NEW HAMPSHIRE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY September 17, 2005 STEVE LETARTE, NEWLY-APPOINTED CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET TALKS WITH MEDIA BEFORE QUALIFYING SESSION: "This feels great. This is a great opportunity. Anybody would love to have...
NEW HAMPSHIRE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
September 17, 2005
STEVE LETARTE, NEWLY-APPOINTED CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET TALKS WITH MEDIA BEFORE QUALIFYING SESSION:
"This feels great. This is a great opportunity. Anybody would love to have the opportunity. I'm just lucky enough to have it."
ARE YOU NERVOUS?
"I don't think I'm nervous about being a crew chief. I'm more nervous about talking to you all (media) I think. I haven't dealt with the media much. This is new."
WAS THIS EXPECTED OR PLANNED? HOW LONG HAVE YOU KNOWN ABOUT IT?
"I wouldn't say it was planned or expected. Mr. Hendrick is really all about plans. We knew about Robbie (Loomis) with his family. Robbie is a great guy. He knew it was going to be a one or two or three year thing. He wasn't going to crew chief forever. Mr. Hendrick is real organized and likes to have plans and back-up plans. We have always discussed who would be the next guy in charge and kind of groom him. Instead of hiring from the outside at our company, we really like to promote from within. That's what we've been working on for a long time."
WHAT'S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE ROBBIE LOOMIS HAS GIVEN YOU?
"Oh, this is really long. He has really helped me grow into this position and grow as a person in general. I don't know if there is one specific thing that's really helped."
WITH 10 RACES TO GO, WHAT HAS THIS WEEKEND BEEN LIKE IN PREPARATION?
"We've run really good here at Loudon before. Here and Talladega and Martinsville, we know we have really good set-ups. We're going to work on those. I'm going to learn my role. We're really going to focus on our 1.5-mile and two-mile programs. We have five tracks coming up. We're just going to attack that and just maybe get a few answers on next year and what direction we'll go to be ready to run for a championship in 2006."
ON FINDING THE RIGHT COMFORT IN THE CARS FOR JEFF GORDON:
"I don't really have a good answer for that. We're going to focus on our 1.5-mile and two-mile programs and just take it one day at a time and try to find it. When we find it, I know we'll be back where we need to be."
HOW MUCH PRESSURE COMES WITH THIS POSITION?
"I don't think it's any different than the pressure for any crew chief in here. It's what you put on yourself. It would be no different if I was here or crew chiefing Saturday night somewhere. It's the type of people. You put the pressure on yourself to perform at any level."
HOW MUCH COMFORT IS THERE IN KNOWING THAT JEFF GORDON IS THE GUY BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THE RACE CAR?
"Oh that's the most comforting think in the world. He's the best I've ever seen. You know with Jeff Gordon what you need to fix. You don't know how to fix it -- that's what we're all going to work for -- but when you do fix it, it'll be a great thing."
HOW WILL YOUR JOB CHANGE DURING THE RACE?
"It's going to change a lot. Crew chiefing is one of those things. You can prepare all you want and read all the races and look at all the videos. Robbie (Loomis) has gone out of his way to teach me as much as I can possibly learn. But if you're the guys and you have a five second decision to make, you just kind of do it on your own. I'll make mistakes and we'll learn from those mistakes. We'll make good calls and bad calls. We've been given the opportunity with the point system the way it is to have 10 good weeks here to learn."
HAS HAVING ROBBIE LOOMIS AROUND MADE IT A COMFORTABLE TRANSISTION?
"I think (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) is going to us him on the No. 48 and it's really going to help him. There are just so many good people at Hendrick and on the crew to help. There is really enough support and it is such a large company that it's going to be good either way."
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO THIS JOB?
"I don't really know, I guess, until I do it. Every guy in here does something a little different way. I'm just going to be me. I've learned from a bunch of different crew chiefs, but I'm just going to be me."
IS YOUR DAD, DON LETARTE, STILL A RACE CAR BUILDER?
"Yes. He works for Chip Ganassi."
HOW DID YOU GO FROM SWEEPING FLOORS AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TO THIS POSITION AS CREW CHIEF?
"I think it's no different from anybody who moves up in any corporation. Every young guy that we ever hire, I always go out of my way to tell them that the beauty of Hendrick Motorsports is that you can be anything you want to be. If you work hard enough -- it may not happen as fast as you want, but you can do whatever you want. That's the beauty of working at a company like that."
IN JANUARY, PETE RONDEAU ALSO SAID THERE WAS NO PRESSURE BEING A CREW CHIEF AND HE FOUND OUT OTHERWISE:
"I would be no different if I worked for any team. I report to the driver and the car owner and the sponsors and the 500 employees at Hendrick. If I feel I'm doing a good job, then that's my job and those are the ones I'm going to be concerned about."
SO YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE WORRIED ABOUT THE FANS OR MEDIA PRESSURE?
"I'm just trying to go about business as usual -- especially this next 10 weeks -- and learn it and accept it. That's one thing Robbie (Loomis) was really good at and that's one of the biggest things he's taught me in public forum how to be comfortable."
WHAT CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH JEFF GORDON ABOUT THIS WEEKEND AND BEYOND?
"We've talked about it. I don't really want to get into specifics. We have a great relationship. We've always had. It's just going to grow from a different position. But it's just something we're going to have to work on together."
WHAT'S YOUR VIEW ON WHY JEFF GORDON COULDN'T GET THE CARS TO DRIVE THE WAY HE WANTED?
"I don't really have an opinion on that right now. I'm just going to take the next 10 races and really try to work on them. That's our goal. We're going to sit down in meetings during the next couple of weeks and get everybody's opinion in the company and then address it."
WITH 10 RACES TO GO, WILL THIS BE A GOOD TIME TO EVALUATE THINGS AND HIT THE GROUND RUNNING NEXT YEAR?
"I don't know if it's good. I would much rather be in the Chase. But since we're not in the Chase, that's something we don't control as far as how the points are structured. It is what it is. We're not going to look back. We're just going to use the next 10 races to really try to build."
HOW WAS PRACTICE?
"We had a good practice. I think it's pretty good. We always have a good history here at Loudon. I think we'll be decent. We'll just try to adjust on it during the race and see how it ends up."
HOW MUCH DID RAY EVERNHAM INFLUENCE YOU AS YOU WERE MOVING UP THE LADDER?
"I've gotten to work with some really talented people like Ray (Evernham) and Robbie (Loomis) and Brian (Whitesell) and Chad Knaus and even Alan (Gustafson) and Lance (McGrew) and the short time they've been right next door to us. I'm hoping that what people will see is that I'm going to be me. I've learned from all of them. And I think the important thing is that I'm still going to be me. I don't really have a direction or a specific thing that's different. That'll grow as my job grows. But overall, they've all taught me something different and all in a different way. I'm going to use all that to kind of be me."
HOW MANY OF JEFF GORDON'S WINS WERE YOU AROUND FOR?
"Oh, I don't know. A lot. Since '95 or '96 -- a lot of them."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
"I was a parts assistant, part-time, when I was in high school."
DO YOU HAVE FRIENDS AND FAMILY HERE IN THE NEW ENGLAND AREA?
"I have a little bit of family here but I moved real young and my parents moved with me. So I have a few family here but not a lot."
HOW IS THE MORALE OF YOUR TEAM AND WHAT HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT WITH YOUR TEAM?
"I couldn't ask for better support. We made the announcement Wednesday and I had a quick meeting with the road crew before the truck left and that's the only meeting we've been in. These guys have stepped up. Everybody has done a spectacular job and it's made my job that much easier."
WHAT ROLE DID YOU PLAY ON THE PIT BOX?
"Robbie has always been open to me. Any adjustment that you would expect to be discussed as the race goes on is always an open forum. He always included me in that and we all had our opinions about that. Really, the only thing that Robbie didn't include me on was the stuff he couldn't. When you make some last minute decisions, that's what a crew chief is made to do. That's going to be the biggest change. I'll have Ken Howes probably helping me on Sunday to make sure I see the big picture of the race and I think we'll be fine.
"The beauty of it is that my father is in racing and that's all I've ever done. If your father is a golfer, when you go on the golf course you feel comfortable. I've been around racing since I was a little kid. I'm probably much more uncomfortable talking with you all (media) than I will be standing up there. That'll be the most comfortable part, I think."
WHAT ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES COME WITH THE JOB OF CREW CHIEF?
"The list is growing every day, I think. It's just like any other position I've every gained. What you think that position is responsible for, is about half of what it really is responsible for. Everyone around me has stepped up to help me every day. That's the beauty of this 10-race deal. Every day and every week, I'll probably get a little more responsibility within the company."