Rob Morgan is coming off a breakthrough race for the Morgan-Dollar/Acxiom Ford team. Morgan finished fifth and led his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) lap at the Heartland Park Topeka road course back on August 28. In 31 career starts, his best previous finish was 16th.
Morgan comes from a road racing background and is still learning the ropes in his first full season in the NCTS. He went into the Topeka race knowing that the tough 2.1-mile road course, the third and final road race of the 1999 season, presented him with an excellent chance to show off his racing ability.
This week Morgan and the NCTS travel to the Richmond International Raceway. Having never seen the track in person and knowing that small ovals represent his biggest challenge, Morgan has pulled out all the stops to figure out the 3/4-mile oval, including running a few extra simulated laps at Richmond on his Sony PlayStation.
Rob Morgan - 46 - Acxiom Ford F-150: HAVING NEVER BEEN TO RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY BEFORE, HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE RACE? "It's really tough because I've never even seen the place except on TV. To be totally honest with you, I'm going to run a couple of races at Richmond on my PlayStation (laughing). But I do feel good about this race at Richmond, kind of like we did at New Hampshire. Richmond seems to be the style of track that I like. It's fairly flat, smooth, wide, and has a bunch of grip, which are all things that I like. The only thing that I'm not used to is it being a one-day show. And since this is our first time there, that could be tough to deal with. In practice, most everybody else will be working on their race setups while I'll be out there trying to learn the track. During the race, I'll just try to go out and get into a groove and learn the track. I definitely don't want to go a lap down. Just kind of start off really conservative, then run well at the end and see where we end up."
DOES RUNNING THE SIMULATED LAPS REALLY HELP YOU TO PREPARE FOR AN UNKNOWN TRACK? "Well it might since I've never been there. I find that after going to some of the familiar tracks, I'll go back and play the game and it might not have actually helped. But since I'm going in somewhat blind, it might help me in some way. It's worth a try. Why not? I might be able to pick up something. I'll try it and see if it works."
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION FOLLOWING YOUR FIFTH-PLACE FINISH AT TOPEKA? "We were really excited. We knew that we could do well, it was just a matter of time. This is a rookie team with a rookie driver. We've struggled a little bit this year learning, especially on the ovals. But we knew that the road course races would be our best chance to show what we could do. It did a lot for the morale of the team -- especially for the crew guys. I was glad for them because they've been working their tails off all year long and keeping their heads up. I was just happy that we could show everybody what we could do."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE MOVING FROM SPORTS CAR RACING TO NASCAR? "When I drove in my first truck race in 1997, I was also driving the World Sports Cars at the same time. The cars just have a ton more downforce and have a lot more tire underneath them. And, of course, all I did at that time was road racing. The biggest difference is corner entry, as far as the way that you enter the corners. What I've learned so far going from the ovals to road courses is that in road course racing, I never trail braked going into the corners. Now I find myself on ovals doing that a lot of the time. That's been the hardest thing for me to learn this year is to learn how to trail brake into a corner and to learn actually how hard these trucks will go into a corner. That is something that I'm really struggling with right now, especially on the half-mile tracks which is where I seem to have the most trouble. I'm mainly still learning what the limits of the trucks are as far as charging into the corners."
HAS THE "BUMPING AND GRINDING" PART OF THE TRUCK SERIES BEEN TOUGH TO DEAL WITH FOR YOU? "That's really the part that I like about NASCAR racing compared to Sports Car racing. In Sports Car, it's really you racing against the track. I'm the type of driver that likes to race door to door. I like going at it with someone else every lap. In the truck series, it really doesn't matter where you are on the track; you're always racing somebody, whether you're two laps down or on the lead lap racing in the top five. That's what I like about the truck series."
HOW HAS YOUR FATHER, CHARLES, A FORMER WORLD SPORTS CAR CHAMPION, HELPED WITH YOUR LEARNING CURVE IN THE NCTS? "The major thing that he has said is to keep my head up. Sometimes I get pretty hard on myself and I'm probably my own worst critic. He makes me realize where I am and what my background is and that a lot of these guys have been racing on oval tracks for most of their lives. It's a hard transition going from road racing to oval track racing. It's a ton different. He just wants me to make sure to give it some time and to keep my head up. As far as the driving part of it, he wants me to remain smooth and consistent which he always used to hammer into my head."
NOW THAT YOU'VE GOTTEN YOUR FIRST TOP-FIVE FINISH, WHAT IS YOUR NEXT GOAL? "We need to be more competitive on the ovals. We're getting to where we can qualify pretty well but come race time, we need to work on our race setup a little more so that we can race better on the ovals. Then we need to really concentrate on the short ovals, the half-mile tracks where I seem to have the most trouble. I have no experience on the half-mile tracks. It seems like the mile tracks and above, especially the flat ones, is where I seem to do well. That's because the corner entry is just like road racing. So I think just stepping up our oval program overall is what we need to do."