Saturday, May 1, 1999. California Speedway. A MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Skinner, a 41-year-old native of Ontario, Calif., grew up in Susanville, Calif. He talks about his young racing career, last...
Saturday, May 1, 1999. California Speedway. A
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Skinner, a 41-year-old native of Ontario, Calif., grew up in Susanville, Calif. He talks about his young racing career, last week's race at Talladega and his thoughts on Sunday's California 500. "I bought an open wheel outlaw modified, and I bought it from my old high school auto shop teacher (Doc Blevins). He's coming to work for me in June. He's retiring as a college instructor now from Lassen College in Susanville. That's where the No. 5 originated. When I lived out here, that's the number I ran, and my son Jamie is running it now. I bought the thing to run T Car Speedway in Carson City, Nev., and Anderson is down by Redding. They both outlawed the car. Here I am sitting with a race ready open wheel modified for asphalt and no place to race it. We're all dressed up and nowhere to go. "All the outlaw guys are going to a place called West Capital Speedway down in Sacramento. It was Kinser, and Wolfgang and Swendell and all the hotdogs of the outlaws. They were coming down there and they were all in their heyday back then. We decided to go down there and make the race. We didn't have any tires or anything and we went down there and borrowed three tires, we did have one, and started at the back of the B Main. We came up through there and somehow we made it into the main event. I think we finished second. It had rained and rained and rained. We took off with that thing and I spun out three times. They drug me out of the water. They didn't count caution laps. The whole engine was under water. We started at the back again in the main event after they drug me out of the water, and we came back and finished fourth. I don't remember who won it, but a couple of years ago, I'm sitting in the lounge at the hotel in Phoenix talking to Steve Kinser. He said, 'I always wanted to ask you something. Are you that crazy son of a gun who brought that modified to West Capital?' "I told him that was me, and I couldn't believe he remembered me from back then. We went there with nothing. Those other guys were traveling all over the United States racing. We went out there and ran with them, and that was pretty neat. I couldn't have been more than 18. "We had an old '71 Roadrunner. That was my first race car. We had won everything there was to win at Susanville. We wore 'em out good. They were having a big fair race. They'd have a big dirt track race at the county fair. It paid good money. I think it paid $1,000, and that was big money back then, so we decided we were going to Cedarville. We pull out of Susanville with a borrowed trailer, we didn't have a trailer. We got out about 10 miles and the trailer was whipping back and forth so bad it was tearing the bumper off the pickup truck. We stopped and left the trailer hostage with a farmer and borrowed a 10-foot chain. We tied a chain to that race car and towed it all the way to Cedarville. It was about 100 miles. We got to the top of a hill, and I stopped, unhooked the chain, and drove the car the rest of the way to the race track. We won the trophy dash, the heat race and the main event. We wore 'em out, we really smoked 'em, and took the money. We had a blast. "I went back the next year with the same car. We had a trailer by then. They said they wouldn't let me run in the same class with the car. They made me run SuperStock. That class had all the Chevelles and Camaros. They all had the souped up small blocks with the high compression motors and big wide 14-inch tires with big spoilers. They were going to make us run that. We borrowed three tires again and darn if we didn't mess around and win the SuperStock race with a HobbyStock car. Those are points in my life that give me the mental strength in my life to go forward and keep going. "We had a local Coors distributor that sponsored us and they gave us an old delivery truck. It was an old Ford truck with a 292 engine and that thing wouldn't run but 50 mph wide open on flat ground. We towed that race car to Bakersfield about every weekend with it. We'd finished fourth every time it seemed like. We just couldn't get out of fourth place. We'd drive all night long and go to work the next morning. We wanted to race so bad. A group of us would get together and fix the car up and go race in Bakersfield. We'd do good and go back to Susanville. Along came Terry Elledge, and he started building my engines. Richard Youngblood put me in his car with a Terry Elledge motor and we set sail. We started winning races then. We really did good. I did that for a couple of years before I moved to North Carolina. "Racing was a secondary then here back then. In North Carolina, it's a lot of people's life. I had a well drilling business, and I had to make a living. I let the well drilling business struggle and actually go broke so I could race. I rode it as long as I could, and then we packed everything up and moved to North Carolina. I think this day and time they're taking racing a lot more serious out here now. They've always had great race car drivers out here. They've got better equipment now and more racing. I think more racing means a lot. You need to race to get the experience. "The biggest thing I did wrong last week at Talladega, well, No. 1, I'm a Tony Stewart fan. He and I are buddies. I think he's a good little racer. I think he's going to be just fine. I put a little too much stock in Tony last week. I thought that early at that point in the race he'd cut me a little slack and roll out a little bit and maybe let me back in there. He wasn't far enough along the 31 car to call it his ground. It don't matter if you're at Talladega or Martinsville, you have to give and take in that situation. I blame myself for putting too much stock in him cutting me a little slack. I treated it like Mark Martin or Dale Jarrett was there, veteran drivers who would know if we hit it would mess our front ends up. Tony never thought about the fenders on his car right then. He thought about getting that thing by the 31. That was a rookie mistake. "I don't consider myself a veteran, but the mistake I made was putting too much stock and too much faith in what he was going to do in that situation that early in the race. It's a miracle he didn't wreck and ruin his day as well as mine. If I had it to do over again, I definitely would have done it differently. A few drivers we race with every week I never would have entertained the thought of blocking that spot. Those are the guys who are in wrecks every week, and they'll wreck no matter what. I consider Tony a smart racer, and I honestly didn't think that was going to happen. I'm not mad at Tony. I'm a little disappointed. "They said some other drivers were mad at me. I asked Mark Martin this week if they were mad at me because they got caught up in the wreck or because I let it happen and they thought it was my fault. I still think a lot of people thought it was my fault because they saw the first tapes. The first tapes didn't show him hitting me. It looked like I just drove down and drove him in the grass. I didn't have any choice where I was going because he had already hit me in the quarter panel. Finally, after everyone's opinion was already voiced, they showed an overhead shot. When they showed that, it ) showed the contact. Anybody who knows anything about Talladega or high-speed racing would have known it was a miracle I didn't flip over 10 times and crash 10 more cars. "I think last weekend people were blaming me for that wreck. To this day, I don't think I caused that wreck. I think what I did wrong was putting too much stock in a guy with just a little Winston Cup experience. You could turn that around and say, well, you caused the wreck. One thing I have done, I've dwelled on it for a little while. Then I figured out if I dwelled on it too long, I wouldn't run good at California. Talladega was last week. California is this week. That's what I told Richard Childress (car owner). We can win this race out here. We can win any race we go to except Darlington. That's the only place I can say I'm that bad at. We've got to work on it. The 31 car has run in the top 10 everywhere we've gone this year. "If we're running 35th every week and tearing that car up, man, I remember doing that. It was devastating. But to run as good as we've run, we don't need much of a break to get over that hump. This could be the week. You never know. "I've always been a little of a renegade, a guy who don't take any crap from anybody. That's hurt me a little bit at times in my racing career. I'm not going to take anybody coming up and getting in my face over something like happened last week at Talladega. When they cause a wreck I get wiped out in, I don't run over to people and started voicing opinions. I'm not going to run around here and spend my weekend at California apologizing to people that I might have hurt in the points a little bit last week. Shoot, I hurt myself in the points as much as I did anybody. I'm worried about that 31 car. One of the things I've had to do in my career is calm down a little bit. I think the good racers know it. They know that this race team and myself are for real. I can drive a race car, and I've got a good race car. We're not causing crashes every week. We finished a bunch of races at the start of the year and never put a crash on the race car. You don't do that in this garage without gaining. We've gained a lot from where we started. As long as people are seeing you gain and get better, even if they don't want to say it out front, they respect you. I respect a lot of them more than I did. The same guys I was crashing with in '97 are still crashing every week. There's two or three of them that quit crashing and they're running better and they're running smarter. Those are the guys who are still going up in their careers. Some of those other guys are either on their way down or they're just sitting there sitting there at a flat pace. A couple of guys in some very fast cars are pretty dangerous right now. I just hope and pray they don't look at me like that. I don't want to get caught up in worrying about proving myself. I think I've proved myself or I wouldn't be here. "This track has a little Vegas in it and a little Michigan and a little Motegi maybe. It's a little bit of everywhere. I like this place. It's a first-class race track. I like the places that don't have tons and tons of banking. Chances are we can keep air in the tires, and it makes my neck feel a lot better at the end of the day if we don't blow tires. We've just run good on this type of race track. We struggle at Michigan, but we've run good at Loudon and Indy and Vegas. We've had some good runs on this style of track. Obviously we ran good at Motegi (exhibition victory in Japan). I'm looking forward to this. I think we'll be good." "I am going to run the Busch race, so I'll know a little bit about what the track is going to do. The car I've got to race here is my favorite race car, and the car in the trailer is a totally different configuration, so I'll probably be a little careful in practice and not worry about what the timing computer says. We won with this car in Motegi and ran fourth with it at Las Vegas. It's a good race car. "I don't even look at the points. I couldn't tell you the numbers. I didn't know the numbers when we were leading, and I don't know now. I could have been 10 points ahead or 10,000 points ahead and I wouldn't have known the difference. I told people then if it had been four races to go instead of four races into it, I probably would have been looking at the points pretty hard. It's a long season and it's real early. What I have to do is go to the track every week and give it 100 percent. I know the guys at the shop are giving me the best engine they can give me and the best race car we have available. The pit crew is doing the best they can do every week. What difference does it make where you are in the standings if you're doing the best you can do? We can't do any more than we're doing. They're working their guts out, and I'm driving my butt off. That's all we can do. What else can you do? Where the cards fall after that is where they fall. "Talladega was a devastating race in the points for us. We've got to keep our thinking caps on and keep our brains straight and keep our focus. We've got to be really focused. We've been hit and miss since Texas, and we need to get back on track, get my body back in good shape. My shoulder is healing up real good, but heck, I'm out of shape now. I haven't done anything for four or five weeks. We really need to get back on track, and I think we will. I think we'll be good down the stretch. "Larry (crew chief McReynolds) and I laughed at each other a little bit last week. We never were at odds. I never looked at the tape. I never replayed it to hear Larry's comments. When I talked to Larry, we never argued or fussed about it or did anything about it. It was one of those situations where, 'hey, if you think I screwed up, I'm sorry. Do you want to take my lunch away or give me 10 demerits or keep me after school? What are we going to do? We're not going to break up over this. Let's go on to California and go racing.' "That's kind of the way it was left. Larry and I have not had the first word over it. I think a lot of people, and I don't want to blame the media, but they feed off of what they hear. I think a lot of people wanted to make something out of it because Larry and I have been like bread and butter. Since we've been together, we're like inseparable. This big thing about Larry's race team is going on and on and on. You know what, I hope Larry gets his race team. He deserves it. If he doesn't get it in the next couple of years, this team will be a threat for the championship. If Larry leaves, we'll pick up the pieces and go on. We've still got a good race team. One monkey doesn't run the circus. I'm replaceable. Larry is replaceable. The only guy on this team who isn't replaceable is Richard Childress. We've got to have him, and we've got to have those people at Lowe's. They're the people buying the tires and buying the race cars I'm tearing up. Without those ingredients, this thing will fail. With those ingredients and if Larry doesn't get his deal and can put all his focus toward this team, within the ) next three years I predict this is going to be a pretty good race team, and it isn't a bad race team right now. I plan on winning here Sunday. We won at Motegi. It's a flat race track. We've got the same race car, and we've got a better motor in this car. We might run 40th, but right now, yes, I think we can win this race. As a matter of fact, I plan on winning this race. I plan on winning everywhere we go. At Darlington, I just plan on getting out of there. That's terrible. I've got to get over that. I've got to figure out why we're so terrible that, but we're not that bad in California. We'll be OK."
LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe's Monte Carlo) "I'm still the world's biggest Mike Skinner fan. There's no question in my mind if Larry McReynolds does his race team, if Richard Childress was done racing at the end of this year, which he won't be, but if all that happened and if Mike Skinner would do it, he'd be Larry McReynolds driver. That's how strong I feel about Mike Skinner. "We, and I use the word we because that's the 31 team's concept. It's not I and us and we and them, it's all us and we. We made a mistake last week on lap 48, a mistake that we could have prevented from happening. We put ourselves in a bad position. I was upset about it at the time because I thought we had the best race car at Talladega. I think Saturday's practice showed it. We rolled the car to the line on Sunday morning, and I've felt confidence before but never the confidence I felt Sunday morning. I just knew that it was going to be the day that Mike Skinner won his first Winston Cup race. I guess I watched that go out the window for Mike Skinner and the Lowe's team on lap 48. I expressed my concerns about the mistakes we made. Mike listened and Mike accepted them. He agreed it wasn't all our fault. We didn't totally do it by ourselves, but we could have done a better job preventing it from happening. With 15 or 20 laps to go, I told Mike if he made that move he'd be my hero, but not with 140 to go, and he realizes that and understands that, but I'm still the biggest Mike Skinner fan. He can drive a race car as good as anybody in this garage area. I'm excited about the rest of the season. We ran Talladega, talked about it on Monday and that's it. It's on to Fontana. "We've got the Motegi car here. We ran it at Vegas and it's awful good. We've got good power. I feel confident we can win this race on Sunday if the cards will click our way. We're always worried about the points, but when I look at some of the cars that are in front of us in the points, we're better than them week in and week out. We had the Texas deal and the deal last week at Talladega. We had the Darlington deal which was totally self-inflicted. We just missed it and missed it bad. We're just to race 10. "We've all got goals, and our goal is to win every race and to win the championship. If I use my personal goals for this race team, if we can win a race or two this year and Mike Skinner can walk up on that stage in New York in December, whether it's first or fifth or 10th, I'm going to feel like it's been an awesome year. "You've got to start thinking fuel mileage-pit strategy as soon as this race starts Sunday. It has that characteristic, that possibility that it could be a full green-flag race. There's a lot of racing room. You've got to build a lot of adjustment in the race car. The track changes as you run it, so you've got to be able to adjust your race car."