Dinner with a Race Car Driver: Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Nelson Kiera crop

Me and Nelson Piquet, Jr. in Long Beach, California.

In advance of the Long Beach ePrix in April, I won a FoxSports twitter contest to have dinner with driver Nelson Piquet, Jr. I could not quite believe it when it happened, and remember telling Dave, “I think I’m having dinner with Nelson Piquet, Jr. on Thursday night!”

What do you do when you have dinner with a race car driver? Ask them questions, lots of questions. Nelson currently races in the Formula E series for NextEV TCR – electric car racing through the streets of many of the top cities in the world – and as a driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Rebellion Racing. In the past he’s raced in GP2, Formula 1, Global Rallycross and the NASCAR trucks series. He’s also the son of three time Formula 1 world champion Nelson Piquet.

As you might imagine, I had no shortage of questions!

We met at Gladstone’s in Long Beach – right across the street from his hotel for the race weekend. Josh Skolfield was another contest winner, and Rebecca Banks and Emma Stoner from Nelson’s PR team joined the dinner as well. I thought there would be a huge group, but it was simply the five of us.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach 2

Dinner with Nelson! L-R: Emma, Rebecca, Josh and me at Gladstone’s right after we ordered.

I started asking Nelson questions after we ordered, and I continued peppering him with questions as we ate our dinner. I wanted to be sure I did not forget to ask anything. Nelson was very gracious and open, and he was willing to answer all of my questions – even the ones about the infamous incident at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix in 2008.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach

There’s a photographer that takes pictures of your table at Gladstone’s and then sells you this montage.

It was interesting to hear about the life of a race car driver – never staying in one place for too long as there’s always a promotional appearance, another race, or testing to attend. He said home is his suitcase. I asked Nelson which series he enjoyed racing the most, and was surprised that he enjoyed the NASCAR trucks series so much.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach 4

Nelson poses with me and Josh after dinner. Credit: Rebecca Banks.

Some of the more interesting things that he shared with us include his regret that he didn’t continue racing in GP2 while he was a reserve driver for F1 in 2007. Since he was a reserve driver, he was sitting at the race tracks, not racing and it was a bit boring. He also regrets not remaining in Nascar Trucks for a third year as he instead jumped to the Nationwide series. He enjoyed Nascar and working with a radio spotter throughout the race. He said you need to have total trust with the spotter because they can see what is happening on the track, so when they tell you to make a move, you need to move.

I asked him about this favorite tracks, and he immediately mentioned Macau, Silverstone and Monaco, saying that the more challenging the track, the more fun it is to race. He hopes to continue racing for as long as he is able and will consider his next steps once his racing career is finished.

Nelson Piquet program

Nelson signed the Long Beach ePrix program for us.

Nelson was not particularly optimistic about his chances in the Formula E season this year, and after winning the series first title last year, it has been a disappointment. Still though, I am following the series, and enjoyed attending the race in Long Beach (the cars make high pitch sounds but are very quiet – it’s a bit odd to see the open wheel cars zoom by without much sound!).

Supporting Nelson at the Long Beach ePrix

Supporting Nelson at the Long Beach ePrix

I was excited to hear about his racing with the Rebellion team in the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His team mates are drivers Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost.

We attended Le Mans this year, and I managed to capture a quick selfie with Nelson during Scrutineering. He remembered meeting me in California and wondered what I was doing in France – watching Le Mans!

Nelson being interviewed with his Rebellion Racing team mates during Le Mans scrutineering.

Nelson being interviewed with his Rebellion Racing team mates during Le Mans scrutineering.

It was raining quite a bit during the interviews.

It was raining quite a bit during the interviews.

There was quite a large crowd for the two days of Scrutineering. After the cars were inspected, the team – drivers and crew – posed for an official team photo.

I stood on my tip toes to capture this photo. It was very crowded!

I stood on my tip toes to capture this photo. It was very crowded!

After posing for the photo, the crew pushed the car along the pathway, and the drivers stopped for photos and to sign autographs. That is when I was able to say hello to Nelson again and take a selfie!

Nelson signs autographs for the fans at Le Mans.

Nelson signs autographs for the fans at Le Mans.

Nelson selfie Le Mans

A selfie with Nelson during Le Mans scrutineering.

The Rebellion team was the top private team in the LMP1 class at the race, and Nelson and his team mates were on the podium.

Nelson Le Mans podium

The Le Mans 2016 podium. Nelson and his Rebellion Racing team mates Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost are pictured on the podium at the far right for being the top private LMP1 team in the race.

This weekend, he races for NextEV TCR in the last race of this year’s Formal E season, the London ePrix. You can help Nelson’s car receive an extra “boost” in the race by tweeting or tagging your Instagram photos with #NelsonPiquet, #Fanboost and #LondonePrix – once a day until race day (although since Nelson is not in a position to win the championship this year, he would probably would not mind if you gave your boost to another driver).

Thank you for dinner Nelson. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I hope to see you again soon at a racetrack!

You can follow Nelson on all his social medial channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Have you ever had dinner with a race car driver? Who would you want to meet? Let me know in the comments below.

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