Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford, held a brief Q & A session in the California Speedway infield media center between practices for Friday's American Racing Wheels 200 to discuss his record streak of consecutive starts. Crawford...
Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford, held a brief Q & A session in the California Speedway infield media center between practices for Friday's American Racing Wheels 200 to discuss his record streak of consecutive starts. Crawford is set to become the first Craftsman Truck Series driver to reach the 200-race milestone, and all have come with owner Tom Mitchell behind the wheel of a Ford F-150.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford F-150
"I can't explain being with the man 14 years, and his excitement this year as far as racing is concerned."
YOU ARE SPONSORED BY TOM MITCHELL'S TRUCK STOP. WHERE IS IT LOCATED? "It's an oasis, exit 372 off of Interstate 10; he owns it all. It used to be one of the original Union 76 truck stops. It's got the full-service facilities, the truck wash, and it's got a Super 8 Motel on the premises. It's also got his auto racing museum with his Cobra, his GT 40, his Cup car that he used to have and two Indy cars. It's just a neat personal auto museum."
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITH THE TEAM? "I manage the business; I wear that hat. I'm in the front office, and if need be I can walk by and make mention of notes. I've been in racing for over 25 years, a third-generation racer, and if I see a mechanic doing something I don't particularly like or it's not the right way to do it, if Cowboy (Kevin Starland, crew chief) hadn't already told him how to do it then I'll mention it to him how to fix it. I'm like Tim McGraw. Five or ten years ago I used to play the guitar and sing my own songs, and now I'm just going to sing and let somebody else play the guitar because I can pay them."
DO YOU HAVE ANY RACE ACTIVITIES IN TEXAS? "When they we were Indy Car and Cup racing they were garaged in Ozona, Texas, and the building is still there. In fact, that's where the boss's office is at. Now we're in Charlotte, North Carolina, behind Lowe's Motor Speedway in the Alan Kulwicki Winston Cup shop."
HOW ARE THE TRACK CONDITIONS TODAY? "It was good. I'm very pleased. The truck that we're running today for our 200th start has never raced; it's brand new. It's never run a practice lap, and the first time on a race track and you're top five on the board. We ended up sixth fastest and it's a credit to the Circle Bar race team in 2005 because putting something like that together before Daytona, loading it in the wagon at Daytona and making the trip west and unloading and it's really prepared, that just shows the strength of our team."
IS THE RACING SURFACE PRETTY GREEN RIGHT NOW WITH ALL OF THE RAIN FROM THE PAST FEW DAYS? "Yes and no. California Speedway is a neat place. It's a nice place and it's and excellent place to race because it's not just a one-groove race track. If your truck is not handling in the right place you can search around and find a decent place for it to race. New tires always give you good grip. If you put 35 trucks out there eventually you're going to run in a groove, so it will eventually come to you pretty quick."
TALK ABOUT THE MUSEUM YOU ARE BUILDING. "My museum, I'm collecting. I have a game room that I call my museum at home. It's in my basement. I have a '55 Ford T-Bird original convertible inside the house. I put some racing memorabilia and Elvis memorabilia that I've collected throughout the years."
IS IT DIFFICULT BEING TAGGED AS THE PERSON WITH THE MOST STARTS IN THE SERIES? "Actually it's not. Personally, it's not a big deal to me. It's a big deal to Tom Mitchell. He's the owner and he put together the money and the funding. It's Built Ford Tough and we're a factory-backed race team. It started with Tom Mitchell. It was Tom Mitchell's idea to, 'Let's go pickup truck racing.' That's exactly how he put it to me. He told me, 'We're going to be real serious about it and real focused on it, and I want you to sell all of your All-Pro stuff and get yourself a truck.' I got Laughlin to start building a truck, I got the Lazano Bros. to build an engine, and for the first six races in 1997 we had one truck and one engine and traveled by land. It was quite a deal to get that truck team started and get that first top-10 finish, and in 28 races we won our first race, so that was quite an accomplishment for our group."
YOU EXPERIENCED SOME EARLY SUCCESS IN YOUR TRUCK SERIES CAREER. "We were second that year (1997) in rookie-of-the-year standings to Kenny (Irwin) and we had some good races. I've been in the series for quite a while and I've seen a lot. I got into it when you had the Winston Cup owners that owned trucks. It's still that way today but now you have Harvick, and he has his own truck, and you've got two-truck teams like Roush. Childress is still involved building engines for the 46 and 16 truck. You have influence from the Cup side. I watched that and I watched the decline of the popularity of the truck series at one time because of the tragedy we had with Dale Earnhardt, and I think NASCAR was putting a lot of emphasis on safety, which all three series lost a little bit there because of the safety issues. Craftsman never lost focus on the truck series and they signed another five-year contract to bring it up to 10 years, and I think knowing that a series has a title sponsor that's behind them, you have the fan base now coming back. You have exciting racing and drivers are coming back from the Cup side after they've had enough of Cup and they still want to enjoy racing. This is the series to do it in, and that's what makes the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitive and exciting for the fans."
TALK ABOUT THE CHANGE IN PIT STOPS FROM HALFTIME BREAKS TO LIVE-ACTION PIT STOPS. "I think it added to the excitement on television. I think that's what the fans wanted as far as television was concerned. They wanted to see more of racing like it's supposed to be. If you looked at my team that I had back then, they were on Geritol because we had older good mechanics and it would take them 10 minutes to do a pit stop. When we had the competition pit stops, it brought the series to another level because then we had to get trainers because if we came into Phoenix with a Cup weekend with us, you'd see a lot of truck teams go get Cup pit stop guys. Our team would use our own and we needed to compete with them, so we had to be trained and become pretty agile on pit road."
IN YOUR TENURE IN THE SERIES, WHO IS THE GREATEST DRIVER YOU'VE SEEN COME THROUGH THE RANKS? "It hard to nail it down to one. Kurt Busch is one because he was last year's Cup champion. Greg Biffle because he's been the Busch Series champion and truck series champion, and he has won Daytona in a Cup car. He handles his Cup car really well. Car control is everything when you look at those guys. The next guy is Kevin Harvick. Look what he did right off the bat. You can't stop there and have to look at Hornaday. He was a Busch Series champion and drove for Dale Earnhardt and had a shot at the Cup Series. Mike Bliss is doing the same thing. He ran really well with Gibbs and he's in the Cup Series. Look at these guys that are still there. Even though you have a Sprague that came back, he ran really well in the Busch Series. These guys that have graduated from the truck series to move into another series have always proved themselves, and the truck series is a great place to build your career."
WHY HAVEN'T YOU MOVED FROM TRUCK SERIES COMPETITION? "Because Tom Mitchell is focused on winning a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. Until we're satisfied with our performance and can complete success, why should I say, 'Let's move to something else?' We haven't accomplished what we want to accomplish yet, but I have no doubt in my mind that when the time is right - and I haven't run out of time - that if ask Mr. Mitchell, 'What do you think about running a few Cup races?' I think he'll be ready to go."
HAVE YOU BEEN OFFERED OTHER RIDES? "I have been offered other rides in the truck garage. Actually, I was offered a ride with the Toyotas when they came in. I wear my million-dollar Ford watch for saying I wouldn't drive a Toyota. People don't understand my loyalty to Tom Mitchell. I probably wouldn't be running at California Speedway without him, so I'm sticking with him. He's never said no to me on anything. I'll tell you the statement that he's always made from day one: You get what you need and we'll talk about what you want. What other owner has ever said that?"
WHAT OTHER MOTORSPORT TEAMS HAS TOM MITCHELL FUNDED? "He's run the Indy 500 and they ran the Cup races with Chet Fillip back in '86. He likes to have fun as an owner and he drives a pickup truck everyday. He drives a Ford Lightening and his outlook is that he likes the pickups. To him there is no other series out there. He cares about his pickup truck team."