The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Andy Lally on Transitions, Street Luge, and...Mayhem by Amy Henderson -- Wednesday November 9, 2011

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Sprint Cup Racing is not easy; freshman Andy Lally can attest to that. Lally is a three-time Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona winner, a world champion street luge racer, and he says that his transition to NASCAR is the most difficult he’s ever made. But while it’s been humbling, the sport’s likely Rookie of the Year has also realized his childhood dream. Lally sat down with Amy Henderson in Texas to discuss the joy of achieving that goal, his single-car team’s growing pains, passions away from the track, social media and even his Halloween costume.

Andy Lally has been working hard to get his team back into the top 35 in owners’ points before the season ends.

Henderson: Talk a little bit about your 2011 season. You’re with a smaller, up-and-coming team with TRG; sometimes you haven’t got the finishes you may have wanted, but you’ve qualified for races, gotten some experience. What are some of the challenges that go along with that? It seems like a decent start for you.

Lally: We’ve been running with our main goal of trying to stay in the top 35. When we had the budget, which was not a big budget, but the budget to do it, we were successful at it. We clawed our way back into the top 35, and we were able to secure a good spot there. We had a stretch of ten races in a row where we made it as a go-or-go-homer until we got into the top 35 at Indy, and unfortunately, we’ve had some budget restrictions, and we’ve had to start and park a few races, and that’s kind of helped lead to where we are now, one spot out of the top 35 and trying to claw our way back in. We’ve come to Texas this weekend with a 13-point deficit that we need to make up over the last three races. We’ll see. The year has definitely been up and down, but it’s been still pretty cool, extremely frustrating, and many people describe this very accurately as the most fun you’ll ever have being miserable. It’s a humbling butt-kicking week in and week out, but we try to measure things by little marks and goals that we set along the way, not just winning races, and just trying to slowly move up that ladder. For myself personally, I want to try to gain some respect among the drivers that I’m racing with as well as learning these cars a little better and getting myself faster. Obviously as a team, we have a goal of getting our car better. I think we’ve gotten better at rolling off the trailer decent, and now the focus is more on rolling off the trailer in qualifying mode instead of race mode, which is tough.

Henderson: What is the learning curve like? You’ve raced everything from karts to Grand-Am to street luge. You talked about gaining the respect of the drivers… what is the curve?

Lally: A lot of people talk about the horsepower of the car, the weight of the car, the different tracks on the learning curve. I think, really, one of the biggest learning curves in making the transition that I have from the Rolex Grand-Am Series to the Sprint Cup Series is actually the tire. It’s just such a different tire than I’m used to. It’s got such a big sidewall, and a good amount of grip — it’s got a huge amount of grip, actually for the weight of car that we drive — but there’s definitely that feel, that set into the corner, and that’s where I think the learning curve comes [hardest]. Outside of that, it’s just the tracks. When you go back to a place, and then you go back to a place three, four, five, six times, you start to pick up its characteristics. If you have teammates, they could be helping you out with that. I don’t have any teammates this year, so I haven’t had that to lean on very much, and that’s probably slowed the learning down a little bit. It has been, hands down, the biggest challenge of my life.

Henderson: What makes this transition harder than any other?

Lally: Not only are you racing against some of the best drivers in the world, you’re doing so on their home turf. I would be very comfortable in that I believe I would be able to win on my home turf if they came over there. To me, I’m still very confident that we would win over there. But I’m coming over here trying to fulfill a dream and do what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid. I’m making no excuses and going out to try and do my best.

Henderson: Talk a little more about some of the things you’ve raced, like street luge. Do you still do that at all?

Lally: I do when I can. I haven’t done a street luge race at all this year. I’ve done one mountain bike race and no street luge races just because we’re on the road here 40-something weeks a year. It’s been crazy. Now, when I get a weekend off I just want to be able to relax. I think my next weekend off where I’m not at some function or some race is December 16th.

Henderson: What are some of your biggest accomplishments in other forms of racing?

Lally, running with the modestly funded TRG program has done a great job of racing his own race, setting personal goals while knowing a top 10 on some days is a virtual impossibility.

Lally: I won the world championship (in street luge) in Australia in 2009, and two U.S. World Cups — the only two U.S. World Cups for luge in 2009. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get on the luge — fortunately and unfortunately. I’m super amped to be here and doing this. It would be nice if we had the free time to squeeze in a luge race here and there.

Henderson: Do you have any plans for 2012? Will you run the Rolex 24?

Lally: I don’t know what I’m doing next week! But yes; as long as I’m healthy I’m going to try and run the 24 Hours at Daytona for the rest of my life. That’s a pretty crazy event. I’ve been fortunate enough to win it three times and I want to try and put win number four under our belts in January!

Henderson: We see you on Twitter a lot. How do you use the social media to promote yourself?

Lally: Social networking is pretty neat. I was a bit hesitant about it at first. I didn’t even want to get on Facebook at first, and then a friend of mine made me an account a few years ago. This was a high school friend of mine, telling me about all the people she was catching up with from high school, so I did it for that and loved it for that. I think it was pretty cool, but then I was getting more and more requests from NASCAR fans and sports car racing fans outside of NASCAR, too. It’s the exact same thing with Twitter. I don’t really promote that much, I just be myself and try not to make an idiot out of myself too bad. I’m humble on it. I tell everybody all the stupid things I do.

Henderson: You seem like you have a good time.

Lally: Yeah, I do. I don’t try and be all uppity and all perfect. If there’s some stupid thing that I do or stupid moment, I share it with everybody. I was Mayhem (from the Allstate Insurance commercials) for Halloween. It was good times.

Henderson: You have a lot of interests away from the track – can you tell us about some of them?

Lally: I’m very competitive, and I have three big interests away from the racetrack. They would be mountain biking, which has kind of taken the back seat to my two greater passions, which are street luge racing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I do a little bit of mixed martial arts, but my primary focus is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. My goal is to get my black belt. I’ve been training now for a couple of years and it’s been a blast. I entered my first competition this year in that. For me, it’s taken over every other moment of my life outside of auto racing. If I’m home in the state of Georgia, I’m at the gym, training in jiu-jitsu.

Henderson: You talked about your willingness to put yourself out there on social media. What kind of crazy things do other people say to you on there?

Lally: I get all sorts of stuff on Twitter, both positive and negative. You’re going to get haters who don’t understand the NASCAR scene or the sports car scene or whatever. You don’t have to be smart to have a Twitter account. There are plenty of people — including myself, I’m not eliminating myself from that statement there — so I get a lot of stuff like a lot of rumors and just BS, people who don’t understand or know what’s going on, but I also get a lot of funny pictures and funny statements. I enjoy it. It’s semi-addictive and I try to have fun with it.

Henderson: Finally, what would surprise people to learn about you?

Lally: Probably the biggest surprise for most people about my lifestyle is that I’m a vegan. I was a vegetarian for eight years and made the transition to vegan in 2010, and I live that lifestyle not for health reasons, but for ethical reasons. I have been very much an animal rights activist and supporter for a long time.

Contact Amy Henderson

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