The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season has passed the one-third mark and now shifts gears as it heads to the East and Midwest for annual stops such as Pocono, Michigan, Loudon and Indianapolis. The summer stretch begins this weekend at Dover...
The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season has passed the one-third mark and now shifts gears as it heads to the East and Midwest for annual stops such as Pocono, Michigan, Loudon and Indianapolis. The summer stretch begins this weekend at Dover and the MBNA Platinum 400. Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, won three straight races at the "Monster Mile" as he captured the SplitFire 500 in 1993 and then swept both events the following season.
RUSTY WALLACE -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- YOU'VE COMPLETED THE FIRST THIRD OF THE SEASON. IS THIS COMING SUMMER STRETCH THE TOUGHEST FOR YOU? Not really. It's kind of an enjoyable stretch because I get to go to some race tracks that I haven't been to in awhile. There's something about when I go to Pocono. I like going to Pocono. I don't know what it is, but I like going up there. There are a couple favorite restaurants we hang out at and the condos we stay at are pretty cool. I have fun up there. There are a lot of race tracks I like because I have fun at and there are some that I just hate. I like the track, but I hate the surroundings. I like going to Naswa up in New Hampshire. I like it because we go race, come back and lay on the beach and play around with the wave runners after practice. It's just kind of a resort atmosphere. Then there are some tracks that are just work."
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER AND RACING AROUND YOUR LOCAL TRACKS, DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD WIN 50 RACES AT THIS LEVEL AND DID YOU THINK THE SPORT WOULD EVER GET THIS BIG? "I can't fathom how far my career has come along and how much I've got left because just about the time I think it's leveled out, the opportunities just keep coming in. I see these new things happening. I saw the other day when I flew into Kansas City. There were almost 100 bulldozers, the governor is there, everybody in the world is there, and they just can't wait to get the thing finished. They say they're gonna race the first quarter of 2001 there. I don't know what that means, but I'm estimating at the end of April or the first of May, but they're going to town and they're building a world-class facility there. We're going to different markets now that I never thought we'd be in, and there are gonna be some things happening. There will be some race tracks we'll lose because of the new things coming on. It's a definite we're going to Kansas City, it's a definite we're going to Denver, and it's a definite we're going to Chicago."
WHAT WAS YOUR TAKE ON THE PENSKE-FRANCE MERGER? "To me it was just a win-win for both of them. It was like, 'Why does Roger need to be competing against France?' They're both really good friends. Mr. France wanted to buy the tracks and he gave Roger the opportunity to sell them and get a lot of cash to go do some other things he wants to do in life. He formed Penske Capital Partners, a company just to acquire different businesses and stuff. It's in New York City and he gained some extra cash to put in that company to buy some things. He's promoted to No. 2 in command at all the race tracks now. His son is looking after all the west coast race tracks, along with new development. He still owns a percentage of ownership in all of International Speedway Corporation, I think."
SO YOU DON'T THINK HE'S GETTING BORED WITH RACING? "Oh no. Not at all. I think he's trying to get a really smart working relationship with Mr. France because they're really good friends."
WITH ALL THESE NEW MARKETS, HOW DO YOU STAY TRUE TO NASCAR'S ROOTS? "I tell you, just about the time you think they're not typical NASCAR markets you should go there and see those people. They are so excited over racing. When I was in Kansas City the other day there were hundreds and thousands of NASCAR fans everywhere. The only difference there is that they drive from Kansas City to here or fly here to watch us. We're gonna go to them this time."
MOST OF THE FANS ARE FROM THE SOUTH THOUGH AREN'T THEY? "No, I don't think so. I think they're all over the place, I really do. Southern California sold out every race and if they had more grandstands they'd sell out more. I think they're building another 20,000 out there now, so I'm looking forward to going to new areas. I hope that some of the race tracks we're at right now that have two races don't lose everything. There are some tracks that can afford to lose one race, which is fine with me."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE SHORT TRACKS? "I don't know. For some reason I'm just more consistent on the short tracks. That's something that's not hard for me, but I've won everywhere so it really doesn't make a big difference to me."
HOW MANY APPEARANCES DO YOU DO A YEAR? "I do probably about 150. I've got 40 in my contract from Miller. All of my associates get anywhere from five to 10, but the things I used to do like paid appearances I'm pretty well done with that because I just don't have the time to do it. I'm a big aviation buff and that's the only thing that saves part of my life is aviation. I've got this helicopter and I fly that thing all the time. I can go to four cities in a day."
DO YOU FIND YOUR TIME HAS BEEN TAKEN UP EVEN MORE BY SUCH THINGS AS AUTOGRAPHS AND THE LIKE? "I walked to my new office the other day which is across the street from the race shop in Mooresville and people were everywhere. It was mobbed. I was sitting in the lounge next to my show car and I probably signed for about 175 people in an hour. They just kept pouring in. It's unreal."
HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM GETTING BURNED OUT DOING ALL THESE THINGS? "I like being around people. I like doing this kind of stuff. There is a time where I get tired of the disorganization. I don't get tired of the people, I get tired of things being disorganized. For example, you go to an appearance and you know I'm gonna be there for two hours. Here's this line from here to forever. Some promoters won't cut off the line or tell the people how much time is left and then they get mad at you. I try to do the best job I can, I really do."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR. IS GOING THROUGH A LOT OF PUBLICITY NOW. HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL TAKE BEFORE HE BURNS OUT? "He's going through it because his father is Dale Earnhardt. He did a really good job in the Busch circuit, but there have been drivers out there doing an equally good job as far as wins. He's going through it because he's an Earnhardt and he knows that. He's a good driver and he's getting a lot of extra exposure because of who he is. As long as he handles it good and doesn't get real cocky and doesn't let it go to his head, he'll be fine. I don't think his dad will let him get that way."
DO YOU WISH YOU WERE 23 COMING INTO THIS SPORT NOW AS GOOD AS YOU WERE AT THAT AGE AND THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH RICHER YOU'D BE? "If Gordon wasn't around I do. He's cost me about $15 million. I don't complain about what I make. I'm doing alright. I've got a real fair car owner."
HOW MUCH OF WINNING IN WINSTON CUP IS JUST EXPERIENCE? "I tell a lot of people that it's hard to beat how much time you've had in the seat and what you've seen the tracks do. When you run across a certain problem, you know what the correct fix is for it because you've seen it a hundred times versus having to rely on somebody to tell you their opinion about what they think is wrong. It's just a lot of seat of the pants stuff."
JIM BROWN IS LOOKING AT GETTING INTO NASCAR. IF YOU WERE STARTING A TEAM TODAY, HOW DIFFICULT WOULD IT BE? "Starting a team is nothing. Getting a team and buying equipment is one thing, but your key thing is your engine deal and your driver. You've gotta have a driver that can guide you because you can't put a driver who just knows how to drive a car and a crew chief together and tell them what to do. The only successful drivers that are consistently successful are the drivers that know how to tell their crew chiefs what to do with their car and guide them along. Mark Martin is really good at that. Dale Jarrett is really good at that with Todd (Parrott) and Gordon and Evernham have this unbelievable communication. Gordon could just blink his eye and Evernham knows what he means. That's the kind of relationship I used to have with Jimmy Makar when I first started and now I feel I'm pretty close to that with my guys. Developing the relationship between the driver and the crew chief, along with the chassis guy, is the toughest thing in the world. Anybody can build a team. Anybody can bring a beautiful shined up car to the race track and take a bunch of money to hire guys."
HOW MANY REAL GOOD DRIVERS ARE THERE RIGHT NOW? "There are 40 of them out there that, if the car is handling perfect, they can win the race. But, if they have to pick it up and carry it, tune it up and make it work and win the race, I'd say about 10 of them."
IF YOU WERE STARTING A TEAM AND THERE ARE ONLY 10 DRIVERS WHO CAN DO WHAT YOU JUST SAID, THAT MUST BE EVEN HARDER BECAUSE ALL OF THEM ARE LOCKED UP, RIGHT? "That's the reason why you see so many good sponsors come in and get a bad taste in their mouth and they leave the sport. They want to get into Winston Cup and when they don't experience the success that they'd like to see, they get burned out and they're out the door. That's why being an associate sponsor is one of the smartest things people can do, but some of these people get hungry and they want the whole thing."
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR NEW SHOP? "We just finished it. We've been building it for two years, it's right across from Penske South. It's 20,000 square feet and I've got every one of my trophies and had them restored to mint condition. My wife worked on the things for a month waxing and polishing. We've got two beautiful trophy cases, we took our backup Daytona car and put it on display. Midnight is gonna be on permanent display there. It's got 41 photographs of some of the greatest photography you've ever seen in your life on the walls. It covers my whole career. The Bristol trophies are stacked up in pyramids. There's all kinds of stuff."
DO YOU EVER WALK IN AND SEE ALL THAT STUFF AND SAY TO YOURSELF, 'I'M GOOD?' "It's pretty neat watching the fans walk in. They'll sit there for 30 minutes looking at the trophy cases saying, 'I remember that.' It's a pretty cool feeling. We've been putting this together for two years now and I've never seen anything more beautiful than what I've got right now."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT LOSING YOUR COMPETITIVE EDGE OR GETTING OLD AND HAVING TO WALK AWAY? "It's a concern. I tell everybody that if I quit winning and if I don't feel like I'm competitive, then I've gotta get somebody else in the car. I don't have to do this right now. I want to do it and I enjoy doing it. I've had a good career, but I don't have to put bread on the table to keep on doing what I'm doing. If I could be 70 years old and still be competitive, I'd keep on going. I've gotta be doing everything 300 miles an hour. If I can't do it 300 miles an hour, then why should I do it? Someone asked me the other day why I bought such a fast airplane and I told them that I wanted to get places quick. I really hope my kid (Stephen) can do this. He's doing really well right now. He's in control and is really good. He reminds me of myself. As soon as he gets out of school he's working on his car. I've got his Bandelero at our new building now. I've got him a new trailer and he's working hard. He's doing well in school and he's won 16 races. He's won four in a row and he's only 11. I feel like I've got at least another five good years left in me, so by the time I go out he should be sliding right in, but I feel real good. I went up and patted Earnhardt on the back when he won that race at Talladega. I said, 'That's good, man. You're making me feel good.'"