GM Racing Notes & Quotes -- NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference Transcripts; July 15, 2003 NOTE: Defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, Tide Pontiac driver Ricky Craven and PPI Motorsports team owner Cal Wells were the featured guests...
GM Racing Notes & Quotes -- NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference Transcripts; July 15, 2003
NOTE: Defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, Tide Pontiac driver Ricky Craven and PPI Motorsports team owner Cal Wells were the featured guests on Tuesday's Winston teleconference.
CAL WELLS , TEAM OWNER, PPI MOTORSPORTS:
RICKY CRAVEN AND YOUR TEAM ARE ON TRACK TO POST NOT ONLY HIS BEST SEASON BUT THE BEST SEASON FOR PPI IN WINSTON CUP. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AFTER THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2003 SEASON, HEADING INTO THE SECOND HALF?
"Well, I think it could be better. To be honest, the first seven, eight, 10 races I was very encouraged. We were significantly ahead of our point total from last year and things were going pretty well. They still are going well, but we have had a couple of challenges. We had a bit of a problem at Michigan that took us out of a top five anyway, and we got caught up in an accident at Daytona and both of those hurt us pretty badly in the points. Then we just blew it here last week at Chicago. We could not find the right handle on the car and we certainly couldn't get it to Ricky's liking on that very, very smooth track there and we slipped a little bit. I am very encouraged about our second-half opportunities, though. There's a good relationship between our crew chief, Scott Miller, and Ricky Craven, and it's an opportunity for us now that we've been everywhere. To go back to some of these places it will really help us. New Hampshire, even though we haven't gone there yet prior to this weekend, we did test there and I'm very encouraged about that. I do think we have an opportunity to win another race this year and hopefully drag ourselves back up into the top 10 in points."
HOW MANY DRIVERS ARE USING YOUR CARBON-FIBER COMPOSITE SEATS?
"I've lost track, I'm sorry to say. I know that Kyle Petty uses them in all of his cars and Ashton Lewis in the Busch Series. We certainly use them in all our cars, and Robby Gordon uses them, a few others."
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE PROGRESS FROM A SAFETY ASPECT?
"You know, I'm very proud of that seat. I know that Hendrick Motorsports has been motivated to develop its own carbon/composite structure as well. They're not quite as far along as we are, but I just applaud anyone who takes a step toward protecting their driver. We have a new seat--we had to move production from Europe, where I had actually started this project with some friends from Reynard, which has since gone out of business to Max Crawford's place here in Denver, N.C. Max builds a lot of composite structures for sports cars and he's very well-respected by NASCAR. We're going to be going to the GM test facility for a new-iteration seat that is a little more driver-friendly. We're likely to be doing some impact tests on that next Monday. Hopefully, we'll be bringing a little lighter, more ergonomic seat to the market shortly."
THERE ARE A COUPLE OF MAJOR MARKETS THAT ARE NOT CURRENTLY BEING SERVED BY NASCAR WINSTON CUP RACING--SEATTLE AND NEW YORK CITY. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THOSE MARKETS ADDED TO THE SCHEDULE?
"Certainly I'd like to see both, but in Seattle, it rains every other day. That's a bit of a challenge to actually schedule a date, look at the Farmer's Almanac and count on it. I know that's a bit of a challenge as to why race tracks don't do well up there. I've actually raced up there, but it was in the Kingdome, in the very old Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Grand Prix stadium trucks. All that being said, I think it would be a great place to run. New York obviously would be fantastic, if we could get closer there. But I know there's been many a promoter who's tried, but it's an awful lot of work and expense to put it together. I'm sure if the opportunity presents itself where NASCAR can develop the opportunity, I'm sure it will happen."
WHAT OF THE POSSIBILITY OF A STREET RACE IN NEW YORK CITY?
"I don't think anything is out of the realm of possibility. Winston Cup cars are good race cars, and they can be agile if needed. Something to take into consideration would be the investment teams would need to make in a specialty car for that type of event. Using a Sonoma car or Watkins Glen car wouldn't necessarily apply to street racing. I've had the good fortune to do a lot of street racing with Indy cars in the past and it's certainly a different beast."
HOW DO YOU JUGGLE THE SPONSOR/DRIVER/TEAM COMMITMENTS ON YOUR TIME?
"Not very well. There are certainly challenges with all of the above. We just lay out a matrix and I fill my day each day with what I can do. It's a 24/7 job, but there's always enough time. I'm very, very fortunate to work with a fine sponsor like Tide and Ricky is very amiable to do whatever is required. We happen to be good friends as well, so we spend a lot of time together, and we want to spend time together irrespective of our schedules. It's challenging when it comes to balancing that with family life, but it's all certainly doable."
HOW ARE WE DOING WITH FIRE, FROM A SAFETY STANDPOINT?
"Well, the fire thing is a challenge and really will remain as such. I don't know how much work can be done to try and encapsulate the fuel cell, but to be honest, when you're whistling along at 190 miles per hour and you back into the fence, that thing is going to rupture. It's more a matter of how to suppress the fire, which I know NASCAR has a competent system now. I think more important is being able to get to the car quickly. That would probably be a better focus. There are an awful lot of positives to having an on-site, at-track safety group. I know there's been an awful lot of talk about that for a long, long time, and for what I'm sure are very valid reasons, NASCAR has not chosen to do it yet. From the opportunities I had to race in single-seaters, it was very comforting. CART had a magnificent group--still does, although I don't compete in CART any longer so I can't address how it is today, but certainly from 1995 through 2001. They were a very special group and they could get to know each driver very well, Steve Olvey, the doctor that travels around with the team, knew everyone and understood what they needed. They were on-site in nanoseconds, and that, frankly, is probably the best preventative medicine as opposed to trying to redesign the fuel cell."
WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG TO GET A TRAVELING SAFETY TEAM?
"There's an awful lot to it. NASCAR would have to focus on the liability issues, because there are some, I'm sure. To put together a road show like that takes a significant investment, it takes a very broad overview of how you can support your series. The thing CART had going for it that NASCAR doesn't is that NASCAR sanctions 2,300 events across the country. CART didn't, they had their own 19 or 20 races. Since they were there the same weekend, they would go ahead and cover the Atlantic Series and the Indy Lights, when they had that. When you load up anywhere from six to eight trucks, tractor-trailers with an entire medical center and haul it from place to place, it's a significant undertaking. It takes quite a few personnel, and I do think it's something that I would love to see in our future and I think it's really important to have. As those guys get familiar with the folks and the tracks and they have the right attack vehicles--I actually built the trucks the CART safety team is still using. Those were hot rods. They could get where they needed to get very quickly. They were really set up, they weren't just tow trucks or ambulances, they were specifically set up with fire-fighting equipment and the equipment to cut drivers out of the car. They were pretty neat little cars, and I was pretty pleased with them. All their guys were very well-trained on them and they were full-time employees."
AS AN OWNER, YOU TALKED ABOUT HAVING TO DESIGN A SPECIAL CAR FOR A CERTAIN TYPE OF TRACK. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK OF NASCAR MANDATING THAT TEAMS COULD ONLY HAVE A CERTAIN NUMBER OF CARS?
"You need to have a couple of cars dedicated to road courses, even though there are only two races a year. You need to have at least three cars dedicated to superspeedways. One is constantly under development and often needed if you are fortunate enough to be in the Busch Clash. There's five cars set aside right there. When you look at our schedule, you want to keep cars in rotation. We try to rotate a car every third to fourth week so that the shop guys can prepare a car and present it to the race team on Wednesday. They deliver it, the race team sets it up on a surface plate to make sure it's what they ordered, then they load it up and they take it. Here at PPI Motorsports we are working about three weeks out on which cars we're taking when. You'd be surprised how quick you need an inventory of 15 cars, particularly if you bang a couple of them up and you have to send them to the fac shop for various stages of repair."
SO YOU'RE SAYING THAT THIS IS NOT AN AREA WHERE YOU WOULD FAVOR A RESTRICTION?
"No. 1, I think it would be extremely hard to police. No. 2, you're always going to update and you should be updating for safety, performance, different driver sizes, all sorts of stuff. To be honest, I don't think that's one of the big, expensive places we invest. If you want to look at cost versus benefit, it's a matter of continuing to increase value, which NASCAR does an extremely good job of doing and then trying to manage competition so that those of us with competent budgets can compete regularly against those with opulent budgets. Not to criticize that, I think it's great, but there are many competitors in this sport where motorsports is not their main line of business. They do it because they love it and they do it very professionally and they do it with very professional sponsors, but ultimately they make their living with car dealerships, logistics or transportation or salvage yards or whatever it happens to be. They have a lot of other things going on, and because they are on the supply side of cash, you don't necessarily have to run in the black to be competitive and win championships. I think NASCAR has done a really good job. They can have bigger planes and nicer motor homes, but when it comes to race cars on the track, they get the competition surprisingly close considering the disparity in sponsorships. It's actually pretty impressive. As long as the rules themselves continue to be managed that way as far as what you can do to the car, I think you can cap the costs. Of course, the other side of it is to continue to increase value, dollars that come into the sport."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING BACK TO THE YELLOW FLAG? THAT MIGHT BE SOMETHING THAT SLOWS DOWN RESPONSE TIME TO CRASHES.
"I think NASCAR is working on it. Technologically, it will be doable to freeze the field in the future with the GPS systems that are on the cars now. Those 43 different channels can be monitored on a real-time basis and you'll be able to freeze the field. I think NASCAR's concern is twofold: No. 1, it really is kind of exciting to let people get their laps back. That's a positive. We'd hate to see that go away. I know there's been a lot of controversy about that lately, but with that being said, it does provide an interesting part of our sport. The balance of it as far as racing back to the flag, it would be great to freeze the field, but I know NASCAR doesn't want to open up Pandora's Box by attempting to enforce that. There's only so many people who can look at so many cars at the same time. To be able to freeze it electronically would be the best bet by far. Ultimately, I'm sure a system will be developed that NASCAR can have confidence in, owners can have confidence in and drivers can have confidence in. Until then, I think what we've got works out."
EVERYBODY IS AWARE THAT TOYOTA IS COMING TO THE TRUCK SERIES NEXT YEAR. HOW DO YOU THINK NASCAR IN GENERAL IS GOING TO ACCEPT A JAPANESE MANUFACTURER?
"That's the big question, isn't it? I suppose we'll find out when they actually show up. From my perspective, having worked with Toyota for a very long time, they are very, very domestic. Even though the parent company is offshore, they are very domestic. My gosh, is DaimlerChrysler German? One would argue that they are. I think we need to sit back and look at the economy in the world of sport and the world that we live in as a global economy. Really, I don't think it was ever a matter of if, it was a matter of when. Personally, I'm glad to see Toyota coming. From a garage-area perspective, it will help all of us as competitors, just like I think that DaimlerChrysler coming was a huge help. Retaining all the manufacturers that we have and adding more, it refines competition, does not necessarily drive up costs, it doesn't need to, and I think it helps on a broader base throughout the field. I think Chrysler coming in and working with the teams they've got certainly created an opportunity for PPI Motorsports with Pontiac. I think that Pontiac had good teams, but they had a lot more teams--Petty Enterprises, Bill Davis, to name a few--that they lost to Chrysler, and when Mr. Gibbs chose to make the jump to Chevrolet, it opened up a spot for us. I think if Toyota makes the choice to come to Winston Cup, it will open up a spot for several folks that could use that king of support. I know that Toyota's promotion is fantastic, and they'll invest--much like General Motors does, much like Ford and DaimlerChrysler do--in promoting what they do. When you see those guys in Truck racing next year--I used to race trucks with them and I know all of them very well--they'll do an extraordinarily good job of promoting the sport, promoting their involvement, whether it is track sponsorships, advertising, whatever. I suspect they are doing more advertising now in truck commercials than the other manufacturers are and they're not even here yet. I think it's going to be very healthy for the sport. Over time, if the sport continues to evolve and the fan base continues to evolve with a new wave of younger fans that are continually introduced to the sport every day...Toyota does sell about 1.6 million vehicles a year in this country and that's 1.6 million fans we may already have. Personally, I think it's a good thing."