I interviewed Shana Mayfield, the wife of suspended NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield, in 2008 and I’m finally posting it today. We talked for little over an hour which is the longest interview I’ve ever done (what’s below isn’t even the entire conversation). For a couple reasons, which I won’t bore you with, I didn’t get it transcribed until this year.
At the time of the interview, Jeremy was driving for Haas CNC Racing, after leaving Bill Davis Racing, and before that being infamously released from Evernham Motorsports. Since then so many things have happened I can’t possibly chronicle it all, so just take a look at this and this.
So, things have been difficult for the Mayfields, to say the least. Throughout all of it I kept thinking back to the conversation I had with Shana. She was so incredibly nice, down-to-earth and honest. I really liked her and I had a hard time (and I still do) reconciling everything we’d talked about with what has transpired. I wanted to post this interview even though it’s wee bit old because I feel like it’s still relevant. It gives you a peek inside Shana & Jeremy’s relationship, it gives you another perspective on who Jeremy Mayfield is as a person and what life is like as a NASCAR wife.
I hope you dig it. I know you guys will tell me what you think!
Me: How did you meet Jeremy?
Shana: I grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My parents were always huge race fans and they went to Darlington, which is about an hour, and hour and 15 minutes from Myrtle Beach. I was actually in college at the time. I was attending Clemson University. I was a sports management major. I’ve always loved sports, but never was a race fan. I like football and I kinda wanted to do maybe something in PR with that kind of, you know, football or baseball or basketball, something like that. But I never really, really thought about racing and to be honest, I never really considered it a sport. I have the utmost respect for it as a sport and the people involved in it than any other athlete or any other sport out there now that I know everything it entails.
But at the time, I was at home with a couple of my girlfriends for spring break and it was right when they still had the Darlington race around March or whatever month it was before Darlington lost that date. My parents were over there and they were like “Hey, go with us.” I’m like, “No, I’m not into the racing thing.” They’re like, “Oh, it’s gonna be a party, free beer.” You know, I’m a college girl so I’m like “Okay, cool.” Then my dad said “It’s a great experience, maybe you’ll learn something about the sport,” and I’m thinkin’ “Yeah, whatever” So he got us passes because he wanted to go in [the garage]. He knew some people I could meet and maybe get an internship and learn about the sport. I’m like “Yeah, whatever, okay.”
So we go in and they’re gettin’ ready for happy hour and Jeremy’s in his car, so you know, I can’t see who he is. He’s got his helmet on. I didn’t know who he was but I see this guy, like, wavin’ with this really cute little wave, wavin’ at me. I look and I’m like who’s he waving at? And my mom and dad were like “He sure ain’t wavin’ at us.” So I didn’t want to wave back because I didn’t know what he looked like. [laughs] So I was thinking “Well, if he’s not cute, then that’s not good.” I kinda just smiled and turned my head. After he got done with practice, he was walkin’ around and he saw us and he just had the prettiest smile and the biggest blue eyes.
He came up and introduced himself and he was so sweet. He said somethin’ so funny and I just laughed and laughed and I just thought what a cool guy. And that night, I actually had to go back to school and he called, ’cause he asked for my number and I’m like “Yeah, right. How many times does this happen? Is he really gonna call?” So I gave him my number and he called that night and made sure I got home okay, back to school. I’m like, “Wow, that’s really nice.” And I didn’t really think a lot about it. We just kinda kept in touch because he didn’t understand college life. I didn’t understand racin’. So it was kinda like the weekends I had free he was gonna be workin’ and so we just kinda kept in touch really for like a year or so just on the phone. We didn’t really see that much of each other.
At first I started goin’ down to Charlotte a little bit and then one weekend I just didn’t go back. I just ended up stayin’ and that was it. Yeah, it was weird. It was just kinda one of those things like I started cryin’ and said “I don’t want to go back” and he said “Well, don’t.” It’s kinda one of those things and that’s been it. But it’s really cool because talkin’ on the phone was really the only way we could see each other because our schedules were so out of whack. So I really got to know him as a person. When you talk to somebody on the phone you talk about everything. He was just like a friend and I don’t know, we were like best buds. We did everything together. He’s fun. But I just remember his eyes and his smile and his personality. He was just so sweet. He is a sweet guy.
And for him to call that night, he was such a gentleman. Just a good guy. I’m pretty lucky.
Me: That’s great. So how long were you together before you were married?
Shana: Gosh, we’ve been together probably nine or 10 years. So a good four or five years.
Me: Cool. So that’s nice I mean because just talking is when you really get to know each other without all of the external stuff.
Shana: Exactly. It was kind of cool because he felt like college was like high school. You got up at 8:00 and you were in school til 3:00. I had class at 8:00 at night. He’s like, “Where are you going?” I’m like, “I’ve got class.” He’s like, “What?” It was kinda cool because I got to explain my life to him, somethin’ he’d never experienced. He went straight out of high school into racin’. It was kinda like I was showin’ him a new life or explainin’ to him things he’d never, you know, knew or experienced just like he was explainin’ his life to me that I never knew — ’cause I didn’t understand. Like, “What now? You’re leavin’ here and goin’ where and then here again?” But it was cool. It was really neat.
Me: So did it take you awhile to get used to the whole racing lifestyle?
Shana: I’m still not used to it, I’ll be honest with you. It wears on me — but after what happened last year with the whole missing races I don’t complain like I used to about the travel and being gone because you really appreciate what you have and appreciate being a part of the sport. Now I completely look at things different. Before, it was a grind to travel all the time and to not have normal groups of friends that go out on the weekends. We can’t have friends who are couples because their weekends are free and you’re workin’. During the week you want to do stuff and they’re workin’.
It’s hard to have that, you complain “God, I don’t want to go again,” but this year it’s a totally different mentality. I just enjoy every minute of it and go in and enjoy it because last year, really opened our eyes to a lot. So I’m not used to it now, but I’m not gonna complain about it because I know we’re very, very fortunate and very lucky to be able to do what we did. And we don’t have kids right now so it’s another way of just looking at life like looking back at all these different cites and different people and think “Yeah, it was a grind, but it was fun.” We have a good time and we make the most of it.
Me: You have all that time together.
Shana: Yeah, and I feel fortunate in that aspect that I do get to travel with him because the wives of the crew chief and the guys on the cars, they’re the ones that really suffer. I can’t imagine not bein’ able to travel with him. That would be hard. So I feel very fortunate. I’m not used to the travel, but I’m very fortunate that I can go.
Me: Yeah. So speaking of last year and everything with Evernham, what was the hardest part about that whole thing with the lawsuits and changing teams?
Shana: I think the hardest thing with Ray’s deal — I think I can speak for Jeremy and I both on that — is that one, we were very much blindsided by it all, and two, I think the personal side of it, feeling like we’ve lost what we thought was a good friend and that it got so ugly like it did when it didn’t have to be. That was the hardest part. It is a business, but you build these relationships and you have these bonds with people and it hurts when those get torn apart or ripped apart and things get said that aren’t the truth. That’s the hardest thing. You gotta have thick skin and that really — I think that hurt us the most was the personal side of it.
You realize that things change and teams change and that’s fine, but when it gets personal and you feel like you’ve been — I won’t say betrayed, but you feel like you’ve kinda were blindsided and hurt, that’s the hardest part. And then last year with Bill Davis and Gail, they’re great people and there were circumstances, sponsor-related issues and you know, it was all bad timing. It wasn’t anybody’s fault with that whole deal. It was just a sponsor issues and things goin’ on, that it just wasn’t meant to be. You just learn that when one door closes another one opens.
Now we’re where we are and Jeremy’s happy and it’s a whole rebuilding thing, but you know it makes you stronger and again it makes you appreciate what you’re a part of and it humbles you a lot to say wow, you look back three years ago, we were on stage in New York, now we’re fightin’ — last year we were fightin’ gettin’ into races. It’s all full circle but it makes you stronger. I’ve seen a different side of Jeremy — I’ve always respected him, but I respect him so much more because not everybody can pick themselves up and face the media, and face people, after the things he’s been through and keep his head held high knowin’ that he’s great at what he does and he doesn’t let the pressure get to him.
He’s just “I know I can do it and I’m gonna do it and nobody’s gonna stop me from doin’ it” and he’s kept on where I think a lot of people would have just said screw it and thrown their hands up. I mean, he went through two bad situations and then he lost his dad and it was just — it was just two hard years for him personally. I just have a lot of respect for him for carrying on and not giving up because like he said, “I’m gonna go out on my terms and not somebody else’s” and I think that’s how it should be. You want to race and you should be able to race because there’s a lot of good left in you.
So I mean, it’s made us stronger too because I think the only constant we had through all that turmoil was each other. We leaned on each other for everything and it was hard, but we got through it. And while all that’s goin’ on you learn a lot, you get thicker skin and it makes you tougher. It makes your relationship a lot stronger, too.
Me: So do you think that with the death of his father that changed his approach to racing at all?
Shana: Yeah. I think it made him — because that’s one thing his dad really took a lot of — he really enjoyed watching him race and now so like he– (Me: It gave him an extra push) Yeah. He’s never been one to have to have somethin’ to motivate him. He’s always had a fire in his eyes, but he feels like he has more — and again, with the death of his father and those two bad situations he came out of, it just made him even more passionate about doin’ what he’s doin’ and it just lit a fire underneath him like I’ve never seen because — not that he’s racing for a purpose, but he feels like, I don’t know, he kinda said “I know how much my dad loved it and if I can keep racing I know he’s smiling and I know he’s happy.”
Because it made him happy. He looked forward to Sundays and he loved to watch [the races] and he loved to go and I think he just feels like I don’t know, it’s given him — you know, those things that you keep with you that push you? I feel like it’s pushed him and pushed him and now Jeremy’s just even more driven, more intense than he’s ever been because I think all of these things have added up and just made him that much stronger and that much more wantin’ to prove. He wants to win again for his dad and he wants to win again for him and he wants to win again for the people — those naysayers that say “Oh, he’s dried up, he’s done”.
So that makes you want it even more. Especially it makes you want it more when you’ve been there. You’ve tasted victory and you know you can do it. And so all those things add up and it’s like another power, something inside of you that’s like nothing can stand in your way. He feels like that now. He’s so focused and he’s so driven that I think — I’m glad Haas picked him up because I think if anybody, they’d be missin’ out on somethin’. You know what I mean? He’s better than he’s ever been for sure, I think, for sure. He’s been at the bottom, but he knows what it’s like to be at the top and he’s had all these other obstacles thrown in your way that should make you stronger. And you’re like “Yeah, I’m gonna get back up there.” You know what I mean?
With racing, a lot of it is mental. You know, ’cause it’s a lot about confidence, of course, and like I said before, when you get beat down, a lot of people just roll over and forget it. Whereas Jeremy takes all this negative stuff and says “You know what? This is gonna make me better. I’m gonna be a better person and I’m gonna be a better racecar driver.” He’s so positive. He’s just turned it into one big positive, which is good. That’s just his personality, though. I mean, he’ll make you sick sometimes. Sometimes you just want to have a day where you want to bitch and he’s like it ain’t that bad. He’s Mr. Positive all the time.
I love that about him, but I’ll say to him “Isn’t there anything negative you can complain about?” He says, “Nope, ’cause it can always be worse.”
Me: Yeah. That’s good. So what’s the best thing about being Jeremy’s wife? What’s the best thing about being Jeremy’s wife as him as a man but then what’s the best thing about being a NASCAR wife, just from the lifestyle. What’s the best thing?
Shana: First of all, let me do the NASCAR part. I think the best part about being a NASCAR wife is of course bein’ able to travel. You know, I think a huge bonus is bein’ able to go with him and go to all these different fun towns and meetin’ a bunch of great people and bein’ part of such a cool community at the racetrack. It’s neat, all the people you meet. I think that’s the best part is the doors is opens for us to see some things and go to places and do things.
Like one of my big things, and you’re gonna think I’m crazy, I’ve always loved game shows. When we were in Evernham they did a NASCAR Family Feud. Highlight of my life to play the Feud. I love it. I’m like “Oh my God, I’m on Family Feud!” I mean, I’m freakin’ out over that. It’s just neat opportunities like that stick out in my mind. I mean, when would I ever have a chance to go on Family Feud, come on. It was awesome. It was so cool. So I got it on tape for my future kids.
I guess the thing about bein’ Jeremy’s wife is it’s a good feeling to know that I’m secure in our marriage and I know that he loves me and he’s a good man and I know he does everything he can to take care of me. That’s just a good feeling — the security part of being with somebody that cares so much about you that he thinks about your feelings and he takes into consideration what you want. Everything he does, you feel like he’s doing it for you. He’s just a man like that and I think that’s the best part about being his wife. We’re best friends and he keeps me laughin’ all the time. I’m always wondering, “What’s today going to bring?” because I’m just constantly laughin’ at him.
So I think that’s the best part about bein’ his wife. I mean, I could go on. There’s so many cool things, but that’s the thing that sticks out in my mind.
Me: That’s cool. What is your most memorable moment from Jeremy’s racing career?
Shana: That would have to be when he bumped [Dale] Earnhardt [Sr.] in Pocono in 2000. Earnhardt was leading the last lap and Jeremy was comin’ off turn three and bumped Earnhardt and moved him up the track and won the race. And nobody bumps Earnhardt. I mean, that’s just silly, you know? I mean, he was The Intimidator. Well then when Jeremy did his victory lap, Earnhardt pulled up beside him and flipped him off. He gave him the finger out the window. People were throwin’ beer bottles and beer cans at the car while he was doin’ his donut. I was like “Oh my gosh, we’re not going to get out of here alive.”
So Jeremy had to be smart, too. He said “I didn’t mean to bump him, I just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit.” Throwing an Earnhardt line out there and I’m all “Oh God, here we go.” The interviewer guy asked him “What did he say to you when he pulled up beside you?” Jeremy’s like, “He was tellin’ me I was number one.” We laughed about that, but it’s just a huge — ’cause nobody, I mean, Earnhardt was the best. Not many people — I don’t know any that can say they’ve bumped Earnhardt for a win and actually got away with it and won the race. You know what I’m saying? To witness that and see the reaction and then Earnhardt came up to Jeremy the next week and was like he kind of put him in a bear hug and Earnhardt’s like, “Ya know, it’s fine that you bumped me but why did you have to run your mouth about it?”
And Jeremy was like, “Man, if you had just bumped you out of the way to win a race, you’d be runnin’ your mouth about it too.” It’s a big deal. He’s like “All right, we’re cool.” He wasn’t mad, but it was cute. “If you had bumped you out of the way to win, you’d be talkin’ about it too.” But that was definitely a huge, huge highlight. We still have a picture that a fan sent to us after that race. They were like down in the corner. There was an Earnhardt flag on one of the motorhomes and then right behind the flag you could see Jeremy right over Earnhardt’s bumper right when he did it.
So we have that picture in our motorhome and we look at it every week, it kinda gives you, like, chills when you’re thinking, “I did that and I can do it again.” It’s pretty cool to beat the best of the best at that kind of stuff, that was pretty good.
Me: That’s very cool. Okay, so other wives and girlfriends. You mentioned Delana Harvick. Do you have many friends, other wives and girlfriends, at the track and how does that happen? Do you just kind of meet each other randomly and you guys hang out or is there any sort of like club? Not club, but you know what I mean. Is there, like, an unofficial “we all hang out here” kind of thing?
Shana: Yeah, but it’s just like any time you get a group of girls together. There’s gonna be cattiness and there’ll be some that don’t like some, you know what I mean?
Shana: So it’s a personality–you know, I’m really laid back. I am who I am. I don’t try to be somebody I’m not. So you kinda–
Me: Find like-minded people?
Shana: Yeah, you kinda migrate towards those kind of girls. Like I see Sherry Pollex, Martin Truex Jr.’s girlfriend. She’s sweet. She is who she is. She doesn’t try to be somethin’ she’s not. Then you’ve got Eva [Busch], who I absolutely love and adore — Kurt’s wife. Eva’s who she is and she’s sweet and DeLana. But then I’m not namin’ any names, but there’s some others out there that try hard to be somethin’ they’re not ’cause they shun other people that may not have as much as they have and look down on people and I’m just not gonna associate myself with that because that’s not who I am and I don’t want to be perceived in that way, so I choose not to hang out with those kinds of people. You know what I mean?
But again, it’s hard to say you hang out with them at the racetrack because you’re there supportin’ your husband or your boyfriend and you’re there really for them. You can go out and do things with the girls, but a lot of them don’t like to leave the racetrack when their husbands are on the racetrack, which is understandable. You want to be there for them. But at the same time, some people look at the weekend like I’m gonna relax and read a book. I’ll go walking with Eva or Sherry. We’ll exercise, but it’s hard to hang out because during the week when you do have time to hang out, you kinda want to get what you want to get done done. That’s kinda your time.
So on the weekends, if you have a few hours here and there, yeah let’s go grab lunch or let’s do this, but you don’t really — it’s not like an everyday let’s hang out and do lunch every day of the week. But there’s definitely some girls there that I really like a lot, that I’ll always consider my friends, that if I needed someone I could call them, you know?
Shana: But again, as with any group of people, you’re gonna get some you gel with and some you don’t, you know? So you just kinda find the ones that are a lot like you are personality-wise and kinda go from there.
Me: Is there a welcoming committee? It’s not that I’m expecting that there’s a new girl and the other wives & girlfriends bring out a plate of cookies or something, but… (laughs)
Shana: I remember when I was the new girl how certain people treated me and I didn’t forget that. I don’t remember who it was, but somebody had a new girlfriend and I introduced myself ’cause she’s standin’ there in the corner and nobody was talkin’ to her and that’s not a good feelin’. You feel completely like “Oh my God, nobody likes me.” You’re really self conscious as it is because you’re under a microscope. You don’t have any friends. I feel like I’m nice to everybody that’s nice to me. I don’t want anybody to come in feel like I look at some people and say, “Well she treated me like crap and she thought she was better than me and she won’t talk to me.” I don’t like that.
I mean, we all put out pants on the same way and just because we make money or do great things, I don’t think I’m better than anybody at all. And that’s one thing I don’t like, for somebody to think they’re better than me and I don’t want to be around people like that. I don’t tolerate that at all. So if somebody new comes along I’ll always speak and if she wants to talk to me, fine, but at least I feel like hey, I was nice and I was sweet to her and if she turns out to be a bitch, then oh well. But you know, you just don’t ever know. A lot of this stuff goes to people’s heads real easy. I’ve seen it happen and there’s no need for it to, you know, ’cause it can all be gone in a heartbeat, and what are you gonna have then? You’ve pissed everybody off because you think you’re better than everybody, then what do you have? Nothin’, you know?
Me: Yeah, so people take on their husband’s ranking.
Shana: Oh, you’re exactly right, yep. You’re exactly right. But then you get someone like Katie Kenseth and Krissie Newman. I mean, Matt’s won championships — Ryan has won the Daytona 500 — and they’re just the sweetest girls you’ll meet. And then you’ve got some whose husbands haven’t really done shit, but they can’t look at you or be in the same room with you because they’re better than you. They’ve won races — some of them have won some races — and they think “My husband’s done this, where are you at?”
I think the last year proved to me, too, when we were down and out, who really cared and who was my friend or who checked on me when we were sitting at home on the weekends who would say “Hey, it’s okay.” And again, I kept in touch with Sherry and Delana and Eva and that proved to me right there that it’s not about what my husband does or it’s not about what we have, they knew that it felt like crap to sit home on the weekends and I was hurtin’ as a friend. And they were makin’ sure saying “Hey, it’s okay. It’ll all be all right.” I appreciate those things. When I was down and out, I felt like we were outside lookin’ in, they still cared whereas some people didn’t.
You learn those things, like it’s all a big circle and it’ll all come back around and everybody has their hard times. When you need your friends the most, that’s when you find out who your true friends are. There’s only a handful out there that I would consider true people: what you see is what you get.
Me: Yeah. This is sort of a personal question and you totally don’t have to answer it, but do you and Jeremy plan on having children at some point?
Shana: Yes. Hopefully sooner than later.
Me: What would you want people — his fans and the naysayers — to know about Jeremy as a racer, like, what are some of the misconceptions that you can dispel?
Shana: Yeah, I think you know, it’s funny because you know you have a media that will eat you alive. Whenever you’re down, they want to beat you when you’re down. And that’s the hard thing. In racing, it’s not one person and I think a lot of people have that misconception that it’s — drivers just don’t go bad. You don’t wake up one day and go “I can’t race any more.” You know what I mean, that just doesn’t happen. And I think a lot of people — like last year was just a bad circumstance — he wasn’t missin’ races just ’cause he forgot how to drive. There were other things there that people need to realize that when things are bad it’s not because Jeremy just forgot how to drive or Jeremy just decided I don’t want to race this Sunday.
The passion is there, the talent is there. It doesn’t just go away. I mean, it’s like Dale Jarrett. He’s won championships and he didn’t just say “Hey, I’ve made a lot of money, I don’t want to drive any more.” That’s not the case. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about drivers which would drive me nuts. When they’re runnin’ good, “Hey, let’s jump on the bandwagon. They’re great, they’re great, they’re great.” When they’re not, “Oh, it’s all him.” That’s not fair. It’s like either you’re with me or you’re not. Don’t hang onto me because I’m good one minute and then the next minute jump off my bandwagon ’cause I’ve had a bad year. That really drives me nuts.
This sport involves a lot of people, a lot of mechanical things and a lot of technical things. There are so many things that can go wrong and at the end of the day it says Jeremy Mayfield finished 38th, but Jeremy may be 10 percent of the equation. You have bad pit stops, or you blow your motor, it’s just a lot of things. It’s a group sport and people need to remember that. It’s so many things. I think that’s one thing I wish people would take into consideration. It’s hard enough when you have a bad year, but then to have people jumpin’ down your throat sayin’ it’s all you and you’ve forgotten to do this and you just can’t drive any more, that hurts me because I take offense to that because he’s my husband and I live with him every day and that’s completely not the case.
Like I said, he’s more passionate. He’s a better driver now than he’s ever been because he’s been through all these obstacles and he’s still a strong person, but yet people outside lookin’ in are sayin’ “He’s washed up. He’s starting over.” I get really defensive about that and Jeremy says, “You shouldn’t read that stuff, it shouldn’t bother you,” but it does. It bothers me that people have that misconception. If there’s one thing I wish people would know is — I wish people were more educated on the sport and understand that it’s not all about a driver because human beings can only do so much with what they have and that’s the thing.
And the misconception about Jeremy’s personality, too. I wish everybody could meet him and just see what a normal, down-to-earth, big-hearted, caring person he is. I don’t think anybody would have one bad thing to say about him. You can’t not like him when you meet him. You know what I mean? I don’t think he can have an enemy. I mean, I wish people would know what a good person he is — but I think he has a reputation on the racetrack to where what I said holds up because he doesn’t have a lot of enemies. People like him. He doesn’t have that in-your-face personality, but he’s not a pushover either. He’s definitely gonna stand up for what he believes in and I respect that about him, too.
With the whole Ray [Evernham] thing, he stood up for what he felt was right and in the end the truth does come out and when it all came out what we said was true. So he’s gonna stand up for what’s right, but at the same time he’s not a pushover and he’s not in your face and he’s just a respectable person.