Brian Wong | “If and when you can, just follow your dreams”
Whoever says Asians can’t drive will have to put a sock in it thanks to professional NASCAR racer Brian Wong. Get this: Brian is the first Asian American to be in this sport professionally. He has competed in various prestigious races throughout the world, including the most recent 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona. This extremely strenuous race lasts 24 hours and is held at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. We started off our day with tacos followed by a delightful rendezvous with Brian’s father (hilarious and downright awesome), his close friends, and his marketing team. Read on as OA fills you in on how Brian broke into this unique industry as he shares the struggles and triumphs he has faced during his journey to fulfill his dreams.
- What takes up most of your time right now: This year I took decided to take online classes instead of physically being at Northeastern University to participate in as many races as possible. Racing is the only all year round sport unlike the other major sports out there and the races are held in the US and worldwide. I’ll be spending most of my time racing, traveling to events, and fitting in school.
- Guilty pleasure: I wash my hands all the time. I like to be very clean – it’s all about hygiene.
- Favorite color: Red
- Relationship status: [shrugs] It’s complicated.
- Pet peeve: The air conditioning in my car can’t be set to an odd temperature – it has to be an even number
- Favorite food: Mexican food but I can’t live without rice. It’s the inner Asian in me.
- What you look for in a girl: Dude, how can you ask me that if I’m in a relationship? I’m going to get in trouble here…
- What kind of car do you drive regularly: White 2009 BMW M3
- Favorite race car: Porsche GT3 Cup car
- Fun fact: I’m ambidextrous- I’m normally left handed but I use my right hand for sports. I also like to collect a lot of left-handed watches.
- Funner fact: Every racecar has a window net and I was curious what would happen if I stuck my hand out while driving. I was going about 150-160 miles per hour on the speedway and I put my hand out the net. My hand peeled back and got stuck in the net and I had to pull over. When I took my glove off, I had cuts all along my hand. Anyways, to all the folks out there – going over 150 mph, it’s really fast and sticking your hand out the window is not a good idea.
OA: How did you begin racing?
BW: As a family – my parents, older sister and brother – we were very active and would go camping or play with dirt bikes for fun on the weekends. One day, my dad took me to the tracks to watch a live race and it looked like fun. A couple months later, I was learning how to drive in the alleys. My first race went terribly and it was probably one of the worst and best experiences of my life. My dad and I grew a passion for motorsports and we kept buying and building from this hobby into a reputable motorsports team.
OA: What is a day in the life of racing?
BW: My next race will be on March 19 in central FL called the 12 Hours of Sebring and it’s the first race of the season. For this race, three drivers for each team rotate driving 2 hour shifts. I’ll leave a week earlier to attend practice runs, media obligations, and fan meetings. In between everything, I attend team meetings about racing strategies and car preparations such as the motions, tires, setup, gas, inside controls of the car and all these little details. When the race starts and it’s my turn, I’ll race for 2 hours and, once my stint is over, I’ll debrief with the engineers, eat a light snack, drink lots of fluids, and rest up before I have to race again.
OA: So what do you typically eat?
BW: During race week, I eat light by sticking with small sandwiches, fruits, and small snacks. I definitely don’t want to eat a feast and go into a food coma.
OA: How much does the driver really impact a race?
BW: I’d say the driver is about 50% of the equation, the team is 20% and the car itself makes up the rest. I can be the world’s greatest race car driver, but I can only drive as fast as the car is capable of going. Or I can have the best car in the world, but, if I come to a pitstop and they take 5 minutes, that’s not going to help. The driver is the main part, but I couldn’t do it without my team.
OA: What are your fans like?
BW: I met this one lady at Sebring and she had a hero card for me to sign [which is similar to a baseball trading card, so to speak]. I looked at it and it was from the year before! She had held on to it for a whole year because she couldn’t find me to sign it and brought it with her the next year. Another time, when I was really young, I had one fan knit me a blanket. I totally embrace it all now. I mean, people from every background actually follow you and they like you so it’s hard not to engage with them. All in all, my fans are pretty awesome!
OA: Have you been in any accidents?
BW: Oh yeah. In one of my worst ones, I broke my fibula, popped my shoulder and fractured my ribs. I was going around a corner and someone hit the back of my car so I spun up the racetrack. The spin effect happened now and I was actually picking up speed as I spun. I hit the wall and smashed the entire side into it. But I had so much adrenaline that I stood up and walked to the in-field care center by myself. In another accident, the racers were getting antsy with 10 laps to go, fighting for every position. The two cars ahead of me spun out and I ran right into them and ricocheted right off the wall. That part didn’t really hurt, but I was running about 7th or 8th place at the time in a race of over 20 cars so then I got hit from every single angle. When it was over, I jumped out and had sea legs, but I was able to get over to the care center. They released me fairly quickly, but Christine [Janosko, his publicist] said that I was dazed and had some really abnormal behavior. I went to the hospital and it turns out I had a concussion.
OA: What is your favorite part about racing?
BW: Racing in itself is a completely different world and I enjoy the whole aspect of it – not only the driving, but everything else that comes with the territory – traveling the world and racing in the most exotic and fastest cars. I’m a 22-year-old who’s living a childhood dream and not too many people get to say that.
OA: I know you just signed with Absolute Racing last month. What does that entail?
BW: This is what I’ll be doing in Asia soon. I’ll be racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series for a team that is based in Zhuhai, China. The series has 6 events, each of which consist of 2 races each, for 12 races total. So it’ll be a 12-race championship, which means that they don’t score each as one individual race, but as a combined score for the entire series.
OA: You mention racing in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and NASCAR. What’s the difference and which do you like better?
BW: The first one is the American version of the Le Mans Series, which is really big in Europe. NASCAR is obviously bigger in America. For the ALMS, we race in sports cars, like Porsches, whereas NASCAR uses stock cars, which are cars that are just plastered with Ford, Chevy and Toyota stickers. On the other hand, Porsches are real cars and what they do is they make the bodies of the cars in the factory, then stop and send it to Motorsport in Germany. People can relate more to that because they can actually go to a dealership and buy the same car we race with minimal differences, which is why I like racing in these better. I like the idea that a consumer can relate to the car because it really does look, sound, act and drive like a real car. Besides, it’s really neat to race around the world in a Porsche.
OA: How many people make up your team?
BW: For the stock car team, we have 12 people, including one guy who drives hauler [as we are speaking, that guy has driven cross-country to Florida and will drive the truck back to California after Brian is finished racing at his upcoming race in Sebring]. You can do anything you imagine with stock cars so we need more manpower and people who focus on just one thing, like tires, and only that. For the Porsches, we have teams of only 4 or 5 because you can only do so much to the car. While we need more engineers, we don’t need a guy only dedicated to the motor; we basically just fire it up and drive.
OA: What are your goals and hopes for the future?
BW: For me, I think it’s just to continue racing. Racing’s tough – it’s really not just me driving around in circles. There are so many pieces and elements that need to be put together and it’s been a dream come true so far. I’m on an upward path right now, so I want to keep doing it and keep working at it. That being said, I don’t really have an ultimate goal and, as long as I’m happy, I’m going to keep at it. The day I stop having fun is the day I’ll stop racing.
OA: How much do you identify with your Asian versus your American side?
BW: I’m actually a fifth generation Californian so I grew up here. When I went to Asia for the first time last December, it was a complete culture shock. I didn’t realize the number of people there and how hard they worked for every penny. I was brought up in American society, but as I walked around in Asia, I really felt that these are my roots. It was really cool to see how different Asian culture is firsthand. The experience made me extremely humble and I realized how lucky I am to be here. I feel like I’m tapping into my inner Asian. So when Absolute Racing wanted to sign me, I was thrilled because I really wanted to spend more time in Asia. The whole experience in Asia made me realize that I want to understand my Chinese heritage more and embrace it.
OA: How does it feel to be the first and only Asian American driver and the only Asian team in NASCAR?
BW: I always knew we stuck out, but I was never ashamed of that. I’ve also gotten asked that question of why I drive because of that bad reputation Asians have for being bad drivers. It’s cool to break these stereotypes, but obviously I’m not racing to do that. I’m in it to race and I am fully embracing it. Seriously, though, race hasn’t been too much of an issue and, if it does, you can always kill ‘em with some humor and kindness.
OA: What do you do in your free time?
BW: I’ve been working in the shop, trying to pick up golf and just playing with my dog.
My dad set boundaries for me at an early age so I could learn to make time for racing, as well as my family, friends and school. He set a really good example for me to learn how to balance everything. Now, I’m really starting to enjoy just relaxing on days off. Just last month, my family and I went out to Palm Springs just to get away before the racing season starts.
OA: What kind of dog do you have?
BW: It’s a Pit/Lab mix and his name is Clutch. He’s only 7 months old, but he’s a big boy; about 55 pounds already!
OA: Any last words of wisdom?
BW: If and when you can, just follow your dreams.
How to Stalk Brain:
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Interview by Karen Zhou
Photography by Melly Lee
Edited by Julie Zhan
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