Ted Nugent talks off-road racing, music

Originally Published: July 15, 2011
By Thomas Neumann | Page 2

Ted NugentJoey Foley/Getty ImagesTed Nugent riffed on off-road racing, hunting and music during a recent conversation with Page 2.

A conversation with Ted Nugent is almost as much of an assault on the senses as one of his concerts.

The legendary rock star, outdoorsman, author and television personality blends the vocal bombast of Mike Tyson with the delightful hyperbole of Bill Walton. He mixes the promotional panache of Don King with the unpredictable lunacy of Charlie Sheen.

He seamlessly bobs and weaves. He efficiently jukes and dekes. He effortlessly manipulates ostentatious adjectives and potent adverbs at blinding speed as if tearing into the guitar solo from "Stranglehold."

He rants. He raves. He sermonizes.

He uses carpe diem as a verb.

One thing Nugent doesn't do is mince words, as evidenced by the title of his 2001 live album, "Full Bluntal Nugity."

Page 2 recently spoke with the Motor City Madman to discuss off-road racing, hunting and music while he took a break from rehearsing with his band, the Nigerian Rebels, prior to hitting the road for this summer's "I Still Believe" tour. Here's what transpired:

Page 2: What kinds of racing have you participated in? When did you first get involved?

Nugent: I'm almost out of breath, because I'm rehearsing with the band, and the music is so exciting. The reason my music is so exciting is because I'm so damn exciting, and one of the reason I'm so damn exciting is because his lord master Mickey Thompson and the czar of off-road racing in Baja, Parnelli Jones, and Bill Stroppe -- do you really grasp those three names I just mentioned? -- literally took old Motor City Madman Ted Nugent under their wing and taught me how to off-road race. Now, I love the guys, and they taught me everything I needed to know. But remember, I'm from Detroit, and I'd managed rush hours for many, many years. So I was already an off-road pro.

[+] EnlargeMickey Thompson, Ted Nugent
Courtesy of Ted NugentNugent and son Toby hang out with legendary
driver and racing promoter Mickey Thompson
at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1979.

I raced off road for probably a dozen years in a professional sense. But Mickey, Parnelli and Bill are the gods of off-road racing, the czars of Baja technical advancement [who had] warrior-type attitudes and talents. I think every racer I ran into in that circuit -- including the Mears brothers, who just like Parnelli have raced every type, said that the most demanding, challenging and brutal of all racing is off-road. Because it's not just roundy-round. It's not pavement. It's unknown, always changing every step of the way. The course changes from any prerunning you might have done. ... To race at warp speed, in these types of races was really very educational, very stimulating, very gratifying, very inspiring for me.

What is your craziest off-road racing experience?

I was already a follower of Bill Stroppe, Parnelli Jones and Mickey Thompson by the time I swan-dived into the world of off-road racing. It seemed to go really good with my music. I mean, "Motor City Madhouse" certainly isn't a Sunday drive kind of song, unless that includes suspension-destroying, blistering heat and high speed where 50 percent of your race is in the air. So that kind of intense, outrageous, dangerous driving has always turned me on.

But I remember my first professional encounter driving with the Tracy Valenta team, under the guidance of Mickey and Bill and Parnelli. They actually walked the Barstow 350 course with me up there in the California desert. I did the prerun and checked out the terrain, which they warned me would be changing as every vehicle passed and altered the berms, dips, bumps and hills. I remember I actually put the pedal to the metal -- which I'm really good at; I'm really good at flooring vehicles. It's what happens after you floor them that I had to learn.

But to my credit, if I may brag a moment, and I think I shall, I didn't blow up. ... The real master racers will tell you that to finish is quite a win unto itself. And I finished most of them, but that first one in late '78 or early '79, I finished in a Class 10 buggy, where after the first couple hours, there was no suspension for all practical applications. Everything was overheated, and I was overheated, and I'd been bludgeoned by the frame of the vehicle and the hits, the dives, and I did a couple of T-bones and I flipped and rolled it a couple of times. But I finished the damn race, which I thought was really good, and I wrote some great guitar licks that night because of the inspiration of the sheer velocity and mayhem. It was so uninhibited.

The velocity under those off-road conditions is so eye-opening and eye-closing, and as my quality of life is determined by my attentiveness to a higher level of awareness, as a bowhunter and a guy who gets to jam with great musicians, it's about picking up on your surroundings and doing your best to be as omniscient as possible. And those levels of awareness are do-or-die in an off-road race. I'm sure they're do-or-die in any racing conditions, from Indy 500 to Daytona to off-road rally courses.

But that higher level of awareness that I've already been disciplined in as a bowhunter and as a music lover who gets to jam with B.B. King, Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was picking up on all my surroundings. So that's why I didn't crash, because I was pushing the edge as fast and furious as I could, but without killing myself -- and I actually succeeded in not killing myself and not blowing up the vehicle. And I think I finished in the top 10, which astonished Parnelli and Mickey. I'd love to do it again, but at 62, I'm sure I would kill myself this time.

In what other ways has racing or hunting served as musical inspiration for you?

There's intensity to certain activities. I hearken back to a charging elephant in Africa. I hearken back to the '67 riots in Detroit. I hearken back to my first date. I think back to that Barstow race and the death-defying physicality and mental challenge that these off-road race courses force you to be cognizant of.

[+] EnlargeTed Nugent
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty ImagesNugent, wielding his signature Gibson Byrdland, has performed
at more than 6,000 concerts.

When you're that tuned in -- and remember, I've been clean and sober my whole life; clean and sober mean that your gifts from God are working good and that you respect them enough to make sure that you put them to optimum capabilities -- and when you hunt with a bow and arrow, you have to improvise, adapt and overcome to get past a radar system of prey animals: deer, elk and antelope and whatnot. So when you can penetrate within 30, 20, 15 yards of a survival master like the white-tailed deer, you truly are as cocked, locked and ready to rock, Doc, as a human being can possibly be.

And though I stumble more often than I succeed, it's the incremental lessons of cause and effect that you apply not just to hunting with a bow and arrow but maneuvering the upcoming turn and berm and hill and silt stretch and that jam session with B.B. King when he's playing those notes and you follow that spirituality of that musical vision. It is all about a higher level of awareness, so when you off-road race, I mean listen to the intro to "Motor City Madhouse." On my recent album, "Love Grenade," listen to the guitar intro of [the song] "Love Grenade."

Only off-road racers can come up with guitar licks like that. Only guys that kill their own dinner with sharp sticks can come up with licks like that. There's an intensity to life that you maximize by plunging into every day. I carpe diem with the best of 'em, because God gave me another day, and I'm gonna use it, baby.

Of hunting, racing or performing at a concert, what provides you with the biggest adrenaline rush?

I gotta tell you, it's a combination of all of the above, and don't forget to include watching Mrs. Nugent [perform] Zumba. I mean, my band is so good. Derek St. Holmes on vocals and guitar and Mick Brown on drums and Greg Smith on bass guitar. I'm surrounded by passionate animals of thunder that just love and crave the musical expression and playing my songs. There's such an intensity to what they bring every night, that I'm surrounded by this kind of fire and this kind of energy.

And watching Mrs. Nugent travel around the world changing and upgrading people's lives through physical and spiritual exercise with her Zumba routines. And watching my kids put their heart and soul into being the best that they can be. These are all immeasurably inspiring occurrences in my daily life, and I would never do without any of them.

Numerous people have asked me, "If you could only own one gun, which would that be?" I say, "Well, first of all, I'd shoot the guy that told me I could only have one. Then, I'd continue to have the hundreds I own."

My life is a tsunami of inspiration and excitement, and the music reflects that intensity. I was born an American, and I cherish every day -- especially after spending so much time doing charity work with the U.S. military heroes that have sacrificed so much. I refuse to not put my heart and soul into taking advantage of the freedoms and fighting for the freedoms at home that they have sacrificed to provide.

There's a passion in every minute of my life that is scary.

[+] EnlargeTed Nugent
AP Photo/Lennox McLendonNugent celebrates like a rock star after winning the Long Beach Grand Prix celebrity race in 1983.

Are you a Detroit sports fan?

You know, I'm not a spectator of anything -- except Mrs. Nugent's Zumba. And that's only under very controlled circumstances, which we will end the conversation of right now.

No, I've never witnessed an entire sporting event in my life. My sons are maniac athletes, super athletes. Basketball, baseball, football, hockey. To watch my sons and my grandsons on the basketball floor is truly an athletic ballet. So they love the Pistons, and they love the Red Wings and they love the spectator sports. I've been a good daddy and taken them to many of those events when they were growing up.

I'm quite honestly very appreciative of the athleticism and the warrior spirit of these athletes, but I'm not capable of watching others do things. I'm so enamored with the pursuit of my happiness and doing the things that I just crave -- the music, the hunting, the charity work with the military and youth organizations. ... I'm a real hands-on, gung-ho participant. I think life is an action sport, not a spectator sport. Again, I cannot say enough of my admiration for the athletic capabilities of these NBA guys, NFL guys, baseball guys and hockey guys. They're just unbelievable.

What's your favorite city in the world?

My initial knee-jerk and emotional answer would be my hometown, Detroit. There's a mysticism and an energy in the air that is palpable and threatening, yet so wonderful, to put it in a positive way to force me to be so intense that I could just blow up on stage -- which is a great feeling, by the way, because that's how I get high, by seeing how close I can get to blowing up without actually blowing up. Which I've got down to a science, by the way.

I'm like a ballistic ballerina -- and you can copyright that term.

When we recorded my 6,000th concert, in Detroit in 2008, and my original guitar teacher from the Capital School of Music in 1958 came on stage 50 years later, and played "Honky Tonk" with me, Joe Podorsek, just a master of Motown groove and guitar. And Derek St. Holmes came up and sang the classic "Stranglehold" and "Hey Baby." And I was surrounded by my friends, Johnny Badanjek, from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels band -- probably the greatest drummer that's ever lived. It was such a momentous occasion, such an emotional confluence of memories and family and hunting buddies -- and to perform the song "Fred Bear" in the land of Fred Bear to a 100 percent bowhunting audience was levitation. I never touched the floor with my feet that night.

There's something magical about your hometown birth city that brings out a spiritual erection that I have to get special permits for.

You're about to embark on your 2011 "I Still Believe" tour. How much longer are you interested in continuing to record and tour?

Yowza. It's endless. I'm fascinated by the musical creative forces. I've got Derek here at the house right now, writing and jamming and rehearsing songs for the tour. It's not a coincidence that the name of the song and the name of the tour in 2011 is "I Still Believe." Because, boy, do I still believe. I still believe in what Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and James Brown and Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave and the Motown Funk Brothers all taught me.

I believe that music is supposed to be an unleashing of spirit and attitude and defiance and sexuality and outrage and uninhibitedness and coalescing and a uniting of like-minded American dreamers. It's a primeval, primal force of dancing and celebrating rugged individualism and independence and declaring it in every song and every concert.

I crave this stuff, and remember, too, the balancing act that I and I alone have perfected. By that I mean you can't get further away from each other than the solace, statuesque immobility of spirituality of deer hunting six months a year and the high-intensity, dangerous, ballistically coefficient outrage and velocity and trampling-the-weak-and-hurtling-the-dead unleashing of what we do when we're touring.

The energy level is just off the charts -- immeasurable, Richter scale-destroying energy. The peace and quiet of my spiritual hunting life craves the sonic bombast of a full-throttle summer tour. Then, by the time the sonic bombast of a full-throttle summer tour is over, I put my guitar down -- even though I play it every day, but not like I do when I'm touring -- and I pick up my bow and arrow and I shut up and sit in a tree.

I donate dozens of hunts every year for military and youth charities, and to get terminally ill kids to our campfires and to share their spirit as they say goodbye to their families and to share these spiritual times with the heroes of the military. It is so fortifying. It is so humbling. It is so electrifying that it makes me force myself to be a better man every day and demand as much positive energy from myself and my family and my team as possible.

So the extremes of touring and the spirituality of the hunting season are polar, extreme opposites in that the intensity of the summer tour causes me to seek and refresh and recreate myself during the hunting season. ... By the time hunting season is over, I want to pick up guitars and hurt people and just go berserk. So at the age of 63 this year, I have unbelievably gravity-defying energy. It's because I've been clean and sober my whole life, and it's because I take good care of my sacred temple and because I think I give back as much as I possibly can, and it comes back for me and I'm a very, very lucky man and appreciate every day I get to stand up and do this.

Thomas Neumann is an editor for Page 2.

Back to Page 2

• Philbrick: Page 2's Greatest Hits, 2000-2012
• Caple: Fond memories of a road warrior
• Snibbe: An illustrated history of Page 2
Philbrick, Gallo: Farewell podcast Listen