Talladega II: Ford - Mark Martin interview

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, comes into this weekend's EA Sports 500 in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, just 11 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Martin addressed some of the current issues surrounding the...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, comes into this weekend's EA Sports 500 in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, just 11 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Martin addressed some of the current issues surrounding the sport, including the points championship and whether or not doctors should be a factor in letting a driver compete.

MARK MARTIN --6-- Viagra Taurus

YOU'VE HAD YEARS WHEN YOU DOMINATED THE SERIES AND DIDN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND THIS YEAR YOU'VE WON ONLY ONCE. "I do all I can do. I was doing all I could do in '98 when I won seven and Gordon won 13. I was doing all I could do in 2001 when I finished 12th in the points and didn't win. I'm doing all I can do this year and we've been first or second in points for as long as I can remember and we've got a career win. Some years are better than others."

DO YOU THINK DRIVERS HAVE OPTIONS NOW FROM A HEALTH STANDPOINT? THERE'S SO MUCH PRESSURE TO GET IN THE CAR THAT YOU REALLY DON'T HAVE A CHOICE NOT TO MAKE YOUR OWN DECISION TO STAY OUT? "That's a good point. The option you have is to say, 'No, I'm not gonna drive it,' or suck it up, and everyone sucks it up. This is a manly man sport. You suck it up. But, the thing is, that covers everything but a head injury. You suck it up when your father dies, when your uncle dies. It doesn't matter who dies or what happens, but a head injury is different. I really don't think you need someone to tell you that you have a head injury, and you shouldn't be driving. I would assume that you would know that yourself. Obviously, if you didn't and there was a problem, there should be some kind of intervention. That's my opinion and that's not gonna fly because that's the honor system. That means that we are the judges and that's not the future. Someone else is gonna decide that and there are all kinds of gray areas there. Who gets to race with a fractured wrist? What's the difference between a fractured finger and a fractured wrist? What's the cutoff point? How far does it go? Or does it get contained to only head injuries, and what is a head injury? I've seen guys get knocked out before and were plenty capable of driving the race car again in a day or two. So, if you get knocked out in an accident and you have an automatic seven-day policy, I don't like that because in seven days you may miss the most important day of your life when you were fine in one day. I don't know that. The idea of evaluating people is a gray area too because if you're really good at something in this evaluation and you drop down to average, does that mean you shouldn't get to drive? I don't know."

DALE, JR. SAID THAT AT 80 PERCENT HE WAS STILL BETTER THAN A LOT OF GUYS OUT THERE. "That is incredibly arrogant, but in a way it's true. I wouldn't have ever said that if I was him myself, but it's true. He's really good and what he judged at 80 percent wasn't judged by a doctor. He was good enough to be a good competitor because I raced around him all during that time and he was never a problem. Now, if he didn't go as fast as he might have liked, that's fine, but did he need to be sitting out all that time? He wasn't dangerous. He wasn't dangerous to himself and he wasn't dangerous to the competition, so would it have been fair for him to sit out? He really just shouldn't have been talking about it."

WAS HIS MISTAKE GETTING IN THE CAR OR TELLING ANYBODY ABOUT IT? "The mistake was talking about it because he won't have that option down the road. If that ever happens to him again, he's not gonna have the option and I'll guarantee you it was a luxury for him to continue to drive, make a living, get some poles, run good and do all the things that he's done. When that privilege is taken away, I would hope to think that he would have regretted saying that. Head injuries are a really touchy subject. I haven't ever had one. I've never been knocked out, so I don't know. But I can tell you that if you've been knocked out, it isn't automatic that you're incapable of driving for a certain period of time. Some guys get knocked out real easy. I mean, I know Morgan (Shepherd) used to get knocked out often when he crashed but he didn't have a head injury. There were some other guys that got knocked out more often than others. It seemed like Neil (Bonnett) would get knocked out from time to time."

CAN YOU TELL US WHAT IT'S LIKE INSIDE THE RACE CAR WHEN YOU HAVE ONE OF THESE WRECKS LIKE THEY HAVE HERE FROM TIME TO TIME? "You usually process most of it. Here, the wrecks are really slower. They don't happen as fast in the car. The order of things happening is usually slower. You slide longer, you hit this thing. You slide some more and hit that thing. You get hit and all that and because of the speed the wrecks last longer, but you're out of control. You don't have control of it."

IS IT SHEER TERROR? "It is terror. You never used to think about it, but now as I'm doing that I'm always wondering if the next one is gonna be the one that takes me out."

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN UPSIDE-DOWN? "I have, but it doesn't even count. I'm a tough guy in the fact that I don't care how hard I hit the concrete as long as I don't go upside-down because I'm scared to death. I'm horrified. I don't ever want to turn over and, basically, for all practical purposes I really haven't in 30 years of racing."

GIVEN WHAT CAN HAPPEN HERE, IS THIS RACE MORE PIVOTAL THAN SOME OF THE OTHERS? "This is because you don't have control over it. You don't have control of where you finish or if you wreck. You do have a little control of where you finish and you can argue that point, but percentage-wise, you have much less percentage of influence of where you finish here than you can influence where you finish at the other tracks left on the schedule."

WHAT ABOUT THE FUEL CELL RULE HERE? "I think we have to watch it and see. I don't think we really know for sure. I applaud NASCAR for trying. I'm not sure if I'm for it or against it, but they're trying to do something and I applaud them for that."

WHAT ABOUT ADDITIONAL PROBLEMS IT COULD PRESENT LIKE PIT ROAD AND BRAKES? "Accidents, people running into the back of people pitting. All these things are possible consequences, but part of anything you do affects something else here. So I'll say again that we've got to wait and see how we like it and how it works. I applaud them for trying something. I'm not sure that's something I would have come up with, but they're brilliant people and they also get lucky more often than not. So, between how smart they are and how lucky they are, maybe this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don't know."

MARTINSVILLE IS ANOTHER TRACK LEFT THAT MIGHT CAUSE SOME CONCERN, RIGHT? "I have a lot more influence on what happens at Martinsville than here. It's a little less at Martinsville than the rest of them on the schedule, but I wouldn't complain about Martinsville until we get this one behind us. This is the big one and that is only a small one as far as those issues go."

DO YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING CAUGHT UP IN SOMEONE ELSE'S ACCIDENT THERE? "Yes. It can happen anywhere, but the risks are slightly higher at Martinsville than the rest of the schedule. It's not that the track is short, but that it's so tight as far as the shape being confining."

SHOULD THERE BE AN ALLOWANCE IN THE POINTS SYSTEM FOR A DRIVER TO MISS SOME RACES IF A DOCTOR SAYS THEY SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED IN THE CAR? "I've been a supporter of the points system in its present form all through the years, but if doctors are gonna start making the decisions on whether we drive these cars, then I'm not a supporter of the points system in the current form."

IS THERE ANOTHER IDEA THEY COULD EMPLOY? "They won't do it for reasons that it might not be as exciting or whatever. You'd take some of the hype out of it, but my son races in two different series of racing where they take only the best 80 percent of your finishes. I still say that if Junior wouldn't have said anything about what he said, we wouldn't be dealing with this. Now I feel that doctors are gonna make a decision on whether or not we race these cars and, if they do, that's a sad day because then you can't suck it up and do what you need to do here like you have for 50 years."

WHAT MAKES YOU THE BEST PERSON TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT YOU'RE CAPABLE OF DRIVING? "Because it's my life. I choose what I do. I've never had a head injury, but I have said that when I'm dizzy, the last place I want to be is in a race car. I've been drunk before. I never wanted to go drive the race car when I was drunk. I wouldn't. I'd be horrified, so I don't know anything about head injuries because I've never had one. But I know that the drivers that have driven with them didn't scare me to death, or scare me any worse than rookie drivers, or guys who didn't necessarily have the best peripheral vision, or guys who didn't have tremendous respect for the speed we were going or the repercussions of things. All of those things fall in the same area. I've raced with Junior. I've raced with Craven and then Ricky decided that he needed to sit out. I salute him for that. He made that decision. I drove with those guys that drove with head injuries and there were no more safety issues with that than anything else with these other guys. Now, Ricky Craven decided that he didn't need to drive anymore. While I was driving with Ricky prior to that, I didn't feel there was a safety issue. That's just like driving with a broken arm. A doctor says you can't drive because you've got a broken arm, is this a safety issue? So is peripheral vision, so is rookie-ism, so is aggression, so is a lack of respect, so is a guy who is tremendous but makes bad judgement on any given day. All of those things are dangerous, so I don't know. You're talking about changing something that's been in place for 50 years. If I break my finger and you tell me I can't race, that's a shame. If it's OK to have a broken finger, how about a hand? And if that's OK, how about an arm? And if that's OK, how about a leg? And if that's OK, what is not OK? It's a mess."

IS IT WRONG FOR NASCAR TO GET INTO THIS? "I don't know. You're changing something that's been in place for 50 years. I don't want to be told I can't race when I can."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Mark Martin