Darlington II: Dodge - Bill Elliott interview

BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid) "Qualifying wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. We didn't qualify well here in the spring, but we ran good in the race. That's all that matters right now. We'll just try to get the Dodge ...

BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid)

"Qualifying wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. We didn't qualify well here in the spring, but we ran good in the race. That's all that matters right now. We'll just try to get the Dodge where it needs to be for a long, hot afternoon. It looks like it's going to be warm here tomorrow, and that's going to be the key part, keeping the driver happy and making all 367 laps."

IS WINNING THE WINSTON MILLION HERE IN '85 YOUR FAVORITE WINSTON MOMENT?

"Well, that and winning the championship. When I was sitting at the banquet in New York in '84 and ya'll announced they were going to have the Winston Million, I thought, 'man, that would be great to win.' I'd won Daytona, but I'd never won Talladega and never won at several of the places. Lo and behold, the season started in '85 and I won Daytona, then we won Talladega and Charlotte came along and we kind of missed it there, but by the time Darlington rolled around in the fall, the competition had kinda caught up. I remember running the race here, and a lot of guys ran well during the day - Gant, Earnhardt and Cale. Cale was leading late in the race and the power steering went out. It was quite a ride. The way it unfolded it was pretty unreal from my standpoint."

DOES THE POINT SYSTEM NEED CHANGING?

"It depends on where I'm at in 'em. For '85, they should have been changed. The way I look at it, it's been that way ever since I've been in it. If you go back and refigure it through the years and change it around and manipulate it one way or the other, what are you proving? Set it away and leave it alone. If they want to change it, let them change it. It's been this way ever since I've known it. It's based on consistency and I don't think right now with the way Matt (Kenseth) has been running, I don't think it would matter what they had. He'd still be leading in the points, but that's my opinion."

HOW DIFFERENT WOULD SPORT BE WITHOUT POWER STEERING?

"I think we need to go back. All the late 70s we didn't have power steering. It wasn't until the early 80s that power steering came along. Geoff Bodine kinda brought it into this sport and it kinda evolved from there. I think that's probably given some longevity to the sport as far as the drivers being able to last longer. The problem is, the era we ran manual steering we ran around this place 34 or 35 seconds. Now you're running around around in the 29s, so it's a whole different era. You run so much faster and it's so much harder on you physically, I feel like that would be the determining factor. They'd be 5-6 and 100 pounds. They'd start out at 140 and be 100 by the end of the day. It'd be interesting. They ought to run the first half with power steering and then cut the belts off and run the last half (of the race)."

WERE THE HIGHWAY PATROLMEN WITH YOU IN '85 YOUR IDEA?

"It wasn't really my idea. I think they just did it more for the PR side of it. By that time we had a pretty good plan when we came in here. When we went to Charlotte it was so unorganized and so many things were going on that it was hard to deal with. At that time I was more like crew chief and driver. I couldn't deal with everything. I was trying to think about what I wanted to do car wise. Everybody else wanted other opinions. By the time we got here we had a pretty good plan going in. I don't think they (patrolmen) were needed at all. The way we ended up setting up press conferences and things like that, it worked out fine. Those guys were really nice guys. I still see them from time to time."

ADDRESS STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF YOUR TEAM

"I think the strengths are long term. I think Ray has got a good plan of where he's going business wise. It's just like any race team out there today. A lot of teams are excellent race teams and we've got all the pieces of the puzzle, but we can't get 'em all to fit together. You go through points in time, and people become as big a factor in that than anything. You look at all the teams and get a couple of pieces that don't fit and as close as competition is today it magnifies your problem. It isn't as bad as you may appear it to be. It's just a part of trying to get everything to work. Just like I told Mike (crew chief Ford). We went to Kentucky and tested Wednesday and Thursday and I said now we're not looking for a tenth of a second. We're looking for hundredths and thousandths of a second when you go to the racetracks. Like Bristol, you look at the monitors and everybody was running the same time. How in the heck are you going to pass? How do you get an edge on anybody? Right now, people are doing such way out things to try to get an edge as far as different setups. Used to you'd come to these places and chassis meant a lot. You kinda had a standard setup of what you wanted with four springs and four shocks. Now everybody is going so far out of the box that they're looking for different stuff. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don't. I think just looking at the consistency of all the teams, that's more prevalent than ever before. Everybody is looking for that magic something that will give them the edge. I don't think it's a people issue or a team issue or anything else. It easy to get people down if you have a couple of bad races, yet if you have some good races it's easy to keep that momentum going. Ray's done a great job. I think this race team is capable of winning races and we just need to keep putting that part of the puzzle together."

HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE ARE BATTLING TO WIN?

"As long as you can stay competitive, it's not that frustrating. The biggest thing is, take Bristol for example, if you're running the same time and it comes back to what everybody says every week - track position. If you don't have track position you're dead in the water. There one time at Bristol, I was a lap down, I ran third behind Ryan and Kurt Busch and ran good there. I got my lap back and came around and ran in the back and you run what the cars there run. Where are you going to go unless you butt somebody out of the way? I don't' agree with that."

DID YOU NOT WANT WHAT SPOTLIGHT WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?

"The role I played when I started in this sport is a whole lot different than the guys are today. I came in, I worked on the car just like a crew guy. I came in at 5 in the morning, whenever the garage opened, I was here working on the car. I resented anybody that took me away from working on the racecar. That's what I had a hard time dealing with the success as it came along. I felt that if the racecar ran good everything else would take care of itself. Today, guys are in a whole different atmosphere. I don't know why they would have a problem with what goes on here. They're able to manage their time a lot better than what I was able to when I started this sport. I was just uncomfortable with everybody. I wasn't used to the media. I wasn't used to having to deal with things. We're all just people. You've got a job to do. I've got a job to do and try to figure out how to make the pieces fit where we all accomplish what we've got to accomplish at the end of the day. I think as they get older and as you understand how things work, then you'll continue to be better at what you need to do. It's a tough deal. You get thrown to the lions relatively quick, and it's easy to make a wrong statement or start down a wrong path and it's easy to snowball into something else."

HOW MUCH OF EVERNHAM'S LONG TERM GOALS DO YOU SEE YOURSELF BEING A PART OF?

"That's a good question. That's up to Ray. It's probably not up to me."

HOW MUCH IS CAR AND HOW MUCH IS DRIVER?

"It does appear that way for whatever reason. All these guys are good or they wouldn't be in here. On the other side of the coin, if you take someone that doesn't have the experience and how bad are they nine times out of 10? That's not always the case, but all the pieces of the puzzle have got to work. You've got to have fuel mileage. You've got to have track position. You've got to have no bad luck. Everything's got to work. Here will probably be a little bit different because of the way this racetrack naws up tires. I still say it will come down to track position. I don't know about fuel mileage, but I'm sure somebody will probably do it on that."

WHAT ARE FACTORS YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT RETIRING?

"There's a lot of factors. It's just like I said on the conference the other day. I'm at the age that don't many people go very much past. As hard as the competition is today and the level of competition is today, I think that's going to be a factor. I do know I'm on the shorter end of the stick, whether it's this year, next year or the year after. We've got to sit down with Ray and make that decision. We've got to talk about not only what's best for me but what's best for this race team and what level it needs to go to next time. That's the key. "

DO YOU KNOW IN YOUR HEART WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND WOULD YOU WANT A FAREWELL TOUR?

"That's something I need to sit down and think through, think about it, discuss it and figure out what's going to be the best. I'm not the only one that's part of this decision. Ray's got to be a part of it. NASCAR needs to be a part of it. The fans, the whole bit. It's a huge decision to make. Right now my focus is on this race Sunday afternoon, and that's the farthest thing on my mind at the moment."

COMMENT ON SOFT WALLS AT RICHMOND

"I don't think it'll improve the racing. I don't think it'll have anything to do with the racing. You don't think about it. If you think about hitting the wall every lap then why am I here? I am proud of what they're trying to accomplish. I think any time we go for better, safer ideas, I think that's the evolution of what we've learned from Dale's incident at Daytona several years ago. Everything we've done now is in a position direction. It's just stuff I feel like should have been done before this."

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR ROLE IN THE SPORT AFTER YOU RETIRE?

"I don't know. I've speculated different things, different ideas. I still wouldn't mind being somehow involved with Ray, but as far as owning a race team, there ain't no way. Read my lips."

WILL YOU JUST DISAPPEAR FROM SPORT OR WILL YOU HANG AROUND?

"I'll probably just do what the hell I feel like doing. Is that plain enough?"

-dodge motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Kurt Busch