Continued from part 1 ARE TENSIONS BETWEEN DRIVERS HANDLED DIFFERENTLY TODAY? "I don't really believe it's a lot different than it used to be in a lot of ways. We went through an era where there was a lot of bumping and shoving, and then we...
Continued from part 1
ARE TENSIONS BETWEEN DRIVERS HANDLED DIFFERENTLY TODAY? "I don't really believe it's a lot different than it used to be in a lot of ways. We went through an era where there was a lot of bumping and shoving, and then we went through an era where NASCAR started enforcing their penalty box and that doesn't seem to exist today. It's sort of made a full swing, it's back to where guys I guess have to figure a way to settle their own issues. As a competitor you're kind of like, 'Do they want us to settle our own issues,' or step back and let NASCAR try to handle it. So I think there's a little bit of confusion on what we are supposed to be doing. I guess Harvick and Montoya wrestled around a little bit. I guess it was more shoving than it was anything. Is that OK? Or does that mean it's a $25,000 fine. I don't know. It seems like NASCAR sort of changes. I think maybe they're finding it's not too bad for these guys to wrestle around a little bit. As a driver and competitor, when you feel like you're wronged, your emotions are in that race car and you can't shut it off automatically.
"I know over the years I've had more than my share of fines that would show up on the Monday morning fax machine. I sort of got to where I couldn't fight city hall, so I had to conform. I just don't know the guys today what they're supposed to conform to. Are they supposed to get out and settle it? Or are they supposed to let NASCAR handle it?"
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE HEAT? "I'm not really anxious to get out of this media room. Normally I'd be probably excited to hit that door and get out, but hanging around here in this air conditioning is probably not a bad thing. You learn how to tolerate it and deal with the heat all the time. There's really not much you can do. You mentally, to me, I've always tried to somewhat ignore it. It's kind of hard, but you just make sure you've got your car insulated good and make sure you've got a lot of fluids in you and drink a lot of fluids during the day. You get this kind of heat and this is when drivers can get their feet burned or their seats will burn them. You just have to make sure you pay attention in practice. If you've got any hot spots in your car, work on them. We were talking about it today and it's kind of odd, but the last time I remember a lot of heat like this we were at Talladega probably in the late eighties and I think five guys had their fire bottles go off in their cars that day. At that time they used to have a built-in thermostat and I think it was set at 150 degrees and I think four or five of them went off in the race that day and about scared the drivers to death. They didn't know what happened. They thought a bomb went off in their car. I was asking my crew chief today, I said, 'I know this is a stupid question, but do these bottles have thermostats in them now, or have they simply been raised five or 10 degrees,' because you can have an issue here with the fire bottle going off, but I don't think the new bottles do that anymore. You tolerate the heat and that's pretty much it and just drink a lot of fluids."
ANY REGRETS IN YOUR CAREER AND WOULD YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY STARTING OUT TODAY? "It's a different time today. It's kind of hard to say. I get asked this question a lot from young drivers, 'How do you get a break? How do you get to be a Cup driver?' And still I don't think today there's a right or wrong answer for that. As far as regrets, I did things sometimes that probably wasn't always the smartest thing to do. I came up in an era where drivers didn't stay put with teams that long. They would be with a team for maybe one year. When I first came in a driver would do a stint with a team for about one year, and then if it was really good they might hang around two years. I probably moved from team to team probably more than I should have, but wherever I went I felt like we could maybe better my career. In looking back when I was moving around, it was pretty common in that day, but now you sort of envy the situation where guys get with a really good team and they stay put. They don't go anywhere. The car owner and the driver have a real good understanding with each other and now you're seeing guys like a Jeff Gordon, he's probably gonna start and end his career with one operation and that seems like it's becoming more normal now. When I came along, it didn't work that way. I don't regret it, but I kind of like the era you're in now where there's more respect and more support for each other than it was say back 20 years ago."
HAS THIS MERGER CHANGED ROBERT'S MOOD OR OUTLOOK? "I think Robert sees the future. Robert has run his operation hands-on for many, many, many years. His son has done a great job in the motor shop, coming in and now with the Roush Yates engine situation, that program is second to none. It's very engineer based. I see Robert's ownership days -- active, hand-on, trying to do it by himself -- those days are winding down and he didn't probably know which way to turn for quite a while. He tried some plans and it didn't work. He tried to bring in some crew chiefs and it just never did really click. It wasn't like he just sat there scratching his head. He made some changes and from the outside looking in, it looked like it should have been an improvement in the program. I know he brought Tommy Baldwin and some of those guys in -- Slugger Labbe -- and from the outside looking in those are good talented guys and they still are talented, but it didn't click for whatever reason. Robert needed an influx of money. Sponsors are great, but it now takes some wealthy business guys with you in addition to your sponsor money.
"He spent a lot of energy trying to make that happen and it probably took its toll on him, but when all the smoke cleared I was never asked advice. That's neither here nor there, but the press conference, when they announced it at Indy, I knew about it that day -- the new merger. I knew there were business people looking at buying into the team, but they were mainly people that were gonna bring money. I'm thinking, 'OK, you've got the money. What good is that gonna do you?' If you've got money and engineering, I think it's a really smart move if the engineering part of the Haas/Newman/Lanigan is offered to the team, which I understand it is. So it's really smart. I think it's smart on Robert's part is that he should be able to step away more. Teams are becoming engineer based and it's got all the likings of a really successful operation. It's a really smart move in the end, but I know what you're saying. I guess he didn't know which direction to turn. He went out and hired some guys and it didn't work, well, where does he turn now, he can't do it himself anymore. He runs it, but it's become such a big business now. He's been structuring the team to get it set up in that manner. I haven't seen him in about a week, but I think he's a lot more at ease with himself. He's got a plan for the future. He didn't just bail out. He's got a smart plan."
WAS THERE ANY NUMBER THAT STANDS OUT FOR YOU IN YOUR CAREER AND WERE YOU THE LAST ONE TO HAVE 3 BEFORE EARNHARDT? "As far as numbers, I've never been real partial to a number, I guess because I drove so many different cars. Of the cars I drove, the ones to me that were famous numbers that I had a chance to drive were, obviously, the 28 car. I drove that. I drove the 21 Wood Brothers car. There are only a few numbers to me that really have that lasting impression, like the 43 with the Petty operation. I always think of that number, but I never really got hooked to a number. It was explained to me when I was a car owner that the number doesn't belong to the owner, it belongs to NASCAR. They let us use their number. They're very clear about that. As far as the 3 number, a lot of people don't realize the history on that number. I guess evidently Junior Johnson had it for many, many years. We bought our first race car back in '76 or '77 and bought it from Robert Gee, who is Dale Earnhardt Jr's. grandfather. Robert Gee had built the car. He was a premier car builder in their day, so we bought the car from him and it had been run in one or two races. Charlie Glotzbach had come out of retirement and drove that car, it had the number 3 on it. When we bought the car from Robert Gee, it came with the 3 number and that was gonna be our assigned number with NASCAR. Richard Childress called up and Richard was still driving at the time. He was driving the No. 96 car and called up and wanted to know if we would release the 3 to him. He wanted to know if we had any particular reason to hold on to it, so my dad said, 'No, that's fine. We're gonna run a different number anyway. You're welcome to have it,' so they had to do the transfer with NASCAR years ago, so that's where the 3 came from at that time. The first car I drove was a number 10 and then the car that had the 3 on it, we bought that when I was driving for somebody else. Then my father bought my first car and that was 1976. That was when Childress gave up the 96. I'm not sure exactly. Richard had it. He had it tied up some kind of way, but I don't know if it went on Richard's car that year or the next year, but eventually Richard switched off of the 96 and put the 3 on."
HOW DID YOU ADAPT TO THE COT? "The car of tomorrow, it was somewhat frustrating because we couldn't seem to get it to go good, but we didn't have a lot of effort in it either. Then we had it at Bristol and we got running with it and qualified eighth and the car ran OK. It's real temperamental, but if you get it right, it can drive somewhat similar to the cars that we're running now. I think as time goes on, you won't even here the issues mentioned with the car of tomorrow once you settle in and run that one chassis all year. I think probably going back and forth and the comparison of the two, all of that will definitely be gone and that's the car you've got, so you've got to make it the best. There are guys with some teams that have made it work equally as well as their conventional car. Again, I don't think it's gonna be an issue next year. I don't think there will be much positive or negative one way or the other about that car."
YOU NEVER SEEM TO BE IMPRESSED WITH YOURSELF. IS THAT A PRODUCT OF YOUR UPBRINGING? "I think it's a generation thing. I came up in a blue-collar family. My dad had a parts business and I worked with him. I think we came up working. We had to actually work for a paycheck. We didn't immediately walk into making big bucks driving race cars. Back to upbringing, I was at a national championship go-kart race one time, it was a big event, and I remember the kart broke in the middle of the race. It broke a throttle cable. I can remember making it to the pit road -- it was an endurance race -- and I can remember getting up off the kart and having a temper tantrum and throwing a fit. My dad reached over and turned the motor off and I think he said, 'I want you to take 10 minutes to cool off. If you think you can handle that, then we'll go back and race this thing again. If not, we'll load it up and go home.' I think I was probably 12 years old and I think that was a lesson that I never really forgot and that helped put things in perspective a little bit. You get your emotions tied into it, don't get me wrong, but for much of the early part of my career it was a very fine line whether I was gonna race and be a race driver or work in my dad's salvage yard. There were a lot of good drivers that came along at that time that had talents, but didn't get the breaks. I knew there was a fine line, so what I did was I always took pride that I could drive a race car good, but my next door neighbor is an airline pilot and that doesn't make me any better than him. I think that type of upbringing has helped me keep my feet planted."
WHAT ONE THING STANDS OUT THAT YOU'LL BE MOST PROUD OF? "I think working with a lot of teams that never had a win before and then I came on board and was part of a team that got them to victory lane. I can think of a lot of teams, as a matter of fact, Richard Childress, Kenny Bernstein and I drove for Bud Moore. Bud had already won races, but there are probably a couple more that hadn't won races and it was neat to be with an organization that didn't have the wins and won for the first time. I was pretty proud of that. Other than that, running 900 starts is great, don't get me wrong, being excited that I ran 900 starts but I look more at the quality. Somebody gave me a stat today that we finished in the top 10 over 350 or 360 races. I'm probably more proud of that. Top fives were a big number, so I'm probably more proud of not the quantity, but the quality over the years."
-credit: ford racing