Swan Racing and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip announced today a special tribute to raise awareness and contributions for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
The usual No. 30 Lean1 entry will be the No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota for the Daytona 500 to honor the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and will prominently feature a call-to-action decal encouraging the NASCAR community to make $10 donations by texting NEWTOWN to 80888.
What is Swan Racing doing to support those in Newtown, Conn.? "Last week was amazing to be able to sit in front of that community and see the looks on people's faces -- you know moms and dads sitting there with one of their children and didn't have the other one because they were lost in that tragic event. You think you're prepared for it when you go there, but you're not. It was very, very fulfilling to be able to make those people smile and give them something to look forward to. They were genuinely happy that not only I was there, but that the NASCAR community had come up with a plan to support their community. The car is beautiful and they loved it. The families were beyond excitement -- they were in disbelief that people would care enough to do what we're going to do for them. As in life it happens a lot to me, I felt like I should be thanking them for allowing us to come into their world and allowing us to do this and they wanted to thank us for doing it. That's a great feeling. "
How does the new car compared to the previous version? "If you remember the reception the Gen-5 car got -- the COT -- it was dismal at best. The fans didn't much like it. The drivers didn't like it and it didn't go over well. It was safer -- kind of like a Volvo, they're boxy but safe, you know? It just wasn't received well by our community, so fast forward to our Gen-6 car and the drivers rave about it -- the way it drives, the way it races, it handles better, it looks cooler -- and then the fans love it. You look at my Toyota Camry that I have here and it looks like it has the styling lines and the trim of a Toyota Camry. The Ford and the Chevy are the same way, so NASCAR's definitely rolled out a car here that everyone loves and people -- the drivers can't wait to get out there and mix it up because it's going to handle better. It's going to drive better and they can get more aggressive. I like it just because it's fun to look at. When it drives by, I still stop and watch it go just to say, 'Wow, that's fun.' "
How do you think the new car will impact the racing at Daytona? "Well, if you remember last year you didn't see a lot of tandem -- a little bit at the end and then it usually causes a crash. I would guess we see people try it and probably wreck doing so. We did in practice down here, so I wouldn't be surprised if that happens again and at the end you do whatever you've got to do to try to win. If it means push for a lap of two or until your motor blows, if that's what you think you've got to do to win that's sort of the way you march forward. We'll spend a couple of days down here practicing and watching closely the Sprint Unlimited tomorrow or Saturday night to see how it all plays out. That will be when you know how the Daytona 500 will look. "
Do you think you have ever raced with a concussion? "Oh yeah. When I drove these cars in the '80s and '90s, that's when they started to really hurt you. That was the most dangerous period of time in our sport -- the '90s and up until when Dale (Earnhardt Sr.) was killed. I hit my head a bunch. I told my buddy the other day, I said, 'I feel fine, but if y'all start to see me starting to think I might go somewhere and hurt myself, go with me because I'm not sure -- I'm pretty sure I'm okay, but I don't want to wander off and do something dumb.' You don't know how those things affect you. I'm thankful that -- in 1995 or'96 or '98, if you were at Michigan and someone wrecked and the caution came out during practice, you would literally say, 'Are they okay,' because people got hurt bad. Now, the caution comes out, you don't even -- I don't want to be nonchalant about the fact that we're running 200 miles an hour and someone could be hurt -- but the cars are so much safer that you don't worry about it as much, but back then there was several times that a lot of us raced with concussions. "
How important is sponsorship in racing? "My experience is ever since I raced a car, finding a sponsor has been the biggest deal. Cars are expensive. When I was 17 trying to get a car to race at a local track in Owensboro, Gipe Automotive, a supply company in Owensboro gave me $300 worth of parts -- it was like, 'Yes, that's a sponsor.' It's been that challenging ever since. People shouldn't take for granted that they have sponsors. It's hard and it should make you appreciate the ones you have more. It should make you thankful you get to race the car more. It's been that way since the beginning of time -- everybody would have done more in their career if they would have had more sponsors. "
Did you ever sit out a race because of injuries? "No, I ran every race. I think the hardest I ever hit was -- and you can pull up the YouTube on it -- it was Talladega in '88 and I was driving the Country Time car and the right front tire blew and I went up and clobbered the wall and there's this in-car video of me riding down, coming to a stop like that and, heck, I just get out of the car and run across the track. Luckily, you're at Talladega, so they're in a pack and they slowed down and nobody ran over me because I don't remember that. And the best part of that story is I woke up the next morning in Owensboro, Ky., and I live in Charlotte and I was like, 'Alright, this is my bedroom. Why am I here?' I got up and went into the kitchen and mom was cooking breakfast and she said, 'Are you feeling better today, son,' and I said, 'Yeah. Why am I here?' And she said my buddy Scott Mercer was at Talladega with me and she said I told Mercer I wanted to go home and I just got in the car and rode home with him. And I woke up the next morning and I didn't have any idea why I was there and that's sort of tells you the difference in then and now, because now you wouldn't be able to leave the track. They would put you in an ambulance and take you to the hospital and watch you overnight, but back then if you just said you were okay and you could hold up two fingers you could pretty much get in the car and go home. "