Sterling Marlin interview transcript

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2001. Highlights of Sterling Marlin teleconference from Dodge Motorsports. STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) "I'd like to thank Michael Waltrip for his words during the NASCAR press...

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2001. Highlights of Sterling Marlin teleconference from Dodge Motorsports. STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I'd like to thank Michael Waltrip for his words during the NASCAR press conference yesterday. This has been a difficult time for me and my family, and we appreciate the support and prayers we received from drivers, NASCAR community and the fans. Please understand, I'd do anything not to be here today addressing this topic. I think the focus should be on the Earnhardt family and our energy focused on offering support, however it appears, based on reports the past two days, that it would be best if I talked. "We got home Sunday night and the first thing you go in and turn the news on and some reporter is on TV saying that from the vicious tap that I gave Dale Earnhardt sent him into the wall. You just want to climb right into the TV and pull the guy out of there. We went on to bed and took the phone off the hook. The next morning we got some faxes. I don't turn the computer on, but people calling saying this and saying that. It could about drive you crazy, but from what I saw, it was a totally racing accident. We got under Dale going down the back straightaway, me and Schrader, and Kenny pulled up to the outside to make it three deep going in. I'm on the bottom, and I think, from what I hear, that Dale's spotter told him that he's under you, he's under you. I looked at the tape. I hadn't seen it many times, about one time, but it looked like when you get three deep the closing factor is really a lot. It looked like Rusty had really pulled up on Dale. I don't know if it got him loose or what. All I know is Dale came down just barely a little bit we touched and it sent my car across the apron and Dale's too. He over corrected his car and went back across the track. That's the last I saw from where I was sitting, and that's what happened."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS REACTION?
"Dale Earnhardt was NASCAR. He had a tremendous amount of fans everywhere. I think the shock of it... It shocked me. We didn't know it was that bad. Tony Glover (Team Manager) told me about the time we were getting ready to leave the race track in Daytona that it didn't look good for Earnhardt. I said, 'well, what do you mean?' He said, 'he's hurt pretty bad.' By the time we got to the airport, they came told us. I was in total shock. I've seen him hit and flip and tumble and me and him have been in some at Talladega upside down and I couldn't believe it. It made you just want to go throw up, just sick at your stomach. You couldn't believe it could happen."

DO YOU BELIEVE YOU DID ANYTHING WRONG?
"No, it was a deal we were trying to win the Daytona 500. Dale was trying to win it, everybody was trying to win it. I got under Dale in the back straightaway and I thought Schrader was going with me. When I looked in the mirror and saw Schrader go to the outside, I knew it was going to be three deep getting into the corner. I was on the bottom of the race track as low as I could go. They really closed on us fast. I didn't realize they'd closed on us that fast, but Rusty really came up on Dale. I don't know if it got him loose or whatever, but I was as low as I could go. We touched and got away from each other and then it looked like it really came down real quick then. I don't know if that's when Rusty got right up on him and his car got loose. In the middle like that, it takes the wind off of it. We touched again and it sent my car back across the apron and his, too. That's the last I saw, Dale's car going back up the banking."

DO YOU HAVE ANY OPINIONS ABOUT THE RULES AT DAYTONA?
"Number one, 43 of us are race car drivers. Whatever situation we're put in, we're going to try to come back first. I think NASCAR did everything that they saw they could do to make a good race out of it. The Talladega race went green without no cautions, but it's the first race of the year. It pays a million three to win, and we rode along there for 150 laps and nothing happened. With time running out, getting short, people started making some moves that you normally wouldn't take. Fortunately we were on the front straightaway when the big wreck happened because we cut a tire down. I stayed awake about all Sunday night trying to think how can you fix it. Maybe myself and some drivers can sit down with Mike Helton and them guys and figure out how we can fix it. I don't know. I'm just kind of at a loss for words on it."

HAS NASCAR TOLD YOU HOW THEY'RE WORKING ON SAFETY ISSUES?
"No, they haven't. I know a lot of times NASCAR does things, they test a lot of stuff the general public and maybe a few drivers may know it, but we don't know about. The soft wall deal they tried. They spent a lot of money trying to fix that. I don't know. It's just a freak deal here. Within a year, we've lost three drivers. We went along forever and nobody hardly broke a finger nail. All of a sudden, things are happening. Whether it's the HANS device or air bags in the car or something, we've got to figure out something to make it better."

DO YOU THINK EARNHARDT WAS TRYING TO BLOCK?
"It'd be hard for me to sit here and say that Dale Earnhardt was content to run for third. I think maybe Michael and the 8 car may have been a little better than his car and he was giving it all he had. Those were his two cars, I don't know. All we were trying to do was bring the Coors Light Dodge home first. We done all we could do. The situation I was in, I knew those three cars were lined up, and it was going to be hard to get by 'em. I knew if I rolled out of the throttle and got a run and got to the outside of 'em that the whole line would probably go with me on the inside and I would probably end up 10th or 12th, so I don't know. With the aero package they've got, it really stirs a lot of air up and you can lay back and get a run on somebody, but when they protect the inside of the race track it's really hard to get a run and pass on the inside because that's where you want to be. I don't know what was going through Dale's mind, but it would be hard for me to sit here and say he was going to be content to run third because he never has."

HAVE ANY OTHER DRIVERS OR NASCAR CONTACTED YOU?
"Yeah, I've had an outpouring of drivers, NASCAR, fans, everybody. Earnhardt's people, Childress' people. It was just strictly a racing accident. Things happen and people are going to look for somebody to blame. On a short track, you beat and knock and get by somebody, and they're going to pop you back. Them high speed race tracks, you know you don't touch anybody because it's going to hurt when you hit. It's no way in this world I would do something like that knowing the consequences and put myself in jeopardy, too. I don't know how I kept my car straight and kept from coming back up across the race track. Somehow I got control of my car and finished the race."

HOW HAS THE REACTION AFFECTED YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?
"It's bothered your wife and kids and everybody around you. If people would just go look at the tape, they could see. Maybe they haven't looked at the tape or just hearsay and haven't seen or know what went on. Your fellow drivers call and NASCAR calls and all the folks at DEI and Childress call and say, 'man just hold your head up. There's nothing you could have done.' It makes me feel a ton better. People just need to look at the tape. Hey, we were just racing."

HAVE YOU CHANGED ANY PLANS FOR THIS WEEKEND'S RACE?
"Not really. I think if people just come back to their senses and listen to what everybody is saying, and watch the tape, there's no question. That's all I ask. Just use common sense and look at the tape. That's all you've got to do. I'd love to go to Rockingham and dominate the race and win it and dedicate it to Dale and his family."

DO YOU THINK THE AERO PACKAGE HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH WHAT HAPPENED? "It's hard to say, it's really hard to say. Me personally, I like the new package because you can pass. You're not just sitting in line following each other, but on the other hand it gets everybody bunched up. When it comes down to the last lap, like I said, they ran 150 laps and it was a few times they missed a big wreck and then finally somebody touches somebody and it takes out 20 cars. Like I said, I talked to Jeff Burton this morning, and it was like, 'how are we going to fix it?' We've got to fix it somehow. We'll work with NASCAR any way we can, and NASCAR is doing everything they can. They're not just turning their head to it, saying they're not worried about it. They're trying to figure out how we can do it and keep everybody happy. "I've seen the tape one time, but I've had a lot of people call. When you get three deep, it really slows you down. I didn't realize Rusty and some of them guys had closed that fast. That's what NASCAR talked about when we were in Talladega, the closing rate with this aero package. Me and Dale barely got together when we went in three. He straightened it up and I said, 'OK, we're OK now.' All of a sudden, he comes back down and I don't know when Rusty drove up under him if it took the air off his spoiler because Dale was in the middle. He came down a little bit and we hit more. It turned both of us across the apron. I don't know. You'll have to talk to Rusty to see what he saw, but I was just trying to concentrate on keeping my car as low as I could and not get into anybody. I don't know (why my car didn't go back across the track). Just luck. It's just pure luck that I caught it. When you run across the apron at 180 at Daytona, you don't generally come back. We were just lucky."

WILL YOU WEAR THE HANS DEVICE?
"I've looked at it, but me and another driver talked about it. Do you want to save your neck or do you want to burn up in the car and can't get out? It's a two-sided coin. Me personally, I wear a strap that goes around your shoulder and hooks to your helmet. I don't think Dale had that on Sunday. In speedway races, you've really got to look behind you, to your sides and it may restrict his vision. I wear the strap, No. 1, on the short tracks where it really pulls your neck a lot, but No. 2, I wear it for safety. If you hit, it kind of helps hold your head back on your shoulders. Simpson makes it. You just slide your arm through it and it goes around your shoulder and hooks to a little clip on the side of your helmet. I'd say 95 percent of your drivers wear it. I'd say about all of them would have to wear it for Dover and Bristol and the high-speed places where it really works on your neck muscles."

TALK ABOUT THE TIME SEQUENCE OF CUTTING OFF PHONE, ETC.
"We got in Sunday night and turned the TV on. We had this local reporter that probably has never been to a stock car race saying something, and that gets the fans stirred up. He said what I done, and all he had to do was look at the tape and he'd see that I didn't do nothing. It was just a racing accident. As far as the web site, I don't even turn that thing on. I haven't got time to do much. I'd rather spend time with my family and kids than look at a crazy web site. I don't ever turn it on, but I haven't even talked to the girl who sets it up. I did hear there was some pretty bad stuff on it, but today I heard that it was kind of reversed. I turned my cell phone and home phone back on and had tons of positive calls. There wasn't one negative call from anybody. Everybody from NASCAR, drivers, DEI, Childress, everybody has been 100 percent positive."

DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO RACING THIS WEEKEND?
"It's like I think Dale would want it. I think he would want everyone to go and be business as usual and give 100 percent. One part of you, you kind of dread going and the other part, says you crank that motor up and get ready for practice to start and it'll be a good time. You're in the car and nobody is messing with you. It's something that Dale's done all his life, and I've done about all my life. It's something you enjoy doing. It'll be on our mind all year, all the drivers' minds and fans and everybody the whole year, but we'll do our best to carry on."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU REMEMBER EARNHARDT?
"I was telling the guys while ago, we could beat and bang on Sunday and see each other the next week at the race track and be joking and carrying on. About two years ago, we were in Sonoma, Calif., and at the time, there was no garage area and he had parked his, we thought it was his rental car at the time, real close to our race car. We snuck over to Goodyear to get a bunch of wheel weights and put on his wheels, halfway around them. Him and Teresa jump in the car to go to the airport, and I think Larry McReynolds was with him at the time, and he said Dale was so mad he could bite a ten-penny nail in two because he couldn't run but about 25 mph because it would shake the car all to pieces. He found out I kinda had something to do with it. He got me the next week, and he said, 'I'm going to catch you when you're away from your lake house and I'm going to put a goat in it.' It was always a fun side to Dale Earnhardt. He was a prankster, and he was always fun loving and cutting up."

HOW BIG OF A GAP WILL THIS LEAVE IN NASCAR?
"I thought about it as soon as it happened, the affect it's going to have on us all. I've been all over the country. You go to places that you wouldn't even think that be Winston Cup racing and here's a 3 in some guy's window on his truck or a flag. Overseas, if you knew NASCAR racing, you knew Dale Earnhardt. He really made the sport at the time it was really getting popular. He'll be missed, but hopefully Dale Jr. will take things over. He's a heck of a talent, and hopefully Dale Jr. can just pick up and carry on what his dad started."

DO YOU THINK RULES NEED TO BE CHANGED BEFORE TALLADEGA?
"I don't know. Like I said, me and Jeff Burton talked this morning. I think our cars are capable of running at least 200, 205, 210, but I don't think NASCAR wants you to go that fast. We've got to get someway where the best drivers with the best cars that handle good can separate yourself from a car that's a second and a half slower than you. If somebody don't want to ride that fast, they've got a gas pedal and they can let off of it. Dale Sr. didn't like the plates. He did really good with 'em. NASCAR does all they can do to ensure our safety and try to make a good race for the fans. All the drivers need to sit down and have a meeting with NASCAR and figure out what we can do to fix it."

BE MORE SPECIFIC ABOUT THREATS
"I think after talking with you guys today and people have had a little time to come back to their senses and go back and look at the race tape and see. I don't think there will be, I hope not, because I definitely didn't do anything intentional. We were just racing our guts out on the last lap at the Daytona 500. Everybody was going for it. Dale's car just got caught in the middle, and I was as low as I could go. Whether Rusty got him loose and got him down into me, I don't know. You'd have to talk to Rusty Wallace. I've watched the tape one time. That's all I want to see of it. I don't know. Some faxes came in and what have you. Any phone calls I received or anything that has come in has been 100 percent positive. As far as the web site, I don't know. A lot of people can hide behind names and say a lot of things on the internet that are not true. Maybe it's just people that are frustrated and looking for somebody to blame. There was definitely nothing on my part that did anything. I think it was just purely a racing accident."

DO YOU INTEND TO TRY HANS DEVICE?
"Yeah, I'm going to look at it and try it. But just looking at it and talking to other guys, driving a race car is more than looking straight ahead. You've got to look out your left, over your right shoulder and kind of be award of what's going on around you. From what I've seen of the device, you're really restricted to just straight look ahead driving. I've got a spotter. I've had spotter for years. I always double check. If a spotter says clear, I'm trying to look in the mirror, look over my shoulder and make sure I'm clear. I've caught myself a few times when I've double checked and sure enough somebody is up on your right rear quarterpanel. If I'd moved, it would have turned me head on into the wall. With that device, you'd really have to put a lot of judgment into what the spotter says. It's something I'll look at, I think all drivers will start now. We'll look and see how it plays out."

WILL YOU GO TO EARNHARDT'S FUNERAL?
"I don't know. I'll have to talk it out with (car owner Chip Ganassi) Chip and them and see. Definitely all our thoughts and prayers are with Teresa and Dale Jr. and everybody. Me and Dale Jr. have played phone tag here for two days and haven't got ahold of each other, but I think they would understand if I didn't come because they know what's going on. For any Dale Earnhardt fans out there, they say 'old Sterling Marlin was racing Dale as hard as he could and as Earnhardt has told me before, we ran out of real estate down there.' So, it's a sad, sad deal it happened. I wish we could have him back next week at Rockingham, and we'd race him all year, but we can't bring him back and we hate it, but it was just a racing deal."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE THE PLATES OFF FOR TALLADEGA?
"I don't know what these cars would run now with the horsepower we've got now (without restrictor plates). At the time, I think we ran 212, 213 at Talladega. I say we'd be up around 220, I don't know, but I think that would be too fast for driver and fan safety, but 200 mph, back when we ran that fast, qualifying was what the big deal was. You'd lay the spoiler down to nothing and just aim the car and hope it went where you aimed it. The race wasn't that bad back then. We'd stand the spoilers up and you could drive the cars and kind of did what you needed to do. You'd have throttle response, but like I said, I don't know how fast we'd be going now. That was 1986 when we were doing that. If we did take the plate off and put a little bigger plate on it, where, especially at Daytona, the cars that drive good, your car has got to drive good at Daytona. At least if your car drives good, you can get away from some cars that don't drive as good or the cars that might not be as good as your car, the driver experience or whatever. We need to separate the field somehow. I don't know who we're going to do it, but we need to separate it somehow."

-Team Mopar-

     
 
 

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Sterling Marlin , Chip Ganassi , Mike Helton