Highlights of Tuesdayâ€™s Teleconference with Terry Labonte and crew chief Gary DeHart: TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kelloggâ€™s Chevrolet Monte Carlo) â€œAt Bristol, it is kind of unusual to win starting that far back probably. Anything can ...
Highlights of Tuesday’s Teleconference with Terry Labonte and crew chief Gary DeHart:
TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo) “At Bristol, it is kind of unusual to win starting that far back probably. Anything can happen at Bristol. I feel fine. Everybody knows I had some problems there. Last week, I was finally diagnosed with what was the problem, and it was an inner ear problem. They did some therapy and I’ve been fine since. I felt fine all day (on Sunday at Michigan). A week ago Tuesday, I got through at the doctor’s office and I felt good Wednesday and I felt even better Thursday. I really went on my own (to amusement to ride roller-coaster) doing something to pull some G-forces to try to trigger the ear deal. I was never able to get dizzy. The doctors told me between 60-80 percent of the people were cured with what they did. I just needed to make sure for myself before I got in the car again. “I wasn’t really sure. The thing that was good news was that all the tests showed good, like the MRI and the CAT scans. They said it was normal and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. It could be just symptoms from the concussion or whatever. Dr. Petty all along pointed to my inner ear. He felt like that was what it was. We did visit an ear specialist a couple of weeks ago and he said there was nothing wrong with my ears. I had the problem at Indianapolis of getting dizzy again. That’s when I took off for two weeks and the guy said there was nothing wrong with my ear. “I went to Bristol last week and ran on Monday. I got dizzy. That’s when we went to a different ear doctor and they diagnosed me with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. They did some therapy for it, and I haven’t had a problem since. “They’re (brother Bobby Labonte and 18 team) just kind of taking it one race at a time and going out and doing the best that they can. I think they’re really approaching the thing right, and they’re having to run hard because it’s close. They haven’t gotten to a position where they can ease back and take it easy and be cautious. They’ve got to go out and run hard every week. That’s what they’re doing. “About all you can do at Bristol is you hope you have a good car and hope it runs good all night and you try to stay out of trouble. It’s real easy to get caught up in wrecks at Bristol and somebody else’s problems because you’re running so fast. You can get in trouble at the blink of an eye and not do anything about it. You’ve got to stay on your toes all night and try to stay out of trouble. You’ve got to be patient passing people because it’s easy to get into somebody. If somebody is outrunning you you’re a lot better letting them go instead of trying to hold them up. It’s probably a track you’ve got to have a little luck on your side, but you’ve got to be a little patient at it, I think. “You can see more than you think there probably, further around the corners. We used to race without spotters, but it’s easier with them because they can spot trouble up ahead. They can see a little bit before you could. I’ll know Friday when I get on the track. Hopefully it’s going to be fine, but if I do have a problem, then we’ll have somebody stand by. I don’t really anticipate any problems right now. “Some jerk on the radio in Charlotte. I guess he was considering it (retirement) for me. This year hasn’t been like we’d hoped for. We really felt like the second half of the year would be pretty good for us. The first time we went to the second place is when I got hurt at Daytona. We really feel like we’ve got a good team. We’ve got a lot of new guys on our team that are doing a good job. Hopefully we can come back and be another contender for another championship. That’s my goal. “It was caused from the accident, from a blow to the head. It’s little calcium deposits in your skull and they kind of get knocked loose. They call them ear rocks. They get in your inner ear and would short out every now and then basically and trigger the vertigo. That’s what it was caused from. “Last Thursday I felt good, and I wanted to try to do something to simulate driving a car, going in the corner pulling some G-forces and things like that. I’d thought about going to ride some roller-coasters. We went to Kings Dominion north of Richmond. A lot of them have started closing because schools have opened, but that one was still open. I rode every roller-coaster they had Thursday night and Friday morning. We probably left about 3 o’clock on Friday, but we rode quite a few rides. I stood in line longer than I rode, but I probably rode nine or 10 rides I guess. I went like a regular Joe and got me a season pass so I can go back next year. “We’re going back to Bristol. It’s always an exciting place to run at. Last year didn’t turn out quite as good as I’d hoped it would for me, but we had a great run and a good car. I hope our car will be as good this year as it was then. If we can do that and be in the position to win, that’s what we’re hoping for. I heard ‘em (boos for Dale Earnhardt) like everybody else. “We’ve been to some places the second time like Michigan and the speeds were a lot faster then second time than they were the first time. It just depends on the track conditions and the weather could have something to do with it. There’s a good chance they could run a little bit quicker (than Steve Park’s record qualifying lap of 126.370 mph, 15.184 seconds in March at the .533-mile track). This time you’re going to qualify a little bit later in the evening than you did for the first race. There’s a chance it could be a little bit quicker. “With what I had and the way you could get dizzy in the corner, it really wasn’t a very good idea to run any laps. I could have run a lap and got out of the car. If I had been up in the top five in points, I probably would have done that, but I didn’t feel like it was really fair to our team and our sponsors for me to run one lap and get out of the car. Our cars would have probably been two laps down. I decided this was probably the best thing to do. I think it’s the smart thing to do. At the time I couldn’t really tell when I was going to have my vertigo problem there. I just thought it was the right thing to do. I felt really fortunate because I’ve got sponsors and an owner that felt the same way. They all let me make the decision. It wasn’t like anybody pressured me to do anything either way. A lot of guys probably aren’t as fortunate as I am to be in that situation. “Only when I would have some cornering forces or some G-force or something like that. That’s when I would notice it (dizziness) the most. I could get dizzy in certain positions at home doing certain things, but walking around was fine. Everything was normal until I would do something that you don’t normally do. What it was was the particles in my inner ear that would move when I would do certain things that would trigger the vertigo. The therapy lasted five minutes. The guy told me the data shows it cures 80 percent of the people. The doctor told me he knew it cured 60 percent of them. I haven’t had a problem since then. Looking back on it, I wish I would have been able to see that doctor two weeks ago, but if I would have, I wouldn’t have got a new motorcycle.”
GARY DEHART (Crew chief No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo) “You’re always concerned about your driver. Terry is a little bit more to us than a driver. He’s a friend, and we were worried and we were praying for him to get better. Over the few weeks, we’ve run several different drivers at different places and actually done pretty good with them. We were fortunate. We were able to get Rich Bickle and Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday to help us get through this thing. We’re just grateful to have Terry back. “We were outside the track changing over the Winston Cup stuff from Watkins Glen. NASCAR doesn’t want but two cars on the track during a test, so we were outside the track doing that. He had gone in earlier and run (son) Justin’s Busch car. When we got in the track at lunch time, I sensed something was pretty major wrong. Terry had that look on his face that he doesn’t have very much. I knew then he was still suffering from vertigo or whatever the cause was. “Things are tougher now than they used to be. It takes a lot of work, a lot of coordinating, a lot of reorganizing. The team has operated just about the last three years under new conditions with a crew chief leaving and a new crew chief coming in and then me coming back. It takes a little while to get everything together. We’re using what’s left of this year to kind of get ready for next year. We’re going to go out and try to get all the points we can, but we’re going to go out and try to win all the races. You may see us be a little more aggressive. In all aspects of everything going on right now, we’re working hard on our pit crew, we’re working hard on our shop crew right here. We’re actually splitting the system up a little bit. The pit crew and the road crew that goes to the race track are the guys that actually do the pit work. They’re not going to be the guys anymore than come in the shop and work on the car. We’re doing different things and trying to get ready for next year this year to make us stronger for next year maybe so we can get back to that ‘96 status. “Terry has got it in him to win another championship or two. He’s younger than Earnhardt, and he’s still got it there. The age thing is not a factor yet. He’s good for a long time, probably six or eight more years if he wanted to run that long. The desire to win another championship is there. It definitely is on the team side. “NASCAR is trying to search for something that will make the sport a little safer on the intermediate stuff and pull the competition a little bit closer together. They’re trying to do it several different ways. Which ever way they do it I’m sure will be fine with everyone. I didn’t go down there on the test, but the 24 did. Just talking to them, they did some pretty bizarre things to slow the cars down, but they also gave us a little bigger restrictor plate back to be able to get the speed back and pull up quicker. Probably whatever they do, hopefully we’ll know within the next week or two, or at least by the time we have to go to a Talladega test. NASCAR really didn’t indicate to them (24 team) what they felt like they were going to do. The things they did, that’s all they could tell us -- bigger spoilers, air trip on top of the car at the 10-inch mark, stuff like that. Plus, the restrictor plate size and stuff like that. They really didn’t get into what they thought was going to come next year. That’s totally up to NASCAR to decide. “Whatever makes the cars the safest and the competition side makes ‘em all fair. As far as what I think, maybe bigger spoilers and bigger restrictor plates is the way to go. Take some speed out of the cars a little bit with the spoilers and air dams and then give us a little bit of speed back with the restrictor plate. I think that’s what we need to do. “We were all getting very nervous, very concerned, and yeah, I thought about it (Labonte not being able to drive again). I said, ‘gosh, darn, this just can’t be happening like this. It could be something that’s permanent and he’ll never driver again.’ We didn’t talk about it, but the thought was always there. “It’s always important to improve on it (qualifying). This is the second part of the year for us. We ran OK in the first race up there (at Bristol). We know we’ve won there before and we’ve always run good there. Bristol can be tough on you, too. It can be equally as bad for you as it can be good for you. We think we can go back and win the race. That’s our goal. “The checklist is more done in practice here at the shop. It’s kind of pounded into our crew members’ heads what they’re supposed to do. As far as what scenario you’re going to choose on race day for whatever condition happens, that’s something you kind of play by ear. The guys do work hard at pit practice and we do go over different problems we’ll have during the course of a race and talk about it and what we’re going to do to fix it before it happens. “We’ve got a guy in house here that does our air guns. We try to go through the air wrenches every two weeks. We have different air wrenches we use in practicing and testing and stuff like that. We don’t try wear out our good stuff but on race day. Sometimes you’ll see a different problem arise, and then we’ll go back and check them more often, but Ingersoll-Rand does a good job with the air wrenches. We don’t have that many problems. “If you’ve never had burnout, you don’t really know what it is. I experienced it. I’ll be the first one to admit that. We are working on a new system for the guys at the shop. We’re working on it right now. We worked on it a little bit yesterday and this morning some. We’re going to split the duties up some on our team. We’re kind of down in points. The points do mean something, but racing something means something also. We need to kind of restructure the team a little bit. Taking care of the pit crew and the guys in the shop who have to give up their seven days a week to make this happen. We’ve got to find new ways to take care of them. Sometimes the solution is not hiring more people because you’ve just got more people that’s going to be doing the same thing. It’s spreading the load around a little bit more and making everyone work just a little bit more than what they were doing to be able to do things. If that makes sense. “I think a few teams are already working on their schedules and what to do with their people. The guys that go on the road that work on the car, most of those guys are part of our pit crew. I’m trying to find ways to take care of those guys. They don’t need to be in here on Monday morning after Sunday’s race and get back at midnight and try to eat late and all that stuff. Maybe they don’t need to be here until Wednesday or Thursday, but their duties is also going to consist of pit practice. They must pit practice and work out every day. We’re giving them a little time off during the week, but their obligation to the team is to do pit practice and work out. I’ve got about seven or eight guys who aren’t going to be here during the week too much. They’re going to show up and be on the airplane to go to the race track on Thursday afternoon. “It’s always been a problem getting a separate crew away from the team to practice and all that stuff and get everyone together. If you get separate people then they’ve got separate jobs and it’s hard to get that program together. We’re building right now to what is going to be my road crew. The majority of those guys will be the pit crew. That’s the way ‘96 was. We only brought a couple of people in from the outside, and we still probably only will continue to bring a few people in from the outside to help us get through Sunday. Most of the guys will go to the race track, but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and part of Thursday will be their time off. Those three days they must work out and pit practice at least an hour a day. “It won’t be easy to do it, but it’s kind of like if you surround yourself with good people you can do it, and I feel like this team has got some of the best people working in the sport. Originally it was just a thought of what we needed to do. We got to thinking about it and we got to talking about it and now we’re actually getting ready to do it. It’s going to be a few hiccups here and there, but the guys will get adjusted to it. Unfortunately, I’ll probably be the only one here every day, but somebody’s got to be here watching over it until it gets going pretty good. Then maybe I can sneak a day off every now and then.”
CHEVY SHORTS -- It seems two Team Monte Carlo drivers have the same birthday. Steve Park and Kenny Wallace were both born on Aug. 23. Park was born in 1967, while Wallace was born in 1963. Park and Wallace have a little more in common than their birthdays. Park won the pole for the spring race at Bristol in his No. 1 Pennzoil Monte Carlo with a track record lap of 126.370 mph. Ironically, Wallace qualified second fastest in his No. 55 Square D/Cooper Lighting Monte Carlo. Chevrolets grabbed the first four starting positions at Bristol in March. Jeff Gordon qualified third fastest in his No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo, and Mike Skinner started fourth in his No. 31 Lowe’s Monte Carlo. Terry Labonte led all Team Monte Carlo drivers with a fifth-place finish earlier this season at Bristol, while Park and Gordon finished seventh and eighth, respectively.