CONCORD, N.C. — On TV, John Cena comes across as a ferocious wrestler, filled with fire and top-heavy with intimidation. On the track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, taking part in Gillette’s “Fast Cars & Superstars” reality show sponsored in part by Cars.com, he showed he’s also a competitor outside the ring, not to mention a car fan looking to find success on a NASCAR track.
Riding along didn’t worry Cena too much. After all, he said, it’s part of the gig.
“Yeah, we got close to the wall, but it’s one of those things,” Cena said after doing his ride-along with NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, one of Gillette’s Young Guns. “This guy’s a professional. And honestly, if he wanted to run me into the wall, I knew what I signed up for.”
Cena’s fascination with cars — he said he’s “absolutely” a car guy — goes back to when he was a teenager in West Newbury, Mass. There, at the ripe age of 15, he bought a 1983 Cadillac Coupe Deville, but his eye was on its powerful engine.
“The only reason I bought it was it had a big block Cadillac in it, and I wanted to rip the motor out and put it in a 1970 Nova shell that I had,” Cena said. “Eventually I blew the tranny on the Cadillac and blew a rod and the motor just driving it around the yard. I had to ditch it.”
With the Cadillac sidelined, he turned his attention to the Nova.
“We had enough room to store a couple of junk cars, and in Massachusetts everything rusts out. I ended up building a small block for the Nova, and that was the first car I put on the road.”
It had a short run.
“Three days after I put it on the road, the frame was so rusted the subframe collapsed on the unibody. So I haven’t had much luck, but now I’m actually getting some stuff I can drive.”
So you’d think a champion WWE wrestler like Cena would tool around town in something flashy, something really expensive. That’s not exactly his story.
“My everyday driver is, believe it or not, the first car I ever paid cash for without some money from the parents … a 1989 Jeep Wrangler," Cena said. "It’s an inline-four and it’s got a little bit of a lift kit on it, and it’s got the same tires. The tires have been through like 100,000 miles. I bought it with 80,000 miles on it, thinking I could maybe get it to turn 100. It’s got 175 and it’s running strong.”
But it’s not sitting by itself in his garage these days. He’s clearly got an affinity for muscle cars: Also in there are a 1970 GTO, a ‘70 Oldsmobile Cutlass and a ‘71 Ford Torino. He’s also got some newer muscle cars parked in there, as well. Among them: a Parnelli Jones edition 2007 Mustang, a 2006 Ford GT and a 2007 Dodge Super B.
“I got a small house and a big-ass garage,” Cena laughed. “They say you know you’re a redneck when you got a garage that’s three times the size of your house.”
Still, he wouldn't label any of those his favorite ride.
“It’s the one that I haven’t found yet,” he said. “I’m looking for a ‘69 Dodge Daytona, 1971 GTX.”
Given his experience driving muscle cars, you might think running on a NASCAR track wouldn’t intimidate him, and you’d probably be right. What does Cena find scarier, coming into the corner at Lowe’s, or coming off the rope onto the canvas?
“Definitely coming off the rope onto the canvas,” Cena laughed. “At least here you kind of control your own destiny. If you’re too late in the turn, or you jerk the wheel, you’re responsible for your own demise. When you hit that rope and you’re face-to-face with 500 pounds of giant, or 400 pounds of Samoan, it’s a bad day anyway you cut it.”
It’s an interesting group of celebrities participating at Lowe’s, from singer Jewel to Super Bowl quarterback John Elway to actor William Shatner, best known as Captain Kirk on Star Trek. Cena said his competitive nature kicks in just the same, even if this isn’t his native territory.
“I have respectively given everyone props for what they’ve done, but this ain’t about what they’ve done, it’s about what they’ve done for me lately,” Cena said, displaying that wrestler voice for the first time in the interview. “We’re here to race cars, not wrestle or play basketball or throw footballs or play tennis or any of that other crap. And it’s good to see that you actually have an even playing field. Nobody has any experience racing cars and everyone’s learning for the first time.”
So naturally, the question arises: What about Captain Kirk? Would you get in a car with him behind the wheel?
“He didn’t necessarily drive the Enterprise, he was just calling the shots,” Cena laughed. “Captain Kirk will be good at pointing at people, ‘Yeah, he can go fast, yeah, she can go fast.’ You get him behind the wheel, I think he’s gonna falter.”