Shane van Gisbergen on adjusting to NASCAR life and discovering the Bloomin' Onion: 12 Questions

Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Shane van Gisbergen, the three-time Australian Supercars champion who stunned the NASCAR world by winning his Cup Series debut one year ago at the Chicago Street Course. Now a rookie in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, van Gisbergen will have double duty in the second edition of the street race weekend in downtown Chicago. This interview has been edited for clarity, but the full version is available on the 12 Questions podcast.

1. What is currently the No. 1 thing on your bucket list?

Probably to win on an oval. I just know it’s gonna take time and I’m not there yet, but it’s a pretty big thing to work toward.

2. How much media coverage of NASCAR do you consume?

Slowly more and more. I’m still stuck in the rest-of-the-world stuff.

So anything that happens in Supercars, are you still looking at that?

You just interrupted me watching the race from last night. (Laughs) Yeah, I still watch it. It’s hard to switch off from something you’ve done for 15 or 16 years. I still follow it. I’ve got a lot of friends and people in it.

3. Beyond winning, what is the best way to measure success in racing?

Just always finishing days or races with a smile on your face and knowing you got the most out of yourself, your team, your cars and being happy at the end of end of the season. Even if you won or came in second or 50th, it’s being happy with it.

You seem to be enjoying yourself so much all the time. Have you always been that way or have you evolved toward that?

No. Even last year, I was a bit of an a—hole to myself all the time. You get a third (in Supercars) and it’s a bad day. Whereas this year, I’ve been getting a 15th and it’s an awesome day. It’s just that expectation you have on yourself. And here, it’s not a bad day if you get a fifth or a 10th. It’s just different levels of expectations, levels of drivers and series, stuff like that.

It’s hard to explain. This year I have that pressure because I’m trying to perform to move up (to the Cup Series). But also if I’m 15th and have a straight car and learn a lot, that’s still a good day. So it’s taken a while to adjust to that.

4. What is an opinion you have about NASCAR that you don’t think is shared by the NASCAR fans?

(Thinks for awhile) There aren’t many things about this I don’t like at the moment. I agree with the fans so far. I can’t think of anything.

5. What is the biggest thing fans don’t realize about what you do for a living?

All the behind-the-scenes work stuff during the week you don’t see, which I wish got explained better. Like the Chevy Tech Center or the team simulations, the setups, how much work goes into it and how cool the technology is. When we did the Wheel Force (data-gathering car) test at Sonoma, I learned so much. I had no idea that tech existed and how amazing it is, and how easy it would be to show people and explain it to them. I guess the teams and manufacturers love to keep their IP. But the tech I’ve been exposed to, even last year when I came to Chicago, it was mind-blowing. And I wish there was a way to explain that and show everyone.

6. This question is about a hot topic concerning yourself. Recently, we’ve seen several of your Supercars colleagues come over and try their hand at NASCAR. We keep hearing about how it’s because stock cars and Supercars are so similar. But for someone who has never driven either of those, how similar are they really? Are they that close, or are they just closer than other cars around the world might be?

So the Xfinity car, I’ve never driven anything like that. I’ve never driven a car that drives like a forklift, where the rear end is doing the steering. Every other car feels solid, locked-in, makes downforce in a straight line, rather than yawed out.

The Cup car is relative to pretty much every other race car in the world. So I jumped in that Cup car at the Coke 600 and that was the first real oval I’ve done (in Cup) and it just feels like a normal car. You’re like, “OK, I can push on and be comfortable with this, get a feel.”

Whereas in an Xfinity car, it slides — and I don’t know if it’s the (differential) moving or the air doing its thing or the car is actually sliding. Like there are just so many features and feelings I’ve never felt before. And whenever I’ve spoken to people like Kyle Busch or Chase Elliott, they’re like, “Man, it’s the opposite for us. We love that feeling where it feels like the car is sitting and yawing.”

So yeah, the Cup car is way different to a Supercar, but it’s still more relevant than most of the stock cars here.

7. This one is a wild-card question, and I’m mixing it up for each person. Your style and your personality seems to be such a great fit with NASCAR fans so far. Even when you’ve had aggressive moments, like with Austin Hill, they love it. Do you have any sense of why you’ve been able to click with NASCAR fans?

I’m trying to still figure that out, how it all works. I’m a pretty shy, reserved person, but I can still have a personality. But in the Australian media the last few years, you get judged so harshly by the media and the fans. You sort of shell up and sometimes get aggressive about it, or you don’t say the right thing or you hold everything in. And you get smashed for it.

Whereas here, I feel like I can be myself — just say what I think and it comes across the right way. I see that in a lot of personalities here. All the drivers have much more personality. Everyone has personality in Australia, but not outwardly publicly. You’re able to show it here and not get judged so much. People, media and fans seem to appreciate it more here and resonate with it. I’m trying not to overthink it, because I think just being myself is working.

It’s very interesting. When I watch interviews (of myself) or even know what I was like in Australia, people think I’m a different person. But I’m not (different) to my friends. I’m just showing it to the people now. As I said, I haven’t figured it out. It’s very different here.

8. What do you like about the place where you grew up? (He’s from outside Auckland, New Zealand.)

I love where I grew up. I’m gonna move back there as soon as I’m done driving. I love New Zealand, just love how relaxed it is. It’s how close you can be to the city, in the busyness, but it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and on a farm somewhere. That’s where I want to be: On a farm, chilled out, my place and own space. But I just love New Zealand. My friends and family are there, and I’ll be back there as soon as I can.

Did you grow up more outside the city?

Yeah. So I grew up in a place called Manukau, which is half an hour out of Auckland. You can get to the center of town in half an hour, and we were out on 40 acres in the country. Pretty cool.

Shane van Gisbergen

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates after winning the 2023 Bathurst 1000 in Australia’s Supercars championship. He’s now full-time in the Xfinity Series. (Morgan Hancock / Getty Images)

9. What personality trait are you the most proud of?

Especially this year, I feel like I’m just always having fun, but when it’s go time, I can switch my brain and just be focused. I switch into race mode straightaway. So I don’t know what trait that is, but I’m pretty good at that.

10. Which driver would you least like to be stuck with on an elevator? This one might be pretty obvious considering your run-ins with Austin Hill lately.

(Laughs) Yeah, I can’t think of another one aside from that. It would probably have to be him. But who knows, we might get to sort some stuff out.

11. What is a run-in you had with a driver that TV or the media missed?

I had a couple of good ones in Australia when I qualified bad. I had a friend (Scott Pye) — we were teammates, kind of, sharing a pit boom. And we used to always qualify around each other, so we were 19th and 20th or whatever. And when we shared the same row on the starting grid, we’d have a bet for 50 bucks on who would be winning after the first lap.

So at Eastern Creek, Scotty got me at the start and then into (Turn) 2, I just went straight down in the grass to pass him and hit him in the door and drove off and waved at him. And I made him pay me the 50 bucks. (Laughs)

That’s amazing. So nobody picked up on that at the time?

No. No one knew about that. (Laughs)

12. So each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one was with Carson Hocevar and he has a two-part question he’d like to ask you. The first one is: What was the first American meal you had that shocked you, where you were like, “Oh, I cannot believe this is what they have here?”

A Bloomin’ Onion. It’s at Outback, the Australian place, but I’ve never ever heard of a Bloomin’ Onion or seen one. It was amazing, but you can taste the calories as you eat it.

Wait! The marketing for that makes it seem like it’s an Australian food or something?

I’ve never heard of that. But they should have it in Australia. It’s pretty good.

The other question Carson wanted to know was “How does traveling from race to race in Supercars compare to the race-to-race travel you have here?” Like are you flying on charter planes in Australia? Are you flying commercial? How does it work there?

Everything’s commercial (in Supercars). And this is first-world problems, but every time I fly commercial here, I just hate life. Like, the Charlotte airport is the worst experience ever. So we’re very lucky here with the team flights (teams fly on charter planes in NASCAR). The planes aren’t the best, but it’s amazing. You pack up and go and you’re home the next day.

But in Australia, flying commercial was a much better experience. We flew commercial everywhere.

So what’s better about it in Australia?

The airports are easy. Like say my flight is at 8 and you board at 7:30. I’ll turn up at 7:20 at the airport and just walk through security and you’re on. Whereas here, I allow two hours at the airport. It’s a joke. The other day, I stood in security for an hour and 15 minutes. It’s ridiculous here. And you gotta take shoes off and all that s— at security. But first-world problems; it could be worse.

Do you have a question I can ask the next person? I don’t know who it is yet.

(van Gisbergen asked to wait and see before giving a question.)



NASCAR at Chicago expert predictions: Street course favors SVG and unpredictability

(Top photo of Shane van Gisbergen celebrating his Xfinity Series win at Sonoma in June: Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

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