Continued from part 1 WHAT WERE YOU DOING 30 YEARS AGO WHEN JANET GUTHRIE ENTERED THIS RACE AS THE FIRST WOMAN TO RACE IN THE MODERN ERA? "It was either in '75 or '76. I was in South Carolina with a little Chevrolet dealership. I drove over...
Continued from part 1
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 30 YEARS AGO WHEN JANET GUTHRIE ENTERED THIS RACE AS THE FIRST WOMAN TO RACE IN THE MODERN ERA? "It was either in '75 or '76. I was in South Carolina with a little Chevrolet dealership. I drove over to Darlington and parked at the grandstands in the middle of the race and got up and walked in the stands and didn't buy a ticket. I was living about 20 miles away. I don't remember who won the race that day. I never dreamed that I'd be in the sport like we are today. I was actually boat racing then."
WHAT IS IN THE PIPELINE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS FOR DIVERSITY AND A FEMALE DRIVER? "If I had an opportunity for a female driver that had a lot of talent then surely we'd look at it. Right now we've been through the driver development program. It's an expensive process with the change in the attitude of the Busch Series. A few years back if you had a young guy, he could make the field and there weren't a ton of Cup drivers there. It's really hard today to train young people and bring young drivers along. The Truck Series is the way to go. The Busch Series is where you really want them but there's only so many spots available. I'm guilty. I'm one of the owners that have Cup drivers too (in the Busch Series) so I'm talking about myself. We're forced because the drivers want to drive in the race. We need the track time. It's hard to find a venue to run some of these young people in and find the talent.
"I think you're going to see more and more folks have to go to the Truck Series then move them up into Busch. I'm like everybody else. You're always looking for talent. But I think in our situation what we're faced with is we have a 21 year-old and a 22 year-old. If they're there then where do I put the next guy? So how far out do you go and what do you do with him in the interim. That's probably something that we're faced with right now."
ON CHAD KNAUS' CONTRACT STATUS: "Chad's under contract through '07. I don't know how that all got on the street that we weren't re-upping Chad. Usually with crew chiefs about a year in advance is enough. We're happy with Chad. I think Chad is happy there. He plays a big part in not just the 48 team but our whole organization. We look for Chad to be with us for a long time. We talked this week about trying to go ahead and finish up a contract with him to go ahead and put that to bed."
IN LIGHT OF ALL THESE CONTRACT RENEWALS AND ORGANIZATIONS GOING THREE OR FOUR YEARS INTO THE FUTURE, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU'RE GOING TO DO MORE WITH KYLE BUSCH AND BRIAN VICKERS NOW OR WILL YOU TAKE IT YEAR BY YEAR? "We've seen in the last couple of years that contracts aren't going to stop guys that aren't happy from talking to other people. So you've got to have a competitive car to keep the good guys interested in driving and you'll have to look further into the future. Really the problem with that is if you go out six years, it's a problem on both sides. If the team is not as good as the driver then he's locked. If the driver is not as good as its team thought it was then they're locked. Usually those kind of marriages have a way of coming apart anyway. I think sponsors that are signing these contracts are going to want to know that they got a guy that they can build brand equity in and they want to know that they're going to have him for an extended period of time.
"It's a tough situation when the owner, driver and sponsor have been together and started a process a process and right in the middle of a three or four year deal, someone offers the guy a lot of money and he thinks he can do better off somewhere else and it's affecting a lot of people.
"I think that the big chore is trying to pick the right guy and give him the right tools and keep him happy and make sure the team is progressing so you can stay together. Believe me, I'm not saying that's easy.
"That's probably the toughest part of our job is identifying talent and trying to make sure if you can tell if it's the driver or the equipment is the reason that you're suffering a little bit and trying to make it better everyday. At the same time you've got the third piece of the puzzle with the sponsor that has a lot of money invested. I think you're going to see longer contracts because people especially sponsors aren't going to be able to afford to put as much money behind the guy as they do in TV and so forth and have to make a change every couple of years."
PEOPLE CALL YOU A LEADER AND SAY YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO BRING OUT THE BEST IN YOUR PERSONNEL. WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON HOW YOU TREAT EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN YOUR ORGANIZATION? "First of all I'd like everybody to call me Rick because I'm feeling awful old in here today with Mr. Hendrick all the time. I'm already too old. I try to bring people into our camp that fit with the other guys and will get along. I try to treat everybody with respect and I ask them to treat everybody in our organization with respect. We've developed a good culture at Hendrick Motorsports. It's a philosophy that I learned from my dad. You treat people like you want to be treated. You try to take care of them the best you can but you hold them accountable for what they do. There's no magic formula but I've been very fortunate to have some awful good talented people work together for a long time that have built a culture over there that I can't take the credit for. I got to give Randy Dorton and guys like Jim Wall, guys that have been there since the beginning and Ken Howes that have come into our organization and left their mark.
"We all try to get better together. We do it with an open door policy that we're going to try to do it the best way. It doesn't have to be my way. It doesn't have to be Ken or Doug's way but we are trying to work together. It's a philosophy that has worked for me in the automobile business and we've used it in racing. You can't discount the fact that you've had guys like Ray Evernham in your organization or different people that I see in this garage area that worked in our organization or drivers like Darrell Waltrip. Everybody that's been there over the 23-plus years has contributed. I think our goal everyday is try to make it better and watch the competition and see what they're doing and try to be leaders rather than followers.
"I'm real excited about having Doug Duchardt with us. He has made and will make a big difference in our organization and lot of the young people that are coming along, some of these young engineers. I think it's that want to win and want to work together and pride in the company that I'm probably the proudest of."
THE SPORT HAS BECOME MUCH MORE COMPETITIVE AND COMPLICATED THE LAST 15 OR 20 YEARS. IS IT MORE SATISFYING TO BE SUCCESSFUL NOW THEN IT WAS 15 YEARS AGO BECAUSE YOU KNOW THE LEVEL OF COMPETITION IS SO MUCH BETTER AND THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER GUYS THAT CAN WIN? "It's really amazing when you think about, and I don't have to think back too far. The first year I did this we started with five employees. Harry Hyde was willing to work for 500 dollars a week. We won three races that year. You look back at the competition. When you were running for the championship, you had to beat three cars or maybe four cars. If you had some really sharp guys, they'd gain advantage and it'd take a long time for people to catch up. NASCAR has done a great job of closing the box and putting everybody on the same page. You can't keep an advantage in this sport over just a couple of weeks and everybody has it figured out. To win a race today is so tough. When you look at how many cars are out there than can win and you see guys that are struggling and haven't won and you see a guy like Jeff (Gordon) that's come close a couple of times this year and hasn't won. You look at the level of competition out there and it's really, really hard. There's so much talent in the garage area. Some of cars in the old days, you didn't have to worry about five or six of them. They were going to blow up or in a race you'd have 12 engine failures at a Dover. Now you run a 500 or 600-mile race without an engine failure and that's unheard of. In the old days, you just didn't have that. Everything is better. The equipment is better. You don't take it for granted.
"I used to think that you could win eight or 10 races a year if you just get the pace up. Nowadays you can be just as good or better than you were last year and you might not win a race."
IT'S BEEN A ROUGH YEAR FOR CHAD KNAUS WITH PEOPLE CALLING HIM A CHEATER AFTER DAYTONA. NOW THAT YOU'RE AT A TRACK WHERE THIS TEAM DOMINATES, DO YOU THINK PEOPLE STILL SAY THAT OUT THERE? HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO ANYONE THAT THINKS THAT THE 48 TEAM HAS AN ADVANTAGE WHERE THE CAR SPONSOR IS ALSO THE TRACK SPONSOR? "I don't even know how to answer that. If you look at the inspection process here and you look at the way Chad's car is checked after every race, they go over it with a fine-toothed comb. I think NASCAR is trying to prove to everybody they're not going to cut him any slack. What happened in Daytona happened in Daytona. I'm real proud of the way the team and Chad rebounded and we're sitting here 90 points ahead for the championship. They're really just hitting their stride. Jimmie Johnson has really impressed me. He's a smart racer today. He was an aggressive racer a few years back.
"There's an old saying you've got to know how to win and when to win and when to race. Jimmie has really figured that out. I think he and Chad together are the best they've ever been. The competition is tougher than it's ever been but I'd say that team is better than they've ever been. I wish I had a few more like Chad. You always push the envelope. We kind of had a little session over there that we don't want to put ourselves and our sponsors and anybody else in that position. We're not going to do anything that's going to get our hands slapped or our guys sent home anymore. But I'm really happy with chemistry in that team. That guy (Chad Knaus) works harder than anybody I know. You can call him at 10 or 11 o'clock at night and he'll be sitting in his office on the computer going back and looking at all the shock information and what he ran a year ago. In his hotel room some nights he doesn't sleep. He's going through paperwork. He's a really dedicated unbelievably talented guy. He brings a lot to the table in our organization."
AS THE OWNER OF CAR DEALERSHIPS, DO YOU STILL SEE IT TRANSLATE AS WIN ON SUNDAY SELL ON MONDAY? DO YOU THINK THAT THE MANUFACTURERS ARE STILL IN THE SPORT TO SELL CARS OR HAS IT GROWN PAST THAT? "Absolutely they are in the sport to sell cars. You look at some of the products that are out there today - the Z06 Corvette and some of the exciting cars that GM is building and the 500-horse Mustang that is coming out and the Camaro that GM is talking about. I don't know how customers find out that these products are coming and they want one. It's a heritage with Ford, Dodge and General Motors. You look at the Hemi. I'm a Dodge dealer too. Chrysler's entry back into racing has really helped the Chrysler dealerships. You see that Hemi pride. You look at the Barrett Jackson sales and watch who those go through. They're bringing $250,000. There's a lot of heritage there in these car companies that they can go back right into our racing roots.
"I've seen in the last six or eight years where the manufacturers have seen it more important to be involved in NASCAR than it was years ago. They're building cars and going to real wheel drives, the engine technology, the drive-train technology. There's engineers that are working with the race teams. When they bring those products out they sell. A testament to that is Toyota is not in this deal because they want to go out and beat GM or Ford on the race track. They want to sell products. They are in the truck business. They are big time in the automobile business in this country and they see this as marketing tool that they can't ignore."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING A YOUNG DRIVER THAT LIKES TO HANG OUT AS YOU SAY AND VERY AGGRESSIVE AND WANTS TO PROVE THAT HE DESERVES THE RIDE YOU HAVE GIVEN BUT MAY NOT DO THE SMARTEST THINGS? WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WATCH AND WAIT FOR THE TRANSFORMATION? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WATCH JIMMIE JOHNSON'S EVOLUTION? "I used to love to go to Riverside and watch Tim Richmond qualify. He'd come through the esses and could see looking straight ahead at the car and you could read the number on the door. I love to watch rowdy (Kyle) Busch.
"I love to see the guys that really like to hang the car out. But you've got to learn in a hurry that that's not going to win. Jimmie has been a good role model for Kyle (Busch). Two or three years ago early in the season Jimmie would be running second or third trying to get the lead and the car really wasn't there and he'd kind of get in the fence and give up some points. Now if you have a car that is a fifth-place car, he'll sit there and ride fifth. You feel it in your heart as a car owner when you've got a guy and the caution comes out and you're down to 10 laps to go, that you'd put that guy up against anybody in the field in a shoot-out. That's where that unbelievable car control and that aggressiveness needs to take place. You don't have to do it every lap but you know you've got it in their quiver there if they need to use it in the last 10 laps.
"I think one of the toughest things as a car owner is when you've got a guy trying to find edge and he's going to wreck some cars. I'd much rather have a guy go out and wreck cars and find the edge and be able to be fast lap after lap then trying to take the middle of the road because the middle of the road doesn't work here anymore. You're almost having to qualify every lap to be competitive and it's going to take the guys that are able to do it lap after lap to run up front in today's environment."
WITH THE WAY JEFF GORDON WON FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS SO QUICKLY AT A YOUNG AGE DO YOU THINK HE WOULD HAVE HAD MORE CHAMPIONSHIPS BY NOW? "I would. If you go back to when we had three or four in a row, you would think he would but things change. When Ray (Evernham) left we had to start the team all over again. We did that. Robbie (Loomis) came in and we won a championship. But then the competition has gotten so tough and we have the new 10-race points system. I just don't know that any team is going to be good enough to say you can win three or four championships in a row. You might be able to do it. We'll see. There's an awful lot of other factors that enter into winning the championship now when you start with the 10-race deal at the end. No matter how good you are, if have a cut car or a blown motor or some kind of mechanical failure; it can cost you the championship. I was hoping we'd win more and I still hope we can win some more."