Massimiliano Papis started racing go karts in his native Italy and climbed the open wheel ladder to Formula One. In 1996 he crossed the Atlantic to race for Ferrari in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and became Mad Max. Building a successful career in the US, he is better known by Max Papis.
Mecca of Speed: Max, you don’t have a fulltime ride in the Nationwide series and it has been a few years since you last raced at Road America, what preparation have you made for this weekend?
Max Papis: I don’t race a lot with KHI (Kevin Harvick Inc.) but I do know most of the guys on the team, so it’s not like starting with a new team. It’s going to take a little time understand what this car needs in terms of set-up for this kind of racetrack.
I’ve known the crew chief for a while and I feel the chemistry between the guys and me is there, it’s almost like we have been racing together all year. This team has a lot of experience working together which is important. I’ve spent a lot of time at the race shop making sure I know the names of all the guys and learning who is whom, which can make all the difference when working as a team.
Mecca of Speed: You race primarily in the Craftsmen Truck series, how is your season going compared to the goals you have set for yourself and the team this year?
Max Papis: I’m really excited about what we are doing in the truck series; we are flirting with a top ten. We haven’t had the run we are looking for yet, but we have been very fast and competitive.
This is the first year I’ve had the opportunity to run fulltime in NASCAR. My goal is to get in the top ten. A top five would be a dream by the end of the championship. Being realistic, finishing in the top ten at the end of my first full year would be a great result.
Mecca of Speed: Even when you don’t have a fulltime ride in one series, you find a full season of work between sports car and NASCAR.
Max Papis: I’ve been working to build a lot of relationships over the years. People see the value I bring to a team both on and off the racetrack and that brings me a lot of satisfaction. When someone like Kevin Harvick, who could have put anyone in the car chooses me because he sees the added value I work to bring to the team, it makes me feel proud.
Mecca of Speed: The 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona was the birth of Mad Max. If you had not gotten the call in 1996 to drive the Ferrari 333 SP, what direction do you think your career would have taken?
Max Papis: I really think if I did not get that ride in 1996 I would not be talking to you right now. There are some circumstances in racing when you need to be at the right place at the right moment and that was one of them. In fact that was The Moment.
I was a proud young driver and had a lot of things to prove. I wanted to race at Daytona and make a point, to prove that I was not a back marker like I was in Formula One. I was an unknown driver in America and they didn’t even know how to pronounce my name. By the end of the race I was given the name Mad Max and had become one of the top road racers in America.
If I had to choose something in my career has been a driving force it’s my extreme will to succeed. That is what I bring here this weekend.
Mecca of Speed: You were racing with the Arrows Formula One team in 1995, how did that transition to the sports car ride with Ferrari in 1996?
Max Papis: I basically retired at the end of the 1995 Formula One season because I could not go where I wanted to go, which was forward. I felt there was no reason to continue to race in Formula One as the only rides that were open would have left me continue as a back marker.
I got a call from Ferrari at the beginning of December in 1995 and they asked me if I wanted to race for them in the 333SP at Daytona. I said why not and that is how it all started.
Mecca of Speed: When you raced in the CART/ChampCar series it was the top tier of open wheel racing in North America. How did those years help develop your race craft.
Max Papis: I learned my abilities were capable of making me a champion. I got more secure about my driving in a very competitive team. I learned to be more of a leader, which is a big step forward for a driver. Looking back, when I was younger I was not enough of a leader.
I learned about my own personal responsibility. I always say the driver is like the quarterback of a team and that is how I work, to help lead the team.
Mecca of Speed: From the start of your career in Italy you have had a friendship with Alex Zanardi, has it grown stronger through your career as your paths continued to cross?
Max Papis: Alex is one of my best friends. He is the godfather of my son Marco. There are certain relationships that go beyond racing and that is one of them. My relationship with Jimmy Johnson is another one that extends beyond racing.
Alex and I have known each other since we were 14 racing go karts together. From go karts it went to F3. My debut in Formula one was when Alex was racing with Lotus and we raced together again in CART. It’s a long time and at the end of the day I feel racing comes and goes, but the relationships stay which is what I have been building here in NASCAR as well.
I hope people appreciate who I am before they appreciate what type of driver I am.
Mecca of Speed: You have had a long and successful career. What do you see in the photos from this time in your career? (See bottom four photos on right.)
Max Papis: (Quiet reflection) This was a special moment. We all had a dream. When I look at Greg (Moore) I know he is not here physically with me anymore, but he rides with me. I have his sticker on my helmet and have worn red gloves since he passed way in memory of all he did for me.
Looking at this picture I can say dreams do come true.
I have a picture of Ayrton Senna driving go karts in my locker with my gear and I’m going to put this picture of me and Greg together next to it.
Mecca of Speed: I few years ago you were here helping your nephew set-up and race go karts. Has he continued down the racing path?
Max Papis: My nephew is now racing late models and he may have a bright career in NASCAR in the coming years.
Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time and good luck this weekend.
Max Papis: Thank you very much
Content credit Max Papis and John Vatne. Photo credit Randy Erdman and John Vatne.