Max Papis made his debut in North America in the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona with a drive in a Ferrari 333 SP prototype that went gone down in endurance racing lore. It gave birth to the nickname “Mad Max.”
On Saturday, Papis gave birth to another nickname – the “Pap slap” – after he slapped fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Billy Johnson (pictured) following the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Elkhart Lake’s Road America.
Johnson had contacted Papis earlier in the race and on pit lane afterwards, the Italian expressed his displeasure. But he walked off with a grin that made it seem like it was more lighthearted than originally intended.
I had the chance to speak to Johnson after the race – with the handslap unbeknownst to me – because he’d driven a sterling race regardless.
Johnson’s race for Roush Fenway Racing included leading early, a pit speeding penalty that dropped him to the mid-30s, and a comeback to the lead before the two late-race incidents with Papis and later Regan Smith.
“We had a car that could have contended for the win,” Johnson said. I made a mistake, fell to dead, dead last. We were like 36th or something, then drove straight through the field in less than 10 laps, it showed what the Ford Ecoboost 16 team. My car got into the 7, took us out, he was along for the ride. Earlier in the race, it happens.
“It’s a road course. There’s three-wide stacking up. A lot of contact happens. I got into the back of Max Papis, he was a little over reactive, and he had some words and fists with me. It was a bit unfortunate; a crazy race. We showed a lot of speed and showed we had what it took to win.”