DETROIT (August 22, 2000) - When the Winston Cup Series visited Bristol Motor Speedway back in March, it marked racing legend A.J. Foyt's first-ever trip to the legendary short track. But as the owner of the No. 14 Conseco Pontiac, Foyt didn't ...
DETROIT (August 22, 2000) - When the Winston Cup Series visited Bristol Motor Speedway back in March, it marked racing legend A.J. Foyt's first-ever trip to the legendary short track. But as the owner of the No. 14 Conseco Pontiac, Foyt didn't exactly go to Bristol with realistic hopes of running competitively. He entered an interim driver in veteran Dick Trickle with the hopes of just making the show and was still evaluating the struggles of his new organization.
A week later, Foyt began making changes and has since acquired driver Rick Mast, crew chief Philippe Lopez, engine builder David Evans and has positioned his nephew, Tommy Lamance, as the team's general manager. His new nucleus began dissecting their troubles immediately, knowing that it would take time to straighten out the program.
This week Foyt heads to Bristol for the second time, and although he isn't where he wants to be yet with the team, it is showing signs of life. The team's best three finishes of 2000 have come in the past five races, including an eighth at Pocono and a 12th at New Hampshire. He and Mast will be hoping to improve on their respective spring finishes at Bristol. Foyt's team finished 27th with Trickle, while Mast's day ended with an accident and a 34th-place finish for car owner Larry Hedrick.
Accidents, like the one that collected Mast during the spring, are commonplace at Bristol and are the chief source of frustration, anger and anxiety for every driver in the field. It is nearly impossible for a driver to keep the fenders on his car and his temper in check for the duration of the 500-lap slugfest, which is one of the reasons the Bristol night race stands as one of the hottest tickets on the NASCAR circuit.
THOUGHTS FROM A.J. FOYT, CAR OWNER, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
..on looking forward to going back to Bristol: "Bristol is a very fast racetrack and a very tight racetrack, and I just hope things are a lot different this time. I feel they will be. Last time we were just there, and that was it. I don't like that - definitely. When that happens, that's when you see a lot of changes in this team.
"We've just got a group down there now that I think is a winning group, where before - I'm not going to say we had a bad group, but I don't think we had a group that all pulled together in trying to win, and that's our goal."
..how tough was it to go through last spring as an owner?: "I've never been a loser and I'm not going to be a loser. If I've got to be a loser, I'd just as soon go home and forget it. If I'm going to race I'm going to race 110 percent, or I'm not going to be in the game. I think a lot of people thought I was just going to be in the game just to say I've run a NASCAR team. "Well, I've run NASCAR many years - never a full season. This is the first time my whole career we've been able to run a full season, and we're going to run full seasons until we just have to quit. Now that we're running full seasons, the next thing you want to do is win races and win championships." THOUGHTS FROM RICK MAST, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
..on drivers that lose their temper at Bristol: "They shouldn't do that because they know going in that they're going to get hit, beat on, wrecked, shoved on, and you know you're going to hit other people, and you know that 99 percent of it is unintentional.
"What happens at Bristol is this: the thing is so hard physically that a guy is three-quarters of the way through the race, it's hot, everybody is worn out, the fenders are beat off his car, and then somebody takes a shot at him that he thinks was undeserved when in essence it was unintentional. Then he gets mad and retaliates, and then it's on.
"That's the big thing. It's just so hard to race there right now with the way everything is structured. It's just almost impossible to really race side-by-side and it's hard to pass somebody. You almost have to touch somebody to pass them, and if you touch them, you really wreck them. There's no touching and moving them at Bristol. If you touch them, you wreck them."
...what makes it hard to pass at Bristol?: "It's a couple things. Sine they concreted it you've not been able to race there. You can go side-by-side through the center of the corner, but you cannot come off the corner side-by-side. When it was asphalt you could get side-by-side with somebody and run hard exiting the corners. Now you can go through the center that way, but you can't come off the corner that way."
...why is a fight rare after a NASCAR race?: "All the guys realize it's easier to talk about it than it is to fight about it. Most everybody has come through the ranks of the Saturday night bullrings and you've been through that stuff. You've learned how to control your emotions. By the time you get to Winston Cup you've been through that stuff of getting hit, getting out of the car and wanting to fight, and not really knowing how you are supposed to conduct yourself. Most of the time when a guy gets to Winston Cup, he has been through all that and realizes it's much easier to try to discuss it and work on it than it is to fight about it. But sometimes, you still lose your cool."
THOUGHTS FROM KEN SCHRADER, NO. 36 M&M'S PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
how do drivers manage to keep their tempers in check as much as they do?: "It's just because everyone here has done this for so long and so many times that you know when you can overlook something and when you've just got to punt them back, and let them know you really didn't appreciate something.
"Each instance is kind of different. You kind of know what the latest one was like and how it compares to the last one. Sometimes you just blow up and you've got to get them, and you want to get them in the next turn."
..do you worry about sponsor pressure when you are involved in an "incident" on track?: "Not if you make it look like it was an accident. Then it's fine. But seriously, the best thing I can do for myself and for M&M's is just keep my nose clean. There is enough pressure in this sport as it is. I don't need to go looking for more."
..has he ever regretted losing his temper at the racetrack?: "Oh yeah, for sure. But at the time I thought it was the right thing. Anyone can look back at decisions they've made in their careers at times like that and known they aren't right. But at the time your emotions are running pretty high and you think that's the right thing to do."
THOUGHTS FROM JOHN ANDRETTI, NO. 43 CHEERIOS/STP PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
..is racing at Bristol conducive to losing your temper as a driver?: "How many times in a row do you need to be crashed to understand that, going to Bristol, there is probably better than a 50-50 chance that you're not going to finish the race, at least not with a complete car? It's easy to make a mistake there. It's easy to get caught up in somebody else's mistake there. Of course, there are some guys that like driving at Bristol. I can't explain those people.
"From the spectator's point of view, it's a great racetrack to watch from. But from a car owner's and driver's standpoint, I think your future is pretty well set before you go there for the race. It's frustrating. It's more frustrating that just short track racing because you're going so fast. It seems like you are going 'Talladega speeds' in a bullring. I don't know why you get upset because you ought to know when you get there that it's going to happen, and then just be happy if it doesn't.
..how do you feel about a driver that will take out his frustrations on track? "In a Winston Cup car you can knock a guy out of the way, no problem. There is no talent involved in knocking a guy out of the way. It's the easiest thing in the world to do, so I would have to say that the least talented guys do it. Guys that can race clean and always run up front, those are the guys I admire."
...NASCAR seems to have fewer confrontations between its athletes than other major sports. Why is that?: "Even though it's a very emotional sport, we represent just ourselves. We represent the companies that are involved, from the people that sponsor our cars to the cars we drive to the tires we're on - you name it. So for starters, we represent a lot of people. But above and beyond all that, we also have a lot of people that follow this sport and I think because of that, our goal should be to make racing like the ultimate role model.
"You don't hear about drugs in our sport. They're everywhere else, but you don't hear about them here. You talk about the physical violence of other sports, but you just don't see it here. It's very rare, and I think that is great about our sport. Maybe I think about it more because I have kids. But when you know you have kids watching, you want them to respect you and respect what you do and you want them to be able to act like you do. "I can point out one instance that is clear in my mind. It was in Nashville in the truck race with a guy that was two laps down that flat took out a guy that was on the lead lap just because he let his emotions get the best of him. Now, that guy should be taken out behind the barn - the whole field should take that guy behind the barn and teach him a lesson, as far as I'm concerned. But that guy should be smart enough to know if he's going to be in this sport very long that you don't last long doing that kind of thing, and I think that is the important thing with our sport. It kind of takes care of itself. It's a self-policing kind of sport.
"We're all going to be in this sport a long time. Everybody in Winston Cup racing, from the front of the field to the back of the field, has won a championship at one point or another. For that reason, I think we ought to be the guys at the forefront and set the examples, and I think our current example is a good one."