ELKHART LAKE – After 16 seasons in NASCAR, including the last 13 in the inaugural Cup Series, Paul Menard retired at the end of the 2019 season.
Since then, the Eau Claire native – winner of the 2011 Brickyard 400 – has only made brief appearances on the racing scene.
Last year, that involved two Camping World Truck Series races, on the road courses of Circuit of the Americas, where he finished 11th, and Watkins Glen, where he finished eighth. This season, Ménard has raced three times in Trans Am.
The most recent event, and likely his last for 2022, was on Saturday at Road America, where he finished second to Kaz Grala in the Trans Am Series 100-mile race that ended in rain. Menard scored one of his three Xfinity Series races on the 4-mile track in 2015.
We met him this weekend.
Participating in a partial Trans Am season? What is the plan?
This is my third race with Showtime Motorsports. (Businessman/racer/car collector) Ken Thwaits owns the team. We did Sebring and we were very fast there and had a mechanical problem. Then we went to Charlotte and we won there. And here we are at Road America.
He wanted me to participate in another race (after Sebring and Charlotte). We talked about Lime Rock or something. I have never been to Lime Rock. So we said to ourselves, we have to at least do Road America.
Have you intentionally kept a low profile when it comes to racing?
No. I just tried to live my life. I got out. Made a decision. Walked away from it.
The direction the sport was going, the way the rules worked, it wasn’t a fun race anymore. There’s no point being away from home 40 weeks a year with two little kids and not having fun driving the cars they used to be. Now I race several times a year, and these cars are great to drive.
Is this, like, your perfect schedule? Three or four races a year?
I’ll do a few a year. I would like to set up a program to do a full-time season next year. We may have a few options there. Ken has been very good to me with everything. Just trying to get the money and the people to do things right, that’s what everyone is trying to do. Everyone is fighting for it.
It’s a great series. I could run 11 races a year and be pretty happy I think.
Have you done ice racing? (This is where Ménard got his start.)
I didn’t, but I thought about it a lot. You’re lying in bed at night on your phone or whenever you’re thinking and watching things, I’ve been looking at options to maybe build my own ice runner and run it a few times a year. Man, it’s also a lot of fun.
Would you like to do more NASCAR races… like here?
I would run another NASCAR race here for sure. It is one of the best tracks in the world. I love road racing.
Running a stock car again in Kansas with limited power and all the aero… nope. But getting to some of those tracks… I would love to race Bristol again, one of the tracks that has character, where you have to drive the car. This is very fun. And Road America, those road races, that’s it.
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When you do this, just run a few errands a year, is there any rust you need to remove?
It went pretty well. I get in the car…we’ve done two tests and this is our third race weekend. Every time I get in the car, it comes back pretty quickly.
There are some things you take for granted. When you’re running all the time, the way your body muscles…especially the ovals, you’re so shifted to the left. Here it boosts the base strength of these cars a bit.
I always try to stay in shape, so that’s good. But I notice it in my neck or in my core strength, some of the things that you miss by not doing it all the time.
Is there anything you miss about the NASCAR schedule and all that goes with it?
You kind of knew what your year was like. Now the children are out of school. What do we want to do? To go camping ?
You have to make decisions much faster, it seems, than before it was planned what your whole year was like. You had a week here where you could go on vacation. You knew you had a Wednesday. Wednesdays are pretty open in this world. Mondays are meetings. Tuesdays are (used for) recovering, Wednesdays are more open, like a day to go and do something. So Thursday is a travel day.
Now it’s a brave new world out there. Now we have a new routine. So, like, when I go away if I go camping, or if I go whitetail deer hunting for four days during the winter, it’s hard to be away for four days from my wife and kids. This has changed. Before, it was so routine. They’re used to you leaving. Now, when you’re gone, it’s actually hard to do.
The two children are at school?
Yeah. Now it’s summer vacation, so we drove up from North Carolina and did a little road trip. I love a road trip. The children were well behaved and we had a great time.
So you’re still in North Carolina. How involved are you in the business? (His father, John, founded the Menards home improvement chain.)
I am involved. It’s hard having kids in school and figuring out when is the right time to move here if you’re moving here. If everything is here for us to do. There are many variables.
So the family is okay?
Life is Beautiful. It’s what you make of it.
Is this the last time you will run this year?
The last scheduled. We could do another one. We talked about it. We always talk to see if we can put something else together. So far this is the last.