Talladega, Ala. (April 28, 2006) -- NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip was the guest of NEXTEL at Talladega Superspeedway for their weekly driver press conference. The following transcript details Waltrip's views on everything from bump drafting and birthdays to the media's view of Toyota.
(Moderator) -- Welcome, Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 55 NAPA Dodge.
Q. We hear that construction of your new shop at Waltrip Racing World is underway. Is it true it was a movie theatre?
Waltrip: It was a movie theater. The theater building is about 40,000 square feet. Then the adjacent building was a roller skating rink, which we purchased and that's where the cars will be built. My daughter (Macy) tells me all the time that all the little kids are mad at me for tearing up their roller skating rink, but we needed a place to build our TOYOTA'S. I've always had a dream of building a shop that was interactive. If you look at what happened to sports in general and we've seen it in our garage area, everything is about delivering a value to the fan. The race fan can come to the track and see the garage area at Daytona or Kansas and we wanted to have a race shop that was built that way. We are located right off of Interstate 77 (Exit 28) about 20 miles north of the Charlotte-Douglas Airport and about the same distance from the NASCAR Hall of Fame that's being built. We think of our race shop as a destination for a fan. The fan can come there and spend the day or a couple of days if they chose to. We're going to have a motorhome lot that resembles the lots that drivers stay in at the races, so the fan can feel like they are really inside the fences. That is going to be the theme of our shops. You're going to be able to go behind the fences and see what really going on. We are looking forward to getting it to the point where we can open it officially for tours so fans can see the place and that looks to be in about a year from now. We can be in most of the shop by early 2007, but we are going to wait and make sure we have everything ironed out before we open it to the public.
Q. How concerned are you about qualifying this weekend since you are outside the top-35 in owner's points?
Waltrip: Very. I qualified poorly at Daytona. I have to qualify in on speed. A year ago I went to Phoenix and finished second, came here and ran third and then went to Richmond and had another top-10, so I felt good about where things were going. This year is come in here back on my heels. We qualified poorly at Phoenix, but had a respectable car. We were finally running competitively and got wiped out. Because of that, I come here and have to qualify to get into the race. They (Bill Davis Racing) brought a new car that was better in the wind tunnel and they gained horsepower. We beat enough people at Daytona to get into this race, if we run the same here as we did down there. Other people have gained, but we've gained as well. Hopefully it will be a smooth two laps. It doesn't matter where I start. I started last at Daytona in the Busch race, with a car that was 1.5-seconds slower than the fastest car, and took the lead with two to go. I didn't quite make it to the end. I figured there was going to be a big crash and I was right. It was fun to drive that car to the front and I'm confident I can drive the NAPA car to the front if it's in the show on Sunday.
Q. How devastating would it be to miss the race?
Waltrip: I wouldn't say devastating. It would be disappointing. It would be something that I didn't expect. My definition of devastating has changed a lot over the years. There are a lot more important things than that. I also believe if we have a problem getting in, I will probably have to nose around and find other ride for Sunday. It's my birthday. I can't miss the race."
Q. Can you talk about the difference in racing here as part of the dynamic duo with you and Dale Jr. as an entry, where everyone knew they had to separate the two of you and coming here now on your own. Talk about what you welcome or don't welcome about that?
Waltrip: I don't welcome anything about not being part of the story. I like it when the other drivers talk about me and what they are going to have to do to beat me. Honestly, I believe if I can get into the race, I can drive to the front and be part of the story. I'm very confident in my ability and I'm also confident that my team has improved my car for me and that I will be part of the story on Sunday.
Q. So, you do feel like you can be a factor as a solo driver and not part of a duo?
Waltrip: Yeah, no doubt. I look forward to that opportunity. I know what I can do. As a race car driver, even though I rattled off those stats about a year ago, you always have to prove yourself. And in the situation I find myself in now, I really have it inside of me that I can go out and fix this and make things better. That's just my attitude."
Q. We've heard mixed feeling form drivers about what they think the affect of the soft bumpers will be in regards to bump drafting. What's your take?
Waltrip: Well that's a simple question for me. I've been out there and been hit in the back with a bump draft that made you feel like you had hit the wall, it was so hard. That's not going to be possible anymore. So I know as a race car driver that softening up the front nose is going to make the race safer. Will there still be a wreck? Probably. It will be caused by someone hitting someone. But you're not going to have the ability to just go up and drill someone, which could cause a wreck as well. I read where some drivers are saying that the softer bumpers won't help. Well they might. If you're racing and there's a chance that NASCAR can do something to make it safer, than everybody should say, I'm all for it. And we'll still wreck. It will be caused by something else. But at least we will eliminate the ability for people to just recklessly drive into you. And I'm guilt of it (bump draft) too. But I haven't done it recklessly yet. I hit people as hard as I can and I know I'm going to find out real quick, how much is too much. I think they (NASCAR) could have gone further by putting the bumpers that they mandated a couple inches behind the nose, so if you run into somebody it would break it. But you have to start somewhere.
Q. In putting together your deal for next year, how much of a distraction is that now?
Waltrip: It's none. I've got a great group of people. I love Monday thru Thursday, when I get to be apart of what we are building. It's just a wonderful opportunity to be able to compete with a team that I will own and with drivers I think can win championships and races.
The only distraction, or the thing that's got on my nerve over the last few month's, is the way the Toyota story has been told in the media. You have got it all wrong and let me explain why. Every time I read something, it says TOYOTA is after Ricky Rudd. TOYOTA is after crew members. They're not. TOYOTA'S relationship with me is that they are my manufacturer. They have committed to build cars and engines, not unlike Richard Childress gets help from General Motors or Robert Yates gets help from Ford. It's the same thing. When Evernham's crew guys went to Yates, you didn't say, Ford took them! That is crazy. That is a travesty! This is going to drive racing prices out of control. No, you said Yates got Ray's crew guys. Well, TOYOTA is in California, building the marketing plans, building their engines, working on their stuff for 2007 and beyond. I am in North Carolina with Ty Norris and my folks and we're hiring people. We're making the decisions on which direction our team needs to go in. It doesn't have anything to do with TOYOTA. I know the fact is TOYOTA didn't talk to Ricky Rudd. There are three teams. You have Red Bull, me and Bill Davis. If those teams are talking to people and it's being spun into TOYOTA is talking to them, that is simply not the facts and it's not true.
Another thing I read was that the garage area didn't need a union now that TOYOTA was here, which I thought was catchy, but it's not true. It's going to cost me roughly $20 million to run my team. And most of that comes from NAPA. The biggest part of the success of my team is that we have been able to land solid sponsors. We are out conducting business as respectfully to the other teams as we can. Trying to do the things we need to do without hacking anyone off.
Please as a group (media), look at how you write it. It's not TOYOTA. It's the teams that are going about trying to conduct business. I haven't been vocal about all the comments that I have read, but I have finally got to the point where I want you to come find me if you have any questions because I know exactly what's going on. I'm piped right in. We have conference calls and phone conversations weekly with Mr. Illingworth, Mr. Aust, Mr. White and all the folks in California with TOYOTA. It would be refreshing if we could get the story correct.
One thing I was called in the media was a Trojan horse. I thought it was a compliment until I read on the internet what that was. And actually it isn't a compliment. It means I'm just a figure head for TOYOTA and I am not. It's my money. I'm the one making this huge investment. They are just my manufacturing partner. Just like NAPA is my partner and Domino's is my partner or Burger King or whomever. That's the story. I know I'm not going to change the world with one press conference, but if I could read something other than TOYOTA is messing up our sport, It would be refreshing.
Q. We have heard racing at Bristol called jetfighters in a gymnasium and Talladega as a 200 mph parking lot. As a driver that has raced here for a number of years, how do you describe it?
Waltrip: If you want to compare it to video games, you know it's so intense and you're trying to do a bunch of things at once. Now think of playing a video game and where if you make a mistake Evander Holyfield punches you in the head. You'll be playing along and you mess up and you know you've messed up and then much to your surprise you get socked in the head. That's why I explain to people as intense as playing a video game with your friend can be, there is no price to pay when you mess up in a video game. In this deal, crazy things can happen if you make a mistake. We've seen some pretty wild wrecks. It's just as intense as anything you can ever imagine. There can't be any tougher in sports than surviving and winning at Talladega, because you have to drive through land minds all day long.
Q: Where are you in the process of hiring people for your new program, hiring a second driver? Are you planning to have a Busch Series program with TOYOTA next year and how challenging is it to have to build a Camry under the current template as well as develop a Car of Tomorrow?
Waltrip: The Car of Tomorrow is just a bonus to me. It's going to be safer and it's going to make racing more exciting for the fans because of the rules. Mainly it's just going to be a safer car.
What we plan on doing is working with the other teams that TOYOTA supports to see if someone can development on one thing and someone else do development on another to speed up that curve. Thanks to our program this year with Burger King, we've hired a number of people. We probably have 20 some folks on board led by Larry Carter and Bobby Kennedy who are busy building our Chevrolet's for this year and Bill Elliott. We think that will be a real bonus for TOYOTA as we build that car. Chevrolet seems to be on top of the game right now and hopefully our cars will mirror those.
My plan is to have two NEXTEL Cup Series teams and two Busch teams. I haven't hired a second driver yet for the Cup car. I would like to think that (David) Reutimann could drive one of my Busch cars. We do have sponsorship in place for the two Cup cars and one of the Busch cars. And we are working towards announcing who the second sponsor is and who that driver will be. We think we have put the right people in the right places so far. We just have to continue to build. If you can appreciate that it costs a lot of money to hire people, the Burger King program allowed us to ramp up a little bit sooner than we would probably have been able to afford to before because we have some sponsorship dollars coming in that will help pay those people as we race through 2006. It costs a whole lot of money to build a race team and not go race, because there is not a whole lot coming in. So we're real thankful for the Burger King piece of it because it will help offset the tremendous costs that we're faced with this year.
Q. So you have hired David Reutimann to drive your Busch car?
Q. If TOYOTA hasn't talked to Ricky Rudd, have you or any of the other teams talked to Ricky Rudd and when would you like to have that second driver and what type of driver, veteran or young, are you looking for?
Waltrip: Well I thought Rudd had quit. We did talk to Ricky about doing the partial deal like we did with Bill (Elliott) this year. We didn't look at it as an option for next year. If I'm the TOYOTA that talked to him, I would just as soon him say Michael talked to me about driving, because TOYOTA didn't. As far as my driver lineup, we would like to have someone in place as soon as possible. We want to make sure we hire the best available guy we can get and we don't want to be controversial about it. We want to get the guy and have the guy want us, so we can be ready in 2007.
Q. I had heard where TOYOTA had asked Dale Jarrett to drive for their team. Did you ask Dale Jarrett to drive for your team?
Waltrip: I haven't really talked about that a whole lot. It's been in the media that his deal is up at the end of the year. You ought to be able to figure out that I probably have. How could you not? He's a champion. He's a friend. I did ask him, but I don't have anything to report. But TOYOTA did not ask Dale Jarrett.
Q. We have seen plenty of airborne-flipping type crashes here over the last few years. You were involved in one last year and at Daytona a couple years back. What is that sensation like?
Waltrip: Well...It's alright. Every flip I ever had it just flipped a while and then stopped. The worst experience I had when I flipped was when they tried to squish me at Daytona after the car stopped. They were cutting roll bars out and I was sitting on roll bars and I raised my hand and said, if you cut all those bars won't I get smashed by the car? They said no and I said well stop doing it anyway. That was frustrating. The actual flipping was energy dissipating and any time you can dissipate energy and you don't come to a sudden stop, it's going to hurt less. It's really not that big of a deal. Like Sterling (Marlin) said, the world was upside-down than it was upside-right. That's kind of what it feels like and you just wonder how many times it's going to do it.
Q. So Michael, you are saying that Lee White or Jim Aust doesn't call you on the phone and say we'd like to you to consider this or that guy as one of your drivers? You're saying that doesn't happen at all?
Waltrip: Not at all. I'm running my team. Now, when we make a decision, obviously we call our partners, whether it's NAPA, TOYOTA or who it is. But we are not receiving any direction from TOYOTA. They want to sell more cars. They want to sell more trucks. TOYOTA wants to come into the sport and blend into the landscape, just like they did in the truck series. No beating their chest. No saying we're number one, we're the greatest. They just want to slide in and get a chance to race against the other guys. TOYOTA is more concerned about its business than they are about how I run mine. I don't call Jim and Lee up and tell them they need to change the Camry a little bit for tall people. I just let them do that. They're busy making marketing plans. They're busy building an engine and developing the engineering support to back their teams. TOYOTA trusts their teams to make the decisions on the people we are going to put in their cars. I just wish we could all agree and say, I understand what your saying Mike. Maybe TOYOTA'S lack of presence in the Cup garage has given you the chance to listen to the comments of the other owners and manufacturers and then say okay where do I get the rebuttal from on the TOYOTA side? They're at the truck races competing. So then you say, well there is no rebuttal, so I guess that guy must be right. I generally like to hide in my motorhome all day long when I'm not in my car. But I will make myself available to you if you have a question at any time. If you want me to respond to something someone has said regarding TOYOTA, come find me. Because the way it's being reported isn't correct.
Q. How important is the test at Charlotte (Lowe's Motor Speedway) next week and was that track up against the border of being unsafe last year?
Waltrip: Well, you kind of have to think that when you get into one of these things you are kind of up against the border of being unsafe. So that's a little unfair. The track was hard on tires and that was the problem. Now hopefully NASCAR and the speedway, along with Goodyear, have conducted tests that the track will be less hard on tires. I don't like new pavement. I've said that 100 times. I think the only paving job I have ever l appreciated was Richmond. For some reason, once they paved it we could run all over it. We got on the band wagon of these cookie cutter race tracks and because they were all 1.5-miles and all one length. But now we run all over them. Texas is great because the pavement has seasoned. Now another great thing that happened was what they did at Homestead-Miami. When they did that weird banking deal, we raced all over it. I'm a big fan of that and would like to see more of it.
But as far as going to Charlotte, it is a huge test because of the uncertainties. Hopefully they have rectified the problems they had. I think something good did come out of that. I don't think anyone will go do something to their track before a race without respect to Goodyear or NASCAR