Bill Elliott Ford Award press conference

Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, presented Bill Elliott with the "Spirit of Ford Award" during a ceremony at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier today. The Spirit of Ford Award is the highest honor Ford Motor Company gives out in...

Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, presented Bill Elliott with the "Spirit of Ford Award" during a ceremony at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier today. The Spirit of Ford Award is the highest honor Ford Motor Company gives out in auto racing and it recognizes those who have made a significant lifetime contribution to the world of auto racing. Elliott is ended a 25-year NASCAR Winston Cup career with Ford as he prepares to move over to Dodge next season.

DAN DAVIS, Director of Ford Racing Technology
"Today marks the end of an era in NASCAR Winston Cup. After 25 years and 40 career victories, Bill Elliott will take to the track for what could be the final time in a Ford product. As you all know, back in March at this same track, it was announced that Bill would be going to the competition next year. It was a sad day for many of us at Ford and for many of the Ford fans who have followed Bill throughout his career. In the time leading up to that decision, throughout all of our conversations and attempts to keep Bill in the Ford family, and throughout this season, Bill has shown tremendous professionalism and respect for our relationship. So, in recognition of his incredible career and in recognition of how he put Ford back on the map in NASCAR racing and in recognition of 25 years as one of NASCAR's greatest drivers, it's my sincere pleasure on behalf of Ford Motor Company to award Bill Elliott with the highest honor in our motorsports program -- the Spirit of Ford Award for a lifetime contribution to the sport of auto racing.

"Bill is only the 17th recipient of this award and joins such standout recipients as Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, Bob Glidden and the Wood Brothers. The success of Bill and his brother, the magical season of 1985 and the championship year of 1988 proved to the people in the NASCAR garage that Ford was back. Without the Elliotts our program, with now more than 20 teams and another manufacturer's championship this year, would not be where it is today. We are so grateful for his efforts on the track and for the way he has represented Ford Motor Company all these years. Bill, next year we know you're going to be driving that red car, but we know deep inside you've got a lot of blue inside of you and we really appreciate that."

BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus
"I really didn't know how I was gonna go into this weekend. I knew there were gonna be a lot of emotions both good and bad from my standpoint and this is what made my decision so hard. I struggled with this decision a lot of nights trying to decide which way to go and what's the best way to lead not only Bill Elliott, but the guys on the race team and everything else. It was a very hard decision for me because these guys have been so respectful of my decision and I have the utmost respect for all the people at Ford Motor Company. They've been absolutely fantastic throughout the years. We've never had a problem throughout all my years running a Ford and racing for you guys and I think that says a lot for our relationship. I still want to continue to be friends with you guys and be able to come knock on the door and do whatever I need to do because you have been a large part of my life and my family's life. I wish my mother and dad were here today to see this because daddy was the one that always instilled this in us throughout the years. He hated the GM side of things, so that was one thing I knew I could never do, but maybe the Dodge won't be so bad (laughing). Anyway, daddy was one that we would go to race tracks around the local area and these guys would be running all these GM products and he'd show up with the only Ford there. That's gone through me for a lot of years and, like I said, I've got the utmost respect for all the people at Ford Motor Company. I've got a lot of friends there and I continue to want to be friends and, by golly, we'll get through this. I appreciate everything you all have done throughout the years, family and all."

HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS THIS LEAVING FORD?
"It's probably one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make. I struggled with it a lot of nights because of my devotion and throughout the years with Ford, but it's just one of those deals that you've got to look at everything down the line and say, 'OK, what's best for everybody involved.' And looking at where my career was and trying to continue to be an owner/driver and everything else, it's time to take another crossroads in my career. It's a difficult crossroad because there were a lot of different ways to go, but I chose a way and, unfortunately, it kind of turned away from Ford with one respect, but I've got to go on with something else down the road. That's a part of the way things happen sometimes in this sport, but I have the utmost respect for all the people at Ford Motor Company. They've been great to me throughout the years and I think this shows how much of a stand-up company it is. I've got to respect them for what they've throughout the years and the same way with Dodge and what they've done from their standpoint throughout the years. To me, it just makes the transition a whole lot easier for me. It's still a difficult decision, it was a difficult decision to make, but for me it's time to go on."

HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS IT MOVING TO DODGE AND RAY EVERNHAM FOR YOUR CAREER?
"When Ray came to me and offered me this deal it was like, 'What am I gonna do now?' It was like there was no answer to make, but I just had a lot of decisions within myself to make -- not only for me but for the team and everything else. Once I started weighing things out and saying, 'OK, what about this and what about that?' I told Ray, 'Yeah, I will do it.' It's just one of them deals. Now, it's another chapter in my career. All in all, I'm very proud of what I've accomplished. It's time to turn around and step another page in my life and see what happens next year, but, all in all, I'm proud of everything we've done. I'm proud of what my family has done throughout the years. I'm proud of the way we did it. We came in and we were just a small team on a small budget, but we came in and made a mark on this sport and I'm as proud of that as anything else in the world. Whatever happens 2from this point on, if my career ended today I've had a great career."

YOU'RE NOT ONLY LEAVING FORD, BUT DARRELL WALTRIP IS LEAVING AFTER THIS RACE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR BATTLES WITH HIM? "Ol' DW, we've had our ups and downs. I think Darrell and I probably had more words in '85 than any other time as far as trying to go at each other. Darrell was a unique person. He was very outspoken and it's always hard to get the last word in, but we're gonna miss Darrell. Darrell has done a lot for this sport in a lot of different ways. He's been able to be a very good spokesman and bring it to a new level and I feel like he'll continue to help grow our sport with where he's going in broadcasting. I feel like that's an area he can really go and help us and put a new perspective on what the fans see, not only from being there the year before as far as being in a race car to being in the broadcast booth. He'll be able to bring it all full circle. I think that's a great deal for him and it's just one of them deals where this sport will drive you out one way or the other and whether you're ready for it or not, you've got to be able to turn around and move on and do something else. I'm proud for him."

HE SAID HE'D HAVE A 50-YEAR-OLD MANDATORY RETIREMENT AGE FOR DRIVERS. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
"I guess each person is different. I look back at Harry Gant. Harry Gant turned 50 and he looked 35 and he was able to accomplish a lot and then when he decided to quit he pretty much hung it up and went on his way. It's just like a lot of stuff, it'll drive you out whether you want it to or not -- the competition, the drive week-in and week-out, or whatever it is. I still feel like you get to the point, it's just like me, I'm getting to the point in my career where I still love to race. I still enjoy racing, but there is gonna be a crossroads where I say, 'OK, it's time for me to step down and the next generation to come in.' It's getting shorter and shorter whether I like to envision that or not. Whether I drive until I'm 50 or I try to drive until I'm 60. I don't envision that side of the deal, but, still, from the standpoint of this sport it'll tend to drive you out because you've got another generation coming in with a new way of doing things and new ideas. That's just like when I came in and started doing things a little bit different. I had no set way, just like the next generation."

DO YOU ENVISION THIS BEING A TOUGH WINTER?
"No, not really. It'll probably be one of the easiest. A lot of transition has already taken place. There is really nothing that I've got to do. A lot of my promotional stuff has slowed down a little bit because you've got to understand how many associate sponsors I had and how many dealings I had trying to keep the race team all intact. So, for me, it's starting to slow down in some respects. I'm sure the testing and some of the other stuff will be pretty hectic, but we've got a lot of things in place. With me having a teammate in place in Casey (Atwood) and the other Dodge drivers, it's been easy for me to make that transition. I look for it to be a little easier winter than I've probably experienced over the last number of years."

HAVE YOU FOUND IT INTERESTING WORKING WITH RAY?
"I didn't realize we were so much alike in a lot of ways. He's pretty focused on his racing, he's pretty gung-ho on that. The rest of the stuff, he gets bogged down in it and doesn't like. I'm talking about from management to everything else that goes on around you week-in and week-out. When I came in this sport in the eighties, the biggest thing I had a problem with is I concentrated on the race car. Me and my family, that's what we did week-in and week-out and anything that took me away from that I resented. That's the way I looked at the media at that time. They were taking me away from the race car and I had a resentment toward that. It wasn't a fact that you guys were doing anything wrong or I was doing anything wrong, it was just the fact that I thought that was a minute that I couldn't spend working on that race car. It took me a while to deal with that and learn how to deal with that and I think over the years it finally took me a while to let go as far as working on the race car and being able to just be a driver. And then to turn around and be an owner/driver and deal with all the responsibilities and ins and outs, that becomes tough. So, for me, it's been a career of a lot of learning and I've got to say one thing, I still learn something everyday when I come to the race track."

SO YOU CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT TONY STEWART HAS GONE THROUGH?
"Exactly. You get to a point where you try to say yes to so many things and you're dragged in so many directions that one day you just snap and say no to everything. That's pretty much a common deal. Until you get to the point where you're able to balance everything in your life and be able to put it in perspective, that's when you can start enjoying things a little bit better. There are times you do things you don't like, but, yet, you've got to look at the other side of the coin. There are times in your life that you don't like, whether there's a death in your family or whatever, you learn to deal with them. It's just like this, you learn to deal with those things and get through it. You focus on the good times and get through the bad times."


HAS IT BEEN TOUGH NOT GETTING TO VICTORY LANE IN SUCH A LONG TIME?
"I think looking back even in February when the 125 was kind of a bittersweet deal. From a standpoint of, in my heart we've worked hard been real close. It isn't like we've just been total junk week-in and week-out. I feel like this year and even the last several years, with a little bit of luck, we could have been in a position to win a race. But today, with the super teams that are in, you've got to have a 100 percent perfect day every week to win a race. Just like as good as Ricky's (Rudd) been and several other teams, they've not been able to capitalize on a win yet. It's hard to put 'em together, regardless of who you're with. You've just got to forget about it and go to the next race. All you can do is just continue to work hard and hope everything comes together and a little bit of luck goes you're way."

BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN WITH FORD SO LONG, IS IT GOING TO BE EMOTIONAL WHEN THIS RACE IS OVER?
"Believe me, it's already been emotional. When I made the decision to do this, it was emotionally a really hard thing to do because of the struggles within myself and as far as what my dad had done throughout the years."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DARRELL MAYBE NOT BEING REMEMBERED AS THE GREAT DRIVER HE WAS?
"Let me tell you this, I mean, Darrell has been around this sport a long time and however he wanted to go out or what he wanted to do, that was his prerogative. He's worked all those years to be here and he still enjoyed turning the wheel on a race car. Maybe he wasn't as competitive as he needed to be, but he still enjoyed it. More power to him. If that's what I want to do, more power to me. But I want to take it a step at a time and as long as I can stay competitive week-in and week-out, then I want to continue to be here."

WHAT DOES BAD WEATHER LIKE THIS DO TO A DRIVER'S PSYCHE?
"It doesn't do anything to me. Just wait and see. Let's just get it in and see what happens. A lot of us are ready for this year to be over -- right, wrong or indifferent -- but if there was more on the line I'd say a lot of people would be all uptight about it, but since the championship has been decided and a lot of other stuff, it's more of a relaxed deal."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Bob Glidden , Mario Andretti , Richard Petty , Harry Gant