Interview with Steve Park, driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo who won the Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway on Feb. 2 Your win at Rockingham ended up on a pretty happy note. How much emotion was in that win for ...
Interview with Steve Park, driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo who won the Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway on Feb. 2
Your win at Rockingham ended up on a pretty happy note. How much emotion
was in that win for you?
"Emotions were all over the place yesterday. We were just so excited to be able to win that race for Dale (Earnhardt) and start the healing process at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) that we've all been longing for. It's just been an incredible 10 days. To be able to win that race in the fashion that we did has hopefully lifted the spirits here at the shop and at DEI."
For you personally -- taking the Dale Earnhardt part of it out -- were there
big differences between your first Winston Cup win at Watkins Glen and your
second win at Rockingham?
"I just think it was exciting. It was just another step for this Pennzoil team to take to win on an oval. Rockingham is one of those places that has eluded a lot of people for a long time. I think it's just another notch in our belt to get a great win at a place that's real tough to win at and just continue to grow as a team. We have a team here at DEI that we think is capable of qualifying well and of running up front. We're just real proud of what Dale has accomplished here."
Last year at this time, DEI had just started a second team and it had no
victories. This year there are three teams and five victories under your
belt. How has DEI grown over the last year, and how proud would Dale be
"Well, we know Dale is proud. Physically he's not here to enjoy it with us but spiritually we know that he's looking down upon us and giving us the support that we need. It's just been an incredible vision that he and his wife, Teresa, have had to start not only one Winston Cup team but three, and make them all winners like they have. That's a pretty huge accomplishment in the modern day era of NASCAR Winston Cup. I think that Teresa and Dale Jr. are carrying on the vision that Dale had of developing an organization that's capable of winning races."
Have the number of quality people working at DIE made a big difference?
"It really has. And it just seems like everybody has tremendous sponsors like we do with Pennzoil. It seems like the difference among the teams is the people. The quality of the people that you have are what make a team have chemistry like you hear us talk about all the time. Right now, me and Paul Andrews and Dave Charpentier (engineer) and the guys are working well together. I think we showed a lot of that at the end of last year. The guys have been pumped up over the wintertime. We took a good hard look at where we were lacking performance-wise, and have worked hard to improve those areas. We had run well at Daytona before we got involved in that 18-car pile-up, and we ran well this (past) weekend (at Rockingham). We're pretty happy with where the Pennzoil team stands right now."
How important is it to have a high level of confidence between the crew
chief and the driver?
"I think it's huge. Again it goes back to people. Everyone has to remember that I put myself inside that car every week and I need to run it at its fullest potential. The confidence that I have in the guys that are preparing these cars and what Paul and Dave are doing is paramount. I put myself in that car and go out and hurl it around the track at over 180mph and it takes a lot of confidence in my team in order to do that. It also takes a lot of confidence in the crew chief to believe in what the driver has to say and to be able to communicate that back and forth between the driver and the crew chief. That's one thing we have working for us and I think what's making us stand out is if I'm thinking right-front spring, when Paul sticks his head in the window he's thinking the same thing. So we're all on the same page and working well together. That's the chemistry we need to be successful."
Was there a dramatic difference when Paul Andrews came on board?
"It's been dramatic. I thank the good Lord that we've had the opportunity to capitalize on when Paul had left Jeremy Mayfield's team that we had a person like Dale Earnhardt to approach Paul and try to convince him that(although) we had a team that had not won yet, that he would give him the confidence that he'd give him everything he'd need to win. Thank goodness Paul accepted the job. The rest is history right now."
With Dale Earnhardt gone, is somebody emerging to take over that leadership
role and would that be Jeff Gordon?
"I don't think anyone's going to be able to step into that role. Dale was a very unique person and individual not only in the garage area, but away from the garage area. I couldn't picture anyone having to try to fill those shoes. Nobody possibly could. Jeff Gordon is a young talented guy that has taken a different approach to helping NASCAR grow. It's guys like him and the young guys coming up behind me that are going to change the face of NASCAR over the next 10years."
With the death of Dale Earnhardt, was there any talk among the drivers to
drive more safely and maybe ease up a bit and not take so many risks?
"Well if you watched the race yesterday, I don't think either myself or Bobby Labonte was easing up at all. At one point, I was sideways and Bobby had bounced off the wall. We're doing what we're paid to do, and that's to go out there and try to win for not only our team, but our sponsors. We're all well aware that this isn't the safest sport or activity that we're doing. We try to limit the risk of injury by building probably some of the safest racecars and having some of the safest equipment inside those cars. How safe can you make auto racing? I don't anybody knows. I think NASCAR does a great job. And I know that the guys that build my car make it paramount that we build the safest cars and use the best safety equipment that's available to us."
How tough was it to wait overnight to finish the Rockingham race?
"You get yourself all ready to race on Sunday and then the rain comes in. They had to drop the caution flag and then we went back to green and then it rained again. It wasn't really all that difficult. We knew going in on Sunday that there was a chance of rain. It was in the 80% range and that we'd probably be running the race on Monday. There's a pretty focused group of guys here. If we're racing on Sunday or Wednesday, they don't care. They just keep their chins up and work hard at giving us a car that's capable of running up front."
You've had some success at LVMS, can you talk about the track and any unique
attributes it has?
"It's just an amazing facility out in the Nevada desert which is pretty cool. From a driver's standpoint, we enjoy being in the area of Las Vegas and there's a lot of things we can do with our friends and family. From a racetrack standpoint, it's just a wonderful facility. We enjoy going out there. The uniqueness of it is the size and configuration of the corners being just a little bit flatter than we're used to. I think it just provides some good, exciting racing. It's definitely a track where car preparation plays a key role in order to be successful."
With all the emotions last week, was it honestly a lot harder to concentrate
this week, or was there that much more determination to not to think about
anything else but racing?
"We all wanted to get back to the race track and get back to racing to try to ease our minds. The busier you are, the less you think about what's transpired over the last 10 days. For me, a lot of the healing process was just getting back to the racetrack and back to seeing your friends and sharing some cool stories of experiences we've all had with Dale. And then to go out there and win in his honor, without a doubt, I think has lifted everyone's spirits. Its just part of the healing process that we're all going to have to go through."
Knowing that you once listed Dale Earnhardt as your favorite professional
athlete, what was it like to work with and know him on a daily basis?
"It was nothing short of incredible. When you think about the circumstances where I was racing in the northeast in the quarter-mile, half-mile short tracks and dreaming about having the opportunity to race in Winston Cup at some point and then to have a guy like Dale Earnhardt call and give you the opportunity of a lifetime to put you in the Busch Series and give you great equipment. And then in a short amount of time, have you realize that dream of being able to participate in Winston Cup and do it under his guidance is the opportunity of a lifetime for any race car driver. As much as it hurts that Dale is no longer here, and he was not only my boss because we had become good friends. You kind of wish you didn't know him as well because then maybe it wouldn't hurt so bad.But then on the other hand, you'd hate to lose all that time we've spent together, and that's what makes it hurt so much."
Recall the time in '97 when Dale called you to drive the ACDelco
Chevrolet. What was your initial reaction?
"Well sometimes you ask, 'Why me?' There's thousands of people across the United States who would love that opportunity. At that point, I had worked hard. I had set my mind to getting into the(NASCAR Craftsman) Truck Series and then into the Busch Series. I tried to do alot of things that would make me stand out among other people that were looking for the same opportunity. I was running about 120 races a year and trying to win as many as I could to try to get my name in the papers as much as possible to try to attract a guy like Dale. And it worked. People have opportunities and it's what you do with those opportunities that either makes you succeed or fail. We were able to get the opportunity and succeed with it."
You became interested in racing by watching your dad. Can you talk about
"I grew up around racing, grew up in the garage. Years ago, sometimes that was frowned upon as being a grease monkey or something. But it just paid off in the end. I have a lot of support from my family. My dad works on the Pennzoil team and my mom is president of the fan club now. To grow up around racing and to have a racing family my whole life was very similar to the way Dale grew up. Some of the first conversations we had were about my family and about how I started racing. It was remarkable how similar it was with his dad when he started racing. We had a lot in common."
What do you think of the one-round qualifying format?
"I think it's great. I really applaud the work of NASCAR to simplify the qualifying process. Years ago I think it was necessary to have two rounds of qualifying. The tires were different and the tracks were different. Nowadays, over the last two years, there haven't been many guys on that second day that were able to go faster than the guys on the first day. We used to look at it as a waste of time to have to re qualify because we just knew with the change in track conditions and how close the competition is that the chance of going faster on the second day were almost nil. I think it's saved a lot of time. And with the schedule the way it is, time is a real important thing not only for the guys at the shop that are preparing the cars, but for all of us at the shop that are traveling so much."
Do you like the change of the qualifying races at Daytona and Lowe's Motor
"I think so. We can't forget that this is a fan-based-sport and it takes us out there on the racetrack to keep these fans coming back. The Budweiser Shootout is a great way of having a good competitive race and honoring the guys that have set fast qualifying times and have them shoot it out where there's no points involved and a lot of money involved. It adds a lot of excitement to the sport."
What is your view about adding a full-time medical and safety team to the
close-knit NASCAR family every weekend?
"I don't know much about that field. But I can tell you we do have a close-knit family. Through good times and bad times, we really stick together. We travel most of the year together with our families. We live in motor homes at the race tracks. We're out there competing against each other on a week-to-week basis, but away from the racetrack everybody's kids are playing together and the wives are talking. It's one big family. As for a medical team, I think CART has amedical team that travels with the circuit, but I'm not experienced enough in that aspect to really comment on it. But I feel that a lot of the tracks have really stepped-up with their infield care centers and they have people in place to care for people when they are injured."
Would you feel more comfortable knowing there was traveling medical team to
take care of anything every weekend?
"Right now I'm real comfortable with the level of care we have at each racetrack each weekend."
Interview with Paul Andrews, crew chief of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo who won the Dura-Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway on Feb. 2
You've been a crew chief since1988, and you've won a Winston Cup
championship. With all the emotions, how important was it for you to win
that race yesterday at Rockingham?
"If you had to sit back and write a story of how this needs to end up, I think you'd probably write it something like it did. It was definitely a story book finish there at The Rock. It was a very emotional week, and I think we turned a lot of frowns into smiles on that Monday afternoon. Here at the shop, the atmosphere is much better."
What was the one big thing that convinced you to move to DEI?
"Dale's belief in Steve Park. Obviously there was no question in the belief of DEI. He talked about the direction that he wanted to send the teams.His belief in Steve Park as a driver was very important in my decision. Steve was the driver I was supposed to work with and I wanted to feel like Steve and I could get along. We talked about Steve a lot and Dale's confidence in him was probably the biggest reason."
What was your relationship like with Dale, and did he go out of his way to
get to know all the employees at DEI?
"My relationship probably wasn't as close to Dale as other people. We were friends to a certain extent, but we were also business people. I worked for him and I respected that. I don't think our relationship was as close as other peoples in the shop, but they've been here a lot longer too. But our relationship was obviously real good. We saw eye to eye on some things, and we didn't see eye to eye on some things. And that wasn't really a problem. That's pretty much the nature of the business. You always knew when he was in town, because he'd go through the shop. You always knew when he was in town because he was always in the shop. He'd make a pass through, usually early in the morning and he'd talk to people and ask questions. Why are we doing this and why are we doing that. Just asking. Not really criticizing. Just asking questions."
The safety "buzz" word of the week seems to be crush ability. Do they
crush like they used to or as well as they should?
"I don't know about how you could say the cars don't crush as good because these cars have been constructed the same since I've been involved with them and that's well before 1988. The tube thicknesses have changed a little; the tube sizes have changed a little bit. But the overall scheme of things is probably a little on the stiffer side which gives them more crush ability. I think the biggest problem with our cars is the big engine block sitting up