Ricky Craven, driver of the No. 32 Tide Taurus, is in his first season with PPI Motorsports and car owner Cal Wells. Craven recorded the team's best all-time finish when he placed fourth at Dover a few weeks ago and comes into this weekend's race at Sears Point in 28th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Craven, along with crew chief Mike Beam, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
RICKY CRAVEN --32-- Tide Taurus
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE CONSIDERED A VETERAN DRIVER NOW?
"It was interesting, when I got this opportunity to drive the Tide Ford some of the articles that I read referred to me as 'veteran Ricky Craven gets Tide ride,' and I really struggled with that. I thought, 'Wow, I'm considered a veteran now,' because I'm still only 34 years old and I feel relatively young. In reality, I've been doing this for over 20 years and, in fact, was rookie of the year in '95, so I guess I do qualify as a veteran and I need to take advantage of that."
DO YOU FEEL YOU'VE BEEN OVERLOOKED IN THE PAST?
"As long as being a veteran doesn't come with a disabled connotation -- I'm having fun with it, but, no. I think that in some respects there's a certain amount of credit to that or a little respect in that Winston Cup is a very, very elite group -- an exclusive group. Let's face it, it's the premier series and, worldwide, the racers look to this series as the place they would like to be. So, to say that you're a veteran of Winston Cup and that you've been competitive or you've been here for five, six, seven years is a compliment. But the key for me, quite frankly, is the next five years."
WHY IS THAT?
"Because there are things I haven't accomplished. There have been some highlights to my career. Certainly, I feel like I've fallen short in a lot of my personal goals and accomplishments -- things that I would like to have accomplished at this point and I think they are very attainable with the Tide ride."
YOU ARE WITH A FAIRLY NEW TEAM. WHAT HAS CAL WELLS BROUGHT TO THE TEAM?
"A lot of enthusiasm and a lot of determination. He's got two high-profile sponsors with Tide and McDonald's and, because of that, we get a lot of attention. But there are also some responsibilities for all of us in representing them. He's intent on succeeding and I enjoy that drive, so I think all of us are fortunate that he's here everyday and he has his eye on the ball. He has a great long-term plan and we all subscribe to it."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE COME BACK FROM YOUR INJURIES AND HOW NASCAR HAS COME BACK FROM THE DAYTONA TRAGEDY?
"First of all, as it relates to your first question, I can assure you that after Talladega or Texas I have not lost my nerve. I have not lost my ambition or my drive toward NASCAR racing. It's all very personal to me because it's something that I really love doing, I enjoy doing and I've done most of my life. In some respects I think quite the opposite in that some of the things that got me in trouble in '96 or '97 was the urgency I put on winning, the urgency I felt perhaps driving the Budweiser car and trying to keep up with what the Dupont team was doing, which was next door. So, essentially, maybe I lost my focus in that what got me to Winston Cup was the predictability and being a driver that was, I guess, accountable or predictable. I've never considered myself of the style of a Jeff Gordon, where I could lead 480 or 500 laps or dominate, but, rather, just a good racer who is there at the end. I know that with the support I've got here, my enthusiasm is back and my focus is back. I reference Rockingham and Dover as examples of what the team can accomplish and, personally, what I can accomplish. I need to win a race. I've felt that way since 1995 when I got into Winston Cup, but I don't look at it like I used to. I don't have that same urgency because it certainly wasn't the approach I needed to take. As it relates to losing Dale Earnhardt, there certainly is no greater loss from my perspective. From my standpoint, being in Winston Cup, Dale Earnhardt has had a tremendous impact on this sport and he's brought so much attention to NASCAR Winston Cup racing because of his personality and his abilities. There's still a portion of what happened at Daytona that doesn't seem real and I struggle with that. I don't give a lot of consideration to the business aspect and how that's impacted the business, but, rather, how that's impacted Teresa and Dale, Jr. and little Taylor -- just the personal side of it. I struggle with that and I think that's the same way that everyone at NASCAR feels and everyone in this whole fraternity. That's a great, great loss and, although we're competitors, we're a tight group and that's gonna be the void for us."
DO YOU SEE THE NEED FOR A TRAVELING MEDICAL DIRECTOR IN NASCAR WINSTON CUP?
"I haven't given a lot of consideration to that, to be honest. I was recovering from concussions at Darlington, Atlanta and Texas in 1997 and I felt the responsibility to handle my own problems. I think everybody has to view it that way in that, if you're not feeling well -- and, of course, you're the only one that truly knows how you feel -- then you have to take the responsibility to make decisions or to ultimately look for that professional opinion of what might or might not be wrong. But I haven't given enough consideration to what you asked. There's obviously some logistics that would be challenging for that to happen, so it would be a better question for someone within NASCAR. I'm not sure that would be the answer as opposed to somehow continuing on the process that NASCAR has now of making everybody's history available and having a great understanding of what we have personally for our records."
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE MOOD WILL BE AT DAYTONA THIS TIME?
"You would expect that there is gonna be some somber because it's still fresh in everyone's mind. But on the flip side, I think that it could be a sense of celebration to Dale Earnhardt's life and all that he represents. Perhaps being at Daytona, it will help bring some closure to the loss. There's no way I can predict what that will be, but I know it's gonna be an emotional time. Those are just the circumstances involved and it's gonna be difficult, but at the same time I think it will be rewarding to everyone because it's gonna have some significance."
HAVE YOU SEEN ENOUGH OF THE FOX TELECAST TO COMMENT ON THE JOB THEY'VE DONE?
"Unfortunately, I've been out of a few races early enough so I've watched the end of events, and I think Darrell is doing a great job. I love the insight that he brings to the table. He's the John Madden of NASCAR racing. Larry McReynolds, of course, can bring some of the technical side of the sport to the viewers. I really do enjoy the fact that they've exposed us to some new things technically -- the different things with GPS and trying to make it easier for us to follow our favorite race drivers or for the fans all of their favorite race teams. They've done a great job of diagnosing the race car -- the springs, the swaybars and things like that which are often referenced during an event but people may not quite understand exactly what it is they're talking about. I think they've done a very good job."
WHAT ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF USING RAIN TIRES THIS WEEKEND?
"I know that the Tide Ford has window wipers and a brake light. I hadn't given much thought to using them, but we are prepared for it. I was actually in Japan in 1997 when we qualified on rain tires and, as difficult as it seemed and as challenging as it was, we overcame it and I thought it was an interesting experience. The concept of qualifying in the rain in itself is challenging because you think, 'Would there really be fans sitting in the stands to watch us,' when, in reality, I'm sure they would because they're the most loyal of any fan in the world. So, if in fact that happens, we'll be prepared for it and, having done it in Japan, I know it can be successfully done."
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH ROAD RACING?
"I'm really looking forward to Daytona and New Hampshire (laughter). Road racing is not my strength, although Watkins Glen has been good to me in the past. I think that Sears Point is gonna be a challenge for me and I say that to show respect to the other competitors in the fact that there are drivers who are very good on the road courses. There are also some hired guns that are gonna be driving cars that are just one-race opportunities and they're road race specialists of which I am not. But I enjoy it and I'm looking forward to the challenge. I've got to be careful not to look beyond that because Daytona the week after is one of my favorite race tracks and New Hampshire a few weeks after that is home and, personally, those are two of the races I separate from the rest of the schedule. But it's important for me to conquer Sears Point this weekend. I haven't been there since 1997, so I've got my work cut out for me."
HAVE YOU GONE TO ANY OF THE DRIVING SCHOOLS TO HELP YOU OUT?
"I have in fact. I've gone to the Jim Russell School and spent a day. Although the cars are different, the track time is irreplaceable. There is no substitute for track time and I did get some of that last week."
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO HELP THE 96 TEAM A LITTLE BIT?
"I met Andy (Houston) at the beginning of the year and I've got a lot of confidence in him. He's a wonderful young man and a great person. I've supported him and will continue to support him. He's asked me for some help at different times and, actually, I've asked him for help so that's part of the teamwork we display here at PPI. I think he's gonna do a great job and has done a wonderful job, but he's facing the challenges of a rookie season and it's not very forgiving. Again, this is the most competitive series in the world and I'm one of 45 drivers that competes and I'm proud of it. I know he feels the same way, but it doesn't lighten the load. It's very competitive."
MAINE HAS HAD FEW PRO ATHLETES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT AND HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING FROM MAINE?
"It's important because it's home and I have a business there, I have a home there, I have family and friends. There are a lot of things that I believe I represent that are Maine qualities and things that I established as a youngster growing up in Maine. I think it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. There's no place on the coast that, in my opinion, compares to the rocky coast of Maine. We built a home on Moosehead Lake so that my children can experience some of the things I experienced growing up. It's a difficult place to live. It's seasonal and it's very demanding through the winter months, but there's a toughness that you establish just living in that environment that I think is worth something. I really appreciate the fact that I was brought up in New England. I'm a New England boy and I'm proud of being from Maine. As it relates to your question of having so few athletes, I'm not sure that that's a product of Maine, rather a product of the population. It's probably relative to all other states or different territories of the country in terms of the population."
DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL WITH MIKE BORDICK?
"I did. Mike was a year ahead of me and I'm often asked that question by the New England press because Mike has done so well. He actually began his career with Oakland and moved to Baltimore, New York and back to Baltimore. He's done a wonderful job."
MIKE BEAM, Crew Chief --32-- Tide Taurus
WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOU BRING TO THE CAL WELLS OPERATION?
"Well, definitely just the experience of being around other drivers. I've enjoyed working with all of them, so with this being a new team -- not quite two years old -- some of the things I have brought to the table is experience. It's been very interesting for me because PPI is definitely a team of the future with their engineering. I think it's definitely gonna be a good situation once we get some of the problems we've had worked out."
IT'S BEEN UP-AND-DOWN THIS YEAR, BUT AT DOVER YOU WERE STRONG. IS THE TEAM STARTING TO COME AROUND?
"I think it's a sign that we can do this and we just have to quit making mistakes. We've had thing happen to us and all new teams have problems sometimes. We have failures that really shouldn't happen, but they do. One good thing about when we do have something happen is that you have to take that negative and turn it into a positive. You have to say, 'Okay, we know that won't happen again' and we may get better and better. We've had two top-fives and gave away two other top-fives. At Martinsville we had a problem that was our fault, but, there again, the talent is there with Ricky and the team. We've made some personnel changes that has really been better for us, so we can do this. We just have to put it all together and really build on that and, hopefully, next season we can even come out of the box and be stronger."
HOW ARE YOU AND RICKY GETTING ALONG?
"We get along very well. Ricky and myself spend a lot of time together. His wife and my wife have become friends. In fact, up in Pocono, we had dinner together and my youngest daughter, Sara, and his two young children played together, so we have a lot in common with our families and loving the outdoors. For the short time I've known Ricky, we've really become good friends and I think that's really special. I know he supports me and I definitely support him. I really look forward to our relationship growing more and more each race."
HOW DO YOU LIKE THE ONE ROUND OF QUALIFYING?
"It seems to be okay in some ways. In other ways it's kind of hard, especially from our standpoint with Andy's car. Last year, Andy made the races and it always seemed to be on the second day after he got some laps. The schedule has gotten shorter and shorter for us. It seems like we still spend as much time at the race track, in some ways, but it seems that practice has gotten shorter and shorter. In one way it adds a lot of pressure to you. When you come off the truck you've got to be very fast. There's no room for error because if you're down in points, you go home. I think once we get used to it and get through this year, I think it's gonna work out very well."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO VIRGINIA INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY TO TEST YOUR ROAD COURSE CAR THERE?
"No sir. We went down to Kershaw (S.C.) last week and tested. PPI went up there last year and ran some. I heard it's a very nice facility, but I've never been there. We went to Kershaw because it's fairly close for us. We were down there with Steve Park (testing at Kershaw), but I've never been there (to VIR)."
HAVE YOU TESTED AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY?
"NASCAR is making it available to us to go in a day early and do a little bit of testing there. We've chosen not to go there (until race week), but I have talked to a lot of teams that have gone there and they say it's very fast and a very nice facility so we're looking forward to it. We always like a challenge and I've heard that's a great place -- very fast, 195-miles-an-hour into the corner entry from what I've heard. It's a new market and every time we go to a new market the fans are always just so wonderful. I mean, the fans are wonderful everywhere we go, but the new markets are just so hungry for us to be there. I remember going to Indianapolis the first time and, boy, it was just amazing. The people just appreciate you coming so much and it's great. So, I haven't been there but I'm looking forward to going. I like Chicago, so we'll just go up there and unload and get some track time in on Thursday and see what happens."
IS THE CHASSIS SETUP ANY DIFFERENT FOR A ROAD COURSE COMPARED TO AN OVAL?
"Let's just start with a normal oval. You definitely work on your car going to the left all the time. All of your lead is in the left side and your balance is in the left side. Your car is built with offset to go to the left side just to go around the corner, whereas on road course you have to be prepared to go left and right. Basically, what you do on a road course car is you build what we call a no offset car. The chassis has no offset where you can go left and right, but you put the balance mainly on the right side because there is more right-hand turns. You really put a lot of emphasis on brakes and cooling the brake pads, and the front-end geometry. The caster and camber is basically so different compared to just a regular oval because you really work on turning right, but the main thing on a road course is that you're trying to stop a 3400-pound car. The drivers really stand on the brakes, so you just really, really work on brakes and brake bias front to rear and, hopefully, they stay on the track and don't hit anything."
DO YOU USE SOFTER SPRINGS OR SHOCKS?
"No, your setup isn't much different. I mean, the setup we're taking to Sears Point this week isn't much difference than what you run at say a Martinsville. It's really not. The concept is all the same, but you just have to be prepared for the esses at Sears Point and, like I said, put a lot of emphasis on brakes and transmissions. You keep hammering on your driver to be smooth because they can tear up stuff if you let 'em."
HOW DO YOU WORK WITH A DRIVER WHOSE STRENGTH IS NOT ON A ROAD COURSE AND THEN THROW IN THE VARIABLE OF RAIN?
"You have to change your setup quite a bit for the rain, too. What you have to do and what I'm gonna try to do this weekend is unload in race trim and just let him run some laps. In rain, I think the hardest part about rain is just being able to see when you're behind other cars. Like I told Elliott (Sadler) when we were up there in Watkins Glen, I said, 'Just pretend you're driving down the road behind other cars in the rain like you always do,' but it's a big obstacle to overcome. If that happens, we'll have to deal with it, but I've been watching the weather and I hope it doesn't rain."
CAN YOU RATE THE TEAM'S PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON?
"I'm satisfied in some ways and disappointed in other ways. But I see so many good things going on here that it's gonna be a good situation for us once we work out some of the bugs we've had. We felt like we should have had a top-five finish at Atlanta and that didn't come about because we made a mistake on pit road. At Martinsville, we led the race for a little bit and then had an alternator problem that killed our day there. I think we had a top-seven or top-eight finish there, so, for the short time we've been together, I'm very excited. I enjoy working with Ricky. I know he drives his heart out and we work as hard as we possibly can to give him a good car and he's proven that. You look at Dover, Rockingham and Atlanta, he's shown that he deserves to be here and he's ready to win. We just have to do our part to help him accomplish that."
WHAT'S THE STATUS ON THE NEW SEAT YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN WORKING ON?
"They have tested that seat over here at Hickory Speedway two weeks ago. Andy and Ricky both have been really working on that. Hopefully, in about six weeks we can take a final product to NASCAR. It's really a great seat as far as safety. I know Bobby Labonte has been up here and Kyle Petty came and Jeff Burton came and it's gonna be a good seat once certain things are worked out on it. I'm really looking forward to that because it's just very safe. It looks kind of like part of a tub in an Indy car, but it's not. Reynard has worked on it and Mark McArdle here at the shop has really been behind it, and Cal has definitely supported it 100 percent. Hopefully, here in about three weeks the final drawing will be done and we can get a prototype to NASCAR. Then they can approve it. I think once people really see it, they're gonna be really impressed with it. It's definitely something for the future."
IS THIS SOMETHING YOU CAN GET A PATENT FOR AND SELL TO OTHER TEAMS?
"I really don't know. I'm sure that will come about to a certain point, but I think Cal Wells is so safety conscious that he's really concerned about drivers. He did lose a driver in CART and that has really affected him, so he's really concerned about that. He's funded this whole situation himself, so I don't know. I know that's not a big issue for him. The main thing is he's worried about our two athletes here and once that happens, if other people are interested, I'm sure that will come about but, right now, that hasn't even been discussed."
IS THIS PROJECT A POINT OF PRIDE FOR YOU?
"Oh yes. Cal is such a nice man that he worries about people and their safety and health. We've spoke about the time Jeff Prosnoff got killed in his CART car and what a devastating blow that was to him, and I think Cal is just trying to make it safer for every driver. Some teams don't have the resources to develop that, so he just decided he was gonna do that at whatever expense it was for our two athletes that we have here. It's definitely a sense of pride because it's just nice to work for a guy that is that conscientious about other people -- they're health and they're welfare."
SO WE COULD SEE THIS SEAT BY THE END OF THIS YEAR?
"Oh yes. That is the plan. All I can say is that we were at Hickory two weeks ago, I think it was, and both Ricky and Andy drove it. They both had some suggestions. I think Bobby Labonte was up here and Kyle Petty. The main thing we're trying to do right now is get it where the driver can get in and out of the car with the seat. Now NASCAR has changed the window opening to 17 inches and that's gonna make it better with the HANS device. Our drivers are required to work with those, so I'm excited about it because I want to see everybody be safe too. I think it's gonna work out very well. I think once the drivers see it. Any driver, whatever their size, fits in this seat. You just have to make a mold and when there is an accident the driver doesn't move around a whole lot. It's definitely for the future and I think it's gonna be great. I know NASCAR, they definitely support it 100 percent. Gary (Nelson), Steve (Peterson) and Mike (Helton) are so safety conscious too. They really work hard at it, so I think it's gonna be great."