(Ed.'s note: The Mag sent contributor Sam Alipour to the Auto Club Speedway to write a story on Ryan Newman's pit crew, and NOT to interview Tom Cruise. Let's just say things worked out differently.)
Sam Alipour (like a cheerleader at a homecoming rally): Tom, Sam Alipour, ESPN The Magazine.
Tom Cruise: (Big smile) What's up, man?
Alipour: Huge fan.
Cruise: (Bigger smile) Thanks man
Alipour: It's funny, some of the guys on Ryan Newman's team randomly told me this morning that they love Days of Thunder.
Cruise: (Average smile) That's great. That's great. (Signs an autograph for a young fan.)
Alipour: Do you get that a lot?
Cruise: (No smile) What do you mean, do I? I mean, I'm glad people like it. It was a very special film for me.
Alipour: Did it make you a NASCAR fan?
Cruise: You kidding? Absolutely. No, that's how I came up with that idea. I was racing—I love racing. I was racing with (Paul) Newman. I wanted to make a movie about NASCAR because I grew up watching it.
Alipour: Any plans to do another sports movie?
Cruise: Yeah, if I can find something. I'd like to. That's cool that they said that about Days of Thunder because I love that special, special film.
Alipour: Yeah, the Alltell guys are looking for you.
Cruise: (Laughs) That's great.
Alipour: They're tough guys, you know?
Cruise: (Laughs) I know man, I know. I worked with them (Big smile.)
Alipour: I bet they'd love to meet you.
Cruise: I wish I could, but I'm here with my son. (Smile)
Alipour: I hear ya. Just playing matchmaker. (I laugh.)
Cruise: (He laughs) I know. I know the drill man. (Big smile)
Alipour: You're hanging out with Jimmie Johnson's team—how do you know Jimmie?
Cruise: Yeah, I met Jimmie, but I've known Rick Hendrick forever. I met Jeff Gordon before. And I had a chance to meet Dale Earnhardt when we were doing Days of Thunder. I spent an afternoon with him. Real nice.
Alipour: Good dude?
Cruise: Yeah, great dude. Rick Hendrick I've known forever. He was very helpful during Days of Thunder. It's amazing where NASCAR has gone since that film.
Alipour: You were on NASCAR before it was mainstream. Do you think that you helped contribute to its growth?
Cruise: There's things that they did in the film visually, when you look at the cars, to make it cinematic. NASCAR was on a lot of that stuff already, but all of the technology we developed for the race scenes … (Shakes head.) I'm really glad that it's getting as big as it is, because I love the sport. (Big smile. Extends hand.) Real pleasure.
Alipour: The pleasure was all mine. I will go to my grave saying this: You were robbed three times of the Oscar.
Cruise: (The biggest smile of all. Shakes my hand with more vigor.) Thanks, man. That really means a lot. What was your name again?
Alipour: Sam Alipour. ESPN The Magazine.
Cruise: Thanks man. A pleasure.
(He lets go of my hand, then turns away to sign more autographs, still smiling. I stand there for several minutes, like a creep, watching him.)