Fox Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts have had a variety of rotating analysts join play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and color commentator Clint Bowyer in the booth over the past couple seasons. Former crew chief Larry McReynolds will be back this weekend at Richmond Raceway, with Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick having already served as guest analysts for multiple races this season.
But the most eye-catching addition so far? Guenther Steiner, the Haas F1 Team principal, joined the Fox booth along with Kurt Busch at Circuit of the Americas last weekend.
Steiner, the breakout star of the Netflix “Drive to Survive” series, used to work in NASCAR (he was technical director of the short-lived Red Bull Racing NASCAR team) and still maintains a home in the Charlotte, N.C. area.
Prior to his booth duties last weekend, The Athletic sat down with Steiner to get his thoughts on TV, NASCAR, F1 and his newfound fame.
Why did you want to do this?
(Fox Sports asked) if I could do a guest appearance. It was like, “Yeah, why not?” And then you don’t think too much about it. We had a meeting in January, and I didn’t hear anything for awhile, and then I was called up and I said, “Yeah.” Then I had to try to explain it to my wife, because I’ve got a weekend at home (between F1’s Saudi Arabia and Australia races) and now I’m going to do the booth. But she’s (in Austin) as well; my family came out.
Why am I going to do it? I like racing. I worked in NASCAR. I always want to do something new to learn, get the experience and see how it is. It’s always easy to critique when you see people doing stuff, but when you do it yourself, you get a completely different kind of view. That opens my eyes and I can get better in my job by understanding the other side of the job. Because my normal work is completely the other side; I’m the person who is spoken about. It’s something new. To get a little bit out of your comfort zone sometimes is nice to do.
Was the idea to lean on your F1 knowledge of this track, your NASCAR experience, or both?
The idea was to blend them. I know a little bit about NASCAR and understand it pretty well; I’ve lived here (in the United States) for 16 years. And if you’ve always done motorsport in your life and you’re in the States, you watch NASCAR, obviously.
It’s a little bit of everything. There is not one specific thing I’m there to compare. It’s more like the lighthearted version of what different race cars are doing. And we have got those two former F1 champions (Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, who drove in Sunday’s NASCAR race) as well, which is pretty cool.
How do you look back at your NASCAR experience as technical director of the Red Bull team? You came into the sport during a very difficult time with big fields, and Red Bull struggled to make races. Do you view that period as a positive or negative for you?
Very positive. For a European to go to the States and be allowed to do this, it’s a privilege. It’s a life experience. I’m very thankful of having done it because it opens up your eyes to what is out there in the world. If you work in whatever sport and you think that is the maximum you can do, but then you come to something like this which is still in motorsport, but completely different — not better or worse, just different — that broadens your horizons. I enjoyed it.
That was my chance to live in the States, and I’m still living here. And then out of that came Haas F1, I would say. So if I wouldn’t have come to the States, Haas F1 would not exist, let’s put it this way. When you think back now about how many things happened after that is quite amazing.
So how much NASCAR are you able to follow? A lot of times, your races are on the same day across the world. How much do you actually get to watch NASCAR?
When I’m at home in North Carolina and not racing, I watch regularly. Otherwise, I just follow it in the print edition or on the internet. Just to keep informed on what’s happened and to keep the knowledge going.
Who impresses you as you watch NASCAR these days?
One of the guys is Kyle Larson. I like sprint car racing; I think that’s very cool as a sport. Where he came from and where he made it, if you look at the story, you can see the guy has got a lot of talent. Jimmie Johnson is one of the legends here. Winning seven times and now he wants to come back (for a part-time schedule). If I see him, I want to ask: “When are you going to stop? Man, you told me years ago you’re not going to do this anymore.” (Laughs) But in general, there’s good talent here in this sport.
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You’ve lived in the States for such a long time and now F1 is finally taking off here. Is there a big difference in getting recognized around town and things like that, even at home in North Carolina?
Yes. (Laughs) It’s very strange. When we started Haas F1, people around me, even in my neighborhood, they couldn’t do anything with F1. They knew about it but had no interest at all. Now, after this Netflix thing, everybody knows it and knows about that. Well, not everybody — I don’t want to exaggerate — but it has given it a big boost. And as you say, whenever I go somewhere, somebody recognizes me. But I’m getting used to it.
Do you have to give yourself extra time when you go to the grocery store?
If somebody stops me and wants a selfie, I’m fine to do it, but I don’t give myself (extra) time. In North Carolina after awhile, the people who know about it realize you’re just part of the community and they know it. There’s nothing special anymore and they got used to it.
It’s more at the racetrack when you need to give yourself more time, because just going from your car through the fans takes time. It takes more time to be nice with them and connect with them.
NASCAR has been the dominant form of racing here. With the hype and interest growing, do you ever see F1 getting to a point where it could be on the same level as NASCAR in the way it’s viewed in this country?
I don’t know about that. It’s a difficult question because F1 has got three races from this year on in the States. And at some stage, there will be a saturation factor, like everything. But I don’t know where that is. In the moment, we are still climbing — but how long this climb is, I don’t know. Depending on the climb, will it equal NASCAR in the States? NASCAR has got quite a good following, so I don’t really know, but if it happens, it will take at least five years.
A lot of new F1 fans got into it during the Lewis Hamilton/Max Verstappen battle of 2021. That was like their first year watching, and then they saw last year and it was like, “Oh …” Now this year so far, they might think one team is going to win every single race. Do you view it as a negative for F1 that people are going to tune in and see one team dominating over and over?
It depends a bit if the two (Red Bull) teammates (Verstappen and Sergio Perez) will have a battle. And I don’t think it’s a given they will continue to dominate like they do at the moment. Obviously, it looks like they are very strong. I don’t deny that one. But I would not call it yet.
I also think F1 gives you a lot of stories outside of the winner. So let’s see where it goes. It would be fantastic if there would be a battle between three teams fighting for the world championship. We all know how that would go down. But I’m still hopeful somebody can come up and at least get close to Red Bull. In the moment, they are quite dominant, but let’s see. There’s a lot of other things going on in F1 and people are now aware of it, so that’s a bit of looking at the crystal ball here.
What’s one thing about your life that people might not understand just seeing you on “Drive to Survive” or seeing you on an F1 broadcast?
Actually, I’m a pretty normal human being. I do normal things like everybody else and I’m just lucky I can make a living out of what I like to do. I didn’t change over the last 25 or 30 years; I’m still the same guy and I will be always the same guy. People think fame changes you, but I’m always the same. I don’t want to change, actually. I’m pretty happy where I am.
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(Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)