This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999

This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus, comes into this weekend's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in 15th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Elliott,...

This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999

NASCAR Winston Cup

Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus, comes into this weekend's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in 15th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, qualified fourth in last month's Pocono 500 and was a contender much of the afternoon until he blew an engine 15 laps from the finish and ended up 31st.

BILL ELLIOTT -94- McDonald's Taurus -- THAT FIFTH-PLACE FINISH AT NEW HAMPSHIRE HAD TO FEEL GOOD, DIDN'T IT? "It sure didn't hurt. I think it kind of vindicated us a little bit from the Michigan deal we had going on there. I guess it's one of those years that if it could go wrong it has gone wrong. I think we've fought back and changed a lot of things and really turned some things around. I crashed in qualifying Saturday morning and we had to bring out another car and we got only limited practice. We started the race and were pretty bad to start with, but the last 100 laps we ran well and didn't have to pit for fuel, so it really boosted the team's effort and that's what we need."

POCONO HAS BEEN PRETTY GOOD TO YOU WITH FOUR WINS AND THREE POLES. "It's been great for me. Pocono is probably one of my favorites as far as the layout of the race track, it's a lot like a road course. We shift there which is something we didn't used to do, so it's kind of a challenge with the three corners of the race track. With Wayne Orme (crew chief) coming on earlier this year, he's given me some new ideas as far as how to approach some of these places and that's been the change that I needed. He's done a great job from my standpoint. We laugh about it because he's from Wisconsin and I'm from Georgia and we can't understand each other, so I think that's why we do so well."

DO YOU RECALL THE FIRST TIME A FAN EVER ASKED YOU FOR AN AUTOGRAPH? "That must have been during my short track days, probably at Dixie or back in that era. I'm sure I was probably totally amazed that somebody would want my autograph, I mean it's pretty out there. I keep going back to my roots. I grew up in a very small town and kind of lived a sheltered life. My dad (George) ran a building supply business and we worked very hard at that and for me to be, especially where I'm at today and even at the point I started racing, I just wanted to race. That's all I wanted to do. I didn't know about all this other stuff that came with it."

IS IT HARD TO BALANCE THE AUTOGRAPHS AND THE RACE TEAM? "I had a real hard time in the mid-eighties trying to deal with that. Right now I've got some real good people around me and I've really done a good job of balancing my life to where my appearances and racing and whatever else I need to do has it's time and space. It works out well. I really feel like things are balanced really well right now. I'm really happy with the way things are going at this point in time."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT AN OUTSIDER COMING IN AND TAKING YOUR SPONSOR? "Obviously, he's (Cal Wells) done a good job of selling. If that's where McDonald's wants to go that's perfectly fine with me. I've not performed well in my own eyes and I need to be better on the race track and that's pretty much McDonald's prerogative."

WHAT ARE YOU PLANS FOR SPONSORSHIP AFTER MCDONALD'S? "We've still got a year-and-a-half on the McDonald's deal and right now we're working very hard. We've got several people out there that are looking at us and a fine finish like we had at New Hampshire sure doesn't hurt. With as good as we've been qualifying and as good as the team's performance is right now, I don't see a problem in getting a real good deal down the road."

HAVE YOU STARTED THE SPONSORSHIP SEARCH? "Oh absolutely. We've got several out there that are looking and, like I said, right now my main goal is to take care of McDonald's and get that out of the way, and we'll keep progressing with this other stuff as it comes along."

HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE TROUBLES YOU'RE GOING THROUGH NOW? "Probably last year was a bit of a struggle just from the standpoint of going back to the races. We weren't really running well and things weren't going in a very good direction. I feel like right now things have done a total 180. Right now it's been enjoyable going to the races, I'm enjoying where I'm at. Obviously, I want to win races but I look at it from the standpoint of building and looking back of when I started racing years ago. All it is is a step-by-step building process. Right now we've got several teams and a number of teams that have been able to move past us and continue on such as Hendrick and Roush and some of the others. But you look inside the organization and there's only one car out of each organization -- two if you look at the Roush deal and one if you look at the Yates and everybody else's two-car teams -- that has been able to transfer that into winning races. So I look at it as we've got to get back on the playing field of being competitive. I look at Michigan several weeks ago, where we were very competitive, and the way we've run here the last several races. If we can continue to be upbeat and continue where we need to be...I mean, sure I still want to win races and I've been programmed to win races from the past, but still, I want to get this team built back. I understand what we're fighting against and it makes it a lot easier to step in there and say, 'OK, we're not winning because of these reasons.' If we can get past that and keep continuing...I like where I'm at from the standpoint of we're kind of doing it our way, and we're still trying to build and continue on that playing field to get where we need to be."

DO YOU HAVE A SENSE YOU'RE CLOSE BECAUSE YOU WERE SO DOMINANT AT ONE TIME AND THOSE THINGS OBVIOUSLY DON'T CONTINUE FOREVER? "Obviously they don't, but there again we look back at our past performance over the last several races and we've totally taken a giant step up. That's what we have to continue to work for and to try to figure out how to beat the Hendrick's and the Roush's and those guys. Once you get to that point, then we'll be in good shape. I still feel good as far as driving the race car and, if I can keep that good positive attitude...Wayne has done a lot for me from the crew chief side, and if I can keep this deal on an upbeat side...it's still enjoyable to go racing. Sure, you want to win, but if you can keep digging that way up the ladder you're gonna get there one of these days. That's just like at Loudon. With a little bit of luck, we could have easily won that race there just by the way things fell, so we'll keep digging at it."

ARE YOU CONSIDERING GOING BACK TO A TWO-CAR TEAM? "I'm still looking at a lot of different stuff. With the FirstPlus issue and the problems they had in having to back out of the sponsorship, that really hurt us after only a year into the deal. That's what we have to look at. If it would have continued on to be a three-year deal like it was laid out to be, we were starting to get things turned around real well. Ted (Musgrave) finished fifth at Phoenix last fall and we were really starting to get things turned around real well and had a good positive direction going with that deal. I think once you've got that in place, each one could have helped the other. McDonald's could have helped the other team and vice versa. We never had the opportunity to put that deal 100 percent in place because the first year was the building part of it and we never got a chance to go to the second. There are no plans at this time to do a second car deal, but we're still looking at the options that are out there. There are several things that have come across, but I don't know where they're gonna end up."

DID THE INDY TEST SESSION HELP YOU PREPARE FOR POCONO? "It really did because a lot of the stuff you learn on a car you can carry on to Pocono. There again, having raced there four or five weeks ago helps also because you can just turn around and fine-tune the setup you had from the last time. Hopefully, you'll get in the ballpark of where you need to be."

DO THE SETUPS CHANGE MUCH FROM ONE POCONO RACE TO THE OTHER? "No, the weather doesn't seem to change that much. If you're way off, you'll change some stuff around, but usually they don't change a great deal."

DO YOU FEEL NASCAR HAS BECOME BORING?  "I think from my standpoint it's far
from boring.  As competitive as it's gotten, maybe for a couple of teams
it's been boring, but for me it's been wide-open.  I've been going harder
than I ever have.  Things are moving fast and I don't see it that way at
all.  I think the way the competition is today, it's far from it."  

WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT SCENARIO FOR YOU ONCE YOU DECIDE TO RETIRE? "I think eventually I'd like to be an owner of a team. I think I could put a lot of good input into the deal, much like (Richard) Childress and several of the other guys who have turned around and gone into that role. I understand both sides of the deal having owned and driven and now doing both, and I feel that would be a good way to go. I really do."

HAS THE SPONSORSHIP SITUATION SOURED YOU ON WINSTON CUP RACING OR IS THAT PART OF THE DEAL? "That's pretty much part of the deal. You learn to take a lot of different punches throughout this sport and you just have to hold your head up and keep going. I feel like the best thing right now is to just be as competitive as we possibly can and go down that road. That's all we can do at this point in time and then we'll just hope things come together."

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RACING WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED IN NASCAR AND NOW, PARTICULARLY DEALING WITH SPONSORS? "To give you an example, when I started in Winston Cup racing you could sponsor a car for a year for probably $100,000. Back then, yes, $100,000 was a lot of money but they didn't expect a lot back from you in that point in time. Now, you're talking about deals close to being anywhere from five to 10 million dollars a year. Well, sponsors expect everything for that kind of money. Yes, they deserve it to some extent, but the role of where it used to be to where it is today (has changed). Now you go in and you do television commercials and so much around your sponsorship, whereby back then you did very little. They came in and paid you some money, put the name on the side of the car and they pretty much left you alone. You went out and did your thing. Today, there is so much marketing and involvement and participation from the team, the driver and the fans. It's pretty incredible where the marketing side has gone today."

WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET OF HOW TO ATTACK POCONO? "What I try to do is just get a compromise between the three corners. Yes, it is not an oval, but yes, in some respects it is an oval and that's the way you've gotta kind of approach it. To me, it's a little bit like a road course -- you've gotta give up a little bit here to be better there. To me, if you compromise all three corners and be as good as you can in all three. Everybody, especially, likes to concentrate on turn three which is the last turn coming down the long straightaway because that's where you're gonna lose or gain your most time."

YOU'RE ONE OF ONLY THREE DRIVERS TO SWEEP POCONO ('85), DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT THOSE TWO RACES AND WHY DO YOU THINK ONLY THREE DRIVERS HAVE SWEPT THE TWO RACES? "I think you look at it from the standpoint of a lot of people get better when they go back the second time around. Sometimes you can be off a little bit the first time and win the race. The second time around, everybody's got their act together and I think that's why it's harder to win the second time around. Back then, I can remember toward the end of the race I was racing Bonnett and a bunch of those guys and, man, we were slam banging it out there the last little bit and we ended up winning the race. It was one of those deals that I wasn't supposed to win, but luck had it my way that I won the race. That's what you have to look at in some of these deals. I know in Atlanta one year I ended up winning a race when I first drove for Junior (Johnson) when I was about a 20th-place car. I won it on fuel mileage and that's the way Pocono typically has gone. I know a couple of races there I was really good, but I couldn't go the mileage like some of the other guys did and they're the ones that won the race. Pocono can unfold to be a several combination race track, either handling, fuel, or track position and it's hard to get it all put together race-in and race-out."

AFTER THE JARRETT-GORDON INCIDENT, ARE THERE OTHER WAYS TO GET BACK AT A DRIVER BESIDES VERBAL EXCHANGES? "Yes, I guess there is but the thing of it is that time has a way to heal things. I think once everybody gets back and thinks about it a little bit, it really wasn't as bad as it was. Nowadays you work so hard to get to the point that after the race there's still a lot of adrenaline flowing and you tend to say things sometimes that you don't really mean. We all do that, but I think once you get back and think about it...you're putting a lot of things at stake if you intentionally put somebody in the wall. Yeah, you can bump around and show them that you mean business, but as far as intentionally taking somebody out, I don't know that anyone does that much anymore."

WOULD ONE WAY OF GETTING BACK AT SOMEONE BE POSSIBLY NOT DRAFTING WITH THEM ON A RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACK? "You can hang somebody out in different ways and that's a prime example. There again, if Gordon's car will run and help get the other guy to the front and I can't help him get to the front, I don't think he'd jeopardize himself from that standpoint of getting himself to the front."

HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN PUTTING TOGETHER SPONSORSHIP DEALS AND HOW MUCH PROMOTIONAL WORK DO YOU HAVE TO DO NOW? "To give you a prime example, yes I'm very involved. When we went to do the McDonald's deal, I was totally involved in everything we did as far as putting the McDonald's deal together. My old partner Charles Hardy, at the point in time we initially went to McDonald's, I had an idea. I was with Budweiser and McDonald's was with Junior and very unhappy at that point in time, and I had an idea saying, 'Hey, this would be a good idea to go to McDonald's and say, look, I'd like to do this deal if there's a possibility out there.' I had a good relationship with them up to that point, so things started progressing and coming together. Charles and I sat there and negotiated with their motorsports guy at the time and put it all together. I understand the business side, so that made it easier when we came back and re-upped. My wife (Cindy) and I went up there and re-presented it in '97 for '98, '99 and 2000 and that worked out well. There's a lot to it. Even the associates, I'll go in and help pitch the deal or at least put it in perspective. Everybody lays it out differently as far as what they do for the sponsor. Sometimes they get five or six promotional days, plus some other days. I've got a personal service that I do for McDonald's where I go in and do a McDonald's in a race market just about every race weekend, so everything tends to be a little different depending on the sponsor."

WHAT'S ON THE HIGH END OF THE APPEARANCE SCALE? "Like McDonald's, I probably do closer to 40 appearances of various things during the year."

WHAT'S YOUR FEELING ON THE NUMBER OF YOUNG GUYS BEING ABLE TO LAND GOOD SPONSORS THAT DON'T HAVE YOUR TRACK RECORD? "I think everybody is looking for another, like when I came along, another Bill Elliott another Jeff Gordon another Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think that's what they're looking at. They're putting some risk into where they're going, but they hope the benefits down the road will be just like what Tony Stewart is doing today. They hope to reap the benefits by having that driver, but there are only going to be a small percentage of those guys that make it -- a very small percentage."

SHOULD THE SPONSOR HAVE A MAJOR SAY IN WHO THE DRIVER IS? "It tends to be going that way. I don't know if that's a yes or no answer. I don't know that I've got an opinion in that direction. I think the sponsors need to worry about sponsoring and the teams need to worry about running the teams and try to give as much information as they possibly can, but that seems to be where it's going -- right or wrong. I don't know."

ARE YOU REPEATING WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH EARLY IN YOUR CAREER OF TRYING TO RUN IN THE TOP 10 AND THEN WIN? "Absolutely. I turn around and look at this as a rebuilding deal. I look at '97, we came very close to winning several races in '97. When Ford went from the T-Bird to the Taurus in '98 we seemed to lose a lot of the driver or whatever and could never put it back together throughout '98. We started '99 and were still jumbled around, but now I think we've turned it around and we're in the process of where we need to be. All it is is a building block. It is from year to year. Just like (Ricky) Rudd and what he's going through right now, he's had some good runs but hasn't been able to put together good finishes and that's what this business is all about."

IS NASCAR TRYING TO CREATE MORE OF A GENTLEMAN'S SPORT AS OPPOSED TO THE WAY STOCK CAR RACING HAS ALWAYS BEEN OF BUMP AND RUB AND GET THE FRONT ANY WAY YOU CAN? "You can do that to some extent, but NASCAR wants a competitive deal. I don't think they're gonna tell anybody how to drive, but they don't want somebody out there tearing up a bunch of equipment. You can't afford to have that and it doesn't look good from the sponsor's side. Yes, controversy is good to some extent because it helps build enthusiasm for the racing, but still, I don't think NASCAR can afford to have a deal where everybody goes in there and tears up a bunch of race cars week-in and week-out."

IS IT BECOMING A GENTELMAN'S SPORT? "I don't know that you could call it a gentleman's sport, but it's a very competitive sport."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Tony Stewart