Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 00 Microsoft Small Business Specialist Toyota Camry, and Michael Waltrip Racing Vice President and General Manager Ty Norris participated in a media teleconference today (May 23) to discuss his upcoming May 30 -...
Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 00 Microsoft Small Business Specialist Toyota Camry, and Michael Waltrip Racing Vice President and General Manager Ty Norris participated in a media teleconference today (May 23) to discuss his upcoming May 30 - June 1, 2008 race weekend at Dover International Speedway.
Gary Camp, Dover International Speedway:
Thank you all for joining us. Michael has some news that he'd like to announce today. Michael do you want to just start things off by talking about that?
Michael McDowell, No. 00 Microsoft Small Business Specialist Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing:
Well, starting in Dover, we've partnered up with Microsoft Small Businesses, which is obviously a huge honor to be partnered up with Microsoft and it's going to be our first race where we have them on. We've had them on as an associate the past few races so we're real excited about that going into Dover. It's going to be my first time there so I've talked to other drivers and they tell me how great it is and how cool it is dropping into Turn 1 where the bowl is. So I can't wait to take the Microsoft car there.
Q: Other than talking to the other drivers, is there anything else you've been doing to prepare, a simulator or anything, to get ready for Dover?
McDowell: I do. I try to do as much simulation as I can. It's one of those things that's a tool that I think has really helped me in the past. But I spend a lot of time around that. This week I've been testing a bunch, but I tried to squeeze in as much simulation as I could. I can't wait to get out there though and get it going.
Q: What do you think about concrete tracks? Like them? Dislike them?
McDowell: No, I like them. There's a lot of reasons why I like them. Usually they have a lot of grip and usually they're not sensitive to temperature as much as asphalt which usually helps you stay pretty consistent and helps you work on your car. It helps you from a driver's standpoint because it helps you constantly improve on everything and you're not having to change as much. So I like concrete tracks. I've some good success on them before and I think that's going to be a lot of fun for us.
Q: Talk a little about your season to date so far?
McDowell: Well, it's tough and we knew it was going to be tough coming into it being a rookie in the Sprint cup series, not having a lot of experience and not running a lot of Nationwide races or truck races, but I think it's been going well. We're in the top-35 in points which is a big deal for us and we're staying there. We keep improving every week and that's what's important. Michael Waltrip Racing is getting better and better, and during that process I'm getting better too. By no means have we hit our plateau and we're just going to keep getting better and better every weekend. As my confidence builds and the teams confidence builds I think we're going to be challenging for wins in the near future.
Ty Norris, Vice President and General Manager, Michael Waltrip Racing:
Hey Gary this is Ty. Let me jump in here on that subject if you don't mind. When we recognized Michael last year in the ARCA series, we had a young man who was driving for us for a team Eddie Sharp Racing. We had not met Michael at the time, we were watching his teammate. His teammate was doing very well but at the same time, McDowell was winning poles, races, and leading all the laps. We thought he was a 35-year-old veteran so when we met him and he just turned 22, and it was his first year in stock cars, so that's what attracted us to him. We wanted him in our camp, and we wanted him right away. We wanted to have him and get him signed up with our company long term. The issue that came up was typically that you go from ARCA to truck racing or Nationwide racing. You might dabble a little in Sprint or Nextel cup. The problem we had was that the only seat we had available was a Sprint Cup car so it was a bit unfair to take Michael from all the success that he'd had and he has never been in a series where he hasn't dominated in. To take him straight from ARCA to a Sprint Cup car without the ability to run any Nationwide or truck races. What people have to remember is that we made the giant leap from ARCA to Sprint Cup without any Nationwide races or truck races. Michael, how many tracks have you been to that you've actually seen before?
McDowell: Two. Martinsville and Texas.
Norris: He's actually seen those places. Not only have we taken him into a company that is in its only its second year, we're taking him to tracks he's never even seen before except for on a simulator. And expecting him to outrun guys that have been in the series a long time and have a lot of experience. If you look at all the factors, I think he's been one of the stories of the year and runs like he can run.
Q: Well Ty, while we have you, you're born in South Carolina, but spent a lot of time in Smyrna, Delaware and went to Delaware State right across the street here, worked at the News Journal. Talk a little bit about your fond memories here at the Speedway.
Norris: Well my memory is of asphalt and no access with no walkover bridge. My first memory was in 1978, we moved to Dover, Delaware and my dad got a job transfer from South Carolina. It happened at the end of May, and we had a hotel room and we had been staying in a hotel for about 2 weeks as he was trying to find a place to live. We got kicked out of the hotel because the races were coming to town. My family had followed racing since I was born, as far as my Dad used to do some dirt track stuff, but we got kicked out of the hotel, so I hated racing. We were on the street and fortunately we found a little apartment to live in for awhile but they kicked us out of the hotel. But that incident almost made my Dad say 'Forget Dover, Delaware, I'm going back to South Carolina' where my family is from. It was sort of a sour taste at first. But because we had grown up around racing, when I first started working for the News Journal I was working for the Dover bureau, I was working for gentlemen named Gene Bryson and Jack Ireland. I went to work for those guys, I was 19 years old, a sophomore at Del. State and they asked if anyone knew anything about NASCAR. I raised my hand and they let me be the infield reporter for the race. I was like 'I'm 19 and this is cool.' Well, I didn't realize that when they put you in the infield, you are in the infield until the 500 miles are over. I remember sitting there for about 7 hours with no access to get out, no concessions in the infield at the time. We were stuck. But I had the time of my life so I love going to Dover now. The first time I went there as team manager was 1995 with Kyle Petty and we won the race. Then I went back as the GM of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and we won races with Dale Jr. and it seemed like oddly enough last year Michael Waltrip after the Daytona 500 was Dover and it seemed like our teams had always run well there and it's nice to go home and see my friends, sister, nephew and have a little bit of success to go with it.
Q: Excellent. Most importantly, did you catch the Delaware State versus Delaware football game?
Norris: I did not. I saw the final score. My friends who were coaching a long time ago, Purzycki and Coach Collick, I think they could have taken on Delaware at the time but I don't know. From what I can see from the score, it was a pretty lopsided game.
Q: I'll turn it over to the media then and answer their questions. If you could please state your name and affiliation.
Andy Harris (WDSD-FM): Michael, how would you characterize the difference between ARCA cars and the COT? An amazing learning curve or what?
McDowell: It absolutely is. The difference between the cars is that the ARCA car is exactly like the Nextel cup car previous to the COT, other than the tires and the rear spoiler. The transition this year with the tracks, the cars, the schedule, you know just how much more difficult the cup series is and also learning the new car. The COT has a lot of characteristics that are a little bit different. It's got a lot less down force. It's one of those things where it takes a lot of confidence to drive one of these cars. And that's what I'm ramping up, every week we get better and better and the confidence is growing. I think the new car is great. Obviously in Texas we had a big wreck and were able to walk away from that so that's amazing. So the safety features on the car are really great. That's a big plus to it too. As our team gets more acclimated to the car and I do as well I think everything is going to come together quite nicely.
Dwight Drum (Racetake.com): Is every race a roller coaster ride with emotions and sensations or is it getting routine for you after the variety of experience you've had?
McDowell: Well you know it's very busy so you do get into a routine, but it is very difficult. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I try and get better every weekend and sometimes we can really well and other weekends we struggle. That can either be me getting used to the car or making mistakes or the car not being quite what we need. It's definitely very busy so you have to find a routine. The great thing I think is the running every week which really helps me because you're not finding that period when you're sitting around pondering what's going to happen next. You're pretty much going to come home Sunday night or Monday. I do a lot of testing for Michael Waltrip Racing so Tuesday or Wednesday I'm typically testing somewhere in Kentucky or wherever it might be. Then on Thursday I'm back at the racetrack. I stay pretty busy. I stay in the car a lot which helps a lot with my routine. The biggest thing is trying to keep my composure with the ups and the downs and I know that there are going to be a lot of ups and downs.
Q: Do you feel the ability to adjust and adapt that every driver has to have? Do you think that's a gut skill that you have?
McDowell: Well definitely. I think that these guys are great in the cup series. They're all great. And it's one of those things that when you're a fan and you're watching it and you see a guy run a 40 and they go 'man I know I can do better than that.' And you realize that the guy running last is probably capable in winning in any other series. It's just amazing how great the quality is in the series and how good the drivers are. There are a few drivers that can jump from road racing to sports cars, to indy cars to be able to do all those transitions that I think is a unique skill. It's really cool like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. There are a handful of other guys who can do it but this is the best series in the world with the best drivers and just to be a part of it is a pretty big honor for me.
Art Elsner (WXCY-FM): What goals have you set for yourself this year?
McDowell: Well there's a lot of goals. The No. 1 goal is to gain experience and get better every weekend and not hit that kind of plateau. Right now we've been doing that. No. 2 goal is to finish as many laps as we can. I think we can contend for rookie of the year. I know we're a little behind because we didn't do that first five races. But I really do think that by the end of the year when we hit our stride and I get more comfortable and our cars are getting better, everything is just gelling. I really think we can challenge for rookie of the year and I think that would just be awesome.
Q: What finish are you looking for this week?
McDowell: Well it's tough. I don't really set a number you know. The biggest thing for me when I go out there, yesterday we had a tough qualifying, but just rock hard the whole time and get everything I can out of the car and try to stay on the lead lap. Usually if you do that you're going to ride in the top-20, top-25. For us realistically, anywhere between 15 and 25 is about where we're at. I think we keep improving on that we'll be able to run in the top 15.
Q: Ty, it's Gary from Dover again. Maybe talk a little big about the progression of Michael Waltrip Racing. How you guys have progressed from when you opened the doors the first time.
Norris: Well we feel like the little fillie when you come out and you have those shaky legs for a long time and that's where we were. Our first 12 months in existence were a historic year. It was a storybook year, but unfortunately it was a horror and not a good one. We really got behind and couldn't get back up but we knew a little going into the season that we were behind. Our whole being was to keep our hands down and stay positive and remember that we did join this for 100-yard dash. We're in it for the marathon. If we were able to survive and learn from all the things that happened when we first got going so we set a goal. And it was not an extraordinary goal for a company that's been together for 20 years but for a company that has been together for 12 months, it was fair to have all three of our cars in the top 35 in points and locked in. That meant that all three of our cars had to race our way in to a locked in position. We were able to do that so we accomplished goal No. 1. Our next goal is to Michael McDowell running for Rookie of the Year and to get one of our other two teams to be top-20 in points. I know it's a lofty goal but we have improved in dog years. We didn't have time to do it from an infant to an adolescent. We had time to do a chunk at a time and I think the results on the track. People can go, 'You still have the Hendricks, Gibbs, and Rousch organization still winning races' and that's ok. But when we're 20 years old, people are going to say the Waltrip organization has been around for 20 years and they are winning a lot of races and looking for championships. Our goal is no different. We've improved by enormous percentages that some people from the grandstands can't see because they weren't here when we started. They weren't here when we had to go to Daytona in 2007. They weren't here when we went to Dover in 2007 compared to where we are today. We go with a lot more experience and intelligent people on the engineering side and certainly with a lot higher expectations than when we went last year.
Q: Ty, you've mentioned the same qualities in Michael. Do you feel all champions have the same qualities and abilities and do you see some of them in Michael?
Norris: Absolutely. I been fortunate through my career to be exposed to people you've never heard of until years later. Guys like Dale Jr. when he was 13 when he was lying on the coach and his Dad was throwing him out of the room to the first time he got in the car. To Ryan Newman when he first came in to our office when he was running USAC and no one had ever heard of him. To Kyle Busch when we first met him when he was 16 or 17 years old. When McDowell walked in our office last summer and he was working on his ARCA car actually, there's so much confidence. There's a history of success and the history is basically everything you've ever done you've been successful in and there hasn't been a struggle. It hasn't been a three-to-four-year process to get up and running. Everything he was in he won and not only won but in most cases dominated. So few people can walk in with that kind of resume and that kind of confidence. Michael will tell you, he told me last summer I'd like to get into one of these races because I know I can make the races and finish in the top-15 or 20. I kind of laughed and said I like that you have that kind of confidence but this is pretty tough. But the cool thing about it was that he had that confidence. You can see it about him when he gets behind the wheel, you're ok. And that's what we've tried to do with Michael. Now, it's a lot like the McDonald's all-star basketball players. They've always been the best in their age and teams. They'll go to college and probably be the best players on that team. You go to the NBA, they're the 8th , 9th, or all they'll be is a role player where they'll just rebound. What I try to tell Michael is that you're at the highest level with nothing to prove. You're not expected to win the pole and finish in the top-5 and compete for the win every week. Some day you will how about give yourself a little bit of a break. You've never seen these race tracks. You've never seen these cars. Our company is certainly gaining on it but we're not blazing the trail we need to be lazing. But he's never seen these race tracks but he still has the confidence. When you get to this level, there is a reason why he got this opportunity. He deserves it and I'd like to see some more of that confidence that we saw almost a year ago. Not get too beat up by the level of the competition.
Q: Ty, when you compare this year to last year, is it relief? Is it happy with the accomplishments? How does it feel?
Norris: There are some certainly some satisfaction in the progression. But there is more pressure as we move forward because of the financial pressure behind what it takes to run these teams.The never ending search for sponsorships dollars. As we continue to make our on track product better, we still have to make our progression known because so many people remember how we came out of the gate because we've done a nice job of telling our story of who we are today. But I don't know at any point anyone has stopped and said how great we are. I think what we've done is sat back and said, 'Now we are where we should have been 6 or 7 months ago.' We're starting to catch up but now we're looking behind us and asking ourselves how can we get into the top-35. We've got to start looking forward and asking ourselves how we become a top-20 team? If you don't look forward you'll never get there. So the feeling of satisfaction, maybe after we went to Martinsville, all three of our cars we locked in, it was an incredible difference. Incredible feelings knowing that when you walk in there, you're past the enormous pressure you face on Friday. However, that quickly goes away, now as you start looking forward to move into the top-20 all you do is turn the wick up on the work hours again.
Q: How the economy has affected racing teams in general and especially yours?
Norris: I think I'd be naïve to think it hasn't affected us in some way shape or form. Dominos last year on some of their core products went up so high, that Dominos saw a decrease in their sales about four or five straight quarters, which is something they haven't seen in years. It made them scale back in their marketing dollars so that effected us. The price of petroleum, oil, and gasoline. You have to remember we move about 75 people a week and just in one line item, not budgeted, our fuel costs have increased $400,000 this year. When you start talking a $400,000 unexpected increase in expense. And you have a decrease in revenue because some of the sponsors were not able to maintain the marketing dollars they spend, the gap starts to widen in the wrong direction. As far as being able to be in front of new sponsors and new opportunities to go forward, a lot of people are waiting to see what happens in the upcoming election. There are probably six or seven teams that are all searching and talking to the same companies. So it's not just the economy but it also rests on the election that I think has made it a very difficult time to be in the marketplace.
Q: How do you compensate?
Norris: Run good. And we joke about it too, but you say what kind of presentation can we put together and what kind of marketing or promotional proposal can we put together? We can put the executive and qualify it but we need to run better. Ultimately we have to get to where our performance on the track is respectable and its definitely turning in that direction so that's made us happy. We sat on the outside pole at the Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip and I think when we go who may forget, and they'll be reminded how good Michael McDowell is in a road course park. I think we'll really open some eyes. This is a little bit bold but my gut feeling says that Michael Waltrip Racing can win two races before Daytona. I think we can go to Sonoma and run well enough. I know Michael can take a good racecar and running up front. And I think we'll go to Daytona and have a shot at winning that race as we did before. That would just be incredible game changes for us. The economy might loosen up if we win a couple races.
Camp: Any other questions for Ty or Michael? Alright, well thank you all for joining us on this call and we'll see you all soon in Dover.
-credit: dover motorsports