Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Ron Fellows, the road-racing ace who will drive JR Motorsports' No. 5 car in the Watkins Glen Nationwide Series race this weekend. Fellows, 52, has three previous Nationwide wins at Watkins Glen and is a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
RF: I think most race car drivers would say they could remember 90 percent of them, and that's what I'll say. The wins for sure, and some of the better ones for sure. Maybe 80 percent, but I'd say the majority of them.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
RF: It would have been in a go-kart. It was in Georgetown, Ontario at the Midseason Championships. I was probably 16.
SBN: So you got started a little later than some others?
RF: Yeah, I started at 15. Compared to kids these days, that's a lot older. The desire to race was there at 12, but it took me three years to save the money to buy a kart.
SBN: Your parents didn't help you?
RF: We had a family of five kids and my dad was an Anglican minister. So there was a lot of moral support, but not financial. (Laughs)
SBN: Who is a clean road-racer who you've enjoyed racing with over the years?
RF: Well, a lot of the sports car racing is not as close a battle on the track as NASCAR is. But back in the Trans-Am days, I always felt like Scott Pruett was a give-and-take kind of guy. In NASCAR, I've had a couple opportunities to race Jimmie Johnson, and he's a give-and-take guy.
And to be honest with you, I had a pretty good battle with Kyle Busch when he was at Hendrick. Now, I'll qualify that by saying Kyle's dad was spotting for me, so that may have had extenuating circumstances. (Laughs) But we had a pretty good, clean battle late in the race once. That might be out of the norm for your readers.
Dale Jr. is on the good side, too. We had a lot of fun in '99 in a Busch race back and forth, and he actually beat me at the end. But it was good, clean racing. Hard in the end, but he's a really fair guy to race against. We had the spotters talking to each other during the race – in a good way. That was fun.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, is there anyone who always seems to make it extra hard on you?
RF: The great thing about NASCAR, whether it's doing Nationwide road races or Cup races, with the opportunity to watch them every week, it's not hard to tell the different personalities and what to expect. What happens on a road course isn't any different than what happens on an oval, and you know who to be careful with and who is going to be fair. It's not hard to tell just from watching the oval races on TV.
SBN: So a driver will race the same on an oval as he does on a road course in terms of aggressiveness?
RF: Yeah, it doesn't matter. You'll be running 10th late in the race and so-and-so is 11th and he knows you're not going to be around the next weekend – and if he's close, you're getting turned around. I'm not going to be there next week to exact revenge, but I do have a long memory.
SBN: In that case, do you keep a mental list of guys you owe?
RF: In sports car racing, certainly there were guys who you kept tabs on. Generally, whether it's circumstances or just the way the luck falls, what goes around comes around. It always has, always will.
SBN: As an outsider, sometimes it's tough to tell an intentional spin in road racing versus unintentional contact. As a driver, do you have a pretty good idea of whether it was intentional or not?
RF: Oh yeah. If it's a light nudge, that's not intentional – that's just racing. If you get punted like it's fourth-and-long, it's pretty obvious that was intentional. And when you're just a part-time guy in the road races, you learn to expect it and also try to position yourself so where you're not on the receiving end of that. It hasn't always worked. But it usually rare that happens with a quality guy; it's usually a knucklehead that's not even worth getting upset about.
SBN: If you could turn back time and pick a driver who is no longer racing to team with in an endurance race, who would it be?
RF: Right off the top of the list, I'll say Dale Sr. He talked about wanting to go race at Le Mans. I remember having the conversation with him. He said, "Do you think that's crazy?" I said, "Dude, I will be your teammate. Let's go!"
Beyond Dale Sr., I'd maybe say some of my heroes. They're not really endurance racers, but Jackie Stewart, Gilles Villeneuve, Mario Andretti. It'd be cool to be teammates with them. And a guy like Sam Posey, there'd be no shortage of great stories.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
RF: Well, I get nervous before every race. Still do. It's an excitement, but there's a pattern and you expect it. I probably get a little more nervous anticipation now because I've got more races behind me than in front of me. You still want to do well, even at an advanced age.
I still really, really enjoy it – and probably moreso now than ever before, because I'm doing other things in the racing business but not driving. I've got my driving school west of Las Vegas, I still work for Corvette Racing as an ambassador/advisor, Carlo Fidani and I have bought Mosport east of Toronto, which is now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
So there's a lot of racing business activities, and it's a very different world wearing the navy suit rather than the fireproof one. Getting the opportunity to do some racing, I really find it enjoyable to get behind the wheel and have at it. The excitement now is probably closer to when I first started racing. It's such a departure from the boardroom.
SBN: You've met many fans over the years, and sometimes they can ask weird or uncomfortable questions. Do you have any awkward fan stories?
RF: Generally, it'll come out of the blue: "How old are you?" I'll say, "How old do you think I am?" (Laughs) And then there are questions like, "Hey, could you sponsor me? Can I be your teammate? I'm pretty good!"
SBN: How do you answer that question?
RF: I say, "Get in line." (Laughs)
SBN: You have a lot of stuff going on, but if you had to choose, would you rather be a racing broadcaster or racing official?
RF: Boy, that's a tough one. I guess if I had to choose between the two, doing some color commentary work would be good. Just because you've got so much insight and knowledge, and you could make a contribution when something happens on the track that most people wouldn't know or understand, and you're able to describe it and detail it and make people better educated about the sport.
SBN: What's up with this Fellows 5 Challenge thing you're doing?
RF: JRMRacing.com has done sweepstakes in the past, and we were just kind of shooting the breeze one day and I said, "Hey, why don't we do something with a grand prize of a trip to my driving school?" That's kind of how it started.
For both Watkins Glen and Montreal, we have a grand prize for each: A three-day program with Corvettes out at Spring Mountain near Las Vegas. The school was started because Chevrolet brought out the ZR1 in 2009 – it was a 638 horsepower car, and they thought it should come with some training. So my school was one of the ones certified by Chevrolet to do that training. The customers are generally high-performance driving enthusiasts.
You have to answer five questions to win (the contest entry is here), but it's going to be kind of a guessing game. Where am I going to be on a certain lap? When am I going to pit? But it should be neat. It's a pretty simple sweepstakes. If you get one answer right, you'll at least win something.
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Last week was David Ragan, and he wanted to know which was your favorite car to drive out of all the ones you've raced. And he said it probably wouldn't be a stock car.
RF: He would be right, yes. (Laughs) The GT1 Corvettes we had the last two years I raced them, in 2007 and 2008, were spectacular race cars. Lots of downforce, lots of power and the cars were light. And with the Michelin tires, they were just spectacular. So I'd say the GT1 Class C6.R.
SBN: And can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
RF: Yeah. Whoever you ask, I'd like to know what they like or dislike about road racing.
SBN: You got it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: After the interview, Fellows asked if I wanted to take a spin in a street-legal version of the No. 3 Corvette used by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his dad in the 2001 24 Hours of Daytona.
Of course, I said yes. JR Motorsports blocked off streets in a neighborhood close to Mooresville, N.C., and below is a video of the experience (courtesy of JRM):