JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: (HIS THOUGHTS ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE WITH THREE RACES REMAINING) "Typically our race team runs its strongest the latter part of the season - the last 10 races of the...
JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(HIS THOUGHTS ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE WITH THREE RACES REMAINING) "Typically our race team runs its strongest the latter part of the season - the last 10 races of the season. Unfortunately, looking at the last 10 races we've, we've had some of our worst finishes and our worst luck. I think five of the last 10 races we've finished 10th or worse and had some of our bigger problems. Now granted, some of the other races - we won two of them and have finished in the top three or four a few of them. But we seemed to have had a stretch of bad luck and misfortune here recently. Hopefully, we can turn that around in the last three races and get back to where we don't have the misfortunes."
(HOW GRATIFYING IS IT TO FINALLY REACH THIS POINT?) "This is what we've worked on for nine years now to get to the point where we were in the championship battle and close to winning a championship. It's been a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of people have come on board and put a lot of time from their lives into our goal of winning a Winston Cup championship, so it is very gratifying to see the team come from what it is in its inception to get to the point where we're three races away from possibly realizing the ultimate goal that we set back in late '91, early '92."
(HOW DO YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW AFTER SUCH A LONG GRIND THIS SEASON?) "It is very difficult to stay fresh. Honestly - myself personally - two or three weeks ago I told my wife and some of the guys here that I am finally starting to feel the effects of the year. Up until that point I hadn't really noticed much, but the last couple weeks I'm feeling the effects of winding down the season and what we've been through to get to this point. I think everybody has a different threshold of where they go to before they start feeling the effects of it. It's tough. It takes a lot of mental adjustment to condition yourself to make it through these last four, five or six races after you've been going as long as we have. Since February there has been very little time, very little breakage in the schedule to allow everybody to get some time off. I haven't done a good job myself of giving myself days off like I probably should have. That is something I have to work on for next to get through the schedule next year because it's going to be worse. We're going to add two races and go through a 20-race stretch there without any weekends off. It's tough. It really is hard on us. I think back to the way it was in the late '80s when we won our last championship with Blue Max (Racing) and Rusty Wallace. I think we had about a 28 or 29 race schedule at that time, so things were a little bit easier. We had a lot more time between races to catch our breath. The way the schedule is going and the way we're headed in the future, it's going to take some adjustment on our parts to make sure our guys stay fresh all the way through to the end of the season."
(WOULD A CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR WEIGH HEAVILY IN ANY DECISION BY YOU TO MOVE TO A TEAM MANAGER POSITION AND NAME SOMEONE ELSE TO BE BOBBY LABONTE'S CREW CHIEF?) "I don't think so. I've got a great relationship with Bobby and I still really enjoy what I'm doing, or else I'd be thinking about changing a little bit right now. But I still see quite a few years ahead of me being Bobby's crew chief. I'd like to accomplish a few more things with him. I think he is in the prime of his life in his racing abilities and what he can accomplish in this sport. After working this long and hard at Joe Gibbs Racing to get it to the point where we're at today, I'd like to be a small part of the success that he is going to be capable of enjoying for the next few years. I still feel like this is what I enjoy doing. It's hard to find the relationship with a driver that I feel like Bobby and I have, and I'm not quite ready to give that up, yet, to anybody else. But somewhere down the road - I would say in the next five years - I'm going to have to look at that real hard. My children will be at the age where I feel like I'll need to spend more time with them and maybe a lot less time on the road. That gives me some time to find somebody to step into the situation I'm in and make sure that it's a person that will be able to do a good job for Bobby."
(DO YOU SEE SPLIT CREWS AS A POSSIBILITY IN THE FUTURE?) "I think you're going to see that next year. We're working towards that right now and really have been for the last year or two - thinking about it. But we're putting people in place. We're hiring about eight new people next year that are directly related to the schedule increasing just the two races that we're increasing next year. Really, what I'm looking toward is making sure everybody on the race team in not working more than a five-day workweek, including the road guys. I know some people are working towards having multiple road crews where you're on a week, off a week. But I'm a little leery towards going to that. I like the chemistry of having the same faces at the racetrack every week that the driver is comfortable with and that the crew chief is comfortable with. Right now, my goal is to have my road guys have two days a week off - probably Mondays and Tuesdays, and just be working a five-day work week just like the inside of the shop does currently."
(WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU AND BOBBY SUCH GOOD FRIENDS?) "There are lots of crew chief-driver relationships that are very successful that aren't necessarily good friends. I think you can do that. We've just been very, very fortunate to have been able to develop along with our working relationship and been able to inter-mingle the two together. Since we do spend so much time together, I think it's a little bit beneficial. We don't seem to get tired of each other. In fact our wives told us that we probably should have married each other instead of them. But I think it's a neat deal. I think something everybody likes to have in life is a buddy that they can travel through their experiences with and share in the highs and lows of their life and successes and failures. That seems to be what we're able to do. When we get away from the racetrack we enjoy each other's company, as far as what our likes and dislikes are outside of racing. We spend time in the mountains together. In fact we've got cabins right next to each other up in the mountains that our families spend time at. Our kids play together, our wives enjoy each other's company, so I think we have a good relationship outside of racing and it's a very neat and unique thing that I cherish very much."
(IS IT A BIG ADVANTAGE TO HAVE PAST CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE ON A RACE TEAM? CAN IT TAKE SOME OF THE PRESSURE OFF?) "I think that's exactly what it can do. When you can bring some of the pit falls out into the open that you've seen others go through or that you've gone through yourself, I think it helps the guys handle adversity and disappointments and challenges a little bit better. I think it helps them to not let the pressure build on themselves where if you didn't have that experience to have a shoulder for those guys to lean on you might get yourself caught up in some of the pressure, some of the mounting (pressure) that comes along in getting down to a championship battle. I think it certainly helps. It could be done without it. But that's what I try to bring to the guys is just a calmness, a sense of just, 'Go race one race at a time. Do what you've been doing all along to get it to this point.' If we do that we'll be where we need to be at the end of the year."