Continued from part 1 WHAT MEMORY JUMPS OUT AT YOU? "There are so many memories. It's funny. I was talking to some of the nurses from Daytona Beach this morning and when people ask me who my regular family doctor is, I just tell them it's the...
Continued from part 1
WHAT MEMORY JUMPS OUT AT YOU?
"There are so many memories. It's funny. I was talking to some of the nurses from Daytona Beach this morning and when people ask me who my regular family doctor is, I just tell them it's the infield medical center at Daytona because of how many times I've been there. I was born in June 1960 and went to Daytona for the first time in July and I've been going twice a year ever since. If I need a physical or something I just wait until I get to Daytona. Being with my father and watching him win so many races, and being a part of winning teams like SABCO with Felix Sabates and working with guys like Gary Nelson and John Wilson and Robin Pemberton. I have so many memories. I've been around way too long to have a personal memory like that. My greatest memories of racing are being with Adam and being with him with his late model stock car and watching him win at Charlotte and his ASA car and that type of stuff. Watching something I truly love and watching it pass from one generation to the next those are the memories I still carry and cherish from this sport."
DO YOU THINK IT'S TIME FOR ROAD COURSES TO GET MORE LOVE?
"More and more of the younger drivers absolutely love road course racing. I think that's pretty cool. The one reason I think road course racing for us, and you've got to go back and look at the history of the sport. We ran Riverside three times in one year. That was our road course extent. We used to run January, June and November at one race track. Then they added Watkins Glen and we thought, 'my God, nothing can be harder at Watkins Glen.' Then they added Sears Point, and you thought, 'my God, people actually drive on these places.' What's this like? The problem was if you go back and look when Dale Earnhardt started or when Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd and those guys came along, most of the guys at that time didn't jump into this sport until their late 20s or early 30s, so they had already established themselves as oval track drivers. All of the habits and all of the techniques they used were honed on short half-mile or quarter-mile tracks or mile tracks at the most. They were really oval track drivers and they didn't take kindly to running road courses because it was something that was totally foreign to them. Now you've got guys jumping into the sport that came from open wheel and sports cars and at the same time you've got guys 21, 22 or 23 years old. They've got three or four years experience in a car, but most of their stuff has been in go-karts. So, for them to jump in at a road course, it's something new, exciting and a lot of fun. From that perspective, road course racing for a Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, guys like that, it's exciting. They love it. Go back a few years when the Burtons first came along, they hated it because they grew up running a different type of race. I think when you look at it it's just the sport has evolved. The problem is there are not a lot of road courses in America that stock cars fit on and can put on a decent show. Watkins Glen is a great show, and it's a great place for us to race. We enjoy racing there. It's a good TV package, and it comes across as a good race. Sears Point used to be good and they changed the track a little bit. I think it's good for spectators on-site, but it's not as good for the competitors and it's not as good for TV as it used to be. If they can find difference racetracks around the country and maybe add one or two, but our plate is pretty full right now. We're market racing now. We're not necessarily road course racing or oval track racing. We have to go to different markets and race wherever they put a track, and there are not a lot of people building road courses in a Seattle or New York market right now. They're all talking ovals."
TALK ABOUT CHALLENGES OF BUILDING A TEAM
"There are definitely challenges because no matter what I do or what J.D. (Gibbs) does or what anybody does that takes over from a founder in any corporation, it doesn't make any difference what he does, A certain amount of people in the company are going to bypass you and go straight to your father. I'm sure people at Gibbs Racing right now don't even bother to ask J.D. They just go right around him and Joe. It's important for the founder or that person to understand that they've relinquished some control or at least publically relinquished some control and they don't cut your legs out from under you from that standpoint. I will say at Petty Enterprises my father does an incredible job of doing that. He stands behind me even when the decision was wrong. He may get in the office and tell me it was wrong, but publically and in front of the guys in the shop he stands behind you. There are plusses and minuses. It always seems like if you're the boss's son, you've got to do twice the job as someone else who comes in. Just because your last name is Gibbs or Petty or whatever it might be and you're taking over from the last generation, people look at you and say you just got it handed to you because you were born into this. You didn't work for it. J.D. and those guys do a great job. We do a lot of stuff where we talk back and forth and have to do a lot of stuff with them and have in the past. They're pretty straight shooters. When you deal with people who say what they mean and mean what they say, it's easy to deal with them, and they're good at that."
COMMENT ON CONFLICTING SPONSORS IN VICTORY LANE
"I'm going to be totally honest and tell you I don't understand it. Maybe I'm so naïve that I don't understand it. We've had these issues in NASCAR for years and years and years. We went through a few years there where it seemed like every other race you raced it was either a Budweiser or Miller race. Every time they had a Budweiser race, Rusty would win, so you had the Miller guy standing in Budweiser victory lane. There was never an issue with it. Rusty had his picture taken with Budweiser distributorships and Budweiser may be sitting on his car or whatever and you just didn't acknowledge. I think now for some unknown reason groups out there have decided to acknowledge it. I watched the Jimmie Johnson thing on TV, and if Jimmie hadn't set the Lowe's thing up there or tried to knock off the POWERade, I never would have never noticed the Powerade was there. The best thing to do in a lot of cases is just to ignore it. If they don't want to get out of the car, don't get out of the car. Let them interview you in the car. It doesn't make any difference, I think in a sport that's grown to the point this sport has grown for us to be arguing what goes on a car and what goes on in victory lane and here and there is so small, it's ridiculous for us to be talking about it. There are bigger issues out there for the whole sport in general. It's tough to balance that. There's a line of respect here, too, I think you've got to look at. I drive the Sprint car and we would go run an ALLTEL race. That wouldn't mean ALLTEL didn't want the Sprint car in the race. They respected the fact that we as competitors had sponsors. We had to respect the fact that they as racetracks have sponsors for the racetracks. They have to make a living, too. Sometimes we think they make more than a living, but they have to make a living, too. It's important for them to sell the sponsorship for that racetrack. They're not going to sell sponsorship to a racetrack that doesn't conflict with somebody out there on the track. NASCAR is also in the sponsorship business, and they're not going to sell sponsorship to NASCAR that doesn't conflict with somebody out there, so if I expect the racetrack to respect my sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola or Georgia-Pacific or Dodge or whoever it might be, then I've got to respect their business practices and the way they did it. The victory lane stuff, once the car comes through the gate and goes through inspection, it's NASCAR's car. It's under their jurisdiction. Wherever they want to push it, whatever they want to do to it, wherever they want to set it, they have the right to check it even at 2 o'clock in the morning. If we're not there and they want to open up the gate and go look at our cars, that's their right. You relinquish that stuff when you roll through. Some of this stuff, we're being a little Junior Highish. I think we need to drop it and move on to something more important."
ARE THE LITTLE GUYS GETTING PUSHED OUT?
"If you go back five or six years, we had 46 cars trying to make it. Then the next year there were 43 or 44 and then the next year there were 39. We've been losing two or three full-time cars almost every year for the last three or four years. Call me crazy but from where I come from they call that a trend. You've got to be a little bit concerned with that part of it. I think people are concerned from the standpoint of the haves getting richer and the have nots getting poorer and the separation between the front of the field and the back of the field getting greater and greater. But at the same time, when you look at it and it appears that way, most Cup races the spread from the fastest car to the slowest car is four or five tenths. When you look at that you say, 'My God, how'd the guy with $20 million do it and the guy with $2 million do almost the same thing when it comes to qualifying and that stuff. I think spread out over the season you get further behind, but hopefully as the economy turns around as business begins to pick up and people begin to see the value in NEXTEL Cup racing and see the value and what they see for their dollar whether you're Coca-Cola or Dodge or whoever you are, and you see you can spend a dollar and get four dollars in return, then the money will flow back. When the money flows back you'll see teams at the lower end of the spectrum and don't have the financial means to compete on a regular basis, they've begin getting their share of the pie. A million dollars to a team at one end of the field will help it a lot more than a million dollars to a team on the other end of the field, and I think that parity will come back a little bit."
WHAT'S IT LIKE RACING THE YOUNG GUNS?
"I think when you look at 'em, it's funny. When you've been around as long as I have you start to compare people with other people. I compare Matt to David Pearson. I think Matt drives exactly the way David Pearson used to drive. That's a compliment in every sense of the word. I think the thing is as these guys come along it's an honor and pleasure to compete against guys with that much talent. Just like I said about the road race guys, when you bring in guys that understand road racing, it makes you elevate your game. In any sport or anything you do, when you bring in another generation or another group of kids who have that excitement and that unbridled passion to go out and run as hard as they can run, then it keeps the fire burning in you to try to run just as hard as they do. I think from that perspective it's great to be in a sport where after all these years instead of one driver trickling in a year we've had a huge influx of young talent like guys like Kasey Kahne and guys like that that will come to the Dodge program. You look at that and say what a great time to be involved in a sport that's as healthy as it's ever been financially and talent wise. They keep you on your toes. Jimmie has been kicking butt regularly and Kasey has been knocking on the door week in and week out. Casey Mears has been on the pole with the Ganassi Dodge the past couple of weeks. It makes it tougher. When you get over 40, you start looking back to see who's coming."
HOW MUCH LONGER DO YOU PLAN TO RACE?
"I don't know. I've always said I'll wake up one day and it won't be fun anymore. I feel very blessed to be able to drive and be around the people. I enjoy the people in racing as much as anything, being in the garage around the PR people and the crew and everybody. They're a good group of people. For us, this is a family business and the business will survive whether a Petty drives the car or whether a Petty doesn't drive the car. I'd like to drive for a number of more years to be able to run around and keep the camp out there and keep some cash flowing to the camp and keep that in the forefront so we can keep it up and running and build an endowment for the camp. At the same time, we're still trying to win races and trying to build Petty Enterprises back with Jeff Green and those guys and with Dodge so that we can win some races. We'll keep plugging along and driving and one day I'll wake up and say, 'I'm not helping and it's not fun anymore.' That might be the last time you see me. I might not ever come back to a racetrack, but that's a few years off."
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHANGE?
"There have been so many changes. Everybody makes such a big deal out of the points championship and the points system being changed. I was talking to my father the other day and he's won seven championships. He won seven championships in five different points systems. That shows that NASCAR was willing to change the point systems at some point in time. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the first time the point system has been changed. I think you look at the technology that has been brought into the sport in the past few years. Goodyear has constantly evolved the tires. The aero is constantly evolving. The racetracks and the racing facilities we go to like Kansas, Chicago and California are state of the art. All that's been upgraded, but the biggest change is that we used to race in front of about 50,000 people a week. Now you're doing it in front of 10-15 million people a week when you bring TV into it. I think when you look at that, the popularity and notoriety of the sport have been the biggest changes through the years."
WHAT DO YOU THINK GENERATED THE VICTORY LANE CONTROVERSY?
"I don't know if it's a driver thing or a sponsor thing or a team thing. I think you would have to go individual. I couldn't and wouldn't comment on it, but I think you'd have to go to Jimmie and Jeff and some of those guys and ask them personally. When I come into your house then I should respect your household and what you do in your house and respect your ways in your house. When we go to Indy or Watkins Glen or wherever and they have certain ways of doing things, then we have to respect that. I think a lot of it boils down to.... We can call it cash or greed or respect or we can call it a number of things, but as professionals I think we need to act professionally. I don't think in some cases things have been handled professionally. That's just my personal opinion. That's not a knock on Jeff or Jimmie or their sponsors or NASCAR or anybody. I just don't think it's been handled professionally the way it's been done. We'll get over it and in six or seven months ya'll won't even remember anything about it, so that doesn't make any difference."
COMMENT ON BRAKE LIGHTS ON RACECARS
"Most of the time you see a guy's brake light, you've already run over him. That's the way it is on the highway, too. I don't think brake lights and stuff like that.... For me, that's a non-issue. When you get to this point, not that some things won't help, but when you get to this point you're already set in so many habits. I wouldn't be looking at the brake light in front of me. You look so far ahead in a racecar. When I get to the corner, I'm already looking to the middle of the corner. When I'm in the middle, I'm already looking down the straightaway. You look so far ahead you're really not paying attention to the car in front of you. That's why people run over each other because you're looking so far ahead. You're looking past the guy in front of you. That's one reason at Martinsville or New Hampshire or places like that, you count on those countdown numbers on the wall to get you in the corners so you know where your lift points are, and everybody has basically the same lift points except in qualifying. I think to add stuff like that is really just something else in the car that can blow up or short out or whatever that we'd have to fix. I think it's best to leave that to road cars."