SUNTRUST RACING Q&A WITH WAYNE TAYLOR
A Year After Launching His Own Team at the Rolex 24, Taylor Looks Back on the Busiest Year of His Racing Life, Almost Winning Another Championship, And Big Things To Come
ATLANTA (Jan. 17, 2008) -- With final preparations underway for next week's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, three-time sports car champion and two-time event winner Wayne Taylor took time to reflect on the brand new racing team he launched just a year ago, his ongoing relationship with sponsor and business partner SunTrust Bank, Inc., his current partnership with fellow team owner Roger Penske, and getting ready to race with and against not one, but both of his teenage sons.
To say that 2007 was the busiest year of your racing life -- perhaps as busy as any racing life can possibly be -- might be the understatement of the century. And you seem to be even busier as you prepare to open the 2008 season. Do you agree?
"I can't believe we've done so many things in the last year. We set up a new team. We ran Jeff Gordon at the Rolex 24. We set up a shop in Indy. We recognized the shop was too small, so right in the middle of the season we had to find another shop. While we were racing, we were building the new race shop. And during all that, we were preparing to basically switch chassis to Dallara in 2008 after Daytona. And then at Petit Le Mans in October, Roger Penske talked to us about doing a two-car deal for Daytona. We also spent most of the year working on business-to-business relationships with our other partner, Toshiba. And now they've come on board to be the major player on the Penske-Taylor car at Daytona. We also signed on driver Michael Valiante to be a permanent teammate for Max (Angelelli). And, also during the last year, I was coaching (oldest son) Ricky to be a driver at Daytona. My younger son Jordan -- he's also in racing -- ended up with a drive in a Porsche at Daytona. You know, it doesn't seem to stop. And now, where we are today, we're preparing for the 24-hour but at the same time we're preparing to receive the Dallara the same weekend that we are at Daytona. So when we come back, we've got to turn the current cars around and get them back to freshly rebuilt condition, and also continue the final build of the Dallara, and then try and test the Dallara and get some data so we can prepare for our first sprint race, which is at Homestead in March. The amount of work and effort that has gone into this is just incredible. I'm not sure how many organizations can do what this group of people has done in such a short period of time. I know for sure none of this could've happened without SunTrust. All in all, there have been relatively few hours of sleep in the last year."
If you had it to do all over again, knowing what you know now about the incredible time commitment it required, would you?
"Quite honestly, when we started Wayne Taylor Racing, we did it because we felt we needed to put our partner SunTrust in the best possible position. So we invested in setting up our own team so that we would be in total control. And then, pretty quickly as an owner and an independent, we realized you have to look at the big picture, and the big picture is two, three, four years out. In order to prepare for that far down the road, you've got to find commercial partners who are going to stay with you for that time. At the same time, costs are going up, so you've got to bring on new partners, and that took a lot of time last year with Toshiba. While they were coming on board, we spent a lot of time building relationships with other companies, as well. To make the Penske-Taylor program a reality, we needed to get a title sponsor on that car, so that worked out quite well with Toshiba and SunTrust. And, at the same time, we worked on a new associate sponsor that came on board in Miracle Sealants. They're another great partner where the two owners are racing guys, so they understand what's going on, and it's clearly a partnership that we want to build with them and help grow their product. And while Max and I are responsible for making Wayne Taylor Racing a fully viable, winning operation, we have to always be competitive, and we must provide the best service, or else we are not doing our job. So, with that, we wouldn't have done things any other way."
In the last year, since you first opened your doors, it seems Wayne Taylor Racing has grown by leaps and bounds. How have you managed to grow at such a rate and maintain your ability to succeed on the race track and in the board room?
As far as I'm concerned, we set up this entity called Wayne Taylor Racing, which provides a service. But, quite honestly, at the end of the day, it's SunTrust Racing. SunTrust has made all of this possible for me -- not only the No. 10 car, but the No. 9 car, the whole relationship with Roger Penske and his entire organization, the whole integration with Toshiba. Everything. Our original race shop was something like 3,000 square feet. We're now in a facility that's 18,500 square feet. We started with six or seven employees, and we're up to 14, now, excluding Max and myself, and the drivers, all in a period of one year. We're still not a big team, but we're not a small team, either. At the same time that we've been fine-tuning the team, we've hired some really good people. So on any day of the week, whether it's Monday or Sunday, I'm probably dealing with seven to 10 different things each day. I can't change that because that's the amount of stuff that needs to be done. I just work through it. But I'm lucky because I've surrounded myself with really good people. Without all the guys we've got, I couldn't do this on my own. It's very much a team effort. Simon Hodgson, our general manager, is our eyes and ears on every aspect of the program. He's amazing. Travis Jacobson, who engineers our race car, is our technical director. He has a tremendous ability to lead the team technically. Travis Houge, he's a great crew chief and a solid leader. These guys, during the last year, have helped facilitate the build of the second car for Penske in addition to doing a great job keeping our SunTrust effort going. I could talk about my people for the next 12 hours."
You also have a unique situation with your lead driver, Max Angelelli, as he is also a partner and has been deeply involved behind the scenes in the building of Wayne Taylor Racing. What might you have to say about Max?
"I really haven't said enough about Max. He's not only our lead driver, he's not only my closest friend, he's also been my partner throughout all this. I don't know how many drivers there are in the world who have had been co-drivers with somebody like Max and I. We've actually driven together for 10 years and have gone on to have a relationship like this. So I can't say enough about him and everything he's done. For me, it's always been strange that Max hasn't gotten all the bigger drives that he deserves, and I've always been saddened that he has not gotten them. But, in one respect, I'm really happy, too, because I've got him fully engaged in this program. As I've always said, he can be incredibly difficult as a teammate, at times. But that's what you have to have. He's a perfectionist and he's another key element that makes this program successful in many more ways than his driving."
With all that has been going on, especially in recent months, you certainly showed that the racing side of things is picking up right where it left off at the Rolex 24 test. Both the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac and the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac were among the fastest on the track. Are you particularly surprised that the No. 9 car was fast right off the truck?
"The shakedown with the No. 9 car went really, really well. All the drivers (Helio Castroneves, Kurt Busch and Ryan Briscoe) were excited. It seems to me that working hand-in-hand with Roger's organization, which has been 110 percent behind us and operating side-by-side with the SunTrust Racing team at our shop, has been a really good thing. I think the Daytona test was fairly successful. I could never imagine a better race team partner situation than we have right now with Roger Penske. Even with the tremendous amount of work involved, it's really been a fun ride, too. I'm not sure how much they're learning from us, but we're learning a lot from them."
Considering all that was going on and the rate this team was growing throughout your first season together, do you think it's incredible that you found yourself contending for the Rolex Series championship until the final hours of the season finale?
"I think last year, 2007, as tough as it was, I think it was a success from every standpoint. It's been an enormous responsibility for all of the reasons I've mentioned, including continuing SunTrust's winning tradition in the Rolex Series. In the end, it was successful. So many people kept telling me that I needed to stand back and see all that we've created. Well, I can't stand back because we're still creating. We're not finished. It was very disappointing to not win the championship. But we did win a couple of races our first year. And at the end of the day, winning is what counts, and I know we're doing everything within our power to ensure there's much more of that for us and SunTrust as we move forward. I think the real deal, now, is we know we've gotten to this point. But we've really got to look forward two to three years and we've got to continue to make all the right moves, or else we can really find ourselves in a bad position. This opportunity that came about with Roger has clearly opened my eyes a bit more and gave me more things to think about."
-credit: suntrust racing