Seth and Sutton Sharp
February 17, 2018
Last week, we caught up with former Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield and talked about a variety of things including his successful career and his life today. Throughout his career, he won five Cup Series races.
Keep It 35: What does a day in the life of Jeremy consist of in 2018?
Jeremy Mayfield: It’s not really that interesting. It’s not too bad though because we have a lot of things going on right now. I’m trying real hard to put something together to run Dirt Late Models because that is where my heart is at now. We are currently trying to figure out what we are going to do next. It’s all good!
35: Your career first started back in 1993 driving in ARCA and that translated to you making your Winston Cup debut later that season. Was it hard making the transition from ARCA to Cup?
JM: It was kind of a really good transition for me because the cars were kind of the same then. Looking back it was a little bit different on how you got to the Cup Series than what it is today. It gave me a chance to learn and to work on the cars early in my career, even before I got to start driving the ARCA car.
It allowed me to become familiar with what was going on and get to know a lot of guys in the garage area. That honestly helped me out more than anything. It gave me a good look about what it was like before I started driving.
35: As a young driver, what was it like to drive for someone as legendary as Cale Yarborough?
JM: It was one of the coolest parts of my career the day that Cale called me, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, to come drive for him. I remember answering the phone and Cale said “Jeremy, this is Cale Yarborough” and I was thinking yeah, yeah whatever. I thought it was somebody that was messing with me. I was afraid to ask him again if it was actually him, in case it was.
I ended up getting the opportunity to drive for him. I learned so much from him and had so much fun there too. We had a great time the whole time that we were there. He was really the first one to give me my first real opportunity.
35: At the end of your tenure with Cale, you swapped rides with John Andretti. How did that deal come about?
JM: It was honestly a good thing and a bad thing for both of us. He was losing his ride with his team and I wanted to go over to drive for that team. We were working really hard on our speedway stuff over on Cale’s team at the time but I didn’t really want to leave them either. I ended up leaving and Cale hired John to drive for him.
They ended up winning the Pepsi 400. It didn’t end up making me look too good but overall it was a good move for us. Tony Furr and John ended up working together great and it ended up working out pretty good for me too.
35: Was there anything about the Kranefuss team that made you interested in driving for them or was it just you needing a change of scenery?
JM: I knew that they had the budget to win races in the Cup Series and nothing against Cale’s team because he had good money too but I really liked the direction that Michael was going in with that team. I wanted to be able to go in and be able to race up front and that was really the biggest thing that made me want to go over there. I liked Michael and I liked a lot of their guys who worked on the team. It was just a really cool deal.
35: What would you say is the biggest or most memorable moment of your career?
JM: I’ve had a bunch of them but I’d have to say the Dale Earnhardt deal was the biggest one. It seems like that is the one that everybody remembers. That day was just really wild the way it played out. That one probably tops them all.
35: What was going through your mind in the final laps as you were trying to catch Dale?
JM: Something that nobody really saw that day was that we had been doing that all day long. He was messing with me and I was messing with him. We’d pass each other back and forth all day long. Rusty (Wallace) was running first or second the entire day and we were stuck back in fifth or sixth with Dale. Dale would always mess with you on the race track and that’s honestly part of what made racing so fun.
Anyway, the caution came out while Rusty was leading or in second and he came over the radio and he said “You guys are putting on four right?” because he always wanted to put on four tires because he never liked two. We always put on two tires and mess him up all the time. He wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t beat him out of the pits because he didn’t know what would happen then. I came over the radio and said that we were going to put on four and we agreed on that.
By the time we got onto pit road, before we stopped in my pit box, my crew chief Peter Sospenzo came over and said we are only doing two right? We switched it up and beat everyone out of the pits except for Earnhardt. He was down at the end of the pits and only put on two. We were the only ones who put on two rights. Rusty came out about 14th or 15th, so needless to say that he was pretty pissed.
Once we went back green, I knew if I passed him too early that he would get me loose to get by me and we would both probably wreck. I just was trying to stay in front of Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett and trying to pull away from them so we didn’t end up with four cars battling it out for the win. It just came down to the last lap.
The white flag came out and I went into turn-one right on him and down the backstretch. I shifted more than anyone there at Pocono at that point in time and down-shifted in the tunnel-turn, at a time when nobody else was doing that. We got to the tunnel and I downshifted into third. He slipped up a little bit at the same time that I had a really good run heading into the last turn.
I really didn’t think that I had enough to pass him but I was going to try really hard and do it. I ran up on him and I saw his car starting to get looser and looser the closer I got, so I just stayed on it hoping that I’d at least make it a drag race to the finish. He just got loose and we ended up winning the race.
I had no idea that that day right there was going to be as big as it was after that. It was definitely a great day. Dale was pretty pissed at me for a little bit but eventually he was alright.
35: Did your relationship with Dale change after the end of that race? If so, how long did it last?
JM: We didn’t talk for a week or so because we didn’t really see each other. Dale was really such a true sportsman though. I’m sure he was upset.
When I did eventually see him about a week and a half later at the drivers meeting, I walked right in and he had a big grin on his face. He grabbed me in a headlock. I said “Damn, I thought you were going to be pissed!”. He said “Naw, I’m not mad one bit other than that shit you said on TV!” I had to make some remarks on TV because he did the same thing to Terry Labonte a few weeks before. I had to say that I just wanted to rattle his cage because if it worked for him I wanted it to work for me too.
Dale said that he was just pissed off for the stuff that I said and he rubbed on my head a little bit. We were fine after that and he respected that. He liked to give everyone a hard time. He was the leader of the group, so he could do whatever he wanted to do and he did. My career was great, to beat him, to pass guys like Darrell Waltrip, those guys are heroes of mine.
35: Even before you won your first race, you led the points for a few races. How did that feel? Did that change your driving style or mentality at all knowing that the rest of the field, including some of your heroes, were chasing you?
JM: It was such a confidence boost. It just allowed me to get better and better every week. I was just with such a great race team at that time and that makes all the difference in the world. It’s amazing how when the competition is that close how a tenth here or a tenth there can make such a difference on the racetrack. That’s what NASCAR racing used to be about. I was just very fortunate to be able to be in that situation.
35: Throughout your career, you’ve been fortunate to drive for some pretty strong teams. Were there any opportunities that you had, that maybe you look back on now and wish that you would have took?
JM: At the time I had the opportunities, I didn’t dread it but I had opportunities to drive for both Childress and Hendrick, as well as a few other teams as well. At that point of my career, I felt like the best direction was the one I continued to go in.
If I look back and say what would have I done different, I think I probably should have stayed with Penske as long as I could have. I was just hungry at the time and didn’t know what would be better. I just always wanted the best of everything all the time, as far as my cars go, and I’d fight my way to get there. I think the deal with Roger was that he had two teams trying to be one and it just wasn’t working out with me and Rusty.
After that, I went over to drive for Ray and I loved it there for a while and won some races. Things eventually changed and we went in a different direction.
35: From the way the media used to portray it, you and Rusty didn’t always get along. You did eventually drive for him in the Busch Series, what brought you guys back together?
JM: Well, our teams were in two different shops and Rusty felt like he had seniority, which he did. I was just a young guy coming up, wanting to be the top guy and wanting to beat him every week, just like he wanted to beat me every week. We just had our differences. I believed in our race team and I stood up for them and the cars we were building were as good, if not better, than the ones that he was running. We just didn’t get along for some reason.
I went over to drive for Ray at the same time that Rusty was starting his Busch team. He came over to me and asked me to drive for him. We talked about the past and he said at the time he didn’t really understand what we were doing over at our shop but you were headed in the right direction. He told us that we were ahead of the game for the time and honestly we were. He just realized that neither one of us was probably right and we just moved on. I ended up driving for him for a few races and that’s about it. We ended up good with everything.
You can always go back and fix things but it’s hard when you can’t really understand whats going on.
35: You didn’t drive many Busch or Truck Series races in your career. Was there any specific reason that you didn’t drive as much down there as much as other Cup stars did?
JM: I had some opportunities but I wish we could have done our own deal sometime, with the No. 19 or the No. 12 cars. I think it would have been a lot different because we could use it to help our own Cup deal. Everything that I was doing was different cars for different teams. It’s so hard to go drive for another team and then not tell them what we are doing on the Cup side.
It just turned into more of a hassle than anything and it didn’t seem to be doing any good. If it helped in any way, shape or form, I would have done it but it just never worked out.
35: You made cameos in two different music videos during your career. What was it like being on the set of those?
JM: It was really cool and a lot of fun. Looking back on my career, I’ve had the opportunity to accomplish a lot of things and see a lot of stuff and the videos were just a big part of it.
35: Who were some of your close friends in the garage area from when you were still driving?
JM: It seemed like back then everybody kind of was friends. We were just one big group of racers trying to do the right thing. Everybody always talked to each other. Nobody really hung out at all but we were always around each other at the track so we had fun together. Eventually it seemed like that all changed and things weren’t as fun in the garage.
35: Do you keep in contact with anybody today?
JM: Honestly, not really. Most of the people I knew aren’t even in the sport anymore today. It just seems like something changed when they started talking about bringing young guys in and this guy is more marketable than the other and this, that and the other stuff. It just seems like whatever they did, didn’t really work. I’m not sure what it is but it just seemed like things changed and everybody disappeared who helped build the sport.
35: Do you follow NASCAR at all today?
JM: I’ll be honest with you, I turn it on sometimes or Shana will have it on but it’s really just hard to watch. For me especially because my career didn’t end the way that I wanted it to end. Looking back now and trying to watch a race is just hard.
The sad thing is that you can turn it on, especially the Truck Series or the XFINITY Series, you don’t even recognize any of the drivers. I saw the names one day and I thought that they were talking about a tennis match or some other sport and it turned out to be the entire field for the Truck Series. The only driver I recognized in there was Johnny Sauter. The rest of them were just people I’ve never heard of and I don’t understand how it changed so fast.
35: Is there anything that you would want to share with all of your fans out there that we haven’t talked about?
JM: I will be back on Twitter soon. I’m not sure when, but I will be back. I still really want to race bad. Hopefully we can start running the dirt car or if Brian France sells NASCAR to somebody maybe I’d get back in there or something like that. Racing is always where my heart is. We will just do the best that we can and see what happens. Hopefully we will be back one day!
35: Do you have any goals left to accomplish in racing? Would you like to drive one more race in NASCAR if the opportunity presented itself?
JM: Stranger things have happened. I definitely would and it’s not a goal of mine but I would love to do it one more time just to end it on a good note for the both of us so we can move on. I really want to run my dirt car and get the Late Model stuff going and we have some great ideas on that to help that sport. Maybe we can make a big difference there somehow.
35: Thank you so much for chatting with us! We hope to see you back on a track sometime soon and can’t wait to have you back on Twitter too!
JM: I appreciate you guys talking to me and I do want to say one last thing. I really want to thank all of those fans who have been supporting me and stayed behind me all of these years, even the ones who left me when everything went bad. I still want to thank them for the time that they were there with me.