February 19, 1999 North Carolina Speedway Travis Carter, owner of the No. 23 Team Winston Taurus and co-owner of the No. 66 Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus, is back home for this weekend's Dura-Lube/Big...
February 19, 1999 North Carolina Speedway
Travis Carter, owner of the No. 23 Team Winston Taurus and co-owner of the No. 66 Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus, is back home for this weekend's Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 -- literally. Carter grew up in nearby Ellerbe and attended the very first NASCAR Winston Cup race at North Carolina Speedway in 1965 as a fan. Even though he is a man of few words, Carter spoke about returning to his home track and how it helped motivate him to become involved in auto racing.
TRAVIS CARTER, Car Owner -23- Team Winston Taurus and -66- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT FIRST RACE IN 1965? "I remember Curtis Turner won and it was a long race. The track was configured differently then and they only averaged like 113 miles an hour to the best of my recollection. It was real flat entering those corners and they used a tremendous amount of brakes. Everybody was anticipating that race and I'm guessing they had a crowd of about 25-30,000 people and that was a huge crowd by those standards. I remember sitting in a pretty good seat, too, I was probably right about the 17th or 18th row near the start-finish line. I went with a couple of high school buddies and one of them came from a little more affluent family and he had the means to get the tickets, which I probably couldn't have afforded them if I had to buy them myself."
WERE YOU A FAN BEFORE GOING TO THAT RACE? "I grew up as a fan with Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen and Junior Johnson, we were fans of those people. In the meantime, about five or six years later, there was a local guy who had a Grand National car and that's where I went to work for Mr. L.G. DeWitt. But I was always a fan of it and I said, 'Shoot, I might make a good living doing this.' I grew up farming and I said, 'Man, this work is too hard.' So I found something even harder. I thought it was gonna be easier, but it's much more difficult."
DID SEEING THAT RACE INSPIRE YOU IN ANY WAY TO GET STARTED IN RACING? "It did. I was always a competitor and I like competition. I was a sports enthusiast then and always have been, and I saw that as an opportunity to continue as an adult in the sports arena. The end came for all of the other sports I competed in, but this was an opportunity to still be sports-oriented and make a living doing it."
HOW IS IT FOR YOU TO GO BACK TO ROCKINGHAM THESE DAYS? "Well, I haven't live there in so long and I never see any of the people I grew up with other than family members because I really don't have time to visit and stuff. It's just business. You go to work everyday and go home at night and go to bed and go to work the next day, so it's not that different for me than going to any other track."
IS THERE ANY WAY TO DESCRIBE HOW IT FEELS TO GO TO A PLACE AS A FAN AND DREAM OF BEING IN THE SPORT, TO ONE DAY WINNING AT THAT TRACK. YOU WON AT ROCKINGHAM AS CREW CHIEF FOR CALE YARBOROUGH IN 1978? "When I was younger I thought about that, but one of the more interesting accounts I remember at Rockingham was that we lost two races back-to-back with Harry Gant in the mid-80s by less than one foot. They were both photo finishes and we lost one race by about six inches and one by about a foot after leading on the white flag lap for both of them. We always ran well there. We ran well with Cale and we ran well with Harry there a lot and we've had some good cars with Jimmy (Spencer) there. I tell you, the competition is king. You saw that at Daytona. That was the most competitive race I've probably ever seen in my life at Daytona. I think the cloud cover had something to do with that and making the track better all day, but we're gonna face that every week."
TO SEE WHERE THE SPORT WAS WHEN YOU GOT INVOLVED TO WHERE IT IS NOW, ARE YOU SURPRISED? "People ask me all the time if when I started did I envision it growing like this and I did. In my very first years, I tried driving a couple of times and I knew that was gonna be for me because I needed to work to make a living. I didn't think I could be a driver because that was a hit and miss situation, honestly. You're trying to grow and learn and do what you really love, but a lot of times you're working for nothing. I could not afford to do that. I had to make a living, so I decided I wanted to be a team owner. I set my goal to that when I started all those years ago."
WHAT DID YOU SEE IN THIS SPORT BACK THEN THAT MADE YOU FEEL IT WOULD GROW SO MUCH? "You see a lot of interest there and you see a lot of potential, and when you can get at the time 25,000-40,000 people to come and watch cars go around in a circle, you've gotta think that, 'Boy, if this is managed right it can grow.' Plus you can look back through history and see where we're at from where we started. You saw a scale of the growth from say the late 1940s or around 1950 to the mid-60s. That's only like 15-16 years, it seemed like a long time but it really wasn't that long and there had been a lot of growth. They'd gone from dirt tracks predominantly to a lot of paved race tracks, and when I started in 1970 they still ran some of the multi-week races, but then in 1971 is when they went to the fixed schedule where they only ran once a week."
NOW THAT SPEEDWEEKS ARE OVER, WHAT DID YOU LEARN HAVING TWO TEAMS FOR THE FIRST TIME? "I think we learned some areas we need to work on to improve both teams, but the positive side is I see an advantage to having two cars that we anticipated. From the ability to sit down, you've got something to compare to and you've got more people involved doing more different things you can learn from. We've got two contrasting driving styles at a lot of race tracks. Daytona is a little different situation because it's kind of a dog-eat-dog situation. A driver just has to kind of grit his teeth and bear with the situation. These other tracks I think the drivers talent can come out more."
DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK AT DAYTONA BETWEEN YOU AND KENNY IRWIN. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "The worst thing about the whole situation last week is Kenny is not getting to enjoy his best run as a Winston Cup driver. He did a tremendous job and put himself in a position to win the Daytona 500 and people aren't letting him enjoy that. He's having to answer questions about whether or not he hit his teammate. We did touch, yes, that did happen, but it was racing and it's as much my fault as anybody's. I put myself in a position for something like that to happen, so everything is fine between Kenny and I. He called me Monday to see if I was alright and to talk about it and I was fine with everything. I didn't blame him. I knew I had gotten tapped, but he just happened to be the one that was there and it was gonna happen whoever was there. Everything's fine between us. The two worst things that happened is Kenny hasn't been able to enjoy that and it took out 10 or 11 other race cars that were there trying to win just like we were."
EVEN THOUGH YOU'VE HAD SUCCESS AT DAYTONA, ARE YOU GLAD TO BE OUT OF THERE? "Yeah, I just told Jeff Gordon that if we had to race those things 30 times a year I might retire or something, I don't know. I'm glad to be here at Rockingham and get back to these other race tracks where handling comes into play and we can work on our car and make it better than somebody elses."
SO IS THIS WEEK NUMBER ONE FOR YOU? "Yeah, we gave him a 100-point lead on us here, but as I look at it that's only three-and-a-half points per race that I've gotta make up on Gordon, so we can catch him. We've gotta put that behind us. We had a good car and went there and tried to accomplish what we wanted to, it just didn't happen so we've come here and have finished second five out of six races here with this race team, so it would be nice to get into victory lane."
ARE YOU MORE HUNGRY NOW BEING DOWN BY 100 POINTS? "Yeah, I think we had that determination before, but we definitely are very determined now. We're not gonna let that get us down. The guys aren't down, I was at the shop yesterday talking to them and everybody was upbeat. We've got such a great race team, I mean they were all calling Sunday night and Monday making sure I was alright. That's how good of a program we have and how good the people are at Robert Yates Racing. That's what will make the difference before this year is out."
WILL THE RACE KIND OF SEPARATE THE HAVES AND HAVE NOTS? "It separates the teams, definitely. This is where you find out who has been working over the winter and whose programs are really on top. That's not to take away from anything that anybody accomplished at Daytona because you have to do a lot there, but when you get to these places handling comes in, how good of a guy do you have with the aero on the car to get the downforce that you need. With the bigger spoilers now that took a lot of that out. That was something that's gonna help a lot of people. It's probably gonna make for better racing, particularly here at Rockingham and Darlington where the tires go away so quickly. Now that we have the spoiler back on the car, it's gonna make for good racing with a lot more people in the mix. You can miss the setup a little bit and that spoiler will make up for a lot, so it should be interesting and it should be exciting for the fans."
WHAT WILL THE COOL WEATHER DO TO THE TRACK? "It makes the race track a little better. Obviously, this track is worn quite a bit so the cooler it is the better it'll be in that respect. It shouldn't wear the tires quite as bad, so it should be better racing. You'll have to work with the setup a little bit because it should be a tighter race track so that will allow you to run the car a little looser."
EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE PART OF A MULTI-CAR TEAM YOU AND KENNY ARE IN DIFFERENT SHOPS. IS IT A BENEFIT? "We're separate and everybody in this garage area is separate, even though you may relay information back and forth. We know everything they're doing and they know everything we're doing as far as the 28 goes. We work together, the engines come out of the same place and we are a team, we want to help each other, we want things to work. There are benefits there, but it's not a necessity. Where it's a benefit is being able to hire more specialize people, more engineers and things because we can do that with two budgets and good sponsorships. That's the advantage more so than what happens on the race track. You saw like Daytona last week there were a lot of two-car teams out there, but I didn't see anybody helping anybody else, so when it comes down to the race track it's every man for himself." WHAT HAS ALL THE MONEY IN SPONSORSHIP DONE FOR THE SPORT? "What it's done is make it a more competitive sport. I know there was an article in Sports Illustrated that we weren't too happy to see. It's unfortunate that somebody like that, they send him to a Winston Cup race or to report on a Winston Cup race because there are a lot of good people and the fans are tremendous in this sport. These are the people that buy his Sports Illustrated and I'm not sure they'll be doing that. We're happy with where our sport is, the companies we have involved. NASCAR and Bill France, the entire France family, has done a great job in getting us to this point, but it does take money to continue this, to continue the level of competition that we've grown accustomed to and the fans have grown accustomed to. It just makes for better racing. We have to be careful that we don't run the sponsors out, and we don't want to do that, but on the other hand, the reason they're in this is because of the competition." IF IT RAINS AND QUALIFYING CAN'T TAKE PLACE, WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE? "What we've gotta do now really is get situated and be thinking about if it rains the whole time we've gotta be ready to really have a good educated guess at a setup for race time because we may not see the race track again until they drop the green flag for the race. That's what Todd and I will be doing now is spending that time that we have talking about that. We have more spoiler here now than what we've had before, so there are a lot of things to take into consideration about what we do with our setup. We've finished second here five out of six races, but we haven't had this much spoiler in quite awhile, so we've gotta evaluate how that's gonna change."
JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEKEND? "I feel really good about it. We're really excited right now. I've probably got the best race car I've ever had here and, by far, I've got the best team I've ever had here. I've got a lot of support from Mobil 1 and going into this race we're confident, very confident about it. We tested here in January and had a great test, I feel real good about it, so we'll see what happens on Sunday."
YOU AND RUSTY WERE TOGETHER LATE IN THE DAYTONA 500. DOES THAT SHOW HOW STRONG YOU TWO ARE? "Oh yeah. I think we've proved week-in and week-out that there's not another multi-car team in the garage area that works together like Rusty and I work together. You see a lot of them that actually work against each other. You saw that last week a lot and that's not good. Last year, everybody kept waiting for us to split up and we never did. We just keep getting stronger and stronger and that's what makes the 2 car and the 12 car such a unique situation for us."
YOU CAN TAKE A LOT OF POSTIVES OUT OF DAYTONA, RIGHT? "Oh yeah. The good thing about this deal is that we've got a lot more Daytona 500s to go to yet. We ran great, ran strong, and proved that Rusty and I are as strong as we've ever been as teammates. We work together better than any other teams in the garage area and we've proved a lot to ourselves and our teams that we are here to stay and we're headed in the right direction this year. And coming off last weekend, even though neither one of us finished like we wanted to, we're real excited about getting to Rockingham. We feel good about it. We feel like we've got the best engine we've ever had, the best team and the best sponsor, so everything is just right for us. From a year ago to today we've come a long way, both of us have."
THE DAYTONA 500 IS ONLY ONE RACE, THERE'S STILL A LONG SEASON, RIGHT? "It's only one race and we very easily could have gotten down and lost momentum, but both of us are running really good here. Daytona is behind us. It's over with. All we can say is we shoulda, woulda, or coulda. That's all we can say right now. We didn't finish like we wanted to, but we're not gonna let that hold us back."
Rusty Wallace -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- WILL THE RAIN HAVE AN EFFECT ON SUNDAY? "I think the rules this year are a lot different than last year. I think everybody is thinking about the real tall rear spoiler and the front air dam, how that's gonna effect the handling of the car because the setup you had last year, I don't think you could run the same setup last year as this year. I know I couldn't. When I unloaded with my qualifying setup, the car was pretty far off. We had to do a lot of shock work to get it feeling better. Everybody is ready to qualify and we're relying on that practice session tomorrow to get everybody right. It's important to get practice tomorrow, that's for sure."
IS IT GOOD TO RACE AGAIN SO FAST AFTER LAST WEEK? "That is the good part. The disappointment I had last weekend, it's over, there's nothing I can do about it. You've gotta get over it because I'm right back here next weekend. It was tough getting that close to winning my first 500 and having a car that was that strong all day long. If I'd have lucked up and led four or five laps and had myself in position to win, that's one thing. Sure, I'd love to win it, but to sit there for 110 laps leading that thing and lose it with 10 laps to go, that's a tough one to take."
DO YOU FEEL YOUR MOVE WITH GORDON WAS A CASE OF DISCRETION BEING THE BETTER PART OF VALOR? "That's the only thing I could have done in my mind. I mean, it was a catch-22. I could have went down there and pushed the issue and he could have tried to get on the brakes to try and keep from hitting Ricky Rudd on the bottom. He could have got to sliding around. He could have got up in my quarter-panel, we both could have spun around and caused a 25-car pile-up. That would have been a bad deal or else he might have got down there running close to 200, couldn't stop and hit Ricky in the back. It would have been the biggest fire in the world and we wouldn't have needed that. A couple of people could have died on that one, so there's nothing I could do really. I mean, I still stand by what I did. I don't think it was the chicken way out, I think it was just the smartest way out and I hope everyone respects me for that."
SO YOU FEEL YOU DID THE RIGHT THING? "There's a line right down the center. A lot of competitors and crew guys have said, 'Man, I would have went for it. Whatever would have happened would have happened.' Then the media and sponsors, you guys thankfully don't think that way. I'm here at Rockingham. If I'd have gotten in a 25-car pile up I might not be here in Rockingham, so I mean, I've got my chance to win the 500 later on. At least I've finally got myself in the position with a car that's strong enough that I can look forward to the Firecracker 400, the Talladega and stuff, and I think now the rest of the competitors will be looking at that 2 car and the 12 car saying those cats were fast at Daytona and now we've gotta start paying attention to them. I feel good about that. I feel good that at Daytona every pit stop I made my guys got me out front except for one time. I feel good that we led a lot of laps, so that's the thing I am holding my head high about. As far as not causing a helluva wreck, I think that was good. I don't know what would have happened if I would have just stayed on the bottom of the race track and made him get out of the throttle. He might have been able to do that or not, but I tell you what, I watched that tape and I don't think it was gonna happen. I think he would have had to try to get back up on the race track and my quarter panel was there and I think we would have had a wreck."
WILL THIS RACE TELL US THE BEST TEAMS? "I think this is gonna have an indication, I really do. Although, don't base this race totally on the season because this is the first track we're going to now with the new rules and trust me, the rear spoiler and the air dam has a huge part on how the handling is, so I think you're gonna see a lot of guys struggling getting their cars worked out. I think everybody likes the newer rules, but it's gonna have to take some getting used to, especially for the guys who didn't come here and test." DOES THIS RAIN CHANGE YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS? "It doesn't change your thought process only because we finished all our practice. We finished everything and the guys had the cars on the line to go qualifying and so it really doesn't change it. Now, if we got an hour of practice in and the cars still aren't handling right or if some of the guys haven't done a qualifying run, you've got that on your mind that's one thing. I just came out of the NASCAR truck and I told them that I'm ready to just put it on the track and go qualify right now."
HOW ABOUT THE LINE HERE AT ROCKINGHAM? "The bottom of the race track is the very fastest way and here the last race I was able to stretch out the lead pretty good and when I put that last set of tires on while I'm leading the race, I said, 'Man, I've got enough rubber in these tires to just stay on the bottom' because every time they'd go to the top I'd just pull away from them. In fact, I almost got at one point a full straightaway ahead of the field one time, but I wore the tires really, really bad down there. I still think that's the fastest way around the race track, although you're probably gonna have to get up top to have some better tire wear, although we're working real hard tomorrow on some shocks to hopefully be a little nicer on the tires so they'll run longer."
WHAT TRACK IS THE WORST AT CHEWING UP TIRES? "I think the track that's bad a chewing up tires is definitely Darlington. I think all the competitors would agree with that, it really eats them up bad. That's the worse track. The one next worst is probably right here and it's because of the stone. The track people say that and they talk that if they're gonna re-pave they're gonna have to bring in a different kind of stone from a different area. Maybe truck some stuff in from Charlotte or something like that."
DID YOU WATCH THE TAPE OF THE RACE LAST WEEK? "I watched it the next day at my airplane hangar. I watched it and watched it and watched it and then I saw it on different television shows throughout the week and I kept looking and saying, 'You know, I don't really know what I could have done different.' I know when I got back on the race track, I know Jeff cleared Ricky by about two-feet, maybe a foot, so there wasn't any time left. We were carrying so much momentum and, geez it's the Daytona 500, I would have thought that he wouldn't have had enough room to get in alongside of me and knowing now, if I would have known there was that much room behind Jeff and Dale Earnhardt, I might have elected to fall in behind Gordon and try to pass later with Earnhardt behind me or something. But I couldn't see it, that millisecond. You can't make a decision that fast. When I was in the center the best thing to do is just stay truckin' and hope that somebody gets behind you and helps you draft and that didn't happen. In fact, I was in the center and they all fanned out bumper to bumper and I was sitting there in trouble at that point."
HOW TOUGH IS TO KIND OF BE THE MIDDLE OF THE OREO IN A RACE LIKE THAT? "It's real helpless. It's so helpless that Jeremy and I both talked yesterday. We were doing a photo session and he said, 'You know, there's 20 laps to go we're sitting there running. I get shuffled in the draft and then a couple laps later I lose a right front tire. I'm sitting there, you and I have led all day long, and I'm sitting there in my car after the race thinking what in the hell just happened.' And I'm just thinking to myself what just happened also."
DOES IT HURT? "Oh yeah. You can't feel sorry for nobody in this sport, trust me, because those suckers will stomp right on you. When you're down, that's good because they don't have so far to kick you. There's nobody feeling sorry for me. I've got some good friends of mine who feel sorry and some of you guys and that feels good, but it's a bad deal. It's a bad feeling to be that close in that big a race and then that happened. I bet I didn't say two words going home. I wasn't mad at nobody. I wasn't mad at myself, it was like damn, you know."
ABOUT THE LAST MOVE BY GORDON. "You can't say nothing bad. I would have probably attempted that same move myself. If I could have gotten underneath him I would have definitely tried the same move myself, I really would have. I would have hoped that if I was on the bottom and I was going wide open and a car that I was racing would have moved up and gave me some room too. I can't ever say anything bad about Jeff because he was aggressive with the move and it paid off for him and he won the race. I gave and I'm here, so I don't know."
WHAT ABOUT THE CALL OF NOT PITTING. ANY SECOND THOUGHTS? "Robin and I discussed that call and I just felt as though track position was real important, he did too. He asked me how the car was handling and I said, 'Perfect. It's not pushing the front, it's not loose. I feel great.' He said, 'Let's go for it' and I said, 'I'm with you.' Looking back on it right now I still think we made the right decision. If I would have saw him coming up after we left the tri-oval, I could have blocked him off and I could be sitting here as the winner of the 500, maybe. On the other hand, looking back on it now, when you have a full load of fuel, the back of the car is sitting lower to the ground because the spoiler is farther out of the air, so you have a lower co-efficient of drag and the car is gonna run faster in the straightaway. If anybody's ever driven a go-kart when you turn the steering wheel it reacts very fast, but when you get the tires worn and you turn, it turns but it's got a slower reaction time. So if I had new tires, it probably would have reacted quicker, I could have made more aggressive moves and the fuel in the back would have kept the car running lower, so if you're asking me would I change my strategy again now looking back, yeah, I would have pitted. At that particular point it wasn't even a consideration and if I would have been able to block them off it might still not even be a consideration."