Michael Annett is on the fast track to the top in NASCAR these days, but did you know that Annett once considered a career on ice instead of asphalt? A star hockey player-turned-racer, the Nationwide Series rookie sat down with Frontstretch’s Amy Henderson to talk about a career decision, racing under the Germain Racing banner, learning from veteran drivers, and… signing foreheads?
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: For the fans who don’t know your background yet, tell me how you got into racing – I understand you had to make a choice between racing and another sport you love.
Michael Annett: Yes. I grew up my whole life playing hockey across the Midwest, around Iowa and Minnesota. I was actually born into a family that had racing in its blood. But my dad was kind of getting out of the sport at the time I was getting old enough to race, so I started playing hockey. I did that until I was 18 years old. I’d reached the point where I wasn’t going to go any further in hockey, and the opportunity arose to go do a couple of tests in some Silver Crown cars. They went well, and I got hooked up to run some late models around Iowa, and eventually got to the ASA Late Model series and moved on to the ARCA and Truck series from there. I got a late start compared to some of the other rookies who were kids growing up in the sport from go-karts on up. We got a late start – but it kind of put our program into overdrive. We’ve made the right decisions, and it seems like we’ve done everything right to get to where we are as fast as we’ve gotten here.
Henderson: You had a win in ARCA last year with Bill Davis. Is that the most memorable race of your career, or does another one stand out even more?
Annett: Definitely winning at Daytona was huge. It’s something any racecar driver dreams about. To get it as early as I did in my career, it was an amazing memory and by far the best one I have so far in racing.
Henderson: What’s the biggest thing you have learned so far in transitioning into the Nationwide Series as a rookie?
Annett: The biggest thing is how you set your car up for a long race. It kind of seems like rookies want to set their cars up to be faster early in a run or at the beginning of a race. That’s one thing I’ve noticed from the veterans – they’re very good at knowing what the car needs to feel like early in the run to be good late in a long run or late in the race. I think that’s something that just comes with tons and tons of experience and laps around these tracks. That’s something I’m definitely working on. I’m sure it’s something I won’t have completely figured out by the end of this year or even next year. But that’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve learned that we need to figure out as a driver and as a team to be successful at the end of these races.
Henderson: You mentioned watching the veterans. Is there anyone in particular that you look up to or go to for advice?
Annett: Carl Edwards is probably the most open as a veteran driver – you can go up to him and ask, and he is willing to definitely help you. If I can get behind him on the track during practice, it’s a huge benefit – any of those Cup drivers that run with us week in and week out. If you can line yourself up behind them for a couple of laps during practice to see what they’re doing different compared to what you’re doing, it’s a huge plus and something as a rookie driver I just try to take it all in.
Henderson: You’re with a team (Germain Racing) that seems to be one of the few that is not a Cup-owned operation who is still growing despite the current economy. What do you attribute that to, and what is it like to be with a team that is able to be as stable as yours is?
Annett: It’s very fortunate, like you said, with the way the times are right now. I think it’s a testament to the people in our organization, with Bob Germain and everybody they have put in place to run that company. It’s just a huge benefit for a rookie driver like myself to know you’re with a stable team. It’s one less thing you have to worry about so you can go to a race and concentrate on racing. It’s just a testament to the people there and the way they do things, one of the biggest reasons I chose to be with Germain.
Henderson: Do you have a favorite track so far? Is there a place that you think, “every time we go there, we are going to run great” or look forward to more than any other?
Annett: I am definitely looking forward to getting to Iowa Speedway! It’s a track that I have a lot of laps at. It’s a place that’s 20 minutes from my hometown, so I’m definitely looking forward to having a bunch of friends and family there. Tracks like Kentucky I run well at – they resemble Chicago and Kansas where I’ve had some good runs in ARCA and trucks. I’m looking forward to getting there with the Nationwide car – it’s better than the tracks like California and Las Vegas where we went to early this year and I had no laps on them at all. Towards the middle of the year, it’s exciting as a driver to look at tracks where you have a bunch of laps. That will just put us that much further ahead when we get there on race weekend.
Henderson: Being from the Midwest, how much of a change has it been moving to North Carolina?
Annett: It really wasn’t too big of a change. I moved away from home when I was a junior in high school to pursue my hockey career. From August to May of every year since, I’d moved away from home playing hockey. I moved down here a year ago to pursue the racing dream. It’s definitely the furthest away I’ve been from home. I’m fortunate that my parents are able to come to every race. They’re there every weekend to support me. I don’t see them much early in the week, but I’m fortunate enough to see them every weekend.
Henderson: Before you were involved in racing, hockey was a big part of your life. Is there anything that transfers over as an athlete going from one sport to another?
Annett: A big thing with hockey is that the team aspect is huge. Everyone has to be on the same page and have the same goal. There are people that would say that racing really isn’t a team sport, but I have eight guys on my team who are there every weekend, and we need to be on the same page and all have the same goal. I think that’s something that people who just see races on TV would have no idea that it’s such a huge part of it – but my team clicks great. I couldn’t ask for any better guys, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed from hockey. I learned the lesson of how to make a team of 30 guys work and click together. We only have eight guys – but that is something I learned that I took to my team.
To be honest, it really didn’t take much work [in the first place] – my guys, they were all on the same team last year. It was a matter of me fitting in with them. We just have a ton of fun together every weekend, and I’m excited to move forward with this team and get my guys the finishes that they deserve.
Henderson: What would you be doing if you weren’t racing? Would you go back to hockey, or would you do something else?
Annett: I don’t know if I would go back to hockey. It’s kind of a sport that once you get out of it, you kind of miss your window. I enjoy any type of competitive sport and any type of endurance sport, so I’m sure I would find something out there to get a good workout or get a good adrenaline rush – or probably get myself hurt. There’s just something that I think each race car driver is born with – we need that rush. So I’m sure I’d find something to fulfill that.
Henderson: What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a fan?
Annett: I always get surprised with the little kids who want you to sign their forehead. I get a kick out of that every time. I know I’m not the only one who’s been requested to do that, but I’m new to the sport. I’m sure the weird requests are just going to keep growing!
Henderson: What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
Annett: I’d probably have to say either my family or my dog. I’ve got a little puppy who’s been with me since I moved away from home. She’s kind of that little piece of home that you always have with you. I’d be a mess without her!