Michael Waltrip, Jim Smith interview

Tuesday, June 27, 2000. Highlights of NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Team Monte Carlo driver Michael Waltrip and team co-owner Jim Smith. MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "It's always exciting to go to...

Tuesday, June 27, 2000. Highlights of NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Team Monte Carlo driver Michael Waltrip and team co-owner Jim Smith.

MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "It's always exciting to go to Daytona. You like to go to places where you have an opportunity to win, and we know we'll have that opportunity. The only problem with that is it's really difficult to get too excited about those places because of the tremendous competition and the packs of cars that will be running together at the front of the pack. It's almost like a crap shoot as to whether you're even going to survive or not. We understand the fact that we know how to get to the front. We know how to lead those races. We know how to run up front. That certainly reduces your opportunities to get into trouble. The only problem was at Talladega, I think I was running fourth when they had that wreck on the front straightaway and I got wrecked. You just have to go there understanding that the best way to miss a wreck is to be in the front and be leading the race or be in the top five and try to set all your goals toward getting there. Starting up front, running up front and letting what happens in the race behind you, forgot about that and just concentrate about being in front. "I think it's better at night. I enjoy it more than going and racing during the day. It seems your concentration is more, if this is possible, is more in tune with what's going on on the track only. When it's sunny during the day, the clouds come and go and it changes your view a little bit. It changes what you see and the way your can handles. At the night race, you have a real consistent car all night. It starts at about dusk and as it blends to dark, you don't really notice that change that much. By the time you're racing toward the end of the race, it's just a perfect setting for a race. You can see perfectly and it just makes in more fun, plus you don't have to battle the heat as badly and that's a bonus as well. "That wasn't one of the more sound decisions I've ever made. The race at Talladega was going well. We'd run up front all day and was running fourth and got in that wreck. We loaded up that night and flew to Boston and got up the next morning and did the Boston Marathon. I've been running a lot, completely just to stay in shape so I can drive my race car. Any time you run a lot and you've trained for the race car, anytime you get an opportunity to do something like the Boston Marathon, I did it just for the fun of it, to go there and see what it's all about, it was neat to take that chance. I do plan on running one more marathon, and I think that's going to be it. I plan on running one in December. I'm training harder than I ever have before, preparing for that one. It's in Tampa Bay and I really want to make it in less than four hours. That's something I wasn't able to accomplish in the first two marathons. That's my only goal, to finish one in less than four hours, and I'm definitely in better shape now than when I went to Boston because I've kind of rededicated myself to the running and preparing for the next marathon. I'm excited about it. "The importance of starting up front is definitely major. You need to do that for several reasons because that pretty much means you've got a fast car. If you've got a fast car when practice starts on Friday with the drafting and preparing for the race, people understand that you've qualified in the top two or three or you're right up front. They want to get behind you and see what you've got. The more of them that line up behind you, the faster your car will go. That's one thing that's important about qualifying in addition to getting a starting spot up at the front of the pack. As far as the speed it will take to be on the pole, we've had some rule changes since we were down there in February, so I don't know what that's going to be. Used to, you'd have a pretty good guess because you'd base it on what happened the trip down there before, but we've had a bunch of rule changes since there, so we'll have to see how all that works out. "He's (brother Darrell Waltrip) won the Daytona 500. He's been very competitive, even recently at Daytona with the way he's run down there. I just hope he can have a good race. That's the only thing I hope for him every week we go race. I just want him to get his car right and go out there and show everyone how good he can still drive a race car. I hope all those things for Darrell. I hope he can qualify good, doesn't have to jack with starting in the back and then when we start drafting, he can get in there and make his car handle and show people he can still do the job on any given Sunday. "I think it's hard to grasp by watching on TV how bad it hurts to hit a concrete wall running 150 or 160 mph. The wrecks on TV, they just don't seem to... like I watch them and say 'man, it didn't look that bad.' Then I know from experience that it's really the darndest thing you've ever felt. It takes the air out of you. You just think, 'man, I've been hit by a truck.' Grasping the violence of a normal wreck, just running into the wall, I think is something we're not able to do because we're comparing it to seeing things like my crash I had at Daytona in the Busch car when I turned over a bunch. I stopped turning over and I got out and I was fine. Elliott Sadler the same way at Michigan a couple of weeks ago. When you watch a wreck or see a car wreck, if it never hits anything directly or real solidly, then generally it doesn't hurt. But when you run into something square such as a wall or somebody hits you in the door, it doesn't matter if you're at Bristol or at Daytona. If you're running 100 mph and somebody drives right into your door at Bristol, it's going to hit or if you hit the wall there, it's going to hurt. I think people see things that are fairly innocent, but they're not because of the tremendous speed we run at hitting those walls. "We really prepare, that's the main thing. I've got my seat the way I think it needs to be. I've got netting around my head and I pull my belts tight and I hang on tight. So I do everything I can to prepare to be safe when you have that. I fear any wreck. I don't want to wreck at all, ever. There's not really one I worry more so than the others. I just make sure I'm perfectly prepared for any wreck I have and hope that I'm able to come out of it without getting hurt. "Actually, I'm probably more of a restrictor plate fan than most of the drivers because I'm just really into the fans that show up week in and week out to watch us do what we do, and they love restrictor plate racing. I like it for their sake. If that's something they want to see us do, and we pretty much know we're going to do it, so if I didn't like it, what good is that goin g to do me? That can't help at all. The fact that I've run well at those tracks and I understand the draft and think I have a pretty good feeling of what I need to do to my car to make it one of the faster ones at the track. All those things make me think when I go there I'm going to have a good run, and then of course I know how much the fans love the restrictor plate races and the packs of cars they see us running in. I guess you could count me as a fan a little bit. "I think it's obvious. We've seen plenty of big wrecks because of the restrictor-plate races, therefore it does become a part of it. You get excited about going to a race like Daytona because you know you're going to have a chance to win. But you also know in the back of your mind you also got a pretty good chance to wreck. Most of the places we go, you don't really think about it that way. At Daytona and Talladega you certainly have to. "The only parallel between the two (NASCAR racing and Boston Marathon), when I stand on pit road on Sunday afternoon getting ready to start a race or Saturday evening, whatever the case may be, I know it doesn't matter how hot it is or how long the race is or what goes on during the course of that event, when it comes down to 10 to go and I need to be on the top of my game, I will be. I know that I'm physically fit to do this job, to drive this race car, as well at the end as I do at the beginning. That's the only reason why I run. I really wanted something that would make me feel like I was ready to go when the race came down to the end. "Going to Boston, the first thing I remember, a race car driver, I have people that pick me up at my motorhome with a golf cart, take me to hospitality so I can meet my sponsors or they might want to take me to meet some media or something. They'll drive me back to the garage area for practice, just in time for practice. At Boston, I basically got up at 6 o'clock and went and got on a school bus and drove to a concentration camp, that's about what it looks like. We were in these big tents, and we sat there from about 7:30 in the morning until 11:30 waiting for the race to start. That was pretty interesting, the fact that there was so many people converting on that town to run that race. You just had to get there way early to make sure you were there for the start. Sitting on the ground for four hours, I thought that was pretty interesting. Then they said go, and I was pretty excited. A jet flew over, like a fighter jet, and this lady was singing the national anthem. As soon as she got done, a gun went off and they said go. I stood there for 10 minutes because 18,000 people in front of me were trying to take off. That was pretty interesting. The girls of Wellesley College, I won't soon forget that. I can't remember exactly where Wellesley is, but it must be past halfway. That means that the guys winning the race were already done by the time I got there. For like a quarter of a mile or so, before I ever got to the school, you could hear this screaming noise. For a solid quarter of a mile, you ran past all these kids cheering you on an screaming and as you ran out the other end, you could still hear 'em. I just thought as I passed, those guys have been screaming like that for three hours. The fact that the whole course, from the beginning to the end, there's people along it watching this spectacle. I thought that was pretty wild to have company as you run along for 26 miles. Then seeing the Citgo sign by Fenway, that was pretty cool. Then basically, you were done. "When I was born, Darrell turned 16. When a race car driver turns 16, that pretty much means they're on the road. They got what they've been after. They want to drive. I didn't spend a whole lot of time around Darrell when I was a kid. Probably, the best memories I have of Darrell have been looking through a chain link fence at Nashville watching him win races or sitting in front of the TV watching him outduel Richard Petty at Darlington back in 1978 or 79, whenever that was. That's kind of how I grew up with Darrell, watching from afar. Nowadays, we're buddies. We're more like friends now than we've ever been. That's where we're at with that. Darrell was very, very competitive in Dale Earnhardt's car. He got in that car a couple of years ago, and he proved he could still run up front and still be competitive. Last year and this year have not been what we all I think, at least me, had hoped for out of him. I think it's unfair to scrutinize him, to look at him and say he's just been running around for three years. There's more to it than that. This job is more difficult than people understand. I think it's real interesting. I read stuff in the paper all the time that's negative about my brother, and it really makes me mad. "I was watching Pebble Beach the other day and Jack Nicklaus was making what was maybe his final appearance in the U.S. Open, and he was struggling home. He got in on an exemption, and they said it could be his last one if we can't figure out how to get Jack into one more, this could be it. I think about our sport, and I say, why can't people be talking about Darrell that way? Why can't they be saying, 'man, this is going to be the last time we see Darrell Waltrip at Daytona? Please just grasp this moment, he's meant so much to this sport. He's going to be gone.' Instead we're saying, 'look at him. He had to use a provisional again.' That's the kind of comments he's getting, and that kind of gets on my nerves. It doesn't seem fair. "I haven't been able to put my finger on it. I know there were times back in '90 and '91 I could have won races and almost did win a couple. Had that have happened, would that have changed where I'm at today? I really don't know. I just feel so confident now that when I get in my race car, I'm going to do good, I'm going to win, I'm going to outrun everybody. I think today, mentally and physically, I'm the best I've ever been. There was a time back some years ago when I thought I was pretty doggone good. It just didn't ever work out. Hopefully, I'm prepared now to make a run at this deal. We've had 16 races this year, and we've only been running at the finish in six of those that we didn't have any problems. You can't win like that. You've got to be better than that. You've got to have a car that's just as good as the other guys. We haven't had that quite honestly up to this point, but we're working real hard to make sure we have that for the rest of this year. "I got a new car owner a month or so ago, Jimmy Smith, and he understands this sport. He knows about race cars and he knows that it would be kind of unfair to expect Michael Waltrip to win or be consistently up front with equipment that isn't quite where we need it to be. Now his job and his goal is to make my equipment better and then have it come back on me to see what I can do. I told him the other day, I said, 'do you realize how much of a hero you'll be if you're finally the dude who can get me to victory lane? That you're the guy to put all the pieces together so I could win.' He said that's exactly what he wants to be able to do. I'm real happy where I'm at right now with the team and my situation and even with me where I'm at. I just hope for the best and I could come to Daytona and win this weekend. I have a car that I feel like will be capable of doing that. That's just based on fact, too. It's not just some race car driver saying we'll have a good shot this weekend. We will have. I'm excited about that."

JIM SMITH (Co-owner No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I have been watching Michael several months prior to purchasing the team and getting involved with the team. I saw a lot of potential there. I think our goals temporarily right now, this team should be in the top 15 as did we last Sunday in finishing 12th. The possibility of winning a race this year is very slim, but as Michael said, I think we have a great opportunity this weekend. They're missing some pieces to the puzzle to make it a performing team, comparable to our truck team. I realize that truck racing is not as difficult as car racing, but however it takes the same commitment and same pieces. We're working for 2001 on getting our motors better, our cars better, adding a few better individuals to help support the team. I really feel that Michael has the desire. I know I have the desire. I'm not used to running 25th or 27th. I'm not going to be happy doing that. We're going to take it slow. It's going to take a lot of hard work, and putting the right people and the right pieces in the right places. "He's only finished six races out of 16 starts this year. A couple of those were wrecks, but most of them were engine failures. I know our engine people are working real hard on the reliability factor. It's hurt our program dramatically. That's the single largest item at this time. I think we need to do some more R&D in the engineering department, some more testing which we are currently working on. "I'm very fortunate with Mike Wallace (NASCAR Craftsman truck series driver) and Michael Waltrip. They're both great ambassadors. If you give them five stars anywhere, it's in their communication skills with people and the way they present themselves. Today, in the multi-million dollar industry we're in, I think it's every bit as important as the talents he has behind the wheel. "To be totally honest, if somebody had asked me to assess four or five months ago, I would have said he's a pretty decent driver and he's a great fun guy and I love his show (Inside Winston Cup on Monday nights). Since I've been able to spend a great deal of time with him, I've learned what an intense and serious driver he is. I've seen him have the ability. I didn't really feel until now, I didn't realize how serious he is about the sport. He's a very detailed, very methodical guy. He can go back three years ago and tell you exactly what he did at a race track, what setup he had. I'm very impressed with Michael. I feel he has everything it takes to become a winner. I've always looked at Michael as a fun-loving guy. I've known him for many years on a hi Michael, how are you type basis. When you work on a relationship we've been working on the last six or eight weeks, you get inside a person. He wanted to know more about who Jim Smith was, and I certainly wanted to know more about who Michael Waltrip was. I want everybody on our team to know when we show up, as we do with the truck team, when our car goes through the gate that we can win today. There's too many times we go to races and say we can't win. That's impossible for me. We have to have as good a shot as Dale Earnhardt or Dale Jarrett or any of the top running teams. I think Michael has the capability of doing that, and I think I have the capability of giving him the parts and pieces to do that. "I own Ultra Custom Wheels, I'm a wheel manufacturer. I employ about 950 people, and I've been in automotive and racing since I was a teenager. I grew up with Parnelli Jones racing team changing tires, so I've been in the automotive industry my whole life. "I was very fortunate to win the inaugural truck race in Daytona this year. Obviously it was not a restrictor plate motor race. I think it was the greatest race they had there all weekend. I'm not a big fan of restrictor plate racing, only because I know what they're trying to do. I'm a big fan of slowing the cars down and getting the speeds down. I'm not a fan of restrictor plate racing because it does not give the old, coming off turn four and who's going to win syndrome. Those races, as growing up my whole life watching Pearson and Yarborough and Petty and Waltrip battle for that last lap lead, you don't see that any more. A guy gets out of line, he's going to go back. I saw Michael at Talladega the last race. He's in fifth. Now he's in 25th. He's in fourth, he's in 30th. The only reason he goes back is because everybody is trying to advance. It takes the talent of the team out of the perspective and it takes the talent out of the driver out of the perspective. "We've always talked about bringing Mike Wallace up to the Cup tour, and we'll probably run Mike Wallace in three or four Winston Cup races this year. However, our main goal is Mike Waltrip, obviously. The engine thing, we've been working on several different issues with it and we were very happy last weekend. We finally finished a race with the motor, so we're hoping Sabates will just continue right now doing a good job for us. "I'd like him (Michael Waltrip) to stay. Right now he's evaluating me and I'm evaluating him. I'm certainly in favor of staying together through 2001. Hopefully, I'd like to make that formal announcement here by the end of July. If the proper sponsorship came along, there's no question I'd love to put Mike Waltrip in a Winston Cup car and run a two-car team. As you all know, there's a tremendous amount of synergies, but I think a lot of the synergies from our Cup to truck team are going to help us as well. We have a tremendous amount of talent on the truck team. We have a great bunch of guys on the car team. I think when you put more heads together you come up with better ideas. Even though two Cup teams would probably work better together, it certainly doesn't hurt to have two teams throwing ideas back and forth."

<pre> GORDON MOVES TO HEAD OF TEAM MONTE CARLO CLASS -- Twenty-five different drivers have won races behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and 28-year-old Jeff Gordon has won more races than any other driver in the most successful nameplate (281 career wins) in NASCAR Winston Cup history. Gordon has won 51 races in 239 career starts, and 49 of those victories were in Monte Carlos. Last week's win at Sears Point pushed Gordon ahead of veteran Darrell Waltrip on the Team Monte Carlo Winners Circle. Here are the winners.

     Jeff Gordon     49       Tim Richmond       9    Ricky Rudd         2
     Darrell Waltrip 48       Harry Gant         6    David Pearson      2
     Dale Earnhardt  44       Geoff Bodine       6    Buddy Baker        2
     Cale Yarborough 38       Richard Petty      6    Charlie Glotzbach  1
     Bobby Allison   15       Neil Bonnett       5    Ken Schrader       1
     Terry Labonte   15       Sterling Marlin    5    Greg Sacks         1
     Benny Parsons   14       Bobby Labonte      4    Earl Ross          1
                              Donnie Allison     3    Bobby Hamilton     1
                              Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2    Joe Nemechek       1  

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Joe Nemechek , Sterling Marlin , Mike Wallace , Parnelli Jones , Richard Petty , Benny Parsons , Bobby Allison , Donnie Allison , Greg Sacks , Elliott Sadler , Jim Smith , Buddy Baker , Charlie Glotzbach , Harry Gant , Cale Yarborough , Tim Richmond , David Pearson