Thursday, April 15, 1999. Martinsville Speedway. Goody's Body Pain 500. Chevy notes, quotes. BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Hamilton spoke to juniors and seniors on Thursday at Martinsville High School. He...
Thursday, April 15, 1999. Martinsville Speedway. Goody's Body Pain 500. Chevy notes, quotes.
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Hamilton spoke to juniors and seniors on Thursday at Martinsville High School. He also taped an interview with Jason Muehleck, an 18-year-old senior with the Mavahi News. Here is a portion of that interview that the student body will have an opportunity to see and hear on Friday.
HOW DID YOU START RACING? "My father and grandfather built race cars for a lot of people. I was in the shop all the time, so racing was in my blood because I was around it. When I got to be 18 years old, I built a car, then I built two cars and I had a driver. Other people don't take care of your equipment like you would, so he tore up a lot of stuff and the very next year I started driving myself. I got to be pretty competitive at the local race tracks and it had a snowball effect."
IS IT POSSIBLE TO RACE OR BREAK INTO RACING WITHOUT A SPONSOR? "It's possible to race without a sponsor. There's an old saying if you want to make a million dollars in racing, you can spend 10 million. There's not a lot of profit in it unless you have a sponsor. As far as contributions with what Kodak does, we definitely have plenty of Kodak MAX film. Most of your sponsors are in the range of $5-$7 million a year. It takes every bit of it, plus you get a lot of free products from fan belt companies, Goodyear, Unocal. As you get a lot of associate sponsors, you see a lot of decals and stickers on the fenders of the cars. You start adding all that up and you've got another million and a half or two million dollars a year in product that you didn't have to take out of pocket. It's a necessity in the long run if you're going to be in this sport that you have a corporate sponsor."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK AND WHY? "I like Martinsville. Martinsville is a driver's track. You have to be aggressive there, but you have to use a lot of race car but not a lot of brake. That's tough to split down the middle. In order to use a lot of race car, you've got to use a lot of brake. It's a real tough mental situation to run 500 miles here and not use a lot of brake. You've got to take care of the motor and not over-rev it. You've got to take care of the rear-end gear. You've got to take care of the heating problem you have with the radiator. It's a pretty conscious race track. You've got to stay on top of it all the time. I like this place, and I love Charlotte. I'm more in favor of the high-banked, high-speed race tracks, but I've always fared well on the flat race tracks, so Martinsville is definitely one of my favorites as far as flat tracks go."
DISCUSS PIT STOPS "When you come to Martinsville, especially with the new pit road, your pit stops have got to be on. As far as practice, we haven't been good this year on pit stops, so they practice three times a day. Three hours a day they practice and they do anywhere from 10-12 pit stops each hour. It's hard on them guys right now because we are a little bit behind, but it's funny we can say we're behind and we're turning 17 and a half or 18-second pit stops -- four tires and 22 gallons of gas, cleaning the windshield and whatever other adjustments we have, but in order for us to be as good as Jeff Gordon and those guys, they're doing it in 16.50, so we're consistently about three-quarter of a second off and we're working hard to get that."
WHO WOULD YOU PICK TO DRIVE YOUR CAR AND WHY? "I've have to pick my son (Bobby Hamilton Jr.). He's breaking into the Busch Grand National ranks right now. If I had that choice. If a sponsor wanted a driver who had a lot of experience, where else could you go? You'd get Jeff Gordon if you could. I don't think you could ever do that, but that's what any car owner would want."
DISCUSS NEW PIT CONFIGURATION AT MARTINSVILLE "I like it better because before if you qualified bad, you were on the back stretch and you lost spots. Right now, the way it is, I don't think you're going to lose that much. Under green, you might lose an extra lap or something like that and you might not. If you have to pit under green and nobody else does, you're done anyhow at a place like that because track position means so much."
HOW MANY NEW CARS DO YOU BUILD EACH YEAR? "We build about five or six cars a year, but it always comes down to I don't use more than three or four cars a year anyhow, except for road courses and superspeedways, so I always end up having a favorite race car. What you do these days, you build a car as light as possible and keep a good body on it and a lot of downforce on it on all the open race tracks."
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DRIVER? "Right off the bat, you've got to handle yourself well with the media. Corporate America is looking at the drivers all the time, so you've got to be able to participate in what they want and do a good job at it. That seems to be the biggest thing these days, more than driving ability. It's nice if you can drive and win races to go along with all that. That's what makes it work, so it's all the above. Be competitive, run up front, lead races, get TV time, speak well for your sponsors and do a good job in the race."
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-RACE RITUALS? "No, I don't even pay any attention to that stuff. Some race mornings, I'm real big on wanting some pasta or something like that, depending on the heat, or baked chicken or something like that, but I'm hungry all the time. My only thing on race morning is what I want to eat and what's going to be best for me as far as the heat or a cool day or something like that."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PARTY WITH US AT THE AFTER-PROM PARTY? "I'm going to leave the partying to you youngsters. Ya'll can handle it a lot better. I'm 41 years old now, and it doesn't sit well with me. I have to eat well all the time. Racing will give you ulcers. I can't stand the little punches you might be drinking, so I'm going to leave all that up to ya'll."
NOTE: Selected comments from Hamilton addressing the Martinsville High School juniors and seniors at an open assembly on Thursday at the school.
"I didn't finish school. I wish I had. I was fortunate enough to have a dream, and I chased it. I make a lot of money now doing something I love to do, and that's no different than any of ya'll can do. If you've got anything in mind out there you want to do in the future, stick to it. It can be done. I'm proof of that. I'm a millionaire now. I'm a red-neck millionaire, but I'm a millionaire."
HAMILTON ANSWERS QUESTIONS FROM STUDENTS "It (new pit road at Martinsville) is going to help when you pit under caution because you won't lose as many spots being on the back straightaway. It might hurt a little bit pitting under green, but this is a short track. You have no business pitting out of sync unless you have a flat tire or something like that. It's going to be better for us."
"The biggest problem (for short tracks) is the seating capacity. We need 120,000-150,000 seating capacity to do what we do. Bristol was able to build up. Honestly, I think we always need the Martinsvilles, the Hickorys, the places like that because that's where it started, and they actually put on better races than Texas does because you can't race. I think the short tracks we have have got a big future with us because they were able to build the seating capacity up. In my eyes, I hope we're able to keep the short tracks around."
"I started racing when I was 17 years old. I really got back into it when I was 28 and I've been racing from then on. I started in Nashville, Tenn., at Nashville Motor Speedway. I'm really proud of that race track. Mike Alexander came from there, Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Means, a lot of good race car drivers came from there. It's produced a big quantity of drivers."
"I don't necessarily hate (Jeff Gordon). I get tired of seeing him win all the time. The same people booing him are the same people standing at his souvenir rig buying his T-shirts. They get tired of seeing the same person win all the time. That's what's made our sport what it is today, the competitive spirit of the sport, different people winning. We'll see if we can take care of that."
"(The temperature inside a race car) on a cool day is about 132 degrees. At Martinsville, the fall race here, it was 162 degrees inside the car. I lost 13 pounds in the race, so it's a pretty good workout."
COMMENT ON RESTRICTOR PLATES. "I don't like them. I think they suck. The reason we're on restrictor plates is more of a safety for the race fan. Of course, it's a safety factor for the drivers, too. What happens is, these cars are like airplanes. At 192 mph, they're ready to fly. When they get turned around backwards, they actually get in the air. We've got 430 horsepower. Every five horsepower is two mph. If we take the restrictor plate off, it's 735 hp. Throw the drag factor in, and we're looking at speeds of Thursday, 240 mph. Not only would we fly, but we'd land in the top of the grandstands. That's what we've got to be real careful with."
MOST MEMORABLE WRECK "I guess I was running at Highland Rim Speedway when I was about 24 years old. I had a race car driver that was mad at his wife and he was drinking. He was mad at his wife, so he wrecked me and I hit the end of a wall. That's as straight as my arm will go because of it. I got a crack in my left foot and a crack in my right knee. It put me out of business for about three months. As ironic as it may seem, it was on a quarter-mile race track running about 80 mph, but to this day, I haven't hit as hard as I did that day."
DO YOU CONSIDER RACING A SPORT? DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ATHLETE? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT DRIVING IN A SERIES SPONSORED BY A CIGARETTE COMPANY? "I consider it a sport. When the numbers come through, I think you'll see we draw more attendance than any sport in the world. We fight the stick and ball thing, and I don't have any problem with that because that's a great sport, too. As far as being an athlete, we have to sit in a confined area for four hours in 170-degree heat. We have to work out. We have to eat right. Granted, we don't have to run 10 miles, but I want to tell you something. I've seen some of the best in our business have to get drug out (of the car) like a limber rag and have oxygen shot to them, so it's pretty tough. I don't smoke. I don't like it. Just because I don't smoke, I haven't had anyone from R.J. Reynolds twisting my arm and telling me I had to smoke. That's the way I look at it, and when this stuff first came up, I watched stuff like hockey on TV and I'd see all kinds of stuff, so it's out there. It's corporate America. A lot of people don't like it, but I'll guarantee you if Winston ever goes away and we have the McDonald's Cup, somebody is going to start complaining about cheeseburgers. That's just the way it is."
WERE YOU IN THE MOVIE THE DAYS OF THUNDER? "I drove the No. 51 Exxon car in the Days of Thunder. It paid good money, too. It was fun."
WHY IS JEFF GORDON'S CHEVY SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE REST? "It's because of a man named Ray Evernham."
DO YOU GET MANY SPEEDING TICKETS? "I got one in Abingdon, Va., the other day for running 57 in a 55 mph speed zone. I took it because I figured that man was more of a football fan than he was a racing fan." DO YOU HAVE THE SAME CAR FOR MARTINSVILLE THAT YOU WON WITH LAST YEAR, AND DO YOU TEST AT MARTINSVILLE? "I've got the same car we won with here, and I've never tested here except when I was with the 43 car. It's usually the same setup. It'll be the same cars, too. The 24 car, the 2 car, us. About five cars will be dominant."
Hamilton address media at Martinsville Speedway.
"You know what I like about it? (new pit road). I don't care how it works. Somebody put the effort forth to fix it. We've got a problem. If this race track can fix it, these other guys can fix it. We've got a small facility here, and they fixed it. They put the effort forth to fix it. We go through this stuff every year to make the cars equal and doing this to make it equal and X amount of people across the wall for pit stops. We're totally unequal when we have two pit roads, and there's nothing we can do about it besides NASCAR made the best choice in the world that when they drop us off they speed the pace car up and get around there as quick as possible, but you're still behind. It's going to be the best it's ever been under the yellow flag and under green flag it's going to cost you. You look at this and wonder about it, but go to Phoenix. It's identical, and it's identical to the way North Wilkesboro was. The only thing I see here that concerns me about it, it's going to look different when you drive off into the corner. When you drive this place, you look ahead because of the curve, and that wall blocks it a little bit. It'll put everybody on their toes again. It's like going to a road course and changing it every year, making it different. It's not going to hinder you, but it's going to be different when we first all go out.
"It (win at Martinsville last year) was real big for my team. I really enjoy this race track, and I have not a clue one why I run good here, but I ran good here my rookie year. When I got with the 43 car, I really ran good here and really learned a lot and led a lot of laps here. When me and Larry McClure first talked, he said, 'we never do good on short tracks. If you'll help me win a short track race, then I'll promise you a superspeedway win.'
"We went to Greenville-Pickens and tested, and I said, 'let's load the car up. I think we're good for Martinsville.' We unloaded off the truck, and we were the fastest car here, all day long. We went out and sat on the pole. I was worried about Rusty all day because he's good at pulling one out of his tail, but he was the man we had to race all day. It was one of those days we couldn't do anything wrong. It was a lot of battling, but it meant more to the race team than it did for myself. I'll take a win anywhere. I really enjoyed winning here because it's such a tough place to win at. You have to take care of your motor. You have to take care of your brakes, and you have to keep the nose on the car. That's 180 degrees out of what you can do here. You're not supposed to be able to do that. After 500 laps here, most of the time the brakes are supposed to be burned up, the nose is supposed to be torn up and the motor blown up. To do all that, it makes you feel good to know that you played a big part in it.
"Nashville is a real slick race track. This place, even though the concrete is probably the best thing you can do at any race track, you get a lot of forward bite up off the corners, but the minute your tires hit the asphalt, it spins 'em up again. You have to have a lot of finesse here, and I think I was able to bring a lot of that through the Nashville ranks with me.
"We've got the same car for this race. I don't think we ever ran it anywhere else. We took it for a backup, but it was painted black on the inside and it's painted gray on the inside now to keep the heat down in it. We liked to melted in the fall race. Everybody did. I carried my super truck to Greenville and tested, but we didn't even carry the Winston Cup car. We were pressed for time. Once you get a good setup here, for the last four years, I've run virtually the same setup for every race. Your superspeedways are a lot alike and Bristol is a lot alike. I think that's the beauty part of this concrete. Dover is getting that way. It's so consistent. You don't have to worry about it changing. So many race tracks I wish were that way. I think this place (Martinsville) has set the standard for the way it should be. When Bristol and Dover did what they did, it might not be the best thing in the world, but we don't have to worry about the setup when we come back. We'll go out in the morning in the trucks and you'll say, 'OK, it's going to be slick for 30 minutes.' It's going to pack rubber down, and we're going to go. It's the same every time. It's just like we got rained out in the spring race here last year and we had to run on that Monday. At the start of that race, we had to run about 30 minutes and she came around and we took off then.
"I think the pole sitter will want that one (No. 1 pit) and the second-place guy will want that one (No. 12 pit, old No. 1). I think it depends on who gets the pole. We've got some guys who run good here, and if they pit in front of you, they'll throw tires out in front of you and park crossways and stuff. They know all the tricks of the trade.
"Look at the way the competition is in this series. I might not ever win another race in this series. I might win this one hands down again. That's just the way it is. You never know. As a team, we come back with the best stuff we've got for that race track and go after it and see what happens.
"You have to really handle good here. The motor has to pull good, but then you have to take care of brakes. The more you handle, the more the motor runs good here, the more you're affecting the brakes. It's like everything works against each other, so as a driver you have to take those three areas and finesse and work with it and try to make every bit of it work for you in the race.
"They've got the six and a half-inch spoiler on the cars now and three and a half-inch valence. We didn't have that last year, but usually on a track this small, it'll just play a small role. The beauty about coming from a place like Bristol, you've still got that speed built in. You go out at this place and you don't feel that fast. That washes away after the first 20 minutes and you're right back in the Martinsville mode.
"We've always been good at Martinsville. I don't think I've ever been bad, so we'd like to win the race again. If something happens and you don't, you pretty much know you're going to have a good finish, if you finish. That's the beauty part of being here.
"We expected a little better season so far. What really hurt us was when I wrecked at Daytona. We probably had a fifth or sixth-place car there. That hurt a lot. Everything else has been about the way I thought it would be. We were a little off at Bristol. We should have been better, but the finishing average is still better than last year. The qualifying deal is what I've been pretty satisfied with. We haven't taken any provisionals this year and last year we had already taken three or four.
"I'd say the car is 80 percent of the battle at Martinsville. I might have had a certain way of getting around the race track as far as when to use the brakes or not to use the brakes, but we just had a good car here last year. It's a driver's track. If you don't over-rev the motor and take care of the brakes and keep the nose on the car, you'll be fine. It's the toughest place in the world to do those three things for 500 laps."