MICHAEL WALTRIP, owner, Michael Waltrip Racing Opening Statement:
“Thank you all very much for your time this morning. A big day for Michael Waltrip Racing and for Aaron’s Sales and Lease Ownership. Aaron’s has been my sponsor since 2000. I flipped over in a car here in 2000 with Aaron’s on it and we’ve won races with Aaron’s in the Nationwide Series and, obviously, in the Cup Series. We’re here today to announce that Mark Martin will drive the Aaron’s Dream Machine in 2012 and 13 and we have an option for Aaron’s for sponsorship with them in 14, as well. It’s a big day for our team. We’re extending our relationship with one of the best sponsors in NASCAR. They use this sport as one of their main marketing tools making TV commercials, obviously, sponsoring races, hospitality -- they do it all. We’re just honored that they’re our partner. Had an interesting season this year. We’ve performed well, but we haven’t finished all that well and we elected that it was not going the way we hoped it would and talking to Mr. (Ken) Butler (chief operating officer at Aaron’s) he wanted to know what we were going to do. He said, ‘With where we are in the points, give me some options. Tell me what we are going to do,’ and he picked a future Hall of Famer here to drive the Aaron’s Dream Machine and I couldn’t be prouder or happier. So, Mark, welcome to the team. Looking forward to you not only driving our cars, but elevating our whole program, coaching our drivers and bringing some of that experience and knowledge to our team. Thank you."
How did your relationship with Aaron’s begin? “Mr. (Ken) Butler (chief operating officer) and I met in ’99, I think, at a Shania Twain concert. He said, ‘I like you on the race track. I think you should drive for me.’ It started in 2000 with us running six Nationwide races and we have progressed all the way to now, what will be 12 or 13 years together. Our agreement with Aaron’s, just like it’s been the last couple of years, is 30 races and, Ken, I just want to say thank you for that."
What did it take to convince Mark Martin to join Michael Waltrip Racing? “First of all, this whole process I think is from the time it was mentioned until sitting here today has been less than three weeks. We didn’t take a lot of time to convince Mark (Martin). We got a lot of great things going on a Michael Waltrip Racing. He loves the commitment that Aaron’s has made to the sport, so it was kind of an opportunity for him to step back a little bit like you said, refresh his batteries and run a limited schedule. My schedule is perfect. I get to run a few races and I’ve gone to Europe and raced the Ferrari a few times. I expect that won’t change. The thing that Mark said that I find interesting, he said it will give him a chance to spend a little more time with his sponsors and the fans, and that’s what I love about what I’m doing now. I can go places. When my drivers are in Dover, I might be in Idaho or Oklahoma somewhere doing appearances or I might be oversees talking about Michael Waltrip Racing to folks over there. I’m really lucky."
Who do you have in mind to fill in for the races that you or Mark Martin will not be competing in next year? “We have 30 (races) with Aaron’s, so that leaves six that are unsponsored and we don’t have a driver for. So, we’re open for suggestions and sponsors. Are you volunteering?"
Could you Mark Martin fill in other races next year on the Cup side with other teams besides MWR? “I know if anybody offers him a one-off or two, it will be us. So we still have six more."
MARK MARTIN, No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Camry (beginning in 2012), Michael Waltrip Racing Opening Statement:
“Thank you, Michael (Waltrip). I really am excited about this opportunity that Aaron’s and Michael Waltrip have given me here. Not only to drive a race car, but the opportunity to join in on marketing partner that is second to none in motorsports. I really look forward and am anxious to get started with Aaron’s. I know that we’re going to have a whole lot of fun with Michael and Aaron’s and hopefully we can figure out a way to have some -- make fun of myself and I think that we’ve got some good ideas already. I look forward to it, but even more than that, having an opportunity to come in and work with an organization that is willing to get me an opportunity to have some effect or some say in the direction of the competition program of the people is really exciting. The performance level is not where they would like to be right now, but they’re making a serious move toward stepping that up and I’m really excited to have a chance to be a part of that. And everybody knows I like to help people and so getting a chance to work with some of the young drivers that come along and come through the program, as well as young pit crew members, is something that really means a lot for me. I can’t wait to get started. This is an incredible opportunity. I really look forward to working with everybody and all the partners at Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota’s commitment to NASCAR and to motorsports is going to be exciting, as well. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and I really look forward to it."
How much will you enjoy the reduced schedule? “That’s a pretty interesting question. Oddly enough, it is the same schedule as I ran in 07 and 08, with the exception of Michael (Waltrip) running the Bud (Budweiser) Shootout. We both think that that’s a great idea. First of all, in my opinion, he’s the best restrictor plate racer in NASCAR today. Second of all, we can go to Daytona doing what we’re going to do all year and that’s sharing a car at the, you know, Daytona event. I’m going to be standing up cheering for him. It is the perfect schedule for me and it gives me an opportunity to catch my breath, to spend a little bit more time with the fans, a little more time with the sponsors and, hopefully, a good bit more time than I am able to now with the team and organization. They’re giving me an opportunity here to maybe, hopefully have an effect on the direction of the program. I’m really excited about that, because that could be a transition for me to continue to be involved in the sport the way I want to be by using the experience I have and the things that I’ve learned over the years that I’ve been in NASCAR."
Will this limit your opportunities to run in the Nationwide and/or Truck Series next year? “It does, yes. I was working in all three divisions looking for an ideal situation. When we talked at Talladega, there was no clear path but I was starting to see more traction on the Cup side than I had seen in the Nationwide or Trucks. I’ve got plenty to do right here, I’m excited about the opportunity. I get to do what I really, really love to do and I’m not particularly looking at adding to this schedule with the other divisions, but I wouldn’t count it out, either. You never know what situation comes up that could be of interest."
Could you fill in other races next year on the Cup side with other teams besides MWR? “No, I couldn’t see that scenario in any normal situation. You never know what happens and the possibility of injury or something or other. My commitment is solely to Michael Waltrip Racing and Aaron’s and the partners with MWR and I’m not looking to do more than what I’ve signed up for. It’s perfect -- it's the perfect schedule for me."
How did this deal with MWR come about? “First of all, because I have a fairly good relationship in this room, Michael (Waltrip) is correct, this from the first contact is only three weeks. So, it hasn’t been in the works very long. Contracts got signed Wednesday afternoon, not Tuesday when the story broke. It moved pretty quickly. I did have some other options, but most of the options were wait and see if it materializes. This is certainly the best option that was on the table at the present time. I’m excited about it. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have an opportunity to do more, do the things that I really love to do in addition to drive a race car. Work with great people who are interested in allowing me to assist along with the experience that I have had through all these years. This is a process that moved very quickly."
What is your experience with the Electronic Fuel Injection and how will it change the current car? “I have not driven a fuel injected car yet. I know that it is in development and they are working out driver preference kinds of things, reaction, throttle reaction -- all those things they can affect through different, I don’t know the technical stuff about it, but they can affect the (way) the thing responds to throttle and a lot of those things. I know that they are down the road with that process and have several more months to get where they would like to have it where the drivers would like to have it. I have not driven one yet."
What changes have you seen take place at Michael Waltrip Racing? “First of all, they presently have a very good program and they have fast race cars. Like Michael (Waltrip) said, they haven’t gotten, probably their average finish doesn’t equal the speed of their race cars. But, they are making serious move. Bringing Clint Bowyer in, Martin Truex Jr. -- both those guys are two of the brightest young stars in NASCAR. They have a lot of great people there and they are of course adding Scott Miller (vice president of competition) as well and they’re making a number of other serious moves to try to step that up. I think MWR is second to none on the marketing side of it. If you look at it, they’re the only team I know of in NASCAR that’s adding, not taking away or staying the same, so that tells you one thing. They’ve made a serious commitment to try to step it up on the race track as well. To be able to be a part of that is something that is really exciting. Sometimes for me, it’s very fun to take and get involved in a program and see it step up. When I went over, I probably have rarely had as much fun as I did especially the first five races over there (Hendrick) when we wound up with the point lead after five races and to see that team grow and see the enthusiasm and all that stuff. That means as much as any trophy to me to be able to help people realize their potential is very gratifying to me."
KEN BUTLER, chief operating officer, Aaron’s, Inc. Opening Statement:
“It is my pleasure. Actually, the first time we did something together at the Shania Twain, I asked you if you had ever done a commercial. And he (Michael Waltrip) said, ‘Yeah, I can do a commercial.’ And we were going to sponsor this Busch (NASCAR Nationwide Series) race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and we added 12 extra miles because customers can own their product and I thought that was a big deal and NASCAR allowed us to do that, so I wanted a driver that would complain about the 12 miles. Low and behold, that first race Mark Martin won it and I went up to him and I said, ‘Did that extra 12 miles bother you?’ And he just went, ‘Nope.’ I was hoping he would give me a story with it, but nah, no big deal. So later on, a couple of years later Michael lost the race, because somebody added 12 extra miles and he ran out of gas."
How did the idea of getting Mark Martin to race for Aaron’s come about? “We don’t talk about that too much know. We’ve always focused on performance at the track and we’ve also focused on our marketing plan because we have to connect with the NASCAR community and I think we’ve done a really good job with that. In our first campaign, we had Michael (Waltrip) driving the Aaron’s Dream Machine and his Darrell (Waltrip) wanted to drive it and we wouldn’t let him drive it. And we finally let him drive it and that finally came to an end and then Michael’s career was winding down and he was starting a race team and David Reutimann came through the ranks from dirt track racing. We knew him and we’ve been with David for four of five years through Nationwide and all the way up to Cup, so I’m very appreciative of everything David has done -- created the old Lucky Dog to go with it -- but our contract is up next year, so our thinking in our camp is, ‘What’s next? What’s the next big deal?’ And, you don’t want to ever run out of time that you’re not sponsor. They could get somebody else and we’re out. I kind of like staying in front of it and I went to Michael and said, ‘What can we do next? What’s the next big deal,’ and we started thinking outside the box and I said, ‘Well, what about that Mark Martin guy?’ I’m thinking driver development program right here, you know. So we went out and got him and he’s on the team and I can’t be more than happy. I’ve got some ideas. I’m not sure how they’re going to work out yet, but if you can just kind of look at these two cats driving the Aaron’s Dream Machine, I think you probably can see two opposites and I’m thinking we can have a lot of fun with that. We’re looking forward to putting it all together and, more importantly for you guys, to perform on the track. So, thank you, Mark."