Jimmy Spencer Indianapolis interview 2001-08-04

Pole winner interview with: Jimmy Spencer, Carl Haas, Travis Carter FRED NATION: Welcome to our pole sitter. Congratulations, Jimmy. Your best start here before has been 20th, you've been in every race. You're going to get a different view...

Pole winner interview with:

Jimmy Spencer, Carl Haas, Travis Carter

FRED NATION: Welcome to our pole sitter. Congratulations, Jimmy. Your best start here before has been 20th, you've been in every race. You're going to get a different view this year. How is it going to look up there?

JIMMY SPENCER: It's going to be special. You know, my whole life growing up as a boy watching my dad race and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway meant so much to us. We've tried to run well here in the past and mainly wanted to run an Indy Car; and took my way through the Winston racing series and then decided I was going to run NASCAR and got a Winston Cup ride; and we finally did get to the Brickyard. To be on the pole, it's special without a question. Mainly my whole race team has been very supportive of me, they really believe in me. I can't say enough for my crew chief, Donnie Wingo. I tell him what I'm feeling and he believes me. That's the key. I just can't say enough. I wish he was here but he's over there working like he always is. He's a working fool is what Donnie is. He works his butt off and does a great job for us. It is going to be a lot different view for me starting on the pole. It's been a long time. I've been with the legendary Junior Johnson when I did it and now I'm with the legendary Carl Haas and Travis. So that's pretty neat.

Hey, T.C., you can breathe now?

SPENCER: Who's T.C.?

Spencer, there's five Yates engines running in the top ten. Do you think they can pull your motorboat with it now?

SPENCER: When I made that comment, it wasn't a Yates engine, though. When I've got Robert Yates engines now, they're pretty good engines without a question. Robert and Doug Yates have done a great job. They've assembled a bunch of guys up in Mooresville and Steve Allen and Mike (sp?) Yeagie had that group and they just are really good to work with. Robert and Doug likes to see their competitors, which we are a competitor of theirs. That goes to show you they still give us good motors; and I'm proud to be associated with them.

Carl, if my math serves me right, I believe your last pole here was in '87.

CARL HAAS: I don't even know if I had a pole here.

SPENCER: We've got one now, right, Carl?

The excitement level for you to start on pole at this place?

HAAS: I know we came close to winning them a couple of times with Mario and Michael. Never quite made it. This is very gratifying. I'm extremely happy; and I congratulate Jimmy and Travis, all our guys, all our crew and engineers, truck drivers, you name it. We've really been coming together this year. I commend everybody for the job they've been doing. I'm so happy for myself and I am happy for everybody. And obviously Jimmy; and it's wonderful. Thank you.

Travis, could you just talk a little bit about the difference, I mean the way this team has been running, both Todd and Jimmy, the last few weeks? And then you look back a year ago and your team was still struggling and you were coming hoping to win races. Now you come and you're almost disappointed if you don't sit on poles.

TRAVIS CARTER: Well, I think that's what a professional team should be like. I think success breeds success and as one moves forward, the other team moves forward with it. I think that's the way you grow together as one unit, two groups as one unit; and I think we've begun to do that more and more this year. As one moves, as I said, to the front, it propels the other, plus you learn; you learn from things that people do that are an improvement. Both teams can take advantage of that and we've done a lot of that; and our people have worked better and communicated a lot better this year. That's been paramount and the key to our ongoing improvement.

Are you feeling the old adage that people always say if you're close enough to win and if you're there week in and week out, the wins are going to come eventually, do you feel like the wins are just any day now for you all?

CARTER: I say if you run well enough long enough, you'll win. People will say what are you doing better, it's not that we're doing anything that much difference or better. Philosophy is such that if you have a good course and you stay on it, there are ups and downs, you know. For a period of time you look stupid and after a while it all begins to click and work; and we really haven't done anything drastically different than we were doing last year. We're just doing, I think, things -- some of the details I think we're paying more attention to and doing better in that regard. But overall the program hasn't changed. Same group of people everywhere in all positions. So I think that's a testament to people who are committed and have worked real hard and been dedicated to what they're doing.

Jimmy, this place has mistreated you a couple times. Could you relive for me the '94 and '98? Particularly '98 put you through an awful lot of self-examination.

SPENCER: Yeah, it's been -- I was the first driver ever out of the Brickyard 400. So I blew a right front tire and I was ahead of A.J. Foyt; and he called me up about two days later and he just wanted to make sure I was all right. So that was pretty neat. But '98 was stupid on the driver's part that did that. We were racing for 16th or 17th place and I ended up missing three weeks and, you know, I think everybody learns from their mistakes. So I think he learned a lot from that mistake that day. But most of all, we've ran pretty good here and we never could capitalize on it. One particular time we were running really well, about sixth or seventh, and Dale Earnhardt and I got together under caution, just a racing deal. I've had a lot of bad memories about this track but hopefully it will all change this weekend.

Jimmy, are you good enough to win this race?

SPENCER:I tell you, David, I think our team is good enough to win and if it's here or if it's Martinsville or if it's Chicago, wherever we were. In order to win, in order to sit on the pole today you had to have a mistake-free lap and we had a mistake-free lap. So we were lucky there. I think we can win, I really do. I love this racetrack. To me, this is a racetrack where you can't get too aggressive at but you've got to drive right on the edge. I love driving on the edge. That doesn't scare me. I think that's important. I remember Carl's driver, it is the most astonishing thing I ever saw. Nigel Mansel, wasn't it? That sucker hits the wall coming off one and two and still wins the Brickyard.

HAAS: No, he didn't win it. He was leading it in the last, finished second or third.

SPENCER: It's definitely a driver's racetrack. If we're in contention, David, in the last pit stop and hopefully we can focus on that thing and stay after it and go for it. That's what we're going to try to do. But our object now is to try to get the car in race trim and get it comfortable for 400 miles; and hopefully we can do it.

Jimmy, the Indy drivers hear say winning a pole here is as big as winning a lot of other races. Now that you've won a pole here, do you kind of sense this pole is bigger than the pole anywhere else?

SPENCER: There's no question the pole here is bigger than anywhere else. No, it's not as big as a race win, no. When you win a Winston Cup race, it's pretty damn big. I don't think that -- I think winning poles is pretty neat. I've never been known to do it. I just do some things wrong when it comes time to do it. Today Donnie told me, "I know you're not going to do nothing wrong today," and it worked out for us, you know. But winning the pole here is really special. I mean there's no question that winning the pole at any race is big, but not as big as the Brickyard, not the history behind this track. I heard the story on the Georges and how they treat this whole community and how these fans, God, they just -- they take you in under their arm. They just love you here at Indianapolis. Of all the racetracks we go to, this track here, the fans are vocal and they're big time NASCAR Winston Cup fans. It's big to win the pole, without a question.

Jimmy, the strategy starting on the pole, will it differ that much from maybe starting midpack?

SPENCER: Oh, gosh, yeah. I never get the fortunate opportunity to start that far up front sometimes. (Laughter) So this year we got run into from the back end at Rockingham and run into the back end at Texas; and, damn, every time you look when you start 17th, 18th or whatever, you've always got that cluster going into the corner. So I got two good guys starting there with me, Bill Elliott and Casey has done a great job this year. We'll try to get ourselves in tow getting in the first turn and hopefully everything will come out right and there won't be nothing ahead of us going out of turn two down the back straightaway. That's what you're hoping for.

How many hats did they have to put on you before they found one that fit you today, Jimmy?

SPENCER: I was shocked with the Budweiser hat, they opened it up and said, "I've got this thing really big." I said, "My God, that will fit an elephant's head." That's how big it was. (Laughter) But we sized it down and I got a big head, but that's literally. (Laughter)

Handicap the race. Who have you got to beat?

SPENCER: 42 cars. (Laughter) You've got to look at the guys that's run well in the past. Not just the past, I guess you've got to look at the guys that's running good right now. The 28, the 88, the 24 without a question. Bill Elliott will be a big factor. He always runs well at this racetrack. I think that Junior will run good. I think that Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte -- last week Bobby Labonte impressed the heck out of me, especially the last 20 laps of the race where his car, same tires we have here, his car really kept the tires underneath it. It doesn't matter, you can lead 159 laps here, I don't care who leads 159 laps, the lap that pays it is the 160th. That's what you want to do. 18 is going to be really strong, Tony Stewart is going to be strong. You've got a lot of cars that's going to be tough. You know, Rusty ran really well here last year. I think Gibbs' Pontiacs will run well. I think the Dodge, getting the help they've got right now, with Bill Elliott will run really well; and Sterling will run well. There will be a lot of contenders without a question.

Jimmy, describe winning this pole with the other one you won at North Wilkesboro, describe what the reaction was then and to yourself as a first one.

SPENCER: The first one was real special. We were having a tough time with the people I was working with. I wasn't having a tough time with Junior, but I was having a tough time with the people believing in me. It did a blessing getting out of that organization and going to drive for Travis the year after. So that was pretty special. But that was my first-ever pole. I knew that Junior, it was big for Junior Johnson to win at Wilkesboro. The difference today for this race, my gosh, it puts you in the Busch -- well, that screws me up, though. I can't play golf Sunday afternoon now. That's going to mess me up for the Daytona race. I can find a substitute, right, Travis?

CARTER: You can find a substitute. (Laughter)

SPENCER: To win the pole -- I don't even know what the pole pays here. They say you get a boat and they say you get all kinds of shit. But all I know is that my guys worked really, really hard. My guys worked hard. Cecil Gordon back in the shop and Schultz, our fabricator and our body man, Sandra Roseman, and them guys just, and gals, have worked hard for us. You know, Travis has put no pressure on my organization and he let us go and he lets Donnie do what he wants to do and he builds the cars the way he wants to build them. It's been working out really well. It's been an effort by the whole team, not just myself, getting this pole. It's a lot different for me to win this pole here than years ago simply because of the dedication I've got amongst my guys. I just can't say enough for my guys and Carl and Travis for believing in me.

Jimmy, in this day of the largely politically correct NASCAR drivers and drivers who maybe don't show the thrill as much as you do, how much good do you think it would do for this sport if you started winning regular, to win a race like this and take off on a streak, how much could you add with your kind of enthusiasm to Winston Cup racing if you were out front a lot?

SPENCER: I have a lot now and I don't win. I don't know. (Laughter) I feel that Winston Cup racing, when I watched Winston Cup racing growing up and I watched David Pearson and Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and those guys, Junior Johnson and Bud Moore and the Woods brothers, I love this sport. I love racing. I don't care about anything else in life but racing. I just feel like so many drivers, I mean it was just constantly the same old crap. They didn't want to explain what happened. Everything else under the sun. I think the fans and the media deserve to hear an honest answer and maybe it's not the answer you were looking for, but it's an answer that is your opinion and that's the great thing about living in America and working under NASCAR. You can say what you want to say. Sometimes I make a mistake by some stuff I say and I apologize for it. I've made them mistakes and I'm man enough to admit it. Maybe they'd pay me to keep my mouth shut and not say nothing, but I can't do that. If something bothers me, I'm going to express myself. Travis says it's venting myself. So there you go.

You talked about how much it meant to you to win here because of how much you followed racing growing up. The story about you at Pocono sneaking in and meeting A.J., to you this place really does have a special meaning, right?

SPENCER: It does, David. I'll tell you, I snuck in every damn racetrack that I could. Went to Pocono, watched the late Mark Donahue win. A.J. Foyt was one of my heroes and snuck in the garage area and, hey, I'm a 15-year-old kid and I walk over to the garage area and nobody is walking into the garage area and I walk over to his car. "Hey, boy, what are you doing?" I says, "Man, just looking." I says, "This is cool," and whatever I said at the time when I was 15 years old. He said, "Well, you can look but just don't touch nothing." I looked and I said, "My God, that's A.J. Foyt," and he said yes and shook my hand. (Laughter) It's just the Indy Cars running here -- I drove open-wheel modified, so I have a lot of respect for the Indy Car guys and I come up here for the Indy 500 test sessions and stuff and thought it was pretty neat. I really hope that the Indy Car and the CART series gets everything worked out for the sport, because I love racing. I don't care if it's SCCA or Saturday night racing where I started racing originally, I don't care what it is, I would like to see racing prosper.

Jimmy, Dale Jarrett paid you the ultimate compliment this morning. Somebody made the comment what would it be like having Jimmy Spencer up front and he said Jimmy is a fine race driver. Your comment on that comment.

SPENCER:I think that's pretty neat. You know, there's certain guys you respect on the racetrack without a question, he's one of them. And I think that that compliment meant that he doesn't have to worry about racing Jimmy Spencer, I'm not going to put him out. The incident at New Hampshire, when I look back over it now, I realize it wasn't my fault. But it's over and that's water under the bridge. So Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Gordon, we raced hard at New Hampshire and I hope I can race their butts this Sunday because they know they're in for something and they know where they are with me; and I'm going to race them real hard. If I can get in that group of drivers, that's pretty special. When Dale compliments me like that, that's a big pat on the back for me. I appreciate it.

Jimmy, with the rules change a couple weeks ago with Dodge, how tough is it going to be to dodge the Dodges tomorrow?

SPENCER: I think the Dodges are going to have a better front end, a lot more frontal grip. Especially at this racetrack, you need more frontal grip here more than anywhere. The only thing is I wish they would have given it to the Fords, also.

CARTER: I agree, right, Carl?

SPENCER: This is true. It's the same car we race, but you've got five Dodge teams and you have 24 teams, so, you know, what can I say? It will be a big advantage for them. They'll run real good. I would not underestimate Bill Elliott having a shot of winning this race.

<B>NATION: Jimmy, Travis, Carl, congratulations. Good luck tomorrow.

-IMS-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jimmy Spencer , Richard Petty , Carl Haas , Junior Johnson , Bobby Allison , Robert Yates , A.J. Foyt , Steve Allen , David Pearson