Michael Annett drives the No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota Camry for Germain Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. After this Monday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway Michael is ranked 15th in points. With his time in the ARCA series where he racked up two wins, at Talladega and Daytona, he’s proven that he’s an up-and-coming driver that you should keep on your radar for sure.
I spoke to the 23-year-old (he turns 24 in June) former hockey player for the first time last week to chat about what life is like in the Nationwide Series.
I’ll be totally honest with you guys the part of this interview that I LOVE the most is when Michael reveals what his true favorite food is and his affinity for chick flicks. I thought it was really cool that he was willing to admit that fact and I told him so. So ladies, if you’re not already a fan of this guy you will be after you read that. Oh, and did I mention that he’s also adorable?
Me: I know you have this long history of hockey in your background, what made you decide to switch from hockey to racing?
Michael: When I was born my dad owned a World of Outlaw Sprint Car team. I was born in ’86 and all the way up ’til ’93 we were at a racetrack pretty much every weekend. So growing up all of the racecar drivers were my heroes. My dad got burned out on the sport and we quit going to the racetrack. So I was a seven-year-old kid wondering who to look up to and what I was going to do just because my whole life I thought I was going to be a racecar driver. It was kind of over right then and there. I had a couple buddies that were playing hockey at the time and I went to one of their practices with them after school. I went home and told my mom that was what I wanted to do. So we got into that and got all the way up to the semi-pro level when I was 18. I was too small to go play college and be a professional at it so I had to find something else to do. I knew I couldn’t be the kind of person to sit behind a desk from 8 to 5. I went to my dad and we talked about it. He called up some of his old connections from racing and we started doing a couple tests and got back into it. And now we’ve been on a fast track since we started when I was 18, seems like everyone else started when they were 6 or 7 in go-karts. So we’ve been on a fast track to get caught up.
Me: Yeah, and you’ve had a lot of success in the ARCA series. Can you talk a little about that and what it felt like to win at Talladega and Daytona?
Michael: I got a good opportunity with Win-Tron Racing, which was Country Joe Racing at the time, and we went to Iowa for my first ARCA start. We sat on the pole and ran third and had two more good races with them. We caught the eye of Bill Davis Racing and drove the 28 car at Talladega. I had a really good friendship with Tommy Baldwin and put that whole thing together, went to Talladega and we won that race. That kind of set up the pattern for the next year and we setup a little program to run 10 ARCA races on all of the mile and a half’s or bigger. We started at Daytona and won that race. We ended up running five races that year and then the [no.] 22 truck seat opened up and we ended up splitting the rest of the year with Scott Speed and had some good finishes there. Unfortunately things weren’t coming together that we wanted to at Bill Davis Racing and we kind of started shopping around and everything just seemed good for Germain Racing to go full-time in the Nationwide Series. Put a two-year deal together with them and finished top-10 in points last year. And in this year definitely looking to be top-5 in points. We’ve had a pretty good start so far, couple bumps in the road, but everything’s working a lot better than it did at this time last year.
Me: What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been in the Nationwide Series?
Michael: It hit me about three quarters of the way through last year how much on the edge you need to be in these cars to be fast and to feel so close sometimes that it’s just that little bit extra to get that extra tenth. Gaining that confidence and going through the whole off-season trying to keep that in me and bring that into this year, and, we’ve definitely done that. We’ve been running in the top-10 in a few races and have had fast cars and people definitely know that we’re there week in and week out.
Me: So can you explain to someone who’s never driven racecar before what it feels like to be so close to the edge? Because I know that you guys push your cars so far that it feels almost out of control. What is that like?
Michael: I think the biggest thing is that people think we’re just out there driving in circles. What they don’t realize is each time we’re going into a corner, each lap — 250 times — you’re doing everything you can to go as fast as you can and not wreck. And I think that’s why you see guys like Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart spinning out last weekend just because to be the best and be a top-5 car you’re on that very edge and a lot of times you’ve got to go over that edge to find it, and that’s when you see guys wrecking. It’s just an amazing feeling to be on that edge and live your life week in and week out right there.
Me: So did you hear the news about Kelly Bires being released from JR Motorsports?
Michael: I did not.
Me: They’re replacing him with Jamie McMurray for nine races. So that got me thinking about the pressure to succeed and to do well. How do you deal with that? I mean it just seems like it’s this thing that’s always hanging over everyone’s head all the time.
Michael: You definitely feel a lot of pressure but the biggest thing is to just control everything you can control and not try to drive above your head. We all got to where we are in this sport and if you just continue doing that you’re going to perform like you need to. People try, I think, to do too much and I’m not saying that’s what Kelly did, I think he’s a great driver, that’s actually shocking to hear that that happened. It’s just when you see a lot of people trying to doing too much and get in over their head and start tearing up equipment. If you have a good relationship with your team and you guys all have the same goals and you all want the same thing and you do everything that got you to where you are, you should perform like you should and everybody’s going to be happy in the long run.
Me: So outside of racing where would we find you? What are you most passionate about away from the track? What do you like to do?
Michael: I know it’s not outside of racing but I try to get to the shop everyday. Other than that, get a workout in and it’s fun time from there on out, like going out on the lake or going mountain biking. I’ve never been much of a fisherman but that’s kind of a past love. We’ve been out on the lake fishing everyday and it’s just fun. It’s relaxing and definitely something to be able to go out with a bunch of buddies and if you want to talk about racing you can, or if not it can be the furthest thing from your mind.
Me: How would your friends and family describe your personality? What kind of guy are you?
Michael: I always get told from people that they’ve heard that I’m really quiet, that I’m the quiet guy. I guess I’m just more shy in the beginning and then I get comfortable and can trust you I definitely open up and then people start think I’m obnoxious and need to be quiet. It’s pretty much if I’m comfortable with you I’m a lot of fun to be around, but some people think I come off as a jerk sometimes just because I’m quiet but it’s really more of a shyness thing than trying to be stubborn or not wanting to talk to ya.
Me: I’ve seen the Nationwide Series commercial that’s about you, I don’t think you’re actually in it, but the guy is reciting facts about you and says that your favorite food is grilled cheese with the crusts cut off, is that true?
Michael: No, I don’t even know where they came up with that, to be honest with you. The first time I think it came on a friend texted me asking about that and was like, “What are you talking about?” But no, what they should have said is, ya know, I’m a big Chinese guy. I eat Chinese food probably four times a week. They should have gone with that, I don’t know where the grilled cheese came from.
Me: That’s funny, that’s cool. Well, that’s good to know. Something from your website says that one of your favorite movies is “P.S. I Love You.” I was just curious, what’s that about?
Michael: Yea, I get made fun of a lot. I got a good buddy back in Des Moines where I’m from and we were always huge chick flick guys. Whenever one would come out we’d call each other, wait for it to go on DVD and then rent it and have a movie night and watch chick flicks. I mean, “P.S. I Love You” and “The Notebook,” “Pearl Harbor,” all things like that. I love ’em.
Me: Seriously?? So, chick flicks. Have you ever cried while watching any of these movies?
Michael: “P.S. I Love You,” like, it breaks you down like 10 times throughout the movie. I watched it by myself one time and I called my buddy and I was like “Hey you gotta watch this thing.” I was at home for Christmas, so he comes over, we watch it and I look over at him and he’s doing everything he can to not cry. He’s just bawling, he’s like “Why are you doing this to me?” That was fun.
Me: That’s awesome. That’s great, I think it’s great that you can admit that you watch those movies. Most guys totally wouldn’t admit that.
Michael: Yea, It’s embarrassing when people come over and look at my movie collection ’cause I have tons of them.
Me: That’s great. So what would you say is the best thing about racing in the Nationwide Series? Why should people watch?
Michael: I’d say it’s definitely the hardest racing right now. You could say the trucks are but the way I look at the [Craftsman] Truck Series there might be maybe five guys that can win the race each weekend and in Nationwide Series I’d say there are probably ten cars or even fifteen. I think that’s the coolest thing about our series and our races are shorter than Cup so we definitely have to go harder, but I think our car’s aero package is still better than the COT’s. So, we can race harder and next to each other. There’s more passing than you see in a Cup race. A 21-year-old kid can win it one week and Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards will go out and win it the next weekend. It’s just cool seeing new guys coming up through the sport racing guys that have already made a name.
Follow Michael Annett on Twitter @MichaelAnnett