|In March, Johnny O'Connell earned his eighth class win in the 12 Hours of Sebring. (Getty Images)|
O'Connell has been racing professionally since 1987, mostly in the sports car circuit. In 2001 he joined Corvette Racing, teaming with Ron Fellows to capture the GTS class title in the American Le Mans Series in 2003 and 2004.
In June, O'Connell became the first American driver to earn four victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. O'Connell teamed with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia to score the win for Corvette Racing in the GT1 class.
In March, O'Connell, Magnussen and Garcia topped the GT1 class at the 12 Hours of Sebring. It was O'Connell's record eighth class win at Sebring.
With every race weekend, O'Connell continues to expand his record totals. As of Aug. 16, 2009, O'Connell has 37 wins and holds the ALMS record for most starts (98), most podium finishes (77), most top-five finishes (90) and most top-10 finishes (96).
Maineute asks: In your background you have raced cars where driving duties were shared and not shared. Which situation has more pressure? Which do you enjoy more? Do you approach driving the car any different knowing that someone else could show you up in the car?
JO: I very much enjoyed when I had a car to myself, but sharing a car, takes a certain mentality that is uncommon to drivers, and that is compromising on set up. I'm lucky with Jan, in that both of us are pretty good at driving the others set ups, and adapt well.
Greenblood1 asks: Congrats on your most recent Victory at the 24 Heures du Mans. I've asked this question for other drivers so I will also ask you. Have you ever considered running the 24-hour race at the Nurburg Ring? If you have what was it like? If not maybe you and Ron Fellows could team up and bring home a Victory.
JO: Well I've done some testing for Corvette in the Z06 at the 'Ring and the place is amazing. If I ever got the chance to do the race, I would for sure. The track is like top gun training for drivers, and I'd love to do it. I can't even imagine how crazy it would be being out there with so many cars.
YokoBlueWave asks: Johnny, impressive resume holding the most Sebring wins and most ALMS wins in history. What is your favorite race? Most favorite course?
JO: Race would be Sebring for its historical significance, and the track is great too. Favorite course would most likely be Mosport, as its so unreal fast and dangerous. I used to like Laguna, but it has been ruined with all the sand.
How do you like the Corvette you drive now compared to the Indy cars?
JO: Well, I've only gotten the chance to drive Indy cars on ovals, which was a waste. I would have loved to have road raced one as they were so athletic. The Corvette is nothing like that, with it having more mass and all, but the 'Vette is about the best GT car ever built. Its record proves that.
What is your favorite ride of all time?
JO: I couldn't pick just one. The Nissan I raced was amazing with its engine. Unreal fast. Back then they let us have big horsepower, which was fun. The Panoz was great when Tony Dowe ran the team, as the cars had all the latest gadgets on it needed to win. And the Corvette, well, is the most solid all-around car.
What do you consider your best win?
JO: That would be this year at Le Mans. Getting that fourth Le Mans win was important to me, and it was made even more difficult to get when Jan got sick and was unable to do most of the race. A true test of endurance.
Are you the winningest American driver at Le Mans, France?
Hawks N Cards asks: On occasion we have people show up on the Auto Boards claiming that racing is not a sport and that drivers aren't athletes. We usually ignore these idiots but how would you respond to someone who questions the athletic ability of racecar drivers?
JO: Just politely explain that in order to work in the environment we do, you need to be totally fit. Then tell them if they want to know what it's like, run the heater in their car for an hour on a hot day, that'll let them know what the heat is like. The tell them to watch TV lying down for an hour on their side and holding their head up the entire time. That'll give them an idea about how hard it is on the neck.
YokoBlueWave asks: What is in the future for Corvette and Chevy? And the future of ALMS?
JO: I wish I knew to all of that. I just try to focus on driving, and leave speculation to Doug Fehan.
What is your favorite music? Rock band? Favorite new song? Favorite oldie (classic song)?
JO: Whatever my son has on the radio. Not a big music buff. But saw the Police last year, that was great.
Karate is generic term for a number of Asian martial arts in the U.S. What type of martial art(s) do you practice? What is that training like? Do you do more than one? How many people have you tried a flying kick on? (I saw the joke about the scissor kick.)
JO: Tang Soo do is what I practiced. After getting my black belt though, I slowly got away from it as I was getting to many hand and wrist injuries from it.
Hawks N Cards asks: Johnny, I have followed ALMS racing since its inception and have watched the amazing success of Corvette Racing. It would appear you and your teammates have dominated the GT1 Class to extinction. Is this the reason for the GT1 demise or would it be related to the cost of running in the GT1 Class?
JO: I think our success had a lot to do with it. There were some cars that could challenge us over the years, but in order to beat us a team had to be perfect. It's sad another manufacturer never came in to challenge us, but then I'm sure they knew that in order to beat Corvette, it would take a lot of commitment, and not the usual one year program most go for.
You are currently a world champion driver with an unbelievable resume. Would you like to share with us what it was like in the early days when you were attempting to race for a living?
JO: They were great. Living very poor and just thinking about driving. Life was all about living out a childhood dream, and working hard to make it happen.
My favorite tracks are the traditional road courses with significant changes in elevation. Is there a particular type of course that suits your driving style or one that you prefer to race on?
JO: I like them all really. The only one I don't like -- and I hate saying this as it used to be my favorite -- is Laguna. In making it safe for the motorcycle guys, and I appreciate that, they just ruined it for good racing for cars. I kind of think circuits should have some dangerous aspects to them, to separate drivers.
Has your son learned his lesson about taking the jet-ski without permission or is this a work in progress?
Ha. Everyday is a work in progress. But that lesson was learned. Greatest thing in my life is that kid.
lsutigersfan48 asks: Hey Johnny O', first of all thanks so much for answering our questions and congrats on all of your stellar racing accomplishments. The quote you made,"Being an American on the top step of the podium in France, and them playing the star spangled banner for Chevrolets Corvette Racing Team .... is the ultimate rocking chair equity. Thanks to everyone, and especially the Danish fans who were so gracious to me when I got to make the rounds with Jan."
How did that make you feel? I would imagine that would be a racecar driver's closest feeling to winning the gold medal in the Olympics. And you got to experience that first hand.
JO: Well I think Dan Binks interview after the race really put it into perspective. Personally, I did not say anything the last two laps, as I knew I could start crying with emotion and pride. One very cool thing was I did ask for permission to do a burnout after the finish. They said yeah. And after I smoked them, Dan got on the radio and said "that's showing them how we do it in America." I thought that was pretty darn cool.
What accomplishment has eluded you if any?
JO: I'd still like to get more championships, now in the GT 2 car, and more wins at both Sebring and Le Mans. I think all drivers would someday like to get into the hall of fame, so that would be something cool to accomplish.
No doubt this type of racing, especially the 24 hours, takes its toll on car as well as driver. My question is: What do you do to condition yourself to handle the rigorous stresses put on your body?
JO: I work out mostly everyday. Lately I've been doing a lot of swimming.
plaid asks: What challenges has the Corvette team encountered with the new Corvette C6.R and what expectations and possible rivalries do you expect with the transition to GT2?
JO: Well luckily we have the brightest engineers in the country doing the car at Pratt and Miller. There will be challenges but we'll meet them just as we did when we first entered GT1. I expect that in short order we'll have things figured out and give everyone a run for their money.
There have been so many great questions asked, and since answering 87 or so questions has got to get old, I thought that maybe, since you have raced with such an impressive array of drivers, you could share a funny story or two about some of your teammates.
JO: Holy cow. I have millions and should probably write a book sometime about all of them. One I'll share real quick happened the first time I was at Le Mans in 1994. Myself and John Morton were in a restroom, and as I'm washing my hands a lady goes right up next to John and starts cleaning the urinal next to him. The look on his face was priceless and we both just cracked up laughing.
Another great time with him was a few years back when he and I got to spend some time with Phil Hill at Sebring. John knew every car that he had raced, and hearing some of Phil's stories about Sebring, and driving for Ferrari was pretty magical.
Section_725 asks: In 2001 when you had Dale Earnhardt Sr. as your teammate, which one of you gave the most racing advice to the other?
JO: As huge as Dale was, he was the coolest guy. As things turned out, our stints matched against each other so we spent a lot of time together on the track. Drafting with him during the race was amazing and rocking chair equity for sure. To be honest, at that stage it was more me giving him some tips about what he could do better as a road racer. He picked it up, and did amazing.
What was it like for you personally to work with a driver with as many accomplishments as Dale Earnhardt Sr.?
JO: Well most of the big name guys are just like you and I. Dale was the same. A pretty regular guy with a passion for racing. Word is he was going to retire from NASCAR soon, and then go sportscar racing with us at Corvette Racing. It would have been great had he had the chance to do Le Mans with us, that was his goal.
If you were to jump into a stock car, what current NASCAR driver would you go to for advice on how the car handles?
JO: Hmmm, well I guess I would go to Jimmie Johnson as he's driven the Vette once. And would be able to give me a fair comparison of what to expect.
Goofypurple asks: Since you have been racing 22 years what do you consider you most memorable event? Not just as the best finish exactly but the event that sticks in your mind and brings a smile to your face every time you think of it?
JO: That would be my first race in Go Karts. I was around 12 at the time, and can still remember setting up the leader, and then passing him with one lap to go. It was a real small track, laps were only about 22 seconds, but I'll never forget it.
And if you only had one type of car, one range to race in the rest of your racing career, which one would it be?
JO: I could not be happier than where I am now. Corvette racing is the ultimate place to be driving America's greatest sportscar and taking on the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and showing them all just what we can do with Chevrolet.
Are you harassed much out in public upon being recognized? And how does your family handle the recognition?
JO: Perhaps the nicest thing about being a sportscar driver is that you are very much under the radar, and don't have huge recognition. A few times a year someone will say something, and that's nice, but for the most part it's not a big deal. The kids get some attention from it, from their friends, but once they meet me they see I'm just like every other dad more or less.
mikeyfan1599 asks: Road course racing is not a very popular sport in the U.S. Why do you think that is? What needs to be done in the future to bring it to a bigger fan base? What are the manufacturers and sanctioning bodies doing to bring more fans to road course racing?
JO: I think it's because NASCAR in the '80s did such an amazing job marketing and that in that series the drivers are the stars, not the cars. It would be nice if only one sportscar series existed, that had big manufacturer involvement. You need the manufacturers as they are the ones that run the win ads in USA Today and other magazines that bring attention to the sport. I think manufacturer involvement, and showing racing as a means to prove technology, like it's used at Chevrolet with the Corvette, truly does improve street cars.
BowTimeRowdy asks: Has there been any female racers or drivers in any type of car racing that you have either respected for their talent or actually looked up too either now or in the past? Also, do you think differently when trying to pass a female driver as it is obvious in most situations females do think differently than males? Sorry if this question might get you in trouble!
JO: Holly Beck. I was about 17, racing go karts and she was 20. The girl was a total animal on the track and a very good hard racer. The other that really stood out to me as being truly gifted as a driver was Wally Dallenbach's wife Robin. I taught her at Bondurant, and she was one of the most naturally gifted drivers I've ever been with.
Greenblood1 asks: Johnny, I have never had the pleasure of being in a race car, let alone driving one. I did as a teenager have the pleasure of driving (piloting) another type of racing vehicle. Hydroplane's, Limited Class's only. This weekend is our annual "Quake on the Lake" near my home and it got me thinking. Have you ever had a chance to pilot a Hydroplane, Limited or Unlimited?
Would you ever consider doing it?
Have you ever been to any Hydroplane racing events?
JO: Yes, at Firebird Lake. And after seeing one wreck, well terra firma is just fine with me.
plaid asks: If Johnny O'Connell wasn't able to drive for Corvette Racing, who would he like to drive for? What G2 team(s) do you have the most respect for? If you could be any other driver, past or present, who would it be? I know a lot of guys would love to be in your shoes.
JO: Hmm tough one. In GT2 it would be Risi or Flying Lizard. Any other driver ?? Hmmm, Schumacher had his own plane didn't he? That would be a cool perk!
Hawks N Cards asks: This season the ALMS has elevated the Porsche Patron Series to race with the other ALMS classes. This may be a short-term solution but one I am not in favor of. Currently the GT2 Class is experiencing growth and is the most competitive of the ALMS Classes. I would prefer splitting the GT2 Class into teams that receive substantial factory support and the Privateer teams with each operating cars under the same rules. Your thoughts?
JO: I think the ALMS already treats private and factory teams differently in terms of prize money, so I wouldn't change anything there. When Corvette racing joined the ALMS, it took two years to win the first race, and no one changed any rules for them. A good private team with good drivers CAN beat a factory team. They just need to work hard.
Finally, Jaguar is going to run a limited schedule this year and will join the ALMS GT2 Class full time in 2010. I see this as a great addition to the GT2 Class. Feel free to kick their butt but you have to admit that it is a beautiful car.
JO: They are beautiful cars, and Paul Gentilozzi is a great guy that I know will put out a very strong effort. His experience in Trans Am, and other series means he'll not show up with anything but something that is close, and the fact that Jaguar is coming to the party is once again proof that the ALMS is doing something right, and presenting something to manufacturers that no one else can. I'm certain they will be worthy competitors.