Jeremy Mayfield Interview

Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, goes into next weekend's Brickyard 400, ranked 12th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Mayfield has eight top-10 and three top-five finishes so far this season. He, along...

Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, goes into next weekend's Brickyard 400, ranked 12th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Mayfield has eight top-10 and three top-five finishes so far this season. He, along with crew chief Peter Sospenzo, were this week's guests on the weekly Winston teleconference.


JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- THE LAST 6 OR 7 RACES HAVE BEEN PRETTY GOOD COMPARED TO THE START OF THE SEASON HAVEN'T THEY? "That's probably the best way to put it. We've just had a lot of bad luck in the last five or six weeks, but we still feel we're better as a team right now than we've been all year. We've certainly got better cars than what we've had, we just need a little luck right now."

HAS PETER SOSPENZO GIVEN YOUR TEAM A KICK-START SINCE TAKING OVER AS CREW CHIEF? "Oh yeah, Peter has definitely been a boost to the whole team and he's gotten the morale back up where it needed to be. He and I already worked together the last couple of years anyway because he was my car chief, but him stepping up and taking over the crew chief responsibilities has helped the team. As far as our relationship, that's always been good and it's definitely been a plus for all of us."

HOW DID YOUR TEST GO AT THE BRICKYARD? "We had a great test there and probably, not only is it gonna help us for the Brickyard, but I think it's gonna help us for the rest of the year with the things we learned. We feel like we figured out a lot of stuff that we've been missing up to that point of the year. Thats sounds funny because you test Indy and learn so much, not just about Indy itself. I learned a lot about our race cars and what we need to do as a team to be better for the rest of the year."

THE SCHEDULE IS LIKELY TO GROW IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF YEARS. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "I probably feel the same way as everybody else. It can only get so long. There are only so many weeks in the year that we can race and somewhere in between we've gotta test and do our other responsibilities for our sponsors, so it can only get so long. I'm not sure how many more weeks we can add, but I'm sure if they do and they add more tracks, then we'll all still be there week in and week out anyway, so I kind of let NASCAR worry about that and we'll just go along with the program."

IS IT EXCITING TO HAVE ALL THESE NEW TRACKS POPPING UP? "I think it's great, especially the one in Kentucky. The Kentucky Speedway is gonna be opening up in a couple of years and they're opening up everywhere, so it's gonna be good for the sport and for the fans in those areas that don't get a chance to go to other races. It's gotta be a positive. The only thing negative about it is how many weeks we have left to run. Like I said, if they do add them, then I'm sure we'll all be there anyway."

CAN YOU DESCRIBE A LAP AT THE BRICKYARD? "Indy is real hard to explain what kind of race track it is, but the good thing about it is the four corners are all the same. The two straightaways are the same length and the two short chutes on the track that connect one and two and three and four are the same length, so it's a race track that really doesn't compare to anything else except maybe Pocono. Pocono is a little bit like Indy, but not quite. They both have different characteristics, but it's smooth, fast and just an awesome place for us to go run, especially for the fans when we come down the frontstretch at 200 miles an hour. You've gotta have a different kind of race car, one that runs fast down the straightaways but also has to handle through the corners. It's just a place that's really hard to explain its differences."

ARE THERE ANY OTHER PLACES AS FLAT AS THAT OR TRACKS THAT WOULD HELP PREPARE FOR INDY? "I don't think so because Indy is just a totally different place. That's why you see every year all the teams have to go test Indy because it's so different. Every year the weather changes and the track slows down or speeds up and you just have to be on top of it. If you're not, you'll go there and not make the race. It's definitely a place that looks simple and easy to drive around, but it's probably one of the hardest places to figure out how to go fast that we race on the circuit."

ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW THIS RACE HAS TAKEN OFF AS FAR AS IT'S IMPACT? "Not really. It's just a huge deal. Just about any race we go to it's been like that and Indy especially. The Brickyard, I think now, is right at the top of the list of all the big races we run. I'm not really surprised because of all the history that was already there before we got there."

DOES IT HELP PREPARING FOR THE BRICKYARD TO HAVE BOTH POCONO RACES SO CLOSE TOGETHER? "Yeah, I think so and also it's a little bit of a help that we always test Indy before the second Pocono usually. You always seem to learn a little bit there for the second Pocono race and I think they both kind of help each other. I know after testing Indy we all went to Pocono and tried some stuff we learned at Indy. Some of it worked and some of it didn't and that's the difference between the two, but I think it helps both of them. You just learn a lot at both places that helps one another."

DO THINGS AT POCONO SHOW UP AT INDY? "It can and that's what we've seen. For example, our shock package at Indy works great and then you take it to Pocono and it doesn't work. I'm sure every team out there experienced that this week because we all tried that after testing there. There are just a lot of ways it can help you and a lot of ways it can hurt you."

HOW TOUGH HAS IT BEEN TO BE OFF A LITTLE BIT THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? "It's been real tough. The thing that keeps you motivated and keeps you going is that I know that the potential is there. I know the team can run up front and I know I can run up front. It's frustrating when you're up there, and we've been up there a lot this year, and couldn't capitalize on it. We'd run out of gas or something would go wrong. That's when it's frustrating, but you just keep going. I know we've got a good team and I know we've got a lot of potential left in our team, so you just keep going on with it and not really let it get to you. It does a little bit, but you've just gotta keep going and wait until next week and, hopefully, get 'em then. I'm almost certain that our team is definitely gonna be back up there and it's gonna be pretty soon."

IS THERE SOMETHING SPECIFIC YOU'D LIKE TO SEE IMPROVE? "I think what happened was from the end of last year all the way up until five or six weeks ago, our team just didn't really pay attention to the details in a lot of areas. We realize that and we feel like we know where we're off and what we've gotta do, but we can't just turn it around overnight we've gotta start working back towards where we were. It's a lot of stuff. The aero package that we had last year is not the same as this year. We feel like we're learning more about that and what we need. You've gotta just work on it, work on it, work on it and get it all tuned back in to where it was and it just takes time."

AT THE START OF THE YEAR MICHAEL KRANEFUSS SAID HE FELT ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WAS THAT TEAM MEMBERS WEREN'T SPEAKING OUT. HAS THAT CHANGED AND WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE YOU WON AT POCONO LAST YEAR? "If you look back after Pocono, we went back for the second Pocono race and were running second when we got in a wreck. We went to Indy and was running second and led some. We've been there and things like cutting tires down and stuff like that, that's what got us. He (Michael Kranefuss) is right a little bit about, yeah there are some people on the team that have spoken up and it's helped us. They've seen problems and said it, and I think it's helped us now. It's all about communication between everybody and if you don't watch it, you get yourself in a slump that you don't even realize you're in. All of a sudden you go further and further into it and it's harder to get out of it. We're on our way out right now and that's kind of the situation we're in."

DO YOU FEEL HAVING TOO MANY FANS IN THE GARAGE AREA IS BECOMING A PROBLEM? "I think right now it really hasn't been a problem. There are a lot of fans in the garage area and the infield, they're everywhere, but that's what's made our sport what it is today. I haven't really seen any problem as far as the situation getting worse. I think it's really gotten better. For me, personally, I think it's good for our sport and I don't see how it could ever be a problem because that's what we're there for is to put on a show for them. I don't see how we could ever have too many, so I still feel the same way I've always felt about it."

ARE YOU AND RUSTY TESTING AS MUCH TOGETHER AS LAST YEAR? "Oh yeah, we're definitely testing as much or more than we did last year. That's funny because everybody talks about us that we're kind of in a slump and not running that good, but it's really both cars. The 2 and the 12 are not running like they were last year. I'm sure he's getting told the same thing, but if anybody knows us they know the Penske South and Penske-Kranefuss teams are not gonna lay down and let this thing go. We're both headed back in the right direction and that's why we're testing more right now than we ever had."

HAS THERE BEEN A POINT WHERE YOU LACKED CONFIDENCE? "I think every driver kind of questions himself once in a while wondering 'what is it, what's going on here?' When you do that and you look in the mirror and look at a lot of different things that have happened throughout the year -- we look at it on graphs and on paper all the time. 'What went wrong here, here and here.' When you look at that you kind of say, 'Well, I can't do it all either,' so that helps me knowing that maybe it's not all me personally. It's just a total team effort. We've all got to do our jobs and do the best we can. It's something that, I think, when you get to the Winston Cup level you wouldn't be there if you lost your confidence real easy and that's something I'm not going to do no matter what. You've gotta just keep focusing on what makes the team better and not just yourself."

HAS THIS SITUATION MADE YOU A BETTER TEAM MEMBER? "I think it's definitely made me a better team member and realizing how much it is a team sport. A lot of people need to realize that the driver is just a small part of this deal, that he's just gotta do his final touches on it and drive the car when it's all done. But, man, he can't do anything about running out of gas or cutting a tire down or getting into a wreck that somebody else started. There's just nothing you can do about that. When you start realizing that and realizing how important everybody around you is, that's the most important thing to me."

PETER SOSPENZO, Crew Chief -- Mobil 1 Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROLE PRIOR TO BECOMING CREW CHIEF? "I was hired in December of '97 as the car chief and Paul Andrews was the crew chief. That basically was my role all of last year, being the car chief."

WHAT'S THE SINGULAR THING THAT'S IMPRESSED YOU ABOUT JEREMY SINCE TAKING OVER AS CREW CHIEF? "The biggest thing is his feel for a race car. He has the uncanny ability to tell you exactly what the car's doing. Really, between he and Rusty since we're teammates, Rusty Wallace has if not the best one of the best feels for a car, but I think Jeremy is probably a pretty close second to Rusty. He knows what that car is doing at any point on the racetrack. He knows what it's doing and that's probably the biggest thing that really impresses me, that he can feel every little crack in the road. He's really, really good at that."

YOU COME FROM BROOKLYN, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN THIS SPORT? "I was born in Brooklyn, New York -- not Brooklyn, Michigan -- and I lived there until I was 11 years old. Then we moved to Long Island and I was there until I was like 21. My fascination has always been speed. I've always been a speed freak. I always had to have fast cars and fast boats. Everything in my whole life has been fast. I do everything quickly it seems like, so I've always been intrigued by speed. I helped a couple of modified guys back on Long Island and I always thought to myself when it was known as Grand National racing back then, that it would be great to work on one of those teams. I went to a driving school in New Smyrna one winter and there I met Elmo Langley. He was helping out a little bit as a driving instructor and stuff like that, so I got to talking with Elmo. I said, 'Man, I would really love to be involved in Grand National racing. Can you get me a job? I'll work for free. I don't want any money, I just want to get my foot in the door and get a chance to be in this business.' He said, 'Well, I'll give you a number and I'll give you a call back. Maybe there's something for you.' So I ended up going back home and he called up and said, 'When can you be down here.' And I said, 'I can be down there tomorrow, if you want me.' Basically, that's how I got started. I had my own roofing business back home on Long Island and I was making pretty good money, but this was always my dream and always my passion. He gave me my first job in 1979 and I worked for him for a year there. Then my mom called up a few days before we were getting ready to go to the Daytona 500 and she was having some problems with my make a long story short, I went home for what I thought would be a couple of weeks and it ended up being four years. I ended up coming back to Charlotte in 1984 and I've been here ever since, so that's basically how I got started in it."

THERE ARE A LOT OF CREW CHIEFS FROM THE NORTHEAST, IS THERE ANY CONNECTION AMONG YOU GUYS? "Maybe it's because we're from a fast pace. Up in the New York area you're always running wide open from the time you wake up to when you go to sleep. Maybe that's why some of these crew chiefs are coming from up that way because they're used to the real fast pace and always going wide open all the time. That's basically how Winston Cup racing is. It's like they give you the schedule and you better be ready for it. It's like, boom, boom, boom, one thing right after another and maybe that's why some crew chiefs are coming from that part of the country."

DO YOU SHIFT AT THE BRICKYARD? "No, we actually tried that when we tested there a couple of weeks ago. We tried to shift there, but it just doesn't seem to work as well as it does at Pocono because you're carrying so much speed in the corner and the corners are a lot tighter at Indianapolis. You've got a lot of stuff to take care of before you get in that corner and it just seems like there's not enough gain to do it. We definitely tried it, but it just didn't work out for us. I don't think anybody actually does it at Indianapolis."

IS POCONO THE ONLY TRACK YOU SHIFT AT? "Pocono is the only oval track we shift at, other than the road courses."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE INTRICACIES OF SETTING UP A CAR FOR INDY. IS IT GREATER THAN MARTINSVILLE OR TALLADEGA? "It's much more challenging because there are basically two parts you have to take care of. You've got two long, long straightaways that you have to be aero loose for, which would get you through the air a lot faster, and then need to be kind of chassis tight where you can get through the corners quickly. You have to have the best of both worlds. You have to have a car that can really go through the air really quickly, but you also have to have a chassis that's tight enough where when you go into a corner at 200 miles an hour it's gonna turn and not break the back or the front loose. That's probably one of the most demanding tracks to get set up for because you've got both characteristics there."

HOW SURPRISED WERE YOU ABOUT THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE AND WHAT HAVE YOU TRIED TO DO DIFFERENTLY? "I was surprised to some degree that it happened. I think the problem before I became crew chief was the communication between Jeremy and Paul (Andrews). It seemed to deteriorate and it never got any better. I think from a driver and crew chief standpoint, it's like a marriage. You have to be on the same page all the time. You have to think alike and you have to eat, drink and sleep the same. Everything's gotta be the same for it to really work, I think. You talk about chemistry. There's definitely chemistry in a marriage and there's definitely chemistry between a crew chief and a driver. I think that was the biggest problem was that with Paul and Jeremy the chemistry was gone. It seemed like they didn't talk about trying to get it back, but you have to have it between each other. You've gotta be able to be thinking the same all the time. That's what this business is all about. It's chemistry. It's like being married."

HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED YOUNGER GUYS COMING FROM NEW YORK TRYING TO GET IN THE SPORT AND WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE THEM? "Yeah, I get asked almost everyday -- 'How can I get in racing?' The way I came and got started was totally different than the way it is now. Now, you have 25-50 people on a team. Instead of driving everywhere you fly everywhere. It seems to be a little bit harder to get into it now because there are so many people involved in it right now. It's hard for someone who has no experience to come on a good team because a good team doesn't want people with no experience. The biggest thing I tell them is to try and find a little bit lesser team and try to get your foot in the door. Tell them you'll do anything, you'll sweep the floor, work for nothing -- anything to get started. That's the only way you can get in now, unless you know somebody. Most of the big teams hire from within the industry because they want to get better. So, if you take somebody that works at Jack Roush, maybe someone at Robert Yates Racing wants to know a little bit of information from Jack Roush, they'll hire somebody from Jack Roush. That's kind of how the circle is right now, so it's hard for a new guy to get started on some of the big teams. You probably need to definitely go to some of the lesser teams and that's kind of what I tell them."

DO YOU SEE THE PASSION AMONG THE YOUNG PEOPLE AS WHEN YOU STARTED? "To be honest with you I think I see it for a different reason. I think these people who want to get involved in racing nowadays, it is the prestige of working on a Winston Cup team at all of these beautiful shops they have. You look at the transporters they have, they fly on Lear jets and are flying all over the country. Back when I started, I worked out of a two-car garage with Elmo and we drove everywhere in a little cube van, so I think when I got started it was more of a passion that you wanted to do it. You wanted to be a part of racing. Now, I think some of the people that want to be involved in it is because it's definitely gotten more popular and it's certainly a lot easier to get started in this business now as far as making decent money and not having to worry about driving everywhere. I think you've gotta be born a racer. Sometimes people are born that way and sometimes people want to be that way and I don't think the passion is there for the same reason."

ARE WE SEEING THE POSSIBILITY OF WORKING SEVEN DAYS A WEEK GOING AWAY BECAUSE OF A LACK OF THIS PASSION? "You might be right. That may end up happening. I think the people that have been in it for a long time know what it's all about. They know what it entails as far as the hours you've gotta put in. Basically, it's your whole life. People ask you what kind of hobbies you have and I tell them I don't have any hobbies because I don't have time. You've gotta be passionate about what you're doing and a lot of the older guys are because that's how they grew up in it. Maybe some of the newer guys don't appreciate all of the luxuries that everybody has these days."

YOU BEING FROM NEW YORK AND JEREMY FROM KENTUCKY. HOW DID YOU GUYS GET ON THE SAME PAGE? "I think it just boils down to what you are inside and what you have inside. Just because we have different accents doesn't mean that we don't think alike. I think it's all about who you are inside and what you want out of life and what you want to put into it. Jeremy came up the hard way, just like I have. He basically worked on his cars, he drove the transporter, he's done everything you can possibly do in racing and I came up the same way. Just because he's from Kentucky and I'm from Brooklyn, doesn't mean we don't think alike. That's the biggest thing, we think alike."

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL PEOPLE IN NEW YORK IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT NASCAR? "I think probably the biggest misconception is that a lot of them think they race on the weekends but what do they do during the week. I don't think a lot of people understand the amount of hours that go into preparation of race cars and all the logistics it takes to get from one race to the next. I think that's the biggest."

DID IT TAKE YOU SOME TIME TO ADAPT FROM BROOKLYN TO CHARLOTTE? "That was very difficult because I was always used to a fast pace with everything I was doing. Then, when I moved here, it's like when you go to a fast-food restaurant, it's like you wait and wait and wait. I also believe that I probably extend my life expectancy for at least another 10 or 15 years because of the pace. I've adjusted to it really well and I don't think I would ever be able to live back home again. No way. It's a good environment down here. The weather is nice and the pace, because I'm getting a little older, is about the right pace for us now."

YOU THINK YOU'VE EXTENDED YOU LIFE BY 10 YEARS. HOW SO? "Just by the pace. It's not as fast like typical New York and Long Island -- the rat race we call it. I'm hopeful now I can live to at least 120."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Jack Roush , Robert Yates
Teams Yates Racing