brings us to the title of this story.

NASCAR is my first love. It always will be. It’s given me a career and a level of success far beyond my wildest dreams. My life is great as a result of NASCAR. I have been blessed with the opportunities that have come my way over the years. And while I’m not spotting regularly, much of my business is in the NASCAR arena. I’m not going anywhere.

That’s the deal. I invite you to check it out. If you like what you see, tell someone. If you don’t like what you see, tell everyone – because people are curious by nature. If you tell them not to do something, they tend to want to know why. Tell a kid not to touch a hot stove or wet paint.

So, this is it. I’m done with the website business. I have one that’s great and another that’s destined to be great. I’m officially satisfied.

Wait. I’m lying again.

I have another site launching on May 26th. There’s nothing like it. Not even on tabs. Get excited. I mean, really excited.

Do you want a hint? Too bad.

The plates are spinning, and the balls are in the air.

I gotta go. I have things to do. Hold my calls.

 

Email Mike at mike@mikecalinoff.com

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