In advance of tonight's NASCAR-centric episode of Top Gear
, co-host Richard Hammond and five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson talked to me about the experience of making the feature.
The piece sees Hammond travel to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, where he attempts to explain the appeal of NASCAR by experiencing a race and interviewing several of the sport's drivers, including Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya.
"We weren't familiar with the intricacies of [NASCAR], we just knew about it," said Hammond. "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. 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.
"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. That absolutely informed everything they did.
"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."
He was able to conduct interviews with numerous drivers, including Johnson, Gordon and Montoya, drive the pace car, and work on pit lane. At the end of the piece, he even got a driving lesson from the legendary Kyle Petty.
As much as Hammond enjoyed making the feature, Johnson equally enjoyed being a part of it.
"It was great to see them out," he told me. "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."
For Johnson, the biggest surprise of the experience was just what it took to get it made. "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 race car," he explained with a laugh.
Hammond also addressed the possibility of a future collaboration between the British and American versions of Top Gear
, since the UK edition has already had an episode involving its Australian counterpart. "I'd love to see that," he enthused, "but give them time to settle down and make sure they get their share of shows. We've had ten years of doing ours, and they haven't yet. But I'd love to pop up on their show and get in the way, and get stuff wrong and break things, because that's what we do."
For now, though, he was quite pleased with how the NASCAR piece turned out, and his opportunity to show the British Top Gear
audience the history and inner workings of a wildly successful American sport.
"I don't think there is any [other] 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," said Hammond. "It was absolutely unique, and I had a wonderful time. I loved it. I want to come back and do it again."
You'll be able to see the NASCAR feature in tonight's episode of Top Gear
, airing at 9 PM ET/PT on BBC America.For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my BuddyTV writer page, and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Image courtesy BBC America