INTERVIEW: Why Chad Knaus no longer hates TV cameras

INTERVIEW: Why Chad Knaus no longer hates TV cameras

Chad Knaus once hated the television camera.

That is not an exaggeration. Knaus says it twice with a laugh when asked how he once viewed television as a competitor versus how he views it now. As one of the most recognizable and successful NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs, the cameras always found him. If he made a bad call for the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson or the No. 24 team of William Byron, the camera was there to see his reaction. If something happened to his driver on the racetrack, the camera was there to document the aftermath.

“And you’re just like, ‘Jesus, man, this camera has been on me for three and a half hours. Give me a break,’” Knaus tells RACER. “I can remember Darlington one year, we’re under caution, so I was going to use the opportunity to go pee. The camera followed me all the way to the Porta Johns like, ‘Oh, where’s Chad going?’ And they’re following me like, ‘Oh, whoops.’

“This is a competitive environment, and when things aren’t going well, the last thing you want is a camera on you because millions of people are watching. But my opportunity to go do TV was always a way for me to an outlet, because we do have a rat race that we run as crew chiefs in the sport, and when I go to do TV, I have to completely unplug from that. You have to be able to talk to the camera or the people that you’re working with, and you have to do it correctly. It’s a way to get removed. It’s a way to get my mind off of what’s going on in the daily grind.”

These days, Knaus is more lighthearted about his previous dislike of the lens because he understands what is happening on the other side of it. No longer a crew chief, Knaus is still heavily involved in the sport as the vice president of competition for Hendrick Motorsports, but don’t overlook how much time he’s putting into his side job.

Over the last few years, Knaus has made regular trips to the Fox Sports studios in Charlotte as a contributor to Race Hub. It’s not the first time Knaus has done television, but he’s certainly doing it with more regularity – and enjoyment – than in the past.

Knaus first started doing television in 2004, bringing a perspective fresh from inside the garage to viewers. There were shows from studios, and from the racetrack on Friday nights after qualifying. When it became too much, Knaus chose to take a step back. Then came Race Hub a few years ago.

“It’s fun, I enjoy it,” Knaus says. “I don’t have enough time, even today still, to put all the effort into it that it deserves, so I feel bad sometimes when I stand next to guys that are really good at it and do a tremendous amount of preparation like Larry McReynolds. He lives it just like he was a crew chief. This is his legit job. And for me, it’s just kind of fun.”

Earlier this year, Knaus took a further step into the TV world when he made his first appearance in the broadcast booth as part of the three-man team to call the Cup Series races at Martinsville and Richmond alongside Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer. In the past, he has also served as an analyst for a number of Xfinity Series races.

While Knaus has warmed to being in front of the TV lens over the years, his day job with Hendrick Motorsports remains his priority. Motorsport Images

Q: Is there any advantage that you’re also still involved on the race team side? Does one help the other?

CHAD KNAUS: It certainly helps the broadcast side, for sure. The awareness of the industry; being able to have your ear to the ground of what’s trending in the garage area and in the industry… I think that helps when I go on television. Opposite of that, it also can be a little bit more difficult from time to time, depending on what’s going on. If we’ve had a technical issue with NASCAR, for instance. I’ve had to do Race Hub or one of the shows right after I just got suspended. There have been different times when it can be pretty awkward. But I don’t know that the broadcast side really does a whole lot toward racing.

Q: So, your perspective on TV has changed, and drivers say the same thing when they do broadcasts. They start to understand why TV does certain things, correct?

CK: I get it now. I’ve done a couple of Xfinity races while I was a crew chief, and now I’ve done a couple of Cup Series races while I’m in this new role, and I think they’ve helped one another. My understanding being in the position that I am now at Hendrick Motorsports as opposed to a crew chief, I have a little bit more global awareness than I did when I was a crew chief.

Then as I do some broadcast stuff, I think you see more of what’s going on as well. Why do you need some of that information? Why do you need some of that intel from the crew chiefs or the teams? Why do these guys and gals ask the questions that they do? It’s not just because they’re trying to be difficult, or they’re trying to impress you. It’s because they really don’t know because they aren’t in it. They’re there. They’re watching it, they’re covering it, but they don’t understand always the decision-making processes of what goes on. So, they’re just being inquisitive, as opposed to just being a pain in the butt.

Q: And it helps to get you out of the bubble and seeing the sport from a wider lens?

CK: Oh, for sure. When I was a crew chief, I was so ignorant to what happened in the world. But you don’t care, you really don’t. I hate to say it that way; you’re just worried about your car being successful, and as soon as the race is over, you get an immediate report card, and you know whether or not you’ve done a good job or not and then you move on to the next event. It’s just boom, boom, boom.

As I took on this new role, it was like looking behind the curtain of Oz. It’s like, ‘Holy smokes. This is not what I expected.’ There’s a lot more awareness now and TV definitely helps me understand that, because I understand what Fox is looking to get out of this. I understand what our other broadcast partners are looking to get out of it, and what the value is for our sponsors and our partners, and why they do what they do, and it starts to make more sense. Plus, I’m maturing.

After living for years inside the crew chief bubble, Knaus has learned to appreciate the wider view of the sport that he’s gained from TV work. Image via Fox Sports

Q: You said earlier you don’t get to put in as much time as you want to, but you’re Chad Knaus, so you’re never unprepared. What do you do when you know that it’s your week on Race Hub or you’re going to do a race broadcast, because there is no way you’re doing it off the cuff?

CK: You’ll be shocked, I really do for Race Hub. I didn’t even make the 10 o’clock call today, and I usually try. I probably have a 50% success rate on that, which I’m embarrassed to say, but we’ve got so much going on. So I don’t prepare well. I did put a lot of work into the races. They’ve got the crib sheets that go out, I study them, I try to look at him, I try to understand who’s driving what car, if there’s something different with the pit crew, if the driver has done well at different tracks. I really tried to dig into what was going to happen throughout the course of the race.

This may sound funny, (but) I don’t want to be the crew chief on TV. I want to be an analyst. My years of being a crew chief are over; I’m not a crew chief anymore. I don’t want to be a crew chief on TV. If you look at somebody that’s a crew chief on TV, you look at Larry McReynolds, and he does an amazing job. He embodies that. That’s not a role that I’m prepared to even begin to try to fill. He’s decades into doing this, and for me to understand how he does and what he does… I wouldn’t do it. That’s not the role that I want. I want to be a guy who talks about it, not just a talking head. Trust me, I want to be educated, but I try to take it from a little bit different approach. I have crew chief experience, that’s all I have. But I don’t want to be the ‘crew chief.’

Q: Do you see yourself continuing to do it as long as they give you opportunities, even though you continue to be just as busy with Hendrick Motorsports?

CK: I love a challenge, there’s no doubt. To a fault, probably. But it’s a challenge to go out there for Race Hub. You stand in this big green room with two or three other folks and just talk to each other, and it’s a weird environment to be in. You read a monitor once in a while. It’s interesting to be in the broadcast booth during a race and watch this thing unfold from a completely different perspective. From what I saw on top of the pit box, it’s completely different because you’re not looking at a car, or a car that you’re racing with or cars that you’re racing with, you’re looking at the whole program. What B.J. McLeod is doing that day could be just as important as what Chase Elliott is doing on a given event from that perspective. And I think that’s kind of cool.

Q: What is important for viewers to know about a broadcast you’re on?

CK: I do take it seriously because I really love our sport. I want to showcase our sport to as many people as I possibly can and draw people in. I really want to continue to get better at explaining it and coaching people, and helping people understand what it is that we do. Quite honestly, our old TV shows where we were a little bit more on the technical side, I think that really had a big impact on a lot of our viewership because people would watch it and they would understand the vehicle more. There’s a little bit of a separation there. And I’m not pitching a new show, so don’t worry about that.

But I do want to continue to be a resource for people that, ‘man, I learned this because of what Chad said today.’ I’ve had a lot of people come up to me for decades about, ‘Man, I used to watch you on this show, and I learned so much about this. I never even knew what an oil link system was. I didn’t know about how disc brakes work. I didn’t know about how strategy worked and how you calculated fuel mileage.’ It’s really kind of cool to think that I had some small impact on that. That’s really neat. If I can continue to do that, that’s really what I want to do.