After seven seasons scrapping for the IndyCar racing championship and placing second three times, improbably-named Australian driver Will Power has finally won it. To celebrate, he flew to New York and had lunch with Maxim, and then, since he had some time to kill, stopped by Letterman. Between courses, Power discussed plans to spend his championship money, what it’s like to chug vodka after a grueling 500 mile race, and what they call men’s bikini panties in Australia.
I read that you just picked up a $1 million bonus check for winning the IndyCar series. You’re paying for lunch.
Actually, I wonder how much of that I do get?
Please tell me that you’re going to splurge on something amazing and wasteful with your windfall—a gorgeous vintage car, diamond fronts for your teeth.
A gold plated-Ferrari! No, I’m just kidding. I like to save my money, because a career in racing is very short. That has to last me the rest of my life.
What do you drive in the off-season?
A Chevy Tahoe. I do have a couple other cars. They’re nice cars, but no Ferrari or anything. You can’t do anything on the street in those cars anyway. And after you’ve driven an IndyCar, everything else you drive feels like a piece of crap. I’m serious. The cars we drive are built to race. Everything else is a disappointment.
Now that you’ve finally won, and you’re 33, are you going to keep going?
Yeah, I’ve quit. You can never get any higher than this. [Laughs.] But for real? Absolutely. Careers are short. Once you’re in your mid-30s, you start to think... But look at HelioCastroneves. He’s doing his best work, and he’s basically 40.
If you win the Indy 500 they coat you with milk. How did you celebrate last weekend?
Well, Miller Lite is one of the sponsors, so they want you to get up there and drink a beer. I hadn’t had any alcohol for the whole season, I was dehydrated, and had just driven 500 miles. I drank this half a beer, and I was wasted. A similar thing happened when one of the sponsors of a race was Fuzzy’s Vodka. I had, like, a glass of vodka up on the stand, and I felt it burning all the way down to my stomach, and then I felt it flowing directly into my brain.
[Power shows some photos of himself looking drunk on the podium. In one he is holding up a pair of red men’s bikini underwear.] Is this your underwear?
Some guy handed those to me. In Australia, we call them meat hangers, or budgie smugglers, dick thongs. I think it was an Aussie, and he gave them to me. I used to wear them back home, at the beach.
Not during a race though.
That would be the best look for a race. That would be mega. I’m going to take a photo in that. Dick thong, gloves, racing shoes. That’s it.
They have that calendar for other sports. The French Rugby team does it.
Helio did that Body Issue [posing nude for ESPN Magazine]. Wearing just a tire.
Now that you’re a champion, you should be less modest. You have to show people what it’s like to be the king.
I’ll start with Letterman tonight. Just walk out there naked. I would do it! That’s the kind of thing I would do if I wasn’t concerned about having a career again.
You could get a breakaway racing suit. You know, it looks real, but it just—rip!—velcros off.
Yeah. I could be like the Thunder from Down Under [Ed Note: a Chippendales-style revue]. Practice a dance. I’d have to work out a bit more. Get buff. Get all shaven. I would get a lot of coverage. They say any publicity is good publicity.
Which celebrity actor would you want to play you in the Will Power Story?
Tom Cruise. A lot of people say I look like Cruise, and it really pisses Helio off because he’s the beauty queen type. I mean, what do you call it, the model-looking kind? The pretty boy.
What’s your plan for the off-season? Developing a line of Will Power-branded vehicle lubricants?
I’m going home to Toowoomba. And I’m going to the opening of a new airport there—I’m going to be racing against a jet. Hang out with the family. Drink half of one beer.
They’re having a big parade that I’m supposed to go to as well. They’ll have an annual event while I’m there called the Carnival of Flowers. Toowoomba is called the Garden City—there are a lot of gardens there. They have a competition for the best garden in Toowoomba. And it’s gotten real bad with plant stealing. People come and steal the best plants out of your garden at night and put it in their own garden to try and win!
Australian plant theft? What has this world come to?
Photos by Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images