RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 9, 2000) (The following is a partial transcript of a media briefing held by NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Helton and NASCAR Winston Cup Director Gary Nelson on Saturday morning at Richmond ...
RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 9, 2000) (The following is a partial transcript of a media briefing held by NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Helton and NASCAR Winston Cup Director Gary Nelson on Saturday morning at Richmond International Raceway to discuss rule changes implemented for the Dura Lube 300 presented by Kmart next weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway.)
Question: Is this a knee jerk reaction?
Mike Helton: This is not a knee jerk reaction, this is a result of a lot of thought process and elimination of a lot of options. This in no way is a knee jerk reaction, and I think we can support that by all the different elements we looked at as options and eliminated. Now we are five days from opening up at New Hampshire. It was a reaction to get into New Hampshire next weekend. It is not a knee jerk reaction, no.
Q: Can you characterize for us the timetable and process about which you eliminated things, when were you at New Hampshire eliminating options and how you went about it?
MH: I think the process, and I don't mean to give you a smart answer but the process started 52 years ago. Relative to New Hampshire the process began 16 weeks ago. With a lot of input from a lot of different sources from materials to 'here's what I think we can do' to 'here's an idea we've got -- here's something you ought to take a look at.' That's the process of going through every one of those conversations with competitors in the garage area: Car builders, engine builders, drivers, outside suppliers from NASA type material to simple foam and rubber and the attachment devices for the different walls or a linkage process for a throttle change or a different ergonomics for a driver in a race car. That process deserves the proper amount of attention for every idea handed to us. That's the process. As we go through the process as we do every day continually...we are not gonna stop because New Hampshire is this week and we will continue to go through that process and there will be other answers that come from that. In the meantime what has come from that process is the development of a pressure harness that Jack will be in here talking about in a little bit; the throttle change that we made before we went to Indianapolis; and different steps. As we eliminate other options and as we come down to going into New Hampshire next weekend we chose to use restrictor plates next weekend for the event. It seems in conversations with the competitors and observations that it might be one of those cases where the track hasn't changed in 10 years -- that we have been up there the track hasn't done anything different. So what has changed is the speed of the cars going around the race track; so if that's a relative issue, we know how to slow the cars down -- we've done it Daytona and Talladega for the same reason where the cars became too fast for the track -- we know how to do that and we do it with restrictor plates. That's a common denominator that everyone in the garage area knows and understands. They universally don't like it and you'll get a lot of comments from everybody, from engine builders to car owners to drivers...but no one else has given us another way of slowing cars down short term. So the process has led to eliminate all the other timely elements that could be accomplished and now as we get into the race next weekend we choose to take the moment to slow the cars down and we know how to do this with restrictor plates next weekend.
Q: Did you go up to New Hampshire and put stuff up on the walls and when did you do that?
MH: Yes, we did that this week, and we eliminated a lot of opportunities and a lot of options over the course of time. We considered different types of materials and what would you do, had a lot of conversations about theories and equations and geometric dilemmas and situations. Some time back we scheduled this week's activities to have the foam constructed and have all the elements in place that we needed in place. We did that this week and we still walked away with unanswered questions, enough unanswered questions to where that is not the answer for next week. Doing something to cover the wall at New Hampshire is not the answer for next weekend.
Q: Is this a one-race, one-shot deal, or might we see something at other tracks where there have been troubles?
MH: We'll keep an open mind but this is all about the event at New Hampshire next weekend at this point.
Q: It must have been a little frustrating knowing you had that scheduled last week and had the eruption at Darlington?
MH: Circumstances can create a bigger perception than the truth can. I have to simply tell you that we have had this cycle of processes and then what we can do and when we can do it in the works for some time. Yes it is frustrating when circumstances lead people to jump to different conclusions -- and particularly the wrong conclusions -- and it goes back to the fact that NASCAR does not make media events out of its research and development because of the misunderstandings that can come from it and the elimination that takes place before you can get something that you can hang your hat on. Then it creates frustration in the meantime but that is not as big an issue as being sure we take the time to do the right thing. We are big boys -- we'll take the heat. The biggest thing to do the right thing at the end of the day.
Q: Did you have other options?
MH: We always have a short list of options for a lot of things and certainly the option of restrictor plates at New Hampshire was something we discussed. But as we eliminated other options and particularly we got through with some of the barrier issues from this week the logical option was to use a restrictor plate.
Q: What has the opinion been of this decision, in the garage area?
MH: You'll get different opinions in the garage area to when we should or even to whether we should have done this. We feel like it is the right thing to do and the announcement and the timing of it is relative to the event. What the teams do back in the shop in preparedness to it will range from 'I'll put a restrictor plate on it and go racing' to developing a whole new motor for New Hampshire. And that's the beauty of the sport -- these guys who go out there are the best there are. All I ask of them is let's give it a chance and see how it comes out. In the meantime if the decision is that we are going too fast for the race track at New Hampshire right now and the answer is slowing the cars down that's a safety issue. That supercedes the frustration of having to put a restrictor plate on a car for the contingency it will serve, but I think you'll get different responses from different folks. We will go on schedule. We do have a little change -- I think it's in the press release -- we will go under caution for a few laps cause there are going to be restrictor plates on the cars so the drivers under a caution environment can feel the difference before we go under green. We will go on as scheduled at New Hampshire. I think everyone understands that there is a testing deadline so somebody can't run up there Monday and go test. All those policies and procedures still apply.
Q: How did you arrive how much the plate will slow the cars down?
Gary Nelson: We had a little experience with a one-inch plate in Daytona about a month ago. When the test was over we put the cars on the dyno and were able to find out the horsepower numbers of a current NASCAR Winston Cup engine with a one-inch restrictor plate. Those numbers made sense to where we were able to figure out what the top speed at Loudon would be without a restrictor plate and with a restrictor plate and it looks like it is going to be around 10 miles an hour. Obviously these are done on computer simulations and we've found with the experience we've had recently in recent years with computer simulations they're not that far off.
Q: Did you test these at all at New Hampshire?
GN: No, we did it all with the computer.
Q: You guys have been using a restrictor plate for a long time at Daytona and Talladega and every time you make a change these teams seem to be able to make up what they lose in the changes?
GN: It would take a lot -- it would take magic to get the speed back when you take away that much horsepower. When you take a mid-pack car with 750 horsepower and cut that to 465 horsepower he is not going to be able to just invent something that is going to be within our rules and get 750 horsepower back. So we are very confident that the speeds will be reduced at New Hampshire at the critical stages on the race track when the cars are at top speed.
Q: Was this the best alternative?
GN: If you look at Daytona and Talladega, restrictor plates are the top things on the list -- horsepower is the top thing on the list to make the car go faster around the track. If you go to a short track or even a mile track like New Hampshire, horsepower is way down on the list of priorities to make your car go fast. Horsepower is not a premium. Aerodynamic downforce is very important, driver, chassis set-up and then horsepower is way down the list. I had this conversation with a lot of engine builders and a lot of crew chiefs yesterday and this morning. You think about a restrictor plate engine with a Daytona or Talladega mentality when really when you go to Loudon a restrictor plate is way down on the list of things that will make you car turn a fast lap. You can have a big horsepower difference and still be competitive at New Hampshire so I think it is fair.
Q: Did the fact that Bobby Labonte had a throttle stick at Darlington and made a comment about not having the time to activate the kill switch push you towards the restrictor plate?
MH: When we made the change of adding an additional kill switch we knew this wasn't a universal fix. Like I said earlier we had already scheduled what we did at New Hampshire before we went to Darlington. This is a work in progress and it will remain one. Just because we are using plates at New Hampshire next weekend doesn't mean it's gonna shut down -- it will remain one. And when you have an incident like Bobby had at Darlington it gives us a chance to talk about a lot of 'what if's.' Rusty had one in Bristol that gave us a chance to talk about 'what if's.' We had already been working on and had developed and were developing the wiring harness with pressure switches that Jack Roush has helped to develop that he will talk about here in a minute that was tested at Darlington before the Darlington race, which eliminates the mechanics of a driver to be able to react as quickly as it might need to be. So all of that the circumstances it gives them the ability to talk about it and we're not gonna stop the process.
Q: How much difference will the reduction in speed make?
MH: You would have to talk to a driver about this but I suspect one mile an hour makes a difference. I know some of the research we've done and the information we have coming from impacts with different materials, for example a three foot piece of foam like at Watkins Glen is three to four miles an hour. Then when you ask if 10 miles an hour is enough I don't know, but it is better than what it would have been. Without getting into the technical side of this -- then you would have to ask a Cornell University professor instead of Mike Helton -- but it is all a matter of force over time. It is how much force in what amount of time. Miles per hour and speed play a big factor.
Q: What is the biggest issue with 'soft wall technology?'
MH: The biggest question is does it create a more hazardous situation beyond the driver that impacts the wall? What about the other drivers on the race track and the fans in the grandstands? So the biggest question is how can accomplish that without creating a more dangerous situation.
Q: Is the reason you waited to the 11th hour to make this decision because you didn't want teams to get an advantage and maintain a level playing field?
MH: That played a role in it. I think the fact that we were trying to eliminate all other options before we went to the restrictor plate played a role in it. We discussed the possibility of not even talking about restrictor plates until next Friday morning when we got there. But something like this is better than to do it that way so yeah, it played a role in it.
Q: What is the top speed of a car on the straightaway at New Hampshire?
GN: The top speed is approximately 145 miles per hour.
Q: Will the drivers be able to go wide-open all the way around the track?
GN: We don't expect that. The driver is going to play a big part in driving the car as they always have been at Loudon. The driver will still have to use his brakes, use his throttle and turn the steering wheel like he always has had to. If you think about it there are some unknowns and we have spent this time since we were at Loudon the last time -- we spent that time trying to eliminate those. It's amazing to think how many hours were put in since we left Loudon. Since I joined NASCAR that is what we do anyway trying to make the sport better -- make it where if somebody hits with a softer blow without causing a problem. When you get into something that gives it tends to grab a hold of the car. As a typical contact with a wall in a Winston Cup race is at a very slight angle and the car just scrapes along the wall and goes onto the grass or pit area. You don't even know it happened. If you have a wall that gives it will grab a hold of the car and every contact with the wall will be a major accident and that is what we have to work through. We are continuing to look at all the ideas that come along and continue to do our research behind the scenes where when if it doesn't work out we move on to the next one. We don't have to spend a lot of time trying to understand what we've tried and haven't tried.
Q: Why not keep the drivers better informed to avoid the problems you experienced last week at Darlington?
MH: That is what is great about this country -- everyone has an opinion and everybody has the right to express their opinion. As it relates to our industry, we are a big enough sport where everyone is entitled to their opinions. What I would ask everybody to stop and stand back and think about is there are 43 teams starting the race tonight and 43 different opinions. NASCAR's responsibility -- because someone has to be the entity or the organization or the power that has to make the decisions for the whole of sport and not just one opinion -- and that's our responsibility. Sometimes we do it right and sometimes we don't do it right but somebody has to make those decisions and that happens to be NASCAR. We talk a lot to the competitors, we talk a lot to the car owners and crewmembers and car builders and engine builders to try to stay as in tune as we can. Sometimes we will make a decision and one of those individuals doesn't necessarily agree with it and they are gonna express the fact they don't agree with it because they can. At the end of the day our job is to make the right decision as often as we can and sometimes that is why we are methodical in making those decisions -- because we want them to be the best ones we can make. We may get questioned why it takes a long time to make a decision.