November 19, 1999 Atlanta Motor Speedway Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
November 19, 1999 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Since then he has been busy accepting congratulations and doing a number of interviews. He spoke about his week and what it's been like to this point.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE THIS WEEK? "Busy to say the least, but the kind of busy that you want to be because something has happened that is good. We've done a lot of things, a lot of media stuff, a lot of phone calls to my office and to my house, and just trying to get through some of the mail and e-mails and things like that. It's been fun. A lot of people have called and, I think as much as anything, things that mean more to me are the other drivers that are calling and that made efforts to send things or something saying congratulations. That's always, to me, the most important thing is getting those things from the owners and the other drivers."
HAS IT SUNK IN THAT YOU'VE WON THIS TITLE? "I think it somewhat has. I think this weekend will help some in that respect as we get through another celebration on Sunday after the race. And then I'm sure as we get ready for New York that it will become more of a reality then, but it's been pretty neat. You always wonder how you'll feel and how you'll handle things if they should come along and it's been a lot of fun. You get a lot of practice in saying thank you when everyone says congratulations, but that's a good thing. I think as much as anything I was able to go to the shop on Tuesday as we did some media things there and to see the delight on our guys faces and smiles that were there, I think that's when it sinks in as much as anything is whenever I'm around Robert and Todd and the other guys on the team. When I can see them and they're enjoying this and they're walking with a little higher step, that helps me to be able to enjoy it a little bit more."
WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH YOUR DAD? "Not a lot. He fell asleep on the plane going home Sunday night, so I don't know if the excitement wore him out or he was bored with the whole thing (laughing). We've talked somewhat just about how special it really is and what it means to our entire family. Something that meant a lot to me, and it may not seem that much to you all, but on Sunday night as we were getting ready to get off the plane, we already knew we had a lot of things going on on Monday and Tuesday. You have to understand somewhat the relationship of my dad and myself and just how special I think he really is, but as we were getting ready to get off he knew he was being asked to do a lot of this stuff along with me and he said, 'This is your championship. I want you to enjoy it. Don't let me interfere with it. If there are things you'd rather do yourself that they have me included in I'll back off.' He knows that's not what I want, but he wanted that opportunity out there and that's just my dad. He always wants the best for other people, so that was pretty special. We had time Tuesday, we did a piece for his TV show, and it was kind of fun to reflect back on how things started. We actually did it at Hickory Speedway and talked about how it started and that first night there so we've had some good times. We have some things going on, obviously with this next week coming up being Thanksgiving we'll get to spend some time together and I'm sure we'll reflect a little bit more then."
HAVE YOU SETTLED ON THE BAND FOR THE BANQUET PARTY? "Yeah we've settled on the band. We're gonna have the Commodores. For those of us back in my era we'll enjoy that. For those of you too young to remember it, you'll get some good music lessons. We're pretty excited about it. We're gonna have a good time and there are a lot of good things going on and, hopefully, it's gonna be something everyone can enjoy."
WHAT OTHER DRIVERS HAVE YOU HEARD FROM AND WERE THERE ANY WEIRD MESSAGES? "If there was anything weird they kept it from me. I guess it's kind of like my good and bad e-mails, they don't let me see all the bad ones. They make me think I'm a pretty good person most of the time. I think the very first one to call before I even got home was Ken Schrader and I actually talked to him later, but I've heard from Earnhardt, Kenny Irwin, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, I mean there are probably close to 20 of them that have either sent something or called. It's pretty special that they would all take the time. Alan Jackson called me, so that's pretty special."
WHAT WAS YOUR KIDS' REACTION? "The children have been extremely excited. I wasn't sure. I know that Jason's excited about it and he can relate somewhat because of being a driver. Obviously it's something, as I told him, that hopefully it's a little bit of an inspiration not only to him but to others out there that hard work and dedication will get you places. But as far as my three younger ones. Natalee and Karsyn went to school on Monday and both of their teachers, they go to a Christian school, they actually took time out to watch the last 30 minutes of the race. It was kind of surprising that they had tapes, but that's what they did for part of their day, so they enjoyed that. Again, I hope it's an inspiration and maybe a lesson that if anybody gets anything out of this is that you can make something of yourself if you just work hard and that we can use that in a positive way. Zachary, he was excited. He likes anything that goes along with winning. He will be five in about a month, but he understands winning so if he associates that with winning, then he's pretty excited about it."
WHAT WILL YOUR THINKING BE FOR THIS WEEKEND'S RACE? "It's like a free weekend kind of. I said the other day that it's kind of like being able to run the Winston, but I haven't had much success in that so I'm not gonna use that analogy anymore. We've looked at it a couple of different ways. We can use it a little bit as a test if we wanted to for next year. Even though the 2000 Taurus will be a little bit different, chassis-wise we'll probably have the same chassis that we'll run here in March. But, we're gonna go all out and do everything that we can to try to win. I know the guys in the engine shop were working hard the other day to give me a good qualifying engine. They're trying to get me a pole. I told them I wasn't sure that I had the nerve to run around here wide open with one of their engines, but if they got it fast enough we'd try that and try to get a pole. It would be a nice finish to the season, certainly if we were able to win, but if we can run up front and just continue that pace that we've been on."
DO YOU APPRECIATE THIS TITLE MORE AFTER 20 YEARS OF HARD WORK? "I think it's made me better in a lot of ways and that's not to say the way that I've done it or had to do it is better or that much different than anybody else out there. Anybody else that's been successful in this business has had a long road to get here. I don't mean to make my story out to be one that's different in that respect. Sure, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of effort, but everybody out here puts that towards their career. Do I appreciate it more? I don't know that I appreciate it more, I do appreciate it a lot because of what I had to go through to get to this point. I think it's a good positive way to learn this business because I've pretty much seen all sides. I had the opportunity to work with my dad when he was promoting Hickory Speedway, so I was on the side of knowing what it took to make that happen week in and week out with the advertising that had to go on, with getting the race track prepared and getting the people there. Even sitting in the office on Saturday nights after the races were over and the guys that had problems came in needing money to help them get to the next week, so I've seen that happen. I've also been on the side of going into that promoter's office and asking for money to help me get to the next week. I think all of those things and running my own business, paying all the bills, building the cars and learning the cars from one side to the other helped make me a better driver. That was the way that was best for Dale Jarrett and the way that I had to do it. Again, I do appreciate it and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think this all came at a time when I really can appreciate it more than if it had happened some time before."
ARE YOU TRYING TO CARRY THAT OVER TO JASON AND HIS CAREER? "Somewhat. I hope he can get going and get himself situated in a really good situation in Winston Cup racing, hopefully earlier than what I was able to. You always want things for your kids to be better than they were for you, but the approach of working on his own cars and learning the business, yeah he's going through it the same way."
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL PLANS FOR THE GUYS IN THE SHOP? "We have quite a few things going on. Obviously, everyone is getting to make the trip to New York and enjoy the things that take place there. We have a couple of different functions, parties if you will, aside from that to make sure that these guys enjoy this. Ford Motor Company is doing some special things with the guys to make sure they have things that will enable them to remember this and Kelley and I are gonna do something that we think is pretty neat for the guys -- basically a Christmas-championship gift, so I think they'll be well rewarded for their efforts."
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST RACE AND YOUR FIRST WIN? "My first race was in April of 1977 in a Limited Sportsman car at Hickory Speedway. The car was built by Andy Petree and Jimmy Newsome, two friends of mine, and that first night I know that we got there late. I had only been on the race track a total of about 30 laps by myself before that time and we got there late that night. We had to start in the back, started dead last and I finished ninth. I know that we had a pretty good engine, and I do remember that a plug wire fell off so I was on seven cylinders, which, once again, showed that God was looking after me because I would have probably hit something if I would have had all eight cylinders. Somehow I finished ninth, I didn't really know how. I just knew that night, I had done a lot of things and been fortunate to be successful in a lot of them, but that was the most exhilarating feeling I'd ever had and I knew that's what I was gonna do. I didn't know how I was gonna go about it or what was gonna take place after that, but I knew that's what I wanted to do. I actually didn't win a Limited Sportsman race. We ran second a lot, but the two years I ran Limited Sportsman we never won and then it was my second year of Late Model Sportsman at Hickory before I finally won, which that would have probably been like 1980 before I ever won a race."
HOW MUCH DID YOUR OFF-SEASON WORKOUT PLAN CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR RESULTS? "If you listen to the guy that I train with he'll tell you it was about 95 percent of it, but he likes to take a lot of the credit (laughing). That's had a lot to do with it. The way that I've felt this year and the program that I've been able to get on and stay on has helped me tremendously. How much does it help at the end of a race? I don't know. I mean, I've always stayed in decent shape, but I'm in a lot better shape and anytime you can do that, especially racing against these guys that are 25 to 28 years old that are in great shape, then it's gotta help me. But it helps me as much mentally. It helps me get prepared for the race better because I can communicate with Todd and them much better than what I was able to, especially in 1998. So, I think it had a lot to do with it and I've tried to express that to Jason, to be able to use that as kind of a motivational tool that getting in good shape is gonna help you in a lot ways, so I think it's definitely helped me tremendously."
HOW ABOUT BEING THE LAST CHAMPION OF THE DECADE? "As we look back on it I'm sure that'll be something that's pretty special also. There for a while it was like these race tracks that I won at like here and Darlington as soon as I won they figured that anybody could conquer these places so they switched them around and turned the backstretch to the frontstretch, so I guess it's only fitting that I win the last championship of the century. It will be something that we'll have and I'm sure that we'll remember for a long time."