NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Andy Petree, owner of Andy Petree Racing (APR). Q&A's with Bobby Hamilton: Even though you didn't have a great day at the California...
NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Andy Petree, owner of Andy Petree Racing (APR).
Q&A's with Bobby Hamilton:
Even though you didn't have a great day at the California race, are you still riding high from you Talladega 500 win?
"Any time you have a race like that, it carries you a long way. Our deal is, they had so many race cars that Kenny Wallace had drove in the past and we were having to pull these things out and run them, and take chances with them. We pulled one car out and went to Texas and didn't know anything about it and qualified third or fourth and it was the worst car in the stable in Kenny's eyes. But it was something that fit me real comfortable. So, we'll stumble across that until we get about halfway through the season until we get a chance to go through the inventory of cars. But at least we know what not to carry back to California. The good thing about that is we've got Kansas and Chicago and them kind of racetracks where we can relate a lot of information from California. We know what not to do at them type of places I think now."
What do you think has been to key to your getting off to such a good start this season?
"I think the key to that has been the crew chief and the owner. First off, the crew chief has a great bunch of guys that are really laid back. I'll always fit well in them situations. It reminds me a lot of Petty Enterprises, and I fit well in that. I think Jimmy (Elledge) does a really good job with all his people. The first time we worked together I could tell it was really going to click pretty good. It's all about people. Anything you do in any business, I think, it's all about people. When you surround yourself with good people and a car owner that's been successful in different environments, it usually works pretty good. So it's been real easy for me."
With the shop in Ashville, NC and you just outside of Nashville, how often do you get to the shop to spend time with the guys?
"I try to get there every Tuesday. Sometimes I'll come over here and just me and Jimmy will go to lunch or me and Andy and the crew chiefs. One time Joe (Nemechek) come down here. We do it a lot of different ways. Because of Talladega we've had lunch catered in here today for both teams because we really try to utilize on this two-car deal. We've seen it in the past. The two teams will get competitive on one another and that's not healthy for a two-car team. So we've been really trying to work good as one group instead of two groups to try to get both teams up and going on their feet. Every Tuesday is just a routine for me. I really enjoy it because I think it lets them guys know that the driver is just an employee. And I think sometimes the driver gets put on a pedestal when they don't need to be when the crew is really the one to get its job done."
For the casual fan, can you talk about the difference in the cars you take to a superspeedway compared to a short track like Richmond; and what does that mean to the driver?
"It's pretty easy from a drivers standpoint because we go to Daytona or Talladega and we have the drag package now and even before that, we have restrictor plates so it takes us back to 450 horsepower. The speed is relative to what we have to do. So that means that with less horsepower we can hold it wide open all the time. At California, we have 750 horsepower and needless to say, you have to lift going into the corners, and be real finesse of when to get on and off the gas. We have maximum downforce there too, just like we do at Daytona and Talladega. It's really just a difference in the engines. As far as what the driver does different, it's just a difference in the horsepower - a little difference in the tires, the chassis mean a little more on the smaller racetracks because you do have so much power. You go to Talladega, and there's no chassis work at all hardly, just a soft package. You go to Daytona, and there a little more chassis work. When you get to the small places like we're going to this weekend at Richmond, then it's all about the chassis stuff because you have to handle no matter kind of motor you have."
Is going to one of these shorter tracks a bigger comfort level for you?
"Not really. I've sort of been labeled in the past as a short track driver. And that's fine. But I like them all. We just got through testing at Sears Point and we have a good car. Of course we're having a good season, but I don't think we have a bad racetrack. To me, it's whatever the fans like. I can fit in either one of the situations right now. It's been a good year so far."
What kind of advantage do you have with an owner who was an all-star crew chief?
"I think he brings just a lot of leadership. Jimmy's young and I'm an older driver so I think that fits real good. If we do get a bump in the road or something, he is the leadership to come and say hey guys you might ought to head in this direction or ought not to head in this direction. He's seen this stuff happen several times in the past because he's been with so many great racecar drivers. It makes our job a lot easier to know that we have a car owner who has been in every aspect of racing. There's a lot of situations where you have car owners that are just a successful businessmen and they don't even know what air pressure means. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because Winston Cup has become such a big business that there's a lot of businessmen getting into it. But it just makes it a lot easier from a driver and a crew chief that you can talk about anything and they understand."
Was there a sense of relief when Talladega came and you got that win out of the way?
"I think so. I guess it was 146 races or four or five years or I don't really know the numbers but I know he'd been doing this thing for a while. To start from scratch and do it in four or five years isn't all bad. There is a lot of race teams out there that hadn't done it at all that have very good race teams and drivers. Andy does everything in house. They don't have nothing sent out. And when you do a race team of that caliber and start from scratch, it takes a long time to put it together. I think you'll see more success out of him."
This weekend at Richmond will be the first night race of the season. Which do you prefer, under the lights or day racing?
"It really don't make me any difference. I think it makes for better racing for the race fans. You know, we're getting into the part of the year where it starts getting warm and later on in the year the night races really cater to the race fans. For some reason, under the lights, the racing looks faster. The speeds just look faster under the lights. I think it's just more exciting for the fans. It takes us back a few years to where we got our roots at. That's where all of us drivers come from is night time racing. It might bring a little something out in us that we don't know about - especially if there's a full moon there's usually trouble - but it always makes for exciting racing for the fans. It's just cooler in the racecars and I think it gives us an extra day in case we have bad weather. So it's good all around."
Do you notice any difficulty with your vision during the night races?
"Every race track that we've been to where they've put lights on, I guess maybe when they first done it and they had drivers protest or whatever, and they've talked about it, I can honestly say when we've got there for competition, the lighting is perfect. It's not a big deal. It reminds me of daytime. The big deal is when you look above the lights you see dark instead of light. The lighting is perfect at all the racetracks right now."
How difficult is it for the driver whose reputation is at stake to depend on what kind of car the crew puts under him?
"That's a real touchy subject and the reason why is that when things go bad, they just go bad. And when things don't work, they just don't work. There's situations, well, we'll just go back to Texas. I went to Texas and I never run good there in the No. 4 car (owned by Morgan-McClure) and I qualified third (in the No. 55 car owned by APR) and was running in the top ten when I cut a left rear tire down. I still had a real fast racecar. But then Kevin Lepage gets in the No. 4 car and runs in the top ten all day and ends up 11th. Again, it's all about who fits. We had a pretty successful year the first year I was with Larry McClure and it just started going down hill. Me and Kyle Petty talked one time. If somebody could ever figure out how to put their finger on it and not let that kind of thing happen they would be multi-millionaires because there are so many race teams that struggle. It concerns you as a driver as far as your reputation but when you still have confidence in what you can do, you just have to stick to your own guns. It's just like McClure had to stick to his own guns. I can honestly tell you that I am really concerned about that particular car because I think the world of Larry McClure. I hope gets it turned around because there's probably not any better people in racing than Larry McClure. He deserves better. We're just hoping he gets it turned around."
What does that do to your ego and confidence then, to be with somebody you click with like Andy Petree?
"I've always said, and of course I think every man has said this, that I don't think I have much of an ego. I just enjoy running fast. It's gotten to the point to where it's not about the money anymore. Andy pays good and everything, but money is not even an issue. Just to know that you can go out and be in a competitive racecar and work with a good group of people is worth its weight in gold to me. And then to have a car owner who understands that..... Here we come off (winning in)Talladega and we go to California and we are the worst car there. We just happen to finish a few positions better than 43rd. If I was an owner, I'd be upset with that to know that I come from a racetrack the week before as champion and then was in the toilet the next week. But again, he's been there a thousand times and he understands that anymore in Winston Cup racing, two-tenths of a second puts you in that position. And two-tenths of a second is as close as drag racing. That's just how competitive it is."
What's the difference between a California car and a Talladega car, or what would it be like if you brought the California car to Talladega and vice-versa?
"If you took a California car to Daytona, you would have a little more downforce. It's really hard to say because now that we have the wicker bill and the spoiler across the top."
What if you took those off?
"If you took them off the Daytona car, then your California car would have a little more downforce and it would run slower. Now, I think I might know where this is going. So everybody's saying, 'Well why don't we take a downforce car and take the restrictor plate off?' I still don't think we can do that because right now, it still only takes eight horsepower to make three-tenths. And needless to say, from 450 (horsepower) to 750 (horsepower) it would still be extremely too fast. And we're not talking 200 mph down the straightaway anymore, we're talking 230 mph down the straightaway. And then if you were to take a Daytona or Talladega car to California, it's just the locations we mount the bodies and things like that, it wouldn't drive good because the bodies are mounted too far forward."
Do you think your son's career is on track right now, and what plans do you have for him in the next year or so?
"We're pretty happy with his deal. It's just like my deal with Square D and everything, I've got a great sponsor to get along with and his deal with Dr. Pepper is the same thing. They like him and he likes them and they get along real well. That race team has come a long way in the last year and a half or so. They're starting to get their qualifying packages put together and they're able to lead races and they're able to finish on the lead lap. And they've had some mechanical failures and things like that. When you have a new race team, it takes time to overcome that stuff. I'm just happy because he's come into his own. It's really up to him. He had an opportunity to go to the No. 1 car and drive for Chip Ganassi and I was going to let him. It was his decision to spend another year and in Busch Grand National because he had run for them in Atlanta and didn't feel like he was ready. So, it's really whatever he wants to do."
At Martinsville, you did some work with Willy T. Ribbs. Any future plans with him or any other drivers from another series?
"No, Willy will continue to drive the Dodge truck sponsored by Dodge, which I own. He'll be a teammate to Joe Ruttman. We didn't have a good weekend at Martinsville and we were scared of that. When you come from Trans-Am and Indy cars and stuff like that, it's a big change to come into NASCAR. We've seen it a hundred times with several racecar drivers. We just got to give them a little more time. Our intent right now our intent is to give him a shot."
How do you balance team ownership with your driving duties in Winston Cup?
"It's not tough. Again, it goes right back to people. My wife overlooks the financial aspects of the race team. I'm pretty lucky. I've probably got one of the tightest wives in history of women. So I'm pretty lucky on that. A real good friend of mine runs the lower end of it which is just the running of the team. I don't spend a lot of time on it. I spend more time on conference calls with Dodge and stuff like that just making sure we're on target with our whole program on the ownership of it. Winston Cup is what puts the bread on the table for me. The truck team is something I'm trying to build so that when I get ready to retire years down the road I've got some sort of race team to fall back on because I don't care about anything else but racing. That's all I'll ever do. So that's why that's there right now and it's building a good foundation for something for me to do when I quit racing."
Q&A's with Andy Petree (a former crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt before becoming a team owner in 1996)
Do you feel a sense of relief after getting your first win as a team owner?
"Oh yes, a big relief. It makes you want to go out there and get more of them. It really felt good and we're really focused on trying to get some more of them."
When you decided to become a team owner in '96, what areas of your expertise as a winning crew chief really helped?
"That's a hard question to answer as far as the crew chief side of it. I think it does serve me well as far as knowing the cars and a lot about running a team from a crew chief's side. It's just part of the equation. I probably learned a lot about being a car owner from Leo Jackson before I took the job with Richard Childress as a crew chief. I learned a lot there and I learned some things from Richard too on a bigger organization and on winning more. Both guys gave me a lot of tools."
How do you spend your time with a two-team operation?
"Well, they're both in the same building and I wouldn't say I spend more or less with (with either team). I've got crew chiefs on both teams. I probably do spend more time on the No. 33 team because I feel like Jimmy (Elledge) does have his guys under control and we're in a bit of a transition with the No. 33 team. I've got to run this business you know, too."
Will Oakwood Homes be going away after this season?
"Yes, they will."
Can you discuss what it takes to find sponsorship and money in this business to run a successful team?
"Well, it does take a lot of money to run one of these teams and we can't do it without a sponsor. There is some pressure to get Oakwood replaced for next year. We're thankful that it's early enough that we've got some time to work on it. The challenge is really to make the car run good. If the car runs good, people are going to be looking at it and we need to have the best available product when people start looking. We're trying to get attention on the No. 33 team right now. The No. 55 team is doing their job for that and Square D looks pretty interested right now for that. So we're pretty hopeful."
How many different types of cars do you have to have in your shop these days to run Winston Cup?
"Well, let's add them up. They're would be a speedway car, intermediate car, short track car, road course car. That kind of defines the categories of the cars. Now we'll have 15 cars in each shop right now. It's kind of a mix of short track, intermediate, and speedways."
Back to the sponsorship, is it less costly to have two teams because you're sharing some of the technology, etc.?
"To be honest with you, going in that's how I thought it was. But once I got into it, I swear, it's spending twice the money. It really is. You'd think there are some economies, but what happens is you do more. You do more R&D. You do more wind tunnel stuff. Actually it does wind up being twice as much as you're spending on one team. And I was a one-car team owner and now I'm a two-car team owner."
How do you approach the safety issue with your drivers?
"I basically leave it up to them. Now, if they come to me and say I want to do this or do that, we're going to do it. No matter what it takes, we're going to do it. I would be reluctant to push something on one of the drivers - something that I thought was good. Sometimes you think on the surface that this would be safer. Turns out down the road that it's not. I don't really want to be the one making that call. These guys are the ones driving the cars and I'll do whatever they want. And I'll try to make sure that the way we do it and how we apply it is as safe and as good as we can do it. Past that, I'm not going to recommend a different helmet or different restraint system for the drivers. That's really their decision."
On the safety issue, how did the cars get too stiff?
"Well, the way it really happened is that NASCAR -- and has good reasons I'm sure, for making the bars thicker, some of the front sections thicker - you'd think would be safer. I think its time to take another look at it and say okay, we could probably let this part of the car crush, and be thinner let's say, or weaker, and be actually safer and absorb some energy and let the car move a lot more."
Does NASCAR give you some leeway to remove some of the bars or softening some of the front-end bars?
"I think it's going to take an expert to be able to say which ones we can make thinner. We're not just going to take a redneck approach to it. We need to get people who know what they're talking about and do some research and crush a few of them and sled test a few of them.
Have you seen any results of the NASCAR tests?
"No, I have not seen those tests. But I do have confidence in the people that are doing it. I'm sure that when they make a conclusion from it, they'll make some changes and it'll be for everybody's benefit."
What were some of the toughest things about making the jump from crew chief to team owner?
"The biggest thing is that you have to put the right people in the right places. When you're a crew chief, it's relatively simple. You need good tire changers, you know you need good jackmen, and you need good shock guys. Those are the kinds of decisions you make when you're a crew chief. When you're an owner, you need the right crew chief and the right engine man, and the right team manager or business manager. You go into a lot of different angles -angles you didn't have as a crew chief. You're still making the basic decisions like you were, it's a lot bigger in scope."
Was is a major change for you?
"It's been a big challenge, I'm not going to say it wasn't. It took me five years to win a race and that was coming off of 8 or 10 years of consecutive winning as crew chief. It wasn't easy. It's still a challenge every day."
On the sponsorship side, how was it to give Square D that first win at Talladega?
"Oh, it was really sweet. Chris Richardson was there. Ralph Harris, the director of marketing was there. All the guys were there and it really was sweet to give them that win and to share it with each other. It meant a lot to both of us."
Can you comment on CART's cancellation of the race on the day of the race?
"Oh, man, I don't know. I always said it's okay to be scared, just say it. And they said it. So I guess it's okay, and it probably wasn't very safe from things I've heard. It put them in a bit of a jam. I don't know how they decided what to do there."
Would you back that decision if it happened in Winston Cup?
"I didn't have to make that decision and I'd probably just back away from saying anything either way."
Did adding Bobby Hamilton make all the difference as far as putting the team in Victory Lane this year?
"Well, it's made a big difference, that's for sure. And that's not saying anything bad about anybody else. Kenny Wallace was a big part of our operation and of growing it to what it is now. That question is kind of like a double-edged sword. Bobby Hamilton did bring a great deal to us in a lot of areas and I don't want to slight him either because he made a huge difference here. But Kenny Wallace was a big part of building it to where it is now and I want to give him the credit he's due also. He finished 2nd down there (Talladega) the last race. He did us a good job too."
-Team Monte Carlo