This Week in Ford Racing May 13, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, will be making his third start in The Winston this Saturday night after finishing 18th and 19th the past two years. In addition, he...
This Week in Ford Racing
May 13, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, will be making his third start in The Winston this Saturday night after finishing 18th and 19th the past two years. In addition, he will be hosting the inaugural Hoops for Hope charity basketball game to benefit the Autism Society of America on Thursday, May 15, at Halton Arena on the campus of UNC-Charlotte. Sadler spoke about both events during the weekly NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus:
CAN YOU IMPROVE ON YOUR CAREER-BEST 18TH-PLACE FINISH IN THE WINSTON? "I hope so. We've kind of had some bad luck at The Winston. It's not really gone our way. Last year, we had a very fast race car and kind of got taken out in turns one and two, and I expressed my discomfort with it, but we had a lot of fun and, hopefully, we'll be able to improve a little bit on that this year."
YOU HAVE CHARITY BASKETBALL GAME ON THURSDAY. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT? "Yeah, we're having a Hoops for Hope with Elliott Sadler. It will be Thursday night before The Winston and it's a pretty cool deal. M&M's came to me and asked me what really gets me going away from the race track - set aside racing, what are the things that really touch my heart or are close to my family. As far as different things go, it's a hard discussion we had, but I brought up the fact that autism had touched my family a few years ago with my niece, Halie Dru, being born, and learning a lot about autism and things like that. It's just something that's close to my heart and my family, so they decided to do something to raise money for the Autism Society of America. We've got Artie Kempner from Fox helping us a lot. M&M's has done a lot. We've got a lot of my friends, a lot of race-car drivers are gonna help me out in playing the game. It's the race-car drivers against the media and it's Thursday night. It's gonna be a good show and a lot of fun. We've got a lot of halftime activity going on. I've got some of my wrestling buddies that are gonna show up, like Ric Flair and Jeff Jarrett. Wesley Walls, who used to play for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, and just a lot of great friends. It's pretty touching for them to be able to help me out like this and raise some money for the ASA, so it's gonna be pretty cool and we're gonna have a lot of fun. We might be a little sore come Friday morning, but at least it's for a good cause."
DALE JARRETT, JEFF BURTON AND DARRELL WALTRIP ARE AMONG YOUR TEAMMATES. WHAT KIND OF CHANCE ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE WITH THOSE GUYS? "(Laughing) We're probably not gonna have a good chance, but we're definitely gonna have a lot of fun. Everybody's schedule is pretty busy this part of the year being involved with the Charlotte races and stuff, but those guys are definitely nice enough to mark off time from their busy schedule to come help. Ol' DW coming to help is gonna be great. He wanted to coach and then play, so I'm not sure what he's gonna be by the time we get there, but just to have him there in that atmosphere at the ballgame is a great accomplishment. I'm really surprised by the feedback we've gotten from everybody. Everybody has been so nice and so generous and my family is just so thankful for that."
DO YOU THINK SHAWN PARKER WILL HAVE ENOUGH OF A PRESENCE TO GET THE JOB DONE AS CREW CHIEF OF THE 88? "From my experience with Shawn, I think he will. Yes, he is young in age, but his experience with great race-car drivers like Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin - he's worked with the veteran drivers before, so I think he knows a lot of what they're thinking. His communication is unbelievable. He was the right man for the job. When we started thinking about the different crew chiefs we could bring in, his name stayed at the top of the list the whole time. His knowledge of a race car is nothing like I've ever seen before. He's definitely a big part of why the M&M's car ran so good each and every week. Like I told Doug (Yates), I'd rather race with him in the same shop than against him somewhere else, so we needed to give him that opportunity. I think he's gonna do well with it. He and Raymond have become really good friends since he's been there, so, hopefully, the communication between the two teams is gonna be pretty good. Even today, he's in Kentucky testing some speedway stuff for us and I'm at VIR testing road course stuff, so we're still trying to keep this teamwork deal working as much as we can."
DO YOU THINK THIS WILL MAKE YOU MORE OF A ONE-TEAM SITUATION? "I think you're gonna see that. That's a big deal with Robert and Doug Yates, especially with Doug taking over the race team this year. He's gonna make and wants both of our teams to work together. That's got to be the beneficial way to do it. We look at how well the 18 and 20 have run in the past years in the same shop and using each other's notes. You look at the 24 and the 48, the 97 and 17, a lot of these guys are in the same shop and run very well. Doug has started that by putting us in the same shop and then he wants a group of guys that are willing to work together and want to work together. We think we've gotten that now and now it's just our turn to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I don't think you're gonna see improvement over night, but I think the more we work together and the more experience Raymond and Shawn get, the better our race teams are going to be. I think this is just a small step in the right direction that we need to go in and, hopefully, we'll be able to keep climbing this ladder and working hard and see if we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
WHEN YOU SEE JERRY NADEAU HAVE AN ACCIDENT LIKE HE DID, IS IT SOMETHING YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU'RE IN THE CAR? "It's funny you asked me that because when I was racing Saturday night at Richmond, every time you'd go into turn one and the car got a little loose, I would get to thinking about it. You try to block out what has happened, but we're such good friends and have such a good fraternity going that I don't think we can block out what has happened that same weekend. Even some of the tracks we still go to now that have had accidents the past few years, you still think about it when you go. I do, anyway, because I've followed the history of the sport and I understand the things that can happen. So, yeah, it felt kind of weird racing Saturday night with Jerry not there with us. He was so close to us in a hospital that's not five miles from the race track and I really want to send my regards and get-well wishes from the Sadler family to his, but, yes, it goes through my mind. I was definitely thinking about it Saturday night."
NEITHER RYR TEAM IS IN THE TOP 10 RIGHT NOW. HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN WHAT'S HAPPENED? "We've had a tough season. If you look back at some of the races, we've just had some terrible luck. My car has been very fast every week, except for California. I've got a blown motor at Vegas, a flat tire at Texas leading the race, and just got taken out Saturday night running 13th or 14th. I've been in the top 10 in points for quite a while until last weekend when we got taken out. DJ, on the other hand, has struggled. They haven't really found a setup that I think they need and that he wants in order to be the driver that we all know he's capable of being. So there have been a lot of changes made on the 88 team. We knew coming into the season that we were gonna have to work hard together. We had a lot of changes and we knew we were gonna have some hurdles to go over, but I think Doug has done a great job of trying to get the right people in the right positions that, one, believe in their race car drivers and, two, believe in Robert Yates Racing and what to be a part of the team. I tell you, Raymond has done a great job on our team of getting everybody involved. Everybody on that race team is involved in the setup and the things that we do and I think they're trying to get the 88 team in the same direction. That way you're not so one-dimensional at different tracks or you don't dig yourself in a rut when things are not going good. So, yes, we don't look good at all in the points, but we've had some bad luck and we know this. We know where some weak areas are at that we're trying to work on right now in-house and the guys are definitely working hard on that. Hopefully, you're gonna see us better ourselves and improve in the points and, hopefully, get back to the winning ways at Robert Yates Racing."
IS THE TOP FIVE IN POINTS STILL POSSIBLE THIS YEAR? "Yeah, I think so for us. I'm not but one hundred and some points out of, like, sixth or something, so, yes, by far, I think there's a lot of racing left and we're gonna keep grinding all we can to try to get all the points we can. We feel like we've got a really good race team. We think we've bettered ourselves the last week or two by moving Shawn over and acquiring Jason Burdett and we've got a lot of smart people on this race team. We've just got to keep going and working in the areas that we think we need to work at and, hopefully, we'll get better and you'll see both of us up front real soon."
WHAT IS YOUR BASKETBALL PLAYING HISTORY? "I've been playing my whole life since I was about five years old when I started playing in leagues. I was very fortunate to have a really great career in high school. I think in my senior year in high school I led the league in scoring, steals, and was second in assists and rebounds so I was doing a really good job. I think I won the MVP at every single tournament that we played in and we lost in the state quarterfinals, but we had a lot of fun and set a lot of goals. I had a good time. And then I had a lot of scholarship offers to colleges around the Virginia area and decided to try to go play for James Madison University, but tore my knee all to pieces and never got to play. So it's always a what-if and what-could-have-been kind of deal with me and basketball. As far as still playing now, yes, I do. I think it's a great way to get in shape. I play basketball and softball almost every day I can to try to stay in shape. It's just something to do athletic-wise and it's a lot of fun."
WHAT ABILITIES ENABLE YOU TO PRODUCE IN WINSTON CUP? "I don't know. I definitely have the ambition and the focus to try to make it in NASCAR Winston Cup. It's something that has driven me for a long time. I've been racing a little over 20 years. I'm only 28 years old, so this is really all I know. I've given up a lot of things in my life to try to get me to this point. I've given up a lot of things just in the past year to make sure when I stepped in a Robert Yates car that I was gonna have the focus and determination it takes to become a Winston Cup winner. It hurts sometimes. You give up a lot of stuff in your personal life, I have, to make sure that I am a focused individual when it comes to Sunday. That's what I try to do. As far as talent, I just try to use the talent that the great Lord has given me, but as far as mindset and determination, I think it's something my parents have given me. I try to really stay hard on myself and make sure I keep walking the straight and narrow to become, hopefully one day, a NASCAR Winston Cup champion. That's my dream as well as any other kid, I think, that gets into this part of racing. That's what you really want to do. The odds are against me right now and you don't know if I'm ever gonna do it or not gonna do it, but I'm definitely gonna try. When I go to bed every night I'm gonna try to figure out ways to be able to make sure that happens."
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU COULD BE A RACE-CAR DRIVER? "I don't think a switch ever cuts on. I was just lucky enough to race some Late Model stock cars around Southern Virginia and a few Busch Series owners saw me and started talking to me. I guess one of the first few phone calls I received as far as driving a Busch car is when a light kind of came on in my head thinking, 'You know what, maybe you can do this for a living.' I still remember the day when Benny Parsons' son, Keith Parsons, was working for Diamond Ridge Motorsports at the time and he called me. I thought it was a prank at the time, but he called and asked me to drive their Busch car and it seemed like a light came on that day that you can do this deal for a living and it's been a lot of fun since."
IS IT NICE FOR DRIVERS TO KNOW THERE'S NOT MUCH TRAVEL WITH TWO WEEKS IN CHARLOTTE? "Yeah, I think it's great - not only for us because we're the lucky ones that have motorcoaches and things like that. I think you've really got to look at the crew members on this behalf. The two races at Charlotte during the month of May, the crew members really get their wives and children involved. They can come to the race track and they can sleep in their own bed. It really gets them more involved and it's just better for them. That's why I think The Winston at Charlotte is a great idea. The crew members let their families be more a part of what they do on a week-in, week-out basis, so I think it's better for them than anything. I'm glad to see my guys be able to spend time with their families at the race track and get them involved. That seems to make things go so much easier."
CONSIDERING JERRY'S CRASH, HAVE YOU LOOKED AT YOUR SEAT AND REVIEWED THE WHOLE SAFETY SITUATION? YOU BIG GUYS HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING OUT OF THESE CARS SOMETIME. "You're exactly right and I think that's why some of the drivers have been in close contact with NASCAR really trying to work on this hatch idea. What's the safest way to get these hatches put in these roofs? I would really like to see that come being a big guy. I cannot sit here and tell you that if my car hits driver side and catches on fire, that I can get out the right side. It's easy to do it in the shop when there is no panic, but if there's a fire or something going on, I think it would be hard to do that. I would really like to see the hatches be put in place. I think that would make the sport a lot safer. As far as the Jerry Nadeau incident, the first thing I did was I went and found out what type of seat he was using and what might have caused what type of injuries. I went back and looked over our car and you just try to do the best you can. I just think that his wreck was so flush that they couldn't do anything about it. I'm sure they do a great job on their safety and Jerry does, too, I know, but sometimes the wreck is overbearing the equipment you can put in the car. We did some background check on it and checked what we had, but a lot of us are big guys and it is hard to get out. I think DJ did tell me that he got out with his HANS at California, but it was tough for him. That's something we're looking at - to make sure the window openings are as big as we need them to get out."