NASCAR Media Conference
May 9, 2006
THE MODERATOR: This week's Nextel Wake Up Call begins at 10:30 Friday morning at Darlington raceway in the media center and Ken Schrader is the guest this week.
Today we are joined by Kyle Petty and Bobby Labonte from one of NASCAR's most venerable teams heading into one of its most venerable tracks, Darlington. This is Bobby's first season in the No. 43 Cheerio's/Betty Crocker Dodge, and Bobby and Kyle are part of a major rebuilding project.
Bobby I know that you and your new crew chief had some good runs so far this season, what's the progress after ten events together?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, we're really excited about the way things have gone as far as our performance has been. We said at the beginning of the year we're going to have our up and downs, and I think we've had that.
But overall, I mean, I think competitive-wise, I think we're probably further ahead than we might have thought after the first couple of races because we've really turned it up since then, and, you know, we've been running in the Top-5, Top-10, mainly Top-10, Top-5 in Bristol and running in the Top-5 Saturday night at Richmond. But we're still fighting little things and little gremlins here and there that keep you finishing as good as we'd like to. That's part of it. It's hard, but you've just got to understand it. It's not easy but I think everybody has done a great job and Todd especially has worked real hard to get everything going as good as possible.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, I know that Darlington is one of those sites where you grew up playing in the infield as a child, and of course you've competed on the track for many, many years there now. Your thoughts on this exciting new tradition that's developing heading into the second consecutive Saturday night event there on Mother Day weekend?
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I'm a big Darlington fan. Darlington is, obviously, it's not one of my favorite tracks but I do enjoy going down there. And I think putting it the Saturday night before Mother's Day is a great place for it, a great place to start a tradition. Everybody, we went through the Labor Day thing and it was that race for so long that -- Darlington is a traditional style racetrack as far as the NEXTEL Cup circuit is concerned. You know, the old style, the style we grew up on, the old style fans have come to new and love. So many of those are disappearing. We need to keep places like that on the schedule. And if we've got to find a place for it, then there's no better place than to have it on Saturday night and the night before Mother's Day.
So as far as that goes, it's a good place to go, it's a fun place to go. The people are nice, wish they had a nicer racetrack down there, but it's still a nice place to go.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, I know that charity initiatives are so very important to you and your family, and there's a big one on the horizon with NASCAR Day on Saturday May 19, and you launched a campaign of your own recently.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, this is kind of a tongue-in-cheek campaign. Coca-Cola came up with the idea of having a campaign to vote Kyle Petty in the NEXTEL Cup All-Star race, so it's "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" is what the slogan is, is what the motto is. It's part of the Coca-Cola MyCokeRewards Program that they started throughout the Coca-Cola -- or throughout their business, and I guess it will run for a few years now.
So it's a big program that Coke has started. But basically what we are going to do is between Coca-Cola and Schwan's and Wells Fargo and Tire Kingdom, every vote that I get towards being voted to the All-Star event, then they will donate money to camp. Right now their initial pledge is about $250,000 to $275,000, so that will send, you know, 300 or 400 kids to many Camp; so we're pretty excited about that. That's a huge, huge benefit to the Camp.
And the thing is, "Vote Kyle into Camp," or "Vote Kyle into the Race," to me that's secondary. I'm proud of that and I guess I'm humbled by that, that coke would take that initiative and want to do something like that for me. But I'm extremely proud that they want to be part of the camp and that they want to send kids to camp.
So we're out on the campaign trail. Michael Waltrip, I think he's my campaign chairman, so he's supposed to be out there campaigning for me. He kind of took a week off after I wrecked him at Phoenix to be totally honest with you, so I don't know where I'm at in the vote. But we're excited about that and hopefully it will send a lot of kids to camp.
THE MODERATOR: That sounds good. Let's take some questions for you and Bobby.
Q. Kyle, two parts. First of all, talk about Darlington has been saved and y'all are going back to kind of a special place again, but what is the place in NASCAR that in all your years coming up through this stuff what is a place that's not there any more that maybe you miss the most?
KYLE PETTY: There's two of them pretty equal, Rockingham and North Wilkesborough. I miss those two places. Those two places to me had a lot of history. You know, Wilkesborough and Junior Johnson are synonymous, and not to go back to Junior's hometown to me was a big deal when we quit racing there, and there were always great races there. I don't think you ever run across any drivers that didn't enjoy going to Wilkesborough and racing. It was just a fun racetrack to race on.
And the same thing with Rockingham. Rockingham, no matter how bad your car drove or worked, you could find a place on the racetrack to halfway make it work. You might not be the fastest car there, but they run up next to the wall, the run on the bottom, they run in the middle. They were great races that came down to the very, very last lap a lot of times. And then there were blowout races, so it was a typical racetrack, but it was a good place. To me those are just two places that in my lifetime, in the 20 or 30 years that I've driven a race car that if I could put back on the schedule, I'd put both of those back on the schedule.
Q. And from a Petty Enterprises standpoint when you were coming up obviously the 43 team and Petty Enterprises in general was absolutely on top, and now with y'all kind of making progress, making progress, how much do you have in your vision or your ambitions for this team, how close is the 43 to getting back in victory lane sometimes, and are you real close or is that still a kind of a long road to hoe there?
KYLE PETTY: I think we're a lot closer than what we anticipated when the season started. I think what's happened is this. Bringing Robby in and then Bobby and Todd have gelled together a lot faster than what we as a company thought. I think Bobby probably thought he and Todd had worked together right off the bat, but they have come together a lot quicker than what we thought. We thought it would take us to the halfway point of the year to try to get almost every race under our belt before you really begin to see some progress.
I think what's happened is that Bobby and those guys, Bobby and Todd and the 43 team have taken off at such a fast pace, you know, where they might not finish in the Top-5 or Top-10 but by God, they are running in the Top-5 and Top-10 every week. And the reason they are not finishing in the Top-5 and Top-10 is because the weak part of the teams are showing up.
And we never said we had the strongest teams in the world. We have to build stronger organization and stronger teams, and that's what we did with Bobby, that's what we did with Robby and that's what we've done with Todd. We're making mistakes and taking ourselves out of races in a lot of cases.
We didn't really anticipate that part showing up maybe until the second half of the year, and we thought we could have time to fix it by the time we got there. But really, you know, the 43 team, and even the 45 team, we've made mistakes that have relegated us from being a 10th or 12th place car to being a 40th place car sometimes, and we can only look at ourselves in the mirror and say, that was our fault.
I think in the end, the 43 car, when everything clicks the way it should click, then, yeah, they can win races and they can win races right now. Bobby come from 35th or 36th at Richmond to run in the Top-5 most of the night. When you look at driving from fifth or sixth in Atlanta to lead the race before the engine broke, and things like that, we haven't seen that type of performance out of Petty Enterprises in the last 20 years, and I'll go back to when Richard Petty drove the cars.
So I think they are a lot, lot farther along and I think they are establishing themselves as the team. And that's what we said when we brought Bobby over. The 43 team is Petty Enterprises. That's our brand. That's who we are, that's who we are always going to be, and we have to do everything we can to put the 43 car and Bobby Labonte back in victory lane.
Q. Bobby, several years ago when the engineering flood hit and all of the young drivers are sitting down and shutting up in the seat and doing what the engineers said, you were one of the veterans that got caught up where you were used to having input in the setup of the car, and the younger ones were just kind of doing what they were told. Has this situation brought you back, and are you having more input into the situation of the car than you have in recent years, or have you just kind of adapted to the engineering way of doing things?
BOBBY LABONTE: I think the basic thing here is the chemistry. You know, Todd is more like I was growing up where he wanted the driver's input. He wanted that stuff. You know, when I was -- when Jimmy and I were at our best, we would always sit there and talk about things a lot more than rely on anybody else deciding for us or any computer deciding for us.
Then I went through some years of not being part of it as much, so, yes, coming to Petty Enterprises has definitely brought me back to where I used to be as far as talking about it, thinking about it, having information in front of me, looking at it, understanding it.
So I think it's the chemistry that you have in the organization, too, that makes it better for me with the accessibility that I have. If I don't want to look at it, I don't have to, and if I want to look at it and understand something differently, if that helps me think and talk to Todd differently into what I knew years ago, then hopefully that makes our chemistry better.
Q. Kyle, from a driver's perspective can you take me through what it means when the race is sponsored by your car manufacturer, which is the case for you this week with Dodge?
KYLE PETTY: I'll tell you what, I don't think you can -- it's a big deal, obviously, for Dodge, and it's a big deal for the Dodge dealers all over the southeast and all over the nation when you really look at it, but especially all over the southeast who are able to come and participate in the event. It gives us as Dodge drivers an opportunity to meet those people. A lot of times, we don't get an opportunity to meet the people that are really out there selling the product, not like I have an opportunity with Coca-Cola or with Schwan's Home Delivery and some of those people; they come to the racetrack all the time. But the Dodge people, they don't come as much, or the dealers don't seem to come as often sometimes. So it's a big deal from that standpoint.
As far as putting pressure on you or anything like that it's not any more pressure. You want to win every race that you go out to win, whether it's your company or not. The Dodge people would really ready win the Chevy race or the Ford race so they could stand in the victory lane with a Dodge car in a Ford victory lane or a Chevy victory lane. But they like to see their own cars win their own races, too.
Q. Extra incentive on part of the manufacturer in terms of from them to you if you win?
KYLE PETTY: No, no, not in my contract, anyhow. We have a set of programs with Dodge and all that stuff, but they are not going to -- maybe they will throw in a Magnum or something or maybe a Dodge Charger. Maybe they will throw in that if you win the race but that's not written.
Q. I was looking with all the charity work that you've done, I know you started the "Ride Across America" a few years back --
KYLE PETTY: Yes.
Q. -- and that has really blossomed and when I looked at the Web site this year, that's blossomed into four different rides. And also, tell me how that came about, and if you could, also explain your feelings about the Tuttles (ph) getting involved with the special --
KYLE PETTY: The charity ride -- you're from where?
Q. Originally right in Kentucky. I saw the last one that came through the Nabar, Florida area.
KYLE PETTY: What paper are you from?
Q. I'm from with the Santa Rosa Press Gazette in Milton, Florida.
KYLE PETTY: We started Charity Ride probably, this is our 12th year I guess, and it started as a joke to be totally honest with you. There were seven or eight of us, five or six of us, whatever that really wanted to ride motorcycles from California to North Carolina. And our wives told us it was the only week we had off and we would get a divorce if we tried it.
We came up with the idea of doing a bike-a-thon and somebody give us 10 cent a mile or a dollar a mile. That first year, there were like 30 of us and we raised like $35,000 and we thought, man, it will never get any better than this. You get to race motorcycles and you raise money for charity.
Then it blossomed into what it is today where we do the Chick-Fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride and last year we raised $1.7 million and gave away like 1.3 million to different children's hospital and the Victory Junction Gang Camp. You know, we've had Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and Jeff Bodine and Michael Waltrip and Richard Petty and David Pearson, guys like that, that have ridden with us -- inaudible. We have had all types of drivers that have ridden with us; Davis Love III rode with us last year. We've had a cross-section of celebrities and a cross-section of people that ride with us.
It's grown to where the end of the year we do a Key Lime ride through the State of Florida and we do a couple additional rides. We do a NASCAR Victory Junction Ride up here, and it's blossomed into four or five different rides and its own little industry or its own little business. We have two or three employees that do nothing all year long but basically layout routes for us. Then we do stuff for other people, people will call us and say, you guys put on a pretty good show, how do you did it. And we have kind of a ride-in-a-box that we give them and explain to them how to do stuff.
The thing with the Tuttles was really big with Orange County Choppers. Sunoco came up with the idea to do a bike to really celebrate Sunoco and what Sunoco has meant to motorsports. Sunoco sells more racing gasoline worldwide than any other company. They are the official racing gasoline of NASCAR.
So when we came up with the idea, they said, you know, we want to get you involved because you do the motorcycle thing, and so that was a cool deal. We just said, hey, we'll just auction this thing off and give the money to the camp. I think Saturday night at Richmond when they unveiled the bike, when the Tuttles rode the bike around the racetrack, I think you saw, I think everybody saw how excited the fans got about it. So we are hoping to raise, you know, $300,000 or $400,000 off this bike and off this promotion that will go to Camp.
The motorcycles and the victory motorcycle that I ride and the stuff that we do with the motorcycle industry has been really, really good from a fund-raising standpoint, charity standpoint and especially for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
Q. I saw when you made the stop at Bowling Green in 2000, a few years later down here in Milton Nabar, Florida area, in reality, how long of a waiting list have you developed, I know Ken Schrader and his wife, Anne, have ridden and they talked to me about it a little bit. How long of a waiting list are we looking at for people to try to get involved and participate in a ride?
KYLE PETTY: You know, it depends. The Ride Across Country, we have a waiting list, we've had people on it really only a couple of years. We tried to shuffle people in as quick as we can and get people because a lot of people drop off after one year or two years, and we have people that have gone on 12 years. But like the Key Lime rides and the Victory Junction rides and stuff like that, we try to do a lot more local rides. And with Victory this year, Victory Motorcycle, I did a ride from Tucson to Phoenix and I'm doing one in Omaha and one in Chicago;.
So we are doing three or four rides to celebrate their victory challenge. So there's not as long a waiting list. Go to the Charity Ride Web site. There's information there on how long or how to fill out the forms and how long the list is.
Q. Same question for both of you. Is going to Darlington's with today's configuration of cars tougher than it was, say, ten years ago?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yes and no, looking at ten years ago, it was repaved, so that helped out a lot. I think the paving job has just deteriorating so much, that I don't care what you go with, it's going to be a handful after about ten laps anyway.
But I'd say with what we have now, I mean, I'm more excited about it now than I guess I would have been before they repaved it last time with the cars that we had then. You know, these cars are going to probably for me drive better than those did back then, I would think. So I don't think there's anything wrong with going with what we've got today.
KYLE PETTY: I don't know, I've struggled with the place, from the time I got there. But Bill Kaiser was the PR guy when he ran the place and everything down there, they came up with that slogan "Too Tough to Tame", and I had a tee shirt made up that said "Too Cheap to Pave" because I didn't like the place, period, whether they paved it or didn't pave it. It really doesn't make any difference to me. I've struggled with the place.
Q. This question is for both of you, beyond Darlington you have the two-week stretch in Charlotte. Is it really like going back home or is it just another race for everybody?
BOBBY LABONTE: You take that one first.
KYLE PETTY: Coming to one place for a couple of weeks in a row, you know, for the NEXTEL Cup, for the All-Star event and for the open weekend and the All-Star race, it's kind of like a practice race. You go over there and you want to win the All-Star race and you want to win the open and get into the All-Star race. But at the same time, you learn a lot during that race that hopefully you carry over to the Coca-Cola 600 because the 600 is a points race. It counts towards the championship. That's what it's all about. That's the race that matters, and it's nice to know that for at least two weeks, for a two-week period whether you're going to be racing and where you're going to be. Bobby and I, we probably live 500 yards from each other so we've got to drive back and forth to Charlotte and that's 50 miles or so. Most everybody you get to say at your own house and sleep in your own bed. It's kind of like a lull in a busy season where you can be around your family, see your kids at night, wake up in the morning, see your kids off to school, and that type thing.
So I think it is a nice break, it's a nice place to be for a couple of weeks. You know, the first week like I said, since there's not a points race, it's not the pressure, the mental pressure that you feel for going to the racetrack and having to maximize your points that week. It's all about winning the race. The next week it's about winning but it's about points also.
BOBBY LABONTE: I agree with obviously everything Kyle said there. Plus the fact, too, that you look at the schedule and it's like, okay, we're going to Charlotte, we're going to the same racetrack two weeks in a row. We don't do that anywhere else. Pocono, we race a month apart and the track changes a ton from that month apart. So you go to a track two weeks in a row, so it kind of gets you back to where you run short tracks where you used to run the same racetrack every weekend and you know what it does week-in and week-out; where like last weekend, we won't go back to Richmond till September and the track is going to be different, the track will change a little bit and the weather will be different.
To go two races in a row, two weekends in a row at the same racetrack, it should help you, you would think, but obviously it helps everybody else. It's a neat place, good time of year, and you are close to home. Like Kyle said, and you have a lot of stuff to do, but at least you're not getting on an airplane every two Thursdays there that you've got to fly to somewhere across country to race to.
Q. Do you feel NASCAR champions have common traits and abilities, and if so, can you identify a few?
KYLE PETTY: Bobby is going to say they are all good-looking since he's won the championship. That would be a better question for Bobby. You know, I think being around Richard Petty my whole life, being around David Pearson and Bobby Isaac and guys like that when I was younger, and then being around Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, guys who have won in my time, you know, and basically almost two different generations.
I think when you look at it, it's just obviously they have tons of talent, they have tons of ability and all that. But somewhere deep inside they have a desire that's just maybe a little bit different, maybe a little bit more intense, maybe a little bit more drive to get the job done. You know that when it gets down to the very end, they have got a little bit left in reserve where some other guys just don't have it, you're on the line all the time and they are running along right beside of you with a little bit left in reserve and they just reach down and grab a little bit deeper sometimes.
BOBBY LABONTE: Repeat your question again.
Q. Do you feel NASCAR champions have common traits and abilities, and if so, can you identify a few.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, I thought I got most of that. Yeah, I think that -- you know, I think it's a deal where, you know, I think you just, when you win a championship, you just -- it clicks in you what it took to get there and the amount of patience that it took, the amount of pressure that it took, and the amount of, I mean, you know, by gosh, you'd better have it in you, or you're not going to get one, you know, type of deal.
You know, I think that goes true from even way back then to now. The guys have that won championships always -- the thing has always been said, you've got to lose one before you win one, and it really is true. I know I finished second in the championship in '99 to Dale Jarrett. 2000, I won it. Man, I mean, it was like what an experience '99 was to get to 2000. And it took so much more and so much -- it wasn't the same thought process. It wasn't the same type of deal.
So I think the fact that, know, when you look at the whole deal of it, there's only X amount of champions that there are going to be. There's a lot of drivers that are going to try but there's only a few that are going to be there and there's guys that, you know, can win multiple championships, they keep repeating, keep being up there to have a chance at it. You know, it's like Kyle said, you've got that little extra left in you, and you've got -- you're running at 110 percent all the time, and so is the guy beside you, and you don't know it, but you've still got a little bit left over; and that gets you that ten points today and 15 points tomorrow and 30 points the next week to add up at end of the year.
It's definitely a different drive trying to win it than just, you know -- or winning it, it's a different drive wing it than it is trying to win it. And once you win it, it's like, boy, I tell you what, that took these things to do instead of those things to do, I didn't realize when I was trying.
Q. Bobby, a question for you, and that is about the tires and the mix-up on the car. It was amazing to see Jeff Gordon's guys struggle to find out what was wrong, sparkplug problem for someone else, small things are so important, can you talk about how that could happen?
BOBBY LABONTE: I think it's just a pressure-packed sport and there's guys that are doing everything they can do. I've been on that side of it before. Man, I left a water hose off from Jerry's drink bottle one time and he drained all the water out and he had no water, and I'm like, that bad move on my part, won't happen again.
You know, that was way back then it probably wasn't as huge of a deal as it is today because there's more competition. But that's why there is, you know -- that's why mistakes can be made just because there's more competition out there, so you're at a zero tolerance mistake level. We're in zero tolerance sport. We cannot make mistakes, because there's 40 other teams that if they don't make mistakes, they pounce on you, you know what I mean.
So it's going to happen. It happens last Saturday night, it will happen again this Saturday night, I bet you, you know what I mean, somebody is going to make a mistake. That's just some of the things that you have to swallow and try not to do.
Q. Has there been any ramping up with your team, getting used to the players; like Jeff Burton said, he's still get used to his team so when they have the calls coming into pit road and the red light is on, it's part of getting acclimated to a new team, are you running into that or are you comfortable with the communication?
BOBBY LABONTE: Saturday night I thought our communication was the best race we've had all year between Todd and I. Obviously from that point on he communicates down to the rest of them. I thought our communication was great. I know his is getting bet we are those guys. It's just a comfort factor, we talked about it earlier on this deal here about, you know, we thought it would take us a little longer, like to go back to the races for the second time, we would be, okay, what did we do last time, we're going to get better. We have a chance to improve more hopefully than maybe some other guys because they are already there. We've already gotten better than we've anticipated probably to start with, and we keep building on that.
So I think that the communication between everybody is clicking right now. It's the little things nowadays that are big. It's not the big thing that are big.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, Bobby, I think we'll let you go. Thank both of you for joining us today. We appreciate it. Good luck on Saturday.
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