This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999

This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Ron Barfield and Mike Wallace did the NASCAR teleconference Tuesday afternoon. Barfield is a past ARCA winner at Michigan Speedway. This weekend both his team owners will...

This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Ron Barfield and Mike Wallace did the NASCAR teleconference Tuesday afternoon. Barfield is a past ARCA winner at Michigan Speedway. This weekend both his team owners will be at the track. Ron drives for former road racer Tom Gloy and CART team owner Bobby Rahal who fields Champ Cars for Max Papis and Bryan Herta. Wallace, who drives for one of the founders of the truck series Jimmy Smith, has won two NCTS races this season and is currently eighth in points. Both drivers discuss the season so far and going to Michigan for the first time this weekend.

IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE A GOOD FINISH AT NAZARETH THIS PAST WEEKEND. THEN A TIRE LET GO AND YOU ENDED UP WITH THE TRUCK IN THE WALL. YOU SAID EARLIER, EITHER YOU ARE GETTING OLDER OR THE WALL IS GETTING HARDER. RON BARFIELD -55- Icehouse Beer F-150 -- "I tell you, that's the thing about it. We can buy any luck. The team is coming together and we are running really, really well. We've got our truck back up in the front where it is supposed to be. It's just that you can't control when the tires blow out like that. It's just a heck of a deal, but I'm looking forward to going to Michigan. I've had a lot of success there. At least I feel like I can get around that place anyway. I'm looking forward to going to that place this weekend."

BOTH YOUR OWNERS WILL BE AT THE TRACK THIS WEEKEND. "Yeah. I enjoy every time we are around them guys. Max Papis and I are very good friends. We do a lot of appearances together, and we get to do things together. Bobby is there to help us out a little bit. So I'm looking forward to seeing those guys."

MIKE WALLACE, THIS HAS BEEN QUITE AN EVENTFUL SEASON FOR YOUR TEAM. THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF UPS AND DOWNS. YOU HAVE TWO WINS. YOU ARE CURRENTLY EIGHTH IN THE POINTS. IT LOOKED LIKE YOU HAD A SURE THIRD PLACE FINISH AT NAZARETH AND IT ALL WENT AWAY RIGHT THERE AT THE END. MIKE WALLACE -2- Team ASE F-150 -- "Well, it definitely did, but the Team ASE Ford F-150 truck of ours is running awful well this year. We have had some ups and downs, but we won two races, at Homestead and Pikes Peak. Also we had Winston West wins at Phoenix and Pikes Peak. But you have weeks like we had last week where you're running very well with a lap or two to go, and you get taken out. You used to let it just shrug off your shoulders, but it is getting a little more difficult to just let that happen." YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE SERIES FOR THREE YEARS NOW, YOUR SECOND FULL SEASON. SOME OF THE DRIVERS WHO HAVE BEEN USED TO RUNNING AT THE FRONT AND WINNING ARE NOW CONTENDING WITH THE MIKE WALLACES AND THE GREG BIFFLES ARE STARTING TO GIVE THE JACK SPRAGUES AND RON HORNADAYS ABOUT ALL THEY CAN HANDLE. "I think so. Look at Jack. He was used to having his way and winning a lot of races. Ron and I get along just great. You, know we're able to run with those guys and out run them at times. And it seems like he's having some difficulty accepting that situation and he's taken a few cheap shots at us this year. But, that's just racing. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is a very good competitive tough racing. It's gotten a little too tough on certain occasions, but they've set the ground rules on how they want to race, so we'll know how that is from here on out so we'll just go racing the way they want to be raced." YOU'VE RUN A LOT OF RACES AT MICHIGAN IN WINSTON CUP, ARCA AND BUSCH. TELL US ABOUT THE TRACK. "Michigan is probably one of the nicest two mile race tracks you can go to. For people who are familiar with the truck series, we've run at California and Michigan is basically a duplicate of California or vice-versa California is a duplicate of Michigan. It is a very nice racetrack, big high, wide sweeping corners. Not a tremendous amount of bank to it. I think it's going to entail some wonderful racing. We keep saying week after week, you're going to see some of the best racing. We keep seeming to outdo ourselves every week in the truck series. You are going to see some three and four wide racing. The draft is going to be very important there. Horsepower and handling are the thing at Michigan where you are going to be able to run through the middle of the race track good, and you need a lot of horsepower to handle it. We'll have the Robert Yates horsepower to handle it there. I'm looking forward to being able to race those guys. Ron Barfield and his group have been running awfully well there. He'll run good there. The normal guys that have been running good will run good there. Hopefully, we can out with a victory there this weekend." A LITTLE IRONY - THROUGH THE END OF LAST YEAR, YOUR BEST FINISH WAS A SECOND AT CALIFORNIA WHERE HE RAN BEHIND THE TEAM ASE FORD WITH MIKE BLISS AT THE WHEEL. YOU HAVE TO FEEL GOOD COMING INTO MICHIGAN. "Well, I feel very confident. This whole year has been a big confidence booster for myself and the team. Jim and Marlene Smith have owned the Ultra Motorsports team since the inception of the truck series. Going into 1999 we've had a basically a brand new race team. It's the same ownership, same building and all that but it's a new crew chief and new crew members and those guys have stepped up to the table. We opened the season up with a win at Homestead and we've been a top-five, top-ten truck every week even though we haven't finished there. Our performance has been good enough for that, and that's the positive things we look at. I love running Michigan. It's a neat racetrack. I like the speedways myself. And Jim Smith always reminds me how good they were at California and we ran second to them. It's been kind of a side joke all year long between the two of us. Hopefully we can take the Ultra Motorsports team back to victory lane here at Michigan."

RON, I FELT LIKE SENDING YOU A PLATE OF CHICKEN WINGS WHEN I SAW YOU CLIMB OUT OF THE TRUCK LAST WEEK. "Man, I'll tell you that's about the first time I've ever had one catch on fire like that. That's the first time I've ever had to pull the fire extinguisher in a racecar. I've always said if I ever catch on fire I'm just going to get out and not worry about that thing. But it was pretty calm. It just got a little hot there. If we can just get our luck turned around we'll be okay." YOU WON AN ARCA RACE AT MICHIGAN, BUT IS IT SAFE TO SAY THE ONLY THING YOU CAN CARRY TO THAT RACE TRACK IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF EXACTLY WHERE VICTORY LANE IS LOCATED? "I think that's the biggest thing. You do know where the winner's circle is, but it's completely different. The ARCA car I won with that day was a Winston Cup car, and the cars are completely different than the trucks. But it's still going to be the same old racetrack. Like Mike said a little while ago, the racetrack is one of the best two-mile racetracks. I enjoy running the place. I really expect us to put a heck of a show on for the Craftsman Truck Series."

MIKE, IS IT SAFE TO SAY JACK SPRAGUE WILL NOT BE ON YOUR CHRISTMAS CARD LIST. "It's a real shame. I think Jack is a really good race driver. He just loses focus at times. Jack's won a lot of races in the last couple of years and now he's got some more competition. You just don't need to race like that. I don't understand why he's doing it. But you're right, I doubt he will get a Christmas card from us." YOU STARTED OUT STRONG, AND NOW YOU SEEM TO BE BATTLING TO STAY IN THE TOP-TEN. WHAT IS IT THAT HAS NOT TAKEN AWAY THE PROMISE, BUT KIND OF DIMMED IT AT THIS POINT? "Let's just step back and take a look at the three or four races that really dimmed it, but I still feel we're in contention for the championship only we're eighth in points. We dominated Martinsville and broke an axle there leading the race. We went to Memphis and Jack helped to take us out with 15 to go. We went to Bristol and were running for a top-ten, and the three truck got into us on the last lap. We had a top-three finish going at Nazareth and got taken out. If you look at those four races alone and take the points we lost there, we would be leading the points or so close to it there wouldn't be a dim spot right now." THE MOST FRUSTRATING POINT IN YOUR CAREER? "No, it's not the most frustrating point in my career. I'm not a person who digs on negatives. I like the positives. I've won two races this year. I've won four actually, two Winston West races and two truck races. A lot of people haven't won anything this year. We've got top-tens to our credit. We're eighth in points. We're not that far out of it. It's actually a pretty good year. We were just expecting huge things, but we've still got a lot of time left. We can win two, three four more races if everything went our way this year, and it could turn out to be a great year." DO YOU NEED TO WORK ON TEAM MORALE? "Well you know morale is always a huge thing with any race team along with what everybody refers to, the chemistry of the team. Getting along working hard, the driver getting along with the crew chief, the team getting along with ownership. I think we've got one of the best organizations going with regard to that happening. Tim Kohuth, my crew chief and myself get along wonderful. The team gets along good. Our ownership. We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing. The guys are doing a great job on the pit stops, the preparation is good, the motors are good. We'll win some more races. The guys are pumped up, even with the problems we've had like last week. That really bothered them as a team. Being taken out in the last laps. Like I said, there's no need in it, but we've just got to overcome it and go beat them."

RON, HOW ABOUT THE MORALE ON THE ICEHOUSE TEAM? "I'll tell you the morale on the Miller team has been real good. The morale on the Icehouse team is really stepping up to the plate on the pit stops. The motors are doing a good job. We've just had so much bad luck. Anything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong. After the first couple of races, we lost our crew chief and hired another guy who had actually been with Tom Gloy racing. He's really stepped up to the plate. Our deal is getting better and better. We're qualifying better. The morale is up. We go back to the shop and just say, golly if the tire hadn't gone down, if little things wouldn't bother us here. Our deal is we just want to turn around and win some races and do the best thing for Icehouse right now. We couldn't have a better group of guys. It's the best group of guys I've ever been with." WHAT KIND OF SPEEDS SHOULD WE BE LOOKING FOR THIS WEEKEND? "I don't think the trucks are going to get up to but just a certain speed. When the trucks get above about 175 miles an hour they kind of taper off. I'd say maybe 178, 177 or right about 175 miles an hour. I think the trucks are going to do that all the way around the race track instead of getting that top speed on the straight-away."

MIKE, YOU AND CART HAVE RUN ON THE SAME TRACKS A COUPLE OF TIMES NOW. IN HOMESTEAD THE CART DRIVERS SAID THEY HAD A PROBLEM WITH THE DIFFERENT RUBBER YOU GUYS WERE PUTTING DOWN ON THE TRACK. THEN AT PORTLAND, NOT MUCH WAS SAID. TURN IT AROUND. DO YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THE RUBBER THEY PUT DOWN ON THE TRACK? "I really don't have problem. I think it's a plus for both of us to be racing at the same track on the same weekend. I heard after the fact people saying something about the Homestead deal. I talked to a lot of the drivers and car owners there at Homestead, and I didn't hear any complaints from them at the start of the week. As far as I'm concerned, Homestead was wonderful. We won the race. They had a race winner on Sunday. That's one thing about racing. You just have to adapt to the cars or the teams. The Indy cars or the CART cars have a tremendous amount of downforce. They can adjust. The tire rubber difference shouldn't make that big a deal to them. They're all great guys over there. They have phenomenal technology in those cars. Maybe it's just something different. It was the first time they had to run with a series that drew as many people as them."

RON, DODGE SPENT A LOT OF MONEY IN THE WIND TUNNEL AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON DEVELOPING THEIR TRUCKS. AND CHEVY CAME IN WITH A NEW TRUCK THIS YEAR, BUT IT SEEMS FORD IS JUST HANGING IN THERE FIGHTING AND FIGHTING AND WINNING A LOT OF RACES. DO YOU HAVE A COMMENT? "I think Ford is just a good truck right now. Dodge did a lot of work over the winter, and they have a good truck. I didn't get to drive this year's Chevrolet model, and they had a pretty good truck last year, and now they say they've made it better. We've got a good truck. We could probably do a little fine-tuning with the front valance or something like that that would help us out even more. But whenever NASCAR feels like we need it is probably when we'll get it."

WALLACE: "Ron, you are supposed to answer by saying Ford has the better drivers."

THE COMPETITION SEEMS TO BE VERY EVEN RIGHT NOW. MIKE, DO YOU SEE THAT CONTINUING? "I think NASCAR has done a tremendous job allowing the playing field to be level. We all want an equal shot, and you hate to feel you are at a huge disadvantage by the brand you are driving. They have created parity, and I think you are seeing that today. The brands are running first, second and third. And they are doing that across the board. What do you think Ron?"

BARFIELD:"I think so too. I started the race the other day at Nazareth, and a Ford was on the pole, a Chevrolet was on the outside pole and a Dodge was third. We started the race, and it was the same exact way for 30 or 40 laps. I think NASCAR has done a great job at leveling the playing field. I think that all of them are pretty close. The competition level on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has been enormous the last couple of years and particularly this year, and I'm just tickled to death to be involved with it."

After missing the entire month of June due to injuries, Tim "The Man of " Steele returned to action in July and got his first pole and first top-10 finish on July 10 at Nashville. The Coopersville, Michigan native and three-time ARCA champion hopes that the NCTS initial race at Michigan Speedway will mean good things for him as he will be returning to familiar grounds in his home state.

21 TIM STEELE -- HS Die & Engineering's F-150 --YOUR LAST RACE AT NASHVILLE, YOU WON THE POLE AND GOT YOUR FIRST CAREER NCTS TOP-10 FINISH (NINTH). HOW HAS THE STEP UP THE TRUCK SERIES BEEN THIS YEAR? "The truck series is definitely a tough series. Since we got the word that we were going truck racing this year, it seems like we've been playing catch up. We've basically been behind everybody else all year unfortunately. But now we're starting to get caught up and getting things where they need to be. Early in the year we were still building our trucks at the race track! When you're doing that, you're not able to pay attention to all the little details that can help to make good speeds in the trucks. Now we're finally at a point where we can concentrate on the little things that make a difference."

AT NASHVILLE YOU STAYED OUT IN FRONT OF SERIES POINT LEADER AND FORMER CHAMPION JACK SPRAGUE FOR SOME TIME. WHAT WAS IT LIKE BATTLING WITH JACK? "It was fun. Jack and I have raced against each other in the Late Models in the past in Berlin Raceway here in Michigan and at Concord Speedway. It was fun for me because that is the way we used to race. It was Jack and I always racing for the win. We talked after the race at Nashville and we agreed that it reminded us of the good old days. We had fun and I'm sure Jack did too. We can trust each other out there. If was definitely fun for me to finally feel like we were competitive."

THIS PAST WEEKEND, YOU SKIPPED THE NAZARETH RACE TO TEST AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY IN PREPARATION FOR MICHIGAN. HOW DID THAT GO? "The way things have been going this year, that test was too good to be true. I hope all of that translates over to Michigan. Everything just went way too good. Everybody on the team was really excited about how good the test went. I'm really, really hoping that Nashville was something to show we are getting things turned around, and maybe Michigan is going to show we are getting things turned around. It is really looking that way. We were at Charlotte all day last Friday. We had raced ARCA at Charlotte so we knew what to expect. I think we definitely figured out what will transfer going to Michigan from what we learned at Charlotte. I think it was beneficial that we went there and tested, but it was ever more beneficial to have pages of notes from Charlotte. Now we can compare the differences and we can take all our notes from (the ARCA races) at Michigan and compare those differences. I think when we get there we're going to have a pretty good truck right off the trailer."

WHAT IS THE MICHIGAN RACE GOING TO ENTAIL FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM? "I think it's going to be a super good race. I've run a lot of races at Michigan Speedway and have won a few. I think that it's going to be great even though I've never run a truck on a superspeedway such as Michigan. That's why we went to Charlotte and tested. Unfortunately we had to miss the Nazareth race. But with the start-up costs that we've spent this season, my dad (Harold Steele, team owner and owner of HS Die, the team's primary sponsor) has opted for us to go and test at Charlotte so that we'd be better prepared for Michigan. One of the sponsors that we're looking at is out of Detroit so it would be good for us to go to Michigan with those people on hand and to have a good run. Testing at Charlotte gave us a pretty good idea of what we have to do to run well at Michigan."

COMMENT ON COMING BACK FROM YOUR WRECK AT ODESSA WHICH CAUSED YOU TO MISS THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JUNE? "It feels really, really good to come back and especially sit on the pole at Nashville. Most of the night we ran in the top 10 and to be competitive like that feels really good. From the way our year has gone, it's pretty good that we can be disappointed with having a ninth-place finish. We feel like we're a better team than that. As far as coming back from the injury, I can't tell you how much a person like me craves to get back behind the wheel. Competition is very important to me. Ever since I can remember, I've been racing something. And to not be racing week in and week out has been tough. It's like your best friend died. To know that everybody else is racing is tough."

DID YOU HAVE ANY RESERVATIONS BEFORE GETTING BACK IN THE TRUCK? "No not really. All that stuff goes away when you get back. I learned a long time ago that if you're going to be scared or worried than you don't have any business driving at this level. I don't even worry about that. Whatever part you are doubting when you're racing, you have to be able to set your mind to the fact that you're the best that you can be and nothing is going to happen to you. You have to think that it's going to be the other guy and not you, even though you always hope it doesn't happen to anyone."

WHEN YOU WERE RUNNING IN FRONT OF JACK SPRAGUE AT NASHVILLE, DID YOU HAVE THE FEELING THAT YOU HAVE COME OF AGE IN THIS SERIES? "From the time that we unloaded at Nashville, we ran pretty well and I felt good. I really felt like we were going to contend here. And as it turned out, we were. That was so rewarding for not only myself but for the team. Those guys have been working seven days a week for me and they're figuring how to make eight days out of seven and make 26 hours out of 24. I appreciate every drop of sweat that they've gone through and all the work that they've done. Without them doing all that for me, we would be back where we started this year - very average at best. We've got a good bunch of guys working for me. They never say die; they always want to better themselves. Whenever you step up like we've done this year, there will always be a learning curve. Like my dad always told me, the harder you work, the luckier you're going to get. That's the case for us. You look back at the way we started the year and we wonder if we could ever get this thing turned around. But the guys have been working hard and now we're heading in the right direction."

THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, YOU'VE BECOME A STAR IN EACH NEW SERIES PRETTY QUICKLY. HOW DIFFERENT IS THAT FOR YOU TO BE THE SO-CALLED JOHNNY-COME- LATELY? "Well hopefully one day we'll be the star of this series! That's my goal and the team's goal. With the amount of racing that I've done since I've been four years old, I've been used to coming in and being the Johnny-Come-Lately. With hard work you're eventually going to get to the top. Hopefully the harder we work, the quicker we will get to the top."

WHAT IS MORE SATISFYING TO YOU, BEING AT THE TOP OR CLIMBING THE LADDER TO GET TO THE TOP? "I think that once you climb the ladder to the top then you really appreciate everything a little more. If you go in and all of a sudden you find yourself being the star and not having to pay your dues, it wouldn't be as rewarding."

CAN YOU USE ANY OF YOUR ARCA EXPERIENCE AT MICHIGAN TO HELP YOU WITH SETTING UP THE TRUCK THIS WEEKEND? "I sure hope we can. I'm really hoping that our truck will drive as well as our cars have been in the past so that we might surprise some people and maybe win the race. Hopefully the past knowledge that we have will come into play for us."

TALK ABOUT THE INFLUENCE YOUR DAD HAS HAD ON YOUR LIFE? "I can't begin to thank my dad enough for everything that he's done for me in my life. All the racing that I've done, he's always supported me. I've told this story 100 times. But the reason that he started HS Die was to make enough money so that he could go racing himself. The business got to be so successful that he decided to stay in the business and not go racing because he thought he might be a better businessman than a racer. I'm fortunate that racing was his dream but to be a racer, it's also my dream too. So maybe he's able to live his racing dream out through me. I can't begin to thank him enough for giving me the opportunities over the years. "

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Mike Wallace , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Tom Gloy , Ron Barfield , Robert Yates , Jim Smith