CHAMPCAR/CART: Wally Dallenbach Interview 1999-10-21

CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC. An Interview With: WALLY DALLENBACH T.E. McHALE: Thank you, good afternoon to everybody, welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us this ...

CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC. An Interview With: WALLY DALLENBACH T.E. McHALE: Thank you, good afternoon to everybody, welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. Next Sunday at Fontana, California an era comes an end with the retirement of Wally Dallenbach who has served as Chief Steward of the FedEx Championship Series for the past 19 years. We are extremely honored today to have Wally as our guest. Good afternoon, Wally. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. WALLY DALLENBACH: Good afternoon, it is a pleasure. T.E. McHALE: The 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway will mark the 298th event at which Wally has filled the position of Chief Steward; one he has occupied since 1981 after serving for a year as CART's Director of Competition. Both posts followed his 1979 retirement from a 15-year Champ Car driving career which included five victories; one pole position, and a runnerup finish in the 1973 United States Auto Club Championship. As CART's Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach has served as pioneer and innovator in advancing the cause of driver safety. He was instrumental in the formation of the CART Safety Team as well as the construction of CART's mobile medical facility both of which have become standards for the motor sports industry. He leaves behind a legacy of respect, integrity, an unflagging sense of fairness, and a consummate devotion to our sport. It goes without saying that he will not be easily replaced. Before we get started with questions for Wally, a quick note that the 500 Presented by Toyota, the 20th and Final Round of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ESPN on Sunday October 31st beginning at 3:00 P.M. Eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Wally Dallenbach.

Q. I was just wondering as you look back on the 19 years if there is any one particular area or one particular accomplishment that is going to be, in your mind, kind of your legacy or your most rewarding accomplishment? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, I can't really put a finger on one single thing, Jim. I will say this: The little accomplishments that turn into big rewards is pretty much how it has happened with me. When I say that, it has been in the areas of track improvements, obviously car safety, race car safety, construction, things like that, you know, and I would have to say that there are situations that I can say that, boy, I am glad I did that run-off right in Long Beach and saved Scott Pruett's behind when he ran in the turn run-off. I think it was the same weekend or the same day that I was glad that I constructed the run-off in Turn 6 on the same track, Long Beach, and Mario Andretti clipped Eddie Cheever and went in there about 176 miles an hour and 30 feet came to a stop and walked away from it. Those things were just tailor-built almost hours before that happened. It is things like that that are rewarding to me when you know that you made a score on safety and I think that is the biggest reward that I get.

Q. From the opposite standpoint, what is the one thing about this job that you are not going to miss? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, I think the stress is probably the biggest thing. When I say "Stress," the job has a lot of stress because you know back when I drove I was really -- there was only one man in my office and I had the steering wheel in front of me. Now the responsibility with all of these guys and that comes with a lot of stress because you worry about everything, every time the track is green you worry about everything that goes on. And you are in a position where you have to pull the plug, so to speak, on a situation whether it is going yellow or going red and things like that, you are dealing with lives and careers and things. 20 years of that burns a hole deep inside. I am looking to get rid of some of that stress.

Q. You have had a very interesting relationship with one of our own here from Toronto, Paul Tracy. Some might feel that you have been particularly hard on him and can you now talk about your relationship with Paul both professionally and on a personal level and would you comment on his rejuvenation this year and whether you feel the discipline that you have imposed on him, especially abandoning him from the first race here, has anything to do with his reformation? WALLY DALLENBACH: Starting with the last question first, yeah, it has. I think that Paul has finally come to terms with the style of driving that put him in that situation and I think it had an impression on him and an impact on him whereas he decided that this is almost a bottom-out situation and I need to, you know, redo my thinking and my ways. I believe that worked. As far as Paul is concerned, as a friend, I treat him like a son. I watched him come through the ranks and come into Indy Lights and when he and I were, you know, on opposite ends, so to speak, whatever he was doing, if it was my son I would treat him the same way because, quite frankly, I was interested in his career, but I was more interested in his safety and drivers around him safety. These are the reasons why -- but to single him out and say that I was hard on him because he was Paul, no way. Paul was one of the, I guess, tougher kids on the block and it just took him a little longer for him to wake up. I am especially proud of the way he has handled himself this year and I think everybody else is.

Q. Thanks for all those rides you have given me around and let me do safety checks with you. They were wonderful. WALLY DALLENBACH: I will tell you what, I may not be Chief Steward next year, but I still might be doing rides.

Q. Talk to me a little bit about your relationship with all the course observers and the flaggers. I know you have had an intimate one and just had a great impact on each of the races in the series that maybe a lot of us don't know a great deal about. WALLY DALLENBACH: I am happy to say that there isn't a place that I have been or go now that my relationship with the corner workers or course workers have been probably not only personal but one of the best. We have gone out of our way to have eye contact all the time and there has been situations where corner workers have been irate with some of the officials or some situations, maybe even a driver. And I have been able to deduce that most of the time. And it is amazing how, you know, one and a half minutes of kind words to one of these guys goes a lifetime. Although I haven't met personally all of them, virtually without question everyone of them wave and give me the high-sign when I usually go by.

Q. From hanging out with some of those people you are much beloved by them. Have you had a talk with Juan after the incident in Houston or -- WALLY DALLENBACH: Yeah, we discussed it and it was a situation where I think he was under the impression that he should have been warned of the situation. But obviously he saw the yellow, but I didn't get negative on him. I think he is probably as negative as he can be on himself at the moment.

Q. Pretty much the penalty is if he loses the Championship he knows where it came from. WALLY DALLENBACH: Yes, and like I say, he is young. He has got car control second to none. But he has to develop between his ears a little more.

        Q.  It has been a pleasure, Wally.  Good luck to you.
        WALLY DALLENBACH:  Well, thank you so much.

Q. Lots of troubles in the pits this year. Not just in your series but in open-wheel racing. Is enough being done to keep the pits safe? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, I think the same problems that we have in the racetrack are the same situations in the pit lane and it is basically this: The cars are so even now and the competition is so keen and so close that it forces drivers to do things on a racetrack that they didn't normally do five, six years ago because it was easier to make a pass and it was easier to move to the wind. But now the opportunities are fewer by virtue of the fact that the cars are so even. That same thing applies in the pit lane, and when I say that, everybody is looking for a second here or there and they are cutting corners. When I say "Cutting corners," they are trying to finish the jobs and overlap, you know, a release on a car to the point where it is milliseconds and the reason for that is because if they can pick up one second or two seconds in the pit lane, that puts them out in front of the guy that is in the pit lane as well. You don't have to deal with that guy out on the racetrack. So it is the nature of the beast, the competitiveness of the sport has brought us to this. But I think all of our guys have gotten a wake-up call since I would say the reoccurrences which culminated to the one with Michael Andretti. That one, I guess, was about as cold-blooded as anything can happen. For this guy to be an outpatient and be home that night is incredible to the aspects of the safety of the sport. But I think what everybody has done at that point, they have taken a look and they say, hey, this isn't worth it. Let us back up a little bit here and from that time forward things have been much better. But they are doing -- they are looking at different nozzles for next year and a nozzles will have not only the vent but the fuel in it so that eliminates a step and everybody is really hammering away at trying to eliminate this.

Q. The job is not going to be yours, but what do you think needs to be addressed as far as safety goes and who is going to be your successor, do you know? WALLY DALLENBACH: Start with the first one, safety is ongoing and actually there are a lot of areas that I think that we can focus on and really a big area right now is racetrack related. I think our cars are at this point, they are about as safe as we can make them. As far as the tracks are concerned, I think there is always room for improvement there and I hope to be some part of that chase, because although I am retiring as Chief Steward, I am staying on for at least another year as a consultant; at least that is the way it is being handled now. In doing that, I will have more time available to me to focus on safety; not that we don't spend a big part of it on a given day in that area, but I would have to say that this is a challenge that I would like to look forward to because I don't care if it is tire walls, or debris fence, or anything you mention, there is always room to improve. And proof of that is in the last 20 years we have come from the dark ages where we used to burn on impact to a point now where cars are so well-built and such precision of these things that it is a credit to the manufacturers and it is a credit to all the teams to have this sport to where it is today. The second part of the question is who is going to be my successor. I think that is a $64,000 question right now. I know that there are candidates out there and I feel that one of them probably has the opportunity to be in that position next year, but to put a name to it at this point I could not and there is a panel which I am one of the panelists, but what has happened is that we have been so engrossed in the series and everything that applies to the success of each of these 20 events that very little time has been devoted toward my replacement. I think that the job will probably go to somebody sometime shortly after Fontana and we will probably spool off the work with that gentleman next year.

Q. Could you tell me away from the track what your retirement holds for you? WALLY DALLENBACH: Okay, Scott. I live on a 140 acre ranch deep in the valley at 7,000 feet about 20 miles from as spend. The valley is called the "Frying Pan Valley" and this is where I am right now. I have been here for 25 years. I moved from New Jersey to this ranch I bought. Actually it was shortly after I won the California 500. I had enough money to do something. But anyway, I have 14 cabins here and I really enjoy my time here. So I would like to spend more time here. Obviously running around the country doing the series every year, the only real time you have to be here is like November and December and the first of the year it is meetings right up until race time. That is my first priority is to spend a little more time here on the ranch and my second priority, of course, is hopefully that I can spend a little more time attending some of my son's races in Winston Cup. I think between those two I will spool up some grandkid time, which I have three of, and those are things that are on the front burner now.

        Q.  I wish you all the best, Wally.
        WALLY DALLENBACH:  Thank you, Scott.
        Q.  Congratulations on a great career, Wally.
        WALLY DALLENBACH:  Thank you, Ron.

Q. As you look back over that career, is there something that Wally says, gee, I left this undone, I sure wish I could have accomplished this? WALLY DALLENBACH: On this career when I say "This year" being Chief Steward over all these years, I can't really put my finger on something that I would say, if I had it to do over again I would have done it different. I would say that in my racing career, I can certainly say that. I am very grateful for my results in the racing world and I am very fortunate that I got at it with all my facilities and for that I am very appreciative. I left an Indy 500 on the table and I left a Pocono 500 on the table with very few miles when I went out leading, for example, at Indy I went out, I think it was lap 157 with a burnt piston and 164 it was red flag, it was rain and Bobby was the winner. I had led at 102 laps so it wasn't that I was in a flukey position. The other one was actually at Pocono I had led it, there was no contest. Johnny Rutherford was running second, a half a track away and I looked over at the tower and it said lap 191. I said, you know, I might just win this thing and I know sooner said that and another burnt piston. So those are two big disappointments in my racing career that if I had it to do over again I would like at least 10 more minutes of racing with each of those. As far as Chief Steward, I feel very comfortable with the fact that I have had a great relationship with my fellow officials and the various people that are involved in putting on an event, CEOs my past CEOs, having a great relationship with them starting with John right up to Andrew right now.

Q. Finally the relationship that you have had with the drivers over the years, how have you kept that -- I mean, normally you are just -- you are real easy to get along with. How have you kept from having favorites? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, when I took this job I remember some of the shortcomings that came my way and I promised myself that if I ever did become an official or do this thing, that I would never cross the line where if some past officials haven't, you know, with me or some of my fellow drivers. I made a couple of promises to myself that No. 1, I would be honest with everybody then and myself. No. 2, that I would be fair with them as, you know, to my ability, to the best of my ability. I would be fair to them and I would live by that code. That is what I did. I mean, like anything else, being an official or being a Chief Steward like that, there are calls that are right and there are calls that are wrong. But for the most part, I have been very fortunate to minimize the wrong and the fact that I was an ex-driver, getting lot of respect from these guys right out of the box, and I think that, plus the experience that I had - I had over 180 races under my belt and it is like, been there and done that, and having said that, it was very easy for me to gain their respect.

Q. You are not going to give your successor your hat, are you? WALLY DALLENBACH: (Laughs) No, and the last hat that -- well, I take this back. There is one driver out there I am not going to mention it, that said if I win a race, you know, can I have your hat. I might do that and I might give the hat that I just replaced, the one with Christian, I might give that up for this madness thing that is going on this weekend as an auction item. But we will see what happens.

Q. Neat job for all those years. Your focus on safety, it seems it is like a passion. Was that born when you saw some of your compatriots who are, for lack of a better word, no longer among us to enjoy their family and, you know, now fortunately you got through it by the grace of God; you have got three grandkids to spoil, did that kind of steal you to be to safety-conscious? WALLY DALLENBACH: Yeah, it goes a long ways. I will tell you one thing, back in the old days it didn't pay to be safety conscious because it worked against your throttle foot and you had to overcome fear and not be concerned with safety because if you did, you probably wouldn't get in the car. Some of the race tracks that we used to run were unbelievable. That was the early days. Then instinctively, as time went on, I found myself getting involved in safety for a very unique reason. When I moved here to Colorado the closest rescue service was about 20 miles away. That was at least a half an hour in time. I live on a winding road in the mountain here with a river and we have had a couple of accidents when we first moved here in front of our house and I kind of witnessed some of the delays and it kind of got me thinking about, well, what is going to happen if my kids need something or my wife needs something and I am off racing. So to make a long story short - this was in 1975, July 4, 1976 - I put the a rescue service into service for the first time and to spool back on that, I had to become an EMT and I had to get 19 other guys and I had to get an ambulance, radios and do a lot of things. At that particular time a little side deal on that, my manager here at the ranch was an individual by the name of Lon Bromley. Well, I think most of you know that he is my safety director in CART now. That is where it all began, but once I took that EMT course I had a whole new perspective on safety and things like that and I began to develop out of that and when I did I -- actually while I was still driving, you know, I came to Salt Walther's aid when he crashed big-time on a front straight-a-way, I was right behind him when that happened. And then I started making things like a short backboard and different things to extricate drivers because there was a lot to be desired on extrication of drivers and what have you. This is the early roots that brought me so safety-conscious and, of course, when I did retire, I made up my mind that I made it through this thing, I am going to try to contribute a little bit in the area of safety and along with my colleagues, I am really proud of what I have accomplished and what, through them, we have all accomplished.

Q. Wally, I want to thank you like a few other people have for the rides you have given me. I just want to read you a little quote that I got from Michael Andretti which kind of sums up how the drivers think. It says: "Wally is fair and has a true passion for the sport. One indication of how great Wally was as Chief Steward is how long it has taken to be able to replace him." I was talking to Christian just after the podium at Toronto and I asked him, what is with the hat deal. He told me about the Road America win and I says, well, which would you rather have, the hat or the trophy. He said: The hat, no question. WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, that is something -- Christian is a young charger and we have had our moments together, you know, when things didn't go his way and he is very strong on safety as well. He keeps us all alert that way. But it is funny when he first joined us, Christian came up to me after a driver's meeting walked up to the table and he said, Wally, he said: I like your hat. He said: If I win a race, will you give me your hat? And he really took me because I wasn't prepared for something like that. I looked at him for a moment. I said; Christian, if you win a race, you win your first race, you got my hat. And it was funny because a couple of years back, I am not sure what year it was, but he darn near won a race at Road America and I think it was a few laps from the end he broke and I was about ready to pass the hat at the time and anyway, it went off and to make a long story short on that tale, came to the very next meeting and he sat way in the back of the room, the meeting room, and I cleared the air, got the meeting underway and I said, Christian, I said, I am going to make my promise and give you my hat. He stormed right up and took that thing and left me without a hat the rest of the weekend.

Q. I know with the hat dance, he wouldn't take it off to put on the sponsor's hat. Consulting next year, what exactly is that going to entail? Will you still be going to tracks along with Kirk to evaluate changes, et cetera? WALLY DALLENBACH: Yeah, I will work closely with Kirk on, not only changes, but new venues and things like that. I think we would need each other for a little while longer. Kirk has depended on me for my side of the thing and I depend on him for his side of the thing. We work together real well as a team. In fact, we just came back from Hawaii and unfortunately it was cancelled, but had it not been cancelled, we made all the improvements to what I would believe to be an excellent event over there and would have been as good, if not better than Cleveland. But anyway, consultant? The pendulum swings both ways. I am here to help the drivers. I am here to help the promoters and I am here to help the series. I have got 35 years of experience with just one division and I think that has some value to it. I just want to open up the spectrum, so to speak, to see how I can help the sport because having spent that much time in the sport, I don't want to see it flounder for a minute.

        Q.  All the best to you, Wally.
        WALLY DALLENBACH:  Thank you.

Q. Congratulations on so many years and thank you for all you have done for all of us. My question is: What advice are you giving CART and the people who are looking for your successor? Do you think that it needs to be a former driver or do you think that someone else, who has other skills within the sport, can do this job well? WALLY DALLENBACH: No. 1, I think the requirements mandate, almost mandate somebody that has been involved in the sport in some way. No. 2, must be a driver thing, no, not anymore. I think the parameters of the position and everything like that, doesn't necessarily have to, you know, be an ex-driver. Furthermore, that really narrows the band because there are a lot of drivers that would probably make wonderful chief stewards that have no interest in the job and for good reason. So we can't dwell on that. I think what we need to do is take our best shot on who really wants to do it and put them in there for a year on a, more or less a trial basis, and everybody get behind him. I think that is how it is going to be successful.

Q. Sounds good to me. I know how difficult it is for everyone out there who has to make this decision because they are going to have a tough time following you, that is for sure. WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, yeah, you got to understand one thing, when I came into this thing 20 years ago, it was a series that was borne out of frustration with UCAK and everybody was in the trenches bailing water together. It was all for one and one for all, we are either going to hang together or we will hang separately. And that kind of beginning was a lot easier than it is 20 years later. 20 years later now, this guy has to walk in at a different level between television and the competition and everything that is involved with it, it is going to be a tough deal.

Q. I also want to thank you for the rides that you have given me around the track. WALLY DALLENBACH: Hey, we will do it again. (laughs)

Q. In choosing your successor, which is not going to be an easy process, you said from the beginning you had hoped that they would be able to appoint the person or select the person early on so that person could train with you. Have any of the candidates that have been considered had a chance to work with you this year? WALLY DALLENBACH: Yes. But I am not going to mention the candidate because I think it would be unfair. The bottom line is, yes, there is. The other scenario, you know, is that it was my hope to have a candidate as early on as after Homestead. But we, when I say "We," I think all my people either in the field or in the office feel that this still can be accomplished over the winter as long as I am around to help that individual at times in the year 2000. I look forward to doing that as well. I have done it before with Dennis, when Dennis took on a job. I spent 14 months with him actually and the transition went good. Unfortunately his health jumped in and nobody could predict that. But I am optimistic that the next guy will do as good, if not better and I think all of us are going to back him up.

Q. It's a privilege to talk to you. Let me just add to this great pile of congratulations - my thanks. It is almost axiomatic that nobody loves the ump. Everybody gets mad at him. An awful lot of people were mad at you at one point or another because you have made hard decisions. Have you ever been actually mad at a driver? WALLY DALLENBACH: Yeah, I have been mad at a driver because I witnessed something that he knows better and he goes ahead and does it, you know, and I get mad at him for doing that because he knows that I am going to have to deal with it. I have to believe that if he does something that he knows he is breaking a rule. It is one thing if you get caught speeding in the pits, you know, you are dealing with minuscule miles per hour type thing, you know, and he doesn't realize he is doing it; if he did, he wouldn't do it because he knows what the consequences are. But when a guy knowingly does something --

Q. Like what? WALLY DALLENBACH: Blocking is one example and if he gets caught, I have got to deal with it. That makes me mad because he knows that he is doing something, A, wrong and, B, if it happens enough times he is going to get punished for it one way or the other which history will show that. But, yeah, I get mad at them. I get mad at my son when he does something wrong.

Q. Totally unrelated question, though but if one wanted to rent one of your cabins how would you go about that? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, actually I have been on the road all my life in racing and these cabins -- I had them turned into long-term cabins because I was never around to receive people here, I have cabins here and I have a river and I have got a lot of fish jumping up and down in the river, all that stuff. Perfect place as a fishing ranch and a hunting ranch. However, they are all turned into long-term cabins. Believe it or not, I have got a guy that is here almost twelve years. He came in, you know, and decided to sell his house over in Boulder, Colorado and he has been living here for twelve years. But anyway, I don't have any short-terms so, maybe when I do finally stop travelling around I will wind up doing that turning a few -- the new thing now is bed and breakfast and that will be something that we are going to test.

Q. I wish you every success both with fishing and with consulting next year. WALLY DALLENBACH: Thanks so much.

Q. Let me congratulate you on a great career and thank you for sharing your talents and gifts with us. WALLY DALLENBACH: Thank you.

Q. I think a lot of what I am hearing here today is family values and fairness and partiality, modesty and leadership skills. I guess concerning that package, what went into developing Wally Dallenbach growing up that these things are coming out now? WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, that is a tough one. I guess good parents is a good beginning, but I mean, the other part is that when I came through the ranks of racing, I had to do it obviously the hard way. My parents were very much against me racing. I had to fight that side of it and as far as getting money, I mean, every penny I have made ever since I was 15 years old went towards racing and to further my career. And I did it the hard way. I built my own equipment. I raced my own equipment until I got good enough to let go of the mechanical end of the thing and just focus on driving. But through that career I have had more than my share of humbling experiences, whether it is either on the racetrack, or, you know, things like having good friends be killed in the sport and things like that have changed my values as I went on through the steps of racing. I went from stock -- actually drag racing, stock stars, midgets, sprint cars; then finally to Champ Cars. And I did this all on my own. Through those steps in the ladder I have been humbled and I have been broke and it is kind of made my values what they are today and I have a real appreciation for these kids and the next kids in line and what they are trying to achieve because I did it as hard as it could get. I didn't come from a racing family and I was discouraged as far as my parents were concerned and to put it all in a nutshell when I look back and look at the friends that I have lost, that I make good friendships with and look at all of that, that is what made me what I am today, just living life the way I did and I made a commitment to myself that in spite of what racing takes, my first priority was going to be to honor my wife and develop my children in the best way I know how. I gave each one of them an opportunity to race and one way or the other all three of them are in racing. My daughter Coleen works for PacWest and my son Paul, he is in Hill Climb Racing and he is run Atlantics and other things and, of course, Wally, that speaks for itself, he is in Cup Racing. I am proud of all these kids. They have stayed clean and part of the reason why I moved out here to Colorado is to keep them clean. My values were family and my values were very basic. When I say "Basic," I know how I grew up in the '50s, I had very little to contaminate myself with and when I moved out here to Colorado it was like moving into the '50s. And I was very fortunate to come all come out of it nice and clean. T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for today. Wally, I know I speak for everyone in the CART family when I congratulate you on your exemplary career as both a driver and chief steward and offer our eternal gratitude for the dedication to our sport and we will see you in Fontana. WALLY DALLENBACH: Thank you, T.E., I am really taken aback with all of this. I didn't really expect this and it makes me feel really good and I appreciate everything everybody said. T.E. McHALE: Thanks again, Wally, have a great afternoon. Thanks to all of you who joined us. We wish you join us next Tuesday at our usual 1 pm when our guests will be the top two contenders for the FedEx Championship Series title, Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green. We will look forward to talking to all of you then. Thanks again for being with us and good afternoon. WALLY DALLENBACH: Thank you.

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