Quick Stats: Cain Velasquez UFC Fighter
Daily Driver: 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor (Cain's rating: 8.5 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Yuma to Phoenix
Car he learned to drive in: 1987 Nissan Stanza
First car bought: 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Former UFC Champion Cain Velasquez is hard at work preparing for his upcoming fight against Frank Mir at UFC 146, where fans will get to see four of the best heavyweights in the world duke it out. But Velasquez, who's only had one loss in his MMA career, is also gearing up for a battle of another kind -- the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race on April 14.
While he's been on a racetrack twice in Las Vegas, this is the first time Velasquez is getting the chance to race in earnest, having had four days of practice at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park in Southern California with ace driving instructor Danny McKeever and earlier this week, a day at the actual road course in Long Beach.
"Everyone's trying to help each other out, giving each other pointers," he says of the group of celebrity racers this year that include Adrien Brody, Kim Coates, Hill Harper, Jillian Barberie Reynolds, Adam Carolla, and Rutledge Wood. The five days of intense practice really honed in his new-found race skills.
"I love it," he says of being on the track. "Taking the turns, knowing how to take the turns, which side of the road to be on while doing that. It takes a lot more technique and finesse than what you would think. I was taking the turns way too fast. I would go way hard in this turn and it would mess up my next turn because I'd be too fast and out of position. I had to just relax and it's more about technique."
It helped that he already knew how to drive a manual transmission. "My parents, the first car they ever gave me was a stick shift. They said, 'You should always learn to drive in this car because if you know how to drive a stick shift, you can drive any car.' So we always drove stick. Always."
Car he learned to drive in
Growing up in Yuma, Arizona, he learned to drive in a 1987 Nissan Stanza. "I had a lot of beaters, but my first one was the Nissan," he says. "It was a hatchback, sky blue," he says. "This was the beater of all beaters. It got me everywhere I needed to go, but I would go to school and I would have to push start it everywhere I went. I'd get in it and back it up, with one foot out. I would start pushing it myself and people would ask, 'Do you need help?" I'd say, 'Nope, I do it everyday.' I'd jump in the car, put it in first, pop the clutch, and 'boom' I'd be on my way."
His dad bought the Nissan for him and Velasquez drove it in college. "I went to junior college in Iowa and I even drove it all the way to Iowa and back from Arizona. So I spent a lot of time in that car."
Velasquez later drove another hand-me-down car from his parents, a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria, which he continued to drive even after he was doing well with UFC. He didn't feel the need to buy a new car and splurge when he went pro.
"It was working fine. That to me was the best car I had ever owned to date," he says. "My wife made fun of me because it had a lot of problems. Some of the windows wouldn't roll down. As soon as you started it, it would beep 25 times. But to me, that was the best car, so I was happy. I drove it around for a while until my wife was like, 'Get something new, you deserve something that you want.' So that's when I did it."
First car bought
It was only a year ago that Velasquez bought his first car, a burly 2011 four-door Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, which he rates an 8.5.
He enjoys the sheer power of the F-150 Raptor. "I always love having a truck around. We've used it a lot for moving, we go get something at Costco or make trips to the supermarket. It's really useful and sometimes for road trips it's really comfortable."
He also likes that passengers have a lot of room. "I have DVDs in the headrests for my little girl and the suspension has done really well, it has FOX Racing Shox. It handles very well for a big truck. I can zoom around town."
There's only one thing he doesn't like about his daily driver. "The thing I dislike about it is the gas, sometimes it wastes a lot of gas," he says. "It costs a lot of money right now just to fill it up. If I fill up the whole tank it'll be $120. But it's a big truck and a big engine."
1971 Ford Torino Cobra
Velasquez also has a beautiful 1971 Ford Torino Cobra, which he tries to drive at least once a week whether it's to the gym, the store, or just cruising around town.
"It's all original. That's my dream car so I have to rate that a 10. The first thing that caught my eye was the Coke bottle shape of the body that was popular in that year. So the styling, and of course it being a musclecar, the big engine."
Velasquez is a Ford guy because it was ingrained in his upbringing. "Growing up, we've always had Fords," he says. "My dad, he worked the lettuce fields in California and Arizona and a lot of the work cars they use are all Fords, so always seeing them and us always having them, that influenced me to get Fords."
Favorite road trip
Last year Velasquez had a bachelor party and did a road trip from Phoenix to south Texas. "It was me and a couple buddies of mine, we all got in an RV making stops on the way. We just had a great time," he says. "That's my most favorite road trip."
Velasquez also has a favorite driving spot, which is from where he grew up in Yuma to Phoenix. "Going from Yuma to Phoenix, we take this one road and there's the town Gila Bend and it hits this road called Mobile Road. It's a back road, a windy road in the desert. It's really fun. There's not a lot of people out there. It goes up and down in elevation really quick. It's a really fun road to drive on."
For more information about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race follow @ToyotaRacing on Twitter for updates and join the conversation with Velasquez and others on #tpcr