Michigan II: Michael Waltrip - Dodge teleconference

MICHAEL WALTRIP / DOMINO'S PIZZA AUGUST 15, 2006 -- TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT NOTE: Michael Waltrip will pilot the No. 55 Domino's Pizza car in this weekend's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. The race marks the...


NOTE: Michael Waltrip will pilot the No. 55 Domino's Pizza car in this weekend's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. The race marks the first time that Domino's Pizza will have competed as a primary team sponsor in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Waltrip will also act as at-track spokesperson for Domino's as it announces a new dessert item -- Brownie Squares -- to its menu. Domino's will give out approximately 60,000 brownie bites to NASCAR teams and race fans attending this weekend's race activities. Available nationwide beginning August 21, Domino's customers who order a large pizza at regular menu price will receive an order of Domino's new oven baked Brownie Squares absolutely free.

MICHAEL WALTRIP (Driver, No. 55 Domino's Pizza Dodge Charger)

On racing at Michigan in the No. 55 Domino's Pizza car: "Michigan is a great racetrack. Fans from all over show up at Michigan. We see a tremendous amount of Canadians that make the trek down to MIS for the race. There will be over 100,000 people there. For the first time, we're thrilled to have Domino's Pizza as a primary sponsor of our Cup car. They'll be sponsoring the No. 55 Domino's Pizza car this weekend. It's a celebration of the launch of a new Domino's product -- they're going to serve up Brownie Squares. So, our race car sort of kicks off that product, and we're going to host the world's largest brownie bake at MIS. So, if you like brownies, and you're at MIS, you're going to love us. We're going to deliver approximately 60,000 warm brownie squares!"

How many do you think you'll put down, yourself? "Man, I'm kind of trying to cut back-- But, I've tasted the product, and it's wonderful. You could probably eat 10 or 12 and not really hurt yourself too bad."

On your history with Domino's: "They've done such a great job marketing their wonderful products through NASCAR racing. I've been fortunate enough over the years to be able to have sponsors that have gotten it. You know? They not only sponsor the car, but they make commercials, and they do hospitality events and promotions around the event like this weekend at Michigan. That's sort of what I'm all about. That's what my team, as we develop and race forward in 2007 and beyond, is going to be all about. So, to be able to partner with a company like Domino's, it's just perfect for me. Doing the commercials with my girls was fun. We're certainly looking forward to seeing what's next. We've got a big year headed, coming to the track in 2007 with our Toyota announcement and Domino's being a part of that. Domino's is just a great company that has taken the lead and said, 'We want to be a part of NASCAR. We want to make sure fans know we appreciate NASCAR.' That's why I like that company so much, and I'm really proud to be associated with them."

Talk about your success at Michigan: "Winning the Busch race here a few years ago was something that was really special for us as a team. That was my Busch team -- Michael Waltrip Racing. To be able to have the success and win a race at that level was quite a step for our team, and it was an important day for us. On the Cup side, we hit on some setup stuff that just worked really well. I think it probably goes back all the way to about 2000, when I was driving for Jim Mattei's team. We did some stuff with the car that made it stick to the track better than anything I had felt before. Then, of course, being at (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) and bringing that knowledge over there and being able to compete with cars like they've provided me, it just made it a track that I liked a lot. It's big. It's wide. We've just had a good setup for there. I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I have a new crew chief with Tommy Baldwin on the box. Tommy has really taken over the Domino's car. Hopefully this weekend, his signature, or his presence, will be something that will help us to continue to perform at the level that we've been used to there in recent history."

On Toyota coming into the series: "I believe that when NASCAR agreed to let Toyota come race that they had done a tremendous amount of research and study on what kind of impact that would have to the series. They didn't just decide one day, they woke up and it was okay for Toyota to race. There was a lot of thought that went into that. My sponsors, as well, when NAPA and Domino's and Best Western-- the people that have signed up to be with us, racing forward, they were very studious about what kind of reaction they would receive when signing up to race with Toyota. And, it's all been very positive. It doesn't matter what you do, if it's something different, people aren't going to like it. Whether it's that they've changed the way you race for the championship from the old way to The Chase. Well, everybody thought it was the dumbest thing they had ever heard back when they announced that they were going to do it. 'You can't change it. It'll mess up racing. That's crazy.' But now, everybody loves it. Any time there's something different, you're going to have some push-back. But, I think the fact that Toyota builds most of the cars and trucks that they sell in this country, in this country, hundreds of thousands of Americans have great jobs and work for a company like Toyota. I think that we've sort of taken down all borders in this world. It's a global society now. You can go to Beijing and buy yourself a Whopper on the corner. So, I think everybody thinks it's okay if you drive a Toyota in America."

Do you think it was just natural that Toyota would join NASCAR because of it's popularity? "I think so. And, it will continue to develop and grow. I expect that probably before I retire, or at least shortly after that, there will be a woman that is competing at the Cup level and being successful at it. It goes back to-- I like to tell this story-- When I was a kid, at 12 years old, we used to get in our car and drive an hour down the road to a little park just off Interstate 65 so we could set and listen to Darrell race. That's how much you had to want to know what was going on in the world of NASCAR in 1975. And now, 30 years later, it's everywhere! You read about it in magazines. You can go on the Internet and learn about NASCAR. You can see it on network TV. So, that in itself will diversify our sport and it will grow our sport. Because children seven or eight years old now know as much about NASCAR as I did when I was 16 or 17 because of the information that's available. That's why the sport is growing, and that's why the sport will become more diverse is because the fact that information is readily available."

When will you announce your 2007 driver lineup? "Well, I have two out of three. That isn't bad! Dale Jarrett and I are ready to race. I'm looking forward to, on Monday following the Michigan race, I'm going to test my Toyota car-of-tomorrow. So, that's a pretty big step for Michael Waltrip Racing. We have gone down the list of drivers that were available or interested in doing things and we've talked to a lot of those folks -- most all of them. But, we just haven't gotten to the point where we're ready to say who that driver will be. It should come soon. Domino's is just as curious about who's going to drive our car. It's an interesting situation to have a great sponsor like Domino's and Burger King, and they trust that our organization will indeed be able to deliver to them a driver that can win races. We understand how big it is to get the guy and get on down the road, but we're just not done with it yet."

"We talked to Jeremy (Mayfield) at length and it just couldn't ever get to a point where we agreed on what we would look like going forward with our sponsorship and the situation that we were in. It just didn't work out. Without getting into any details, we just sort of got to a point where we said, 'Well, we're just not going to be able to work this out.' So, he's seeking other opportunities, and I certainly appreciate Jeremy's abilities. I'm glad that he was so interested in driving for us. But, we just couldn't come to a point where we were both comfortable with going forward."

What's the main challenge with finding a driver? Is it the sponsor matching up? Is it the availability? Fans don't always understand how hard it is to get a guy nailed down and get the right guy. "All of the above. All of those things make it a challenge. You have drivers that have contracts that they want to get out of. You have drivers that the sponsor doesn't think will fit their brands. There's a long list of items, or boxes that need to be checked off in order to make it happen. We're getting close. We feel really comfortable with where we're at. We think we can win with the couple of cats that we're talking to. We just look forward to getting it done, so we can put that behind us. Everything that I'm working on today has to do with competition. We've secured our sponsorship. We have our deal with Toyota. We understand where we're heading as a team. We're building our building. We're going forward on the business side. What my daily routine is about is, 'How are we going to make sure that we build fast cars?' You build fast cars by getting good people, and one person we need is someone to drive one of our cars. But, there are 100 other people that we have to have to fill the roles of what it's going to take to be successful."

More Cup drivers are beginning to own teams again. What has changed in the last few years to help make that happen? "If you think about the cats you said: Dale Jr., his dad owned his own stuff; my brother Darrell, he owned his own Busch cars and even had a Cup team for awhile. When I got to a point in my career where I had the ability to start a team, it was just a Busch team, but it was more or less something that I did because it's the way that my brother did it, and I just wanted to have my own cars. My plan for ownership strictly consisted of running a Busch car and that was it. I never had any desire to be an owner on the Cup side because of the tremendous amount of investment that it would take in order to be able to build a team that I could go to NAPA, UPS, Domino's, etc., and say, 'Okay, I can go race Rick Hendrick at Daytona.' I didn't have the type of money that it would have taken to do that. The sport has evolved. It's changed. I think a few years back when Roush and Yates partnered to do engines for all of the Ford teams, that sort of set the wheel in motion to where I could be successful as an owner. TRD, Toyota Racing Development, they're basically doing the same thing. They've made the investment in all of the equipment and all of the machines that the individual teams have that I wouldn't have been able to afford or invest in. Toyota has done that. So, I'm going to get my engines from them knowing that I'm going to have the best Toyota engines in the garage. Just like Ford spreads their engines around out of the Roush/Yates stables. That was the biggest thing, getting the opportunity to partner with someone who would provide me the type of equipment that I could indeed tell my sponsors, 'Yeah, we can race these guys with what we've got.'

Do you foresee more drivers taking an ownership role? "You never know. I do know the desires of some of the guys are in ownership and other ones will tell you, 'No way. I'm a driver. Somebody else has to pay the bills.' That just the way that they like going forward. It just comes down to an individual's wants, needs or desires. I've always loved it. People might say I'm a weirdo or whatever, but I love the fact that NASCAR is twofold. You have competition, which rules the world. You've got to have fast cars. You've got to be competitive. But, secondarily, it's entertainment too. That's why people turn on their TVs. That's why people buy tickets, to be entertained. So, I just really look forward to the opportunity of partnering with Toyota to ensure that our cars are competitive and they're fast and we can win. Then, secondarily, taking the entertainment aspect of racing to a higher level. I'm looking at this as a chance to win races and show the fans more than maybe they've seen before."

What would be your thoughts on doing something differently with The Chase, to enhance the sport even more for fans and sponsors? "First of all, I think I would be doing just what Brian's doing and floating the idea, just to get everybody talking and thinking. That's just smart business. They've come up with a plan that is out of the box, and it has been endorsed by all as something that has improved the entertainment value of a NASCAR race. We're talking for the first 26 races of the year about who's going to get in the Chase, and then we're going to talk for the next 10 races who's going to be our champion. That's just good for the sport. So, in saying all of that, I don't foresee them changing anything much with it. One thing I would like to see changed is, however many guys are in the Chase, whether it's 10 or 12 or whatever, I'd like to see those guys all racing each other for position or points. In other words, if a guy has a race and he finishes 43rd, well I don't want him to get 43rd place points. I'd like to see him get 10th place points. So, those guys race against each other in the final 10 races. There's a more than reasonable chance that a guy gets on a roll, doesn't have any problems, and he can just put that Chase away quickly. That's not what NASCAR wants. Obviously, they've been really fortunate. That's not what they've gotten. They've gotten wonderful battles right to the checkered flag down in Miami. But, I'd like to see that tweaked a little bit."

What are the hallmarks of picking a new driver for your team? "Well, there are a couple of schools of thought on that. Obviously, when we were talking to Jeremy it was because he had raced in The Chase, and he had won races, and it was someone that we felt like we could be successful with. We talked to Casey Mears early in the going because we knew that he was somebody that was looking around for a ride. Obviously, he's very marketable, and he's very competitive on the racetrack. We felt like he might be a guy that would work for us. There's all kinds of different aspects of a winning racecar driver. Whether it's a guy like Sterling Marlin, who's won the Daytona 500 and has been competitive his whole career, or if it's a guy like Brian Vickers who's haven't won but shows promise. So, it's pretty difficult to say what benchmarks you set in order to put a guy on your team. You just have to look at each guy, what his qualities are, how he can add to your organization. It was really important for us early on to get Dale Jarrett, because we felt like with bringing in a new car, bringing in a new team and a new manufacturer, we needed experience. We needed someone who knew these cars, who understood what it's taking today to win races to try and convey that to Toyota and our team as to what we need to do to win races. When we got him, we wanted him because of his experience and because we believe he's a winner and he will be a winner for our organization. We got me to drive because we had to. Because I own it, and I'm going to drive. I don't really know what all I bring to the party other than I make pretty good commercials and I won the Daytona 500 a couple of times. But, I'm going to be there driving. Now we're looking and thinking maybe it's a young cat that we need for our third team in order to spice it up a little bit. Obviously, age is not a factor. I think we've finally gotten past that as our sport has grown. It used to be the old guy versus the young guy. Now, Mark Martin is out there hauling the mail and Kyle Busch is too. So, age isn't a factor more or less. It's just, how can you perform in our car? Obviously, a lot of guys have contracts and are signed up. Would we like to have Jeff Gordon drive for us? Yeah, that'd be pretty cool. But, I'm pretty sure he's not going to. So, you have to look at what's available and make the best decision that you can."

It sounds like there's a lot of things on the checklist for a new driver, and you just have to weight all of those against each other-- "I think that's exactly right. If a guy gets an 'X' in one box, does that put him off the list? I don't think so. All of us have our shortcomings. Whether it's a fast racecar driver with a bad attitude or a racecar driver that hasn't proven that he's fast and want to do the job, who knows exactly how it will all play out when we get our guy. But, when we get our guy, I do want you to know that it's someone we've been looking at the whole time and we've been working with the whole time. It's not like we got to this point and said, 'Okay, we'll take this guy.' The guy that we're going to get will be somebody that we've been looking at from the beginning."

Is it fair to use the NCTS as a model for Toyota getting in to Nextel Cup, because Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge have a huge head start as far as Cup racing is concerned. "Yeah, but I think it's important to remember this as well. Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge, they're racing the Trucks and they're racing Busch, but they want to win Cup championships and they want to win the manufacturer's championship in Cup. Everyone says, 'Toyota has been so successful in the Truck Series, do you expect that to translate right into Cup?' In no stretch of the imagination do I expect that. I think you have to appreciate what you're up against, and you're up against people that have been doing this for a long, long time. But, what I know about Toyota is that they respect that as well. They appreciate the opportunity to come race, and they think that, given enough time they will be successful at it.

"Now, one thing that we have in our favor, and I'm thankful for this, NASCAR's box has gotten so tight, there's only so many things, so much you can do to one of these cars these days because of all the crazy templates. I watch these cars go through inspection, and I couldn't even build one that could pass inspection, let alone outperform someone else's. So, that's going to play into our favor. We're hiring a lot of smart people that are winning races in the garage right now and are joining our team, and we're building a really strong organization. The reason why we're able to do that -- I know you probably hear this out of everyone -- but the reason why we're able to do that is because we have four wonderful sponsors. We're going to have three Cup teams and one Busch team that's going to run for the championship, and we're going to have a truck team as well. So, when you have the type of resources that we've been able to amass because of the sponsorships that we have, then it's up to us just to do the job. You know, it's a little bit unfair to expect Cal Wells to be able to race Jack Roush. Jack's got a lot more stuff, a lot bigger piece of pie -- he's got the whole pie, and Cal just has a piece. It comes down to what type of infrastructure you can build for yourself before you ever go racing. I'm proud of what we've built, and now it's up to us to make sure, and when I say 'us' I mean me and Ty (Norris), mainly, make sure we provide each team, each car with the type of people -- and that's how you win in NASCAR, is people -- with the type of people that it takes to win. I'm really happy about where we're at, but I also understand that we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.

A lot of people talk about the great racing that the Truck Series has, yet we see so many teams that don't have sponsors -- why do you think that that is occurring? "Popularity, I guess. The Cup Series is just so much bigger than the Busch and the Truck that if people are going to invest dollars into NASCAR racing they certainly look to Cup first. If they can't be a primary sponsor on a car because their budget is limited, then they sometimes try to do personal services deals with the drivers and also maybe an associate sponsorship on a car.Teams now are splitting out sponsorships so many different ways on the Cup level, so that companies can afford to be a part of the Cup level. So, the popularity of the Cup series is certainly taking its toll on the Busch Series and the Truck series -- that's my opinion. We're really fortunate that we've been able to get Aaron's to sign up to race the Busch Series next year. We're still searching for sponsorship for our Truck, but we do know that we're going to run it. It's just tough. No matter what you're in, it's hard to accumulate the type of dollars that it takes to be successful. It's a challenge, for sure. That's why I think NASCAR addressed the limit of teams each owner could have, is because eventually two or three guys could own the whole field, and that's not healthy either. Toyota also deserves credit for their business plan and the way they have structured their support of teams so that new owners like me could indeed come in and be a part of the ownership side."

What are the greatest challenges that you face as a multi-car owner? "I think (the greatest challenge) is just what I don't know. We think we're doing everything that it takes to be successful. We think we're doing everything that it takes to be successful. Ty Norris helped Dale at DEI. He helped him build that place up. We have Larry Carter, who raced into the Chase for the Championship last year with Rusty Wallace, and he's one of our crew chiefs. We have tons of people like those two who have experience and knowledge about multi-car teams and winning at this level. But, there's still questions that I ask every day that I don't know the answer to, that they shed light on. But, maybe, we're not thinking about every detail. I guess that's my biggest fear, is just making sure that when we load up to go to Daytona that we have six cars on the tractor trailers for the Cup Series that can compete and try to race for a win. I imagine that you appreciate the fact that we have great sponsors that have been used to winning in everything they've done, whether it's worldwide delivery, or selling parts or pizzas, or whatever they're doing. They expect us to succeed, and we've told them that we will succeed. So, just making sure we do everything it takes in order to accomplish that is what sort of gets me a little bit freaked out at times, making sure that everything is done when we get ready to go to Daytona.

Do sponsors seem to have even closer relationships with their drivers nowadays, since they're so involved with the operation? "I think as much as anything I've just been really lucky to have wound up with the sponsors that I have. When NAPA decided that they wanted to go Cup racing with Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) and I, the first they did was made commercials. The first one we did was where I was lost and I didn't know what racetrack I was at. That certainly started all of this attention. Winning the Daytona 500 was a huge part of that because now all of a sudden I was on TV and making commercials, and by the way, I won that prestigious race a couple of times. Other people like Domino's were smart enough to get on the bandwagon and sort of took what NAPA did and ran with it. I so much love this sport. I love being a part of it on the driver side, and I can't wait for my opportunity to work on the ownership side. But, it comes down to two things: it's competition and entertainment. The sponsors that I've got, that I've had, and the ones I'm fortunate enough to be partnered with now, they get that. They understand that. I think God just blessed me, or put me in a place where people that were around me sort of saw things the same way I did.

"Don't forget to get your free Brownie Squares at Michigan. Domino's Delivers!"

-credit: dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Sterling Marlin , Casey Mears , Brian Vickers , Jack Roush , Tommy Baldwin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Michael Waltrip Racing , Toyota Racing