Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, and >b?Mike Ford Part 2 of 2 Q: Ray, you developed two teams, one as a crew chief, one as an owner. Do you see a turning point in this team that went from the building to the competitive? Does it parallel anything at...
Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, and >b?Mike Ford
Part 2 of 2
Q: Ray, you developed two teams, one as a crew chief, one as an owner. Do you see a turning point in this team that went from the building to the competitive? Does it parallel anything at Hendrick's?
Evernham: I built a team when I built the 24. I feel like I'm building an organization now; Mike is building a team. You know, a turning point for them really, you know, at the end of last year when they really started to run good, Mike had to get his guys together, they had some setbacks, but he went into this winter with a plan about how he was going to approach the season. He's very intense, which I like, because that's the way I used to be (laughter). He's very methodical. He sticks to his guns. So, you know, a team's got to be built around leadership. Mike has some great guys on his team, but he's matured very much as a great leader. I don't know that it parallels anything at Hendrick. I don't really compare it to that. Mike does differently than I did them. Again, the things I think makes those guys successful now is the fact that Mike respects Bill, and all the guys on the team know that Bill Elliott is the best driver in their car on Sunday. They've got the best guy. They work, they work hard together. I think any team that's successful, that parallels a lot of championship organizations. But, you know, it wasn't a formula like we said, "OK, we're going to make it like Hendrick, we want to make it like everyone in motorsports." With Dodge being new, this is an organization, and Mike's got a group of young guys, they're going to do things in a different way.
Elliott: Mike, tell me where you were at when I won the championship in '88.
Ford: I was still in high school (laughter).
Q: Bill, this is supposed to be a year where the young guys were going to come, win the Brickyard 400. All these guys have been doing it all season. What does it say when you got a guy out there that's going to turn 47 in October being chased by a guy who is going to turn 46 in a couple weeks?
Elliott: Well, you know, Rusty had a good pace. I think had he put on four tires and made a few more adjustments, he would have been hard to beat there at the end. But that's what it's all about. I think, looking at the young guys, we're going ... they're going to be a great part of this sport in the near future. That's the things that we've got to look at. You know, I still want to make my mark while I'm here. Fortunately enough, Ray, Mike, all the guys that put some excellent equipment under mere me, made some good decisions both collectively together here as a group. As Ray said, it's all about believing in each other. For whatever reason, we have really (inaudible) together as a race team. I don't know how to explain that. Mike can read me before I ever say anything. You know, he knows what to do with the race car.
Q: Bill, when you put the tires on with 20 or so to go, you dropped back to about fifth, just describe coming back up through there, making the pass for the lead.
Elliott: Well, every lap you run becomes a little bit tougher. You get a little more time on your tires. And I knew it was going to be a struggle. You know, the guys give me some good breaks there, especially Tony. I was able to run Rusty down. Just kept working him, kept working him. I didn't know if I was going to pass him or not. The places I was good, he was good enough. The places I needed to be better, he was real good. I just kept working him. He kind of slipped getting into Turn 1. That let me get pretty close to his bumper. I knew he made a slip in turn two. I was able to get up under him.
Q: Mike, did you see a truck go out to pick up that debris with six laps to go?
Ford: No, I really didn't see the caution or the debris that was on the racetrack. Just tried to focus. If there's anything on our end we could do, kind of keep Bill informed on what's happening, how many laps there were to go, keep our eye on the trophy there.
Elliott: There was a piece of rubber up in Turn 2. It was kind of up out of the groove. I didn't see the caution come out (laughter). I knew I had my work cut out for me the last four laps because you never know. You go down to one corner, make a slip, make a wrong move. Rusty's pace was pretty good on a short run. All it takes is a couple guys getting a run on you, you miss a shift, make one little mistake, they're going to be all over you.
Q: Ray, what are some of the specific things you saw Bill do say in '98 or '99 that made you think, "He's the guy I want driving my race car?"
Evernham: I used to talk when I was with Jeff. Bill would come over and talk to me about setups. Bill and I worked together in IROC. I knew how good he was really from IROC. We would just talk. I knew from talking ... when you talk to a driver, you can pretty much tell whether that guy is on the ball or what he feels. Bill and I talked about a lot of setups and things like that. Jeff Gordon and I actually had some conversations about Bill. There were times in that McDonald's car, Bill I remember one time at Michigan, I guess he was putting a whooping on us. I don't know if he broke or what. "Bill is pretty frisky today." Jeff said, "That guy's good." When I was leaving to start this deal, I talked to Jeff Gordon a lot. He said, "Look, you need to get that guy." You know, Bill had told me a little bit about his sponsor problems and everything, so actually before this whole thing went down, Bill knew before anybody. I went in and said, "Look, something big is about to happen. I want to you come drive for me." I was really very, very fortunate enough to get him. But, you know, there's just certain things that great drivers do, like come through on clutches like today was a real big day. There were some opportunities there that he had to execute things perfectly, like the pass he executed last week, working Rusty and passing him at the right time, handling, getting a good jump on that restart. Great drivers can do things like that. When you have the big game, that's when those guys come through.
Q: Bill, one of the things we always ask guys who grew up in stock cars in the southeast is about Indianapolis. How long does it seem distance-wise from the hills of north Georgia to racing a place like this and winning at a track with so much history?
Elliott: Well, you know, I look back on when I started. When I was in Winston Cup in the '70s, my dad didn't have the money to do it. We didn't have the money to do it. I keep telling the story, we went and bought used tires from whoever, Jay helped me on the side, I gave him a little money, a hundred dollars here and there. You know, to ever go from there ... to go through the steps and the road I followed to this point is mind-boggling. You'd have to live it to understand it. The ups and downs, the heartaches, the years of satisfaction from winning, the years of disheartening things that's happened on the racetrack, didn't seem like you could buy a race. You know, to come here and have such a great team like this around you and how much I appreciate these guys and how much effort they put behind me, how good that makes me feel on the racetrack. You know, I keep saying that over and over again, but, you know, I think that's what makes me the proudest of all at accomplishments I've done, to have a group of people working as well together as what we have. And that to me, as I said the other day, it's 99 percent of the game.
Q: Bill, you won that first million-dollar check, you became known as Million Dollar Bill. Would you like to be known now as Brickyard Bill?
Elliott: I'd like to be another brick in the wall. I kept saying that earlier (laughter). You know, at its point in time, the competition went like it went today. A lot of competition back then, I can recall that race like it was yesterday. Earnhardt ran well, Gant ran well, Cale ran well. They all had an opportunity to win. Some misfortune happened at some point during the day. The last one was Cale breaking a power steering line going into turn three. I passed him. Caution came out. I held him off for the last few laps. There was just as many people ... I think there was more people wanting to beat me than the people wanting to see me win at that point in time. You know, it all has its point in time. One of these days I can sit back in my rocker and reflect on, you know, each win and what it meant at a particular time. I mean, last week was a great win for this race team. It was a crucial win for this race team. It brought the momentum into this weekend. It brought the confidence in this race team, that we could come here and come out of here victorious Sunday afternoon. That's the things you can't put a price on. Is just like that commercial, that's priceless at the end of the day. That momentum is as much an important part of this sport, you couldn't put a value on it. I think to come here today and to win and achieve this goal is a fantastic victory not only for myself, but this race team.
Q: When we were coming down, we heard the fans. They were screaming, "Awesome Bill." What does that do to your ego, psyche, after having that type of accomplishment?
Elliott: You know, I've been trying to stay on an even keel. I've been trying to focus totally on racing, forget about the rest of the stuff. As I alluded to earlier, you know, I don't want to run off and do a bunch of commercials, I don't want to do movies. I want to be right here. I want to run this race team to the best of my ability. I want to be 100-percent focused on this race team. I feel like with 100-percent focus that Mike Ford and all the guys do, they deserve 100-percent focus out of me.
Q: You were kind of emotional there at the end of the race. Wondering where all this ranks for you? What point did you think that you were at a level that you could do this?
Evernham: You know, that's kind of not like me. I don't know where all that came from. It's been a lot of trial and tribulation. Quite honestly, there were a lot of people that said, when I left Hendrick and the 24, that I was never going to win again, that I couldn't accomplish this. That was part of it. And, again, you know, knowing how much it meant to Bill and to Mike. You see Chase sitting up here. Chase got to go to Victory Lane for the first time with Bill and last time at Pocono. I know how much that means because my son got to go to Pocono. I think all those things hit you at once. Knowing you haven't been a car owner that long, I've been fortunate enough or blessed enough to get in a position that you find people like Bill Elliott and Mike Ford, sponsors that believe in you enough to say, "OK, here, we believe you can get this done." Then when it starts to happen, you get over a hump with a major accomplishment like this, I think it overcame me a little bit. I didn't know what to say. I think for the first time in my life I was speechless (laughter).
Q: Bill, even in the years when you were struggling, you always seemed to run well here. What is it about this track, why you could always come up here and get a top five, a good run like that?
Elliott: You know, that's what I said. Even when I ran my own deal in the McDonald's car, I came up here and led a lot of laps, but I never could come get to Victory Lane. I don't know. It's just been a great racetrack for me. I've had a knack of getting around this racetrack. I've qualified well here nearly every time. I don't know what it is about it. My driving style and adaptability to this pick event, and we got the car right today. All those runs that we made. I told Mike, we were testing, "How many more runs do we have to do?" It was using me up. I went home that night, I didn't sleep at all that Tuesday night we left from all the testing. But that's a part of it. I needed to learn more. I needed to give them more information. They needed to learn more information. It seems like for all the stuff they're doing now, it seems like I've been able to adapt to what they've been giving me real well, been able to read it and turn and give that input back to them, then they've turned around and give it back to the car and made it faster.
Q: Mike, you get the last word. When Robert Yates won the championship as a car owner, he said to the journalists, "You don't know what it means to walk in the garage as a champion." As a crew chief now, you've put together a team, you whooped them into shape, won two races in a row. What does it mean to walk into the garage area as a steadily winning crew chief?
Ford: I think the first thing it does for you, being young, not being a crew chief over a number of years, is it gives you confidence. You know, we started this race team at the beginning of last year. We set a goal of getting to the top 15 in points. We accomplished that in our first year, which was a large hurdle for us. But the most important thing was by the end of the year, we could get our race cars built and get to a competitive level. That gave us a small taste of what we needed to do coming into this year to really be competitive. You know, through rule changes over the winter and early part of the year, we really couldn't put everything together because we were working more on getting to the racetrack rather than learning how to go fast. Right around the Charlotte point of this year, we got our race cars in very good shape. Through engineering, like I say, these guys have mentioned other names, Derek Jones, Ken Francis, Vince, we've all been able to collect our thoughts and think about what we're trying to learn and be able to put a price on certain projects that we want to work on. We've been able to do that since, say, the Charlotte point of this year. You know, a lot of those projects are starting to pay dividends right now. We're becoming more competitive. Kind of use Pocono as a test last week for coming here. There were a few things we wanted to answer leaving the Indy test. We answered some of those at Pocono. We were able to take that a step further. I'd say the biggest thing it does, not only for the crew chief, but for the race team, it gives you confidence as a young team, that you can go out there on pit road and win a race.
Moderator: Bill led 93 laps. That pushes his Brickyard total laps led to 149 in his nine-year Brickyard history. He's the first winner of this race to start on the front row. Bill, Ray, Mike, congratulations.
Winning team press conference, part I