Mark Martin Martinsville II interview

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Pfizer Taurus, held a question and answer session this morning in the Martinsville Speedway Press Box. MARK MARTIN --6-- Pfizer Taurus ARE YOU HAVING ANY FUN THIS YEAR? "That's quite a question. I just...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Pfizer Taurus, held a question and answer session this morning in the Martinsville Speedway Press Box.

MARK MARTIN --6-- Pfizer Taurus
ARE YOU HAVING ANY FUN THIS YEAR? "That's quite a question. I just read in Winston Cup Scene something about somebody referring to it not being fun anymore and I thought that was odd. That's something that can get you in trouble pretty fast -- saying that you're not having any fun. For me, winning is fun and the winning that I've been experiencing this year has been through my son and not through myself. Matt has won more races than I have this year, but I don't race for fun and I never have. Certainly, it lends itself to more fun when you sit on poles and win races and we have sat on a couple of poles. One of them was a surprise. At Richmond, I didn't expect to sit on the pole before we ran the lap, so, yeah, that's fun and exciting. Another thing you have to consider is expectations tend to take the fun away as well. Because I have been blessed with great sponsors through the years, a great owner, great people to work with on the race team, and been very fortunate over the years to have quite a bit of success, that places high expectations and you just can't always meet those expectations."

HAS THIS BEEN ONE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT YEARS IN RACING FOR YOU? "I don't know if it's been more difficult or not because I really have given 100 percent every year. The excitement, the thrill, the rewards have been fewer and further in between this year, but that's part of racing. Like I just said, I've been blessed with a lot of really great things. As a little kid from Arkansas, I've had more success than I could have ever dreamed in racing. I have a lot to be very thankful for. The best relationship with a sponsor of my career, a great owner and the best race team that I could ever ask for -- good people. So, the fact that we haven't had as much success on the race track this year than most of the other years is not a function of effort or anything else. It's just being a matter of the competition having a leg up on us this year. It's not because we're lacking anything. A lot of drivers would quickly trade places with me for my performance this year and, more than that, for the organization that I have behind me. The relationship that I have with Jack Roush and Jimmy Fennig and the people that we have, so there are a lot of positives here. If you're looking to write something negative, you can find those things. There are things out there that you can say and you can report that are not on the positive side, but it doesn't have anything to do with sponsor, team, relationships, commitment or anything like that. It's just a matter of we've had a year where we weren't as competitive on the race track as we've been in the past. I understand that, but I haven't been able to give the media the answers to why, but, you know what, I wouldn't have had to answer that if I knew why. You would have never asked because we would have fixed it quicker than you would have ever caught on that we weren't running good, so, that's been my contention all along. Hey, guys, I don't know why because we've got everything that we need here, but right now we're being outperformed on the race track by some other teams. That's how it goes in this sport. We have worked as hard as you can work and I guess right now, so maybe we can move past this, I'd like to tell you a little bit about what I think about commitment. I think that having a great sponsor and having a great team is secondary. I think that primarily the first ingredient to success is commitment. Whether you're an owner or a driver or a crew chief or a team or a sponsor. I want to try to paint a little bit of a picture here for you. You guys know that my son is racing. I love my son more than anything in the world, so I enjoy talking about him and I'm also incredibly proud. Now, we were at the race track a few months ago and, in between his heat race and the features, he got kicked in the eye. It was almost swelled shut. There was a slit there, just barely open, and he was almost in tears and everything. His mother and I tried to get him to go home, but he said that he wanted to race because he wanted to get the points.

"He drove the race car and then we took him home. Of course, he had a less result than his expectation, so it was a very tough night. Racing deals you all kinds of blows. You have to race when you're physically in pain, mentally in pain and emotionally in pain. The real winners race through all of that and it will also bring you the greatest high and the most joy of anything I've ever dealt with and I've had a lot of that too. But, beyond what he did that night, to my knowledge he is about the only kid that races on the weekend whose dad is not there. He does that by choice. That's his choice. That's not my choice and that's certainly not his mother's choice. That's his choice. That's commitment. That's a nine-year-olds commitment. If you ever thought what would that commitment be like at 42 years old, you need to take a look at me because that's a drop in the bucket. That's a nine-year-olds commitment. That hasn't had 34 years to develop. So, whether you've ever questioned whether I've driven the race car in major pain physically, emotionally or whatever, you need to think back about it a little bit. The thing I'm saying is that there have been some things written this year that have hurt my feelings. I'm telling you right now, do not question my commitment or my will because it's the same as it always has been and it will continue to be because that's me. I still can't give you an answer for why we haven't won seven races like we did in '98. I couldn't tell you then why we were running so good. What I said was, 'We've got a great race team and it seemed easy at that time.' Now, we're working and working hard and have a great race team. There are no defects. Jeff Burton is not leaving. Matt Kenseth is not leaving. A lot of things that have been said have been based on us not being able to give answers, but they're not always there. Had we all been winning races, we wouldn't be answering those kind of questions right now."

HOW DO YOU ATTACK WHATEVER THIS PROBLEM IS? "It's a lot of different things. I think we've made quite a bit of progress through the year. I believe that, for example, we make 50 more horsepower than we made in May. That's a lot and I believe that's made a difference. I believe the setups that we're running in our cars right now versus May are slightly more effective. Each individual team, however, the 99 has their little problem seemingly week-in and week-out with handling and then the 6 has a different problem week-in and week-out with handling. My car doesn't turn. I've complained about my car pushing for a year. For me, if they would give us the same kick out in the nose that Chevrolet has and Dodge has, it would be incredibly good for me. For Jeff Burton, I'm not sure because Jeff Burton doesn't have the same problem that I do. He has a slightly different problem week-in and week-out, but, for me, I like a real loose race car -- one that turns real well and, right now, we probably make less downforce in the front than any other car on the race track. That's not to say that the 88 and the 28 haven't figured out how to make their cars turn real well because they have, but we haven't and we've tried and tried and tried. What we do is we keep working -- just like we did before we ever got our first win. We work and we work and we work and that's what we still do. What I said before about the performance thing, we're working the same as we did before we ever won a race and before we ever made it to NASCAR. We have a very strong organization and we have some of the best people and the best drivers. With Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton, if I've ever questioned myself, I look at those guys and say, 'Well, gosh, they're having problems as well,' and it makes me confident that we as a group have some work to do and we'll keep working on that. Most likely, from my experience in racing, I'd have to say that there will be a day where we're doing this same kind of deal here and I'm just sitting here saying stuff like, 'I'm the luckiest guy in the world and I don't know why.' Then I'll just get on a roll and say Jimmy Fennig is the smartest guy in Winston Cup racing and thank God for Jack Roush because you've got to say something. You can't say, 'I don't know why we're running so good.' But when you run bad, you can either blame things or you can just say the truth and the truth is, I can't tell you. I can't tell you what the fix is gonna be because if we knew what the fix was, we certainly would have already fixed it.

"I do know that it's quite competitive right now, but I also know that we as a four-car group are capable of collectively having better results that what we're able to post right now or at least through the season. I've seen some very promising stuff the last few weeks, the last two races especially. I got in a wreck at Dover or you were gonna see some good stuff out of that run and, also, something went wrong at Bristol when the right-front tire blew out. We had an incredible car, probably the best car I've had all year at Bristol and didn't get a chance to show it there either. So, there are a lot of good indicators, but, certainly, we don't claim to be ready to go out and strike for a win week-in and week-out. We still have more work to do to get where we feel we can be contenders week-in and week-out."

DO YOU MISS THE BUSCH SERIES AT ALL? "No, I really don't miss running in the Busch Series at all. It was a very important part of my career, but I don't miss it. Believe it or not, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about Winston Cup racing. I lay in the bed for hours at night awake just thinking about my Winston Cup car and making changes to it and sort of running those changes across the race car. I spend a lot of time doing those things. I'm a big fan. I watch the Busch races on TV and I never sit there and ache wishing that I was out there. I have my eye on the target. The target is Winston Cup. That's where I'm at right now, that's what I'm doing. When I raced Busch, I had my eye on both targets and now I have my eye on one. My departure from Busch racing hasn't had anything to do with the performance in Winston Cup. As you see, Matt and Burton are running Busch and we're all sort of in the same category of performance this year. One of us will hit a pretty good setup about every race and have a chance to run top-five, but our cars just aren't as fast right now as they were last year or the year before."

IS IT A MATTER OF OVER REACHING OR NOT CHANGING ENOUGH AS FAR AS YOUR PROBLEMS? "I don't know. I feel like the garage has changed an enormous amount. I don't know if this is correct or not, but this is my opinion and my opinion is that Winston Cup racing has become incredibly technical. The cars have become incredibly technical and there has been an influx of technical people that the approach is slightly different now. I feel right now that the driver has less input on the performance of the car than it had five years ago, and I think that's a function of technology. Right now, we have a good technical group, but we're not getting the performance of putting that all together, which is basically the bottom line. We're not putting all of our resources together. Some people are doing a better job of that."

HAS IT BECOME TOO TECHNICAL? "I think that's open for debate. All I can give you is my opinion. I know that NASCAR has resisted technology through the years and tried to keep it in the hands of the driver and the crew chief. They've made it more people and not as much machine. That's been their formula. You're to the point now that you can't hold it out. You have race teams who, over the years, have just introduced more and more of that in there based off of their experiences in other forms of motorsports. You have teams in the Winston Cup garage who have affiliations with other forms of motorsports that are incredibly technical and are figuring out ways of implementing that into this and it can't be held out. I don't see how you change that completely, but, certainly, the complexion of racing has changed over the past five years -- partially due to that. Obviously, 10 years ago a race team's size might have been 15 people. Now a race team's size might be 100 people. This is different and that has done some very positive things. It's offered opportunities to so many young people that want to get into motorsports. Usually, they couldn't get a job because there was only 10 or 15 jobs on a team and they were all held down by experienced people and you couldn't get in. Now, the opportunity to be in motorsports is much greater, so you can look at all these different things with a positive look or a negative look. It's changed and it will never be the way it was and you can't ever make it the way it was 10 or 20 years ago. It's only gonna move towards the future. It also provides opportunities for more drivers than it did, not necessarily because there are more cars on the race track, but because of the breakthrough that Jeff Gordon was partially responsible for. These race teams and sponsors are looking for the next new guy.

"In 1982, when I came down here, there were seven good teams and sponsors. The rest of them weren't hardly any good and there were probably 10 great race car drivers, so you weren't gonna get a job. It didn't matter how good you were if you were young because they were gonna go with Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons -- those guys. Things are different than they were in '82 -- for drivers as well as crew members."

WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT TECHNOLOGY, ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY FROM THE STANDPOINT OF MEASURING THE CAR AND IN PREPARATION VERSUS TECHNOLOGY IMPLEMENTED ON THE ACTUAL RACE CAR ITSELF? "I think one of the things I'm talking about is there was very little data acquisition, wind tunnel numbers, race track simulations, computer simulation, all this stuff that is basically done by machines or computers that I don't understand. I'm not a computer guy. We started out in the early nineties with fairly crude date acquisition and we were acquiring data that we didn't know what it was and didn't know how we could use that information to help ourselves competitively. Over time, that's gotten more sophisticated and grown all throughout. That's just like engines. In 1982, 600 horsepower was great. We've got the same engine today making 800 horsepower. It's the same part. The bodies on these race cars. Just a few years ago, we were making 300 pounds of downforce total and now we make 1300 or 1400. Technology did that. Manufacturers made better shapes to work with and then we figured out how to squeeze more out of them from time spent in wind tunnels and all this stuff. People who weren't technically with that while the drivers and the crew chiefs were at the race track, tried to sort out springs and shocks and tried to figure out what gear to run and how to do this and how to do that. We're busy all the time. You have to have other people to go and work these areas. We're just squeezing so much more out of the same parts and pieces as we were years ago and that's why it requires more people. This thing has grown a lot."

AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK YOUR PRIORITY WILL SWING FROM YOUR CAREER TO MATT'S? "First of all, that brings me back to the commitment thing. He chooses to go racing on the weekends without his dad. His mother doesn't choose that for sure, but that's up to him. Those same weekend's he's racing, I'm sitting alone in my motorhome with a cell phone in hand. Is that the most ideal situation that I could ever dream up? Probably not, but worse than that would be if I didn't have a cell phone. So, things could be better or they could be worse. He is nine and he is getting experience. I have a longer term commitment than most people in the Winston Cup garage have right now, which has been confused, I think, somewhat, by some of the media. But I have a long-term commitment and I think you understand what my definition of commitment is. My commitment is that I believe when you have a broken bone, when you're sick as a dog or you have a death in the family, you still test, you still practice, you qualify and then you race. Now, that being said, I have a long-term commitment and the priority will never shift until that commitment goes away. I can't tell you when that day is, but I can tell you that it won't come for quite some time because most people in the garage don't have a commitment by an owner, by a team and by a sponsor that reaches as far as mine does. I do have the good fortune of racing Wednesday nights with my son this year, which I never had before, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to make three or four of his races this year in conjunction with my Winston Cup races, which has been fantastic. I was able to do the Eastern Grands based around New Hampshire and Pocono. I was fortunate enough to go racing with Matt on the New Hampshire cancellation weekend. I'm gonna get to go to a race of his next Friday night after qualifying at Talladega and some of those things. So, there again, you can look at from the good side or the bad side. From the bad side, I'm missing more of his races probably than I'm making, but the good side is I'm getting to make some of them. That's something I didn't get to do the first two years he raced. He is still very young and school really, for him, takes priority over racing. That can get to be a thorn in the side. As you can see with Kyle Busch. He's 16 years old and he's good enough to be racing full-time in the track series, but he's got to go to school too. It's pretty interesting. Not just my son, but there are so many young drivers that are gonna get into this thing at an earlier age than ever before with more raw talent and more experience than ever before and for me as a race fan, I think that's incredibly exciting. That's also been somewhat confused. My enthusiasm for the really young drivers -- the teenager -- coming along is exciting for me. Some of my peers would probably be much happier to hold those down and keep them away as long as they could, I'm not threatened by that because the young guys come along. Even though they may be young and brave, they still have to hit the wall enough to put it all together. That bravery will cost you. It makes you go faster, but it also makes you hit the concrete more. They still have to put the finishes together and that takes time. I'm a race fan, that's first and foremost. I love racing. I love winning as a competitor, but I also love to watch the racing. It's very exciting to me and the future is very exciting."

WHAT'S IT LIKE GIVING ADVICE TO YOUR SON VERSUS A YOUNGER WINSTON CUP COMPETITOR? "I've got a funny story to tell you. When I dispense information or wisdom to my son, I grab somebody and say, 'Hey, tell him not to do that anymore' or whatever it is because he doesn't want to hear it from me. So, usually, if I've got some information -- unless I'm mad -- I usually grab somebody I know he'll listen to and tell them to tell Matt this or that. He's got a double dose of stubbornness. He got it from his mom and his dad."

HOW MUCH LONGER IS YOUR COMMITMENT? "The contract is through the end of 2005. That being said, all that means is that it tells you what I'm gonna be doing for sure -- meaning a death in the family, broken bones, whatever it is -- you'll see me sitting up in that thing. That also means that probably in 2003, we'll start scrutinizing what 2006 and beyond looks like. We wouldn't wait until the middle of 2004 to do that. We'll start looking at what goes beyond that, but that is a longer commitment and contract than most of the garage has and that's a positive thing. That's something that Roush Racing and I both wanted to do, so we didn't have to worry about that or think about that. That part of it is put aside and now we can get down to the important stuff and that is, how are we gonna put ourselves in position to win races and possibly win that championship that we so much have fought for all these years."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY YOU DON'T LOVE TO RACE? "Yeah, because when I make that statement it's very easy for you guys to not understand really what that is, and that's a mistake that I've made some this year. I've made a number of statements that didn't have enough prior to said and afterwards said for you to get the true meaning. The true meaning is that when I say I don't love to drive a race car, that means that if no one was here and you had a race car sitting on pit road and there wasn't a race coming up that I was testing for or trying to prepare for, I wouldn't drive the car. I don't like to make laps. I like to win. I like to sit on the pole. If we're preparing for a competition, yeah, but if you just set it out there and say, 'Mark, you can go out and make a bunch of laps.' Well, I don't care about that because driving a car fast is really not where the thrill is for me. Beathing the competition is where the thrill is and that pride you get. It's an ego stroke -- to make no mistake. The guys that say it isn't aren't being honest. I would have played in the NBA had I been good at it, but I wasn't good enough at it. When I drove a race car, I was pretty darn good from the start and I said, 'Well, that's what I want to do because I have a chance to win doing that. I don't look too good out there on a basketball court a foot shorter than all my buddies.' I guess that's kind of what I mean by that. Compared to making laps, compared to winning, there is no comparison. So, if you take this highest emotion and this highest high you can feel and dream of in life and place that along with sitting on a pole or winning a race, and you compare that to making laps, then the making laps just doesn't register. Had I never won a race or never won a pole or anything, making laps might be fun to me. But, comparatively speaking, it's not. I'm probably not being fair when I say all that, but I'm trying to be a little bit more explicit with it, so you can understand a little bit better."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MATT'S RACING? "We've been racing quarter-midgets this year for the first year competitively. Before that, he was racing about once a month and this year he's been racing regularly. He's been racing in two different divisions. One is a 120cc and one of them is a 160cc. Both of the age groups are nine to 16. He's nine, so he's one of the younger ones in the class, but there are a number of other nine year olds that are really good as well. He's just getting ready to start next week racing Bandeleros because quarter-midget cars, you get 'em stuck to the race track so good that they can run wide open and not lift. You learn a lot about driving race cars, but you don't learn how much you need to let off. You don't learn the throttle part. In other words, if we only raced Daytona and Talladega, we wouldn't be very prepared to come to Martinsville because we wouldn't be used to knowing when to let off the gas to make the best lap. So, I want to get him doing both. We're gonna continue to quarter-midget race because it's fun and we just now got it figured out good enough to where we can win a race once in a while. We'll start racing regularly in the Bandelero series as well because those cars handle terribly and have lots of power. I drove 'em and after driving 'em I feel it's a very good tool to build and expand his skills because these drivers are gonna be ready. At age 16 or before, they're gonna be ready to come NASCAR Busch and Truck racing -- not just my son, but lots of these kids that are out there that I see racing now. That's exciting to me."

HOW IS YOUR HEALTH? "I'm feeling good. I had some problems. I had some surgery earlier this year to take a screw out of my knee that got put in in '99 after my accident at Daytona. My knee is a lot better. My back, I flaired it up at Talladega the first race and I've wrestled with that most of the summer. I just recently have gotten beyond that and I've learned some things through physical therapy that I've done this summer that I think are really gonna help me going down the road. Everything is good there and I feel good. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be grateful for and all that's left out there in front of me as far as the racing part is just a matter of getting out there and getting the work figured out so that we've got faster cars than most everybody else on the race track. If we do that, we'll be up front every week."

-Ford Racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Richard Petty , Benny Parsons , Bobby Allison , Jack Roush , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin