As the first three-day Busch Series test session concluded today at Daytona International Speedway, the second three-day session began with over 50 driver-and-car-combinations taking to the 2.5-mile speedway. Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No.
As the first three-day Busch Series test session concluded today at Daytona International Speedway, the second three-day session began with over 50 driver-and-car-combinations taking to the 2.5-mile speedway. Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 35 Ford, is hoping to rekindle the magic of his 2003 season when he captured four wins en route to a fourth-place finish in the final point standings. Reunited with Team Rensi for the 2007 season, Hamilton, Jr. addressed various topics during an afternoon press conference in the Daytona infield media center.
BOBBY HAMILTON, JR.-35-McDonald's Fusion
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK IN THE BUSCH SERIES, AND HOW IS IT GOING TODAY? "First, I'm just glad to be back. I walked in the garage and told my wife (Stephanie), I said, 'This is where I'm supposed to be.' Pretty much, my whole career had been in the Busch Series. I'm just relaxing. With everything that we've been dealing with, I was glad to get to the race track where I don't have to answer phones and do everything else. It's silly to say that you're at work, but you're relaxing at the same time. There was no easier moment than to put up the window net. It was like, 'Now I can do my deal.' Overall, we just made single-car runs just to make sure that no fenders and stuff like that was rubbing so that we could be ready for the drafting practice after lunch because the good guys are here - the 21 car and 2 and others. We want to make sure that we get that drafting in to make sure we can see what our car is going to do. Nothing towards the guys that are going to be here tomorrow, but the best cars are here today. We want to make sure that we're ready, so we just went out and made sure that nothing was rubbing or dragging, and we're waiting for the drafting practice."
CAREER-WISE, CONSIDERING WHERE YOU WERE A YEAR AGO, WAS IT YOUR HISTORY WITH ED RENSI THAT HAS ALLOWED YOU TO BE IN THIS VERY POSITIVE SITUATION? "Yeah, I think it was just overall. Ronnie Russell and everyone, we just had a foundation from the get-go because we had our best success together and we've tried to go back and rekindle that, I guess. I talked to Ed at a Red Lobster in Daytona and we were talking about just the way things were going at the truck shop and stuff, and later we were at Bristol and, of course, it was a horrible year last year with everything that was going on and told him, 'I can't be part of this. I need somewhere to go.' He said, 'If I can find a sponsor then we'll get you back over here.' But really, my wife got me back in here because she went to Ed and said, 'Can you find a sponsor so we can come back home?' It was like a week later when he called and he said, 'This is what we're going to do.' I said, 'Count me in.' He wanted to know about contracts and I was like, 'Whatever, just count me in.' I talked to Kevin Harvick and a bunch of different people, and it wasn't about money, I just wanted to go back somewhere fun and have a shot at winning races. He said, 'You need to go back somewhere where you're going to have fun.' It just happened to work out this way that these guys were making a change, and McDonald's was staying and Ford and everybody kinda opened their arms up a little bit for me and I fell back where I was. I couldn't ask to be in a better situation at all. I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd want to go."
A YEAR AGO YOU WERE HERE WITH YOUR DAD AND HE SAID HIS GOAL THAT YEAR WAS TO RE-ESTABLISH YOUR CAREER. DID THAT GOAL GET PUSHED ASIDE WITH ALL OF THE DEVELOPMENTS LATER IN THE YEAR? "That's what we tried to do. The Cup deal about put me out of business. Nobody would even talk to me. You went from winning four or five races a year and possibly a championship, and jump over in a pile of junk and couldn't fall out of a tree. Then all of a sudden, you couldn't drive no more. We thought about going back to the truck series, and it just happened to work out. It was in January and he was telling me what was going on, and he said, 'Just don't panic yet because I might need you over here.' Whether it was about careers at that time or not, it was about, 'Well, I need to jump in there and help him out.' And, we were hoping to have a better year, trust me, but with Toyota coming in, those guys showed up with both barrels loaded and kicked everybody's tail in the truck series. And, our leader at BHR wasn't around; he was sick. He wasn't up to par, so there were a lot of things crumbling. It was almost like the Titanic a little bit - I'm looking for a lifeboat here. That's the way it was by the middle of the year because we didn't know if he was coming back as far coming to drive or being an active owner. We didn't know, and he didn't know. He didn't know if he wanted to fool with it, period. I knew, I talked to him one time, and I was like, 'What am I looking at? Do I need to find a job?' With him not being active in BHR, I kind of let the powers that be run the deal down there, and I wasn't 100 percent into it or agreed with it, and still don't. Even to this day, I still haven't been down there since a week prior to his death, and I refuse to because the way it is now, it's not the way my dad was running it. You could see that because the minute of his absence it was starting to fall apart. Lois has been doing a great a job. She's been my dad's banker for 20 years, and she's trying to bail it out with the budget and stuff like that. But, there's some other stuff. Andy Dunlap and those guys that have been with my dad forever, they're doing their job, but there are some other people that have recent involvement into the family and BHR - probably six or seven moths ago - they're just kind of sinking, as we say, and I just can't be part of that. I think that I need to separate. We talked a good month, it was about a month before he really got bad, about what I needed to do. And, the biggest thing that I was having a problem with was the people that were saying, 'you need to carry on his legacy. You need to do this.'
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'VE WASHED YOUR HANDS WITH YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN BHR. "I've washed and dried them. I'm done. Going back to what I was just saying, he patted me on the back, and he said, 'Your name is my legacy. Winning races is what I need you to do.' That's what I'm trying to do. With everything going on down there, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. When I informed him that I wasn't really happy with the way things were going, that's when he told me it's not that important. He said, 'I've won my championship. I did what I wanted to do. I built it from the ground up and won my championship, and at the end of the rainbow, it's yours anyway so you can pretty much do what you want with it.' He informed me what the contracts were, and when I told him what I didn't like and what I did like, that's when he said, 'You've got your own career. You're not going to make me upset one way or another.' He said, 'Honestly, Bobby, that's why I haven't been down there. I'm tired of it. I'm tired, period.' And, that was a relief because I kept hearing so much 'legacy this' and 'legacy that.' I get up everyday with his name. As long as I have a job, you go across that stage and wave to the fans and they hear that name, and they know."
YOU DON'T HAVE ANY OWNERSHIP ROLE IN BHR? "No, it's me and they were wanting me to be a part of it, and like I said, there's people involved in it now that I just don't like, period. I don't like how it was run and I don't like where it's going. I patted them on the back and said, 'It can run with its own money. You ain't getting into mine. As long as you've got racing money, hooray, and I'll pat you on the back all day long.' Whatever happens, happens. I'm worried about McDonald's, Team Rensi, myself, my daughter and my wife. I heard that a lot that it was built for Bobby Jr. to come back and build this thing into a Cup deal. There were three parties involved. It was Bobby Hamilton, Davey Hamilton and Bobby Jr. Six or seven months ago it was separated between those two, and it's like he told me, 'It's really not the same place that we planned it to be anyway.' That was a big ease off of me because it was like, 'That's another good point.' Then he said, 'I'm telling you, I don't really know what's going to happen with it, so don't invest a lot of your time and effort into it because I'm afraid of where it's going. There's only a year left on contacts.' And, I hope they do a good job. You're right, I'm very bitter about things and I don't care. This is the first time that I've talked about it. Then when it gets time for things to turn bad, I told him - and anybody that knows me knows how am I. If you want truth whether you like it or not, come to me or him. Well, he's not around, so I'm having to take that place, too. Whether it's right or wrong, it's my company - well, not really my company because I washed my hands and dried them of it - and I'm worried about myself. Every time that I go to the stage or when I sign an autograph - and when they say my name or if they sit there and look at a piece of paper and ask, 'Who's scribble is that?' 'Well, that Bobby Hamilton, Jr.,' and hopefully they can remember my dad's involved in it. I don't need a bunch of metal, a truck team sitting around to show fans that. I think the biggest thing people remember is him jumping on the hood and all of that stuff. That's what I've got - memories. Hopefully those people and fans see that."
IS MOST OF THE PERSONNEL AT TEAM RENSI THE SAME FROM YOUR TENURE THERE? "It's Ronnie Russell, and he kind of the COO and president that's running it for Ed Rensi. Rob Winchester was involved with the Marines forever. He's kind of Ronnie's right-hand man. There's some other people there but that about it. I walked in the shop, and the cool thing about it is that it's all people who I've not worked with but ran against in the past. It's a group of guys that either I used to work with them or ran against them. And, it was so easy. I walked in and used nicknames from school or nicknames from back in the past that we used, and that's kind of the relationship that we already have. Whether it's going to be a homerun from the green flag here at Daytona, it's just like anything else - it's a building process. We will build it. I think after have the drought of success that I've had in the last two years, nothing burns more than wanting to run good and taking trophies home. I've been 100 percent focused on trying to learn everything that I can and be involved - not in their business as far as running the team - but just with me and Chris Wright (crew chief) trying to right-hand men for each other. He would call me at two or three o'clock in the morning, and I'll call him at two or three o'clock in morning and just bounce ideas off one another. Things have changed so much that you can't go off two or three years ago. It changes every month, and I've told him that I'm not opposed to trying anything. 'Make sure my seatbelts are tight and I'll try it.' Whatever is going to make it fast, I want to try it and that's what it's about. Hopefully this can kinda be starting over again. I think the best part about it is that I've been to all of the tracks. The only place that I haven't been to is Mexico. Other than that, hopefully my experience from past years, and even in the Cup stuff - that's 500 miles of experience every week that I've learned - so hopefully a little bit of that can come back and help. It will crutch me, and learning new people and these guys, and I can try to feed them as much information as I can. I'll wear them out. The minute that I think of something, I'll be over there in the truck and run back out and tell them something else that I remember. I'll try to feed them everything I can and give them all of the information that I can, and we can help build where they can learn me and what I mean by my 'loose' or my 'tight.' If we can do that, and it's the same thing that me and Harold (Holly) had. We just had that niche from the beginning. He knew my, 'Dude, I'm going to die if you don't tighten this thing up.' He knew how bad that was. He knew when I would tell him that I was really good and don't touch it, he knew to go ahead and do this and this. That was just because we had that communication. There's no doubt with as smart as Chris is and as good as he gets the cars to drive already that I can't just go in there and fill his brain with me - my redneck terms. That's me, and when he learns that hopefully it will be the same. Right now as it is, you have to throw this place away because it's all about what you can get away with in tech, or motor. It's not about chassis. I ready to go to California and real race tracks. Not to throw rocks at this place, but just fast places where you can hang on and make speed and he can help me hang on and make speed."
WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL INSIDE THE BUSCH CAR RIGHT NOW AFTER A TWO-YEAR ABSENCE? "As I said when we first started, there's no phones to answer, and I'm going to tell you guys that I've had a rough time, and it's not all about my dad. We've been trying to close on a house, and we finally get into it and then all of a sudden I run down here. Off the beat a little bit, we had to be out of our house by Friday and I had to go to the shop and do this and get back down here. It was one of those packing jobs where you put stuff in there from the kitchen and I think I found some of my underwear in it, too. We just threw everything in a pile to get out, and then trying to get moved in and to take care of the stuff with my dad, trying to just get situated again and come down here. I swear it was the biggest relief to put the window net up and it was like being on a beach somewhere by yourself because it was just my thoughts and my race car and I was ready to get back to work. We took two days to come here. It was just me and my wife to get away from all of the hoopla and relax. It's funny that you come to work to relax, but I love this stuff. I've got Legend cars at home, Late Models, and I'm trying to fill every day that I've got running just to keep me busy. We love this stuff. And like I said, there's nothing more relaxing than to put that window net up and there's nobody in there talking to you. It's just you and your spotter and your crew chief, and, to me, that's peace, that's ease."
DO YOU PLAN ON USING RACING AS A WAY TO PUT THE PAST FEW MONTHS BEHIND YOU? "For instance, I'm going to ride on the bus coming down here and ride on it back for the race. That's just another two or three day, but at the same time, life goes on. It's already going on. The day after it went on, and the day before it was still going. The biggest thing, and it's something we talked about before he passed, he said, 'You've just got to keep digging.' He brought up when we lost my grandfather and how did things, and how he would have done it different towards his job because this is a job that you can't call in sick, you cannot call in hurt. If you do, they'll find somebody to replace you within an hour. You've got to just keep moving and you've got to progress, however you need to deal with it to progress to make your team feel like you're 100 percent, and I want them to feel that. I don't want them walking in thinking, 'We need to give him a break this week.' I'm ready to go back to work, and I'm ready to get going. And that's the whole thing that I'm trying to do. We race Friday nights, and I have a Legend car, and I'm going racing on Saturday when I get home. And if there's somewhere Sunday or a Late Model race, I'm going. I had the stuff and that was always our little thing to go run that stuff, me and my dad, and it's no different. The only difference is that I don't have anybody jerking the window net down chewing me out of I did something wrong. I can still go and have fun, and that's what I'm going to do. I have a little girl to take care of and my wife and a new house and a job at hand. Like I said, I've got to make sure Team Rensi is happy with me and McDonald's, and fill my calendar up and go to work."
COMPARE DAYTONA THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW IT TO TODAY. "It's very intimidating at first because you're here. You see it on TV and you're thinking, 'How do these guys do that?' Before you get here, you're usually around the bullrings and the little places like that. Then they'll make you go to Atlanta or Rockingham or somewhere, and it gets stretched on out. What will drive you crazy about this place is that no matter how good of a lap you cut or how smooth you are or how hung out you are, you look in your mirror and that same guy is right on your tail; you cannot shake him. All of these other places, you can't do that. You can get a real good lap or whatever and stretch it out. The biggest thing that I've learned from the past - and anybody will tell you this - if you have a really fast car, this and Talladega are the funnest places that you can go to because you can really hustle it. As I call them, a Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr. car, if I had one of those cars, I'd want to race here every week because you can pass. If you have an average car or a horrible car, you wait around for the wreck. I think the difference between the very first time compared to the time for this Daytona race coming up, you've learned and you've seen different situations and you've seen veteran drivers enough to know that it's too early to see tire smoke and too early to see donuts, so you kind of get out of that situation and you get a little bit smarter. This place, you learn tricks, and I think that's the biggest thing. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the moment to get up to the middle of the field trying to get up to front, and all of sudden there's a big wreck and you're just in it. I think those guys, even Earnhardt and those guys, even when they didn't have the best car, they put themselves in situations to stay out of a mess, and when it was time to go, they worked on their stuff all day to go. And, this place is no different, but you just have to be a little bit smarter and get off the pedal a little bit and be there at the end because if you're not there at the end it doesn't matter. I think that the biggest thing from the start to begin with. As far as driving the track, the track has gotten older and it's lost grip. It's almost like the biggest short track that you can go to because you really have to work on your chassis a little bit to run wide open all day. They always say that the guy that can run wide open all day is the guy that is going to win, but that's harder than you think because you have a guy right on your quarter panel that can suck you around at any time if you're too loose. It's more than what fans realize, and it's hard to describe, but when you see these guys win these races, when you see Tony Stewart come from the back and he's two and three wide hanging on and you're thinking, 'He's just got that car.' No, that cat's in there driving. If you watch Dale Jr. and Dale Sr. and all of those guys that win these types of races, Jeff Gordon, granted a lot of times they're out front, but to get these things right and to hustle it like they do all day long, you have to have talent. I look up to those guys, and it's not because of who they are and what they've done, but I know how hard I worked to run 15th here, so I can imagine trying to get in there and run three or four wide with the best drivers in the world. I think that's the biggest from the beginning to now - you get smarter. It's the same old Daytona, same old tactics and same old drafting. They change rules on you and whatever, but the smart guys with good equipment are unbeatable, while the smart guys with average equipment, you see them and they'll always surprise you because they'll sit back and out of nowhere, here there come. Hopefully one day I can keep getting a little bit smarter and be that guy, and that's what I'm trying to be. If I can just be there at the end then I can have something for them at the end. That's the biggest thing that I see from the very first time I was here in an ARCA car to where I am now - just smarter and using my head a little more."
LOOKING BACK AT '04, WHAT WAS THE LURE TO MAKE THE JUMP TO NEXTEL CUP COMPETITION? "It got to a certain point. I always said that I don't want to go to that side just to go, and when I came up me and my dad talked a whole bunch about it. He said, 'Sometime or another you've got to go to put your foot in the door.' That's what that was. It really wasn't about the money. Of course, it was great. That's never a bad end of it, and one thing you really have to look at before you really leave, for instance, I was in an exceptional situation with Rensi. I was winning races and all of that stuff, and one thing you can really get caught up in as a young driver - as a dumb driver as I was - I'd sit there and say, 'Ricky just ain't pushing the gas down like they say.' These cats haven't forgotten how to do this. Usually if a team is really, really off right now, that's why they call it a team. It's the whole situation and not just one end of it. I was unbeatable in my head. I would walk in the Busch side thinking that I was going to win today, tomorrow, and I'm going to win a championship. And, I walked on that side over there thinking I could really go in there and help, and that's really where the youth took over the mind and said, 'I can do this. I can make this turn around.' I got over there and after the third lap in the Daytona 500, I was like, 'I'm in trouble.' But at the same time, we're just trying to get our foot in the door. It backfired. It about put me plum out of the business. I couldn't even get anybody to talk to me even in the truck series. It just happened to work out to have something. I'm a firm believer after everything that I've been through that there's somebody looking out for me, and a plan somehow or another because I always seem to land on my feet somehow, or on my knees. It just seems to work out. That was mainly what it was about. We were just talking about. I thought having Harold with me on that, and that showed that you've got to have everything as a team over there, because me and Harold over here, we could beat Kenseth, we could beat anybody if we just had the right luck fall in. On that side, we were still hinged together at the hip and we still just struggled with stuff. Like I said, it was just trying to get my foot in the door for maybe something better, and for some reason in the world if you get in something like that, it's really hard to get people to look past that. They look past it as far as he has no top 10s this year. Well, that car hadn't had a top-10 in six years and you want me to do that? I'm just trying to show you, look at what I did do to help. It's a rough sport and nobody said this was easy. You take your chances. You take your chances everywhere. I'll take my chances the minute I go out here in the draft. I think I'm man enough to man up and do it. It didn't work out and I'm back in a situation that I think is really good. It might not be the best thing that I can be in right now, but I won't quit until we get it back like we were. I want it just as bad as they do. Ed Rensi, the owner, I've never seen him more involved along with Ronnie Russell and everybody. It was a mistake on my part trying to better my career, and I kind of hurt it trying to help it. But, it was another life lesson. Of course, I would probably trade it, but in all reality it was another lesson that you put in your memory bank and grow it."
AT WHAT POINT LAST YEAR DID YOU DISCUSS LEAVING BHR? "Actually, it was the Daytona race here last year that we saw Ed and then at Bristol. There were a couple of races before that I was talking to Ronnie Russell. He was talking that there might be a third team, and I think Regan was letting them know that he was leaving. It just happened to open the door, and then all of a sudden I asked him about the rumor and he said, 'Well, he hasn't really let us know yet, but as soon as he does.' No matter how I look at it, I'm supposed to be here today doing what I'm doing now, wearing a McDonald's uniform because it just happened to work. I couldn't ask for it to work out any better. Everything that was going on with my dad, it just kind of relieved me of all that to put me in this situation. I don't know if it's right or not, but I'm just following this path. The doors keep opening this way. I would have chosen to go down this way maybe a little bit more, but this path is opening up every time that I have a question. That's why I said this is where I'm supposed to be."
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO TAKE THE JOB WITH TEAM RENSI? "Bristol. She (Stephanie) was over there begging and pleading for it, and she talked to Ed and it was like, 'We want to come back home.' It was a week after that we were hot and heavy on the phone trying to get it done. There were a couple of other options on the Busch side but it was, 'I'll call you back.' This was the number one priority, period. I think it was Bristol or the week after, and also they were really making sure that Regan had all of his stuff done before they even went any further with me because this was his deal before mine. Once he decided that he was leaving then the door was open."
-credit: ford racing