Hendrick Motorsports "Remembrance" transcript (part 1)

In a special press conference held today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, drivers and crew chiefs affected by last Sunday's tragic accident held a special "remembrance" to reflect on those who lost their lives. THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining...

In a special press conference held today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, drivers and crew chiefs affected by last Sunday's tragic accident held a special "remembrance" to reflect on those who lost their lives.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. Our panel has asked for this time to visit with you to share their remembrances and their thoughts about the lives so tragically lost last Sunday. They need no introduction. They are NASCAR champions, drivers and crew chiefs, and championship contenders.

We'll open the floor for questions, but we're going to begin this remembrance with a statement from Brian Vickers.

BRIAN VICKERS: I am not going to answer any questions. I want to say that last Sunday was a sad day, was a sad day for a lot of people. Obviously I lost a dear friend. They will all be deeply missed for a long time to come until we all get a chance to see them again.

Q: At the service, Mr. Livingston said that he knows the Hendrick family, he knows that they will turn this tragedy into a triumph. Obviously a lot of that is coming back to the racetrack and doing what you guys do. Do you agree with that and how do you refocus on what you have to do once you come back to the racetrack after such a difficult week?

JEFF GORDON: I will say right now I think there's so many things going through all of our minds. We're still in such shock that I am probably not going to answer things the way I wish I would when I leave here or the way that anybody who is affected by this maybe wish that I would or any of us. But it is such a shock.

It's been just something that has been you know, just unbearable for - you could imagine - anybody to deal with, and getting through something like this is going to take time. It is going to take a lot of support. I think that's the one thing I want to say is I want to thank all those people out there that have been so supportive and have put their thoughts and their prayers for the families for those that have been left behind through this, that those are the things that are going to get them through this and yeah, there is a time when you have to move on. I don't know when that time is. Losing, you know, whether it be a mother, father, sister, brother you know, in this way, I just -- I don't know how we're going -- anybody is going to move past that, but as far as we're concerned here, we do have a job at hand this weekend; we want to, you know, keep that legacy going on.

I think they would be proud of us to be able to come out here and just keep doing what we love to do, what they loved being a part of, and hope that we can just make them proud in some ways like that. And that there will an time when we can all move on from this tragedy. But those families that are directly affected by this, who knows how long or what timeframe that's going to take."

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree with what Jeff said. The truth of the matter is that the weekend has gone by and here we are at a racetrack and we have to get to work and try to do it. That doesn't mean that the grieving isn't going to continue and the pain and especially for -- we're all going through a tremendous amount of pain and they were friends.

There's families that are experiencing pain that none of us could ever understand or know. One voice in the back of your head you know that everybody involved would be proud of us to be able to be on the racetrack and get back to work and put in a good day's work and hopefully win a race, and we're definitely going to put that effort forth amongst all of us to do that.

But like Jeff said it is just so hard to know it's just going to take time and it's hard to know how to deal, what to think how to do it, but we all feel so sorry for the families and we're going through a lot of pain but most of all we feel for the families involved.

To go through the motions and work our way through the weekend, it is going to be a first for all of us. It's been a first for the families to have Monday, Tuesday, our first Friday. This will be our first Saturday and just go through the motions."

Q: John Hendrick seemed to be kind of a quiet guy. Could you discuss his leadership style and qualities, especially during your successful years of 1997 and '98. Because he was so quiet in the garage, there seemed to be a perception that he was a stand-in and not really a decision maker. What was he like then and what was he like as a leader?

TERRY LABONTE: I think a lot of people didn't know John very well until he came on the scene there. I don't think there was anybody that could have stepped in and done the job that John did besides John. Rick was sick and wasn't able to be a part of the team there for a while. John stepped in, I mean, the place never missed a beat, with his leadership and his ability to take that team forward and just move on with it. It was probably, I think he was truly the only guy that could have stepped in and done the job that he did. He immediately got the confidence of everybody there, everybody respected him and looked up to him and, you know, when he said something, they listened. So he was quite a guy to be able to come in and do that."

JEFF GORDON: Every member of that family, the Hendrick family, has a special quality about them that you just don't find every day. They all have it. And John, he did an amazing job coming in there and he was more than just a face. He was active and had his heart into it as well, and his heart just continued to grow in motor sports. He loved being a part of it. And just like I said, they treated everyone with such respect and they earned such respect because of the way they treated people, and our whole organization, his family, and everyone who's been in this whole event were family. That's the thing that's making it so tough, but it's also the thing that's going to help us continue to move on.

Q: Your engine program is second to none. What affect will the loss of Randy Dorton have on your program?

TERRY LABONTE: I knew Randy for several years before I actually started driving with Hendrick Motor Sports, and one of the things that has always been the strong point of Hendrick Motor Sports was the engine program. Randy was the guy that led that and not only did he lead the engine program, he was a big part of our team and good friend, also. Didn't matter where you were, in the trailer or whatever, if you had a question about anything at Hendrick Motor Sports, "Let's call Randy." He was definitely the guy.

Probably one of my fondest memories of Randy was at Talladega. He was my crew chief for a couple of weeks there during the 1997 season, and we went to Charlotte and I think we finished tenth or something, then we went to Talladega and we won the race. I patted him on the back I said "It's pretty neat, you being the crew chief." We won it because I knew I'd have the best motor when I got here. He was just an unbelievable guy and a real friend."

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Probably being one of the younger guys on the team and having spent years with Randy, he did play a lot bigger role in Hendrick Motor Sports in the engine department. And speaking of the engine department and Hendrick guys up there in that shop, he left a mark in that shop as well, not only as a co-worker but a friend to all of those guys as well, and it's amazing to see the impact that he's left in so many peoples' lives.

When I won my first race in Fontana, I was in the middle of a burn-out, I could hear somebody over the radio saying "Easy on that thing, take it easy." I kept going and threw all the rods out of the side of the engine, and was dripping oil everywhere, and just destroyed this engine. The first person I saw when I came in the victory lane was Randy and this thing was dripping oil everywhere. I felt horrible. I destroyed that race-winning engine. I know everybody has got stories. Randy was just a very special person and left a mark personally at Hendrick and professionally as well."

Q: This question is more so for Jeff and Jimmie being in the championship chase to follow-up on David's question, how much more meaning does this championship chase now have for you guys?

JEFF GORDON: I have never been so inspired and driven in my life. This is an important weekend for us for so many different reasons, but I can't think of anything that could drive us harder and stronger than this loss. One, we want it bad no matter what. We work very hard for it but I think there is something that's going to allow us to dig a little deeper to try to make a difference, whether it be for the families that are grieving, to try to ease their pain some, or for those that are, you know, looking down on us. I think that instead of this being something that's a negative, we're going to take something and make something positive out of it and try to do our jobs better than we ever have before."

Q: How do you regroup trying to win a championship now?

ROBBIE LOOMIS: I think there's several ways to get strength, and obviously from God above, but yesterday at the memorial and hearing that speech from Lynn that she gave to everybody, gives us that extra strength. That puts it all and the team, you know, several lives were lost, but I think that like -- I think it would a great story to win this championship, the biggest thing that's going to help is the support for one another, the love we can give to one another every day, and just doing our job. That's what they'd want us to do and we're going to do it well."

Q: You all rally around your lost friends and move on with a new commitment, but this is obviously a terrible loss in terms of down the road, where does this team go from here? Who fills his shoes?

THE MODERATOR: We're going to defer that question to Mr. Jesse Essex or Mr. Patrick Perkins after we're done here.

Q: Tony, could you talk about Scott Lathram and what he meant to you.

TONY STEWART: Scott only worked for us for a little over a year. The reason he was coming to the track was to present me an award from the military (the award Tony was to receive from Scott Lathram (The Patriot Award from ESGR {Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve}. That was his last day that he was going to be here before he got shipped overseas to Iraq to go back to active duty. He was one of those guys that no matter how bad your day was, he always had a way of making you laugh and making you smile and just forgetting about things. You just had fun around him. The year he was with us seemed like five years. I got really close to him and his family. I guess the last couple of days being able to fly back to Kentucky and be with his family, you hear more from Scott's side how much it meant for him to be a part of the program and how much fun he had with us is what made being it a little easier for all of us. Knowing how much he enjoyed coming to work for us and how much he liked being with us and how much a part of his family he made us has been a help to everyone in our organization.

"It's like Jeff and Jimmie talked about through this whole thing, I went to bed every night thinking about Tracy and the three kids and that's the hardest part. The support that they have got, the phone calls, the amount of NASCAR people, NASCAR-related people that have sent flowers, that's meant so much to that family, and the whole Hendrick organization has been -- you couldn't ask for a better person than Rick Hendrick. He checked on Tracy three or four times a day to make sure that her and the family are doing well. That's something I want to do, and I thank Rick and his entire staff for their care and their concern, how much they have made Tracy and the kids a part of the Hendrick family and how much through his sorrow and his tragedy made sure he's looking out for them, too. It's just hard.

Like you said, for everybody up here it's hard. We have all got our reasons that it is hard for us, but in the big picture, I mean, this community, the racing community, is one giant family. Whether you have -- I can promise you everybody in the garage area this weekend is feeling a lot of grief for the whole Hendrick organization and for Scott. It is just a hard, long weekend for all of us but it is one thing that -- we went from a track that's probably the worst track for all of us to go to as far as tempers getting out of control and people being frustrated with each other, but I think it was a reality check at the end of the day thinking no matter how bad we think our day is, it really is not that bad.

You learn who your friends are. I have had more calls from crew members, from teams, drivers, car owners this week; friends of mine that I haven't spoken to for years all this week giving their condolences. That's probably what makes this sport what it is, it's all about how everybody supports each other and we all compete with each other on the weekend, but whenever we have a tragedy like this everybody, rallies around each other and are there for each other.

Yesterday I think there was between 2,000 and 3,000 people that came to the town in Kentucky to pay their respects for Scott and the family. And I know Scott's personality, I can promise you the time that they open the doors from two 'til 9 o'clock, if he was standing there, he would not quit talking the whole time. To see the amount of state troopers that were there, people from the military that were there to support the family, it just shows you what kind of person Scott was."

Continued in part 2

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Drivers Brian Vickers
Teams Hendrick Motorsports