GM Racing Daytona Test January 15, 2003 Interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Part 2 of 2 DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: WITH LAST YEAR'S CONTRACT SPECULATIONS ABOUT STEVE PARK AND MICHAEL WALTRIP, WHAT ARE YOUR ...
January 15, 2003
Interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Part 2 of 2
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
WITH LAST YEAR'S CONTRACT SPECULATIONS ABOUT STEVE PARK AND MICHAEL WALTRIP, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THOSE TEAMS? "It's not really a big secret that this is a make or break year for Steve (Park). We put a lot of thought about what to do there. It was a real tough decision. We felt we needed to give Steve a good opportunity this year and I think we have put good people in position to really make a difference on that team. The team morale was really awful at the end of the season last year. There was just a lot of bad feelings going back and forth among the guys.
"Now that's changed tremendously. Hopefully this season he can get some good finishes and get some confidence back and the guys get some confidence in him. They're doing good now, but the best medicine is a good finish and good runs and that's what they need. Hopefully we won't have to worry about making those decisions again. We signed a *two-year contract and hopefully he's going to give us a good reason to extend that.
*NOTE: Steve Park was in the midst of a two-year contract 2001-2002 when he was hurt. That contract was extended for an additional year -- to the end of 2003.
"With Michael (Waltrip), he changed his attitude quite a bit. I don't really know what was affecting their performance on the race track, but it changed dramatically last year and they got some good runs in. They kind of faltered a little at the end of the season again, but his attitude has changed tremendously. That was the biggest thing with him - trying to get him to be more cooperative, I guess, and be by the shop more often and work with the guys. I've seen a big change in Michael.
"Dad was always around to keep him straight before and now there's nobody to keep him straight so he gets out of control every once in a while. He's such a good guy and so funny. He's marketable and is really good for our sponsors. He keeps the money coming back every year, which is very important. I know he wants to run really good this year. They've been testing and building cars and Michael has really been plugging in. I'm expecting him to do well."
HAVE YOU STRAIGHTENED OUT YOUR COMMUNICATIONS PROBLEMS AND WHO IS IN CHARGE? "Tony (Eury) Sr. is in charge. The thing was that I'd come into the pits and have to tell them both what the car was doing. They would get together and have either the same opinion or a difference of opinion. That got really old really fast doing it that way. Sometimes we would clash or I wouldn't tell them the same story. Or, I'd tell one more than the other. And when we didn't run good, the easiest thing to point at was the lack of communication between me and Jr. or me and Sr. or Jr. and Sr. or whatever.
"So at the middle of the season last year, once I got my head straightened out and told Tony Jr. and I was just going to talk to him. I said I was going to come into the pits and the garage and tell him what the car was doing. He'd get all the information and he and his dad can make all the decisions. Or, he could sit back and watch us make our own decisions and he could kick us over this way (or that way) if we started getting off track. That started working really good. We started making some big gains and started running better. The communication was better.
"Me and Tony Jr. - I don't know how many times I'm going to have to tell you all this - but we've fought like brothers since we was little kids. We always will. It's funny because when we get new people that come into work, they ask the other guys - they'll say, 'Man, is it always like this?' That's just how we are. I love him to death and that's why we fight. We expect a lot out of each other. He's going to be the greatest one day and if he's not, I'm going to be on his ass the whole way until he is. He feels the same way about me. We're still young, too, and really impressionable. We are really affected by what people's opinions are of us and our team. We feel a lot of pressure to be what we're expected to be. He feels a lot of times like he carries a lot more responsibility than he really should feel like. I never really realized that until last year that he was taking a lot of the poor runs and stuff home with him and letting it bother him. But the older we get, the better we get at getting along and being more professional.
"When I worked on Late Models, we were putting the decal on the hood one night. And there were five guys in there helping me. By the time I got done with that decal and looked up, there wasn't nobody in the shop. I done run them all out - cussing at them and everything.
"And so you learn as you go to be a people person and how to get people to help you and how to work with people. But Tony Sr. is in charge and he's always going to be the head of the house. I trust him to keep me and Tony Jr. out of trouble. I feel like if we didn't have Tony Sr. at the race track, Tony Jr. and I would have some good runs but a lot of times we would go down the wrong road and never figure it out to turn ourselves around. He's good to have around just to keep us in line. But he is letting Tony Jr. do more and more. I think he knows that that day is going to come when Tony Jr. is going to be a crew chief. And I want him to be my crew chief - I don't want him to go somewhere else and work. I think Tony Sr. said he's probably got maybe three, four, or five years on the road."
ON ATTITUDE CHANGES: "I learned a lot last year. When I would go to Bristol or Martinsville or Darlington with a bad attitude, we'd run bad. Everything I expected (to happen) happened. And it was hard because I had no reason to go into Bristol or Martinsville last year with a good attitude. I didn't have any past luck there in the Winston Cup Series and I didn't foresee us hitting on some magical set-ups on both them tracks. But we went out and tested and really worked hard at it. I got to feeling a little more confident. I just really buckled down to try and do better. I'm seeing improvements and I'm seeing where my attitude has a big affect on that. I think if I could just get that feeling about Rockingham, we'd probably have them all on the same page (laughs).
"But I used to hate going to certain places and would go there with a bad attitude and run bad. When you carry that bad attitude into that first practice, it spreads like a virus through the team. They see it and they know you're not happy and not wanting to be there. It just makes for a long weekend. I think I changed that last year and we got some good runs at places we hadn't expected. That's given us more inspiration to try to stab at the championship this year and feel like we can be a contender if we can just get through certain places where we don't do well at. The road courses are our Achilles' heel, I think.
"Getting this new body figured out on the speedway is going to be a little bit of a handicap for us with the new body. Hopefully the car will draft well and all that. But I won't be surprised if we're not as strong as we have been on the plate races. We had really gotten that other body figured out. I could just tell. This is just like starting over. It's just like it was when we were rookies. Tony Jr. has always been a whiz with the bodies for the speedways. Daddy on five in a row here with them boys in the Busch Series. So, I think we'll get it figured out after a race or two. We're going to test at Sears Point and hopefully that will benefit us a little bit. We went to Virginia three times last year testing that road course. We're trying as hard as we can to get good at those road course tracks. Once we get good there and we can at least get a top 20 finish out of the deal, we will be all right to make it up the rest of the year."
ON FINDING A BALANCE BETWEEN HIS CONTRACT AND SPONSOR APPEARANCES, ETC.: "I talked to Dale Jarrett last year about that and told him I was a pioneer and that I was giving back to the sport. Since drivers are contract labor, my primary focus is the team and driving for the team. So I sell my services as a driver to the team so I allot the team 40 appearances for whoever or whatever. That's all they get. I had to put a cap on it because there was no control. Nobody had a hold of the reigns. They could just sign and do and bring everybody in that they wanted to.
"I just didn't want to give away every free day I had. No I've got control of it. We cut my appearances from last year in half (for this year). That's going to help me a lot. Race car drivers can race on into their 50's and still be competitive. But it's the stuff off the track that drives you away from the sport. I don't want to get burned out before it's my time. I'm just trying to get control of it. Maybe that'll be the future of contracts and I can be credited for it."
DOES THIS COUNT AS AN APPEARANCE? "No (laughs). Anything at the track doesn't count."
HAVE YOU SIGNED YOUR CONTRACT? "Me and my sister turned in our proposal of theirs (contract). It's kind of revised from what they give us. They have yet to sign their end of it. Once they sign their end, I'll sign my end. Right now, I'm working it as five years. We were going to go lifetime, but you never know. The plane could crash into the mountain any day (so to speak)."
THIS NEGOTIATION IS WITH DEI, RIGHT? "Yeah, it's just me and Ty (Norris) and Teresa (Earnhardt) working right now. And like I said, the ball is right now in their court, basically. I haven't seen them lobbing it up to pass it to me."
IS THE BUD DEAL GOOD? "Yeah, the Bud deal's good. They're wanting to extend their end of it, but they're waiting on me to be signed for good so they can get their eggs in their basket, I guess."
IS YOUR SISTER, KELLY, ACTING AS YOUR AGENT IN THIS? "Not really. She runs my company, JR Motorsports, and so I instill a lot of trust and dependability on her to help me out because she's pretty smart about this stuff. And let's fact it, I'm probably not too experienced in it. I would have probably let them walk off with the bank (laughs)."
HOW LONG HAS DEI HAD YOUR CONTRACT PROPOSAL? "Oh, they've had it for about three weeks now. I don't know what the hold up is."
SO, YOU'RE ESSENTIALLY DRIVING AS A FREE AGENT RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, I guess you could say (that). A free agent. (laughs). You guys aren't helping (laughs).