Best car: native americans join NASCAR.
AJ Russell got his first suv when he was five years old. He is now the first to have a team of American drivers and drivers. He recently appeared in NASCAR’s world truck series. As part of the native American tradition, host michelle Martin talked with Russell about racing cars and embracing his ancestors.
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Now switch gears, and most of our regular listeners know that here, we don’t wait for the official month to talk about the interesting ways that race or ethnicity plays in today’s American life.
But since November is native American heritage month, we think that we will be extra effort to highlight the contribution of the indians, and native American tradition before the end of the month this year, we want to tell you about AJ Russell’s information. He is believed to be the first native American driver to compete in the first three NASCAR RACES, and he is, of course, the first to have a team of native American owners and drivers.
If things according to want to achieve, AJ hope one day to let each member of the team has a native American tradition, and he is also from Fresno, California.
Welcome. Thank you for joining us. Congratulations on everything.
AJ RUSSELL: thank you, Michel. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Martin: now, I know you’re not from a racing family, but you’ve been bitten by a racing bug. How did this happen?
RUSSELL: you know, my dad is a machinist. My dad is a gear head. You know, I’ve been in cars and motor sports, we’re watching TV shows, motorcycle RACES, I want a motorcycle. So my parents, for my Christmas gift, gave me a motorcycle when I was five.
I really liked the suv I got, and I kept riding it. One day, a man came into my father’s shop and said, if your son likes motor sports, you should let him ride the car. This opens up a chance for the seven-year-old to join a quarter of the dwarves.
Martin: so when you were seven, you were racing?
Martin: a motorcycle?
RUSSELL: I really have a car. This is a small car. It’s going 65 miles per hour, but it’s very small, so at the age of seven, you know, at 65 miles per hour on a very small track, it feels like 200 miles.
Martin: I’m sorry. I am also a mother. I want to call your mom and get in touch with her because it feels like 500 miles an hour to me. But she’s not afraid of you?
Russell: you know what? In fact, motor racing – especially my father – was very determined. I was not allowed to play football in high school or junior high school, because he was always afraid that I would get hurt and play football and I couldn’t play.
He whole thing is, you know, he let me use the five point safety belt and helmet, and all safety equipment bound on a car, I than anywhere else in the world that the car more secure.
Martin: so now, you’ve moved on in the system, as we say. You start with a motorcycle, and then you turn – what do they call them? Gnome?
Russell: it’s a quarter of a dwarf.
Martin: a quarter of the midgets. And you did it. Now, you’ve just started the Camping World truck series, so we’re talking about retrofitting pickup trucks. Do I have this right?
Russell: yes, that’s right.
Martin: ok. What do you need to do in your exercise?
RUSSELL: well, it takes a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work. The motor industry is a very expensive sport. This is the reason why the car more difficult than other sports, because not only do you need to have the gift of the car, also must have a business mind and communicate with sponsors and the public, because this is the final result can make you money.
Martin: that’s interesting, because that leads me to a problem. By the way, if you’re just joining us, NPR news has a lot more to learn, and we’re communicating with AJ Russell. He took part in the NASCAR camping world truck series. He is believed to be the first native American driver to take part in the NASCAR series, and he is, of course, the first to have a team of native American owners and drivers.
What I want to mention is that we tried to confirm this with NASCAR, but they said they didn’t track the race of the driver. At that point, I heard that you didn’t really identify with the American indians at first, even though you were part of the Cherokee nation, but it all changed. Do you mind if I ask you why you don’t particularly want to be considered a Cherokee? That changed your mind?
Russell: you know what? I think the most important thing is that it’s a stereotype. I’m very focused on my goals at hand and my life and my career, so I’m very afraid of stereotypes that disappoint me. You know, I’m scared, you know, the stereotype behind the American soil, you know, drinking and being lazy, you know, all these stereotypes. At first I was really afraid of them.
Then, as I grow older and more mature, I realize that this is not something I should hide, or that I should stop. I should accept it and actually show people that this stereotype is wrong.
Martin: however, part of the reason is that this may contribute to your team and your existence in this sport, points out that you have a different image than many people in NASCAR, this movement is seen as a white man? I mean, this is part of it, are you bringing something different to the table?
RUSSELL: yes, it is. I think it definitely helps, and it’s the same as the female driver. I think it’s a very clean sport, and the movement lacks a little color. And when I say that, I’m not saying it’s just personality and character. I think the movement really needs to be exposed to a wider audience and different RACES, and there are stereotypes there. You know, the NASCAR stereotype. If you’ve never been in a game, you know it’s far more than it really is, you know, every game fan is a country bumpkin.
Martin: well, it was originally because, you know, thieves, right? The car.
Martin: I mean, this is the history of the sport, this is illegal behavior person trying to make great strides before the law, and, you know, it has evolved into the huge – this is one of the biggest sports, of course, in today’s country.
But, in order to do that, has your race changed your view of it, and now you’ve decided to embrace your race, really big? I should mention that your team’s boss is David melton, who is in Pueblo, new Mexico’s laguna. He owns the holy power company, which happens to be the country’s largest native American solar integration company. So you all, you know, really embrace, you know, your tradition, and put it in front and center.
Now that this has happened, does that change the way people treat you?
RUSSELL: I wouldn’t say it changed people’s attitude towards me. I think it’s a bit of an eye-opener, because it’s not something that I was really open to. Now I think I’m very open about it, and I think people see me as the same person, and now they see the traditions of native americans run counter to it, you know? He’s not much different than before, you know, we know, or before he says anything.
And, you know, I’m just trying to get rid of this kind of situation – you know, trying to solve this kind of stereotype, I think as a native in the sport, NASCAR is very good to me, and really tried to help me and minority group as a whole. So I saw some help at the end of the fence, but I mean, we still have a long way to go.
Martin: what’s next?
RUSSELL: next, you know, we’re making the 2012 season, most of which will include the Camping World Truck series. I love, love, and love local racing, so I may go to local RACES all over the country again and again, and I hope to continue in the national series in 2013. Maybe a year or two in the Nationwide series, and then, hopefully, the cup.
Martin: ok, please keep us posted. Good luck to you.
RUSSELL: thank you very much.
Martin: AJ Russell drives the sacred energy car movement. He joins us today in Fresno, California. AJ, thank you very much for joining us again.
Russell: hey, thank you, michelle. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate that.