NASCAR Teleconference Tuesday, September 18, 2001 Today's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Kenny Wallace, relief driver for Steve Park in No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Crew Chief, Paul Andrews. Steve Park was injured...
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Today's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Kenny Wallace, relief driver for Steve Park in No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Crew Chief, Paul Andrews. Steve Park was injured in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Darlington Raceway on September 1 and is recovering from a concussion.
Kenny Wallace finished 41st at Darlington due to an overheating problem, and 21st at Richmond.
What did you do this past weekend when the New Hampshire race at Loudon was postponed?
"Like everybody affiliated with NASCAR, whether it be Busch, Truck, or Cup, I was ready to do whatever I was called on to do. But I have to admit that for the first couple of days I didn't know what to do. Luckily, this whole situation has forced me to look around and see what happens at my home on the weekends. We actually had a great time. I went to two softball games with my daughter Brandy, the middle one. There were families out there with kids and it was something that I haven't been a part of in a long time because I live my life at the racetrack. So we played here in Charlotte at Mallard Creek Field. We played Saturday and Sunday. And on Sunday, we had a cookout. My wife got some bratwurst and hamburgers on Sunday evening and we had the family over and had a good time. All the press and everybody was saying this should be a time to just sit back and slow down and be with family (after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center) and that's what we did."
What are your plans for the remainder of the season?
"At Richmond, we announced that Steve Park would be out for four to six weeks. That hasn't changed at all. It would be appropriate to ask Paul Andrews about Steve. But my plans are to be right there for the whole DEI Pennzoil Team for as long as they need me. My personal goals are to capitalize on this great racecar that I'm driving. I'm really looking forward to running at Dover this weekend. It's the same car we ran at Darlington. Come to find out that the car has a little history to it. It's the car that Steve won Rockingham with and it's his favorite car."
Have you personally talked to Steve Park and can you tell us how he's doing?
"I personally talked to Steve one time. It was Sunday night after the wreck at Darlington. At that time, he seemed normal to me. But with head injuries, I think sometimes there's an affect 24 hours later. Everybody knows he has a bruised brain. But Paul Andrews has talked to him and he would be a good one to ask."
Considering Alex Zanardi's tragic accident in last weekend's American Memorial 500 in the CART Series, do you feel safer in Winston Cup cars than you would in an open-wheel car?
"Most definitely. I really respect their type of racing though. It's very technical. When I get around those types of cars, I can't quit looking at them. But I've always said I'd like to try to drive one. I think those are the type of racecars that you have to grow up in and stay in. With Rick Mears crushing his legs years ago there's just so many leg injuries in open-wheel cars. Those are fantastic racecars and highly technical, but I wouldn't want to drive them because if you hit the wall head-on, you're going to pretty much bang up your legs pretty bad. Obviously, from what's been going on here (lately) we can all get hurt. But I do feel much safer in a Winston Cup car."
Do you think the No. 1 Pennzoil Monte Carlo is the best car you've ever driven?
"No doubt. This is my best opportunity to showcase my talents and we did that at Darlington. I guess the racing gods aren't looking down on me very well because we really wanted to capitalize on what's going on. We were disappointed at Richmond because that was my track. We just got caught off-guard and we were really loose up off the corners all night long and finished 21st. But this is definitely my best opportunity and I'm definitely going to make the most out of it. I'm looking forward to you this week."
In watching other sporting events get back to the playing field this week after the NYC tragedy, what do you think it will be like at Dover this weekend?
"I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and I was pretty touched. I saw (the game) that you saw (on television) live on ESPN last night. It was a tearjerker. There was the American flag and all the police and fire department and I think it was great. There is a huge military base there at Dover. I know NASCAR and I know what NASCAR stands for. We get an opportunity July 4th to put on a good show at Daytona. Nobody has told me, but I know they've got something (special patriotic ceremony) planned. I'm just really looking forward to it. I'm just really looking forward to singing along with them. I think our lives are changed. I don't think a lot of us realize it right now. When you get around people, our National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance just seem a whole lot different now than they used to. So I'm just looking forward to being there and singing along and seeing what they have up their sleeve."
Do you think all the racetracks need to step-up now and tighten security?
"Oh, I think they have to. All of us are smart enough to know - we've all been listening to television and radio. I can't believe I'm saying this but I think I have to. I don't believe the terrorists are gone. I think they're hiding out and we're catching most of them. We've got to do what major league baseball did and it worked out great. I watched the games last night. I know NASCAR and I know Dover has already implemented some rules like nobody is allowed to bring in coolers. I applaud them for the actions they're taking. Beefing up security in anything we do right now is good. It would take an idiot not to. We can't act like everything is fine because it's not fine. I'm glad they're doing what they're doing - anywhere. When you get that amount of people together - we have the biggest attendance and there will be over 100,000 people in Dover this week and we've got to make sure everything is safe."
With Phoenix following Talladega on the schedule this year, can you compare the stress level of going into each of those races?
"I love going to Phoenix. Me and my wife leave early. We leave Monday and we stop out in Las Vegas every year. Phoenix is one of my favorite racetracks. We've done a really good job of talking with each other - the drivers and Mike Helton's meeting and all - and it has shed a lot of light on us drivers and that we do have control of our racecars. We go to Talladega ready to race. But when the race is over, we're relieved. And then going to Phoenix is like a vacation. It's like getting back to short track racing where we have control of the cars and handling and horsepower and pit stops. I think you'll find that most of the drivers and teams try to get out there (Phoenix) a little early. It's toward the end of the year and is like a little vacation almost."
What did losing your sponsor earlier this year do to your confidence level, and can you talk about your Busch season?
"I'm a positive person. What happened at the start of the year was just a huge mistake on my part. I was sold a bill of good (by) thinking that the team I was going with had a sponsor and everything was fine. I got in there and we made the first 13 or 14 races - we missed Talladega. Basically it just didn't work out. I can go on an elaborate on it more, but I'm the type of person that looks at the future. I don't care about the past. Everybody knows how talented of a racecar driver I am. Everybody saw that at Darlington when I got in the Pennzoil car. And yet it did hurt me. Not about my capabilities, but it hurt me that when times got bad, the people I really trusted and thought were my friends took care of themselves. And then they put two other drivers in the car and they done worse. So it's just politics - people covering their butts. It didn't shake my confidence at all. On the other hand, the owner of my Busch team, George debidart, had been there for me the whole time. He's a great guy. Everybody in the racing community likes George. He's got a company called Source Int'l. He's responsible for all the shows that you see on QVC helping sell diecast. He's just a straight-up guy. We were meant for each other. He had lost his driver, Mike McLaughlin, to Joe Gibbs. George called me and wanted to know if I'd drive for him. I thought it was only going to be for a couple of races. There was something planned out for us and every since I got out of the No. 27 car, my year has just took off in an upward fashion. I may be upset a little bit at times, but I'm never down. I come from a winning racing family and I don't look back."
Regarding the cancellation of the Loudon race, did you think we should carry on as normal and then change your mind and think we shouldn't run the race?
"I've thought about that and here's the way I felt. You had that horrible situation in New York. Now you just can't say it's a horrible situation. Let's get down to the facts. You had two 767 jet airliners full of fuel headed for California kill over 5000 people in a terrorist act. Our lives are changed as we know them. You can't act like nothing's wrong and go on as normal. You don't go on like everything's fine. You don't prove to terrorists that you're not going to get us. I think that's what finally kicked in about two or three days later. I actually think that everyone was in shock. When you look back, you had our president Mike Helton and the commissioner of football and baseball - this is a major deal now (a decision for them to make). I think everybody finally sat back and realized we couldn't act like everything was normal because it's not normal. I think there was a handful of fans - and I love the fans - that really didn't realize that it wasn't about showing the terrorists that they weren't going to get us. Hell, the guys who did this are dead. They don't care about human life. That was the strangest conversation I had with my wife. My wife said, 'My god, didn't those people who flew those airplanes know they were going to die?' I had to explain to Kim and to my daughters that these people had no thought about human life. So we weren't showing anybody. We needed some time off. And now it's time to go back racing."
With you subbing for the injured Steve Park, what do you see organizationally that enables you as a driver to do your job?
"I can remember when DEI started. Obviously, Dale Earnhardt always had a Busch Grand National team. But it was run out of a nice little shop and very well operated by Tony Eury Sr and Tony Eury Jr. I remember when Steve Park first got in the car at Dover and the car was sponsored by Burger King. He missed the first two races. And then when Pennzoil came on board, they missed the race at Vegas. What I'm trying to say is that I've watched this team build. Dale Earnhardt took a team from nothing and built it up. He added two teams and all of a sudden I started seeing the cars running better and better. I think a lot of that had to do with the patience of Dale and with trying the right people. Now that I'm in there, and I go to the shop, the money is there which enables them to have an enormous amount of talent there. If you go back and look at stats, I've got to tell you straight up. When Paul Andrews came to the Pennzoil car, it was like a light switch. Any good racecar driver will tell you that in the modern era, you can't just take a car and go out there and run good. He surrounded himself with great people.
"What they do there is just incredible. They're in the wind tunnel every month. They're on a shaker machine every other week. That's something where they're doing their chassis set-ups. They take advantage of everything that is possible. The cars are always prepared. They magnify every little thing. They've got a great crew chief that really believes in getting Steve what he needs. That's the biggest thing I've seen. They have everything plus more and they use the tools."
Can you give us an update on how Steve Park is doing?
"He's making progress. After the accident, he was making huge leaps and bounds pretty much overnight, and now the progress is real slow. If you see him daily, you really don't see a change. But if you wait a few days to see him, then you'll see a small amount of progress. But he's definitely doing fine. The doctors are real happy with his progress but it's just going to take some more time."
Does he come by the shop?
"Not yet. He's doing four or five hours of therapy daily, and that pretty much drains him. I think there's still some medication involved. The therapy wears on him pretty hard and hopefully we'll see him here at the shop maybe next week. I talk to him as often as I can. I talked to him yesterday and he sounded real good."
Is there any memory loss or amnesia going on with Steve?
"There are a lot of things that he remembered even on Saturday night after the accident. People for one - he recognized everyone who came in to see him after the accident. As time went on, he remembered more. He didn't really realize why he was there (in the hospital) or what was going on. After a couple of days he knew what was going on. He doesn't actually remember what happened right before the accident. But everything else is good. We talked about our set-ups and how the car worked and even the weekend of Darlington we talked about how the car was in morning practice, and then how the car was after the race. So his memory is good. There are probably still a few little blank spots."
Is there any talk about dealing with the rigidity of the cars?
"I think our side impacts are still our most vulnerable area. I don't know if the rigidity of the car has anything to do with the side impact, but I'm sure it does to a certain extent. There maybe could have been a little more left-side protection on that car with shoulder rests and headrests. That may have helped some. But man, that was a huge, huge hit. I seen the car after the wreck and it was big. Everything moved or everything bent. Everything done it's job except for maybe a couple of little small items that could have been put on the left side that would have helped. But it was a big hit. It hit hard and it bent everything."
What do you think of NASCAR's decision to postpone the Loudon race to the end of November?
"I don't think it's going to happen, myself. That's just my opinion. I think it's going to be pretty tough. It's definitely going to be cold, no doubt. But hopefully it's going to be dry. That's the problem with a 20-week stretch. There's no margin for error. What's going to happen then is we've got people scheduled for vacation and that's our time off. That's kind of the way we still look at it. It's going to be tough. Will we even get it in? That's my biggest question. I think the weather is obviously going to play a big factor in that. In a month we could barely get a race in up there."
What do you think about racing on Thanksgiving weekend?
"We'll all have to travel on Thanksgiving. They're up against the wall on that one. I don't know what else they can do. I feel for them -- for the track and for the competitors. I really don't know what else they can do. I don't have any suggestions for them."
There was some speculation that the steering wheel slipped off on Steve's Busch car. Was that the case?
"That's pretty much where we're at right now. The wheel was not on the car when the safety workers got there. And Steve was pretty much unconscious too, so it's doubtful that he took it off after the wreck. Just from watching the replays, it sure did look like that's what happened. That's the part that Steve doesn't quite remember yet, too."
Regarding security in the garage area this weekend, has NASCAR made any special announcements about passes or changes for the participants?
"Actually I haven't heard anything on that other than they're going to tighten security for the grandstands. I don't know whether or not they'll tighten security for the garage area or not. They haven't said if they're going to take passes away or anything like that. I'm sure they'll watch a little closer as far as passes go, but nothing's been said yet. It's hard to say what we can do."