Meet Brad Keselowski, radio DJ
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brad Keselowski steps into the radio world's version of mission control: three computer screens, a microphone and an on-air mixing board that looked space age compared to the primitive dash of his Sprint Cup car.
"Thirty seconds," comes a voice over the studio speaker.
Keselowski claps his hands and rubs them together.
"I can't believe you're letting me do this," the reigning Cup champion tells Chuck Thompson, otherwise known as DZL, host of "The End" at Charlotte alternative rock station WEND-106.5 FM.
"Me either," DZL replies, nervously.
And with that Keselowski was off for the fastest -- and arguably most exhilarating -- hour of his life outside a race car.
Welcome to The Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Hour.
Yes, the champ got his primary sponsor involved. No surprise there.
Like he has since team owner Roger Penske gave him a full-time Cup ride in 2010, the 28-year-old made the show his.
Other than a slight mishap with a mouse when he should have pushed the play button -- what's a few seconds of dead air? -- Keselowski was almost flawless introducing songs, reading station promos and keeping listeners informed on a winter storm that was engulfed the area.
He rambled off DJ terms such as "hitting the post" as naturally as he would "wedge adjustment."
He owned it.
Station executive Jack Daniel was so impressed that he stuck his head in the studio door 30 minutes in and said: "If you ever retire from that driving job you can do this."
Keselowski was so good that he got a new nickname: "Bradass."
Athletes often get opportunities most of us don't -- in this case to fulfill a "boyhood dream" -- because of their celebrity status. This one was born from a conversation Keselowski had with DZL last season when he repeatedly questioned the host's song selections.
DZL finally told him to win the Cup championship and "you can come and play whatever you want."
Not long after Keselowski captured the title in November and delivered the unforgettable "SportsCenter" "buzz" moment with his giant pilsner beer glass interview, the wheels for this day were put in motion.
WEND's Patrick Sills admittedly was skeptical. Athletes often underdeliver in his world of Metallica and Pearl Jam, arriving with a script to promote an agenda and never showing their true personality.
He hadn't heard much of Keselowski, who turned the NASCAR world upside down at the 2012 Daytona 500 when he tweeted from his car after Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet dryer to stop the race.
Less than 10 minutes after Keselowski entered the building, particularly after the driver asked if he could say "'f--- you' on the radio," Sills knew this was going to be good.
"He nailed it," Sills said as he monitored social media feeds.
There were times, beginning with the selection of Kid Rock's "You Never Met A M----------- Quite Like Me" as his opening song, when Keselowski had station executives worried.
The Penske Racing driver addressed everything from "farting" in his firesuit -- "It's got nowhere to go," he informed -- to a video that he swore would make most "throw up in 10 seconds."
Can you say Federal Communications Commission?
"The next song goes out to NASCAR's newest power couple," Keselowski said as he introduced the love song "Shine."
"I was a little bit nervous [about doing this], and then some big news story broke today," Keselowski said of Patrick and Stenhouse, a relationship he says he's known about for a while. "Then I figured, no matter what I do, it's probably not going to make that big of a difference."
In the beginning
"OK, he's coming down the hall," an excited voice echoed through a back room filled with Miller Lite products.
It was almost an hour before the first hour of the show, when Keselowski would be in the passenger seat for 60 minutes before taking over, and a winter storm had the guest host running late for the production meeting. No worries. Everyone adapted.
"I feel like I need a hoodie," said Keselowski, wearing blue jeans, a fleece jacket and a Miller Lite cap, as he entered the room. "I was going to come in sweatpants to feel real authentic."
Radio hosts aren't known for their on-air fashion style and Keselowski knew it. DZL was prepared just in case, presenting Keselowski with what he called a rock DJ jacket, in this case a black coat with the name of the show on the back.
"Damn, should have gotten him a hoodie," DZL joked.
The production meeting was a bit more serious. DZL tried to explain that Keselowski's opening song contained words the station can't play, that even the cleaned-up version needed approval to be aired before the evening hours.
DZL suggested perhaps there was another song Keselowski might want to consider. Keselowski was adamant about the one he chose because it "personifies who I am."
"I might say, 'Let's do it,'" another member of DZL's team said in the small office decorated with electric guitars and a Metallica poster. "Let's get crazy."
"I want my first song to be a little influence from where I'm from & and maybe get somebody in trouble," Keselowski said.
This was a moment Keselowski had awaited since he and his brother worked in their parents' race shop in Rochester, Mich., 35 minutes outside of "Rock City" Detroit.
He recalled that when his parents went to race they'd leave him with his grandmother, and how she would go to bed around 7:30 p.m., leaving him and his cousin to turn up the volume on rock classics such as Led Zeppelin.
"I really built a love affair," Keselowski said.
That was obvious from his song selection, which ranged from "Whatever" by Godsmack to "Outside" by Staind to "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine.
DZL applauded the texture and variety of Keselowski's selections and approved the playlist, pending approval of the opener that eventually came.
"Everybody does the same stuff," Keselowski said. "I wanted to do something different."
You always expect different from Keselowski.
'You're killing it'
"You're killing it right now," DZL said.
A follower on Twitter wrote during the show that she'd been in the radio business for 18 years and "he's doing great."
But the real testament to greatness comes from how one adapts on the fly. This happened minutes before the show began, when station exec Daniel explained that there was a very emotional mother wanting a song played for her son, Caleb, who was going through a tough time.
Keselowski, as if he were making a last-second decision to go with two tires instead of four, reached into his playlist and picked "Porcelain" by Moby.
He then told the audience how the song helped him through a tough time in 2006 when his family almost went bankrupt keeping him in racing, how he was at such a low moment than he almost turned to the military.
"That song was like my driving force," Keselowski said with a passion.
"And now he's the Sprint Cup champ!" DZL said.
"At that time, I said 'No way,'" Keselowski responded.
I've often talked about the depth of Keselowski. His song selections personified it.
They were personal. They had meaning beyond being pleasing to his ear.
"They've all got a little personal flavor," Keselowski said. "That's what makes them special. The thing about music, it's an awesome way to tell stories without it being boring. You can tell a story about your life, what you need to be motivated.
"That's why I have such a love affair with it."
DZL stood and applauded as Keselowski wrapped up the show. Everyone in the room did the same.
"Next thing I'm going to do is jump a Harley through a ring of fire," Keselowski said with a laugh.
You get the feeling he'd be great at it. You get the feeling Keselowski would be great at anything he did.
"I gotta admit, I'm really impressed, man," DZL said. "You did a great job."
Keselowski was almost sad the hour was over. He had more stories to tell, more jokes to crack, like the one about Patrick and Stenhouse.
"I got to thinking about it and I thought, 'You know what? This is not good,'" he said after thinking more about NASCAR's new power couple. "NASCAR needs to step in, because there's a testing rule in NASCAR where you can't test. You're not allowed to have extra track time, because it's an advantage.
"So I'm a little concerned about this extra time Danica and Ricky have bump-drafting."
Drum roll, please.
Earlier, Keselowski predicted the romance would be the biggest story of 2013. He's probably right.
"Unless Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. wins the 500 or Juan Pablo [Montoya] runs into another jet dryer," Keselowski added. "And those two have to happen at the same time."
With Keselowski, the hits keep on coming.
"I still can't believe you let me take over the airwaves," he said before stepping away from the mike. "A little scary. But I want to do it again."
DZL laughed and told Keselowski all he has to do is win another championship and the job is his.
"I knew it was going to come to that," Keselowski said.
And with that Keselowski began thinking about what he has to do to make that happen.
Don't be surprised if he does.