One of NASCAR’s most passionate racers is Max Papis, the ebullient driver of the No. 13 Geico Toyota Camry, affectionately nicknamed ‘Mad Max’. But right next to him is his petite yet powerful wife Tatiana.
Tatiana Papis, originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is no stranger to the world of racing. After all, Tatiana’s maiden name is Fittipaldi and she just happens to be the daughter of famed racer Emerson Fittipaldi and cousin to Formula One and CART racer Christian Fittipaldi.
“That’s how I got into racing,” Papis said. “My parents were divorced but when I would spend summer vacation with my dad, I would go to all the IndyCar races with him and I really liked it.”
“That’s how I met Max,” Papis continued. “He was really good friends with my cousin Christian who raced in Champ car too.”
For Tatiana, it was not necessarily love at first sight. But she admits that “Max was very persistent.”
“I was quite annoyed in the beginning,” Papis said. “But then we fell in love and we’ve been together ever since.”
Although Tatiana and Max have been together for eleven years, they have only been living the NASCAR life for the past two years. Papis moved into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year, after serving as the “road course test guy” for Hendrick Motorsports.
In the midst of living their NASCAR dream, the couple also is balancing their parenting of two young children, Marco, aged four and Mateo, a precocious one and a half year old. That balancing act, wife as well as mom, has been one of the biggest juggling acts according to Tatiana.
“It’s really hard to balance,” Papis said. “Sometimes we don’t bring the kids so we can have time. It’s hard to balance that. As Max would say, we’re one person and we do everything together. It’s been hard when that hasn’t been possible, especially with the kids. It’s really hard to balance that out.”
Papis does, however, appreciate some of the amenities that come with the NASCAR lifestyle, especially as it relates to being a wife and mother.
“We love it,” Papis said. “We are so fortunate to have a bus. When we traveled with Marco, I had to change him on the grass. We didn’t have a motor home. I would nurse him in a rental car. We didn’t have private planes but we did it. Now, things are a little bit easier.”
While the NASCAR traveling may be a bit easier in comparison to other racing series in which the Papis family has participated, Tatiana admits that the stock car racing world has its own set of challenges.
“This is the hardest racing world,” Papis said. “It’s rough with the competition and the lifestyle. It’s such a competitive sport and everyone’s out there for themselves pretty much.”
Papis credits their success in navigating living the NASCAR lifestyle to the strength of her relationship with her husband, family and friends.
“Max and I are very strong,” Papis said. “My family is in Brazil and his family is in Italy so we rely on each other for support. We have good friends as supports, other NASCAR wives that are good friends. We’re all in the same boat at the end of the day.”
Papis especially appreciates her friendship with several other drivers’ wives and has great admiration for them in their own right. She especially looks up to Krissie Newman, animal champion and soon to be new mom, DeLana Harvick, who partners with her husband on their own race team, Angie Skinner, Mike’s wife and substitute co-host on Sirius NASCAR Radio’s afternoon show, and Lynne Allmendinger, AJ’s wife, who has her own career as a practicing chiropractor.
“I think people underestimate the power of wives and girlfriends in this sport,” Papis said. “It’s not easy for us.”
In addition to her role as wife and mom, Papis too has her own career. She is one of the principals with MOMO, an Italian company specializing in steering wheels for race cars.
In addition to MOMO, Papis has another passion that she hopes to pursue, that of animal therapy with children and adults. She even hopes to pursue her PhD in psychology if possible to help her dream come true.
“One day when all this racing stuff is over, I’d like to use the psychology that I’ve learned,” Papis said passionately. “I love animals, I love kids and I’d love to use animals in therapy with adults and kids. So, one day I think of getting my PhD.”
But for now, Papis is concentrating on pursuing her family’s current dream, racing at the highest level of NASCAR.
“The most fulfilling is living this dream,” Papis said. “Max’s dad passed away in December of 2006 and he promised his dad that he would make it to NASCAR. We look back now and we’re here and we’re doing it. No matter how hard and how many sacrifices, we’re living that dream.”
“So many people dream of this,” Papis continued. “We dreamed it. We made it happen and we did it together.”
“To be able to one day tell our kids what we did, what we’ve been through, it hasn’t all been pretty, but we made it,” Papis said. “And I think that’s what’s fulfilling at the end of the day. Not a lot of people can say they fulfilled their dreams.”
Yet, even with that passion for the sport, Papis understands that this racing will not be forever. And she works very hard to keep it all in perspective.
“This is only one part of our lives – it’s a really big part – but this is just one part of our lives,” Papis said. “It’s not going to last forever. But we’re going to last forever and our kids are. That’s what keeps us going.”
“When we’re 80 or 90 years old, this will be one chapter, a big chapter, but just another chapter in our lives,” Papis said thoughtfully. “There’s nothing like looking at our children and you realize you can go through anything.”
“I think in the end of the day, whatever we do, we’ll do together as a family and that’s really important to us,” Papis said. “Whatever happens, we’re together and that’s what matters.”