NASCAR R&D press conference
GARY NELSON, NASCAR Managing Director of Research and Development
JOHN DARBY, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director
BRIAN DeHART, NASCAR Busch Series Director
WAYNE AUTON, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director
GARY SMITH, NASCAR Director of Event Logistics
Part 1 of 3
JIM HUNTER: On Tuesday's visit here at the NASCAR R&D Center we made a major announcement regarding the modification of how we will determine the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion. Today we're going to offer a little different format and although we do not have an official announcement today, we think it should prove extremely informative and create several story ideas or possibilities for you. It's going to be a competition forum or as Gary Nelson calls it, the R&D Chat. It's going to feature the key individuals from our Competition Department in a casual Q&A setting.
Our guests today, for those of you who are new, beginning right here on my left at this end is our President Mike Helton. Next to Mike is Gary Nelson, NASCAR's Managing Director of Research and Development and a former Cup Championship crew chief. Next to him is our NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director John Darby. I want you to know that I am being very careful to say NEXTEL Cup because we have a little thing going where we get fined if we use the former sponsor instead of the new sponsor amongst ourselves. I am into that fund pretty strong right now. (LAUGHTER) Next to John is our NASCAR Busch Series Director Brian DeHart. Next to Brian is our NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director Wayne Auton. Next to Wayne is NASCAR Director of Event Logistics, Gary Smith.
I want to thank all these guys for taking time to be here with us today. Those of you who have a question in the audience, if you will raise your hand, I will try to get to you one of our NASCAR representatives. We have bios of each one of our competition members in the press kits that were delivered today.
With that, I will open the floor for questions.
Q: Let us get this thing off on a little light note: Something I have heard for the last couple of weeks Mr. Helton, are we going to have an NFL look this year on pit road, I mean, by that I understand inspectors are going to be required to use hand signals, some form of hand signals, to relate pit road infractions to TV and radio booths?
MIKE HELTON: There will be hand signals. I wouldn't call it an NFL look. I would call it a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup look, a NASCAR Busch Series look and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series look. But there will be additional hand signals that go into maybe a little bit more detail. John and Brian, Wayne and David Hoots and Steve O'Donnell, and Joe Garone, and Karen Masencup have been working on these for some time. There's, I think, five of them. If you stop and think about it for just a second, we have used hand signals up and down pit road a lot. Drivers have used hand signals. (LAUGHTER) These are ones that you can show on a race car. And the idea is, in the spirit of officiating the race, to be able to communicate to the crew chief and the crew members on pit road what's going on, as well as the folks in the grandstand are limited on what they can say where they are seated, but the TV audience certainly should be able to pick up on more descriptive information that can be delivered in a timely manner.
So there's a group of five specific hand signals in addition to the ones that the guys on pit road are used to using that will be implemented beginning of the year.
JIM HUNTER: You also might want to add what our plans are for the print media. He directed it like it was being done for just TV and radio.
MIKE HELTON: It's really for everybody. A lot of it has to do with us being able to able to communicate with the crew members on pit road because if you see something happen on pit road, you normally -- the TV camera or you look down and see the crew chief and the first thing the crew chief is doing is this: "What the heck is going on?" This hopefully is a way to communicate to them. So this set of hand signals is in an effort to communicate to the entire industry.
What we will do during Speedweeks at some time when it makes sense is -- Hunter and I were talking about it this morning about bringing our official in or one of our officials; particularly Todd DeBusk who is in charge of training the officials, on this particular element, as well as some of the material that he would use and go through it with the media so that you would understand what we are doing. And get a head start maybe on understanding what they are.
But the idea is to utilize the hand signals to convey quicker what is going on pit road, if we have a violation.
Q: John, tell me how much money from fines went into the points in 2003?
JOHN DARBY: I don't have the number off the top of my head. Obviously it varies so much every year. I know Goodyear would obviously be zero, when we have a year that had some controversy in it, or some infractions involved, there isn't a cap on what it could be. Basically what we do is look at each penalty individually on a case by case basis and assess what we feel, in regards to consistency, the previous penalties, or if there's an effort or an urgency to eliminate an infraction quickly, we may escalate those penalties.
Q: Mike, assuming this morning's news reports are true, why a travelling EMT and not a travelling MD, or as is customary with the other racing organizations, multiple MD's travelling?
MIKE HELTON: Well, NASCAR used an EMT in the role that we're going to use him is not to have a trained medical personnel to attend to a driver or a crew member. Our use of an EMT is to supervise, if you will, monitor, and help us with the requirements and the standards that we ask the tracks to provide.
We still believe our way in the NASCAR form of motor sport, of using medical providers, care providers is the right way for us to do it and that's for the track to provide the best qualified local physicians, specialists and paramedics that are on the racetrack and pit road.
An addition of an EMT to our staff is to help NASCAR provide direction and supervision over the standards and the requirements that we ask for.
Also, though, it provides a familiar face, if you will, in addition to other familiar faces that we'll use in chase vehicles or pace cars or in different situations so that for the competitors to see and to feel that they have someone that they recognize that they can communicate to, but our utilization of an EMT is not for them to be hands-on as an EMT. It's their experience that we hired as an EMT, to be an official, and to be someone on our behalf, to monitor and to help us keep the standard where we want it to be.
Q: Real quick follow-up, an MD, for example, in Formula 1, with Sid Wadkins who actually travels on the truck, looks at the driver on-site. He's right there, but he doesn't lay a hand on them. The local doctor wherever they might be. Again, why not an MD in this role to make sure you have got the best possible expertise rather than someone who is way on down the list as far as levels of medical training? EMT is pretty low. Why not an MD there?
MIKE HELTON: I tell you, if you have an accident on the interstate, you are going to be lucky for a doctor to pull up, but the first thing that's going to happen is there is going to be an ambulance come up with a trauma medically trained person; whether you call him an EMT, paramedic, or what have you. That is the care providing services that's used to going into an accident environment and react. Those are the individuals that have the experience of reacting to an accident scene. So I don't necessarily agree with your comment that they are the lowest rung of the ladder. I don't buy that. I think they are a very significant role in that chain of custody of an injured person.
The other thing, though, is that in addition for some time now we have physicians in the vehicles that are stationed on the racetrack, in addition to paramedics. So there's a wide range of coverage. I think it's even wider than Formula 1 or other open-wheel series or stock car series may have, that's being provided at the racetrack. It's just instead of us bringing them in, and they being a NASCAR official and employee, they are being provided by the race tracks which works in our industry as we have said in the past.
Q: John, speak specifically what you guys are trying to do in the NEXTEL Cup Series with the move to the softer tire from Goodyear and lowering the spoiler a little bit?
JOHN DARBY: First I would ask you to be careful with the term "softer tire." What we want to do or the whole goal in the process through this is to start or trade between aerodynamic dependency and put it back into more of a mechanical functional grip-type dependency that the teams use. We all know that aerodynamics has a huge benefit, but when it applies to what we do on Sunday afternoons, it's not consistent. It will benefit one competitor more than the next. And in providing the best races we can on Sundays we are more comfortable with consistent mechanical devices that the crew chiefs and the teams and the drivers have much more control over.
So the 2004 season is just the start of this. We have entered into the specifications of three-quarter inch reduction in the rear spoiler. The first cut - whether it be the first cut is the deepest (inaudible) - but it's the first cut of probably multiple cuts to come. We want to approach it in a slow manner so that all the teams and the drivers and NASCAR has a chance to look at what is going on and continually monitor and evolve from this first cut.
That's the aerodynamics side of it. The other side of it is in replacing that grip, we're working very closely with our tire supplier to help us manage what we reduce over here to help us put back over here.
The tires for 2004 will be new across the board, but in a lot of cases, it will be very, very minor changes to the tire. And in a lot of cases, it may be some new tire technology in regards to construction materials and the formulation of the tire. And in a few cases, there will probably be a little milder compound still not to the degree that I would call soft. The tire will evolve with the aero reduction program that we're starting for 2004.
Q: Mike, could you address Toyota's entering into the sport? There's some concern among some of the other teams about what they might or might not do down the road and the Toyota people tell us that in talking with you guys that you all have expressed the idea that by want you to do well, but not really well, really fast. That sort of thing. Can you talk about the discussions you have had with them?
MIKE HELTON: I would tell you that the discussions with Toyota were practically identical to the conversations we had with Dodge in 1999 and 2000 when Dodge talked about coming back. It's a matter of Dodge being (inaudible) and Toyota now fitting the way NASCAR does things. We're not going to adjust our rules and regulations for them. They have to adjust their thought process to fit in our rules. If we do that right, and we feel like we have, they should fit in with the folks that are in the garage areas now, Chevrolet and Ford and in the case of Toyota now with Dodge. That's our approach with Toyota.
We welcomed Dodge when they came into the Cup Series from the Truck. We welcomed Toyota in the Truck Series with the Tundra that's American -- is an American product. It's built and sold in this country. But their involvement in the Craftsman Truck Series is on par with the other manufacturers that are already there. They are not going to get any help. They are not going to get any breaks. They get a set of rules and regulations just like everybody else does and they have to fit into with the same approach with them that's being used that we approach with anybody else in the garage area. We don't want them to come in and not do well but they have to do well under our terms.
Q: Mike, first of all if those hand signals can speed up the process of getting the drivers into the interview room and out of the Winner's Circle, I think the print media would really appreciate that. John, you mentioned the cuts on the spoiler. Is there any chance that when -- a lot of the teams are going to Vegas next week to test these packages, that a change could be coming out of that or is this something that you are going to have to see actually in competition?
JOHN DARBY: We feel pretty comfortable right now that where we're starting out, will be something that will be relatively easy for everybody to adapt to testing next week that you mentioned in Vegas will probably prove that.
I also think it's very realistic and we understand very well that although the first cut has been made, if we can anticipate a push - I don't mean an aero push, a tide rather than a push, and just maybe taking the trend line from rocketing to the move to start to turn a corner where it flattens out, then the first cut will do what we expect it to do. It's the multiples of cuts that could potentially come from here on that will actually start to turn the curve back downhill to achieve the goals that we're looking for.