Chicagoland: Stewart-Haas Racing press conference, part 1

Tony Stewart Press Conference to Announce Stewart-Haas Racing July 10, 2008 TONY STEWART: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion JOE CUSTER: General Manager, Haas CNC Racing MIKE ARNING: Moderator, Vice ...

Tony Stewart Press Conference to Announce Stewart-Haas Racing
July 10, 2008

TONY STEWART:     Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion

JOE CUSTER: General Manager, Haas CNC Racing
MIKE ARNING: Moderator, Vice President of True Speed Communication

MIKE ARNING: "Obviously, a big day yesterday when it was announced that Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing will part ways following the 2008 season. Joe, this is a big day for you - Joe Custer, General Manager of Haas CNC Racing. Tony, another big day for you. And to start it off right I believe there's something to unveil just to the left of you. Why don't we go ahead and do that.

"Like we always said from the get go and what Tony reiterated many times, when we had something to announce, we'd announce it. That day has come, and Tony, talk a little bit about why we're here today."

TONY STEWART: "I thought when we got in here there was really a cool menu for the buffet today. I've never seen this many media people in here before.

"Obviously, this is a huge day for me. It's, you know, this is a huge turning point in my career obviously. But I'm very proud today to be here and announce that myself and Joe Custer have, with the Haas CNC team, merged and now formed Stewart Haas Racing. That's where I'll be next year, and hopefully for the rest of my life and my career in NASCAR racing.

"It was a huge decision making process obviously, something that was not made overnight. And every week like we told you guys this was a long process. You know, this was not something that was easy by any means, and we did weigh our options heavily as far as what was available out there, what our options were. And, the opportunity to have ownership in a race team was something that was, in my opinion, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I don't think an offer like this has ever been made in this series to a driver. And I don't know that an offer of this magnitude will be offered in the next year or two or down the road even. But I'm very honored that Joe and his organization have welcomed me aboard not only as a driver but as an owner and really excited about our future at Stewart Haas Racing."

MIKE ARNING: "Thanks, Tony. Joe, a big step for your organization. Talk a little bit about how this day came to be."

JOE CUSTER: "Well, it's an unbelievable day for our organization and the Haas Automation folks and worldwide dealership network. We've been in this sport for a number of years building what we feel like is the nucleus of a winning organization, but, quite frankly, we haven't finished that journey. And being able to work together and put the deal like this together is a dream come true for the Haas organization.

"And we welcome Tony. We welcome his talent, his leadership, his passion, everything that he brings to this sport. I think this is a great day for NASCAR, a great day for his fans and our fans, and we look forward to not only winning races but really enjoying it in the years to come."

MIKE ARNING: "And we'll go ahead and open it up to questions now. Again, because we are doing a transcript of this afterwards and because it is being carried live by a number of outlets, if you could, state your name and affiliation as well. And I know there are folks here with Chicagoland Speedway who will have a mic so if you can wait on the mike."

Q: Joe, you said passion. That's a keyword with Tony in racing. The two are almost synonymous. Can you talk about having somebody like that come over and what that brings to the Haas organization?

JOE CUSTER: "Well I keep using the word 'franchise' player. I don't know if it's worn out in the sports world. But there are just a few people, you know, whether it's Wayne Gretzky or just people in a sport that influence -- and you can't put your finger on it. Fans put their finger on it. That's who puts their finger on it. We believe that Tony Stewart that is person. And why? Because the fans believe that.

"So how does that affect our organization? Top to bottom. Top to bottom it affects obviously our people. How they view coming to the track this week is different. You know, they knew about this press conference and loading on the plane today was a different, exciting feeling at Haas. And the owners, Haas Automation and all the folks back in California building machine tools there, it affects them. So I think going forward, I'm not sure I realize how much that will change our organization but I'm ready for it."

Q: Tony, why is ownership so important to you at this time in your career?

TONY STEWART: "I think since 2001 when we started our first World of Outlaws team, I think as time has gone on, I've started to understand the value of it and what it means to me in life. You know with a second World of Outlaw team that we added this year and obviously our two USAC Midget Sprint Car and Silver Crown operations, I've really enjoyed that aspect of my life over the last seven years.

"Eight years ago when people asked me if I'd consider ownership in a NASCAR team, I said no way. I said I wouldn't be able to deal with the politics. But, you know, after owning race tracks and having race teams, now I think it's a side of me that I really enjoy and having the opportunity to have a new challenge and to help build an organization and be a part of it and know that whatever the results are at the end of the day that I'm directly responsible for that as a part of it is something that's important to me.

"And, you know, it's hard when you guys have always asked in different conversations, 'What do you do when your career's over?' When you stop as a driver you don't want to -- it's hard to just -- you talk to drivers that have retired in the last three or four or five years, it's hard to just walk away from the sport. And this gives me an avenue, if the day comes that I can't drive a race car or don't want to drive a race car anymore, I can still be involved heavily in NASCAR. And I know what that feeling's like, obviously, at the smaller levels with USAC and the World of Outlaw Series. And this is something that I really feel like I want to do the rest of my life."

Q: Tony, tell us about your ownership in the team. Are you buying it? Is it being given to you? Did you go to the bank and take out a mortgage?

TONY STEWART: "Actually, I got into your piggy bank over your cupboard and I didn't realize how much money you really had. I've actually got some left over if you want me to take you to dinner tonight on your dime.

"No. I think this is the only detail of the agreement that I think we're willing to talk about as far as the terms and everything, but I was offered half of the team in this deal. That was something that doesn't make this a lateral move from where I came from to where we're going next year.

"You know, having 50 percent of this race team is something that's huge. But I look forward to it. Haas CNC is a company that's spent a lot of their own money to build this operation, and has spent a lot out of their pocket. I'm hoping to come in as a driver - not only as a driver - but as an equal partner in this and be able to attract sponsorship to where now Haas CNC doesn't have to spend that money out of their pocket to where we can make it pay for itself.

"So, you know, that was something that I don't think, like I said, has ever been offered. I don't think any driver's ever been offered 50 percent equity in an organization, and, you know, that made this such an appealing offer."

Q: Two quick questions. The first is: Will you be announcing another driver soon? There's a lot of chat about that and who that might be. And, second, there's also a lot of chat about you having been ill last week. How are you feeling? Did you get to the bottom of what was making you ill and do you have another announcement coming up soon that people might expect as to who the driver might be that drives with you?

TONY STEWART: "We hope so. Obviously, we would like to announce this sooner than later.

"As far as being sick, I can't pick when and where I'm going to be sick and where I'm not going to be sick. Trust me, I felt like a pin cushion this week with needles in my arms, so I've not enjoyed that part. I do feel better. I started feeling better Tuesday evening.

"And I had to miss an event at Eldora Speedway which I been looking forward to for a long time and running my 360 winged sprint car there and I didn't get a chance to do that. I only get a chance to do that once a year. So it was not an opportune week to be sick by any means. I do feel better.

"As far as drivers are concerned, we're looking - just like any other car owner does now - looking at who is available, where they're at in the stages of their contract, who is available, who is not available, who is interested and who is not. So, you know, it's kind of the same process that I'm use to doing with our World of Outlaw teams and USAC teams. And Joe and I will work together to try to secure drivers as soon as possible, and hopefully not only a driver but sponsors, and we'll be able to announce everything hopefully soon."

Q: Tony, the way this whole thing evolved prior to the connection with Haas CNC, had there been an option for you to perhaps buy into Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)? We've seen guys like Rusty Wallace - he got a quarter of Penske Racing. Jeff Gordon owns Jimmie Johnson's car. Had that been an opportunity for you originally, or was that inability to do that what led to you do this?

TONY STEWART: "No, it wasn't offered. JGR is a family business and I respect them for that. I don't think you can ask a family business to give away part of their race team. But it wasn't offered.

"That didn't turn me away from Joe Gibbs Racing by any means. This was just a unique offer. I don't know that I've ever heard of any driver offers that have had this involved in it, so that's just what made this a very appealing offer."

Q: Tony, can you talk about how much it weighed on your decision to make this part of your legacy? You've already got a strong legacy in the sport. How important was it to continue and help build NASCAR and help make the sport even better like you've done with open wheel racing?

TONY STEWART: "I think as time has gone on and I've gotten a little bit older here, you start realizing the importance of history and what values are important to you. And, you know, the thought of being another Richard Childress or a Richard Petty or a Rick Hendrick, somebody who is driven in this sport and now, in some cases their legacy's bigger than when they were drivers here. That opportunity to do this in this sport was very important to me.

"You know, I look back and I know I keep mentioning our open wheel teams but that's really where the foundation of this all started in my head. And I look at where we are this the year. I mean, this past week we were leading all three national divisions and that's the first time in USAC's history that any one organization has led all three national divisions in the point standings.

"I looked at that and thought that's something that's never been done in this sport. And to be part of that and to have my name on that organization that's doing that is something that I'm very proud of. And, you know, to have opportunities to put my name in the record books as a car owner now is something that I'm excited about.

"I mean, this is something that, you know, it's -- I know what it feels like to win as a driver. But I know after winning the Chili Bowl 2005 or 2006 what it's like to win as an owner. Or I guess it was 2007. But, you know, to sit there in the winner's circle and climb out of the car that I know I had a part in building that team, I mean that was a feeling that I never had before.

"To have that opportunity to do that here with Haas CNC Racing and now form this new entity is something that I'm excited about having that opportunity. I'm excited about the fact that I feel like we could go to Daytona and we have the opportunity to go there and win the Daytona 500 and stand there and climb out of my own car with my own guys and my own operation and be there as champions that way. So that's an aspect that I'm hopefully going to get a chance to experience that and enjoy that."

Q: Your name's on top of this deal. Will you be calling the shots? Will you be bringing in your own people at all? How will the structure of the organization work?

TONY STEWART: "We're 50/50 in the entity. So, we'll work together. It's not about who ranks where. It's not a ranking issue. It's matter of goal issues and what our goals are and sitting down and working together.

"The one thing I think I've learned from Joe Gibbs Racing is that it takes people to win. And it's not equipment that wins races. It's people that win races. And, we're going to assemble a strong group of core people that we feel like will work together - not somebody over top of anybody else. It just made the logo look really good. That's how it got stacked up that way. It wasn't really an ego issue by any means. (Laughter.)

"But we'll have a good group of people. It's not a matter of really who is calling the shots. You hire the right people to do the right job. So, my strength's going to be hopefully taking the knowledge I've learned from Joe Gibbs over the last ten years and hiring the right people to be in the right position and let them do their jobs. My job on the weekend is going to be to drive the race car.

"If we get the right people then we don't have to worry about who is calling the shots here and there. You've got the people in place to do it for you."

Continued in part 1

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Team Penske , Joe Gibbs Racing