Five Days Until the NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream: Driver Quotes ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 1, 2007) -- The following are quotes from selected drivers competing in the NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice. The event will take place at 7...
Five Days Until the NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream: Driver Quotes
ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 1, 2007) -- The following are quotes from selected drivers competing in the NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream presented by Old Spice. The event will take place at 7 p.m. (EDT) June 6 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The race will be broadcast live on HBO Pay-Per-View.
TONY STEWART (Two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion; Owner of Eldora Speedway):
What is the Nextel Prelude to the Dream?
"It's a typically Saturday night, short track format, but it's the largest deal that Nextel Cup drivers outside of a Nextel Cup event (participate in). To have 24 plus driver show up running dirt late models on a track that they're not familiar with in cars they're not familiar with, but getting to race each other which is something that's unique and you don't see outside of a NASCAR sanctioned event. We run practice sessions. We do a two-lap qualifying like we do at Cup events. The fields are staggered into heat races that are inverted. We take four or five cars out of each heat race and the remainder of the field is set to do a last chance race and then we run a 30-lap main event."
It seems like a natural to you. Having the connection in the Cup garage, owning the track, having a good personal involvement with Victory Junction Gang Camp, talk about how this event came together.
"It is a natural fit. To be able to have a great camp to support obviously makes that easy to name them the benefactor of the event. Having the facility, having a lot of friends that are also supportive of Victory Junction, it wasn't hard to put this event together. From the standpoint of getting the people to come, the drivers to come, Nextel's involvement and Old Spice coming on for this event has really made this event bigger and better every year. It's pretty impressive to see how much support this race has generated and every year we have more drivers signing up to come because they hear how much fun it is. It's not a big obligation event where they have to do a lot of things. We show up. We race. We get to hang out walking back and forth between our cars and talk to each other and not have the pressure that we have at a Nextel Cup race. So, you get to race against your peers and the guys that you compete against every weekend, but in a lot more relaxed atmosphere."
How does the fact that the race is on dirt change the dynamic of the event, because some guys have a lot of experience racing on dirt and some guys don't?
"I think the part of it that's been the most fun for me is watching guys that haven't run on dirt and come the first time and really see how much talent they have. As an example, I remember when Matt Kenseth came to Eldora the first time drug the right rear corner off the car during qualifying which is not uncommon there in a dirt lat model. Even the best of the best do it. He was up right by the wall and had set quick time at that point of the night and he took to it like a duck in water. It really, I think, shows the fans how much talent these drivers have and why they were able to earn their right as a Nextel Cup driver."
Describe what it's like to race on dirt.
"When you tell people that a lot of times you're turning right to go left, it doesn't make sense. You know when you're in the corners and the car is sliding, you're actually turned to the right while you're still going around a corner to the left. Its car control is what it's all about. In places like Talladega and Daytona where we can hold the throttle wide open, you don't have to have a lot of that. But when you get on the dirt and there's not a lot of grip on the dirt compared to asphalt, you have to have a lot of confidence in what you're doing and you really have to know what that car's capable of and not capable of and how much grip you have or how little grip you have and knowing that when you're running inches away from the wall sliding that it's either going to stop or not going to stop. You have to have that confidence in the car. I think dirt's always really showcased guy's talents. It's all about car control and that shows why these guys are so good in Cup cars."
Size up the competition. Who's the guy to beat?
"You always look at the guys that have a past on dirt. Dave Blaney is good. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman. Jeff Gordon coming back for the first time since '91, and just because he hasn't been on the dirt for 16 years doesn't mean anything. He's going to pick it up real quick again. I think Juan Pablo will be really good in these cars. He's just got so much natural driving talent that he'll pick it up and be competitive right away. But then you've got the sleepers, the guys like Mike Wallace who's run well every time he's been to Eldora. Kurt Busch was good last year. Matt Kenseth has been great every time he's been there. Guys like that are guys that can go up there and if their team gets their car right, they'll win the race."
What will be like to race against Jeff Gordon on dirt? He's raced almost exclusively in Cup and Busch over the last 16 years. How exciting will it be to race against him on dirt?
"It's not so much that you're gunning for him. I think more than anything I'm excited for him. I'm excited to be able to provide a format and a race that he feels comfortable with to come and run and give him a chance to go back to his roots and come back to a track that was on his way up the ladder to becoming a four-time Nextel Cup champion. I'm excited to see him come back and honored that the first time in 16 years that he's ever come back to a dirt track, he's coming to my track at an event that we're hosting. To me it's a huge honor."
As a race car driver, what's your strategy to win the event?
"With the way the format is and with the way that we invert the field, a lot of times you can't really plan a strategy. It's more just trying to anticipate what the track conditions are going to be like for the main event. Where you start, you kind of have to just find weaknesses in guys just like you do at a Cup race. You have to find what part of the track are you better than they are and try to set-up a perfect opportunity to get by. The field last year was so tough. I started eighth and it took me the entire race to get to the front. If Dave Blaney doesn't jump over the cushion -- I'm running second to him -- I don't even have a shot of winning because we were the same speed. It just shows how competitive this event really is."
What does it mean for the fans? How exciting is it for the fans, either at home watching or in the stands?
"I think it's a neat mixture of race fans that we have come to this event. You have your short track race fans that are used to coming and seeing dirt late models at Eldora and are used to that action but want to see the Nextel Cup driver try his shot at it. Then you've got the Nextel Cup fans that have never even seen dirt racing, have never seen dirt late models run. They're familiar with their drivers, but it's kind of a whole new experience for them and a whole different side of racing that they've never been exposed to before. I've never seen so many people get excited for qualifying in my life than the first year that we had the event. It seemed like every other car that went out to qualify was the new quick time at that point of the night. Seeing 20,000 people just go crazy over qualifying is something that showed me how excited they were to see this event happen."
What is so special about Eldora?
"Of all the places that I've been to in my career, there are a lot of tracks that are similar, but there are marquee tracks from East Coast to West Coast that are very unique and Eldora's one of those. There aren't many half-mile tracks like Eldora, if any. The groove has always typically been right up by the wall and when you're running that fast at a half-mile track, you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself and in your car that you can run up there without making a mistake. If you make a mistake, you don't have extra room to gather it back up. You run out of real estate very quickly. It's a very, very fast, momentum driven-type race track. You look at the history of the track -- winged sprint cars, dirt late models, modifieds -- and you look at the list of champions that have won, it's a very prestigious list of short track drivers that have made their mark there."
JEFF GORDON (Four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion; Making first Eldora start since 1991):
What motivated you to race in the event this year?
"I've been talking to Tony for years -- ever since he bought Eldora and we've always had that common passion for dirt racing and our background being dirt racing. But when he bought Eldora, he talked about having events and us coming out and checking out the track, checking out events. Last year he talked about this charity event and bringing these other drivers in. I hate that I missed it last year and so I told him I'm there next year I'm there. So I'm excited. I've got it on the calendar and can't wait to get there. It's been a long time since I've raced at Eldora. Of course, that was in a sprint car or a midget or a silver crown car and I think four crown may have been the last time I was there. So I'm really looking forward to racing one of the late models. I've never done that before. But it's going to be spectacular. If you look at the list of drivers -- I mean this is a NASCAR Nextel Cup event with dirt late models which I think is going to be very cool."
When were you on dirt last and how tough will the transition back be for you?
"I can't even remember the last time I was on dirt. You know it would have been in the early 90s when I was still racing midgets and sprint cars before I went full-time into the Cup series. I don't know. I'm sure it's going be a transition. Anytime you haven't done something in a while it's going take you a little while to get the hang of it again. Plus, I've never driven a late model on dirt and they drive a lot different than sprint car or midget does. So, I've been talking to Tony a little bit about it and I look forward to going there and giving it my best shot. It's for charity and that's the most important thing. We're going to go have fun. I know how competitive all of these guys are. So we're going to try to go as fast as we can too and go and try to pick it up as fast as we can."
What would it be like if you won?
"Well, it would be huge. I mean these guys are going to take it serious. You've got guys that are great on dirt. Probably one of the most impressive things I've seen Tony Stewart do was finish second at Knoxville (Iowa) in the late model last year. I thought that was really incredible, so obviously he's going be tough. I always hear about Clint Bowyer and you know Kenny Wallace won the event last year. I heard that he did really well. Carl Edwards will be strong. I think there's going to be surprises. I think there's going to be guys that have dirt backgrounds that are going to do well. You never know what the track conditions are going to be. I think everybody is going to be fired up to do something so different than what we normally do. And I think it's going to be a great show for the fans. And Pay Per View, I mean it's the first time that I've ever raced in a pay-per-view event. So hopefully it does very well for the Victory Junction Gang Camp -- something that we're all near and dear too."
How is racing a late model different?
"Well with the sprint car, especially the winged sprint cars, it doesn't take much to get the cars to turn into the corner. With the late models, they have the rear steer going on so it's getting used to how that car hikes up and moves around quite a bit and getting it to turn in the corner. I think once you get the car set then it's going to be finding out just how far sideways you can run this car. From what I hear they have quite a bit of downforce in them, especially at a big fast track like that. So I'm excited about the challenge. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Talk about strategy in a short event like this.
"I think the strategy is going to be trying to stay out of the way and not run into anything because you've got guys that have experience, you've got guys that don't have experience and we've got qualifying and heat races inverted. It's cool to go back to a format that I'm used to running years ago that I really loved. It was a great format. It's exciting for everybody. But you know you've got to run hard. If you qualify well, you're going to go to the back and you've got to work your way back. So you have to really race your way in to get that good starting position. And I think that's what's going to make this very interesting because you know you're going to have guys that are way off the pace and some that are super fast and I'm not sure where I'm fit in that mix. Most importantly it's just going to be trying not to hit anything."
Why should fans watch the event?
"I think this is going to be one of the coolest events that anybody could come and see or watch on TV because you've got the best of the best in the Cup series but you've got them in foreign and unusual situations. We're used to racing stock cars on big mile and a half race tracks not on a half mile dirt track that's high banked. Eldora's one of the most spectacular dirt tracks in the world. And I think these guys are going to be hungry to go out there, put on a good show, have a lot of fun and most importantly raise money for a great charity -- the Victory Junction Gang Camp."
Why is VJGC important to you?
"Well, I started the Jeff Gordon Foundation to help children and that's exactly what the VJGC does -- it helps children. So anybody that has an organization that has the same philosophies and ideas that we follow with the Jeff Gordon Foundation I'm in support of it. You look at the Petty's and what they've done for this sport and more importantly what they've done for children out there around the country, it's been amazing. It's a beautiful place. It just does incredible things. It puts smiles, a smile on kids' face that a lot of times doesn't have a lot of inspiration or a lot of hope and it changes their lives. And going through this experience and going to this great camp that offers them so much to do and great care as well. And all you have to do is go there one time. Your heart's going to break to see these kids but you're going to be amazed at what this camp brings to those children and those families. And I'm very proud that we have been able to contribute to it and that the community has supported it so much the way it has and race fans around the country."
DENNY HAMLIN (Two career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victories; Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate):
What motivated you to be a part of this event?
"Obviously, Tony Stewart is one motivator but I had never run dirt before; last year was the first time. Unfortunately, I was the only driver to actually show up and not race in the main because my car couldn't make it. So hopefully we're going to improve on that this year."
What have you done to prepare yourself to make a better effort?
"Last year, I really started to get the hang of it. I was actually third before I crashed in the heat race. It was so much fun. It's so different being out there with those guys and kind of being more in their element than you know on the normal weekends when we're out here. I know I'm definitely going to be more prepared this year, maybe even go testing somewhere and try to practice."
What's the most challenging thing for you on dirt?
"The most challenging thing is finding where the grip is at. I think that's why you see guys like Kasey Kahne and Tony do such a good job finding lines on Sundays because they can find it on dirt. That was the biggest thing for me, just trying to stay on that edge and find that grip. You know those guys really have perfected it.
Who do you want to beat the most?
"I'd like to beat Tony. I'd say really J.J. (Yeley) is the guy that I'd really like to beat the most. He's got a lot of dirt experience so if I could beat him that would be a pretty good accomplishment."
How exciting will this event be?
"You're probably going to see a lot of playing around. And I think that's what we're going to do there, first of all, is have fun. Raising money for charity, that's what it's all about. Putting Sundays behind us and going out there and getting back to our roots and probably do a little beating and banging too. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens."
Why should fans watch the event?
"If you're looking for a great time, Tony Stewart's event at Eldora is a great event. It raises money for charity and you'll probably see some good racing."
KASEY KAHNE (2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Rookie of the Year):
What motivated you to be a part of this event?
"It's going to be a great event. I mean I want to beat Jeff Gordon. I want to beat Tony Stewart -- that's what it's all about. It's going to be about raising money for the Tony Stewart Foundation, but also beating on those guys and trying to beat them and they'll be trying to beat me. It's just going to be an all out dirt race."
Talk about the pride of beating your fellow competitors.
"I've raced against Tony, I've raced against a lot of these guys on dirt and Jeff Gordon -- I've never raced against him on dirt and he's done really well on dirt in the past. So to race against him in his first time in a long time in a dirt car will just be really, really neat to do that. And I want to win. I want to beat those guys and it's going to be fun. It's going to be a fun exciting entertaining night and then the race is going to be all about winning.
Talk about your experience on dirt.
"I have a lot of experience on dirt in sprint cars, midgets, that type of thing non-winged or winged. My last time over the off season when I raced a couple of dirt races in Australia. So that would've been the last time. But never in a late model."
How will it be different to race in this type of dirt car?
"Just driving the car, figuring out how to make it turn to make it get sideways and still go fast will be the biggest thing. It'll come to me pretty quick, I think. I think it'll take some laps, but we'll get lots of practice. Hopefully we'll get enough laps for everybody to figure it out. That way we can have fun and actually race and slide and use people up a little bit if we have to."
How exciting do you think it will be for the fans?
"It's going to be really exciting. Whether you're at the race or watching it on pay-per-view, it's going to be fun and exciting to watch NASCAR guys do something that they're not all used to doing. It will be a blast. I will be watching. Every time I'm not in a car I will be on top of a trailer watching and seeing what Kevin Harvick does and what Juan Montoya does and just kind of watch and see how it happens. It's going to be really fun."
Who do you want to beat the most in this event?
"Well, you want to beat everyone there, but the guy that's going to be the guy to beat is Tony Stewart. I mean he's raced these cars. He's good at it. This is his event and he's going to want to win it too. He's not going to be easy on anybody. So, I think wanting to beat Tony and beating Tony at the end of the day will be the best part of the whole Wednesday night show."
Why should fans watch the event?
"When was the last time you saw Jeff Gordon race on dirt? When was the last time you saw 25 NASCAR drivers race against each other and throw Juan Montoya in the middle of it? It's going to be an all out rumble and it's going to be a lot of fun to race Eldora speedway on the dirt."
What's been your involvement with Victory Junction Gang Camp?
"We've raised money through the Kasey Kahne Foundation which goes to kids and underprivileged kids and some of it goes to Victory Junction. I've done a softball event and just different things with the camp and enjoy it and want to do more."
KYLE PETTY (Eight-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series winner; Co-founder, Victory Junction Gang Camp):
How has VJGC grown with help from the NASCAR community?
"It's phenomenal how it's grown. It has grown because of the NASCAR community. I've been around to different places, but when you go around the NASCAR fans -- because of Tony Stewart because of Michael Waltrip because of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth and guys like that they think the camp is part theirs and it is theirs because they've invested in it. Obviously after Adam's accident then we looked at it and said you know what can we do? And what do we want to do? And I think the camp was something that Adam had had a vision of, that we had a vision of and we have just been very blessed to be in the NASCAR community. So many people have believed in the project and because of that a lot of kids have benefited. We don't really do anything. I just go over and play with the kids and hang out and ride around in circles on Sunday that's basically all I do. But so many other people work really, really hard to make it happen."
What types of kids come to the camp?
"The kids that come to the VJGC are kids with chronic and life threatening diseases, not necessarily terminal diseases. I think a lot of times we're mistaken for a camp for children with terminal illnesses. These are life threatening and chronic illnesses. And a chronic illness is something that they will fight their entire lives. Sickle cell, asthma, arthritis, hemophilia, we see kids that have been burnt, burned kids. We see full blown AIDS, we do see AIDS kids and we see certain blood born diseases. We see certain forms of cancer, cancers that have gone into remission and back, that these children will have their entire lives. Heart and kidney disease. Until they find a cure for these diseases, these are chronic illnesses and these are things that these children live with every day. It's pretty phenomenal to hang out with some of these kids that are 12 and 13 years old and you understand their medical knowledge because it's so far beyond anything that I know about. But that's their world. The medical community is their world. And all we really do at the camp is give them the opportunity to play, to just be kids and be a kid without a disease. Basically it's a hospital. We can do chemo there. We can do dialysis there. We can do certain other procedures there. We have a full time doctor and four full-time nurses, 365, but when camp goes on those numbers swell to something like sometimes 10 or 15 doctors and something like 50 or 60 nurses, all volunteer staff. So it's a pretty phenomenal place and it just lets these kids be kids for a day. They're Mike, they're Kyle, they're Billy, they're whoever, they're not 'Oh you're the kid who has asthma, oh you're the kid that can't play this can't play that. These kids get to be the majority when they're at camp."
How proud are you of the people who rally behind the camp?
"I think that's the part for me that has been more gratifying than anything else. When it's all said and done, like I said, we all kind of raised our hands and said 'Hey this is what we want to do, this is what we're doing for a personal reason.' And guys like Tony and I think Tony said it best and he does some of the stuff in our video and he said you know racers just help racers and that's the way it is. And that's the way it always is in this garage area. It seems like when a driver or a team or somebody has a tragedy in their life or something happens or something is said in the driver's meeting or a flyer is past out from truck to truck, somebody's always donating something for an auction or going on a toy run for I don't know a motorcycle rider or something like that. That's the part for me. I tell people I grew up in a strange world living a strange life. My community is this garage area. And that's the way I truly look at it. I travel four days a week. I'm at this race track. I'm in the garage area with NASCAR officials, with team owners, with sponsors, with other drivers, with crew members from other teams and this is our community. You know, there's 1,500 to 2,000 of us that travel around the country thirty-some odd weekends a year. I may live in Level Cross, N.C. or Trinity, N.C. or Randleman (N.C.) but this is my community. So I think any time you do something and your community really gets behind it then it's a very gratifying experience. I've always said that racing people are the greatest people in the world."
How excited are you to participate in the event?
"You know when Nextel started this with Tony Stewart at Eldora it was one of those deals like 'OK, I'll come run around in circles so ya'll can lap me every forty laps. That's okay, I don't care. I don't know anything about dirt. I didn't grow up on dirt.' But it's been a lot of fun. To go there and be with Tony, to be with Denny Hamlin, to be with Matt Kenseth to see Matt drive for the first time; Bobby Labonte got so excited about it he went out and bought a dirt car. So he's had a dirt car for a couple of years now. And I think when you look at Schrader and you look at Blaney and you look at guys like that who grew up on it, there's an art and a talent to drive in dirt. And when you go see Tony Stewart and you go see these other guys do it, it's pretty phenomenal. And they're kind to us, they've been really kind to us. Kenny Wallace has gotten phenomenal at it recently, but they've been pretty kind to us. But when you look at the list this year, when you look at Jeff Gordon coming back to dirt, when you look at Juan Montoya never running dirt and some of that stuff and you look at the group that they have this year it's definitely an 'A' list of Cup drivers that'll be there that night."
What's the biggest challenge to drive on dirt for you?
"Dirt's a lot more forgiving -- from a pavement standpoint. When you get out of shape at Talladega, you're out of shape. On dirt you know you get out of shape you can stand on the gas or tap the brake or turn to the right and you know sometimes you can bring yourself out of it. Guys that really know how to do it look like they're on the edge all the time. Guys like me are on the edge all the time when I'm on dirt. I think guys like Tony and those guys they make it look easy. There's nothing, I don't think there's nothing...Daytona, Talladega places like that maybe there is, there's a majestic look about seeing a couple of cars go off into the corner, backing in the corner and standing on the gas and throwing a rooster tail of dirt and doing 7 or 8 inches from each other and coming off and not running into each other and you say 'My god, how did that happen?' But there's an art to doing it."
How do you feel about bragging rights? Who do you want to beat?
"You know I think for...I'm probably a little bit different. Because I look at it and I say man you know you'd love to go beat those guys. To beat Tony Stewart at his own race track, he owns the place, you know what I mean? To be able to run with Jeff and beat somebody like that or Blaney and those guys like that, that would be phenomenal for a guy like me. Now those guys are in their own little world, they're in their own stuff. But you look at it, and I think all drivers, you put 'em in a car and whether we're going down the street here to get a Coca-Cola or we're going back to the hotel, they're gonna race hard to get it. But for me I look at it and I can sit here and truly say today that because of Tony Stewart and because of Old Spice and because of HBO and everything that's going on in this event, hey I've already won. I'll walk away as a winner because of the Victory Junction Gang Camp. So I couldn't be any happier to be a part of it. To be able to come in and drive the racecar is just icing on the cake."
Why should fans watch the event?
"When you tune in on June 6th you're going to see some of the greatest drivers in the U.S. drive in an element that a lot of us aren't used to. You got guys like Tony Stewart, you got guys like Schrader some of those guys. And guys like Jeff Gordon who have grown up on dirt, who know how to do it. You got guys like me, I've dabbled in it a little bit. I can't say I'm anything special with it. Then you got guys like Juan Montoya and Matt Kenseth guys that have only done it once or twice or maybe never. But at the same time this will show the natural talent of what these drivers do. You see them at Daytona you see them at Talladega you see them at race tracks all over the U.S. You don't usually see them on dirt, and I think it's a huge event. It's a huge event for a number of reasons because to bring that many Cup drivers together in a venue other than a Cup event but at the same time it's a charity event and I think you'll see the true essence of what Cup racing is all about what NASCAR racing is all about and what these guys are all about. They're there giving back to the VJGC and other charities and I think that's the main thing and the main thing you'll see that night."