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NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Winston Cup

NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

John Andretti
January 18, 2003


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

Q. You are in the middle part of the year, latter part of the year, it was late in the 2002 season that you put the contract together. Has that slowed you guys down as far as getting together, getting the chemistry together for the 2003 season?

JOHN ANDRETTI: No, not really. I think really the biggest issues there are that Winston Cup is such a busy sport right now that you don't get much time to sit in the same room with somebody especially if one of those people is Kyle Petty. He manages to put a lot more things on his plate than most people can ever handle. With Victory Juction, the charity ride and the numerous other charities that he does, also running Petty Enterprises, being involved in all of the businesses that the Pettys are involved in with driving experience and other things, it's hard to sit down and get Kyle, unless you are at the race track, and when you are at the race track I don't want to talk about those things. I want to talk about what we are going to do today, tomorrow. The short-term stuff at that racetrack, I don't want to be bothered with contract talks. I never discuss contract talk at the racetrack. I probably never will. I think it's a distraction. Then it would be bothersome. It's a distraction for me.

Q. Now in the Dodge, the experience behind you, the building of the team, do you feel going in the 2003 season you made the progress you would hope you'd make?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Yes, I think we made good progress every year. I think that we started off and we had a good program, and then we changed a lot of things at Petty Enterprises. There are other things that happened there that -- something that would take your mind elsewhere. Obviously, it's been a rough road, and we certainly didn't get out of the program. I think what's been available to us, but we are building and rebuilding. Kyle has been saying that for several years. It's something that I didn't really want to here, and I think a lot of other people, but you know that if you stay with it and you believe in what they they're doing, that it is coming right. Certainly we haven't made a mark in the last couple of years, but pretty soon we will surprise some people and I know that most people probably will look at us as maybe just being there and that's not our intention. It's certainly not my intention; and that is not Petty Enterprises' intention. They have been around for a long time and they are going to be around a long time and you can only do that by being successful.

Q. How close were you to going back to open wheel after last season and the second part of that question, Kyle put the thumbs down about doing the Indy Charlotte deal last year. This year perhaps?

JOHN ANDRETTI: As far as -- you can move teams in the same series. Moving series is even a bigger change. I made a commitment a long time ago to come to Winston Cup. I made it long before anybody thought it was a great idea. Matter of fact, everybody in open wheel racing thought I was making a big mistake. I came to race. I don't care what the cars look like. I came to be in a series where it's competitive from top to bottom, and there is no other series like it. I mean, when you look at it, the guys that maybe some of you guys, or maybe not, but some of the people considered chumps out there have won Championships. So I mean this is a very talented group of people from the top to the bottom. There are a lot of people on the race teams that are extremely talented people. The pool is unbelievable; the melting pot in Winston Cup is at an all-time high. And, you know, if you've got a mule you don't beat a thoroughbred so you got to go out and make yourself a thoroughbred. NASCAR has given you that ability. I think from that standpoint it's everybody, and it's all about people. I don't think there is any series that's more about people. Obviously money helps. Those people figure things out. Because you can spend more wind-tunnel time, development time, you can buy people that maybe have more experience. I don't know what the term "better people" means, but better people maybe. So it's all that is what it is, but it's all about the people. Everybody is working with the same basket. The basket is getting smaller and smaller every year. So that's good. It makes it more and more competitive. That's what we are here for. It shouldn't be -- there is not a lucky win in Winston Cup. The Indy-Charlotte thing. Yes, things got close to the end things were getting set up. I kind of got pulled aside and talked to and this year I -- Kyle understands, he understands as much as anybody. He is going to go down to Daytona 24 hours. I never used that card, but it was coming. But he is the boss, he can do whatever he wants. I understand that. That's why that card didn't come out. This isn't like negotiating with your parents where they -- just because I said no, you know, he can do more to you than that.

Q. You have all been rebuilding a couple of years, now the third team has changed direction a bit, Robin is gone, there is a change there. Is that going to have to make you restructure again a little bit?

JOHN ANDRETTI: If you look at Winston Cup teams in general, there is a tremendous amount of restructuring in every team. You know I think a lot of it got started. It's always been around. But more of it seemed to come about when Mark Martin and Kurt Busch switched teams. All of a sudden, they are competitive, out in the front, okay, everybody is going to want to switch my team with somebody; who has a team I can switch with? So when it comes to the winter we have two or three teams that spend an enormous amount of time and money buying our people. We are not the only ones but it seems like two or three teams pick us and two or three teams might pick Roush, but it's not everybody. They are sort of build the team around that. I think if you look at a lot of times next year, you are going to see no familiar faces on them and just -- not because they weren't good people or working together. It's just that the chemistry needed to get changed just to try something different. Gary Putnam, I have enjoyed working with him, and I haven't worked with him very long. We spend an awful lot of time on the telephone, and I am excited about that. He is going to do a lot for the 43. I think for sure things are coming our way. We have got a lot of distractions out of the way. We are smaller again which I think is really good. I think you can be too good easily, you can keep buying people, and those people you are buying, people that started conversations with other people, we are so lean now that have you no choice but to be working and getting it done or you are going -- I think Petty Enterprises is the best place it's been. I said that last year, and it was true. And next year I hope that I can say we are better than we are this year, but we are definitely another big step forward. I have long answers.

Q. Can you talk about the irony that this year we will have an Andretti, a Foyt and a Fittipaldi?

JOHN ANDRETTI: I never thought about it.

Q. Can you talk about the irony about that?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Yeah, what in the hell are they all doing in Winston Cup? It just goes to show you where the direction it's headed. Somebody asked me when do you think Winston Cup started getting so successful? I think around the end of '93, '94. Ironically, that's when I came. So you do the math. They haven't figured it out. But really I think realistically guys are focused on -- racers end up down here. Why? Because you bring your helmet and that's all you bring. If you can carry the weight of the helmet and make the car go fast and do things, then you get the job. So it's an earning situation, that's why I said these guys in Winston Cup, they won championships, they won races, they have done things elsewhere. It's -- every now and then you will get somebody like from Japan or something that comes in and he's going to do it. But I mean, there is not staying power there. You've got to perform. Because they send you home if you don't perform. Sponsors don't like that. I think it's a great place to be and they realize it -- Ken Schrader started it years ago and gets very little credit for it. But he started it years ago. He was the first open-wheel guy and then came down here and then of course, by the time Gordon comes a long then it was a dig deal, but Tim Richmond was an open-wheel guy. My uncle won the Daytona 500 before he won Indy. It's not unusual going, it is just that now you don't get the opportunity to go, 'Mom, I am going to do Indy car race, stock car race,' you can't do that because there is too much of a commitment and people have paid for you -- I don't think that they had hero cards back there. They do commercials of racecar drivers and now they are. So there is an investment from those companies. It not just tire manufacturers and car manufacturers. You see the products. They are everywhere. So they got an investment in you. They don't want you running off and doing something else, getting hurt somewhere else and then losing their investment.

Q. This is just a personal opinion, John, but it seems like you have been in a word charitable to stay with the Petty organization not having all of the best equipment you might have with another team over the years. Have you had other opportunities to go with a different team?

JOHN ANDRETTI: I'm really private about what I do and the people I talk to. Sure, I have talked to other people, but in 1994 Richard Petty gave me an opportunity to come to his team, it was race-by-race. After the first race he says let's just go finish out the season, we qualified outside pole, and we ran good in the race. I thought greener pastures were out there. There are, but every team has its issues, and every team has its problems. I know that what we are doing at Petty Enterprises, and I want to be a part of what Petty Enterprises is focused on and climbing back. Now, believe me, it's coming the hard way because it's not like they have other businesses that can subsidize shortfalls. This team has to, whatever sponsorship it gets, it spends it all, but that's all it's got. It doesn't have other revenue coming in where you can say we really need to do that. We don't have the money for it. They have been known that they will go borrow it, too. So they are serious about what they are doing. If you have been around them at all, they are wonderful people, great people, they are like part of our family. Having said all of that, they wanted to win, too, and I want to win, so I think that if we can win together that it will be all that more enjoyable than going to another team and saying, okay, well, you know, they were winning anyway, what did you ever bring? So I can think of two or three stories this year of guys that's been to -- there is no question that, you know, that we can be better. It's not like the effort is not behind it. So I look at it and say 'I want to be part of making the Ship sail fast again.' So that's important to me. Adam was a real good friend; that was tough for me to deal with. Kyle is a special person and the whole family. So it's hard to turn your back on people. You know, I think if I made $30 more than I can make flipping burgers or whatever else my opportunities would be - I do have a degree, but if I can make $30 more driving a race car, I think then I'm way ahead. So it's not about the money either. It's about being successful and doing it with people that you want to be successful with. If you are miserable, why are you doing it? I love driving racecars and that's what I do, so I go out and deal with people that I really enjoy doing it with. Those are those people. I've realized that when I left and I went from a really good situation into probably the worse situation that I had ever been in my career people-wise. So if you want to blow up the race shop before you get there so it's not there when you get there, it's not fun working for those people no matter how successful you are. I know a lot of teams where we can get people on teams that they are very unhappy with. I know a lot of people that could go from Petty and make a lot more money and end up retiring at Pettys. So you tell me what kind of people they are. They are just good people.

Q. Your brother Adam, how is his career coming?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Well, from looking over a contract, finally after him going off and just signing everything that was put in front of him, he's got a sister who is an attorney and a brother who is in this line of work that can help him and he is willing to finally send us something that we are looking at and hopefully we can get something finalized there. I finally forced him into getting a Hans, so he is other there, I got a call from Hans saying your brother said you're going to pay for it. Okay, okay, send me the bill. That's what family is for, I guess. But he is really good, he has a lot of talent and I hope that he gets an opportunity. He is definitely doing it the hard way, but it's no different the way I did it. I came up through the dirt running sprints and midgets. He's just missing out by not ending up there because if you want to know where the fun is, that's where it is fun, it's tough to do 80, 90 races a year and go to college at the same time. He is not going to college but that's what I did.

Q. (Inaudible)

JOHN ANDRETTI: Dorney Park, they just came looking for me to beat me up whether I was in the race or not because, I weighed 30 pounds less than I do now, so you can

imagine how small I was, that was like beating up a third grader. Hell, Everyone came looking for me, so Dorney Park, that's great, you know, they didn't allow women -- no offense, I know there are ladies in here, but they didn't allow women in the garage area, but man, they can start fights from the grandstand telling them the guy is a wimp for not hitting him. That guy he is not hitting is me. The Andrettis are fast. We are small but fast, that seems to be the better way.

Q. Is that because your uncle (Inaudible)?

JOHN ANDRETTI: No, I think what happened when I got up there, you know, they talk about the last name and if my last name was Jones and I would have gone in there and did what we did, and won races, it would have been no big deal. They would have still come hunt me down because I was small. I think the Andretti name gave it a little bit of a disaster. But they don't know that. When your last name is Italian you got to be worried than they got more than just family looking out for them.



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