Barry Dodson interview

BARRY DODSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 27 VIAGRA PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: (ON THE RUMORS INVOLVING HIS SWITCH TO ANOTHER TEAM PRIOR TO HIM SIGNING AN EXTENSION WITH EEL RIVER) "The rumors are always out there. I had had plenty of offers to go to other ...

BARRY DODSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 27 VIAGRA PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

(ON THE RUMORS INVOLVING HIS SWITCH TO ANOTHER TEAM PRIOR TO HIM SIGNING AN EXTENSION WITH EEL RIVER) "The rumors are always out there. I had had plenty of offers to go to other teams. I had not thought about going to other teams, and that's one reason why I went ahead and signed my multi-year extension through the year 2005 here at Eel River. It was to put these rumors to rest and let people know that we're down to business. One of the most important things we have to do is secure sponsorship for next year, and I think that was the first step in doing that - putting rumors to rest."

(HOW DOES HE GO ABOUT HIRING HIS TEAM MEMBERS?) "We hand pick those guys. I get, on the average, a half dozen to a dozen resumes per day on my desk. Everybody we have here has been handpicked. That's another reason I signed my extension last week. This is probably the best group of guys I have ever been associated with and that's including our championship team at Blue Max (Racing). A person cannot keep moving around, trying to build a program at this level. It takes time. It takes years. Let's take the Joe Gibbs operation. They are the premier Pontiac (team). That team was established in 1992. So to have the kind of personnel that we have here, with our birthday coming up at The Brickyard of being a one year old team, to turn this thing into a contender I think I would be a fool to go anywhere else and lose the kind of stability that we have here with the personnel.

"You look for experience. You look for guys that are not happy with other programs that they're with. I've always had a policy of letting people come and ask me for a job. I'm not the type guy to go hire other people's help. That happens to me. It's happened in the past. It's happened this year and it infuriates me. But I don't retaliate by using that process. I think that's given us some credibility in the way we do things. The staff we have right now I'm very, very fortunate to have. They've all been handpicked, as I've already touched on. We have the nucleus here with the ingredients and the chemistry to become a very strong contender. That's another reason that I'm not going anywhere. I want to come back and be a force in Winston Cup racing, not just a fixture, and I want to make another run. I have time to do that, especially with this group."

(ON THE EXPERIENCE IT TAKES TO BE A TEAM MEMBER) "What has changed as far as Winston Cup racing, or as far as that goes, even the Busch Series, you don't have the luxury now of bringing somebody in and teaching them. They have to have a little bit of experience. Everybody wants to have 'The Young Gun.' These are the guys that knock out the blazing pit stops and this and that. We do have a young group here. But so many resumes have a lot of credibility there, but you can't afford to stop and teach as much as we're gone. A lot of them get our interest and they go in another file. We keep everybody's resume on file. Then I go back through them. We do away with some and I always hold some. Some are very, very impressive. But to come in at the novice level, straight to Winston Cup, the ones that get your attention are very, very few. And I hate that for people. Sometimes I call them back or they'll call me, and they'll ask what they should do. My advice to these kids is, 'Keep trying.' That's what I did when it was much easier, and that's what these kids need to do at some lesser level to gain more experience and more credibility."

(DOES HE BELIEVE THERE SHOULD BE TOLERANCE IN THE TEMPLATES USED IN THE INSPECTION PROCESS?) "I don't like the way we're being handcuffed. It takes away a lot of the knowledge, the expertise that some crew chiefs have to be creative and experimental. A common template - I'm not in favor of that at all because I know every manufacturer wants to be able to identify their brand. In my mind we're very close to having an IROC race where all the cars are equal. We might as well send our money in to pay for our car, let them bring them, unload them and us draw a number and race them. That takes away from all the money we spend here on trying to have good help, the money we spend on technology and this and that. NASCAR has always found a way to find parity in brands. I'm not in favor of a common template being the answer to that.

"I know the Dodge is pretty much built off the Taurus, and that's not good for Pontiac. That's not good for Chevrolet, and I'm not just taking up for the GM brand. I know that I could put the best Pontiac I can together right now. If I get through the inspection room - I would be borderline getting through. But I know if I do get through there, I'm way off of what a Ford Taurus is that basically comes out of the box and gets up together. That's part of the price we're paying here again by not having the time in the wind tunnel that we're now starting to see. We're getting attention now from Pontiac because they know they're losing four (teams), and I count eight or nine Dodges coming on board. It's like eight or nine more Fords for us to have to compete with, and we've got our work cut out for us."

(WOULD EXTRA TOLERANCE IN INSPECTION MAKE HIS CAR COMPETITIVE RIGHT NOW?) "Yes. I could compete. With the total downforce on a Taurus compared to what we have, if the handcuffs were taken off our team we could close that gap between now and the next race. We certainly could, and the car would still look like a Pontiac."

(HAS HE HEARD ANYTHING FROM NASCAR THAT THEY ARE CONSIDERING THIS?) "No, but I wish they would. I took a brand new car to Loudon the other week, and we were going straight from Loudon to The Brickyard. With the new generation tire the front-end settings - the camber settings - you have to do that to accommodate the racetrack that you're at. Loudon takes a lot of camber. They (NASCAR) have a template that comes off the sidewall of the tire and the fender cannot stick out past it. So I take a car that's brand new at Loudon, and destroy the fenders on it to make it legal for Loudon knowing that Tuesday I'm going to be at The Brickyard and I've almost got to put new fenders on it again to test at The Brickyard. My question (to NASCAR) was, 'Rather than give you one-half inch of tolerance or none, why don't you give it an inch?' It's an inch for everybody. What's next? Are they going to tell us what kind of front-end settings to run?

"We have way, way, way too many templates. That turns into money spent at this shop doing and re-doing fenders per the racetrack that we're going to, whether we have any damage or not. There is a way to change that rule simply from a half inch to an inch where nobody in the stands is going to notice. It's no advantage for anybody, no disadvantage for anybody, but it's common sense thing. There are a lot of rules like that that would make it easier for us and get the lights off a little earlier at the shop. The main thing is that it would be a lot more cost effective."

"On the other hand, Gary (Nelson) does listen. They have an open-door policy. We go in, we discuss these things. The thing I admire about NASCAR is that they don't make a quick decision, but they seem to make the right one. They do listen to these things. They listened at Loudon and I think you'll see a change on something just that simple. They don't realize what we go through to have to get a sticker on the car every week when there is no advantage or disadvantage involved."

(WHAT ADVANTAGE DOES WIND TUNNEL TESTING PROVIDE?) "It tells us where the body wants to be, fore and aft, and NASCAR polices that. There is a range of three to four inches where you can move the body forward, move the body back. It tells us how much total downforce we have on the car, and which end it's on. It tells us if the car has a balance, and that is basically drivability in qualifying trim, and when you pull all the tape off the front in race trim, how much downforce you lose on the nose that you would like to regain, which gives you a better race car.

"Every crew chief's dream is to find out how to get a car to run cool enough where you would never have to untape it to race. That's why you see so much tape on these cars. They're borderline. You run your engine hot, you take a chance with it. You run your oil temperature hot, you take a chance with it to get that downforce. All the cars are very aerodynamically slick and when you get behind another car -- and I think you heard Rusty (Wallace) say this at Pocono -- when you get behind another car and all the downforce is taken off the nose of your car, you're just another car. You can get out front in clean air and have a rocket ship. So we're always looking for a way to maintain as much downforce as we can. What we look at is total downforce. Back in 1989 when we did win the championship we had some very competitive Pontiacs, and we tweaked the rules a little bit because we were able to do that. We took advantage of it. I don't call it cheating; I call it self-defense. We probably had a total of 600 pounds of downforce of the car, front and rear combined. Now we're up in the range of 900 to 1,000 pounds. There are cars out there with 1,400. I cannot compete with that right now."

(HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO PUT A COMPETITIVE RACE CAR OUT THERE TODAY?) "You hear the big numbers and that's good. But it also scares you a little bit because you keep wondering where these companies are going to come from, if they're going to come. There needs to be a cap. We've raced for a lot less than what we're hearing Pfizer is giving Roush Racing - a lot less than that, and that appears to be enough. But the more we get the more we can utilize with R&D and engineering, even if we had to buy our own wind tunnel time.

"To be competitive in this day and time I think the $5 million mark is just probably enough to get you in trouble. It doesn't have to be $14 (million) or $15 (million), but it's got to be somewhere in between."

(ON THE DRASTIC IMPROVEMENT IN PIT STOP TIMES OVER THE YEARS) "First of all, these guys are athletes. We practice two days a week here. These guys spend time in the weight room working on cardio, working on reflexes, reaction. I was part of the world's fastest pit crew three times, and we never practiced. We'd practice that week for the competition at Rockingham. But we were kind of naturals in that era of what we did. We had a very fast pit crew."

"Now the bar has raised. If you don't get in here and train your guys and video them and study film, and this and that, there is a team out there that's going to do that. So we have to do the same things. I think we take the same approach as the '24' car, the '18,' the '3,' the '88' - the people that we gage off of.

"As a little incentive, and we moved up all day at Pocono when we made pit stops under caution, every car we beat out the guys get $10. That doesn't sound like a lot, but you beat 20 cars out and they've had a pretty good day. It's not much, but it's a carrot. It's a carrot to swing. But we work very, very hard at that, sometimes two-a-days, and we don't do it inside. We do it outside in the same element that we would race in. We have a trainer that comes in - an ex-college football player - he does that for me. I don't have the time. I'm not afforded the time to go out and do it. That's their baby, and I just expect when the car comes down pit road on Sundays, or whenever it might be, that we go out and do our part and beat some cars, and we're doing that."

(HOW MUCH LOWER DOES HE THINK PIT STOP TIMES WILL GET?) "They will not get a lot lower because I think you're dealing with human beings. Everybody is working out doing all they can do. I think they've gotten better by one program outworking the other, so that's become a competition. Let's face it: the easiest place to pass cars is on the racetrack. If you go back and look, we won a lot of races at Blue Max Racing. Most of them were probably won on pit road, and that philosophy still holds true with everybody. So it's a competition within. I'm amazed at where they are from where they used to be, but not really. Our last year at Blue Max was 1990 and we were in the 19 to 20 second range. They're down from that, but I think if you average them across the board I think you'll probably see somewhere in the '17s' (17 second range) today."

(HOW DOES HE FEEL ABOUT NASCAR TEARING DOWN RUSTY WALLACE'S QUALIFYING ENGINE?) "I think it's OK that they take it apart. I think it's out of hand when they take it apart in front of everybody else. They basically took it down and had the crank out of it at Sears Point for everybody to see. When Penske Racing South has gone the extra mile and spent a fortune to create what they had in that engine, I don't think it's fair just to show it to everybody else. That's just my take on it."

(DID IT HELP HIM AT ALL TO SEE WHAT THEY WERE RUNNING?) "No. It breaks my heart because I see some things there that we can't do. Once again I see what we're competing with. I know how many times he goes to the wind tunnel. I know he's a multi-car team. I know he's got twice the tests we have. I know the resources, the synergies that that program has, and they're just one of the multi-car teams that has that. Then I see something like that that we cannot compete with overnight because it takes revenue that we have not had. I think we will have that. I think we will secure that. But that was another obstacle that was there in plain view for everybody to look at. Most of those people can go back and go ahead and start incorporating part of what they saw. The teams in the back cannot."

(ON THE PROGRESSION OF MIKE BLISS THIS YEAR)  "It's been a little slower on
the big racetracks - the mile and a half (tracks) and up.  That's where we
need to get better.  I knew we'd run good at Richmond.  I knew we'd run good
at Martinsville.  I knew we'd run good at Sears Point." 

"I'll tell you where he did totally, totally shock me - and my biggest concern was, 'How is he going to draft?' Talladega, the first race, we ran top 10 a lot of the day, had a solid top 10 car, possibly top five. We had made it through the wreck, and then the '8' car (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) came up and got us. We almost made it through. But he raced like a guy that had been going there for 20 years. That is a true credit to him, and I look forward to going back there.

"We need to get better, like I said, at the mile and a half tracks and up. We're starting to see those now for the second time. We went to Pocono and came home 24th this time. We didn't start very well (40th). We need to qualify better, and not all that is Mike. That's part of some of the things people are doing with cars now, they weren't doing in '95 when I left. That's a new learning curve for me also.

"The new generation tire is something that we had to figure out. I believe that for a team such as ours, the new generation tire has become an equalizer. We had the same opportunity to learn what that tire wants with the race car as does your Penske, your Yates, your Roush, your Hendrick, or whoever because a lot of that is just plain common sense, not dollars and cents. So we like the new tire. It's a challenge for us that your lesser funded teams can learn with and let that pay dividends for their team."

(WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE HE HAS FOUND SINCE RETURNING TO WINSTON CUP?) "Just the aerodynamics - what people were doing. There are a lot of things that you see on the race car that teams do get by with, but they fit the templates. (Another thing is) how competitive it has gotten since '95. The bar was way, way up in '99 when we came back last year at The Brickyard from what I saw when I left. (There are) three times the templates. That's not a whole lot of stuff. That pretty much sums it up. (There are) a lot more templates to police what you do, (there is) a lot more intensity in the garage throughout and that's pressure from Fortune 500 companies to produce, from car owners, or whoever. The bar was raised a lot, not just one notch. I think from when I left in '95 and when I came back in '99 it's off the graph from where it was, so it's much more difficult, not to compete, but to be competitive."

(WHERE SHOULD AN ASPIRING CREW MEMBER GO TO GET EXPERIENCE?) "The Slim Jim All-Pro Series is a good starting place. But I think the resumes that we probably take the hardest look at and keep are the ones that have worked on vehicles with radial tires. You see that in the Craftsman Truck Series, you see it in the Busch Series, you see it in Winston Cup. There is a dramatic, dramatic difference. Here again, if you're looking for a mechanic you look at experience, who they've worked for, how many jobs they've had. I don't like getting a resume that's got 12 different places where a kid has worked. If that kid happens to write me or call me, I'll tell him that. 'Keep trying - no matter at what level, but you've got to start somewhere. Then you need to move up into one of these series. But find a home and try to stay there.' A resume is not impressive where a kid has moved around, moved around, moved around, moved around because you don't know that that won't happen to you. It was easy for me. Straight out of high school I worked for Richard Childress and then the Pettys offered me a job, and I was fortunate enough to be there through three championships. Let's face it: that was like a free scholarship to a Harvard, or whatever."

(ON HOW YOUNG ROOKIES WILL FARE WHEN THEY COME TO WINSTON CUP) "They will know from time-to-time that they are a rookie. As far as Winston Cup car goes, I think Mike (Bliss) is a true rookie. Now the trucks are very difficult to drive, but he's got to adapt to 200 more horsepower. When we go off in the corner we're running 10 miles per hour faster than he was in a truck and a lot of times, he has overdriven the thing. I'm not taking anything away from Matt Kenseth or Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but I really don't look at these guys as rookies because they've had some time in Busch cars.

"Here again, both those kids are sitting with enormous resources. Matt Kenseth basically makes the '6' car for Roush Racing. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., right now looks like the future for General Motors. I was over there (at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., on Monday) at a GM meeting. I was awed at the resources and the facility they have. Here again, it makes me pretty proud of what we have here. Your drivers, like Kurt Busch, you can see that he's got a good future ahead of him to be as mature as he is at his age.

"I have a lot of interest in Hank Parker, Jr., and his future. He's going to be one of these superstars. Now it happens that with me being a single-car operation struggling a little bit, there are two owners that pretty much overnight put me from first in line with him, now I'm probably his third choice. So that's another thing that we face. That's a challenge for me to get this program better to be able to get the kids of the future. Some of these guys are pretty awesome, especially at their age. I watched little Parker grow up through the All-Pro Series. We ran a lot of companion events with them in the trucks. I knew he was going to be good, as was Casey Atwood, as was Kurt Busch. There are just a lot of them out there."

(DOES A YOUNGER ROOKIE FACE GREATER OBSTACLES IN WINSTON CUP THAN AN OLDER ROOKIE?) "They are greater. We've been to some tracks, like I mentioned earlier, that I've been to with Mike before in the truck. It seems at those tracks we're better than Dale, Jr., and Kenseth because they all of a sudden become rookie racetrack for them. These guys do not act their age. They are for more mature as far as what they know and what they want out of their race car. Now, when practice is over - we all stay pretty much in the coach section at the racetrack - you see all of a sudden Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the race driver turn into Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the kid. It's like, here he is - he's a 24-year old kid. It's like it's two different people. And when it's time for him to turn the notch up and go back in that garage, it's just awesome as to how mature he is. That comes from certainly a good bloodline, but also from being with a team that's been together for three or four years, as he's had with Tony (Eury), as Matt's had with his program, Robbie Reiser and those guys.

"Mike has pretty much matured. I think he has to mature a different way in Winston Cup cars. He has to have a new respect for them. He's been the type kid to get in anything and drive it. This has been his biggest challenge and we've had to sometimes slow down to be better. At Michigan we didn't run good the first day. We covered the car up, came back the second day, Dale Jarrett beat us (in second round qualifying) by five one-hundredths (of a second). We were second in second round, good enough to have made it first round. Sears Point - not very good the first day. We covered the car up, came back the next day and ran a 1:11.70, good enough to be 'first round.' We came back and we're two second quicker, just from going home, talking about what we did - not touching the race car, but just coming back and running it again the next day. That is maturity that he's still gaining and learning."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Casey Atwood
Teams Team Penske