Mike Conway is so even-tempered it can be disconcerting.
During interviews, he answers quietly, at times seemingly struggling for elaboration. For example ..
Q: How did Milwaukee go for you?
Conway: OK. Qualifying wasn’t so good. In the race we managed to come through to 12th and stay on the lead lap.
Q: Do you like Milwaukee.
Conway: I like it, it's just hard to know what you need from the car sometimes. Quite a tricky place.
And so an interview goes with Mike Conway. In a world of "look-at-me!" personalities, he's content in the background being "chill" as he says. But just when Conway has you thinking he's a Festival of Single Syllables and wondering if he may actually be the Animatronic Driver, out come flashes of wit like these from Conway (@mikeconwayindy) on Twitter:
@mikeconwayindy: Hey @Andretti26 I just peed on the toilet seat accidentally on purpose...can I get a RT?
@mikeconwayindy: @danwheldon ye get on it dude grid walk would be fun, promise I won't do a kimi and say' I was just takin a s*it' lol
So Conway's not exactly the English Kimi Räikkönen in the interview chair, although Conway once drove for a team owned by the taciturn Finn. There's certainly none of Räikkönen's don't-give-a-shit air about Conway, who seems happy to meet and greet in his own super-relaxed way. And if you did happen to check Conway for a pulse -- just to be sure -- it would be there, but at a super-chill resting rate of 36 beats per minute.
Q: You have the reputation of being super laid back, no emotions, no outbursts, where does that come from?
Conway: I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know. Um. I don’t know. You'd have to talk to the team.
I did talk briefly to a couple of members of the team, who related stories of Conway's amazing calm, even to the point of falling asleep in the car while waiting for adjustments during a career-important test. They said such things could be incorrectly taken as a lack of caring or focus from Conway, but instead are just signs of how incredibly relaxed he is at virtually all times. If not for a career in race car driving, Conway would probably make a world-class trauma surgeon ... ultra unflappable in even the most dire situations.
Q: So are you like that in the car? Are you Shumacheresque? Emotionless?
Conway: In the car I never get irate or blow a fuse. It’s too easy to do something like that sometimes. You just gotta chill out and take it as it comes. It can soon effect the way you drive the car if you flip out. I just trying to keep it cool, really.
Q: Has that always been the case or is it something you've worked to develop over your career?
Conway. Yeah. Always been the same. Just the personality. Just keep it cool.
Q: Is your family as relaxed as you are? Is it in the genes?
Conway: I’m probably the most laid back out of all of them. No one gets stressed out at my house. Everyone is pretty chill.
But not even Conway was completely chill at Indy 2010 and again in 2011, for two very different reasons. In 2010, it was because he flew into the catch fence on the closing laps of the race, breaking his left leg in multiple places and causing a compression fracture in his back.
"I never passed out so I remember it all. I remember being right up behind Ryan's (Hunter-Reay) car," said Conway. "I was really hooked up on the last stint. I could run so close to people. Closer than I hever had before. I could put it anywhere and overtake people and at the end I got really in close behind him I wanted to pass him between three and four. It was really looking good. Just as I was kind of putting it down waiting for him to make it to the corner his engine died (ran out of gas) and I was like, 'fuck.'
"All I could do was pull down on the inside even more and I was on the grass and we just touched wheels that was it. I just went up in the air, closed my eyes, crashed, bang, and felt it going slower opened my eyes I was kind of sliding upside. Take a deep breath. Felt everything was OK and soon there as a guy there. I said, yeah, I'm fine, flip me back over. I felt I was all right. Then I tried to get out of the car. Soon as I lifted my left leg I was 'Oh fuck, something’s wrong.' "
Conway said he felt no pain during the crash and genuinely thought he would simply get out of the car as if he'd just finished and parked in the pits.
"There was no pain, but my leg was just hanging down at a funny angle and I was like 'fuck, that’s not good.' Only time I had pain was in the ambulance going to the medical center. Then they were pulling and prodding my leg trying to see where the breaks are and I was getting pretty pissed off. I was like 'Don’t touch my leg.'"
Conway had surgery to repair his leg soon after. As soon as he was cleared to fly, Conway went back to his family home in Kent, England, to recuperate with the aid of his parents.
"The first few weeks couldn’t do anything on my own. I had a neck brace and crutches. Not easy to do stuff and I wasn’t allowed to take the brace off for like four weeks. So I went back to my parents and stayed there. Mom was there pretty supportive."
Conway's parents were at the Indy 500 when he crashed, which was probably good since they were on the scene immediately and didn't have to deal with the pain of not knowing or the frenzied panic of cell phone calls and efforts to find a flight from England to Indianapolis quickly.
Q: Did it ever cross your mind in the recovery process that you were done driving?
Conway: Yeah, you always have doubts and fears; everyone does. Do you want to do this again? But as soon as I woke up after surgery it was 'When can I get back in the car. How long this going to take?'
Conway said the toughest part about the rehab was how long it took to see results. That's hard enough for anyone to take, let alone an athlete who's accustomed to performing at a high level all the time. In other words, it wasn't so much the pain of rehab, as the pain-in-the-ass nature of having to go through rehab.
"All the rehab and stuff, it was tough because it takes so long just to see changes you just get pissed off having to deal with it," Conway said. "All I wanted to do was to be able to walk. And run. I didn’t care about racing after that one month. I didn't really care about anything apart from being healthy. As soon as you can see light at the end of the tunnel then you are like, 'OK, I know I can do this ....' Then ah, yeah, take it from there."
Conway is still not 100 percent recovered. He can run, but not nearly as well as he would like. Victims of such major injuries often report doctors can put everything back together, but they can't make it feel or work exactly like it did before the injury.
"It will just take time. I get new aches and pains during the day, just randomly. It can come from wearing a different pair of shoes or something, so yeah, something you got to live with. Hopefully at the end of the year I’ll get everything (hardware) taken out I don’t need and it should improve again. By the end of the year I want to be running properly. That’s a goal. Right now there’s no need to stress my leg that much. I can do everything. Jog around, I suppose, cycle, swim. (Cycling and swimming are the mainstays of Conway's fitness regimen now.) I'm getting into skipping (rope). The impact good for the leg. You use different muscles when you skip."
So what about failing to qualify for the 2011 Indy 500? Many drivers would say that would be MORE painful than hitting the catch fence at more than 200 mph.
"I was really upset, to be honest with you," said Conway. "All that week we knew it was going to be tough to make the race, it’s sad to say. We thought we were going to be there and be strong ... nah, it was crap. Worst week in racing I’ve had so far."
Q: There had to be some profanity in there.
Conway: No. I was pissed off, but what can you do? I don’t think shouting and hollering at people is going to make any difference.
Conway has made enough of a difference on the track to rise steadily from karting at age 8. He got the attention of Andretti Autosport in 2010, who hired Conway after a strong showing at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Conway rewarded Andretti's faith by winning the IndyCar race at Long Beach this year.
Conway's early career featured a march through the European formulae including Formula A British Carting, Formula Ford, Formula Renault UK and British F3 International Series. In 2006 he dominated the British F3 International Series, and clinched the title with three races remaining. He then moved into the Formula 1 feeder series GP2. In 2008 Conway got a test with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing who signed him for the 2009 season.
Throughout that accomplished career, Conway said he's kept the same ultra-low-key approach to life inside and outside the car. "I think stress takes days off your life. So no need for it, really, if you can avoid it."
Just don't mistake laid back with lazy or unfocused or even unaware or unconcerned.
"Even though people think I’m laid back, I work hard for what I’ve got," Conway said. "You gotta be involved if you not someone else will get in there."
Like every other driver, he works the phones, makes contacts and works hard at the off-track side of racing -- he just does it with a resting heart rate of 36 and a little extra hardware in his left leg.
YouTube video of Mike Conway's 2010 Indy 500 crash ...