Derek White was not among the top finishers at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, but the 44-year-old Mohawk, who lives in Kahnawake near Montreal, became the first Native American to ever compete in a NASCAR race.
Driving in the 5-Hour Energy 301 race held at the track in Loudon, N.H., White completed the 43-car race in 39th place.
This might have been his first official race, but White is no stranger to NASCAR. In recent years he has participated in 17 NASCAR XFINITY Series starts. And he’s also competed in a half-dozen NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events. He is also a regular on the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, a circuit which features events exclusively in Canada.
In an interview with ICTMN, White talked about the challenges he faced on Sunday, why he is opting to play golf instead of race in Indianapolis this weekend and what it means to him to represent First Nation people.
What were you thinking while you were on the start line in Sunday’s race?
When the green flag went out, I just thought, I can’t rear-end the car in front of me. I just wanted to make it to the first turn without hitting somebody. And after that, I just wanted to keep going. It was tough to hang with those guys. It’s unbelievable how fast and how good they were.
Are you satisfied with your finish?
I was happy with my result. I wanted to start the race, and I wanted to still be running at the end of the race. If there had been some accidents, maybe some cars would have been knocked out and I could have finished somewhere in the top 20. They were all racing hard, but it seemed to be a very clean race.
Did you have any problems during the race?
On the 80th lap my air conditioning went out. And I still had 220 laps to go. At one point I scraped against the wall as I was waving my hand, trying to get some air into the car. That was around the 100-mile mark. I hit the wall and there was a small dent in the front of the car and scratch in the back. At the end of the race, three drivers were brought in [to the medical tent] for dehydration. But I managed to finish the race with no air conditioning.
At the end of the race my partner came over to me and said ‘Man you look dead.’ I told him my air conditioning died more than an hour ago. He didn’t believe me and I told him to go stick his hand in that car. They told me it was 160 degrees in that car.
When is your next race?
I’m not sure. I’m supposed to go to Indianapolis this weekend. I am on the list to race there (in the XFINITITY Series). But I won’t be going because I have a golf tournament this weekend as well. It’s a memorial tournament for an elder from Kahnawake who passed away. I knew him well. He did a lot for our community and was always collecting food baskets for those who needed it.
Will you have another race on the NASCAR Sprint Car Series this year?
I can’t say yes, and I can’t say no. It’s just so darn expensive to do a race. I made my debut on Sunday. It was like on my bucket list of things to do. But now I have to focus on my Canadian Tire and my XFINITIY Series. Maybe in September, though, I’ll go back to Loudon. After the race [Sunday], I had three teams call me and ask me if I was interested in racing for them (in September). They just told me to let them know what my plans are.
How much would it cost to race for a year?
Just to run at the back of the pack in the XFINITITY series is about $5 million. The Top 15 teams in the series have budgets of over $10 million each year.
When you are racing, do you think about being the only Native driver out there?
For sure, that is always on my mind because I am the only Native-owned and operated car out there. It’s not just in my community, but I know there are a lot of other people from other communities who are looking at me and saying they are proud to see what I’m doing. It means a lot to me.
Do you see yourself as an inspiration to First Nation people?
I hope I am inspiring others. There is a lot of talent out there. What is holding them back is the money. It’s just too expensive.
How long do you see yourself racing?
I’m going to keep doing it until the well runs dry.