Actress Charlize Theron — and Sunday’s honorary starter for the Daytona 500 — is new to NASCAR.
But racing has been a part of her since she was young.
“My family loved car racing, so I was raised in a house where it was always on and a lot of the South African car racing and championships were always playing on TV,” Theron told NASCAR.com. “My dad was a mechanic and built cars in the backyard so that whole kind of car culture is something that I’m very familiar with.”
The Academy Award winner, whose new movie “Gringo” hits theaters on March 9, reflected on her childhood days in South Africa later in her press conference, comparing her father to a “crazy scientist in the backyard making things” with engines lying around her family farm.
“You realize that you come from that family when at eight, you know what a spark plug does and your friends don’t,” Theron said. “I loved it. … My dad used to build these little go-karts when I was really young and I loved racing them. And I would beat the boys all the time.”
Those go-kart racing skills proved useful when the producers of “Italian Job” wanted the actors to enroll in driving school for the film.
“They threw us on this track for four weeks and it was just me and a bunch of boys,” Theron said. “I outdrove all of them. So, I’m kind of glad I was raised that way because it gave me an advantage that I think a lot of people don’t think that I have because the director was like, maybe you should do two weeks extra. I was like, than the boys? That’s a little sexist.
“And so then I really went for it — I think one of the actors puked at one point, one went home. They’re a bunch of (sissies).
“It was Mark Wahlberg. He’s going to kill me!” she said with a laugh.
Theron’s pick for the season-opening Daytona 500 also knows a bit about racing with boys; Theron noted that it would be “pretty badass” for Danica Patrick to win.
“To have her be a part of this, as a woman, that just seems to be incredible,” Theron said. “For me to be able to witness her last race, that feels pretty special to me, too. The girl in me in obviously secretly cheering for her. Even my kids were just really impressed that a girl is racing cars today, too. I think that’s such a good thing and we need more of that and hopefully we’ll have more of that … it only makes it better and richer, you know?
“Hell, I’ll try it.”
She’ll get a chance to learn a bit more about NASCAR, one of her goals on Sunday, from one of the best seats in the house, as Theron will wave the green flag to start the 500-mile race.
“Has anybody ever dropped it?” she said when asked about her duties. “Oh OK, well there’s my pressure right there …
“I’m just excited about being in an environment where I think this sport is really respected and enjoyed and I love being crowds who are excited to see something that they’re excited about.
“And who doesn’t like a fast car going around the track and professionals driving them?”