Daytona 500: Troy Aikman - GM Racing interview

TROY AIKMAN, CO-OWNER HALL OF FAME RACING, NO. 96 DLP® HDTV CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS "We are excited about being in the Daytona 500. As most people know, we have been looking for a sponsor to get involved in NASCAR for a couple of years. Six ...

TROY AIKMAN, CO-OWNER HALL OF FAME RACING, NO. 96 DLP® HDTV CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS

"We are excited about being in the Daytona 500. As most people know, we have been looking for a sponsor to get involved in NASCAR for a couple of years. Six months ago we wrapped up the agreement with Texas Instruments and DLP Technology. To make as much progress as we have been able to do in six months time is exciting. Now to come to the realization that we are going to be racing this weekend and already have this weekend and already have been this week is pretty amazing and everyone is pretty excited about it."

TALK ABOUT YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU RECEIVED THE CALL THAT THE QUALIFYING TIME HAD BEEN DISALLOWED AND DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW ALL OF THAT WORKS IN SPORT? - "I do understand how all of this works in this sport and I got a real education on it all again this week due to that. Obviously we were disappointed. We understand why it happened, and why NASCAR had to do what they did. I think most people, if not everybody, in the garage and within the sport recognize the mistake that was made and that it wasn't an attempt on anyone's part to try to give us an unfair advantage on the race track."

YOU GET YOUR EQUIPMENT FROM GIBBS, WILL YOU CHANGE ANY INTERNAL TEAM POLICIES TO MONITOR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? - "No, we will not to answer your question. We are very happy with our relationship with Gibbs and we recognize that if it weren't for that relationship we wouldn't be where we are at right now. We certainly wouldn't be racing on Sunday in the Daytona 500. We couldn't be happier with everything the Joe Gibbs Racing organization has done for us and we will continue with that. We don't anticipate any further problems."

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON AND HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL TAKE TO BE COMPETITIVE OR LIKE YOUR ROOKIE SEASON IN THE NFL? "That is a good question. I don't know exactly how to answer that. I know how difficult my rookie year in the NFL was and I know how competitive this sport is. I have talked to a lot of people about it. I don't think our expectations are unrealistic going into this year. We have our backs against the wall, there is no question. There are a lot of talented teams out there that have been in this thing a long, long time. So, would we like to win? Absolutely we would. But, our primary focus is to just get out there, get qualified and if we can finish in the top-20, top-25 this first year, I think most everyone would feel pretty good about that. We are optimistic but we are realistic about where we are. Other teams that have been in this situation have struggled. I hope it isn't as difficult as my rookie season was. I was 0-11 as a starter, but yet if it is, I don't think anyone is going to be prepared to throw in the towel. I believe we are going to bounce back and do what is necessary. We are in this thing with a good commitment from our sponsor. So right now we are just optimistic with as much progress as we have made and we are just hoping that come Sunday evening, we are not too disappointed based on what happens. We feel good based on Philippe Lopez our crew chief and the team that has been put together. As I mentioned earlier, our association with Joe Gibbs Racing. And then having a sponsor like Texas Instruments and currently with a driver like Terry Labonte, I think that gives us an opportunity. By no means do we go into this thing without realistic expectations."

WHAT WAS THE ATTRACTION FOR YOU TO GET INVOLVED IN NASCAR AND WHAT IS THE ATTRACTION OVERALL? "I think the attraction for myself and others, Tim Brown I know as had some interest. Bradshaw is in the Busch series; Mark Rippen was involved a little bit. For those who have competed at the highest lever, they would certainly understand it. When you get out of your respective sport, and you are used to competition and you get an opportunity to et involved in NASCAR, which is obviously an exciting and fast growing sport, and get involved with it on the ownership level, is an exciting proposition. It is something that doesn't afford very many of us opportunities in football, and some of the other major sports. So this is a great opportunity for me, Roger (Staubach, co-owner) and we are excited about being a part of it. By no means does it mean that we can step right in and to not have to learn our lessons I guess is the best way to say it. We know we are going to go through that period. We are excited about the opportunity and the competition of it all is what drove it to us to it."

DID YOU WATCH THE QUALIFYING RACE AND WERE YOU DISAPPOINTED YOU HAD TO FALL BACK ON A PROVISIONAL? "I did watch it and everyone was hoping we could race our way in and not have to rely on the past champions provisional. Initially, Terry started there at the back and started to make some moves and we thought maybe he would get in a position to make that happen but in talking with the team after the race, they were happy with the car and Terry was happy with it and felt like it handled well. Although on the one hand it would be nice to say that we didn't have to rely on that provisional, but on the other hand, that is one of the reasons we have Terry Labonte in the event we had to use it. I know there has been a lot of discussion about that this week, but that is one of the rules that NASCAR had in place and we were able to take advantage of it. I think there is a big part of all of us that would have liked to have said we qualified in the race."

THERE HAVE BEEN OTHER QUARTERBACKS LIKE MARINO AND JIM KELLY WHO HAVE TRIED THIS WITHOUT MUCH SUCCESS, WHAT MAKES YOU AND STAUBACH THINK YOU CAN DO IT SUCCESSFULLY? "Probably the same reasons those guys thought they would be successful. I don't know that anyone would go into this thinking they might not be successful or that it isn't going to work out for them. We haven't gone into it with any other expectations other than we are going to find a way to make it work. Yet, as I mentioned, we understand how difficult the sport is and how competitive it is. I think that competitiveness and the degree of difficulty in making it work is what makes it challenging for all of us. We have a good sponsor and feel like our alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing is what probably give us a little bit better opportunity over some of those who haven't had quite the success they hoped for when the got into the sport. Texas Instruments is obviously committed to this thing, and the fact that we do have the alliance with JGR, that we are able to use their technology and get their engines, gives a tremendous head start. Ultimately, you have to produce on the track and we recognize that, and if we are not able to do that, then our time in this sport will be brief as well."

HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON TERRY LABONTE AND TONY RAINES AS YOUR DRIVERS? "Terry was attractive to us for a lot of reasons. He is obviously a great race car driver with the history he has had and the career he has had. In addition to that, recognizing that, for instance this week, with his past champion's exemption and from a sponsorship side that is obviously very attractive to have Terry Labonte in the car. With Tony Raines, there were a number of people who were looked at as potential candidates as a driver. Tony Raines was recommended to us by a number of people in the sport, who thought he would best represent our team. We feel like he is an extremely talented guy that hasn't been given as much opportunity as he would like to be more successful. That is how the decision was made on those two guys."

WHAT KIND OF A TEAM OWNER WILL YOU BE AT THE DAYTONA 500? WILL YOU GO TO THE TEAM MEETINGS; WILL YOU SIT IN A SPONSOR'S SUITE? WILL YOU BE ON THE RADIO DURING THE RACE? "I think all of the above. Texas Instruments, they have a role for Roger and I while we are there. We have some commitments on the sponsorship side, as I am sure all owners do. While I am at the track, I want to be as involved as I can be. I certainly want to get a taste of what is happening. I am not in Charlotte as I am sure you can imagine. I am not involved in the day-to-day operation of the team. My schedule is pretty hectic during the football year with the broadcasting and the things that go with that. But I do keep in constant contact with our team and the people who are running it, Bill Saunders and our crew chief Philippe Lopez so I am looking forward to be there. I have been to some races in the past. The first race I ever went to was when Sterling Marlin won his first Daytona 500. In fact, I dropped the green flag at that race and got to be in the winner's circle. It was a great experience. To be around that part of it, early on and get a taste of that is all about excites me and I am looking forward to being down there. Hopefully, I will be able to watch the race down around the track in the pit area throughout the race on Sunday."

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A NASCAR FAN AND HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN IT? "It was that first race I just spoke about. I met Sterling in Nashville early in my career and I had invited him as a guest of mine to come to our Super Bowl and he attended our game and then he invited me to be a part of the Daytona 500 as a guest of his. That was the first race I had ever been to and as I said, it was a great experience. I have been to a number of races since then, watching it and tried to keep up with it as far as where the sport has been going. And then I would say, over the last three years when we first started talking about putting together a team, for Roger and I both, the learning curve has been steep. Rather than looking at it from more than just a fans perspective, we had to get in a little bit deeper and learn what we could about the sport and that will continue. We still have a lot to learn."

WHEN YOU WERE A LITTLE KID, DID YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST IN CARS? "I did have some interest. My Father actually on weekends would race cars at local tracks there in Riverside California and the surrounding areas there when we were growing up. So I would go to the race track some with him, but he didn't stay in it very long because of the expense of the sport, even back then, was a little bit prohibitive. I am in the car business now with some car dealerships. As far as did I ever have any interest in getting involved in racing myself, no. That was never an interest of mine, I was always a stick and ball type guys."

ARE THERE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE DAYTONA 500 AND THE SUPER BOWL? "I would say the similarity is in the fan interest. The Super Bowl is the biggest game of the year for the football season and it draws tremendous interest from those people who are not necessarily football fans. I would guess the same is true for the Daytona 500. Everyone knows the magnitude of this race. Because they do call it the Super Bowl of NASCAR, to kick off the season, that is different from football but yet it is exciting. I think people get involved in watching this race more than they do during the year. Beyond that I don't know if it is the same because it does come so early in the year. In football, whoever wins that game is the champion with is not the case after the Daytona 500 in NASCAR. Obviously they both attract huge audiences and it should be fun."

WHEN FOOTBALL SEASON RESUMES, WILL BE IT DIFFICULT TO FOCUS ON YOUR JOB IN THE BOOTH WHILE YOU CAR IS RACING? "It won't be difficult for me to concentrate on the football and what my job is. I will definitely be keeping a keen interest in what is happening with our team during those races. It is interesting because the guys I know at Fox, the producer, the director and the rest of our crew is the same crew that handles NASCAR for Fox. So they go right from the football season into the NASCAR season, they will be in Fontana next weekend with Darrell Waltrip and broadcasting all those races for NASCAR. Once they come back, once their season ends for Fox with NASCAR, they then come back with me and we begin the football season. These guys will do a pretty good job of keeping me up to speed about what is happening at the track."

HOW YOU PRECEIVE THE GROWTH OF THIS SPORT, HAS IT TAKEN YOU A LITTLE ABACK? "Yes, it has. It has been really remarkable to me to see how fast this sport has grown. I think it is terrific. After getting involved on the ownership side, a couple of years ago and talking with various companies, to me it makes great sense for these companies that can afford to be in sport to get involved in it. A lot like football, when you look at the popularity of football, which right now is as popular as it has ever been, the same can be said for NASCAR. One of the big things that I believe that makes the sport so successful is the stars of the sport are very accessible to the fans which is not typical of other major sports. I was making a comment to a friend of mine when we were watching the qualifying, it is amazing to me, that right up until race time, these guys are still accessible to the fans and signing autographs. You would never get that close to any other athlete in any other sport. The fact that the drivers, the stars of the sport, that are that approachable and they understand what drives the sport. They understand it and the fans understand that and that is what made it so appealing for sponsors to get involved. I don't know that in football while I was playing or even now, that players really understand or appreciate what drives the sport. In NASCAR they seem to have a pretty good feel for it. "

CAN YOU IMAGINE A HALF HOUR BEFORE GAME TIME SOMEBODY WALKING UP TO YOU AND ASKING FOR YOUR AUTOGRAPH? "It just wouldn't be possible. My reaction would probably be amazement. I know how I was getting ready for a football game; I was pretty regimented in my approach to getting ready. These guys are pretty remarkable in that sense that they are that accessible that close to race time and what they are doing is obviously extremely dangerous to be traveling at those speeds with that many cars on the track, and yet for them to take the time out to visit with people and people walk through the garages and what have you. It is amazing to me and like I said, I think that is one of the reasons, obviously there are a number of reasons but that is one primary reasons that why the sport has become as popular as it is because these fans really feel like they identify with these drivers and often times they are able to reach out and touch them."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Tony Raines
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing