DARRELL WALTRIP (D.W.), DRIVER OF THE NO. 99 AARON'S DREAM MACHINE, JOINED BY HIS DRIVER DAVID REUTIMANN Q: The Aaron's promotion has been a very humorous one involving your desire to drive the Dream Machine. Now, it becomes a reality. How are...
DARRELL WALTRIP (D.W.), DRIVER OF THE NO. 99 AARON'S DREAM MACHINE, JOINED BY HIS DRIVER DAVID REUTIMANN
Q: The Aaron's promotion has been a very humorous one involving your desire to drive the Dream Machine. Now, it becomes a reality. How are you feeling about racing Saturday at Martinsville Speedway?
D.W.: Up until they scheduled this race at Martinsville Speedway, there was no family circle approved for me to race on. In other words, my wife had a restriction on where she would consider allowing me to race. It just worked out. Every good ad campaign there has to be a payoff. You can't continue doing the same thing over and over again if there is not a payoff somewhere. This turned out to be a great opportunity because Martinsville Speedway is a track that I really like and it's a track everybody is comfortable with me going to and racing on. It made the ad campaign that much better. Obviously, after I get to drive it once, I'm probably going to want to try to drive it again somewhere. Anyway, we've had fun doing the campaign. This race got on the schedule for the first time since the Busch cars were there 15 years ago. It just worked out. I'm not working in the second half of the year. Scheduling wise, everybody approved of me doing it and signed off on it. So, we're going racing Saturday at 3 o'clock.
Q: You have driven for yourself in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. What is the difference in being a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series owner and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series owner?
D.W.: It's huge. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams are very manageable. Someone like me who doesn't have multi-million dollars and deep pockets, can have a truck team. It's affordable and manageable. It's fun and it's like Saturday night racing used to be. Sometimes you show up and have a one day show. You practice, qualify and race that same day. You don't have to have a huge shop or a lot of employees. Financially, it's a doable deal if you have a reasonably good sponsor. You can be competitive and have a decent show. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing to me is like going back for me when I had my old Busch cars in the 70s and 80s with a few of my buddies working on them. We had fun. That's why I love the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In the Cup Series, there are too many people, it costs too much and the travel is incredible. You've got to try and keep up with everybody as far as what they do from having airplanes, motor coaches, where they stay, how they get to the track, helicopter in, helicopter out, there's a specialist for this and a specialist for that and so on. The difference between truck racing and car racing is that everybody in Cup is a specialist and everybody in trucks is a generalist and I like being a generalist.
Q: It has to help having a young driver like David Reutimann driving for you in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Does it?
D.W.: David is just a great guy and a good family man. I've known his dad (Emil "Buzzie" Reutimann) for years. He's just doing an incredible job for us. He's so consistent. What I like about David and drivers like David -- and I was one of them -- is that you've owned your own cars. When you own your own stuff, you learn how to take care of it. You know that every race you run that you've got to finish. If you want to put meat and potatoes on the table, you've got to finish the race, make as much money as you can and not tear up anything. That's how you survive when you own your own stuff. That's the same mentality David has driving for us. Look at him. He has more top-10s than anybody in that Series. He goes out there every week and if we give him a winning truck, he'll win. If we give him a second-place truck, he'll run second. I love the way he races and I love him because he is a good Christian man. He's married and he's got a great family. He's got some great genes and he's a good guy. I couldn't ask for a better driver to drive for us.
Q: David, you are taking over driving responsibilities for the Aaron's Dream Machine after Martinsville Speedway. Are you hoping that D.W. leaves you a little bit of a car to drive?
REUTIMANN: We all know what kind of track Martinsville Speedway is and D.W. doesn't have an opportunity to race a lot. He's going to get the most out of it that he possibly can. He knows he can use her up if he needs to. I have no problem with him bringing it back in a cardboard box if he needs to as long as he's going to the front, which I know he will. Michael may have a different opinion. (D.W. says: David's not on the call is he?). As far as I am concerned, I'll drive whatever D.W. has left over. I know he'll do a good job. I'm just as excited that I've had the opportunity to drive the Aaron's Dream Machine. D.W. does get to drive it this weekend though. He's got dibs. (D.W. says: I'm going to get all the bugs ironed out of it so don't you worry and everything will be fine).
Q: You are showing much success in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. How does it feel to be talked about running the NASCAR Busch Series schedule and your prospects of moving on to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series level?
REUTIMANN: It's a great opportunity to obviously be able to go to the NASCAR Busch Series, but I also love the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. It is a great Series. The simple fact is that I also love the Busch cars. It's a great Series as well. It's so flattering to be talked about in a positive way. I've been talked about in a negative way a few times before. It's good to have a different scenario where you have possibilities. It's nice to have people talk about you having the opportunity to go Cup racing at some point. I don't know when and I don't know if ever, but I mean at least people are talking about it and that's nice. They feel like you can do the job. It's actually pretty cool. I'm really thrilled. If I wasn't with such a great team none of this would be even happening. That's being a realist. You are only as good as the team you are with and I am with a great team.
D.W.: The thing with David is that he doesn't complain. So, if we say, David you are going to run the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for the rest your life, he'll say great and I'm happy. I'll drive the truck for you. If that's what you want me to do, that's what I'll do. If we say, hey David, we're going to run you in the Busch car for a few races. He'll say that's exciting and I can't wait. If we said, we're going to put you in a Cup car; he'll be the same way. Wherever he is, he gives 100% and he doesn't complain. He's very content doing whatever we ask him to. That makes it even better for us.
Q: Are you worried that NASCAR may be losing a good bit of its old Southern core fan base particularly in light of drops in TV ratings for NASCAR races in cities like Atlanta?
D.W.: I'm not worried about that. I think we are just expanding the base in general. I think you are always going to have your core fan base. I think as long as we can continue what we've done for 50 years, we're fine. The basics of our sport is drop the green flag, run 400 or 500 miles, put on a good show, drop the checkered flag and somebody wins the race. We are always going to have fans that love that and buy into it and want to be a part of it. The big thing is to reach out. Mediocrity will ruin you. You can't sit still. You've got to grow the sport, create new fans and make it better for more people. You've got to continue to reach out and grow it.
Q: What do you think has affected the ratings?
D.W.: Blame it on the weather. I don't know. I can't answer that. I don't think it's a reflection of the sport changing or a reflection of anything that's going on with the sport. I think we just go through cycles. People get excited about racing and they watch it and then they go do something else. In the middle of the summer and in the fall when football starts up, it's tough to maintain those ratings that we have early in the year. I think it's the nature of the beast. I don't think it's really an indication of people not liking it or not happy with it. I think it's just the way it goes sometimes.
Q: Why Martinsville? Why now? What's the significance with this track?
D.W.: Earlier I talked about the family circle of approved tracks. Well, this is the only one on the list. Stevie, the girls and everybody are pretty comfortable with me racing there. Any time you get in a race car or any time you get on the track, there's danger involved. There's always the unexpected that can happen. We're pretty confident when we go there. I know the track. I raced there so much through the years. I ran a truck there the past few years. I feel comfortable going there. This race was added to the schedule and it just worked out for me to drive the car there. I've wanted to drive the car. The campaign has been him sarcastically putting me off, but in reality we knew that somewhere at one of these smaller tracks that I was going to get a shot to drive the car some time. I'm 59 years old and I'm not getting any younger. It's hard to stay in shape and keep your enthusiasm up unless I know that I'm going to get to race somewhere. I've been in the gym to work out a lot. I kind of maintain my weight. I think it's good for me to be able to get in the car or truck and race occasionally. It gives me something to really look forward to. I got to tell you, I would race every week. I would run a truck or do something every week, but my family doesn't want me to.
Q: Other than the equipment, what's the biggest difference between drivers today and the drivers of your generation?
D.W.: I believe the biggest difference is that when I drove, I was our onboard computer. I made the call to change whatever shocks, springs and sway bars we needed to. I drove by the seat of my pants. Aerodynamics was never a factor. Horsepower has always been. Aero was not a big issue with us. Everybody had the same problem. We didn't even know what aero push was. We thought that it was when somebody got behind you and pushed you. We didn't know it was when the front end raised up on the car and the car wouldn't turn. Nonetheless, I think that was the biggest thing. David and guys like David they run these tracks on their Xbox. They have technology we never had. They know a lot more about what they are facing than we ever did. I was an engineer, but the problem was that I was a reverse engineer. Everything I did was that I wanted to get it like I wanted it. Well, they don't do that anymore. They get in the car and in the truck and the engineer says we've been on the shaker machine, we've had it on the chassis dyno and we know how much power we've got, we know what springs and shocks we need. Now, go out there and drive it. That's what the driver has to do today. He doesn't wine about changing springs or changing shocks. He just tells them what it does. Isn't that how it goes David?
REUTIMANN: Obviously, we have more access to information than when D.W. was driving on a regular basis. It's like another tool to work with. He had to get his information by driving it and by feel. Now, you have all of the engineering support and all the other support from different types of people. Basically, you are doing things to the car aerodynamically to make it work whereas in the past you just worked on mechanical stuff. Now, you do things to the body to gain an aero advantage. When D.W. was driving on a regular basis, it was just him. Now, you have all kinds of information available to you.
D.W.: These guys today are rock stars. When they show up at the race track, they've got their entourage. They come and go in kind of a fashion that you would expect movie stars and rock stars to do. They helicopter in and they helicopter out. They go home to their lake home or their second house or their apartment in New York. Their lifestyles are such much different. That's another difference between then and now.
Q: Do you think Danica Patrick is strong enough and has the endurance to drive a stock car for 500 miles and compete favorably? In open-wheel racing, you don't get much bumping, but there's a lot of it in NASCAR. Is that something that Danica can cope with in your mind?
D.W.: I made that observation. Danica weighs 100 pounds or so and I think she's about 5' 3". She's a very small person. I think that is a huge advantage for her in an Indy car. The car fits her. I've never driven an Indy car so I don't know how physically demanding they are. When you can go to Indy and run 500 miles on a Sunday afternoon. Then get in an airplane and fly down to Charlotte and be in physically good shape and be mentally sharp enough to come out here and run 600 miles, that's 1100 miles of racing in one day. I know how hard a stock car is to drive. I know how grueling 600 miles is. I'm not saying Indy cars are easy to drive, but I don't think they are as physically demanding as a stock car. That would be a concern if I were her. It's not about her coming to NASCAR. It's about her contract being up with Rahal Letterman Racing. She's had a huge impact on the IRL. She probably thinks she's a little underpaid. She probably didn't get what she wanted, but she didn't know how popular and how big she was going to be. Now, she's trying to leverage that popularity. And, she's had a little bit of success. She can realistically win an Indy car race. She could not realistically win a stock car race any time soon. There's a huge amount of intimidation these drivers use. Like putting the bumper to you to knock and push you around. That takes some getting used to. The first time somebody puts a bumper to you going off into the corner at 180 mph it is quite an experience. One that you've probably never had before and you've probably not going to want to do again for a while. I just don't know how you can jump out of an Indy car or a Formula 1 car and get in one of our machines, which is the hardest car to drive in the world. It's going to be hard to get out of a precise car like an Indy car and get in a car that's more of a handful and you've got to anticipate every move you make.
Continued in part 2