Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing (RCR) joined the media prior to the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The following are highlights of that Q&A session:
"Let me just set the record straight on one thing. I released a statement the other day concerning Simpson and Simpson products. I can't say a lot more about that. There's no need to beat that thing back and forth. No one is going to win. There's never a winner in that type of contest."
Given that statement, what is your level of confidence in Simpson Race Products - especially their seat belts?: "They've always had great products and we still use Simpson products. I have no problem with their products.
Do you have a driver signed for the No. 31 car yet?: "No, we don't."
Are the seat belts in the cars that you now have on the track mounted similarly or differently than they were in the No. 3 car?: "Each driver has his own preference. This issue goes back to the statement. None of us had any idea what 'dumping' was or what the term 'dumping' meant. And today, these drivers in this garage area probably have their belts installed in a different way from Daytona."
Were you aware that the seat belts were not installed properly according to Simpson specifications before all this happened?: "Again, I don't want to keep going back to the seat belt issue. There's no way to win that deal. There's no way, at the end of the day, anybody is going to come out a winner. The way the drivers prefer to mount their belts, and you've probably got some here today, that have their own way and their own comfort level - even after Daytona."
Are installation decisions made totally by the driver - or do you get involved, does the crew chief get involved?: "Actually it is done with the crew chief and the driver. When we build a new car, the drivers usually come to the shop and sit there and adjust their seat and their mirror and get everything like they want it. That way, each time we come to the track the driver doesn't have to do it. There have been occasions when they didn't get to do that - like if there is a test, maybe they would adjust their seat and their belts a couple hours early, or whatever, for their own comfort."
You said you were satisfied with the direction NASCAR is going on these safety issues. Are you satisfied with the speed in which they're going?: "I think throughout the history of NASCAR, they've taken the safety issues very seriously. The worst thing for all of us would be if they just reacted for the purpose of reacting. When it comes to fixing a stiffer nose or jumping in there and saying you've got to wear a head restraint, they've got to know that it's going to work in every situation. What happened at Daytona or what happened in different situations, may not work as well for you if you hit a car in the side or if you hit the wall or if you're flipping like Tony Stewart was. So yes, I'm pleased with what NASCAR is doing and the direction they're taking. I've been in this sport a long time - 36 years now - and throughout that time, I've seen an evolution of safety through a lot of different situations. And we all get smarter. We've all gotten a lot smarter over the years of racing from the time I used to drive a stock car with the gas tank sitting behind me and driving with a t-shirt on. We're all smarter today than we were in them days. We're smarter than we were two years ago. We're smarter than we were February 18th."
How pleased are you with Kevin Harvick?: "Very pleased. If any of you saw the race last night and the moves he made and the things that went on - to be able to come back from two laps down - I think it was a great showing of what the guy's made of. He's the real deal and I keep saying that. We're excited about next year. Kevin is going to run a Busch car for us. Jeff Green is going to run a Busch car for us. And we're going to have the two Sauter brothers (Jay and Johnny) running in the non-companion races. We feel that gives us an advantage coming back to the race next week."
Did you learn anything extra from the NASCAR Investigation?: "Yeah, the severity of the accident and how everything had to happen at one time for it to be a tragedy. I think I learned that out of it. I know a lot of the things that were going on as far as the computer models and everything, but there were some thing things that really surprised me as to how violent the crash actually was."
Have you had any discussions with Dave Marcis about buying into his team or purchasing his team?: "We had talked about that before, but now that we're all set with the direction that we're going with RCR, I'm going to be there as a friend to help advise him and help him do anything I can.
"We're set. RCR has a good future, a good plan, good drivers, great sponsors. We're very happy and we want to win races. We're putting together a program at RCR next year where these teams are going to be working together and helping each other. Now the drivers are going to rub each other a little, but that sorts itself out sometimes."
How did it feel with the drivers - Harvick and Green - getting together a little bit last night in the Busch race?: "I've dealt with that now for about five or six years. It's one of those deals where maybe the shoe will be on the other foot tonight (in the Cup race) and that would be a good problem to have. But these guys get over it. I used to race and I know how the tempers can get lost a little."
Do you talk to them about it?: "Yeah, I do occasionally. I haven't on this incident. On this incident, it was more or less a racing incident."
In this instance, would it be to tell Jeff that that's the way to race or to tell Kevin to calm down?: "I wouldn't tell him to calm down none. I'd just say you've got to do what you've got to do."
How do you feel about the fact that some of the teams don't have the sponsorships you have and are not moving forward in the positive manner that RCR is moving?: "I think it's still early in the year on that. I think there's a lot of companies out there still looking to get into our sport. We've got the greatest sport in motor racing. NASCAR Winston Cup racing is your best sport. Any company that wants to get in and get the most value for their dollar in advertising and marketing.....
"Look at Sharpie and America Online - new companies that have gotten involved. I'll assure you that they'll come along and tell you what a great investment it's been to be tied up in it. America Online got on this year. We've got a three-year agreement with them and we're going to make sure that's a great relationship. And there's still some great race teams out there that I know have a lot of great things working that should be announced (soon). As far as the health of the sport, I think if you'll look at some of these (TV) ratings and the grandstands and the national media coverage and all the things we didn't get years ago, and I think all that's due to the media and the television coverage."
Will one of your Cup cars have the No. 3 on it next year?: "We're planning on making any announcements regarding the No. 3 sometime in the near future. We can't go there right now, but that will be an issue that we'll handle before the year is over or by the end of the year."
Emotionally, how important has it been for you to have some wins at RCR during this difficult period?: "I think so. I can't imagine how it would have been for all of us at RCR to have gone out and struggled on the competition side of the sport. Leaving Daytona, I didn't know if I wanted to even see another race. I just lost my best friend and didn't know what I wanted to do. But we knew after talking with the guys at the shop, we knew we had to go forward. That's what Dale (Earnhardt) would have wanted us to do. If anything, it's given every one of us more drive to do it for him."
Are you going to have a fourth car next year?: "No, it'll be a three-car team. We've really got some good plans. We've worked hard at this all year. Actually, Dale was the one that helped convince me to go to a three-car team. We talked about this when he did his third Winston Cup team. He tried to get me to do it last year. But we weren't ready at RCR to take that step. He helped me decide. We talked about the positives of a three-car race team. And that's probably one of the reasons that RCR has a third team today. It's just one of those things that will be in the future. Hendrick is leading the points with a three-car team. Penske is going to have a three-car team next year I think, if I understand the rumors. Roush does well with it. We don't want to be sitting here like we were in 1992 or '93 with one car if it takes three to do it. We want to be on the cutting edge of it. And we want to set the grounds for how good you can do it with three."
How has this transition been for you?: "It's hard for me sometimes to look out there and pick out the No. 29 car. But we're beginning to make that transition and make it work. To see the No. 30 car run and the No. 31 has always been there and the Busch cars have been there for the past couple of years. I think it's been good. It's been good for RCR and what we have planned for the future. It's growing. And if you sit still, and don't grow with it, it will pass you."
How difficult was it for you to make all these adjustments this year?: "It was tough to start with - not seeing the black No. 3 on the track or in the garage at the first several races we went to. You'd walk in the garage area and you'd look for the truck, you'd look for the car. That's after doing it for 16 years. It's just something that don't go away. With Kevin Harvick and that race team showing what they're made of, if positive. Kevin was set with AOL for seven races and we were going forward. Kevin was going to be in the No. 30 car in 2002. And for them to come in here and still come back and work with RCR and still sponsor a car, I think they understood the situation we were in. The very first thing I had to do was to take care of our foundation. The company was built on that race team. We had to get it back and get it going. And then we had to build everything as one whole corporation like we've been doing. To have America Online step in there and still work with us was just great."
With all the changes over the years, could you give us a briefing of how you've seen the belts change over the years and why you wanted them certain ways in your cars?: "For the first racecar that I drove, we went to the Army Surplus and bought a pair of helicopter belts. We had a chain hooked to the back of the car and had the belts mounted to it. That's all I raced with was a pair of belts out of a helicopter. I went through our museum and looked at a car I drove in '73. I looked at an old pair of those seat belts that was in a Modified car that I drove that had old Air Force belts. I looked at the way the belts were mounted in a lot of the cars that Dale drove from 1986. There are a lot of similarities. I don't have the specs on any of the belts from the time they started to where they are today. We went to the shoulder harnesses and then to what's called a crotch strap. Those are the things that have improved in our sport. You can remember looking back and seeing guys drive with helmets with leather sides to them. All that is evolution of safety. And NASCAR is right in front on everything. People don't realize. I don't think the media or the public realizes how serious NASCAR is about safety. I've been here for 35 years and I've been in that (NASCAR) trailer many, many times. And we talk about safety issues. It isn't something that NASCAR does on their own.
"The roof flaps (for example). We had a problem with the car's getting off the ground. And NASCAR talked to a lot of us. The roof rails - I could just go on and on with things that NASCAR has done. They're constantly working on things for now and the future with the computers, for example, that we didn't have back in the '70's and '80's. That just goes to show how serious they are about making these the safest racecars in the world."
Do you think there's a communication problem between NASCAR and the media that regularly cover this sport?: "Yeah, I have that in my business. Sometimes there are things (and I have) to apologize to my guys. Just like when we did our Cingular (sponsorship) announcement. I went down to the No. 31 team and apologized to them. They were some of the last people to know. I told them before the press knew - before it (the news) got out. I told them that I couldn't tell them everything that we're doing. That's the situation with NASCAR because it's your job to make a story of it. And if it's a story before it becomes something, it's hard to really work on things. If I would have told everybody in my shop that I was working on America Online or Cingular, then everybody out here would have know about
"If you look at some of the horrendous crashes in stock cars and watch the driver walk away -- like Tony Stewart's car flip down the backstretch, Richard Petty's car flip, Michael Waltrip's wreck here at Bristol - and I don't think we give NASCAR enough credit for what they do.
Does RCR have a seat design program?: "Kevin Harvick has changed his seat design. Mike Skinner has changed his seat design. And I know Jeff Green has his own seat design. The driver basically does that. We're there to help them. We've got six or seven engineers to answer any questions they've got. Today you've got sled tests that we didn't have back in the '70's. Whoever heard of that? That was something you rode down a hill. Today, it's a tool to make these cars safer."
With Kevin Harvick giving you your 100th NASCAR win last night, what does that mean to you?: "There's been a lot of tears and it's been a lot of fun doing it. To win 100 is just unbelievable. I know it hasn't been 100 Winston Cup races, but it is significant to win 100 NASCAR races. If you'd have asked me that in '81 when I got out of the car, it's something I never dreamed of. Those 100 wins came from a lot of people, a lot of dedication, a lot of great sponsors. That's why RCR has got those wins. It's not Richard Childress, but I'm pleased to be a part of it."