So many questions: Chip Ganassi
It's been a long and winding road for auto-racing icon Chip Ganassi. Following a shift from being behind the wheel to behind the scenes, he became the first owner ever to win the Daytona 500 (NASCAR), the Indianapolis 500 (IndyCar), the Brickyard 400 (NASCAR) and the Rolex 24 at Daytona (GRAND-AM) during the 2010-11 season. Over a successful career that has spanned three decades, his open-wheel teams have amassed nine championships and 86 wins (including three at the Indianapolis 500), while his teams overall have claimed 14 championships and 145 victories.
A Western Pennsylvania native, Ganassi has been lauded for his exceptional contributions to the history of Western Pennsylvania, the nation, and the world as part of the Senator John Heinz History Center's History Makers.
Question: With a degree in finance, how did you get into the business of race-car driving•
Answer: The quick answer is, whether it was motorcycles or dirt bikes or snowmobiles, I sort of had a fossil fuel-fired youth. I was into vehicles long before I was into finance. So, like most people do, you have these parallel lives going on, and it was just a way to bring together my education from Duquense and my passion. It started off as motorsports and, ultimately, became the business of motorsports.
Q: I watched a YouTube video of your infamous Michigan 500 crash from 1984 -- pretty gruesome. Do you remember anything about the impact itself•
A: No. I can look at that video, and it doesn't bother me a bit. The mind has a way of erasing traumatic trauma. Thankfully.
Q: You didn't retire after that crash; what made you get back into the driver's seat•
A: My father thought it was brain damage. I just wanted to exit the sport on my terms. I wasn't ready to leave the sport then.
Q: 2010 was a great year for you: After becoming the first owner to win the four most prestigious races in the U.S., did you ever have a moment where you thought "OK, this is how I want to go out; it's time to retire?"
A: No. People have asked me that, and that's not why I'm in this sport. Certainly, there are other things I'd love to do, but what I get out of racing is to compete at the highest levels at the front of the pack. I haven't lost any passion for it at all, even after winning those races. There are more races to win. I have a whole team of people that are depending on me; they have families and little kids. I'm not retiring any time soon.
Q: Now that you're an owner, do you ever get an itch to begin racing again•
A: No. It's a young man's game. I'm going to be 54 years old in another month or so. If I ever get the itch to start racing, I get a speeding ticket.
Q: I can't resist: how many speeding tickets have you gotten?
A: Let's just say that I have my share. I'm on a personal level with some of the officers.
Q: You were born in Westmoreland County, went to school at Duquesne, and even after all of your success, you still maintain a residence in Fox Chapel. You could live anywhere in the world. Why Pittsburgh•
A: Because it's the greatest place to be. It's my home. It's where I grew up. People talk about regional assets, and when they talk about regional assets, they point to things like UPMC or CMU. How about the regional assets that you can't put your finger on?
I once heard (sports correspondent) Frank Deford talk about when he first came to Pittsburgh in the early days of baseball. What he couldn't get over in driving around the city was that there were all these kids. There were the Italians and the Poles and the blacks, and it didn't matter what you were -- everyone was playing baseball and everyone was playing together.
Pittsburghers let their actions speak louder than their words. They just do it. That's the kind of people I want to be around.
Q: If you had to sum up your legacy in three words or less, what would those three words be•
A: Fast, fun and friendly.
Be sure to get more of the social scoop with Kate Benz in Monday's Fanfare column.