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Max Papis: He sees another side of the NASCAR world, that too many of us take for granted

  Max Papis, a newcomer to NASCAR, speaking Monday afternoon straight from the heart, about things the rest of us sometimes forget to see (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Max Papis, here late Monday afternoon, after his soul-satisfying eighth place run at Watkins Glen International, in only his eighth NASCAR Cup start, delivered one of the most eloquent soliloquies ever about this sport, and his new-found love of it and the people who race here and work here and watch from the stands.
   In fact he was almost to tears in emotion.
   On a late summer afternoon, when most here were rushing to get somewhere else a day late, and watching and listening to a playfully teasing Tony Stewart, Papis, almost unnoticed amid the hoopla and traffic jams, for a brief few moments made time itself stand still.
   While many, if not most here, take this sport for granted -- as a job, as a daily travel adventure, as a rush from one track to the next, as a sometimes brutal competition -- Max Papis, in a few fleeting moments, put it all in a much different perspective.
   After his years in so many different of forms of motorsports, including Formula One, Papis was speaking from the heart.
   Indeed he is perhaps one of the most heartwarming stories of this NASCAR weekend, as one of the newest guys on the tour, struggling to make it, struggling to find his place here.
   There are moments in life you simply don't expect...and when they hit, it's like a bolt of lightning. That's what Papis delivered here Monday. Papis, from Como, Italy, and son-in-law of legendary Emerson Fittipaldi, has been trying to crack into NASCAR racing for two years now, and Monday he pulled off a remarkable run for a man with so little experience in this stuff with a hard-fought eighth at the Glen, following a 12th at Sonoma, driving Toyotas for the Germain brothers, Bob, Stephen, and Richard.
   But it wasn't so much his performance, though he was quite proud of it, but rather his deeply emotional feelings so clearly on display in those few minutes after the run that are the heart of this story.
   Max Papis, 39 -- speaking in, would you call it an accented Italian brogue? – says his new life in NASCAR, however brief so far, has shown him a different side of sport.
    Achievement here, yes. 
    Unabashed emotional, yes. (Of course he'll probably be very emotional too after his next Cup start, but probably for different reasons – because that will be at rough-and-tumble Bristol Raceway next week.)
    "Today I come out of this knowing that this is a very, very tough form of motorsport, point-blank," Papis said.
    "Every time I call back to Italy, I say this is like endurance racing and rally driving at the same time, because you need to improvise, because the cars move around; they don't always do exactly what you want. 
    "But at the same time you need to have stamina and endurance.  You're in the car for a long time.  It's tough."
    Papis is a well-known racer, but not as a NASCAR stocker. Not yet at least. But he's learning.
    "We had a game plan, and it was 'attacking from the first lap, but respectfully,'" Papis said.
   "I enjoy every race I do; I don't live in the past. The best win is the one that's going to come.
    "And today I believe we proved to everyone that we deserve to be here.
    "These guys are the best guys I have ever raced in my life. Formula One, sports cars, Indy-cars.
   "And if anyone tries to say that NASCAR drivers aren't good at road courses, I would definitely tell them they are wrong.
   "This team is such a small family, and we all work very hard to maximize what we had. Every success is felt through the skin of everybody.  Everyone in the shop works really hard.  We maximize what we have. 
    "I'm proud I paid them back today -- because you need to capitalize in these moments. 
   "I never cruised. I drove hard, hard, hard every lap. And we're bringing the car home.
   "There is a lot of give-and-take, because at any moment someone could punt you out. They know it just takes a second to ruin the race of someone else.  I was pleased that nobody abused me in a way.  I pushed them around a little bit...and I felt that was just great."
    And then Papis got to the heart of it.
    Papis says his Formula One experience wasn't fun, and that echoes what Juan Pablo Montoya has said.
   "At the end of 1995…I had a dream: I went to Formula One," Papis said. "I spent all the money I made in all my career – I wrote a check for $400,000…..and they took my dream, they used it, and they threw it away.
   "That's the memory I have for Formula One – disrespect the dream of a young kid…the dream and the work that everybody did to take me all the way there.
   "This (NASCAR) is what I want to do; it's the only racing I want to do in my career from now on.
   "My family has endured a lot for me.
   "A day like this is a special present – that tells everybody that, like David and Goliath, sometimes David can do something.
   "This is a very, very tough form of motorsport."
   Compared to Formula One, how?
   "I don't want to do that," Papis protested. "That would be unfair to NASCAR…
   "But here there are people who race, people who love the sport, they live for the sport. Over there, it's just the politics.
   "I've got some friends over there in Formula One. But I didn't enjoy it at all, the lack of respect for human beings.
   "Here I feel better, people accept me as a human being. Here I fit in a lot better, because I think I'm a good human being, and people accept me for that.
   "There, they look first at your wallet…and after that, they look if you're a son of someone famous….and if you're not one of those, they give you a kick in the butt and they let you go.
   "The difference is here you cannot buy the results. You have to create it, you and the team.
   "Over there you can buy success – you can make a new front wing, you can make a new rear wing…do different stuff.
   "Here it is very much left up to the people…..
   "That's why I love it – because there is no excuse here. Tony Stewart has the same car I have; there's no difference. That's what I love about it – it brings out the best.
   "And at the same time there is so much respect for the human being here.
   "You need to be very proud of being here. I'm proud every day I walk into this garage, because it's a special thing. It's very special to be able to be together with athletes like Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.
   "The people may make 20 times more money than most of the people in Formula One, but here they're more humble.
   "Thanks for the support and for understanding the human being that is behind the racer. I appreciate that more than anything."


In many ways what Papis is

In many ways what Papis is describing is being an American. Unless you,as an American,have lived and worked "over there", you simply have no idea how cynical "they" are.

My observation is JPM is happier losing in NASCAR than winning in F1.

Mike - Thank you for

Mike - Thank you for sharing... Max - Thank you for the perspective. Good luck to you in your quest...

Awesome Max.... I pray you

Awesome Max.... I pray you make it here.. we want racers like you and I am now a fan of Max Papis... period.

This man should have a full

This man should have a full time ride.

It has been so much fun

It has been so much fun watching Max in NASCAR after following his career in CART racing. He was a blast to watch there too :) He's a passionate racer who seems to genuinely care about the people around him. After following him on twitter, you almost feel like a member of his family because he is so open and honest. I want Max to succeed in NASCAR because I think he brings a fresh yet intense perspective to the sport!

I saw part of an interview

I saw part of an interview with Max on "NASCAR in a hurry" and his comments were similarly themed. Although not a fan of his particular choice of manufacturer I will continue to support Max throughout his NASCAR career because he has an honest and unique perspective and brings a dignity to a sport that is sometimes dominated by brashness.

That is a good piece of

That is a good piece of journalism right there! Good job, Mike. Mad Max is one of the good guys in motorsport.

I have been a fan of Max's

I have been a fan of Max's way before he got to NASCAR. May good things happen for him. It's refreshing to see a grateful driver. Unlike some I won't mention here.

'Mad Max' is saying the same

'Mad Max' is saying the same sorts of things that Juan Pablo has said about racing in Nascar. I remember his saying how amazed he was at how friendly all the drivers were, how ready to help. Isn't this exactly why Nascar garnered the popularity it used to have? That feeling of 'one big family' used to include the fans, which is why so many of us watched for so long. It's nice to know that still exsists for the drivers.

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