NAPA press conference with Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Michael Waltrip, No. 15 NAPA Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo: Ty Norris, Vice President, Dale Earnhardt Inc.: "(I) Appreciate everybody coming out today. This is a day that Dale Earnhardt Inc.
NAPA press conference with Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Michael Waltrip, No. 15 NAPA Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
Ty Norris, Vice President, Dale Earnhardt Inc.:
"(I) Appreciate everybody coming out today. This is a day that Dale Earnhardt Inc. is very, very happy to have. Teresa Earnhardt called this morning. She sent her best wishes to Michael and Steve and just really happy that we're here today to make the announcement we're going to make and so to make the official I want to introduce to you the president of NAPA Auto Parts, Steve Handschuh."
Handschuh: "Good morning. Just want to take a minute to make the announcement that we have renewed our sponsorship agreement with DEI and the No. 15 car for the next two seasons, through 2004. And let me just take a quick minute before I introduce Michael to tell you a little bit about the process we went through. I know it's not news to you, but any company involved in Winston Cup racing it's a pretty important and obviously a very expensive decision.
"We've been involved with DEI since 1996 so it's been seven years for the truck series, Busch Series, now Winston Cup. And when we took a look at whether or not we were going to renew our sponsorship you take a look at the hard numbers, the ones you are familiar with, the Joyce Julius numbers, which we assign our own internal value to, and then you look at some intangibles and I can tell you one of the most important intangibles to us was how our organization, 6000 NAPA stores and almost 11,000 NAPA Auto Care Centers and all the thousands of people who work there, how they feel about our involvement in Winston Cup Racing. And I can tell you when we went out to start taking a straw poll I was amazed at the unanimous support for our involvement in Winston Cup racing and particularly with DEI and Michael Waltrip. Just completely unwavering support -- we need to do this -- even people who aren't big NASCAR fans, because they know their customers follow the sport.
"So that was really important to us and the third intangible, the final one that I will comment on this morning, was one that meant an awful lot to us and that's the fact that this was Dale Earnhardt's vision. I can remember the day that Dale called me and said I want to come down to Atlanta and talk to you about going Winston Cup racing and I'm trying to think to myself how can I tell Dale Earnhardt no. Because we had no intention of going Winston Cup racing, really weren't interested in it at that point. We were doing events, we had a Busch Series team. Dale came to Atlanta, got to our office. He was surly because the only rental car they had available was a Ford and he said he slumped down in the [seat], and he got there and he was just fit to be tied over the whole thing.
"Nonetheless, he laid out his vision and he said this is what I want to do, and I'm still thinking to myself how do I tell him no and then he said something that really piqued my interest. He says I think we can get Michael Waltrip. And I said, well, Dale, you let us know if you can get Michael Waltrip. He got on a plane, went back to North Carolina. I think he went immediately to your house, as I recall (directed towards Michael), and Michael said (I'm) due to sign a contract this weekend but right now I would love to come drive for Dale Earnhardt Inc., so Michael called me that afternoon to say how enthused he was about the whole thing. Dale said we had 48 hours to make a decision. And if you know anything about corporate America, you don't make a decision this big in 48 hours, but we did. And we were delighted to have done that.
"It didn't take long before Dale's vision was realized, obviously with Daytona and we all know the tragic events that followed that. So we went through a lot of soul searching too. Because frankly the only reason we were in Winston Cup racing was because of Dale Earnhardt. But as we analyzed whether we were going to renew we realized it was the vision of our good friend Dale Earnhardt that brought us there. It was his vision that his team would continue to perform like it's performing now. So that intangible I would tell you was probably as an important a reason as anything for our renewing our sponsorship.
"We're delighted to be involved with DEI, with Slugger Labbe. Congratulation, Slugger, on your first Winston Cup win last weekend. And with Michael Waltrip. Michael has not only been a great performer on the track, but I think all of you know how Michael performs off the track, and he has just been absolutely fabulous for NAPA. It's with a great deal of pride and a great deal of enthusiasm that we tell you that we've renewed our sponsorship agreement. The blue and gold will be on the No. 15 car, Michael will be the driver and Michael at this point I'd like to bring you up to make your own comments."
Michael Waltrip: "The team is where we had hoped to be about a year ago with our performance and the way we're running on the track. I think that we have the second best starting average in all of Winston Cup from the beginning of the year 'til now. I believe that's correct, maybe only Jeff Gordon has a better starting average than us. And at the last six races or so we could be leading the points but we're definitely top three. Six races is not a season, but it's certainly enough events to say that there's a trend there. It all comes down to performance as far as the driver is concerned. When there was a lot of talk about what I was doing or whether I would be back next year or not that didn't affect me or Slugger at all. Because we understand that the race track is where we want to perform. If we go out on the race track and do our job all the rest of the issues will take care of themselves. And, if we can't get it done together and at DEI, then we're wasting our time staying there. It didn't affect me or this team at all. And the big reason that we were able to really perform during this difficult time is because of the leadership role that Slugger plays. He went to the shop, he said don't worry about what you read, don't worry about what you hear, just worry about what I tell you. Line up behind me, guys, and we're gong to do this deal. I really appreciate and admire Slugger's leadership skills and I think they're as important of a reason why we're standing here today as anything. More often than not the driver gets way too much credit. And more often than not he shoulders more of the blame than he deserves. This is a team sport, and we've got a great team right now. Thank y'all for all your support lately."
Ty Norris: "Steve got a chance to see what a nicer, gentler company we are because we gave him three months this time instead of 48 hours. Again, today the testament to what Michael and Slugger did They put this thing up on their shoulders and said no matter what they knew that performance was a key issue and it was a key issue for NAPA, key issue for Dale Earnhardt Inc. And Michael has shown the most class of anybody I've ever been around in this time, because it was very difficult for all of us. He said, you know, don't worry about it. You're right. Let's perform at a racetrack and we'll get our heads together, and he put this team up on his shoulders, and that's why we're standing here today. It's a thrill to know that he's going to be around the organization because of what he brings to us, not only from a friendship standpoint but from a leadership standpoint. He likes to be involved in decisions just as much as Dale Jr. likes to be involved in them these days. It's really key for Teresa and myself to have someone like Michael who owns a team and has been around this business as long as anybody, even to be as young as you are, to be able to give us advice because we certainly need the advice."
WE'RE A LONG WAY FROM RICHMOND
"Yeah, it's a long way as far the way it looks on the track, but to get from where we were at Richmond to where we are now we had to be right where we wanted to be at Richmond. Because you don't just flip a switch and fix everything. And, so, while we weren't performing like I couldn't understand. I was getting a little bit concerned because we were doing everything we wanted to do and it wasn't working. We went to Martinsville and finished 13th and just had a real solid run all day long. Talladega, second, at the next week. Since that point I think we've averaged to finish around 10th or 11th and that's pretty good in Winston Cup racing over 11 races or so, whatever it's been. Just a testament to preparation. We were getting our stuff all lined up to go at them."
YOU'VE SAID ALL THE TEAM NEEDED WAS BELIEF, BELIEF IN ITSELF AND ITS DRIVER. HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY NEEDED?
"We could tell by the preparation of the cars. Like Michael said, we're not doing anything really different than what we've been doing; it's just that the guys believe in the goals. Last year they tore up a bunch of race cars and this year we haven't. We've been more prepared at the shop, so (when) we unload at the race track, we're 100 percent prepared. You win races in the shop, make sure nothing falls off the cars and just the guys needed reassurance that NAPA's coming back, Michael's coming back and I was behind them and I needed them behind me. The whole combination really paid off."
WERE ALL THE REPORTS THREE MONTHS AGO INACCURATE, WAS THERE SPECULATION THAT WAS WRONG OR WAS EVERYTHING RIGHT BUT IT CHANGED?
Waltrip: "You asking that of me?"
Norris: "No, I hear what you're saying. I think I understand the point of your question. We weren't saying that what you were writing was wrong. We had a lot of pressure on us not knowing what NAPA's long-term goal was going to be in Winston Cup. And to be able to convince NAPA that this is where they need to be and to be able to, if NAPA didn't stay, to sell our team to someone and to another sponsor, which we didn't want to do, we had to show some promise. That was the pressure that we put on ourselves early because we had a meeting in April with Steve and his group and we put more pressure on ourselves than we probably should have, but I think what we're saying is there was a lot being said and I made a lot of mistakes at Richmond in the things that I said. And that put some undue pressure on a lot of people. You learn from your mistakes. But what was being said probably should have been more private. In that case, Slugger had to say don't worry about what the papers are saying, don't worry about Jayski, don't worry about what you're hearing from day to day. Believe in yourselves. And I've gone down and been with the 15 guys at their Monday morning meetings to talk to them about everything. What it comes down to is it wasn't what you were reporting was wrong, it's what you were reporting should've been private.
WHERE DO THINGS STAND WITH THE NO. 1 CAR?
"I knew that would come up. We're working hard to get through that. We're in the middle of a lot of conversations with Steve (Park) and with Pennzoil and with everyone involved with that team to try to make it better, but we're not in a position to talk about any of that right now. Not today, anyway?
IS PENNZOIL BACK NEXT YEAR?
"Absolutely. Pennzoil is back for next year, No question about it."
"Let's talk about me-e-e."
YOUR BROTHER (DARRELL) SPECULATED THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE BACK. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT?
Norris: "We invited him here, but they were covering a race."
Waltrip: "No. Yes."
DID NAPA SEE THE GRASSROOTS FAN MOVEMENT TO KEEP MICHAEL WITH THE TEAM?
"Yes, we did. It was overwhelming. Ty and I talked about it one day. It gets kind of personal too. Basically, 'if you guys don't sign I'm never coming back to a NAPA store and I'm telling my friends not to come back.' That kind of grassroots effort does make a difference and when we started seeing that that was before we actually started to take the temperature of our own organization and it was obvious there was a ground swell of support out there and, as I said, when we went out to test the waters with our own people I was absolutely blown away at how unanimous it was, because when we first got into Winston Cup, in our organization it wasn't split down the middle, but there were those who said absolutely not. Now everybody said this is the right thing to do. Nothing has worked as hard for us and as well for us as this has. Yes, the grassroots effort meant something."
Norris: "Yeah, that's one thing I probably failed to talk about was it's amazing the race fans how passionate they are. We get in our little cocoon here when we travel around in this little garage. We can be in Chicago one week and Watkins Glen another, but it's still this little garage and we kind of sometimes get caught up in our own little world and don't realize how passionate the fans are about individuals and I definitely saw that with Michael and you see it with Steve and you see it with Junior and you see it with everyone we have at DEI. Actually, that's very, very positive for us. My personal e-mail address and direct phone number being posted on the Internet wasn't too cool, but other than that it was all right."
DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO FINALLY HAVE ELIMINATED ALL DOUBT?
"It felt pretty good to win the Pepsi 400 last week. That was an exclamation point on what we've been working toward since last September when Slugger joined us. This announcement is more about NAPA than me. I think the commitment a company like NAPA Auto Parts or anyone who wants to sponsor a first-line Winston Cup team makes to our sport is news to me. I'm a footnote because I feel it's a huge commitment on their part and I'm so proud that they believe in us and they are happy with how we've been representing them over the last couple of years and want to continue doing so. The big deal for me was winning the race last week. I knew I would work everything out with DEI, but to have a great sponsor in these days and times when those commitments are getting more and more difficult to sign is what this story is all about to me.