Atlanta Braves waiver pick-up owes NASCAR passion to his son
Atlanta Braves utility player Elliot Johnson took the Internet by storm last week when he went all Ricky Bobby during a post-game interview on FOX Sports South.
Asked about his speed after hitting a two-run triple in a victory over Cleveland, the 29-year-old Arizona native slipped into Victory Lane mode, thanking an array of sponsors, throwing out references to crew chiefs and adjustments, and mentioning that he “got a little loose in the rear.”
It was a natural then for Michael Waltrip Racing to invite Johnson to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which he visited Saturday along with his wife, Nicole, and young son, Blake.
Is your visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway a direct result of your NASCAR-themed interview on television last week?
“I knew the race was here this weekend, because my son here loves NASCAR. We TiVo it every weekend so he can watch it, because we’re usually playing at the stadium, or whatever it is when the races are going on. So I knew the race was here this weekend and while I was sitting out there during the game (against Cleveland), I just saw a few of the sponsors and thought I’d just throw them in the interview. And then I just winged the interview from there. I got a tweet from Michael Waltrip Racing, and they invited me out here to check things out. Of course, I said yes.”
You’re an Arizona native. Did you follow NASCAR growing up?
“I live in North Carolina now, but really it starts with (Blake). He’s the reason I started getting interested. Ned Yost, my manager with the (Kansas City) Royals who I was with earlier this year, he let us go to the race in Arizona, in Phoenix, because he was on Dale (Earnhardt) Sr.’s pit crew. They were best friends. He was just like a rehydration engineer. But they were hunting buddies, best buddies, so he let us go to the race. I told him we really wanted to go, and he let us go. And since then, I’ve loved it. What an amazing thing. When you see it, it’s pretty incredible. When you go to a race for the first time, you start to realize why it’s so much fun and why everybody makes such a big deal out of it.
What got Blake into it?
“The movie ‘Cars.’ And I think the association with the numbers and the names. When he comes into the clubhouse, he gets to see the numbers and the names (on jerseys), and I think the association with the names, he kind of picked up on that and started picking up on the names and the numbers. He knows pretty much all the racers. He’s fascinated.
Did you have a notable first car?
“I had an ’85 Dodge Conquest. It was a five-speed hatchback, but it was turbocharged. It was pretty fun. When you looked under the hood, most of the parts were Mitsubishi. It was turbocharged, and it was a lot of fun, but it broke down. It overheated all the time. It was a good first car. My mom got it for like 2,000 bucks, or something like that. I loved that car.”
You were placed on waivers by Kansas City and then claimed by the team with the best record in Major League Baseball. What’s that like?
“It’s pretty cool. They’ve had a ton of injuries, and that’s why I’m here. But to land on the best team, you can’t really expect anything like that to happen. But they needed someone to help quickly. … I’m just trying to pitch in a little bit. They’re not expecting me to be a superstar or anything, and I’m not going to be. But if I can just help the team win a little bit and get us into the playoffs, I think that’s all they’re looking for and that’s all I’m going to do.”
So why did you slip into NASCAR mode during your TV interview last week? You’ve set the bar rather high for the next one.
“It was completely spur of the moment. The only things that I thought about were the sponsors to throw in there, the rest kind of came to me as I was doing it. I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go. It just started flowing after that, and I just kind of went with it. I’m surprised it’s gotten as big as it has. … But I was just having fun with it. You mix it in every once in a while, but you can’t do it every time. You play it standard, and if you mix it in every once in a while, it’s fun.”