Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Interview With Junior Strous

I recently sat down for an interview with one of the Netherlands' most successful race car drivers to date: Junior Strous. In this interview, we will highlight his activities both on and off track; go over his personal life, ambitions, racing, crashes, business, relationships, family, highs/lows, and how he sees his comeback into competitive motorsports. This interview will be the most in depth to date. Let's jump right in:

First of all we would like to talk about how you got into racing and how involved was your family, and can you tell us about them?

JS: My dad, Ton Strous used to be a racecar driver and he still is at 81 years of age. He’s an athletic kinda guy, he participated in so many professional sports, from bobsledding to skiing, tennis to golf, al sorts of surfing, I can’t name them all. My mom is a part time yoga teacher, and a businesswoman so they are an interesting mix. They started a carwash and detailing products import from the United States in 1992, they still run this besides their successful oil business. It’s a funny story because when I was young I wasn't in to sports at all! My dad told me: ‘Listen Junior, just do reasonable in school and practice one or two sports and I’m off your back.’’ I would practice a certain sport for a while but then drop out after a few months. It drove my dad nuts. I drove my first laps on a go cart track in Tenerife, Spain when I was only 10 years of age. I still remember the first lap, it made a huge impression on me. From then on I knew I wanted to become a race car driver, and the best thing. There is a picture of that first lap! In racing terms 12 is kinda late to start by the way. My parents enabled me to get into racing. Racing starts out as an expensive hobby and only a few get to make it to the professional level. My dad was and is a great mentor.

Image courtesy J. Strous
Can you tell us where you grew up where you went to school and something about your education?

JS: I grew up in the quiet town of Wassenaar in the Netherlands and went to the St. Jan Baptist Middle school, then on to Rijlands Lyceum High Scool. By this time it was hard combining my racing schedule with school so I spent my last years of high school attending the private Stebo School in The Hague. Afterwards I attended the University of Amsterdam. I also attended a private School in Bern, Switzerland for a master in Management.

Where are you currently living?

JS: I’m living in a town called Lyss in Switzerland, it’s close by Bern. I believe it’s one of the best places to live in the world. Snowboarding in the winter is great!

What are your dreams?

JS: My dream is to race in Indycar or Formula One. To be honest I like Indycar better. There is the discipline of oval racing which always reminds me of roman chariot racing. And in Indycar you get to drive more street tracks. I like the formula of only a few chassis and engines, there is always a chance you can win an IndyCar race. But if you’re not in one of the top team or a back marker in F1, no chance! I never stop chasing my dreams but sometimes you have to take a step back to make a leap forward. That’s what I did during and after the crisis my sponsors were hit hard. Financial troubles began in 2008 when I was with Condor Motorsports in ChampCar Atlantics. One of my sponsors just couldn’t bring up the money. We ended up skipping free practices to save on expenses like tires. Going straight in to qualifying obviously doesn’t help performance but it was the only we could make it work.

’09 was the same story. I couldn’t get the sponsorship together to get a competitive seat in IndyCar or Indycar Light so I decided with help from Arie Luyendyk and some others motorsport professionals to found my own team Winners Circle Group. Now I was a race car driver and team owner both at the same time! And with success I won the first to races in St. Petersburg. It was cool winning in the Indy Lights series from big team names as Andretti and Sam Schmidt. I was later told I made history with my team by winning the first to races. No Dutch guy has ever done that on that level in motorsports, it was cool but very stressful.

What has kept you busy all this time since you won your last racing championship?

JS: Besides a race car driver and race team owner, I’m also a test driver for Toyo tires since 04’. This keeps me busy and makes sure I don’t lose my skills. As a Driver coach I teach up-and-coming race car drivers the skill set needed to succeed. People call me an entrepreneur, having founded and invested in companies in a wide variety of markets: Online, Aviation, Travel, Gemstone and Carbon credit trade. I’m an Art Dealer for artist: Michiel Molenaar , I represent him in the USA and Caribbean. Some people think I’m a bit young to be into arts. And I’m writing a book about my adventures in racing and business. I’m a busy man, I have to plan my time carefully.

How does this all affect you personal life?

JS: It all takes up a lot of time and energy. I love to travel and my newest venture is in the Online travel industry. Luckily my girlfriend Mylene Kooij also does a lot of traveling for her profession. She’s a professional model and we have even cut short vacations because of work.
Image courtesy J. Strous

Online, I’m reading articles about the heroics of Junior Strous, putting out fires, fighting crime, and most surprising, Junior Strous stopping terror attacks on commercial airports and airliners! What’s up with that?

JS: Well, some of it’s taken out of context. On some online blogs they called me a hero for extinguishing a car that was on fire. It was back in 2011. I found a Mercedes on fire on the highway between The Hague and Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I put out the fire, later on the fire department arrived and they totally destroyed the car. I caught I all on my iPhone and posted the video online. It sparked controversy and I took it down on request of the fire department. It showed inadequate handling on their part. And because they generally do a good job and risk their lives for others it thought taking the video down was best.

The crime fighter title comes from way back in 2008. I witnessed a hit and run on my family's oil company. I pursued the criminals onto the highway. I was driving my BMW M3 so obviously they didn’t stand a chance. I pushed them off the highway and they crashed. Eventually all three criminals were apprehended by police. Authorities questioned me about the incident and I told them I had to drive well over 250Km/h to catch up on the highway. The police cited me for speeding. But the charges were dropped due to Dutch law that allows citizens to break the law and pursue criminals when caught in the act. It sparked some controversy online. A major Dutch newspaper held an online poll asking readers if my license should be revoked for speeding it was about 50/50. The poll had over 12000 voters and 1800 people commenting on the matter.

My counter aviation terrorism efforts were one of the hardest things I've done in my life. Because so many live were at stake. In some Dutch newspapers they refer to me now as: Junior Strous the counter terrorism expert. It is true that I always keep my eyes open for security issues and analyze the systems in place. I see myself as just a curios air traveler. In 2009 and 2010 I noticed several security and protocol flaws at Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport. These flaws compromised the safety of international flights departing from the airport. Eventually I disclosed two scenarios. In the fist scenario it was possible to get a refilled and resealed bottle with a possibly dangerous substance i.e. a Barcardi Rum bottle onboard departing aircraft from the international terminal. The second scenario was even worse, it was possible to get around security and bring whatever you wanted on board a departing aircraft from the international terminal. Both scenarios got international coverage; it was front-page news in The Netherlands and Europe. What I found hardest about this all was that authorities at the airport were putting the commercial interest of the airport before passenger safety. After a while I felt forced to go public with my findings in the media to minimize the possibility of a terrorist attack. Schiphol International Airport at that time was the most dangerous airport in the world.

How many awards have you received over the years, and of what sort are they?

JS: The most memorable awards I have received are the Lippmann & Moens Trophy I got in 2002. It’s from the Dutch Racing school: Rennsportschool Zandvoort RSZ.

I've been nominated for sports hero of the year (The Hague Area) in 2002-2003-2005-2009 and won every time. I’m most proud of the Villeneuve Award in won in ChampCar Atlantics in 2008. It’s presented to the driver who possesses extraordinary ability and star quality and who has distinguished himself through sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance in the face of disappointment. In October 2011 I was voted best race car driver in the world by Driver Database.

You set a speed record on the public highway of 325 Km/h and filmed the whole thing a posted it on YouTube. What were you thinking?

JS: In my defence. I posted it on April fools day. But yeah, my BMW M3 goes that fast. I set the record at 4 a.m on a 5 lane wide empty highway. It caused quite a stir online. On a Dutch car blog ‘Autoblog’ the said it as the Dutch national record.

That brings me to crashing, how often have you crashed in your racing career and what injuries did you sustain?

JS: I've had some big and bad crashes. My first big crash was in 2003 at the Assen race track in The Netherlands. I was driving a Formula Renault in the Dutch and Benelux championship when I got hit by my team mate Giedo Van Der Garde who spun out of control by a stupid mistake. My car flipped a couple of times and disintegrated. The video is on my YouTube channel. I had a burned arm from the engine oil, a concussion and afterwards doctors found out I had a ruptured spleen. The race car was a write-off.

My second big crash almost got me killed. It happened during testing for the European championship Formula Renault in Oschersleben, Germany in 2005. My new race car that just left the factory and we found out afterwards it had a production fault where a sleeve protecting the throttle cable was cut to short resulting in the throttle being stuck open at full resulting in my crash. It couldn't have happened in a worst place. Right in an almost full throttle corner. The car hit the tire wall in front of the guardrail, flipped and I landed with my helmet on top of the guardrail. I spent 2 days in an east German hospital with crack in my skull and compressed neck vertebra. Video of the crash was recorded by the Motopark Oschersleben race track but not released as it showed dangerous deficiencies in the safety barrier for formula cars.

In 2007 during during qualifying of the ChampCar Atlantics race in Long Beach, California, I crashed in the first corner of the Street race track after a differential failure. I broke my wright wrist. A navicular fracture, the doctors called it.

I continued racing with injections for pain at long beach and tried to race Houston, Texas but passed out after qualifying from the pain. I had surgery in Europe and continued to race, as I did not include a contractual possibility to withdraw from the races in case of injury with my sponsors. I’ll never forget the pain I had that season. I can’t recommend racing with a broken wrist to anyone!. Later that year, I drove a guest race for Dutch NASCAR called: Benelux Racing League, or BRL for short. This was during the ChampCar race weekend at Assen. I was leading the race and in the final lap the gearbox exploded. It was like a grenade went off inside the car. Shrapnel and ball bearings shot through aluminum covers, windshield, roof. It just destroyed the car. I got hit in my ankle, elbow and helmet by the ball bearings. The ChampCar doctors had to cut one ball bearing out of my elbow.

In 2009 my Indy Lights car caught fire during the race. It’s up on my YouTube channel. The scary thing was that I couldn't get my belts undone. The Holmatro safety crew got me out of the car. I just had some mild burns in my neck.

How do you see your comeback into racing?

JS: My goal is IndyCar. With the current economics Formula One is out of the question. To many people want to drive F1 and they’re all outbidding each other. I’m working hard on a new business venture in Online Flight Search. I feel this is the fastest way to get some solid sponsorship and funding. I want to be in a position where I can race for the win and have some proper testing pre season. Unlike the last couple of seasons.

What were your highs and lows in racing?

JS: My high was definitely winning the two Indy Lights races in St.Petersburg, Florida with my Winners Circle Group team. We worked so hard on it and the odd were against us.

My low was the passing of my engineer and friend Tim Wardrop. He was won the 500 with Arie Luyendyk and Juan Pablo Montoya. We had a good click and made the impossible happen. He was his last race with me. He was a dear friend.

Besides racing and entrepreneurship you also do some presenting a commentating for TV and radio from time to time. Can you tell us about that?

JS: I was a commentator for RaceWorld TV together with legendary commentator Bert Devies. We did commentary for DTM, ChampCar and IndyCar races live on various networks. The RaceWorld TV programs were syndicated internationally on ABC Sports, Fox Sports and other channels. I have presented and hosted many shows for the Dutch television channels, especially for SBS6. I had my own ChampCar Atlantic and Indy Lights show on that channel together with Jack Plooij. It was a lot of fun. But it took a lot out of me because at some races I was team owner, driver and TV host. In 2011 I had sponsorship deal with a Dutch radio station called SLAM!FM so I was a frequent guest on that station.

I see some drifting action on your resume, and on your YouTube channel.

JS: Drifting is one of my passions. I’m a drift specialist and instructor. And was part of the ‘drift movement’ when it started to become popular in 2000 back in Europe. Whenever I can and it’s safe I like to slide my car around. I made some cool videos for my YouTube channel. For one promotional video we traveled all the way to Death Valley in Nevada to shoot a promotional video. Check it out on my YouTube channel.

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