Teleconference transcript with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Steve Park (No. 62 Orleans Racing Dodge) and Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge and co-owner of Orleans Racing). Park won his first NASCAR Craftsman...
Teleconference transcript with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Steve Park (No. 62 Orleans Racing Dodge) and Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge and co-owner of Orleans Racing).
Park won his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at California Speedway on Feb. 25. His victory behind the wheel of a pickup truck made him only the 10th driver to win in all three major NASCAR touring series -- Craftsman Truck, Busch and Nextel Cup. Gaughan is Park's teammate, and the co-owner of Orleans Racing. Gaughan has eight career wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns to action next Friday, March 18 at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the World Financial Group 200. The race is scheduled to start at 9:15 p.m. ET.
Q: Steve, by winning California last weekend you completed what many have termed as a comeback from your injury several years ago. You were also added to a club of only 10 drivers who have won in all three major NASCAR touring series. What did that victory mean to you and to Orleans Racing?
Steve Park: It meant a lot. We felt that last year we developed into a team that could win races but we just fell short of that. The fact that we won in our second race of the year kind of proved to all of us that we are a team capable of winning. I want to thank Michael Gaughan and Brendan and everybody at the Orleans Dodge to give me the opportunity to be in equipment we can win with. To win for Jasper was a big deal not only for us, but for them too. I didn't know that until Fontana that was the first time that they actually won a major NASCAR event in their history; and they've been involved since 1988. Their support in the sport since then has been tremendous, and we're proud to be a part of that.
Q: Brendan, you are returning to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2005 after a year in the Nextel Cup Series. Can you talk a little bit about the increase in the competition level that you have seen in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from when you left to now?
Brendan Gaughan: This series is no longer the days of Jack (Sprague) and Ron (Hornaday) and Mike (Skinner) winning seven, eight, nine, 10 or 11 races a year. Those days are gone. The Craftsman Truck Series has more competition now than it's ever had. To win in this series is going to be a serious deal from now on. I'd say there are 16 drivers every week now that can win a race. In the past there was five or six or seven that really had a legit shot. Now there are literally 16 of us. What did I read, what are there 11 former Nextel Cup drivers racing full time in the Truck Series?
The Craftsman Truck Series is still that stepping stone -- it's still doing what it was designed for. The only way to get better as a driver, and I learned this back from my Winston West days when people yelled and screamed when Kenny Schrader shows up, that the only way for me to get better is to race against the best --- and Schrader is one of the best. Now the Craftsman Truck Series has the best when it comes to Nextel Cup drivers, but it's also a place where the kids can come and get a stepping-stone.
The Truck Series is stronger now than it's ever been. It's exciting to be able to say we've been a part of it for so long.
Q: Steve, what are your plans for the Las Vegas weekend?
Park: We're having an Open House on Friday. All the fans will be there to see myself and Brendan and the whole Orleans Dodge team and the shop that Brendan helped build to what it is today. I'll probably be there through the weekend.
Q: After the Fontana win, will you feel any differently walking through the Cup and Busch garages? It will be a lot of the guys' first chance to congratulate you. With all the rumors that 'you can't win anymore' laid to rest, are you going to walk through there with a big smile?
Park: I always walk through there with a big smile no matter what. If you look at how many people that can actually say they won a Nextel Cup Series event, they are the guys that I think need to be worried about walking through the pit area with a smile on their face. I always knew that I could win, and I always knew that as a team we could win in the truck series. And that it was just a matter of time of getting this team to where it needed to be to win races, and we felt at the end of last year that we were close to achieving that. Just to achieve that goal is something we all worked hard for. It's just nice for me in the aspect of being hurt, making a comeback and then finally you don't end the story until you win a race again. Now, we've been able to achieve that, and so hopefully it will be the end of the story. I've heard it for three years, and I'm about ready to put a 'The End' on it.
Q: Bobby Hamilton said after the race he was happy to see you get the checkered flag instead of him. Did you get a lot of calls after the race from other drivers and friends from Cup to congratulate you?
Park: I sure did. Phone calls came from pretty much everybody. Everybody was almost as excited to see me win as I was. Again, there are some people in the schedule that we lead that you sometimes forget about. What's great about the Craftsman Truck Series is being able to have a little time to spend with your friends and family and also enjoy the first victory. It's just overall been a great time for all of us.
Q: To have so many people respond so positively to your win, it must make you feel good as a person to know that so many people like and care about you?
Park: That's very true. Brendan won Most Popular Driver two years ago, and I won it last year. I think you don't reach a level to achieve an award like that unless you are making a difference in the sport and appealing to not only your peers, but to the fans who are out there. I think with Brendan's personality, he reaches out to the fans quite a bit. And I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy the people that are involved in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Nextel Cup and the Busch Series.
Gaughan: (Laughing) Yeah, but I'm going to win it this year.
Park: I think it shows up.
Q: No truth to the rumors that Jasper is going to be switching their sponsorship away from Brendan to you, Steve?
Park: As long as they are sponsoring an Orleans Dodge, we're happy. They've been a big supporter of Brendan in Cup and in Truck. Doug's (Bawel -- of Jasper Engines) a great supporter of NASCAR, and all his employees deserved the win as much as I did.
Q: Steve, tell us a little bit about how you got your start in racing?
Park: Really, my dad. I grew up in Long Island, and there aren't many people from Long Island that really reach the level of NASCAR Nextel Cup. I grew up racing go-karts when I was about 10-years-old and graduated to cars when I was 15 -- all because of my dad. My dad was my hero. Growing up as a kid, you can imagine going to school with your dad being a race car driver that you were probably the most popular kid in school. Other kids knew that your dad raced cars, and how cool is that. I just had the opportunity to do it myself, and then go to work for a guy by the name of Dale Earnhardt was a long-time dream for me. It's just been a success story from the time I started in go-karts until we won the Craftsman Truck race. I'm just thankful for the opportunities that I have had along the way, and the people I've had a chance to meet and the race fans that I've had a chance to meet. Without surrounding yourself with good people, you can't achieve these goals.
Q: Brendan, tell us what is so special about Las Vegas the city and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gaughan: Well, the city, for myself personally, it is just the family history. Like Steve said, I grew up with my hero being my dad and my grandfather, and my grandfather has been in Las Vegas since 1948. Las Vegas is one of those towns that people look out from the outside and see 'Oh, it's Las Vegas -- the casinos, the gambling.' It's been known as 'Sin City.' It's been known as a lot of things. What you miss though is that this is a town that is great for families. It's great for children. It can be as big as you want it to be or as small. This town now has the big city feel, which I'm not all that big of a fan of. Or it has the small town feel, which is more me. I have seven friends, and that's all my spend my time with. And then I have 30 friends at my race shop. And that's all I do is spend time with those close friends, so it becomes a very small town to me.
As far as a race track, this was the first of those what we now call the 'cookie-cutter tracks.' Las Vegas was the first mile-and-a-half that had the 14 to 18 degree banking, and it's the only one that hasn't had to be rebuilt twice because it was build incorrectly or anything. It's a fantastic place. We get a 120,00 plus people in the grandstands. Of all the things that Las Vegas does through the year, whether it be conventions or whatever, the biggest is the NASCAR Nextel Cup race. That is the biggest event in Las Vegas every year. The track has a very big distinction of all the things that Las Vegas can do, the race track and the Nextel Cup race is the biggest.
Q: Would it be fair to say that the win in California was more than 'just a win'?
Park: Yes. It was a big win -- to win in the Craftsman Truck Series. The Series has grown so much in the last couple of years that when I had the opportunity to go to Busch or Truck, when Mr. (Michael) Gaughan called, I decided to go to trucks because the competition was where it needed to be and because I was actually looking for an easier schedule just to take a break from all the stuff that I had been through the last two years in Nextel Cup. It was a big win. People ask if it ranks right up there with wins in Nextel Cup, and it does. A win is a win especially in a hard series like the Craftsman Truck Series.
The first win in Nextel Cup was in my home state of New York at Watkins Glen. That was emotional, and something you will remember your whole life. And then the second win was after Dale (Earnhardt) passed away. You know it was an extremely emotional win. I felt myself falling apart in the last four laps thinking I was going to win this race. All the emotions we went through that week -- the thought of not racing or racing, making the decision with Teresa (Earnhardt) and Dale Jr. that we were going to race because Dale (Earnhardt) would want us to race and win that race. Now, here we are on the verge of winning the race. I thought I was falling apart to the point where I wasn't going to be able to finish the race. And you hear this all the time, but it's like a voice came over my shoulder and said 'Just suck it up, boy, and get up on that wheel and get it done.' That's true Dale Earnhardt fashion.
It was an emotional win just like the win in the truck race in California was. Three years coming, working my way back from being hurt, getting the opportunity to be in good equipment to win a race. Dodge and Orleans Racing provided us the equipment to do that. It's history. It ranks right up there with all the wins.
Q: Talk a little bit about working with the Gaughan family.
Park: It's great. The opportunity last year -- I've known Brendan professionally for the last couple of years at the race track, and last year was the first year I had the chance to meet his dad. It's the Gaughan family. It's a rich history, and a great family in Las Vegas. Brendan was talking about his grandfather earlier, and I just love to hear the stories about the old days and the 'Rat Pack.' And Brendan is absolutely right, I thought Vegas was 'The Strip.' I thought that was the only thing there until they put the race track there. Becoming a part of The Orleans family, learning that there is actually something else out there besides 'The Strip.' It's a great place to live. It's a great place to raise a family. The climate is great. It has every bit of a small town feel that you want alongside a big city.
Q: Describe your feelings during the cool down lap after you had taken the checkered flag and were making your way around California Speedway.
Park: It just felt good. It was just a relief. It was like taking a 200-pound weight off your shoulders that you've been carrying around for the last two-and-a-half years, and finally achieving what you knew that you could achieve. Getting the opportunity with the Orleans Dodge and working closely with them to get to the point of where we were last year at the beginning until the end of last year to knowing that we can win a race. I don't just race for the fact of winning races. What I enjoy about racing is also the whole development and the people aspect of the team. It is a team sport, and no man is an island. You don't win unless you surround yourself with good people and a good team. And the Gaughan family and Dodge gave me the opportunity to do that. I'm just happy to be a part of it.
Continued in part 2