Behind the Scenes at NASCAR: Interview with Johnny McMullin

nascar johnny macops

Even if you are not familiar with racing or NASCAR, this guy has a cool job. He doesn’t wear a suit to work and doesn’t sit at a desk all day. He flies all over the country on the company jet and plans the NASCAR race weekends. He has a crazy schedule, but he fit me in because he loves the sport and wants everyone to know more about it.

I met up with John McMullin Jr. at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the Xfinity race. He’s the Director of Industry Operations for NASCAR. He is better known as Johnny Mac-Ops around the race track, NASCAR garage and on social media (@johnnymacops). When he had a spare minute, we sat in the NASCAR hauler, his on-the-road office, and I got to ask him the details of his job and of course, about his closet. (You might be surprised!) 

{Speaking of fashion, before we get started I want to apologize for my shoes. Yes, they are Birkenstocks. Who wears those in pictures? If you have ever been to a race, you know why. You walk a 1,000 miles and when you are in the garages and pit lane you don’t sit down for hours. I also couldn’t find my cowboy boots anywhere 😉 …. I just had to go with comfort, I hope you understand…}

Johnny’s connection to NASCAR runs through his family, specifically his Mom and Dad. His Mom has worked for NASCAR for 38 years, first, as Bill France Jr’s executive assistant (the France family owns NASCAR) and now she handles the charitable requests that come into NASCAR. His Dad, has worked for NASCAR’s radio broadcasting arm, MRN, and still works some of the NASCAR affiliate series broadcasts. Johnny started out playing minor league baseball, then after blowing out his shoulder, he got a job with Fox, working his way up through the ranks and then, 11 years ago, started with NASCAR. This is a guy who loves his job, loves being in the mix, being a problem solver and being a familiar face around the track. Although he travels an insane amount, 21 race weekends this year (Thurs-Sun), he still feels left out when he is not at the track.

Johnny gave us our “hot passes” for the race. What is that you ask? Our hot passes got us access to the garages, the pit and behind the scenes, basically all-access. {Hello, super cool!} The drivers are walking around, the cars are being worked on and when the race is going, you can stand in the pit and watch the cars zip in for their 12 second pit stop.

Plain and simple, Johnny is the credential guy. He is in charge of who gets these passes and personally hands them out. “Requests from the whole industry for credentials (tickets and passes) come through me. The last minute requests from sponsors, driver’s guests, race teams and celebrities come through me. That in itself is a job”.

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Tell me the details of  your job at the race track:

“I run the operations team for NASCAR, 70% of our job is event based, which is putting on the event each weekend. Onsite we work with the staff at the track, manage everything pre-race, pace vehicles, decals for the pace car, victory lane celebration, post qualifying pole presentations, working with our competition folks, working with all other departments within NASCAR including marketing, partnerships and any guests they have. We wear a lot of hats”.

The race weekend really starts Friday morning and runs through victory lane celebration Sunday night.

Friday is knocking out the details and setup, meetings and checking the cars. One of the first things they do is “decal verification” (right?…have you ever heard of that?). If you look at a race car, in front of the number on the car are contingency decals. These are the key sponsors for NASCAR. There are 4 mandatory decals: Sunoco, GoodYear, American Ethanol and the series sponsor (Xfinity, Sprint). Johnny’s team checks the contingency decals on every single race car as soon as it’s unloaded off the haulers. Having the decals is how each team gets paid. Who would have known??  There’s also a lot of Friday meetings with their TV broadcast partners, with J. Howard Entertainment (who handles the event stuff like stages) and there is a minute by minute schedule developed for the entire weekend.  

NASCAR has many levels of their “series”, but the two premier series are the Xfinity Series and the Sprint Cup Series. Saturdays are qualifying for the Xfinity race, qualifying for the Sprint Cup race and then the Xfinity race, later in the day. Sundays are the main event….the Sprint Cup race.

Johnny setting up Scott Brorchetta, (founder Taylor Swift's record company) to drive the pace car
Johnny setting up Scott Brorchetta, (founder of Taylor Swift’s record company) to drive the pace car

On Saturday before the Xfinity race, Johnny gets the honorary pace car driver set up with a NASCAR Official who will teach the person how to drive the pace car around the track. This time it was Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records President and CEO, and, current mentor on American Idol.

All drivers and crew chiefs are required to attend the driver meeting prior to the race. Johnny’s team sets up both driver’s meetings. “Driver meetings used to be private, but now there is a trend to have them be more public.” (letting more people attend the meeting). That means more work orchestrating the meeting, the actual set up, getting the drivers to the meeting, on top of the regular parts of the meeting which include rules of the track, race day schedules and introducing guests and dignitaries.”

Victory Lane is Johnny’s sanctuary, he is THE guy that orchestrates the madness. After the race winner does the celebratory burn out, he drives into victory lane. It appears to be a big party but there is an order of events and Johnny makes sure that live tv, live radio sponsor engagements, the hat dance, tons of photographers, sponsor pictures and of course champagne popping…go off without a hitch. (You can usually spot him standing near the car on tv)

Austin Dillon in victory lane
Austin Dillon in victory lane at the Xfinity race we were at

On promoting NASCAR: “I really get involved in promoting the sport. Unfortunately, the perception we have to battle is that it’s a bunch of redneck’s driving in a circle.” (100% my perception before I met KN and he started bringing me to races). “I have a lot of contacts with people in the music world, sports, agents, entertainers. I use my assets to host all types of celebrities and athletes…people that have never been to a race. I try to show them a first class experience, and 99.9% of people that come to a race say they had no idea NASCAR was this cool. I’ve made my niche throughout the industry as the person that can connect celebrities to the races.  For the Daytona 500 I got Ken Griffey Jr. (MLB baseball hall of fame) as the honorary starter with the green flag…he had never been to a race. Our biggest target is millennials. They don’t have the attention span for a 3 1/2 hour race.”  (Yep, or anything else. We all deal with that.) 

Who is on your list to get to a race? There are 2 guys are high on the list to get to a race. “I would love to get Justin Timberlake. I’ve also been chasing Ricky Fowler (PGA), trying to make that happen”. (I’m sure Johnny will get it done!) 

How do you handle all of this travel being gone over 80 days a year? “You have to love your job. If I didn’t love it, I couldn’t do it. Flying on the company plane is huge. Flying private is the only way it would be possible to still be doing this job.  On Sunday night we head straight from victory lane to the airport and I’ll be home by midnight. That wouldn’t be possible on commercial. I traveled commercial before, for my job at Fox, it wears you out.”  

How does this schedule effect your wife and family? ” She is a very forgiving wife. She knew what my schedule was like when we met.” He admits that it’s very hard, that it’s a tough balance, and getting harder every weekend now that their 3-year old son is starting to realize when dad is leaving.”She asks me every year am I going to cut my schedule back, but I love it, and I take pride in what I do in this sport.  I like being looked upon as THE guy. When somebody needs something, Johnny’s the guy that is going to get things “handled”.  Adding to the mix is that John’s wife also has a busy career and travels as well. “We are very busy people, she is very understanding, but it is tough. It’s stressful.”  

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Hey Elliott (Sadler)! Can I get a picture?

 

On to the good stuff….. 

Is your closet organized?

“Absolutely! I’m OCD. A neat freak. My wife is the complete opposite. It’s very organized, color coordinated. I love clothes!   I’m a very manly man, love sports, love cars, cigars, booze, stuff like that but I love clothes, love shoes. It’s pretty ridiculous how much closet space I take up.” (I can relate Johnny)

When do you shop?

“Mostly online or once in awhile I’ll seek out a special store when I travel. My wife takes very good care of me too, she’s very fashionable, she loads me up at Christmas time and stuff like that”.

How do you pack for all of this travel

“Oh, I’m a bad packer! I got in trouble a few years back with Mike Helton (NASCAR’s President) for bringing too big of a suitcase on the company plane! I always overpack. I’m bad with shoes, I’m the only one in this garage that packs 5 pair of shoes for a race weekend. If we are going somewhere nice and I know we’ll be eating at nice places, like Vegas, then it takes me longer. It probably takes me at least and hour and a half, I do it the night before and it usually entails a bottle of wine.” 

What are your favorite shoes?

Ferragamo. I probably have 13-14 pair. It’s pretty ridiculous. But I take good care of my stuff.  I know not a lot of guys say this but walking into Ferragamo on 5th Ave is one of my favorite things to do. 

 

And then our time was up and Johnny had to get to work. He said we could tag along.  After he set the honorary pace car driver up, we headed out to the track for the Xfinity race driver introductions. On the way he casually asked if I wanted to hand Kyle Busch (NASCAR’s reigning Champion) a hat and a sponsor check. Oh, um YES please! (Just wish I coulda changed my shoes for my 10 seconds of TV fame…)

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Johnny on the left, overseeing my check delivery to Kyle Busch
All the drivers and Johnny behind the stage
All the drivers and Johnny behind the stage
The driver's waiting to be announced backstage
The drivers backstage waiting to be announced (Jamie Little with FOX Sports with the headset on)

A big shout out to Johnny McMullin for having us. He is a genuinely cool guy that you want to hang out with and call a friend. (I would say this even if KN wasn’t a huge NASCAR fan and acted like a kid at Christmas.) So Johnny, we’ll see you at Chicagoland  Speedway this summer, right? 

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