Fontana II: Robby Gordon Wake-Up Call interview




YOU HAVE A BUSY WEEKEND. IN ADDITION TO THIS BEING A HOMETOWN RACE, YOU ARE PULLING DOUBLE DUTY DRIVING THE NO. 88 NAVY CHEVROLET IN THE NASCAR BUSCH SERIES AND THE NO. 7 WORLD SERIES OF POKER CHEVROLET IN THE NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES. TALK ABOUT HOW BUSY THIS WEEKEND IS AND THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN OWNER, DRIVER COMPETING IN BOTH SERIES. The weekend has already been a long weekend. We started here yesterday morning with the Richard Petty Driving School. We had a sponsor appearance we did yesterday morning. Then last night was Kasey Kahne's event at Irwindale. Today I've been wide open from the time we hit the track. We're working on NEXTEL Cup qualifying and Busch practice in the NAVY car. Then we have NEXTEL Cup qualifying and will run the World Series of Poker car. That is the first time we've done that in a NASCAR race.

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE BUSCH CAR. YOU RAN IT AT MICHIGAN AND ALMOST WON THE RACE. YOU FINISHED THIRD. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND. Yeah, I've had some pretty good Busch runs. In the last two Busch races I've finished second and third. I came close to being a second and first or maybe two firsts. We've had fun in the Busch car. In the NEXTEL Cup car, we continue to climb up the ladder as far points. Right now we are sitting 24th in points. I'm pretty confident we will easily get into the 20s -- if you look at our last eight weeks of racing. Even at Bristol we had a really good run and kept our car clean all day long and ended up getting a flat tire around Lap 300. That was a bit of a bummer, but we still walked out of there with a 27th-place finish.

THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF SPECULATION THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS ABOUT YOU AND ROBERT YATES, YOU AND OTHER TEAMS, YOU TRYING TO DO AN ALLIANCE. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT 2007? YOU WANT TO DO TWO TEAMS. PAUL MENARD WANTS YOU TO DO A TEAM. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH YOUR BUSINESS SIDE? The Paul Menard thing is new for me. I will tell you, we did get very close to doing a deal with Yates. That is the second time we have gotten close. That doesn't mean it is dead. It seems to come and go as our car has performance the conversation fires back up. Right now, the conversation has been dead since last Monday, the Monday after Michigan before Bristol. We are working on some stuff. We have some good things going. It is easy to see you have to been two or three cars to be able to be competitive. You know, Richard has three cars right now. There are teams that have two cars that are somewhat competitive. Our car, for a single-car effort, we are now ahead of quiet a bit of two- and three-car teams - at least some of their cars. We are learning a lot. Heck, we were one of the top cars on the board most of the session. We stopped about 15 minutes early in practice for qualifying. I think we ended up about 16th. I honestly think we have a shot at the pole today when we come to qualify. We finally drew a good number. We drew 43; that will be an advantage for today. The Busch car was, I think, 13th or 14th. We are having some pretty good runs here at California.

CAN YOU TALK TO US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CHALLENGES THIS YEAR OF BEING AN OWNER AND DRIVER? WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT YEAR, OR WHAT WOULD YOU DO THE SAME? I think the challenges as an owner/driver is the same thing I said from the beginning. It hasn't been that much different than driving for Richard Childress. To be honest, at the end of the day, I've got John Story and Greg Irwin and Eddie Buffington -- the guys who run the race shop in each of their specific departments. I'm involved, but I don't run the place on a daily basis. I show up on race weekend and drive the race car. I haven't been in the shop all week. We went to an off-road test in Vegas on Monday and Tuesday. I've been here in California all week. I don't plan on going back to North Carolina next week until probably Wednesday night or Thursday before we go to Richmond. As much as I'm involved on the sponsor side of things, it is same thing I did when I had Cingular Wireless as a sponsor. You are always involved trying to keep everybody happy.

WORLD SERIES OF POKER IS A BIT OF AN UNUSUAL SPONSOR FOR THIS SERIES. CAN YOU TOUCH ON THAT DEAL AND HOW IT CAME TOGETHER? World Series of Poker is one small business inside of a business that Harrah's has or Caesar's had. They now have this World Series of Poker tournament that. I think if you look at all of the entries it is $8,000 or $10,000 a buy in. There are 800 people. It is, like, $80 million worth of buy in. It is a pretty cool little business they have going. They are involved with ESPN in it. Now that ESPN is coming back into the sport, we were able to promote it on our race car. I know Harrah's is excited about it because they want people to tune in and watch it. It is another prime example of how we use race cars to generate exposure so other people will tune in to watch other sports or other events or even buy certain products.


YOU WERE? Yes, we were. We had funding and sponsorship in place for the 88 car. We have our car funded for the 7 car. I wanted to buy half of his two cars. That was the deal that was proposed. So whatever you want to hear on the other side of the street, the deal was I wasn't going to do it unless I could own half of those two cars.

50% OR 51% OR 49%? 50/50 IS SORT OF AN ODD WAY OF DOING BUSINESS. I still own 100% of my car.

SO WHERE DOES IT SIT RIGHT NOW? JOHN STORY SAID LAST WEEK YOU WERE GOING TO MAKE A DECISION ON CHEVROLET, TOYOTA, FORD OR WHATEVER YOU WERE GOING TO DO FOR ENGINES AND PROGRAMS AND ALL OF THAT WITHIN PROBABLY THE NEXT TWO WEEKS. WHETHER IT IS WITH YATES OR ROUSH, BECAUSE I THINK ROUSH WOULD LIKE TO HAVE YOU ON THE DEAL. HOW FAR ALONG ARE YOU ON OTHER OPTIONS, AND WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO PULL THE TRIGGER ON WHATEVER YOU ARE GOING TO PULL THE TRIGGER ON? Huh. (laughter). The only thing I can say is that I've had a great relationship with Chevrolet. Obviously I've had past relationships with Ford. If you were to look at the teams out there, Chevrolet has done a great job. They have the best teams in the sport. When you are racing Chevrolets, you are up against Hendrick, DEI, RCR and Gibbs. Heck, you look at those cars and half those cars are in the top-20 positions every Sunday. They have done a really good job at building their teams. I can say, from a business side of things, right now I'm parking right between the two Robert Yates cars over here. So, it is very easy for us to say, with a little bit of luck, if we improve as much in 2007 as we did in 2006, I could become the second Ford team pretty easy. For me to become the second Chevrolet team, we have a lot of work today. Not that we aren't working hard and working on our program every week. Our learning curve is still steeper than everybody else's. We are starting to plateau like they are. At the end of the day, who is willing to give us the most amount of resources. The money side of it is not what it is. We have enough money to race right now. We need more technical support. We need more wind tunnel time. We need more engineering support. We will be able to find solutions for the problems we have on Saturdays or Sundays to be competitive.

I THINK THE FORD GUYS MUST HAVE FINALLY FORGOTTEN. I KNOW THEY HAVE A LONG MEMORY. Yeah, I'm actually mad at you for that. If you replay that video, it would actually hit right around the Valvoline "V" is where I kicked. If you want to say I kicked the Ford oval, you are wrong. I kicked the Valvoline "V", OK. I was pissed that the thing broke down again. We went through a long season. These guys at Ford raised me through my whole career. At the end of that year, I wasn't going to stay in open-wheel racing. The best opportunity at the end of that year was Felix Sabates' program. All you media say, "Oh my God, Robby kicked the Ford oval. He is going to Chevrolet." Boom, we've got this tornado spinning. If you replay the video, I actually kicked the Valvoline "V". Was I mad? Yeah. Any competitive race car driver is mad when you are leading the race or running in the top three and you think you have a shot at winning and something breaks. It is the competitive side of the race car drivers that we are.

I APPRECIATE YOU CLARIFYING THAT. No problem. I just read it a few minutes ago. Just so you guys know, I do go to Google every once in a while to see what kind of fire I'm going to have to put out in the next three or four hours of each day. I checked there and saw your article. I appreciate it.

WAS THERE ANY DISCUSSION WHATSOEVER ABOUT DOING A SITUATION LIKE WHAT BORIS HAS? A SATELLITE TEAM FOR JACK AND IT IS A SITUATION WHERE YOU WORK YOUR WAY IN. THAT WAY YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL OF THE TECHNOLOGY THAT IS OFFERED THERE THROUGH, NOT JUST FORD, BUT ALSO ROUSH AS WELL. That is a tough question. From a race team owner side of things or a driver side of things, really no team wants to give their information. We can say that Boris is getting all kinds of information from them, but if you go look - I encourage you to do this - go look at the four or five Roush cars here and glance at the right side of their cars. The four of those cars will be different. They won't look the same. The crew chiefs still have the right to put the body on how they want, what side forces they want and stuff they want to do. Two drivers have a hard time driving the same thing. If you look at Hendrick, when you put two cars in the same building I think that is how you have to do it. If you have an alliance, I have to be honest with you, if it is just an alliance and there is no financial benefit for me or for my race team or let's say for Jack and his race team or Robert and his race team, that is why a partnership makes more sense that an alliance. Why do I want to go help them? We are still competitive on the track when it comes time to race for the money or the points. I don't think alliances work as much as partnerships or just sole number of cars you have in each team.

WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DEAL WITH JOHN MENARD AS A PARTNERSHIP? Well, John Menard is a sponsor, and has been as supporter of mine for many years. We tried the engine program. He had his IndyCar guys build our engines last year. Is he a partner? Sure. Every one of our sponsors is a partner in our marketing program. As far as performance, we use DEI engines. I don't think they've asked for anything all year long, including tire pressures or vice versa - us asking them anything, except what RPM are you turning and how is your motor running. The conversations are as simple as that. Now, where I think alliances work, is a program like an engine program like Roush and Yates have. Obviously Roush has engine technology. That is his business in Livonia, Mich. The Yates have been the powerhouses for many, many years down here. Robert has made great motors for years. I'm sure when they combined as partners there were things where Robert helped Jack and Jack helped Robert. That made the whole program go forward. They both benefited from it. On the competition side of things, that is probably a little bit different.

EVERNHAM WANTS FOUR TEAMS. CHILDRESS WANTS FOUR TEAMS. MICHAEL WALTRIP WANTS FOUR TEAMS. EVERYBODY IS IN THIS MAD RUSH TO GET TO THE LIMIT NOW. THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS YOU CAN GET TO THAT. YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT SOME, BUT YOU HAVE OTHER PLAYERS. YOU HAVE THE FACTORIES. YOU'VE GOT THIS, THIS, THIS. HOW DO YOU SEE IT ALL DEVELOPING BY THE END OF THE YEAR OR THE MIDDLE OF NEXT YEAR? I will give you my side of things. It is out there. If we could have had an alliance with Yates Racing and a partnership that would have put us starting the Daytona 500 with three cars guaranteed in. Next year is going to be the hardest year in NASCAR racing to stay in the top 35. You are going to have great cars going home every weekend starting at Daytona. Right now, knocking on some wood, we are sitting here 24th and hopefully going to be in the 20s. It is going to be very difficult next year. Let's just say I decide to start a race team next year. Where do you find a driver? Obviously, if you have a choice, you do what Michael Waltrip did and you hire a past champion and take the easy way into every race. He still has two teams going to Daytona. I don't believe the past champion is a good deal. Nobody in the sport won a championship by themselves. It was always a team. It was many people involved all the way down to the tire guy. If anybody deserves a past champion, it should be the team that deserves the past championship. We operate off of owner points here, not driver points. Everything is based off owner points. We park in the garage based off owner points. This is a team sport. NASCAR has been pushing for many years, and they've done a good job at making crew chiefs accessible to the public and public figures. Tire changers are public figures. It is a team just like football or baseball. Not one guy makes the team perform. I don't believe there is one guy in this garage area that can make a team win a championship unless he is a good motivator to motivate all of the guys on his race team. This is a team sport. I think the past champion thing, the way it is operating today, is weak.

WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR TEAMS? It is simple. I will give you a real simple evaluation of the four teams. We are getting ready to build a brand new building on our property on the corner of I-77 and I-485. If we wouldn't have had the conversation with Yates, we would have had concrete on the floors and walls probably stood up by now. For the last three months we've gone in a little bit different direction so we have taken a step backward. If I can use that building as an example, I think that will be the easiest way to explain to all of you guys in the media why you have three and four cars. If that building costs 8, 9, 10, $12 million, whatever it is going to be at the end of the year because it needs to be as nice as any race team in the state of North Carolina or in NASCAR racing. This business is based off perception. If you are perceived to be the biggest, you are probably the best. I don't know why that is, but perception and performance go hand in hand. So, take a building like that. If you can split the rent between three or four cars, now instead of one team paying 8 or $900,000 a year in rent, each team is paying $250,000 in rent. Then you take that same building and you take it into an aerodynamicist. If I have a $400,000 a year or $500,000 a year - whatever number you want to place on that valuable employee - then you can take that and break it down across three cars as well. Crew chiefs you wouldn't be able to because each need will need its own crew chief. But in all the resources behind the scenes to get the car to the track on Sunday that is where three and four teams makes more sense. You can share your engineering. You can share your technical alliance, your fabrication department. It is easier to hire more people and run another shift than it is to build a bigger building and work 40 hour days. Run two shifts. Run three shifts.

WHAT DO THE ONE AND TWO CAR TEAMS DO? You do what we do. You become one of the best marketing companies in the business. We have plenty enough funding to be competitive. We race on Sundays and try to beat the big teams. That is what a one-car team is going to have to do. You are just going to have to find more money to be able to buy those resources.

HOW MANY EMPLOYEES DO YOU HAVE? Way more than I thought we would have for one car. I think today we have 68 people for one car. A year ago I was 25 people to run that same race car that showed up at the same racetrack every weekend. It has taken more people to be competitive and be better prepared to show up at the racetrack. We've seen multimillionaires come in here and struggle. We can take Felix Sabates or Jim Mattaei. We can name them off. The guy who built the freeways from Northern California. He came in here. Gary Bechtel. Herzogs. Great businessmen who have come into this sport. This sport is different than normal business because your players are valuable. That is why a guy like Joe Gibbs, who is a football coach, knows how valuable each player is and has built a successful team in NASCAR. In business you want to grind every person at the lowest price so you can do more volume and make more profit. It doesn't work that way in racing. Those philosophies don't work in racing.

HOW LIKELY IS IT THAT THE YATES THING MIGHT WORK OUT NOW OR IS IT PRETTY MUCH DEAD IN THE WATER? Before Indianapolis it was dead. After Indianapolis it was alive. Today it is dead. Who knows where that is or what is going to happen. There are a lot of things that made sense for Robert, myself, Doug - a lot of good alliances there. It is unfortunate that it is dead. I think I could have been a good coach for the two younger drivers they are going to have in their cars. To date I don't know what they are going to have for experience showing up at the Daytona 500.

WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING CONFIDENTIAL, WHAT KILLED IT? WAS IT MONEY? WAS IT PERSONALITY? WAS IT CONTROL? I don't know. We agreed on everything, and the day it was supposed to be done it didn't happen. I got a call from Robert's attorney who said, "We are not going to do the deal tomorrow." I was like, "Huh? OK."

YOU SAID YOU WERE OFF-ROAD TESTING THIS WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR OFF-ROAD PLANS THIS YEAR? I am excited to say that we will do Dakar again next year with Chevrolet and Hummer. I think I recognize and they recognize as partners what that race does for us and what that race does for Hummer. No matter what we do for a manufacture. It will start before the Daytona 500. It is more of a worldwide event than just here in the United States. You guys would be really surprised if you actually saw what that event is in Europe. Basically it is like the Tour de France here. It is live on there channels everyday. There updates two, three, four hours a day. It is on in 140 countries or something like that. So it is a very popular race on the other side of the water. Here it is getting more popular. Obviously, the last two years with us being competitive and putting on good shows. I think next year we will be even more competitive with the engineering support we have received from Chevrolet. The Hummer is, today, at the Mesa Proving Grounds doing straight-line testing. They are working on new engine packages. We will be better than we were last year just like my Cup team is better this year than I was last year. There is whole group of guys that actually run that program for me out of Anaheim. They also run the Red Bull Trophy Truck, which is the Chevy 1500. We tested it on Monday in Vegas. We won the race two weeks ago in Vegas, so we are still having fun with that program, as well.

-credit: gm racing v

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Robby Gordon , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Paul Menard , Robert Yates , Felix Sabates
Teams Yates Racing