Today's Winston Breakfast Club featured Benny Parsons, who captured the 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup championship in the No. 72 DeWitt Racing Chevrolet and Bobby Labonte, winner of the 2000 Winston Cup title in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac.
Today's Winston Breakfast Club featured Benny Parsons, who captured the 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup championship in the No. 72 DeWitt Racing Chevrolet and Bobby Labonte, winner of the 2000 Winston Cup title in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac. Both drivers will be honored prior to Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway as part of NASCAR's "Victory Lap" tribute to 33-year sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Parsons clinched his 1973 crown at Rockingham, which is also where Labonte has won both a race and a Bud Pole Award. Highlights of the morning press conference follow:
(ABOUT THE TRIBUTE)
BENNY PARSONS: "Winning the championship was one of the biggest thrills of my entire racing career. And it came at the last race here at Rockingham in 1973. My shop was 10 miles away. L.G. DeWitt, the owner of the car, was the president of the racetrack. So obviously that it happened at this race track made it even more special. It was the last race of the year and there were 28 races that season."
(WHAT HAPPENED DURING THAT RACE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?)
BP: "It was kind of dramatic. The point system was a little different back in 1973. They paid points for each lap that you ran. In 1973, our season was kind of like Matt Kenseth's season this year. We only won one race, but we were terribly consistent and finished in the top five, top 10 all year. So we came here with Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough having a chance to win the championship. We were leading. We qualified somewhere in the top 10. The race started and unfolded perfectly. The top four or five cars pulled away about a half-straightaway. I'm running fifth or sixth. I've got a half-straight on the next group of cars. I'm all by myself. This is perfect.
"On the 13th lap I came off Turn 2 - we didn't have spotters back then. We barely had radios back then. We had two. I had one and the crew chief had one. A car had spun and was still sitting on the racetrack facing the infield - almost completely blocking the race track. I tried to turn under him and didn't quite make it. I caught him just behind the right front tire. There was a big blowout. The car never spun, but it finally came to a stop about halfway down the backstretch. The engine had stalled during all this. So I pushed the clutch in and it started right up. I put it in gear and let the clutch out but it wouldn't move.
"For some reason, I looked to the right. I had no right side. I had ripped the sheet metal and the roll cage out of the right side. The rear housing was knocked back about two feet. The right rear was knocked back about two feet. And my heart literally sank because I knew it was over. You don't repair damage like that. I looked down the backstretch and my right rear spring was laying in Turn 3.
"We got the car back in the pit area. And Bobby, if you're ever running for a championship again at the last race, let me give you one piece of advice. You think you had everything ready. We had a spare engine ready to go and all the parts to do it with. But when I wrecked, I did not have a wrecker to get me back to the garage area. It took an extra three or four minutes to get it pulled back over and the crew looked at it. We're done because we don't have any roll bars and we don't have a tube bender. Ralph Moody was building the engines for us then. He had come down that weekend to help a team and Bobby Musgrover was the driver. They had failed to qualify. They had not loaded the car up and it was sitting at the end of the old garage area down there. Ralph said to go down and cut the roll bars out of that car. Okay. We cut the roll bars out and fit them into my car. And with NASCAR's supervision, we pulled back on the race track an hour and 15 minutes later. The rule now is that you have to have sheet metal over the car. In 1973 that was not the case. So here I go around the race track with no right side and the fans could look right in the car. One of the neatest moments of my career was pulling out down the backstretch. We all know what the wave is at a ballpark. Well, that's what they did. When I went down the backstretch, they did the wave. It was unbelievable."
"That's cool. I remember seeing a picture of it and I knew Tex Powell and some of the guys who worked on the car then. It's cool to see that happen. It's obviously an honor to be here this weekend with Benny. What I get out of the story is do you think we should change the point system? (laughs) No, I'm just kidding. That's what I always get asked."
"They did change it in 1974 and that didn't work out either. I think it was in 1975 that they changed it to the present system."
"It's just really exciting to be honored this weekend and be part of the past champions. It's a great situation. I won the championship in 2000 and hopefully we'll get back up there again one of these days. To win in 2000, we had a great season that year. I'll never forget a lot of the memories we had that year. It was special throughout that year because every weekend we were in the top five in points and we got to number one early on. And we stayed there. We had a lot of competition throughout the year.
"But I think the things I remember most were that we clinched it in Homestead. The weekend before the last race of the year we had a lot of great things happen to our race team. We had three or four wins and a bunch of top fives and top tens. It was one of those deals kind of like Matt Kenseth has had this year and some other guys have had in years past where they've been able to finish all the races and not have any problems. We had a modern day record of finishing all but nine laps that year. I thought Matt was going to do that this year but when he fell out at Talladega he didn't get that one.
"But anyway, it was real exciting. Winston was always there all year long. When you're leading the points it's a lot more special because you get to do a lot more things. They always provide you with a lot of incentives as far as perks to help promote you and the race team. That's what made it all special. Obviously going to Homestead for the weekend, we qualified good and ran good. We won the championship down there. I about fumbled the trophy, which was a bad thing. I gathered it back and didn't drop anything.
We partied throughout the evening. It was getting late and it got dark earlier. I'll never forget. We did a lot of TV stuff and I stayed in my fire suit for hours. It was drenched with champagne. We ended up finally leaving the race track around 10 p.m. It wasn't just getting the trophy and leaving. My wife and I and the kids stopped at Wendy's on the way home. We went through the drive-through and got our burgers and got on the airplane and went home.
"The next day I was at home. You (the media) should have been there because Monday after the championship, I didn't realize how much I had actually lied throughout the year. Everybody always asked me about the pressure and I always said I didn't have any pressure at all. Now the pressure is lifted off my shoulders on Monday. What do I do now? On Monday I'm at home and I didn't have anything to do. You guys didn't plan for anything for me on Monday.
"I was playing pool in the basement by myself in the basement. My wife called and asked what I was doing. I told her I was playing pool. She asked me with who I was playing with. I said, 'Me.". Nobody called me. My brother and I went out and bought about 10 bottles of champagne and we were going to have a party. But my wife got home and said we had to do this and we had to do that and so we never had a party until about the third week in December. The champagne was plenty chilled.
"But it was interesting how it went. All this stuff was built up and then on Monday, I had to find things to do. It was kind of a relief because the pressure was off. But it was a neat deal. Winning the championship in 2000 was something I'll never forget. I'll never forget the highs and the lows and the post-championship throughout the year and being the reigning champion in 2001 and being able to do things for Winston after that. It was exciting. It's definitely a dream come true to win the championship, and these guys (R.J. Reynolds) made it all worthwhile. I just want to that them for that."
(DO YOU THINK MATT KENSETH IS SUPPRESSING THE SAME KIND OF PRESSURES THAT YOU FELT?) "If I had to guess, I'd say so. I think he's handling himself really well. If he is, he's held it in because I don't see it. It's just the nature of the beast when you're trying to go after a trophy that's so hard to get throughout a long season. It's not a10 week deal and this is not even a year-long deal. It's career-long to get this. Not many people have done it. Getting it is not the easiest thing. And you never know if you'll have the chance ever again. I'm sure he's got a couple of knots in his stomach, but he sure is doing a good job of not letting everybody else see it."
(DO YOU THINK ALL THE PRESSURE RIGHT NOW IS ON ROBBY RISER AND THE CREW?)
BENNY PARSONS: "Those are the guys who are really feeling it because he's in a situation that mechanically nothing can go wrong. The car needs to be handling perfectly. I think Robby is wound pretty tight right now, and rightly so. Usually you go by and try to kid with those guys. But right now, they don't take the kidding like they did back during the early part of the season."
BOBBY LABONTE: "Well, they were always pretty serious. If you were second or third in points and something happens, well you were giving it your best shot. But obviously being first in points with the lead that they've had, the pressure goes to them more than anybody else because they've got more to lose. They can only gain by making sure nothing happens. So it is more of a pressure-packed situation for those guys. You try to do the same thing you've been doing all the time. Don't over-tighten everything, but don't leave anything loose either. It's hard because you do the same thing every weekend, 38 weeks a year. But their pressure is not like Matt's on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. Their pressure is that they don't have time to think about it. Their pressure is hurting them more at night probably when they do get a chance to relax a little bit."
(MATT KENSETH WILL GET $4.25 MILLION WHEN HE GETS TO NEW YORK. WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR SHARE?)
BENNY PARSONS: "When it was all said and done with the NASCAR point fund money and the Winston money, we might have gotten $70,000 out of it. If I'm not mistaken, I think what I got out of it was $4100."
(TODAY, WHEN YOU LEAVE THE DAYTONA 500, PEOPLE ARE ALREADY TALKING ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WAS THAT THE CASE IN 1973?)
BENNY PARSONS: "No, not really. Back then, once you got through the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend and wherever you were in points, that's when you started thinking about whether or not you could win the championship. In 1971, Winston paid segments. The leader at the end of the first segment got $10,000. And that was big."
(WAS YOUR SEASON IN 1973 SIMILAR TO RYAN NEWMAN'S 2003 SEASON IN THAT HE'S WON A LOT OF RACES BUT IS NOT EVEN IN 2ND PLACE IN THE POINTS?)
BENNY PARSONS: "In 1973, David Pearson won 11 races. I won one. But he only competed in 18. Matt Kenseth has won one race this year. He hasn't fallen out of but one race. Ryan Newman, back in April and May, had four finishes in a row, and 38th might have been his best finish. I think we need to reward the teams for finishing the races and being there at the end like Kenseth is being rewarded this year. If a guy wins 10 or 12 races, I don't see where he should be the champion over somebody that finishes in the top five every week."
BOBBY LABONTE: "I agree. The point structure is for consistency, not for just pure wins. That's the way it is presented to us and it's been that way since 1975 and that's they way we've been doing it. If the point structure was different tomorrow, these guys are smart enough to figure out what to do and what it's going to take to win races and that's what we would work toward doing. Right now, our goal is consistency. We want to win every race, but we realize we need to finish every race and every lap we can. That's what wins championships."
BENNY PARSONS: "In 1948 in the Streamline Hotel, a group of guys got together and said we're going to form this association or organization called NASCAR. I don't know who he was, but the guy who mentioned points was the smartest guy in the room. Since that day, everyone has chased those points to win that trophy. And that's what, in the 1960's, kept the field of cars there at these 100-mile race tracks when you only had Richard Petty and a couple of guys who could win the race, but you had a field of cars there chasing those points to get part of that point fund at the end of the season. That's what made the field of cars. It wasn't the $300 they made to start the race."
(AS A CREW MEMBER IN 1984 WHEN TERRY LABONTE WON THE TITLE, CAN YOU COMPARE THE DRIVER/CREW CHIEF RESPONSIBILITIES AND PRESSURES IN A CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE?)
BOBBY LABONTE: "Well, it pays a lot more in 2000 than it did in 1984. But it was exciting to go to New York in 1984 and be a part of a championship team. It was a lot closer championship that year and only nine of us working at the shop. I didn't change tires, but I did catch gas. I did work on the race cars in the shop and did all kinds of things because that was my college degree that I was earning then. Instead of going to college, that was what I wanted to do. Back then it was a lot different. Being part of it then was exciting. Getting to go to New York was exciting. Not being high enough on the totem pole to stay at the Waldorf, we stayed across the street at the Doral. When I first started going, I was pretty excited because I could tell everybody I stayed across the street.
"But the pressures were probably less then than they are today because the crew chief had more pressure on him. There was not a car chief. My dad built the rear ends and transmissions. I disassembled the cars and put them back together. There were a lot of good guys there then. It was a lot of fun. Obviously the pressure was there. The championship that year went down to the last race between him (Terry) and Harry Gant. But being a part of that whole deal was pressure packed in one way but not to the extent that it is today like it is for Robby Riser and those guys today."
(REGARDING THE POINT SYSTEM, WAS THERE TALK IN 1973 THAT THE CHAMPION SHOULD HAVE MORE WINS?)
BENNY PARSONS: "Yeah, I think a lot of the media said how could he be the champion when David Pearson won 11 races. I don't think that's changed over the years. But I felt like we had won the championship. Pearson failed to show up for 10 races, therefore he relinquished his right to the championship."
(HOW WOULD YOU ACCESS YOUR TOP 10 SEASON WITH ALL THE CHANGES YOU'VE HAD TO GO THROUGH THIS YEAR?)
BOBBY LABONTE: "I think it's been really good. There have been two halves to our season. Our first half was a whole lot better than our second half has been. But at the same time, I'm not going to complain about it because we've had some circumstances that were out of our control. Obviously, some were. We'd like to change the ones that weren't and we can't change the ones that were. But we feel we've got a great base from this first season with all the changes we've had in our race team. I feel real encouraged with everything we've done to this point. We can be greedy and always want to win more races and have more top fives and be higher up in points. We're going to be. But we can't do anything about that now. But we're excited. We've got great personnel and great cars. Everything is going good. We are just in the middle of things and we need to tweak it up just a little bit. The competition is so close that if you move a tenth of a second for this race and the next race, all of a sudden you're a lot better. We just need to turn it up a notch and we'd be a lot more competitive. But I give my guys an A-plus. We came back from a disappointing season last year and finished outside of the top 10 in points for the first time in a long time. This year, we're back in 8th place right now. We feel like we can be competitive."
(HOW DOES JIMMY MAKAR'S MOVE TO GENERAL MANAGER BENEFIT BOTH THE NO. 18 AND THE NO. 20 TEAMS?) "Last year, Jimmy was a crew chief and trying to do the same thing he's doing now at the same time. I don't think either job was getting 100 percent effort because it was too much on the plate for one person. So the concentration for him now is not to worry about what we're doing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track, but more about how to get to that point. He's looking over the test plan and the engineering and making sure that everything is going right. That helps out both teams because we had a void there. Instead of adding a person, we just moved him to that position. I think it has helped the program and will continue to grow."