NASCAR Media Conference
March 1, 2005
DAN PASSE: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Today we're joined by Robby Gordon, owner and driver of the No. 7 Jim Beam for Harrah's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Chevrolet as well as the No. 55 Fruit of the Loom Busch Series Chevrolet. Robby spent a lot of time in Mexico running in numerous Baja and other off-road events and will be running in the Mexico City race this coming weekend. Robby joins us right now from his home state of California where he's currently working at his shop in Anaheim. Robby, you spent a lot of time racing in Mexico. How do you feel about this first ever Busch race in Mexico City?
ROBBY GORDON: I'm pretty excited about it. I think it's a good marketplace for us. It obviously makes a lot of sense because it's in a different country that obviously we can just drive across the border to go down and put on the event. From what I've heard from my fellow friends that have raced there with open-wheel cars, the fans there are pretty cool. They had a sell-out event for their IndyCar race they had there a while back. From what I've been hearing from friends down there, the buzz is obviously the NASCAR Busch race down there this weekend.
DAN PASSE: We're now ready to take some questions from our listeners.
Q. At the Labor Day race, you were pretty excited about getting started here, building something for the future. Has this been a little more frustrating than you thought it was going to be coming into this as an owner for the second time?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, "frustrating," that's an interesting comment. The biggest thing has been time. You know, if we had a little more time, like everybody, we could be better prepared. I think, frustrating, yeah, we missed the Daytona 500, but not because we ran bad down there at Daytona. We finished seventh in the 150. Going home was obviously a little frustrating. Then this weekend at Fontana, we qualified good. I mean, we qualified in front of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and all the RCR cars which I drove for last year. In the race, we had a couple little dilemmas and we finally lost an engine late in the race. I think the whole program, all in all, when Menards gets their engine program right, we'll be in pretty good shape. I'm pretty confident of that.
Q. When you were an owner/driver last time, you went to Vegas, you had one of your better runs. Is there something about that track that seems to suit you?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, like Vegas last time, we were fairly new. At the first two races, I guess you could say we struggled, like we did this go around. But, you know, when you go race at the NEXTEL Cup level, you're racing against the best teams in motorsports. Obviously, when you can run in the top 25, you can't be very happy about that. But, you know, it's part of the game. You just have to keep building on it week in and week out and not get down on it because it will come full circle. I think Robbie Loomis told me two weeks ago, after Daytona, he said, Imagine your race team being like a time clock. When you're down at the bottom at 6, it's just a matter of time before you get to 12. But when you're at 12, it's just a matter of time before you get back down to 6. The key is to keep it between 9 and 3. That's something we're working hard on. We ran in the top 25 the first half of the race there at Fontana till lap 103. We got lapped from Kenseth. I don't know, for some reason every time I come down pit lane, a caution comes out one or two laps later, and we found ourselves two laps down. Once you're in that position, you never get them back. That part was a little bit frustrating for the weekend. We ended up blowing up late in the race. I think we got a good race team. We've got great sponsors. That's a big difference from where we were in 2000. We didn't have full funding. We were always struggling from week in, week out to find sponsorship. Right now today we don't have any primary locations available on our car for 2005. We have a new sponsor we're going to announce this weekend. I'm pretty excited about that as well.
Q. However it happened, you now have both a Busch car and a NEXTEL Cup effort. Given the new rules, particularly the qualifying impound rules, it sounds like having a Busch program can be a big boost to a NEXTEL Cup operation. Do you see it that way?
ROBBY GORDON: I think at a lot of places, it would help. Our Busch deal is fairly limited this year, anywhere from a minimum of three races to a maximum of 20 is what our game plan is. We ran down at Daytona, we finished fifth with that car. We were pretty good. We got side by side there for the lead for a couple laps with two to go or something, but ended up getting fifth. I'm pretty happy about my Busch program. I think we'll be good when we go down to Mexico City. We're not going to bring the Busch car back out for a while. Our efforts have been focused strictly on getting the NEXTEL Cup team competitive, doing whatever that takes to make that happen.
Q. About these new rules, what are your impressions after the California race?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, my first impression, it's been a while since I've been out of the Top 20 in the championship. What they do is they roll through check via where you're at in position of points. We missed the whole first practice at California, not just us, not just Robby Gordon Motorsports, there was I believe 10 cars that missed the practice because with the new technical inspections that they're doing now with gear ratio rules, stuff like that, it's taken them so long, we didn't get to practice the first practice at California. That's a huge disadvantage.
Q. You've been out in the desert racing the Baja. There's all this talk about people in packs, going into caravans into Mexico. You guys weren't packing in and packing out as a group, eating together as a group. Were you ever worried about your safety there?
ROBBY GORDON: I've been going to Mexico for 20 years. I've really, really enjoyed myself every time I've been down there. The key is to keep it all in perspective and know where you're at and what your consequences may be. Obviously, I've had friends of mine that have got in trouble in Mexico before. You don't want to get in trouble down there. The rules are still the rules. They still have speed limits. When you have a language barrier like we have, being a US citizen, going to Mexico, not speaking fluent Spanish, that can be a big issue. But, you know, in packs, I heard Mexico City is a lot different than where I've been down on the Baja Peninsula. I must say for 20 years, I've never had one issue down in Mexico.
Q. Never felt like anybody would try to abduct you? You were out in raw territory.
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, you know, we've traveled the whole Baja Peninsula and a little bit maybe just the north side of Mexico itself. Like I said, we've never had an issue.
Q. Who do you think will do better at the race this weekend, the drivers from down there who understand the track or the drivers from here who understand the cars? It will be very competitive between the two groups.
ROBBY GORDON: I think it will be good. I think it's going to bring in some really needed excitement. The biggest thing is, I don't know, and this is an honest answer, I don't know how much NASCAR-style experience these guys have. You know, when you go to road race at these - what would you call it - (inaudible) and Watkins Glen, Boris Said and these guys, they come in and do a good job and they're very competitive. But, you know, they're racing sedan-style cars, which are pretty similar to NASCAR. As far as the Spanish contingent or the Mexican contingent that's going to be down there racing, you know, I'm not a hundred percent aware of their experiences. I know Adrian Fernandez, I know Michel Jourdain. Hopefully they are competitive. It would be good for the show if one of those guys could challenge for the win.
Q. I know you didn't initially plan to do this race. Are there any concerns doing it in light of the way the Cup team has started out? Are you comfortable with where the Cup team is right now?
ROBBY GORDON: I'm comfortable with where the car -- how the car handles and runs right now. I think our cars are competitive. You know, the biggest thing, heck, we could have very easily won the 150 down at Daytona. I just played it conservative and rode behind Burton. We finished seventh at Daytona. I think Cup cars as far as handling goes is pretty good. We obviously had some issues last weekend. Everybody is probably not aware of this. My fuel man, when he jumped off the wall this last weekend, he broke his shoulder with the fuel can on top of his shoulder. That's why our pit stops were so bad from there on. That made us struggle a little bit. You know, throughout the race, we raced with cars that finished in between 13th and let's call it 18th. If we would have stayed on one lap down and got a lucky (inaudible) like they did, we would have been okay. And, no, I'm not happy with that. But you have to start somewhere and you have to build on every experience.
Q. I'm wondering about your schedule. It just seems like you don't really take any time off. I know you're talking about how you're racing in Africa. Can you talk about that. To me it seems like it's almost borderline ridiculous how much you race.
ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, I like to race. The Africa thing came available through Volkswagen. It was a neat experience and it was a lot of fun. There's not a lot that race car drivers do from let's call it January 1st to January 20th, so the schedule seemed to work out really well. You know, yeah, we are racing a lot this year. But I'll run less races this year than I raced last year. We've passed on the Indy 500 thing for 2005 as of right now, just to keep our focus on our NEXTEL Cup team.
Q. Would you describe yourself -- a lot of the guys, your colleagues, they are race junkies, but you seem to take it to a new level. Is that a fair assessment?
ROBBY GORDON: Yes and no. I mean, there's a couple of us that still love to race. I think Tony Stewart is one that does the same. I think Dale Jr., if he could do more, he would, because we love to compete. You know, they did the 24 hours. I went and did Dakar. You know, pretty similar.
Q. What would you most like fans to know about your job as owner/driver?
ROBBY GORDON: I think the biggest thing is we do have the people in the right positions. Right now, as a new race team, we're just trying to get our systems in place. But I do have a good team manager. We have a good crew chief. It's just a lot of work to build cars and get competitive right out of the box. We started with a brand-new fleet of race cars, where a lot of teams each year, they have cars left over from the year before that maybe they rebody or they change a couple parts and pieces on. For our team, it's been a new car every weekend. We built two brand-new speedway cars, we built a brand-new road race Busch car, and now we've built three intermediate cars, and we're in the middle of building a new road race NEXTEL Cup car as well. The guys back at the shop are doing an excellent job. Our cars are very nice. They're nice, they're light, and the weight is to the left. We've just been working hard. We're not going to give up until we're successful.
Q. Alan Kulwicki was the last owner/driver that was a national champion. Is that why you acquired that No. 7? How did you do that?
ROBBY GORDON: That does have a lot of reason for why we wanted the No. 7. I have a partner with me, Jim Smith, who actually bought the team from (inaudible) who bought the team from Bodine who bought the team from Kulwicki, I'm pretty sure that's the way it went. Even though none of the cars that came over from the SIRIUS No. 7 are the cars we're racing today. Jim Smith has been a supporter of my company career for many, many years. He's been a sponsor and he's been a friend. He has obviously a lot of experiences that I'll be able to build on and use him as a sounding board as well.
Q. Expand a little bit on your answer, especially the people that may not have been there or been there one time before, what is in store not just on the racetrack but the overall event for the Busch teams headed down to Mexico?
ROBBY GORDON: I think, you know, the first thing, and I haven't driven all the way to Mexico City, I've flown to Mexico City before, but I've never driven there. I think the biggest thing is the roads are very narrow. The vehicles are very different than the vehicles we have here in this country. I mean, we'll have a car that will have 150,000 miles or more on it, and we'll be ready to take it to the demo yard, and they'll get another 150 out of it at that point. You know, you really got to be on your toes. Some of the vehicles are just so far beyond time that are on the highways, you really have to be paying attention on everything. All in all, they're good people, and it's going to be an experience that a lot of people will never forget. I think this experience down in Mexico City will be a lot easier than the experience going to Japan where we're shipping cars and stuff like that. We'll still have our transporters to work out of. Organization and preparation are going to be key for this event. I don't know if there's going to be a hutch truck or a parts truck there that you can just go grab parts off of, where we had that luxury at most races here in the United States. We also have the luxury of either UPS or FedEx to have parts shipped in if you happen to forget something at home. I think those experiences will help us as a race team because we've done it for so long.
Q. The age old question, are there too many Cup drivers driving in Busch? Obviously advantages and disadvantages to both. The one that we're hearing is especially having too many Cup drivers in Busch takes away from the money and experience that the younger up-and-coming Busch drivers can experience. Can you comment on that?
ROBBY GORDON: I can comment in twofold, I think. One, I think, you know, the Cup drivers coming into Busch, yeah, that's one thing. Without the Cup drivers in Busch, you don't have people watching the events because the people want to watch the Dale Earnhardt, Jrs., Martin Truexes, et cetera. Without them watching those events and having a TV audience that's strong like that, it makes it very difficult for a privateer or a younger driver to find sponsorship. Because those guys are racing in the event and getting the attention, it makes it easier for someone to find sponsorship to compete at that level. I think if you eliminate the Cup drivers from it, I believe the viewership will take a big dive and you won't have people tuning in and watching the Busch races as much. On the other side, a younger, less experience driver would never know where the goalpost is before he moved up to the NEXTEL Cup level.
Q. I don't know if you saw the TV rating for Fontana, but it was a big jump both from the spring race last year and then also a big boost compared to Rockingham. You live in Southern California. I suspect you probably see the same thing as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., he sees more NASCAR stickers on the freeway than NFL. What does it say about the state of NASCAR where they can draw almost a third of a million people in nine months?
ROBBY GORDON: It's pretty impressive. I think that's one of the reasons I switched to NASCAR many years ago. I saw the trend changing and was able to read the tea leaves just a little bit and fortunate enough I could change my driving career from driving open-wheel cars to driving stock cars, which is completely different. As far as the fan side, it's amazing the following, the association, everything with NASCAR. Obviously, NASCAR and their sponsors that are involved in the sport do a great job marketing it. We continue to build on the audience, which is a great thing.
Q. You're going to produce that Harrah's car in die cast, aren't you?
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, we're producing the Harrah's car in die cast. We basically got four different platforms that the car will look like this year. We have the Fruit of the Loom Chevrolet, which we'll run in a certain number of events, the Jim Beam Chevrolet and the Harrah's Chevrolet. We're pretty excited about it. I think the Harrah's opportunity gives us 52 resorts to move some merchandise and to build some fan appreciation around it, as well.
Q. Team ownership, this is something you've done before at several levels in several different series. How has your experience thus far in NASCAR been different than what's come before?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, you can look at it different ways. I've been doing this with -- we won championships in off-road racing, kind of changed off-road racing as a sport. Back when I started off-road racing, dune buggies were the fastest vehicle in the desert. We've taken it to a level where it's all about pickup trucks today. We have a Chevrolet K1500 Red Bull truck that we run in the desert. We own and operate that car. I think the biggest thing is hiring the right people and giving them the direction to do their job. I think having worked for Richard Childress Racing the last few years, I kind of understand how he operates his race team and I can take the pros and cons and implement that into our race team right from the get go. It's not been an easy job. It's very difficult. We expect a lot out of our people. But we have to explain what we expect out of them to get the most out of them as well. Then, you know, open-wheel racing, I mean, Robby Gordon Motorsports came within one lap of winning the Indy 500 in '99. I am confident we will be able to get our NEXTEL Cup team competitive.
Q. You said you kind of put your Indy 500 plans on hold for now. I know earlier this year you were saying you could build your own car for the Paris-Dakar rally next year. Has that been put on hold?
ROBBY GORDON: Obviously, the Dakar effort hasn't. That operates out of a completely different shop with different people and everything. It operates out of the California shop here in Anaheim. Even though my NEXTEL Cup cars are at that shop here, we stayed here for the transition between California, Las Vegas. By having a race facility out here on the West Coast, it allows us to do turnaround and save five days of trucking. Our cars, we're based out of Anaheim before Las Vegas. Once the cars leave for Las Vegas, obviously we're back on track with the trophy truck and the build of the new Dakar cars.
Q. You say that's going to be based on a trophy truck frame.
ROBBY GORDON: It will be a truck. It will be some kind of a sport utility vehicle.
Q. Like a Chevy?
ROBBY GORDON: Some kind of a sport utility vehicle.
Q. What did that feel like for you to be the first American there to win a stage at that race?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, for me, you know, I've always watched Colin McRae for years and always thought that I could drive a rally car without an issue. To go there and win two of the first four stages and share the victories the first four days with Colin McRae was quite fun. The two of us probably pushed each other too hard. He's obviously watched me race in Baja and stuff. The challenge was up. We pushed each other too hard, but I'll learn from that experience. We'll be a lot stronger when we go back next year.
Q. About the ownership, the pros and cons. There's been a lot of critics about owning a race team, being the driver, having all that responsibility to be on the track and then of course Monday morning have to be responsible for paying the bills and stuff. From your end of it, what are the major pros of being the ownership of a major NASCAR team and being a single owner, too?
ROBBY GORDON: I think the ownership side of it is obviously a difficult role, but at the same time, and I don't mean to compare myself to a couple of these guys, but as you guys know Roger Penske doesn't run his operation on a day-to-day basis, Chip Ganassi doesn't run his operation on a day-to-day basis. He has the right people in place. It's very similar to what we've done in our program. I have John Story, who is the general manager. We have crew chiefs, car chiefs, shop foremen, fabrication managers in all departments. For me, yes, in the beginning stage here I'm very, very, very involved. But as we get the systems the way I like it in place, I'm confident that the people we've hired will be able to handle these roles and do a good job at it.
Q. You are an international driver. Is there anything you would tell some of the drivers in NASCAR, particularly the young Busch drivers, who never really have ventured outside the United States? What are some of the exciting things they're going to be looking forward to on an international scope?
ROBBY GORDON: A lot of people, from what I've seen on the East Coast, when they travel to NASCAR, that's the extent of the -- that's been the extent of their traveling experiences. I've been fortunate enough over the years to travel all over the country with open-wheel racing, rally racing, et cetera. I think Baja, people are really, really going to enjoy it. I just hope they get the opportunity to enjoy it. If we're on buses from the racetrack to the hotel, racetrack, hotel, racetrack, hotel, hotel, airport, you really don't get the experience of Baja. What we've done for our team is through IndyCar travel, who has been there with CART teams in the past, IndyCar teams, we've gone out and rented drivers and vans to take us to and from the racetrack, so we're not completely reliable on those buses and stuff like that. We've also hired security guards in each one of those vans, as well. The question earlier someone asked about paying the bills, I do have great accountants. We have a budget we live by. Actually, I don't have to pay the bills.
Q. I know it's not the result that you wanted there at California, but how good did it feel to make the show there at California after missing out at Daytona?
ROBBY GORDON: It made me feel really good because in qualifying -- I didn't do a qualifying lap, let's call it a pole run or something like that. I mean, we were only 2/10ths out of the Top 10, which for me I was pretty happy about that, knowing I would have to be conservative. If we would have any mistakes in qualifying, we'd be loading our stuff up and heading home again. It was very important for us to have a good, solid effort and get ourselves in the field, a lot like the same attitude that Bill Elliott went in with the 91. He took a good, conservative qualifying effort. That was a good feeling. The race, you know, we stayed in the Top 25 for a long time, until we got ourselves in a position to get lapped. As soon as I got lapped, I come down pit lane and the caution comes out, I lose two laps. That part was frustrating, and I know better than that. I've learned those experiences in the past. Once you're a lap down, you just need to stay on the racetrack as long as you can and hope a caution comes out after the leader pits and you get your lap back. At least I got a start off to the beginning of the year thinking those types of things will make us a better race team and make us more competitive throughout the season.
Q. A couple of events under your belt as the owner/driver. What's the expectation for the rest of the season?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I thought we'd finish -- if we run with the cars that we raced with all day, I mean, I raced around the 31 car, the 22 car, gosh, the 20 wasn't that far in front of us most of the day, the 18 car, stuff like that, we would have easily finished anywhere from 13th to 21st. We unfortunately lost a motor late in the race and that hurt us. You know, Menard is working very hard on the engine development program. It's the first attempt at the NEXTEL Cup. They did build our Busch motor that we raced down in Daytona. We finished fifth. I'm pretty excited about the restrictor plate program. I think come June, they will have their engine program up to speed and very competitive with other engine manufacturers, Hendrick, RCR, DEI, Joe Gibbs Racing, et cetera, that race Chevrolets.
Q. Were you surprised at the amount of the fine from NASCAR for the Daytona infraction?
ROBBY GORDON: Not really. For us, we don't build the engines. I think the intake manifold that Menard had on the car was a NASCAR-approved manifold. But, unfortunately, it was outdated. The guy doing the intake head work obviously didn't know that manifold was outdated. It did have a NASCAR stamp on it that it was approved, but I believe it was outdated two years ago.
DAN PASSE: Thank you, Robby, for joining us. Wish you best of luck for you and your team there in Mexico City. Thank you, everybody, who is listening for your participation. We'll be back next week.
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