Michigan: Waltrip, Labbe inteview

This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Richard "Slugger" Labbe. The following are highlights of the Q&A's with the media as they discussed the...

This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Richard "Slugger" Labbe.

The following are highlights of the Q&A's with the media as they discussed the 2003 season and the upcoming Sears 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Waltrip qualified 2nd and finished 4th in the Sears 400 last year.

Q&A'S WITH MICHAEL WALTRIP:

DOES MIS SUIT YOUR STYLE?

"We won the Busch race there last August as well and sat on the outside pole for that race. Michigan is a place where I have an understanding of what you need to go fast. I'm looking forward to going there. We've had a couple of rough weeks. Dover and Pocono didn't go anything like we had imagined. So we're looking forward to a place where we've had success and getting back on track."

DO YOU SEE A RIVALRY DEVELOPING BETWEEN THE HENDRICK TEAM AND SOME OF THE OTHER TEAMS?

"Usually the media makes more out of rivalries or of people having a conflict among one another. It's something we have to deal with every week. I have 42 rivals on the race track and two of them are my teammates. You just have to go there to win. I don't even think about what Rick Hendrick's cars are doing or what Jack Roush's cars are doing. I just think about who is in front of me, and that I need to get around them and go. I'm sure that the teams are tired of hearing about DEI's dominance at Daytona and Talladega, but that's not really a rivalry. Competitive people want to show everybody that they can be successful at those places too."

WITH FATHER'S DAY APPROACHING, WHAT ARE YOUR FEELING ABOUT HAVING TO SPEND SO MUCH TIME AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY?

"Well, I'm just fortunate. I don't spend any time away from my family because they go everywhere. We have a motor home at every race track and we take the girls and my wife and we just load up. That's the best part about my job. Sometimes at home, the house is big and you've got a thousand things you need to be doing and you're running in 10 different directions. When we go to the races, we stay in the motor home in 500-600 square feet. You get a lot of time to interact with your kids and enjoy your family. So racing actually brings our family much closer together than probably most families."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO THE NON-MOTORSPORTS FAN WHAT IT MEANS WHEN DARRELL WALTRIP SAYS "BOOGITY, BOOGITY, BOOGITY" AT THE START OF THE RACECAST?

"My brother is a lot of fun and very energetic when he comments on the races. I don't really know where that came from. He just started saying it. That's basically how he opens the show. If you want to be entertained, you should watch the races on TV because my brother certainly has an opinion on most everything and pretty much enjoys any aspect of the race."

WHAT'S YOUR APPROACH TO A TOUGH ROAD COURSE LIKE INFINEON?

"I've always enjoyed going to California and racing. I've had a lot of solid and steady runs. We've been consistent. We haven't won and we haven't finished in the top five. But we've had a few top 10 finishes. I really expect to go to California with a chance to win the race. I really believe that we have the team and ability to win out there. I'm looking forward to it. Then we have a weekend off and we're going to go down to Daytona for the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Concert. I'm looking forward to refreshing a little bit and starting the second half of the year by defending our win of the race there (Daytona) last July."

WHAT SAFETY THINGS CAN BE DONE TO HELP THE DRIVERS WHEN THE CARS CATCH ON FIRE IN A CRASH?

"Actually what you saw on Sunday was two examples of wrecks that happened right at the start of the race, which was Schrader's case, or right after a pit stop, which was Dale Jarrett's case. There was just a lot of fuel back there. We carry 22 gallons of gasoline in our cells. It probably had 20 gallons in it. That's not what caught on fire. It was the fuel in the fuel line or the overflow line that just burned a little bit. The main thing they can do to help us in the case of a fire is to make the cars easier to get out of. The cars are too small. The window is too hard to get out of. That's what needs to be addressed. If you're in a wreck and you give me a choice of which end I want to hit, I'll take the back end every time. There's a lot of cushion back there. A lot of that stuff bends down and gives. It takes away a lot of the energy and in return, makes the ride that you have to take much easier."

HOW CLOSE IS NASCAR TO IMPLEMENTING THE EXCAPE HATCH THEY'VE BEEN WORKING ON?

"They're working on it. That's really all I know about that. Hopefully by the end of this year or by 2004 they'll have that as a part of our car. I've heard that a lot of progress has been made in that area."

HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU ABOUT CARBON MONOXIDE POISENING?

"I'm probably not as concerned as I should be. I think it's really the team's job to do everything they can to fill in every crack in the car and make you as safe from your own car as you can possibly be. Obviously when you have 40 cars running around in a pack, you're going to breathe air off those other cars. But you need to fill your car up and make it as safe as it can possibly be. My team does a great job at that. I've never really felt ill or weird after a race. But I'm looking forward to knowing that the air I'm going to breathe is going to be safer and better with the carbon monoxide filters that we're going to run."

WHAT'S IT LIKE WHEN THE CRUSH PANELS GET KNOCKED OUT?

"Well, that's not cool. I've always just gotten hot. You breathe fumes and obviously you understand why you're getting dizzy. Fortunately, I've not had to deal with that a whole lot."

WHAT ARE YOUR LIKES AND DISLIKES ABOUT MIS?

"I just like it because if you watch the highlight of the race, you'll see guys running from right on the bottom of the race track all the way up to the wall. There are so many grooves. You can run five-wide at that track if you need to. I think that's what the competitor's like most about it. As far as dislikes go, there's a lot of green-flag racing. If you're not running well, you can go down a lap easily. But it's a great track."

ON MIS BEING A FUEL-MILEAGE TRACK?

"Fuel mileage is important. But it seems like a caution always flies when its say 53 laps to go where it's just right on the border. You can either make it or you can't. It always stretches it out into a fuel mileage game. But more often than not, it works out where fuel doesn't become a factor. But it's something you need to be cautious of and make sure you get all the gas you can in your car. That's a job that's done before you leave the shop. You have to be prepared to get good fuel mileage when you leave the shop. The best way to go further than someone on gas is to have more than they have. As a team, we've got to get every tenth of a gallon of gas in the car that we can."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO SUDDENLY FIND YOURSELF GOING THREE AND FOUR-WIDE INTO A TURN?

"It's fun. It's just cool that you have options. That's all you want as a race car driver. You want to have somewhere to pass. If a guy is ahead of you, you want to get around him. You don't want to be in jail (so to speak) like you are at some racetracks where there's just nowhere to go and the guy is running the line you need to be in. At Michigan, if someone is running in your line, you just pick another one."

MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY, WHAT'S INSIDE A GOOD DRIVER THAT'S NOT INSIDE MOST OF US?

"Physically, you just have to be fit. You have to work out. You need to run. You need to be in good cardiovascular shape. You need to be strong enough that 500 miles in a race car doesn't fatigue you. Mentally, you've got to be a little bit different I've come to determine. On Sunday, I watched my buddy, Kenny Schrader, back into the wall, flip over, and slide to a stop. We were talking about it and he said it wasn't any big deal. It didn't hurt. That's kind of the way we look at it. If it didn't hurt, it isn't a big deal. But he spun around at 200 mph and flipped over and caught on fire. He didn't think that was a big deal and probably most people would. So I think that's interesting that you've got to be just a little different."

Q&A's WITH RICHARD "SLUGGER" LABBE:

ON QUALIFYING 2ND AND 3RD, RESPECTIVELY, AT LAST YEAR'S TWO MICHIGAN RACES

"Yeah, we run pretty good at Michigan. We qualified 2nd and 3rd and right there at the end of qualifying, we got bumped. So that was kind of a bad deal. But as long as you have a good car and qualify well at Michigan, that's a good thing."

WHAT'S THE KEY TO RUNNING WELL AT MICHIGAN?

"The big thing is getting the car's aero attitude right. You want to get the front of the car down and the back of the car out of the air. Aero attitude is so important these days. If you get it, you go fast. If you don't, you either push or you're loose. It's a fine line nowadays with the cars being so equal. Getting the aero balance is very important."

WHY IS DEI SO GOOD AT AERO?

"You're talking about Daytona and Talladega where we spend a lot of time and effort in wind tunnels and proving grounds and on shaker machines. We spend a lot of time making sure we're right. We're building a car right now for next year's Daytona 500. We try to be six months ahead on all our speedway programs. We take it serious and since the Talladega race, the No. 15 speedway car has been in the wind tunnel four times. It's going back in again tomorrow. We spend a lot of time and effort and money on it to make sure our stuff is right. It doesn't come easy by no means. I'm very proud of the effort that everyone does here at DEI. When we unload the cars for Dale Jr. and Michael, they know that we're the cars to beat when we get to those places."

HOW MUCH OF THAT AERO EMPHASIS WILL CARRY OVER TO A TRACK LIKE MICHIGAN?

"You've got to build a car with a lot of downforce for that type of track but you've got to watch the drag number to make sure the drag doesn't get up so you can really go down those straightaways fast. Getting the front of the car sealed to the ground is the key. The guys who run the softest springs and the best shock combination are usually up front."

IS THIS ALSO A CREW CHIEFS' TRACK BECAUSE OF FUEL?

"Sure. Last week at Pocono, the No. 15 team was a lap away from staying out. We stayed out until one (lap) to go to pit and it was 44 laps to go and we were about a mile and a half short of making it. So fuel mileage is important. We pay a lot of attention to the carburetors and manifolds we run to make sure we have them jetted right. We were close at Pocono, but we just didn't take the chance. Michigan is definitely a fuel-mileage track. We do pretty good with fuel mileage at DEI."

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT HIRING CREW MEMBERS, AND HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK NASCAR TECH IS GOING TO HELP PROVIDE PEOPLE FOR CREWS?

"I'm sure the NASCAR Tech is going to be real beneficial for all the teams. It's just up and going and the kids will start coming out of there soon. As far as the No. 15 team, we haven't hired anybody in two years really. We haven't had any turnaround. All my team has been here since I've been here and we've stayed together and gel well. I only added one more person and he came from the Busch Series. He's kind of an all-around guy that can do anything. You don't want people who can just build ductwork or windows. You want people who can do a little bit of everything. That's the kind of people I look for but we haven't had to hire any people at the No. 15 shop."

HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU SAY YOU'D BEEN TO THE WIND TUNNEL THIS YEAR?

"Since Talladega, the No. 15 car has been four times."

THAT'S PRETTY AMAZING. HOW CAN PEOPLE BEAT THAT KIND OF SUPPORT?

"Steve Hmiel and Andy Johnson are on it pretty hard. They're going back in Wednesday night (June 11th) for another 12-hour shift. We've spent a lot of time and effort and money on it. It's very important because when you get to Talladega or Daytona, what you have it what you have. It's not like you can change a spring or shock and pick up a half-second. It's all aero. You've got to be prepared when you unload. We definitely spend a lot of time and money to make sure we're prepared when we unload."

THE DODGE TEAMS ARE RECEIVING SUPPORT FROM MERCEDES IN THE F-1 DIVISION. DO YOU HAVE ANY OVERSEAS CONTACT THAT YOU DEAL WITH?

"Not that I'm aware of. We just take the support that General Motors gives us and most of that comes from Detroit - not from overseas."

WHAT'S THE MAGIC BEHIND PUTTING THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF PEOPLE TOGETHER?

"Having people that believe in each other will do whatever it takes to get the job done. We all believe in Michael Waltrip and he believes in everything we do for him. When you have everyone heading down the same path, success will follow, that's for sure."

IS THERE ANYTHING IMPORTANT THAT YOU GUYS ARE FOCUSING ON RIGHT NOW?

"We've been struggling at Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond - the shorter, flatter tracks. Michigan and places like that we do okay. We're going to Martinsville and Bristol to test so hopefully we'll address those issues."

ON NASCAR OFFICIALS STOPPING ROLLING TIRES SOMETIMES AND OTHER TIMES THEY DON'T

"When a tire rolls toward and official and he stops it, I don't think it's to benefit a team. Its just reaction sometimes. It's like when someone is throwing a baseball at you, you'd try to duck or get out of the way. I think it's the same way with an official. I'm sure they're told not to do it. It's just a reaction thing. Some guys will do it and some won't. But we don't depend on them to help us. We have people behind the wall with poles and stuff to pull the tires back. Usually the teams that do that don't have that type of problem."

SO WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THE FANS THAT ASK IF THAT IS A DEFINITE ADVANTAGE TO SOMEONE IN THE LEAD?

"That's definitely a tough question. It's not like you sit behind the wall before you pit and give the official $20 to grab a tire. It doesn't work that way. Some officials do it and they don't do it every time. There's no real way to answer that."

DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD DO THAT FOR SAFETY REASONS?

"Here lately it hasn't happened a whole lot. The top 10 or 20 teams have people designated with poles to catch those tires. It doesn't happen a lot. It's definitely a safety issue. But, being the official I would think he'd let it go. Or, if it goes out of the box and he stops it, he should penalize the team. There are a couple ways to look at it, that's for sure."

DO YOU PREFER THAT THEY CATCH IT IF IT'S YOURS?

"If it's my tire and it's rolling out of the box, I'd prefer that he catch it but he should penalize me for sure."

HAVE YOU NOTICED MORE AGGRESSIVENESS IN THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS GROUP?

"No. I watched the replay of the Terry Labonte and Jeff Green situation at Pocono last weekend and Terry just had a heck of a run coming off the corner. Jeff went down to block him and when they got together it was just a racing thing. I worked with Terry for four or five years and he's not that type of driver. You guys watch him week in and week out and Terry doesn't do that. It's just one of those things where they got together and had a heck of a collision. There's no rivalry between Hendrick and DEI. Earlier in the year people were trying to say that Childress had something going with DEI. There was nothing there. We're just all a bunch of racers. After the day is all said and done, we're all friends and we go on to the next race."

WHAT DID JEFF GREEN HAVE TO SAY ABOUT IT?

"Well, he was a little ticked at the time, that's for sure. He got busted up and hurt his hand, hurt his jaw, and broke his tailbone. So he's hurting for sure. But he'll be ready to go at Michigan. He was upset, but who wouldn't be? He's a little sore right now."

DO YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC SYSTEM OF DELEGATING THE WORK AMONG THE CREW?

"I'm fortunate. I have an awesome car chief and a really good shop foreman. We generally try to stay two to three weeks ahead. Right now they're finishing up the Sears Point (now Infineon) stuff because they leave Monday night. We try to have a plan laid out for all the guys to work. We work 7:30 to 5:30 and we try not to work a lot of hours. We just try to work smart while we're here. If you have a good system, everything flows nicely and you're generally two or three weeks ahead all the time."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Jeff Green , Jack Roush