NASCAR Winston Cup IN RACE TO SELL VEHICLES, FORD COMES OUT ON TOP DEARBORN, Mich., Feb. 1, 1999 -- For auto manufacturers, there are two races every week: the race to win on the track every weekend, and the most important race -- the...
NASCAR Winston Cup
IN RACE TO SELL VEHICLES, FORD COMES OUT ON TOP
DEARBORN, Mich., Feb. 1, 1999 -- For auto manufacturers, there are two races every week: the race to win on the track every weekend, and the most important race -- the one to sell more cars and trucks during the week. If 1998 is any indication, Ford was the clear winner in the race off the track. Bolstered by strong performances by Ford Taurus, Ford Mustang, and the enduring strong performance of F-series trucks, Ford outdistanced its competitors' vehicles in the NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, as well as in NHRA Funny Car. In NASCAR Winston Cup, the company debuted Taurus, the first full-time, four-door race car in NASCAR history. The car's great performance on the track -- 15 wins -- was matched by its performance off the track, where sales were up 3.9 percent over 1997 levels. There were 371,074 Tauruses sold in 1998, dwarfing its on-track competition by large numbers. Chevrolet's Monte Carlo sales were down 10.5 percent (64,022 units) and Pontiac's Grand Prix sales were down 13.4 percent (122,915 units) for the same time period. In fact, Taurus outsold Monte Carlo and Grand Prix combined by 184,137 units. "We're very pleased that Taurus racing on the track helped fuel sales off the track," said Torrey Galida, marketing manager, Ford Racing. "We knew going into this year that our new NASCAR Taurus program was going to be a primary source of marketing in 1998 for the brand, and by all indications, the awareness and image boost helped increase sales. "A lot of people were surprised that we would take the company flagship car and put it in a competitive arena like NASCAR Winston Cup racing," Galida said. "But a lot of our dealers told us they were seeing some new buyers coming in to look at Taurus, and that's what we were looking for when we decided to race it. All in all, 1998 was a great year for the Taurus on and off the track." In the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, all three makes -- F-series, Chevrolet C/K and Dodge Ram -- saw increases in sales over 1997 levels, but F-series remained king of the hill, selling 280,639 more units than second-place Chevrolet C/K. F-series sales hit 836,629 units, a 12.1 percent increase over the previous year. C/K sales were up one-half of one percentage point, with 555,990 units, while Dodge's new Ram was up 17 percent at 410,130 units. "There's no question truck sales remain strong in this country," said Galida. "And 1998 was the 50th anniversary of the F-series, so there was a lot of promotion done around the truck line, including our new 'Official Truck of NASCAR' sponsorship." In NHRA Funny Car, Ford Mustang captured the championship with John Force on the track, and was the runaway leader off the track, with more than double the units of Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird sales combined. Mustang sales were up 24.1 percent over 1997 levels, with 144,732 units sold, while Camaro sales were down 20.3 percent (44,577 units) and Firebird sales down 2.5 percent (31,692 units). "Mustang had an excellent year, both on and off the track," Galida said. "John Force, Tony Pedregon and their Mustangs represented us well in NHRA, and we only see better things coming this year with the introduction of the new '99 Mustang. The Mustang remains the 'pony car' of choice, and we hope to be able to do even more with the brand in coming years."
Dale Jarrett and Kenny Irwin gave Robert Yates Racing a lot to be proud about in 1998. Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, won three races and finished third in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings while Irwin, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus captured one pole and won rookie of the year honors. They spoke about their expectations for 1999, along with owner Robert Yates.
DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- HOW ARE YOU FEELING? "I feel great. This is the best I've felt in a long time. I didn't realize I actually felt as bad as what I did for quite a long a period of time. But we have that out of the way. I'm on a good work-out program that I think is going to benefit me especially when we get into the summer months of racing. I feel probably as good as I've felt since I was 25-years-old. IS THE WORK-OUT PROGRAM SOMETHING NEW FOR YOU? "I've always done something, but now I've got a gentlemen in Hickory that helps me and steers me in the right direction, and kind of keeping me younger for a longer period of time. Even though I've always done some running and other exercises, now I'm on more of a weight lifting program than what I've ever been before. He just keeps me doing it regularly and to be consistent with it. I think that's the key, and he doesn't want to hear the excuses that I don't have time or I didn't make time. He is going to be there at a certain time, and I'm supposed to show up. It's difficult with the hectic schedule. Sometimes I'd just rather be with my kids, reading with them or hearing about their day, but they understand this is something I need to do that makes my life better to spend with them." WHAT IS YOUR FOCUS GOING INTO THE 1999 SEASON? "I think it is kind of the same. I think all of us feel a little better about going into the season. We kind of got our program together in 1997 to where we wanted it. We almost won the championship. Then last year we got a new car to deal with. Between the new car and Dale Jarrett not feeling so good, it just didn't click the way we wanted it to. Even though it was a season most people would love to have, it was a little disappointing to us. We're going into this season thinking about the championship. I don't think you have to win 10, 12 races to win the championship. I do think you have to win some, but when you don't win a bad day has to be a fourth or a fifth. What we have to do is just be a little more consistent in that respect and not have any failures. You can't have any mechanical failures. Mark Martin's team and Jeff Gordon's team have shown us that is what they are going to do. If we're going to challenge them, that's what we have to do. And the things that Jeff does better than the rest of us is that on days when he doesn't have the best car, they make good decisions and they end up finishing first or second. Those are the things we have to learn to do a little bit more." DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC GOALS OTHER THAN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think that we go in expecting to win three or four races a year. Aside from that, just being more consistent to where we don't fall out of races, to where we don't have those problems that cost us points in a big way. I think that's our biggest thing. We realize in the three years we've been together, that is the thing that has kept us (from winning the championship) was having those 35th to 40th-place finishes. It seems we've had three or four of those a year, and you just can't afford to do that today." THEN THERE IS NOT ONE RACE YOU WOULD ESPECIALLY LIKE TO WIN? "No, I don't think we look at it that way. Obviously, the Daytona 500 is very, very important to us, and we'd like to win another one. I think if we have a goal, we set out last year to do better on the short tracks and we did that. Now, even though we've finished in the top-five on both of the road courses over the last few years, we haven't been as consistent doing that. I would like to make that a goal. We're going to test at the road courses, and try to make Dale Jarrett a little better road racer to where I understand what I'm looking for a little more." ROBERT YATES RACING IS NOW HOUSED IN TWO SEPARATE SHOPS. WILL THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE? "I think it will be beneficial to both teams. It really didn't matter which one moved where. We just needed to separate because it is easier on the guys. When you have one team that does well one week, and the other one doesn't, it's kind of hard for those guys to enjoy their time when they come in Monday morning. They don't want to hurt the feelings of the other guys. That's just very difficult. Plus we were running out of space. The guys couldn't get done what they needed to get done. It was becoming a problem for us, so I think this will benefit everyone. Todd (Parrott - crew chief) is excited about the season. We're both looking at signing a long-term deal to be able to stay with Robert (Yates) and our sponsors, so this is a good opportunity." HOW FRUSTRATING WAS IT NOT TO BE ABLE TO MAKE A RUN FOR THE TITLE AT THE END OF THE SEASON? "I think even though we didn't make the run, we were doing pretty good, it's just that Jeff and Mark were having such an incredible year. I could run third and I lost points to both of them, so it was pretty difficult. I had to finish either first or second to beat one of the two of them because whichever one I was able to beat, the other one was right there. We learned a lot. I put a lot of the blame for last year on Dale Jarrett because, a lot of the times, the last thing I wanted to be, I mean I enjoy driving so much, but I just didn't feel like unless it was time to be in the car, I really just wanted to kind of get away and lay down and try to feel better and save my energy for Sunday. So I wasn't helping Todd very much. He was having to do a lot on his own and I think that's what created this situation of us learning a little bit slower about the Taurus. Not that I know everything, but Todd can't do everything without some input and I wasn't very fast at getting that to him last year. I think toward the end of the year we learned what we needed to know about body location because it was different than what we had with our T-Bird. We were a little bit slower to make that change because we had been so successful with the T-Bird, so we feel really good. "A year ago we had the team together but didn't have any race cars and didn't feel really good about what we did have there to begin with. Now, we have good race cars ready to go to Daytona, ready to go to Rockingham, Las Vegas and Atlanta, so we feel good about we have. We learned enough last year about all of these things that we should be much better at the beginning of this season." HAVING WON DAYTONA BEFORE, DO YOU APPROACH DAYTONA ANY DIFFERENTLY? "It's certainly a great jump-start if you can win. I look back on the seasons that I did win the Daytona 500 and was fortunate enough to do that, and it certainly makes getting ready to go to these other races a lot more enjoyable because of all the work you put into that race. It's very satisfying and gratifying to walk in my office and see those two trophies and know how much it means, so we work awful hard at Robert Yates Racing for that race and for the two weeks that we're in Daytona. It's something we feel is very important, but, there again, it's not the end of the world either if you don't (win) because you can win the championship as Jeff has proven. You can overcome not having a good week, but it certainly makes it a lot better."
KENNY IRWIN -28-Texaco Havoline Taurus -- YOU HAVE A NEW CREW CHIEF THIS SEASON. WHAT KIND OF A RELATIONSHIP DO YOU AND DOUG RICHERT HAVE? "In '97 (when Irwin was driving the Raybestos Ford F-150 for Liberty Racing on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) Doug was the one who talked to me on the radio. We had some bad qualifying runs, and he talked about being patient and getting to the front. He obviously did a lot of the set-ups. But Doug, on the radio, probably did more getting us to the front than he did setting up the truck. So we have a very good relationship on and off the track. A lot of people think that being on the radio and talking about the car is important, but I have learned in this type of business you have to be close off the race track. That helps us because he knows what I am talking about, and vice-versa. We had some success in the truck series. Hopefully, he can bring that back to us and we can have some success in the Winston Cup series, too." SO THE TWO OF YOU REALLY HAVE GOOD COMMUNICATION. "We had good communication, and we're hoping that, yeah, we're in a different series, but our friendship is still there. And the relationship we had, hopefully, will just build. The problem we had in the truck series was that he lived in Charlotte, and I lived in Indianapolis and the shop was in Cleveland, Ohio. So the advantage we have now is that we both live in Charlotte, and we are going to get to travel to the races together. Hopefully we'll just keep building on that. And what I just said about what he's thinking and what I'm thinking, I've got to spend time in the shop with all the guys, so I think that's going to get better all the way around." DID YOU HAVE A HAND IN DOUG BEING HIRED? "Robert (Yates) asked me what I thought about Doug getting hired, and he had a list of names. In my opinion, I thought that Doug, because I hadn't worked with anybody else, could help us out. So, yeah. But I couldn't say, I want Doug and him get hired. But Robert obviously thought Doug was well qualified for the job." HOW DO YOU USE WHAT YOU LEARNED LAST YEAR IN 1999? "I think in every way I'm going to be able to use what I learned last year as far as set-ups, the track knowledge, dealing with the other drivers, the courtesy that I learned last year on the race track. All of that I think is a tremendous amount. Hopefully, I learned a lot in '98 about what I didn't know so that in '99 I will be a lot farther ahead. And I believe I am a lot farther ahead. I've just got to make sure I do those things at the right time." WHAT WILL THE SHOPS BEING SPLIT DO FOR YOUR TEAM? "I think what it's done for the 28, it's made our group of guys, 17 or 18 guys, a lot tighter, and it's going to make us a better group. We feel that we are going to spend more time together. There's not 70 people in the shop. We're just going to be kind of like what I talked about with Doug - the more you're around somebody, the more you know what they're thinking. It's the same way with the guys in the shop. So when we go to the race track, we're going to have better communication. I'm going to know each one of them better, and they're going to know me better." WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR 1999 AND THE SECOND YEAR FOR THE TAURUS? "Last year was my first year in a stock car, and I didn't know how a stock car drives. I had never run in a stock car division before. So going into this year I know how a stock car drives for 500 miles, and I have a lot more experience to base that off of. "The second year with the Taurus? The first year with the Taurus everybody was worried about what it was going to be like, what it took. Now the second year we know, the 28 team knows the Taurus reacts to this, you really need a softer spring on the right rear, or left rear, so that type of stuff will help us. We're not really far behind all the other Ford teams which is good. That chassis or body style came in my first year. It's not like the Taurus had been running for three years, and this is my first year in it. All the teams, including myself have run in the Taurus since it's been in existence. So that's something we have in our favor. We are getting a better understanding of how it works every week. "We're really looking forward to this year."
ROBERT YATES, Car Owner -28- Texaco Havoline and -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Tauruses -- YOU HAVE SAID YOU WILL TAKE ON A DIFFERENT ROLE WITH YOUR RACE TEAMS THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DO THAT? "Probably when you don't win, you always try to evaluate what you're going to do. Some plans are immediate, and some are long term. Looking back on the past two years with the 28 car and the 88 car - with the 88 car I'm there when they need things, but I don't live there. I've stayed away from Todd (Parrott), but when he needs something he has called me. On the 28 side, I'm trying to get out of the middle of that. I feel like we have a crew chief (Doug Richert) that I can be supportive of, but not have to be there. I cared, but I feel like I failed to get that 28 car to handle like I would love personally to do. As you get older, sometimes these younger guys can beat you. I was reluctant to give up the jacking job, or the changing tire job, or the putting gas in the car job, but this younger generation has proven itself. I hope they will need me around for some wisdom, but I guess what I'm doing is recognizing that. I have a guy (Richert) who is qualified to run that deal, and I want to give him the freedom and the reins to do that. With the rookie crew chief I felt like I needed to hold at least one of the reins. So that's my load of bricks that I've dumped off my shoulders. I want to see if that won't work." WHY DID YOU SPLIT UP THE TWO TEAMS? "There is not a real short answer to that. We had some areas we wanted to expand where we were farming out some work. We really didn't have room, in the body shop and in the fabrication area. I was looking at building additional buildings and body shop. I'm out of room. I'm on four acres, but I'm full. I've tried to buy some property next door, but the guy has a business going. If I had that land I would have simply expanded there. After trying to evaluate the season, we had 50 guys in one building, and if one car is wrecked everybody jumped on it. If the 28 car was wrecked, and Todd looked at the 88 car and it wasn't wrecked and he really wanted to cut the fenders off, he hated to pull the guys off the other car to do that. That's not the only reason, but that happened some. "The way we do engines, we build them all for the 28 and 88. That works. But when you're doing a lot of hand work, such as building cars, you get a lot of ways of doing it. One wants to do it this way, and one wants to do it that way and you get two ways of doing it. I wanted to keep them all working together so that when the cars were ready to start the race they were identically prepared. To the grandstands, I'm sure a lot of times they'd look down and say there's no way that 28 is as good as that 88. So I'm going along frustrated and saying, no they are exactly the same. Some day I'm going to go out there before the race and swap the numbers. In our business proving it to the grandstand is in the performance. "But, bottom line was we needed more room, and if we'd had it there I would probably just have gone on and built there. But I like the Charlotte Motor Speedway area. I had the chance to get over 12,000 feet of an almost new building. So we're putting the 28 in it. This way when they are working on it they maybe aren't intimidated by why are you doing this or doing that a certain way. "When Larry (McReynolds) and I started the second team, he was kind of the general manager and Todd was coming to him. I tried to take him out of that deal. Now it is kind of the other way. Todd wants both cars to run good, and there are a lot of different spirits in the shop. I'd been kind of referring some of that. Now (with two shops) they know what they have to work with, and what all they have to respond to and they can focus on that. And it is clear cut. A couple of guys have already told me, we can get more done now. I'm really excited to hear these things. "Now, our crew chiefs were together at the Daytona test going over things, and Todd was helpful to the 28, so we still have as good a communication as always. We've added almost 15 percent. We went from about 80 to 100 people. We just didn't have the room. "I'm looking for more space out there. As we look at how the sport is going, my long range plans are not to split the teams up, but have them work like the 99 and the 6, in the same building but separated. I was trying to get them to work together. "I had a guy come in to give me a business plan. I almost got better when he told me I needed to split the teams. I told him I was paying him to tell me what I didn't want to hear. But the more I thought about it, I thought maybe he was right. I'd hired an expert in efficiency, and in this business it is good to work together to compare some stuff, but you need to have it separated. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it. Down the road I'd like to have them together because I don't like the 15 minutes between shops. But it's about performance, and the grandstand seeing you are performing well. "I'm excited about not being half a crew chief, and getting out of that deal. I want to treat the 88 and the 28 equally. I really love the 28 and Texaco. They got me in this deal with Ford. They are the best sponsors out there, but I don't want to stand in the way of Todd and Dale Jarrett and them getting a championship. I want to get them what they need, and I want to get Kenny (Irwin) to come along." "I want Kenny to do well, and I want him to perform. This is a tough business. It's tough on all of us. I believe he has the ability, but he's got to earn it. He's paid a lot of dues. This is the best racing in the world, and it's not easy. I've made a lot of sacrifices to do what I want to do, and I want him to make some too. So I've probably made it somewhat hard for him as well as the other 40 drivers out there." WHAT DO YOU THINK KENNY'S FUTURE IS? "I believe Kenny is certainly the talent we went for. I feel like now we are stepping up to the table. We've improved. We've got engineering help. A lot of what he learned last year was having a car doing this thing, and not have to run up front. He definitely paid a lot of dues last year. Now he's been to all the tracks. He's a talent. Sitting on the pole (Atlanta), and winning the rookie of the year, and having some good positive runs. He had some negative ones too, but a lot of the guys can look at him and say, 'Hey I went through that too.' I think Kenny has seen how tough it is, and, hopefully, that is the bottom and everything will look up from here."