Today's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teleconference consisted of three Ford Racing principles: team owner Jack Roush, driver Jon Wood and Ford Racing Program Manager Robert Brooks. The following is the transcript of today's roundtable discussion...
Today's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teleconference consisted of three Ford Racing principles: team owner Jack Roush, driver Jon Wood and Ford Racing Program Manager Robert Brooks. The following is the transcript of today's roundtable discussion which included topics such as the upcoming rule changes, the transition from a one-two finish in the 2000 points championship and the truck series as a development program.
ROBERT BROOKS, Craftsman Truck Series Program Manager-Ford Racing
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES FORD HAS FACED IN 2001 SINCE LOSING GREG BIFFLE AND KURT BUSCH AND ULTRA MOTORSPORTS? HAVE THEY BEEN TOUGH TO OVERCOME?
"They certainly have. Everything you stated is a big change to us this year. When you take the one, two and the fourth-place drivers out of the series, and when you look down in the points and the next driver is 12th in points, not knocking him, but that's just a big leap as far as making a run at a championship again. The one thing is also, to comment on the rookies trying to replace a Greg Biffle and a Kurt Busch, even though Kurt Busch was a rookie last year, he was a very exceptional rookie. That puts a big change on a program and we are going back in that direction. One thing where we were at disadvantage last year, even though we won a lot of races, we were at an aerodynamic disadvantage, but due to us wining a lot of races, you never saw it. And this year, NASCAR has given us some concessions to bring us back to the other manufacturers as far as aerodynamically. And then the other change was with the engines going from 9:1 to 12:1. That's quite an interesting one in itself because if you go in the Busch garage and the Cup garage, if you look at the 12:1 program, Ford is at the top with horsepower. But you go to the truck series and you go 12:1 and one would say, 'Why aren't we there also?' The reason I think is because of the way things change. We went from 9.5:1 to12:1, and being that the budgets are much lower in the truck series than the other series, and then you give Dodge predominantly a new engine and you allow Chevy to run the SB2, and then we were given the intake manifold which really doesn't compete with those other changes. If you take the aerodynamics and the engine horsepower, that puts us at a disadvantage, which we are trying to catch up and we're getting there, and that's a challenge in itself."
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS FAR AS THE NOSES FOR THIS WEEK? IS THIS GOING TO GIVE THE FORDS A LITTLE BETTER PERFORMANCE POTENTIAL?
"At a short track it's not really going to show up. It's something we wanted from the start, but you understand NASCAR and I understand them. They don't want to make too big of a change and give us what they see in their eyes as too much, and then all of a sudden, they have to rein us in or try to pick up the speeds of the other manufacturers. When we originally went to NASCAR to improve our aerodynamics, this was one of the pieces we were asking for. They gave us a lot of things that helped us in the rear and it threw our truck out of balance aerodynamically, so this brings our truck back into balance aerodynamically. It will help us with our racing."
JACK ROUSH, Owner-Roush Racing
YOUR TRUCK TEAMS ARE SHOWING SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT FROM THE START OF THE YEAR.
"Well, we made some changes mid-year here and we're probably not done making changes. We look at the truck series as being very important to the NASCAR program and very important to our sponsors and Ford as well. It is a growth program. We could camp on a senior driver and make it interesting for him to stay there for a long time, but considering all that we're trying to do, we've decided to move drivers through it like we have with Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle. The time comes for them to move on and then you have voids to fill. Kurt had an outstanding year last year, with him being a rookie driver and with a rookie crew chief that year as well. When we came back this year, we weren't able to get the same kind of success even though the same selection process that we used to pick the next two drivers and the next two crew chiefs was applied to Kurt the year before. Robert Brooks touched on it, NASCAR, you'd like to think that everything would be fair in the absolute sense of a true sport. The truth to the fact, NASCAR has made a history of looking at what's happening from the control tower and deciding that this group of cars, this manufacturer's cars, needed to have a consideration or this one needed to have one taken away regardless of the strength of the team where things were that you'd have reasonable parity. Of course, that creates these cycles. If you have drivers at the top of their games, well, NASCAR tends to disadvantage the teams that are involved. If then you switch from being at the top of the game with drivers to either the middle or the development growth program like we have, then not only do you face the prospect of being not competitive as you start with drivers, but technically handicapped and disadvantaged with the race vehicles. Dodge has gotten, over a period of time, virtually every consideration that they've asked for, that I'm aware of, in body. Their bodies and noses and tails were revised repeatedly over the last several years. Of course this last year, the coup de grace, the thing that just fixed it so that even if we had Greg and Kurt this year, we would have been able to run for a third or a fourth, depending on how many good Dodge were up there. NASCAR is, I'm sure, interested in making the Ford competitive again and the Ford teams competitive again, as they were with the Dodges in particular in the recent past. We're climbing the ladder back again."
HOW DO YOU SEE THE 390-CFM CARBURETOR FACTORING INTO THIS?
"The Dodge engine, and for that matter the SB2, are generations in front of the Ford from a cylinder head, intake manifold point of view. The bottom ends of the engines are pretty much the same. The Dodge does, in fact, have the prospect of roughly an eighth-of-an-inch larger bore and bigger valves, and that gives them an airflow advantage potential, but depending on where an engine family is on its development curve, that may or may not be significant if somebody else has got their cam shafts and all their friction and rod ratios and everything else worked out optimally, the size of the bore may not be an overriding consideration. But, the Dodge engine does have the potential of being superior from an aerodynamic point of view, and the SB2 is a better cylinder head, intake manifold layout than the Ford is. So, both of those things wind up putting the Ford at a disadvantage from an airflow point of view. In a restricted carburetor situation, that will be less significant because you're putting restriction above the valves and above the intake manifold that limits how much air can get in there. I think the Ford will be closer. I talked to Mike Helton and Kevin Triplett about the situation with the Dodge engine because they have checked it repeatedly and found, far and away, that it is the best engine and the Ford today is the least in terms of what we're consistently making in power. If they pull back to the 390 carburetor, I think that will get somewhat closer, and it may be that that will be enough. In the Busch Grand National considerations, we at Roush built those Chevrolet Busch engines and Ford Busch engines with the 9:1. And the Ford engines with the Ford head, the same head as the truck, and the Chevrolet with the SB2, the same as the truck, are competitive coming out of our shop. We think that putting the same carburetor will tend to level out their output. Until NASCAR picks a race and does some horsepower checks, I'll say that what they've done right now is enough for the time being."
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR DRIVER SELECTION PROCESS. YOU SEEM TO HAVE ADOPTED A SYSTEM CLOSE TO THAT OF OTHER MAJOR SPORTS.
"We've had a lot of experience with young drivers. I started, myself, drag racing when I was quite young. In our road racing years from 1983 to '96, or so, we had lot of experience of bringing in unrecognized talent. Robby Gordon came right in off the off-road circuit. The first time that he raced on pavement, to my knowledge, was in our GTO car. Wally Dallenbach, Jr., as a 17- or 18-year-old, had one year in a Trans-Am car before he came with us. Scott Pruett was right out of go-karts as he came into our program; he may have driven a handful of races for another team. We've certainly seen a lot of challenges and taken a lot of satisfaction from bringing along people that weren't involved in the series that they very much wanted to be participants in, and just surround them with support and hardware that would give them an opportunity to shown them what they could do. There's a blue-sky dimension to working with drivers as they start their career that sometimes initiates more enthusiasm among the sponsors and the fans for the same result that a seasoned driver might get. For Jon and young Kyle, it will mean more than for somebody that might be expected to win today, like Greg or Kurt. It's a lot excitement. It's like going to college football games versus to those of the NFL."
WHEN YOU PICK UP A YOUNG DRIVER, ARE YOU GOING TO PUT HIM IN A SYSTEM THAT WILL KEEP HIM FROM LEARNING BAD HABITS THAT COULD HAMPER HIS CAREER DOWN THE ROAD?
"That's always a question. You look at what happens to young drivers a lot of times. They can get in teams that have either limited resources or limited outlook from their management and they can carry scars from that for years. Every time you start in a series, you learn things that are peculiar to that series, and then you move into the next series and you have to unlearn some of those things. When we looked at Kurt Busch, he was so quick to adapt to these trucks last year. He was such a unique success that I looked at the Busch Grand National program and I thought he might adapt to Winston Cup as quickly as he would to Busch, and after we learned yet some more things in Busch that he added to trucks, it could in some ways hinder his adaptation into Winston Cup. There's always the question: 'Does a person have enough experience to get started?' And once you get that experience, does that experience prejudice or give you predispositions that would be handicap you? That's a judgement thing that in the case of these young people, that the parents as well as the drivers themselves have to consider, as well as the teams. We are certainly interested in looking at Kyle for a few races and seeing what he can do, and Jon Wood is on his way. He's run a number of races now and has done well with it. He's on track, making as much progress as we could hope for. When we tested Kyle the other day, he was just remarkable. He did better than we could have expected under any scenario and did competitive times of what Greg Biffle was able to do in the same truck. His feedback and his response to the changes they made in the truck was spot on; he was right on the money."
WHEN YOU LOOK FOR DRIVERS, DOES COLLEGE EXPERIENCE OR A COLLEGE DEGREE ENTER INTO THE PROCESS?
"It's not of paramount importance; I don't know if we've checked anybody's degrees. I'm a proponent of people staying in school as long as they can and being in school in a part-time basis after they start to work, which I did after I got my degrees. The main thing is, we have our ears up. We're just watching for something in a driver, or a potential driver, that would be just outstanding. Alan Kulwicki, for instance, probably used his engineering education and his sense to bolster up his driving aptitude and talent that was sub-par. The combination was just awesome. In the same token, there are other people who have the lowest levels of education that are extraordinarily talented and genius in the native sense, and they wind up doing as well. You wind up checking a number of boxes, how well is this person able to adapt. I think one of the truest indications of intelligence isn't a person's reading ability or math ability, but how well they adapt to changes in their environment. The gong shows that we set up, we subject the drivers to hostile car setups, to ideal car setups, to things that are dramatically different than what their experience might have been previous. In a short period of time, how wee they adapt, the quality of the questions they asked and the way they assimilate their new experience and apply it correctly is of paramount importance. In today's world, a driver needs to be able to talk comfortably to the media, he needs to be able to communicate effectively with the crew and with the folks that can help him. He needs to be able to manage stress in a way that will cause him not to self-destruct and contribute to the self-destruction of the effort he is part of. All of those things end up being in the assessment of how a person can measure up in those areas and winds up being more important than the level of education achieved in school."
<B>HOW DO YOU JUDGE A DRIVER'S ABILITY KNOWING THAT HE HAS GOOD EQUIPMENT AND KNOWING THAT HE'S IN A LEARNING CURVE.
"The more I race and the older I get, the less sure I am of anything I know for certain. There was a time that we were on the threshold of winning championships. We had won championship in our road racing and our drag racing, we were on the threshold of wining championships in Winston Cup, and I felt we had a model, a formula for the car, the preparation and the testing that was unimpeachable. We put a couple of drivers through our program that we thought had potential, that didn't flourish, that didn't so very well. They've left our program and gone of to other people's programs and got in equipment that I consider not as good as what I thought we had, and they've done well with it. It's caused me to come back and rethink the absoluteness of where we are at any point in time. Having said that, when we come off a program where we had the kind of success that we had last year, not withstanding what NASCAR has done and would likely do to improve the prospects of other manufacturers. Having come off that, we've been slow to change what we had with the prospect of trying to adapt something to a new driver, in the likelihood that wouldn't be as good as what we had. We tried this year to get our rookies to adapt to cars that we had success with last year. I don't think that was wrong, but it certainly stopped our development program, where we weren't trying as many new things, as many different things as we would if we had the next year with Greg or the second year with Kurt Busch. We did have a chance this year to put Greg in the truck at a race that he'd won and Kurt in a truck at a race where he won, and we demonstrated that the team was functioning well and that the trucks where still where they were at last year as opposed to my horror, my apprehension, that they might have got out and said, 'Hey, this isn't the same truck that I drove last year.' They both got out and believed that the truck was at where it was last year, but with the changes that NASCAR made and the progressing development that some of the other teams had made, they were only able to run third, at best, if the other manufacturers hadn't had trouble. I think recognizing that was one of the reasons that NASCAR came back and said, 'We gave Chevrolet these considerations and we gave Dodge some considerations, and now we'll do something for Ford to help a little.' Until we did that, I don't think it was clear that the problem wasn't a team problem as much it was technical problem that NASCAR brought on. With Greg and with Kurt and with senior folks, you've got to be holding the things close that you believe are true, that are really working well for you and then on the fringes be working on the next things that you can evaluate as changes that would be beneficial. And with rookie-only programs, you have to be really careful not to lose your way, and that slows the development process somewhat."
<B>JON WOOD-50-Eldon Ford F-150
YOU'VE BEEN IN A FEW CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES RACES NOW, HAVE YOU DONE SOME THINGS IN YOUR DRIVING CAREER THAT YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE?
"I think that the biggest accomplishment, and the best thing that my dad and myself have done up to this point, was running those Winston West races. I learned so much from those three races that I can't equate to anything that I've ever done. Getting to run on a big track with the big motors like we had and radial tires, I can't express what I learned doing that. In the process, I got to known Max Jones and got the opportunity to do this truck thing that I'm doing with Roush right now. It's just been a phenomenal month."
YOU CHOSE TO BYPASS THE LATE MODELS AND GO TO A HEAVY VEHICLE. WAS THAT ADVANTAGEOUS WHEN YOU WERE TRYING TO ADAPT TO A TRUCK?
"I agree with that a lot. I didn't spend a lot of time in the Late Models. I ran one year and when all that started, we had a decision to make whether to run coil-over-type car with either three-link or truck arm suspension, or a big spring, bucket-type, the same as Truck, Busch and Cup. My dad chose the slower of the two, the big spring and truck arm because that's more of what I'd be using in later years. That wasn't as competitive as the other type, but I learned more in that process and we stayed in the Late Model stuff for a year and then I ran the Hooters Pro Cup, which is just like a Busch car. So, all I've ever done is heavy cars and in my opinion, the trucks drive more like a Late Model than Winston West-type cars because you have such little downforce that you have to drive a truck sideways and you have to keep them a lot freer than a car."
YOU SEEM TO HAVE REALLY ADAPTED TO THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS.
"I think that running at Kansas the way I did in the Winston West car is actually a disadvantage because you have to drive a truck so much different than you do a car, that when I went there and unloaded, it took a couple of practice runs to really understand how to drive those trucks. You have to basically run them wide open. It's just a different respect you have for them versus a car, but we adapted really well and had a great finish that day."
GREG BIFFLE WON THIS WEEKEND'S EVENT TWO YEARS AGO. DOES THAT GIVE YOU SOME INCENTIVE TO PUT THE NO. 50 TRUCK BACK IN WINNER'S CIRCLE?
"I actually got to go the race at IRP last year, the truck race, and got to watch and I was sitting there thinking, 'Man, it would be so cool to be able to do something like this.' A year later, you're going there and you have a different mindset. Instead of saying, 'Man, I wish I could do this,' you have to say, 'Man, I hope we can run good.' With the trucks not being able to test like the Busch Series can, I've turned to the computer and have been playing the NASCAR games on the computer at the IRP track. I've really put in a lot of laps so far, but we'll have to see how it goes."
YOU'VE BEEN RUNNING IN THE TOP FIVE, AND MUST BE LOOKING FORWARD OT THAT FIRST WI. DO YOU SEE IT COMING AT A TRACK LIKE IRP OR A SUPERSPEEDWAY?
"At this point, I think that our ability, and I think that the team's ability, shows up more at superspeedway than it does short tracks. At this point, I have better equipment than I'm capable of driving, in my opinion. I'm still learning and this is so new to me. I think we're really going to run well at Nashville Speedway with the new rule changes that we've got. We were going to run good at Loudon and we had a little bit of trouble. I'm really looking for to going to IRP; I think we should be OK."