Fontana: Ford Racing - Mark Martin interview

This Week in Ford Racing April 23, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Pfizer Taurus, and his crew chief, Ben Leslie, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference. Martin is in ninth place in the...

This Week in Ford Racing
April 23, 2002

NASCAR Winston Cup Series

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Pfizer Taurus, and his crew chief, Ben Leslie, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference. Martin is in ninth place in the standings heading into Sunday's race at California, where he won in 1998. Martin, who is one of four Roush Racing drivers in the top 11 in points, talked about the teams' success and his Monday visit with owner Jack Roush, who was injured in a private plane crash Friday evening.

MARK MARTIN-6-Pfizer Taurus:

YOU FLEW BACK TO ALABAMA ON MONDAY AND SAW JACK ROUSH. "I did. I spent some quality time with Jack yesterday, and he was one hundred percent, you know, as far as his alertness and the way his thinking process was going was Jack Roush one hundred percent. He asked about the race. He did have tube in his throat, still, so he wasn't on the ventilator, so he was writing notes, 'How about the race?' And he wrote '1,' '2,' '3' and '4,' so I told him first, second, third and fourth. Before I got that out of my mouth, he put '6,' '99,' '17' and '97.' I think that may have been what he was really asking, was how did the four cars do? Before I got that out of my mouth, I was telling him Matt Kenseth and I were both in a wreck, he wrote 'points' out beside there, so he wanted to know what the points were. We had some good times. We discussed the fear that we had on Friday night of the possible brain damage, and he wrote brain damage could be good. You have to know Jack. 'A little brain damage could be good,' he wrote. You have to know him to know that's Jack one hundred percent."

YOU HAVE BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL AT CALIFORNIA. "It's been a great race track for us. I like the track, and we've had some real good runs there."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENSE OF RELIEF TO SEE ALL THOSE THOUGHT PROCESSES WHEN YOU WERE TALKING TO JACK YESTERDAY? "I had been getting some really, really good reports. Things did not look good Friday night. There was some confusion about Jack's state of coma, which, really, was a little bit scary to us. He was unresponsive in a coma Friday night when he got to the Birmingham hospital, but as it turns out, that coma had been induced because of his anxiety and all the things he was going through. And so, as we found out, as he started coming off the medication, it became apparent he was sharp as a tack already. Spending time with him yesterday, his mind was one hundred percent and I don't think there's any head injury to even deal with there. And that was our biggest fear. Broken bones will mend, but that's a tougher nut to tackle. My prayer, and this is a little bit personal and private, my biggest prayer for 2002 was that I wouldn't have to bury any of my friends or family. I'm just so grateful that my prayers are coming true so far. Jack's going to be back one hundred percent. We had a very, very good visit yesterday. He wrote on the notepad that we had been through a lot, and I said, yeah, and we're going to go through a lot more, too. It was a really, really good visit."

HOW ARE YOU HOLDING UP? "I'm holding up good. I'm doing fine, thank you."

BEFORE THE ACCIDENT, THIS HAS BEEN A PHENOMINAL YEAR FOR ROUSH RACING. CAN YOU PUT EVERYTHING IN PERSPECTIVE, HOW THINGS CAN TURN AROUND SO QUICKLY? "You know, we would've liked to see that turn back in the middle of the summer, but it just wouldn't, and then when it starts bending, you don't even know what you're doing to get it to come around in the right direction, I think. It sure feels good. I really, really, really like my team. And I really enjoy going to the race track knowing that I'm going to get a chance to interact with those guys. I just feel really fortunate to have things going like they're going right now, to have the opportunity to work with and spend time with people like Ben and all the guys that are on my team."

THE CHEVYS WERE DOMINANT AT TALLADEGA. DALE EARNHARDT, JR., AND MICHAEL WALTRIP COULD PULL UP, BUT THE ROUSH CARS WENT FOR A RUN AS WELL. IF THE WRECK DOESN'T HAPPEN, DID YOU HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM AT THE END? "No, we didn't have anything to win with, but we had a good run going. Tremendous sense of pride going into Talladega, third in the points, and tremendous sense of letdown to leave there ninth in the points based on a wreck that was unavoidable, that you pretty much knew that there most likely was going to be one, and you hoped that you might lucky enough to not be in it. Unfortunately, that's the breaks. I can't do anything about that, and my team can't, either. Now, the things that we can control, we've been doing a real nice job of and I believe that we'll get better as we go through the season."

YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU HAVE TO KNOW JACK TO APPRECIATE HIS SENSE OF HUMOR, AND YOU'VE BEEN WITH HIM FOR A LONG TIME AND BEEN THROUGH A LOT. A LOT FANS KNOW HIM FROM THE RACES, WITH HIS HAT ON, BUT DON'T GET A CHANCE TO MEET HIM. COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT HE'S LIKE TO BE AROUND AS A BOSS AND AS A FRIEND? "I would enjoy telling you a little bit about what he's like. Jack Roush is a man who has never bought a race driver, unlike many, many car owners. Jack had to work hard incredibly hard against giant odds to become successful, the kind of success that he's wanted to have in businesses as well as in racing. Jack identifies with people who want it really bad and are willing to work really, really hard, and really deserve an opportunity. And those are the type of people that Jack likes to - he likes to give people a chance to realize their dreams. And he is indescribably loyal to people who have the right heart and desire and work ethic. And when he's around friends and people that's he's comfortable, very comfortable, he's loosened up kind of guy. He has those times when he's really loose and really a lot of fun. But he certainly knows how to get down to business and has a fiercely serious side to him as well. He is a great friend, and a really, really good person, someone who likes the underdogs that are willing to work hard and fight hard like he did."

WHAT KIND OF MINDSET DOES A DRIVER HAVE TO HAVE TO KNOW THAT, AT TALLADEGA, ANY MOMENT YOU KNOW THAT THE BIG ONE IS GOING TO COME, AND NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, YOU COULD GET CAUGHT UP IN IT? "I don't know what some of the guys do, but I just look it as, 'Hey, I can't help it.' I know there's a great percentage that there's going to be one and I'm not going to be able to avoid it, and there's nothing I can do about that, so in the meantime let me do my racing as sure as I can. Every driver out there tried to not make a mistake and to not trigger anything. There was no one out there that was reckless, that I felt was reckless. I felt and saw everyone trying their best to try and make sure that we all got through it. But you can't, you just probably can't. When you wad 'em up like we get in those in wads, sooner or later somebody doesn't know that someone else is there. It's too much to take track of, and too close of quarters."

IT'S BEEN SAID THAT YOU AND JACK ARE CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH, NO MATTER THE NEGATIVE, YOU ALWAYS TRY TO FIND THE POSITIVE. JACK DOESN'T SEEM LIKE THE TYPE OF GUY WHO TALKS ABOUT HIMSELF TO THE PUBLIC, BUT, IN THE POSITIVE SIDE OF WHAT'S HAPPENED, IS THIS JACK'S OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE HIS STORY TOLD, NOT ONLY TO NASCAR FANS, BUT MAYBE SPORTS FANS AROUND THE COUNTRY, THAT HE IS MORE THAN JUST A RACER? "It is an opportunity for you guys to look a little deeper, take a closer look, that is a fact. And I have been some critical of the folks that follow our racing who say that there are no characters in our sport today. I fault the people for not looking deeper, deep enough to find those characters. And Jack Roush is certainly one of those. Let me tell you something: This sport is completely full of really, really special characters. And Jack Roush is one of them. He deserves, and I think that the racing fans deserve to know and see that. Not only of him, but many others, too, drivers and owners. There's a lot of really special people in this sport that don't always get uncovered."

THOSE WHO SPEND TIME AROUND JACK ROUSH KNOW HOW MUCH HE ENJOYS FLYING. DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO PUT A DAMPER ON THAT AT ALL? IS HE GOING TO BE BACK IN A PILOT SEAT BEFORE TOO LONG? "You're asking me to speculate. I'm going to speculate that it won't put any damper at all. I'll be visiting him again before California and, as inappropriate as it may seem, I think I'm going to take him some airplane stuff to read and look at because I think I know Jack Roush very well, and his life is race cars and airplanes, and nothing's going to change that."

ON HAPPIER NOTE, HOW IS YOUR SON, MATT, DOING? DO YOU GET A CHANCE TO SEE HIM RACE AT ALL? "I get to race with him on Wednesday nights, in his quarter midget, but he's racing Bandoleros, as well, on Friday night. This is his first year to race Bandolero cars. He's doing incredibly well. He's having an absolutely unbelievable season. Counting his heat races, he's run 28 races this year and he's won 18 of them. He won his heat and his feature Friday night, and he won three out of four on Wednesday night and finished second in the other one, so he's pretty hot right now."

HOW MUCH DISCUSSION GOES ON BEFORE QUALIFYING ABOUT THE PROCESS ITSELF. DO YOU AND BEN TALK STRATEGY AT ALL BEFORE YOU GO OUT? "No. You're talking to an old-timer here, so there is probably - if there's not, there should be - some talk and some strategy with some younger drivers. I don't know if Ben ever had any conversations with Kurt Busch, but I would assume that Jimmy [Fennig] would, you know, from time to time. But, no, I've been around and doing this for a long time, and I'm recognized as being one of the better qualifiers of all the guys, I've always qualified well and always had a pretty good knack for that. You can't control what kind of draw you get, early or late, so there's no use in discussing that, other than 'I hate we drew number one,' or something like that. Or, 'We got a late draw. That's good.' Or something like that. We work on the car to try and make the very best setup and compromise that we can for getting fast lap and we work together in that way. We don't really discuss a strategy."

WHAT SHOULD A CREW CHIEF TALK TO HIS YOUNG DRIVER ABOUT? "'We got a really fast car today. We really need to take care of it. It doesn't really matter if we qualify in the middle of the pack, make sure you get a good, conservative lap. We don't want to tear this thing up. The car that we got in the top of the truck isn't as good.' Now, that's a strategy. And you asked the question. Yes, there is some strategy to be talked about for someone who might be over-excitable, you know, something like, and if you had a killer car that was really a possible contender for the pole, you'd have to make sure that, 'Hey, the pole would be nice, but we don't to wreck this thing trying to go for it. The car in the top of the truck's not as good.' There's things like that that those conversations are had from time to time with people. I've been doing this stuff a long time, I don't find people trying to give me a lot of driving instructions, although I wouldn't be offended by that, by any means. I enjoy working with Ben. One of the things I like about Ben is that he's not intimidated by me. He's there to help me. He can't offend me. As long as he's trying to help us do better, it doesn't matter what he says to me. It cannot offend me."

WAS THERE A CONTINGENCY PLAN FOR IF ANYTHING CATASTROPHIC LIKE THIS EVER HAPPENED TO JACK, TO KEEP ROUSH RACING GOING BEYOND WORST-CASE SCENARIO? "I'd rather you hadn't asked that question, but in order to answer the question, we as a business, we as Roush Racing, have commitments. I have commitments to the company, the company has commitments to sponsors. We're all committed to this thing. It is a business. Jack has tremendous confidence in the people that he has managing this business, Roush Racing as well as his businesses. He has them structured so that he can have some fun and enjoy his life rather than being in the trenches day in and day out, and handling the down and dirty, which has to be handled every day in every business. He has people that can handle that and then can report to him. We have great people in place. And this thing runs regardless. If we have someone absent, this thing runs on, whether it be a crew chief or a driver or a general manager or whatever. The thing is structured so that we all watch each other's back, and we all hold it together. There was no concern on my part about anything like that. When I first of his accident, all my concern was the health and well-being of my friend."

KURT BUSCH WAS EXTREMELY FRUSTRATED AFTER THE RACE ABOUT HOW WELL THE CHEVYS PULLED TOGETHER AND RAN TOGETHER, AND HE THOUGHT THE FORDS, IN GENERAL, DID NOT DO THAT. HE SPECIFICALLY MENTIONED JEFF BURTON. WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT ON THAT NOTE? "I think Kurt's superspeedway car is faster than the 17, the 99 or the 6. I think Kurt's car is a little bit faster. It looked like it at Daytona and it looked like it at Talladega. Now, in Jeff Burton's defense, when you don't have a very good car, you can't stay loyal when opportunity sometimes arises for you to get in a better situation. If you've got a great car, then a lot of times it's okay to give up a little bit to stay loyal. Now, Kurt is an incredibly loyal driver, and he does a great job superspeedway racing and Kurt and I ran together quite a bit in the race. And what Kurt obviously was expecting was the same kind of courtesy back that he was giving. It's a race that really frustrates people. Jeff Burton has told me before a number of superspeedway races, restrictor-plate races, he's told me before the race, 'Don't do anything special for me.' And, basically, that was saying was 'because I'm not going to for you, because I can't. We don't have good enough cars to be putting ourselves in compromising positions to help one another.' And Kurt, you know, he had a lot of frustration because he ran 500 miles around that place and in the end he didn't have anyone to help him. Maybe if I'd have been fortunate enough to be around there, if I would've been in a position to help him, I certainly would've. He's done nothing but been a rock, rock solid, with me on the race track, stick by me and he'll get the same back from me."

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND YOUR HELP ON INFORMING EVERYONE ON JACK'S STATUS, AND BEST OF LUCK WITH CALIFORNIA THIS WEEKEND. "I can't wait. It's a great race track, and we really have a good race team right now. I look forward to going to every race with these guys. Thanks a lot."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Jack Roush , Mark Martin