This Week in Ford Racing April 30, 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, has a lot on his mind as the Craftsman Truck Series rolls back into action this week at Gateway (Ill.) International Raceway. The...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 30, 2002
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, has a lot on his mind as the Craftsman Truck Series rolls back into action this week at Gateway (Ill.) International Raceway. The Mobile, Ala., native is not only the driver of the currently unsponsored Ford, but he also oversees the day-to-day operations at the Concord, N.C., shop while team owner Tom Mitchell tends to his regular business in Ozona, Tex. Presently fourth in the point standings, Crawford is actively involved in the search for a sponsor, but he hopes that with improved performance and a victory in the near future sponsorship can be secured.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford F-150
AFTER STARTING THE SEASON WITH A 24TH-PLACE PERFORMANCE AT DAYTONA, YOU POSTED A FIFTH-PLACE FINISH AT DARLINGTON AND A THIRD-PLACE FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE. HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE HAS THAT BUILT FOR YOUR TEAM? "It's built a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum. Tom Mitchell with Circle Bar Motel & RV Park out in Ozona, Texas, has really provided us with the total package. We've got Ernie Elliott engines under the hood, my crew chief Ray Stonkus is the best in the business, and the Ford F-150 pickups that the guys are building in the shop are on time right this minute and it's just a matter of where and not particularly when before we pick up our first win of the season."
WHAT HAS KEPT YOU OUT OF VICTORY LANE SO FAR THIS SEASON? "I guess it's the timing of the checkered flag. At Martinsville, we were leading at nearly halfway and I think we had one of the strongest trucks there, if not the one to beat, and when they dropped the checkered flag, we finished third and we had to take it. You've just got to go on to the next one. You can't look in the rearview mirror at a race like that. To finish in the top three, that's not really disappointing, but we're paid to win."
YOU HAVE A UNIQUE SITUATION AS A DRIVER IN THE SERIES WHERE YOU ALSO OVERSEE THE DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS IN THE SHOP. IS IT A DISTRACTION AS DRIVER TO HANDLE BOTH JOBS WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING FOR SPONSORSHIP AFTER THE SEASON HAS STARTED? "It hasn't been a distraction at all. It's been a daily routine for the last 22 years for me to watch what's going on with a race team. From having my own race team to partnering up with Mr. Mitchell for the last 11 years, this is his way of running the race team, and I guess between me and him, we wouldn't have it any other way. I've been used to it, I've done it on my own and now I'm doing it for him. It's a daily routine to watch over the business, sponsor or not, but our main concern is that we get paid to win and run good. To put a team together like that with everything you need, like I said, the total package, is rewarding when you know you oversee everything, too. I know a lot of drivers don't do that and a lot of team managers don't drive. I seem to do a lot in the mix, but I know what's going on. I know what's happening in the shop and I know what the crew chief is thinking; I think that has a lot to do with it. We go to lunch nearly every day of the week and we know what each other is thinking and I think that has a lot to do with our performance, that we think a lot alike and we can put our best foot forward all the time."
THERE ARE A FEW OF TEAMS SITTING IN THE TOP-FIVE IN POINTS LOOKING FOR PRIMARY SPONSORSHIP FOR THIS SEASON. IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE COMPETITIVE IN THE TRUCK SERIES WITHOUT CORPORATE FUNDING? "I really wish we had a sponsor. I wish we were representing the big corporate image. My team has done a great job in the past for Milwaukee Electric Tool, and we still have a great relationship with them today. We were sponsored by them for two years and they decided not to rejoin us for this coming year, and we still talk and have that relationship going, but our team has something to sell. We have something to represent - a good corporate image - and we're still going to be here tomorrow. We'll be here till the end of the year and then some. We're pretty excited about some prospects, but Tom Mitchell is going to keep this team racing, and hopefully with results that we have and our sales force here, we can find a sponsor pretty quick to represent. Once you have that, I think you have that full team going and that adds a lot to a race team. You want to not only have that American flag flying down the side of the truck, but when you have that corporate image and you're representing a corporation, trying to sell a product, that's satisfying, too."
IS THE TEAM FEELING ANY SORT OF FINANCIAL PINCH DUE TO THE LACK OF CORPORATE FUNDING? "We're business as usual, but there are small things. You get everything you need, but there are things that you want that you have to tighten your belt up on. Nobody has been laid off, and we're business as usual, but we're watching things pretty close to be racing longer. We're surely not skimping on performance."
THIS WEEKEND MARKS YOUR 130TH START IN THE SERIES. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS ONE OF THE VETERANS NOW? "When you talk about being a veteran in a series, people start mentioning your age, and I still act like a young man. I guess you could call me a veteran; I've been in the series, except for the first two years it started. I really enjoy the Craftsman Truck Series, and it's a nice place to be at this point in my career. I look forward to doing other things, but right now, I'm happy to be in this series and I'm really focused on the big picture later on."
CHEVROLET COMES INTO THE WEEKEND'S RACE AT GATEWAY WITH A RULE CHANGE. DO YOU FEEL THAT THE FORD TEAMS ARE BEING KEPT OUT OF THE COMPETITIVE PICTURE? "I hope not. You wouldn't believe the overtime hours, the extra hours in the wind tunnel lately and the hours spent here at the race shop. If the series is waiting for Ford to cry about what is going on around them, it's not going happen from this team. We're not necessarily trying to beat ourselves, we're trying to beat the other teams and the only way to do that is with hard work right at this minute. From where we stacked up after Daytona, Darlington and Martinsville - especially when the three top manufacturer teams went to the wind tunnel after Darlington and stayed there a month - the results of that wind tunnel test sort of let you know where you were stacked against the competition. The break in the action was welcome to us because it allowed us to rethink our situation and re-plan, and to try to advance our team to be more competitive with the other two makes. But now I think we're ready. We've made a few changes, and really fine-tuned a lot, and found some things with our own piece, and that's what we've got to do."
WITH THE LONG BREAKS BETWEEN THE FIRST THREE RACES, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KEEP YOUR DRIVING SKILLS SHARP? "We work out three times a week, physically, and I mow my grass once a week on my Sears tractor. I'm ready. I'm ready for St. Louis and I'm ready for the season to really begin. The first three races have had three weeks between each if them, so I'm really looking at this stretch as the start of the season. I'm ready for the season to begin and I think our race team is, and they're ready to showcase their talents on pit road."
THE PAST TWO CHAMPIONS HAVE OVERCOME TRIPLE-DIGIT POINT DEFICITS TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT THE END OF THE SEASON. IS THAT ENCOURAGING GIVEN YOUR CURRENT FOURTH-PLACE POINT STANDING? "I look at what we're doing, and I really don't look at what the other guys are doing. I see where they're at but I'm more concentrating on our finishes. A lot people say that when you win a race, the points come with it, and that's what we're looking at. At Daytona, when you finish 24th and start the season in 24th in points, you can't go to Darlington and say that I'm going to lead every lap and lap the field because Darlington is the type of race track that can step out and bite you at any time. You can tear up a lot of equipment and people did. And so, Darlington, for us, was an insurance race to get back in the points picture. We did that, and then we had a top-three run at Martinsville, with a fourth-place qualifying effort. We've done what we've needed to do, but we need to continue it now."
WITH THREE RACES RUN IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF COMPETITION, DOES NASCAR NEED TO ADJUST THE SCHEDULE TO ADD MORE RACES OR TO SHORTEN THE SEASON? "I think that a NASCAR fan is a NASCAR fan, no matter what city you put them in or what track you put the vehicles on. But I do think that the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has a class in it's own, and I think we need to up our schedule some, maybe four or five races, and put us in companion events with the Winston Cup shows or even some Busch shows. I really don't see anything wrong with the schedule right now, except for the time spent in-between races, especially with us looking for a sponsor right at this minute because we're not really into business until the schedule really starts even though we've already raced three races. That's what a company is looking for. They want their names in lights on the race track week-in and week-out, and so far you haven't done that."
HAS THE TRUCK SERIES EVOLVED TO WHERE IT NEEDS TO BECOME A COMPANION SERIES? "This year we have more companion races with Winston Cup than ever before, and I think that's going to hold true for the upcoming seasons. We're the most competitive series out there and we're probably the most controversial series out there. A lot of things happen in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the fans get put on the edge of their seats. I think that some of the real veteran racers - like Darrell Waltrip - it was good for the series to have him step back in at Martinsville and make a showing and come back on a serious note to try to help the series out a little bit. It was probably the most-watched event since Daytona, and I wish that could happen more often."
YOU'VE HINTED IN THE PAST ABOUT A POSSIBLE JUMP TO WINSTON CUP WITH THIS TEAM. IS THAT IN THE NEAR FUTURE? "Being owned by Tom Mitchell, he's the boss and he owns the team. He dictates what we do, and he's like E.F. Hutton - when he talks, people listen, especially me. I have the utmost respect for him of anybody in the world and if he wants to go Winston Cup racing, I sure hope he chooses me as his driver. I surely want to try some Winston Cup shows here in the near future, but when he says I give you all I've got to run the truck, that's what my mind is set on. Sure, I'd be a fool to say that I don't ever want to run Winston Cup because I've been told to run the truck series, but I am focused on running the trucks. Our business is designed on trucks, but I think that everybody in the shop realizes that one day Rick Crawford wants to run Winston Cup and I sure hope it's with Tom Mitchell."