Cole Whitt, or as he calls himself “The Ginger Lion,” drove the No. 35 SpeedStick stock car at the Coca-Cola 600 this past weekend… and we got to chop it up with him before the big race.

At a young age of 5, the Apline, Calif. native started racing BMX bikes, and soon after, go karts. Then… well, the rest was history. His competitive driving earned him the Hoosier Sprint Car “Rookie of the Year ” honors last year, after an impressive performance in his first full-time season. Coming into his sophomore season, with his team First Row Motorsports and Speedstick, Cole continues to rise in the ranks.

We caught up with “The Ginger Lion” himself before the race to see how he plans to #DefyTheDoubt,  a hashtag promoted by his sponsor Speedstick, in our exclusive one-on-one interview.

What are your thoughts about the Coca-Cola 600 race this weekend?

The 600 is always a bit different for us to do the extra 100 miles; it’s a longer race. At the same time, I think it’s good because we tend to be pretty good on long runs and we don’t always have that shear speed. When those other guys have the most resources and we our limited in our resources, it kind of allows them to get an edge on us early. When the tires are new and the cars have a lot of grip… but as the tires wear out and we run long races, everyone’s car gets worn out. So, it kind of comes back to the guys who are calling the shots and making adjustments to the car and the driver doing his job. Hopefully, it will all work out good.

What do you do to prepare for a race like this? Any rituals?

As far as any superstitions, I don’t really have any. I’m pretty easy going and laid back. I come to the track and do my job. At the same time, my preparation goes all the way back throughout the week. I’m big into fitness and try to take care of my body and eat right. I think the hardest part for me is eating right, doing the work to me is easy. It doesn’t necessarily start a day or two days before the race, it’s kind of a lifestyle and I have seen the results out of that, though my fitness. And, it has helped my performance on the race track. It’s just a day to day grind.

What are some of the challenges you and your team have come across when it comes to driving this track?

The biggest thing I think right now is the times of the practices. We don’t have a lot of time to test, so basically what you see us do on race weekends is spend our time on the race track. A few other teams get to do the tire test and stuff like that, so we are a little bit behind the game, maybe on a few of those guys. At the same time, us being limited on our testing, we are only here in the day time. Our practices are at 10 am and another one at 1:30 pm. The race starts at 6 pm to probably 10 o’clock or so, it will probably take four hours. The track is in a completely different state than what we are going to be practicing on. We have been in the sport for so long and we kind of know what these tracks do, that we try to make the right adjustments, but at the same time we are going to be adjusting on the car all night long, trying to make it better. Biggest thing is how much the track grip levels changes, so typically if you are a little bit tight early in the day time when the track is hot and slick, usually the track freezes up a little bit, so we are just trying to be in the right side of things.

What keeps your mind focused during a long race?

It’s the drive to try to be the best you can and to be able to perform. I’m not out there thinking about anything other than how can I make my runs better and relay to my crew chief, so he can make my next run even better. It’s a continuous cycle until you are finished with the race. The biggest thing for me is keeping my cool when the car is maybe not perfect and I just need to make the most out of that run. I might be loosing a few spots if it’s not going well and those are the hard days to kind of keep your cool, stay focused. I just try to make good laps and try to get to the next pit stop, so I can work on it and make it better.