The BBC's international TV sensation Top Gear
has explored a wide gamut of automotive machinery in its uniquely free-spirited way, and added NASCAR to the list with the episode that premiered on BBC America on April 30, in which host Richard Hammond interracted with five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, along with Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya, at Texas Motor Speedway last fall.
In the episode – which airs again tonight at 10 p.m. ET and again on Saturday at 3 a.m. on BBC America – Hammond explores the history of NASCAR, and tells the story of how the sport evolved into what it is today. After explaining its roots, Hammond visits Texas Motor Speedway on race weekend to dive into the different elements and intricacies of a NASCAR racecar. Here, he and Johnson relate to the NASCAR media some of what they experienced along the way:
Q: Richard, talk about your experience at Texas Motor Speedway during the shoot, and was it all you expected for Top Gear when you focused on NASCAR for an episode?
RICHARD HAMMOND: Straight up, no it wasn't. Because NASCAR, well, we're familiar with it on Top Gear, of course, if you're a car guy, you have to be. We weren't familiar with the intricacies of it, we just knew about it. When we arrived at the speedway I thought well, I'm going to feel out of place. I'm not going to know what's going on.
But I couldn't have been more wrong. The moment when I stepped out of the car arriving, I was made so welcome. That's largely because at the very essence of the sport, in the very center of it, there is an awareness on the part of the drivers and the teams, all of them, all they want to do is drive. That's all they're there to do. They realized long, long ago, to facilitate that, they need to put on a good show so people can come and watch it because it costs millions of pounds a year to do this.
Boy do they. That absolutely informed everything they did. We were made so welcome, and before I knew it, I ended up being filmed in the pits with cars coming in during the race. You couldn't be made any more welcome than that.
I don't think there is any more motorsport in the world at that level where you'll see spectators wandering around the pit lanes where the drivers sleep at the track the night before the race. It was absolutely unique, and I had a wonderful time. I loved it. I want to come back and do it again.
Q. Jimmie, talk about your experience working with Richard and the rest of the Top Gear crew last fall in Texas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was great to see them out. I'm a fan of the show, and I was very happy to see the film crew, and to know how in depth Top Gear is with their program and the fact that they were going to take our sport and showcase it to the level that they do was exciting to me. I was excited to be a part of it. It was a pleasure to meet everyone, and I certainly hope to cross paths again with everybody.
Q. Richard, what was something about doing this piece that surprised you about NASCAR? Was there something that you didn't know before that you learned?
RICHARD HAMMOND: I think the whole spirit of the event, for one. As I said in the introduction, there is nowhere elsewhere you'll find Motorsport at this level of professionalism and speed and ability where people are so welcoming. That to a European guy who is used to seeing F1, and the great motorsport we have over here, but it's very remote, very distant. You're kept at arm's length. And these guys were so welcoming.
The biggest surprise was the drivers of the likes of Jimmie, just who wandered around the crowds and talked to people. That is unheard of in other Motorsports and really revealing of an attitude that says come along and watch. And they know they need to put on that show.
Q. Jimmie, I wanted to ask you that question. We know what Richard learned by getting to do this. But what was your most memorable moment in being part of this piece?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were trying to shoot our piece while the teams were warming the cars, and with the audio required, we had a hell of a time just trying to find a quiet spot to get it done to show him around my racecar.
RICHARD HAMMOND: You can't win. It's loud, man. It's incredibly loud.
Q. Richard, what in your opinion is the difference in approaches between the way American car makers make cars and the way European car builders build cars?
RICHARD HAMMOND: I think sometimes European makers, particularly the performance cars, get very much caught up in the idea that it's absolute dry performance as it were on the track that matters most, when very few owners are going to take whatever else over to Germany and pitch it with somebody with a new 99 Block. Whereas UK car makers are better at remembering, yeah, it's got to be fun.
So if you look at the Camaro and some of the hotter Mustangs, they remember that, yeah, all of that is fine. Very few people are going to take them on the track and do what Jimmie does. They're going to drive them in the real world. There, it's not just about fuel economy and getting good gas mileage, it's also about does it make you feel good? That's why I like American cars, because they make life a bit happier, a bit more exciting. You couldn't ask for more from a car, could you?