Continued from part 1
IS ROBERT'S ENTHUSIASM BACK?
"Actually, that had a lot to do with my decision to come back. Robert and I started talking on the telephone and from an outsider looking in I'm sitting there saying, 'Gosh, they've probably got the most successful motor program in this business. Why would Robert want the headaches? He's not 20 years old. Why would he want the headaches of trying to keep this organization going. Why would he want to rebuild?' It's not easy to rebuild. It's a tough job. It's a lot of staying awake at night and thinking about different situations, different management, different people. I'm thinking, 'Why would Robert at this stage of his life, why not go out and enjoy himself a little bit?' I thought maybe Robert might go the other way. I knew he was gonna go one way of the other. I knew he was either gonna step back, sort of retire and let Doug run the motor shop but be involved with that, or he was gonna say, 'I'm tired of being embarrassed. I'm gonna come back and make this thing bigger and better than ever,' and that's the Robert that I saw when I went and met with him. It wasn't the Robert that was tired and wore out and 'I don't know what to do.' He had a plan. He's got a plan and he's got some really key people that are helping to put this thing back together, but it doesn't happen overnight. The encouraging thing for me that I saw is I watched and listened to the Homestead race.
I saw the performance of the 38. It came off the truck fast, qualified fast and ran fast the entire race until about three-fourths through the race. I'm not sure exactly what happened, whether David made a mistake or something broke, he didn't finish the race and got wrecked. But I think the key is the car was competitive on a mile-and-a-half track on a track that is difficult to get a hold of. I saw that car run very well. Understand I didn't know this because I knew DJ didn't run very well, but I didn't find out until after meeting with these guys that I guess they built a couple of cars and DJ's got wrecked shortly off the truck -- didn't get a chance to show what he had. He had been running the cars he'd been running all season and one ran good and one didn't, so that's pretty optimistic knowing you can go through the winter and you've got a model now to clone to get ready for the downforce tracks next year. That's a big positive right there that went on, so these guys have been busy building cars like the ones that ran well at Homestead."
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE DALE JR. ABOUT OWNING A TEAM?
"I guess I wouldn't totally discourage him. It's really a personal commitment. To me, when I did it and the way Bill Elliott and everyone else to that point, you sort of put your heart and soul and everything you've got into that thing and being very hands-on. That's the way I ran our deal. We had some success, but you learn a lot too. You learn a lot about business. You learn a lot about people. I think before it's over with you probably have a psychology degree in dealing with people because that's what it's about. If he does do that, he definitely needs to surround himself with great people and he needs to delegate. He can't do it himself. If he tries to do it all himself, his racing performance is gonna suffer and his business performance.
There's no way you can step in and understand all of the business aspects as big as these things are today. If he can get the right people to surround himself with, heck, go for it. He can get it done. If he doesn't and doesn't get the right people -- and getting the right people is one thing, keeping the right people that's the toughest part about this business. That's the toughest part about this business and that's the mistake I made. I figured, 'OK, I'm gonna be really smart. I'm gonna recruit all these guys, bring them together and we'll have a nice happy little team, but as you start having more and more success, people come in and raid your organization and take your key people, so you're constantly rebuilding. It's not like, 'I'm gonna go out and hire these people once.' It's a constant struggle to keep good people.' As long as he's up for those headaches and understands that, and he knows what the challenges are and is gonna sit his personal life on the side, then I think he could do it. But a lot of sacrifices have to be made to do that."
DO WE MAKE TOO MUCH OF THE AGE OF DRIVERS LIKE YOU, JARRETT, MARTIN AND MARLIN?
"I'll be honest, I came up in this sport and I've been on both sides of the spectrum. I've been the young guy. I was 18 years old when I stepped into the Cup garage for the first time. At that time, the guys to beat were in their forties -- 45 years old. Those guys were strong. Fifty years old wasn't an impossibility. You had guys like Petty, Baker, Pearson -- a lot of these guys. I remember the first time, I was 18 years old. I was racing motorcycles professionally -- motorcross, which I was in the best shape you could ever be in -- coming into this sport of Cup racing. I remember going through the garage area and looking at these old men and I'm thinking, 'Gosh, there's no way these guys can compete. They're not in shape. There's no way.' I can remember running Rockingham, North Carolina when it was a 500-mile race and I think that day Donnie Allison, he had to be 45 or 50 at that time, he lapped me for probably the tenth time that day and I remember Donnie going by. It's halfway through the race and I'm dead. I'm ready to give out.
Physically, there's no question I was in the best shape of anybody in the garage area at the time after coming off the motorcycle circuit, but here comes Donnie Allison halfway through the race. I'm running with my tongue hanging out, don't know if I can make it another lap, and he's driving with one hand and he's waving to me as I let him go by. I'm sitting there just white-knuckled up on that steering wheel and I'm thinking, 'I'm missing something here. What am I missing?' So, to answer that question, if we were talking about going out and playing in the Super Bowl and your starting lineup was a choice of guys that were in their fifties or their twenties, there's no question I'd line myself up with guys in their twenties because you just have the physical beating that your body would take. Race cars aren't like that. A lot of this stuff is mental. To make a long story, short, the big trend really changed when television came into this really big. When everything went national television, the big bush for the young guys came on board. Can they get the job done? No question about it. Can the old guys get the job done -- the right ones? There's no question about it. Anyway, to sort of sum that up, I don't think it's age as much as it is ability.
There's a lot of young guys and there are some old guys. There's a lot of young talent. Now the world is not looking for 45 and 50-year-old experienced drivers. Are they out there? I don't know if you could take a 45 or 50-year-old guy from another form of racing, put him in a Cup car and expect him to go good today. I don't think that would happen, whereas the young guys can be brought in and can be trained. That's probably the biggest difference is that the young guys that are stepping in are trainable and they better get it done. They've got the pressure too because if they don't get it done, there are 10 young guys standing behind them ready for that seat to open up."
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THIS YEAR?
"To be honest, I've never been very good at putting -- everyone likes to set their goals high this year. If you talk to everybody, everybody is gonna win every race in the season and they're gonna make the chase and they're gonna win the championship and they're gonna win a bunch of poles. That's just the nature of everybody this time of year. They're putting a fresh outlook on everything. I look at it as though I don't really know. There are some big challenges in front of us. I certainly see good things happening. How quickly will it happen? I really don't know yet. I would not have taken this job if I thought we were gonna go out there to run 10th or 15th or 25th every week. I would not have taken this job. I'm very optimistic. I see no reason that if we don't beat ourselves, the top 10 is getting to be a tough deal now to make at the end of the year. I know there are a lot of people out there predicting that we won't make the top 30 or whatever it is, but I've always enjoyed the challenge and like proving people they're wrong. So everything within my control, I'm gonna go out and do the very best we can and settle for what we can get. Hopefully there will be some good things and some good finishes along the way and I wouldn't rule out anything."
DO YOU THINK ROBERT WAS CLOSE TO SHUTTING DOWN?
"Really, when I came on board in 2000 over at Robert's, you had the 88 that won a championship and the 28, performance wasn't there. Kenny Irwin tried his hardest and had a lot of talent, but that was a good example where he wasn't probably truly ready for that Cup ride when it came to him. There's no question that he had as much talent as anybody in this garage area, but it just never clicked. You've got to remember, when he stepped into that, yeah, there was a two-car operation, but at that time not only Robert's, but the Hendrick camp hadn't totally gelled yet. They were coming along, but at that time in history you had the 28 in a separate, rented building over by Charlotte Motor Speedway and then you had the 88 that, at that time they had the big budget behind them. Robert being the owner, he didn't take the money out of one organization and put it in the other, he kept them separate. So the 88 sort of outgrew the 28. When I came on board, Robert didn't know what he was gonna do with the 28 then.
He seriously thought about possibly shutting the operation down. He wasn't getting results and it wasn't where it used to be. I came in and it started clicking, but I brought a lot of people with me when I came at that time. They were weak on personnel. They had good personnel, but they didn't have enough of it so I was able to bring some guys with me to shore that program up. Suddenly, Robert now had two teams that were fairly equal to one another. The 28 performed with the 88 pretty much week in and week out and a lot of days it outperformed it. So, anyway, I saw Robert in a very similar situation this time as I did at that time. The only difference being is that both teams were not performing the way he wanted them to be. Again, and in all fairness to what Robert had going on, he's trying to figure out how to expand to a third team, fourth team and all that. So he had to step back a little bit to look at how to create a plan of adding more teams and such, but he steps back, he hires general managers, he hires crew chiefs, he hires people that are well-respected in the sport, but it just didn't click. It didn't gel. So here's Robert handing the keys over to somebody else and it didn't click, it didn't happen -- the team goes down in the hole. Robert could have bailed out. That would have been the easy way out, but he chose to come back and try to fight and build it back up again, and that's the fight I saw in Robert when I met him. That's why I'm here. I see the same thing I saw when he was trying to get that 28 going again. I don't think it will be a question of if it will rebound, it's just a question of when."
HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THE TIME AWAY FROM HOME NOW?
"The really good thing I have going, and this is part of me coming back, is we've got a sponsor in the Snickers candy people that are very accommodating. There's a lot of demand on drivers, not just their personal appearances. You see them here and you see them there. There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes -- a lot of corporate functions and things of that nature that drivers attend and that's great. You talk about separating the young guys from the old guys, I think it's more about the married guys with families. Being married without any children is one thing. Being single without any responsibilities or anything, that's the big difference. That's what sort of separates things. What's the best way to say this? I guess I cherish that time enough and the sponsor recognizes that, so any day that I can steal, instead of being at some function shaking a few hands -- don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of that -- but, to me, I weighed the two and that's one reason I stepped aside. Now I have a sponsor that's willing to give me a few days here and there to spend some home time that I would not have gotten in the past, that's a big plus for me and that's one of the reasons that I'm here today -- having a sponsor that's been very accommodating in that area. It's not gonna be the same as being home every day, seven days a week, but it's a lot better than it used to be."
HOW DID YOU AND ROBERT PATCH THINGS UP?
"We had two-and-a-half years at Yates that was a great situation. Everybody got along great. Then when it turned sour and there were many different reasons it turned sour. We won't get into all of those, but I was letting Robert know that he sort of needs to have a heads up. 'We're not gonna be here forever,' and he has no youth in the organization to take over either DJ's job or my job. We needed to bring somebody along. It sort of snowballed and sort of got out of control. The next thing I know, instead of this thing being held together, now it's just trying to blow apart. The last half of the year wasn't real pleasant. The unfortunate thing is we were on the verge of probably winning the championship. I'm not saying we could have won it, but we were second up to the very end one year and I think at the mid-point before this thing blew apart we were about second in the championship at that time, so that was the sad thing. Even though we ran well, we had a championship or a good championship contention year sort of blow apart midway in the year.
But I think time has gone by. I think after leaving and looking from the outside-in, there were a lot of things that were right about it. There were a few things wrong, but there was a whole lot of things that were right and I think Robert sat back and evaluated it and he sort of came up with the same conclusion. So sort of let bygones be bygones and let's work for the future. We had something that did click, let's see if we can't get it back. It's all about people and chemistry and there's no question about it, even when it blew apart there has always been a respect for Robert and Doug's ability to put together a winning race team."
AFTER LEAVING WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE TOLD PEOPLE IF THEY SAID YOU WOULD BE BACK?
"It would probably never happen, but time has a way of dealing with things like that. I mentioned the other day, you have some pretty bitter spats with I know my brothers and sisters over the years. 'I'm never talking to them again. I won't call them. I'm not even going to the Thanksgiving deal get-together we've had for all these years. That's how mad I am.' All of a sudden a little time goes by and the next thing you know everything is back to normal again. That's kind of how I put this."
-credit: ford racing