Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
June 3, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR/Grand-Am teleconference as we look ahead to one of the premier events in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, the Sahlen's Six Hours at the Glen. That's at Watkins Glen International, the famous road course in Watkins Glen, New York. The series is going to a legendary facility and appropriately we have two legendary sports car racers joining us on today's call, Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood.
The Glen has special memories for both. Derek was a three-time F1 starter at the Glen. He won the 1975 Six Hours, and at Alfa Romero, he won the Glen's grand reopening race back in 1984 with Al Holbert and Jim Adams. We're going to open up with Derek first.
Derek, I know that first race at the Glen had some really special significance. Maybe you could start off by talking about that a little bit.
DEREK BELL: Obviously it did. For any British or European driver to come to the United States it was pretty special, and for me particularly because I wasn't due to be part of the Formula One team at Ferrari that year. I had only joined them two months before. I had done the Italian Grand Prix and then I was not due to race Formula One until the next one, and then Jackie broke his ankle in Canada, so I suddenly got this frantic call, "Get yourself out to Watkins Glen," and there I was arriving at the sleepy old town.
Looking at the track, we all stayed at the famous Watkins Glen Motor Court, and all the drivers did then, and I went out and walked the track and it was just a fanatic atmosphere. At that time of year, I think it was late October, early November or late September, early October, and the fall had come, and suddenly it went from being a very hot day to a cold day the next day. That was "welcome to the Glen in the fall." As we all know it was a wonderful track, and I enjoyed it immensely at all times when I had been there. I always loved the atmosphere and the enthusiasm.
HERB BRANHAM: We've move over to Hurley who won his first major race at the Glen in 1969, when took out a NASCAR license. He joined Peter Gregg for the Six Hour event. They won their class in the Brumos Porsche, Hurley's first of six class victories in the six-hour event and in the first of a record nine at the Glen. Hurley is going as to be back at the wheel of No. 59 Brumos Porsche this weekend. He's going to co-drive with J.C. France and Joao Barbosa.
Sorry to remind you and it's also hard to believe that it's been 40 years since that monumental first race, but what was it like coming to the Glen for the first time, and then winning your class in the Brumos Porsche
HURLEY HAYWOOD: You've got to remember the first time I was there was 40 years ago, and I had really two races under my belt before Peter took me up there and said, "Don't worry, we're going to race in the six-hour world championship race, and you know, they'll have to accept your FI license that we got through NASCAR." I had a little two-liter 911 that we were racing, and they had all the fast guys - Ferraris were there, I'm sure Derek was there, they had the Matras, just really, really fast prototype cars. And I remember going down the back straight just completely terrified with these fast prototypes passing me both on the right and the left. But we managed to get through, and it's been a wonderful track. I just love going up there. I've stayed at the same place for 40 years, in the same room. So it's just kind of like coming home.
HERB BRANHAM: Awesome memories. Thanks for both those openers. We'll go to questions now.
Q. My first question is for Hurley: Since you only race part-time now as a driver and now that you're more focused on being behind the pit wall, has that changed your mindset or your preparation for racing now?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, yes and no. I mean, when you get behind the wheel -- I drive in competitive cars almost every week when I'm doing the Porsche driving schools up in Birmingham, so I keep my foot in it, but it's not the Daytona prototype. But after a couple laps around Watkins Glen, I'm so familiar with that racetrack that it shouldn't really take too much time to get back on pace. So I'm really looking forward to it.
Q. I have a question for Derek: I know you race sparingly anymore and you haven't raced in the Grand-Am Series in a little bit. Is there any chance you're going to be back?
DEREK BELL: I shouldn't think so, no. And the trouble is, like Hurley, I would race every week if I could, but there's so many young guys out there, and thank goodness racing is a lot safer so there's lots of room for us guys to sit back and watch these young guys on the way up.
The good thing is Hurley and I are still alive. One can't have it both ways. I still enjoy racing cars. I still drive moderately competitively when I get out there and I do lots of driving events, so I do keep my hand in it. I do a lot of work with Bentley, with the Bentley LeMans car which won five or six years ago, I'll be driving that two or three times during this year. So I'm always out there in something fast, and it's good to be in something competitive, if you know what I'm saying, with the new technology on them.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Both Derek and myself do a lot of teaching. Derek, Brian Redman, Vic Elford, Patrick Long and myself participated in a program called The Legends with the Porsche Driving School up in Birmingham. So that was a great thing. All those students got to experience all of our funny tales and different techniques of driving, so it was a really good experience.
Q. Question for Hurley: Since you're not a regular campaigner now, do you have to do anything physical conditioning-wise or otherwise to prepare for the Glen? And having raced so often at the Glen, is it easier to come to a place where you're familiar with every nook and cranny of the track?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, when you're familiar with a racetrack it's certainly easier, especially when you don't race full-time.
As far as the physical condition, I keep in pretty good shape all year-round anyway. The last, say, month or month and a half I've stepped up my physical routine a little bit. You know, Six Hours is not really that long, and we've got three drivers on our car, with a fourth standing by in case somebody has a problem.
We had some issues with our car during the last couple races with a handling problem, and I think our team management wanted to get as many sort of people driving the car to give their best opinion as they possibly could, so Watkins Glen was a good place to do that.
Q. And I have a question for Derek: Sports Car racing today versus when you were more active in it, how do you see that it has changed? And what do you think its future is?
DEREK BELL: Well, I think it has a great future, that's for sure. Sports Car racing has always been strong. It's never quite as strong as the Formula Ones or the IndyCar Series because of the sheer virtue it's one driver, one car, man and machine. And in Sports Cars we've always been a slightly poorer relation, which is a pity.
However, as far as the differences are concerned, I think Hurley and I, we're just terribly lucky to be around in the era that we were in. I hate to sound like an old man, but the '80s and early '90s was a phenomenal era of Sports Car racing over in Europe and over in America. It was massive.
Cars changed very slightly since that era. Those cars were, we had up to 800-odd horsepower on tap at times with no electronics, no traction controls, no antilock brakes, none of this stuff. I have to say, sounding like an old man, that things have got somewhat easier, although I don't know it makes them that much easier to drive, to be honest. I think guys would still like to have the tail wandering out and be able to draft it a little more than they do and have certain of the electronics not on the car. But I think the era that I was in, I wouldn't have missed for the world. I only did the one partial race at Daytona and the 24 hours at the Rolex last year in O'Reilly and Scott, and consequently I can't say I was an expert at all in that car, but I did enjoy the little time I spent in the car, and it began to grow on me a lot, and I enjoyed it.
But I think the main era I was in was certainly a massive international era. What Sports Car has to do somehow is to get it back to being a major international era as well, so the whole world participates rather than having it slightly fragmented, which I think is a great pity.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I would agree with Derek. I think Derek and myself were both really lucky to be able to drive in that 962 GTP era, which was just a fabulous time of racing. But I've got to admit that these new Daytona prototypes are -- they're not quite as exciting to drive the car, but the racing itself is exciting. So racing becomes, regardless of how great the car might be, a little bit tedious if you don't really have guys to race with side by side. In our Formula One right with the Grand-Am Daytona prototypes, on any given weekend you've gotten teams that could win the race. So that makes the driving part a lot more fun, and the cars are super safe.
DEREK BELL: I agree with you, Hurley. I didn't bring that in, but I agree, the racing is most exciting. I think it's the way things have to go. You've got to keep cars closely matched, I have to agree. So yeah, I have to agree with what you're saying.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I can remember very distinctly back in the early '70s when Bill France, Sr., and I were walking down the pit lane at Daytona, and he looked at me, and he said, "Never forget that racing has got to be entertaining," and we put on a really good show, I think, and our TV ratings show it, and the fans like it and the drivers are having a great time.
Q. Just one follow-up: If there's one thing you could do to spice up the competition or change the Daytona prototype car, what would it be?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Take the 50 tons of weight off of us and give us our RPM back. The formula is, everybody is trying to get the advantage, and it looks like right now, the Pontiac, they've won more races than anybody and they've got a little bit of an edge because they gave them a new head.
But it's difficult for the sanctioning bodies to get the rules absolutely dead even. It's an ongoing process, not only -- we've had some handling problems that have prevented us from being up on the top, but hopefully they got those straightened out by the time we get to the Glen. So I'm hoping that we'll be right back on pace again. That's the beauty of Grand-Am is that they can change things to keep everything level; nothing is locked in.
Q. Derek and Hurley, with all your experience, when the helmet goes on, do you think that a driver's personality changes, or was it just always there and it comes out anyway?
DEREK BELL: I think it does in certain cases, but I think Hurley and I and people of our experience and the fact we're still alive, we know who those guys were, and we know what happens when their helmet goes on - their brain often goes into neutral. It's a bit of an exaggeration, but people do change quite considerably, some people. Others don't. Others you know their personality from outside, and when they're driving the car, that is the personality absorbed.
The most important thing is that we as drivers get to know who it is we're driving against through the experience of driving against them in other races, and you might say, how the heck do you do that in a race with 50 cars and the Daytona 24-hour with four people per car? It's impossible to know. But the strange thing is as the race progresses, you begin to know who's in the car and you recognize the car and also the sort of poorer cars and drivers are out of the race, so you end up respecting more and understanding what the guy in front is going to do. But at the beginning of the race on those big races, it's pretty worrying.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I agree with Derek. You know, when the helmet goes on, the reason why Derek and myself have been so successful in racing is that we keep an even temperament. The worst thing that you can do in a race car is get mad or get emotional, and that's when the mistakes take place. And especially Derek and myself are good in the long distance races, and in long distance races you just have to be even keel.
But my mother always told me that when I pull that helmet on that I was a different person, but I don't think so. I think the more secure the drivers are and the more famous a driver is, you know, they're all pretty easy-going people when they're outside of the race car. When they get in the race car they've got a job to do and that job they do very well. But the temperament is basically the same.
Q. Again for both of you: Because you have all this experience, you probably can't count how many times you've cranked an engine. But you mentioned earlier about teaching. What do you think surprises students the most, those people that haven't cranked an engine anywhere near as often as you have?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, I know from my experience with the Porsche Sport Driving School and our own school here at Brumos for our customers that when you're driving a Porsche, the thing that most amazes people is how fast it stops. It's not really how fast it accelerates but how fast it stops and how deep you can go into a corner. Unless you're a racing driver, you never really utilize the capabilities of a modern brake system. I think that is one thing that really opens people's eyes.
DEREK BELL: I go totally along with Hurley on that. I think back in England about 20 years ago, I gave the chief test pilots of Concorde a few laps. That guys had obviously flown pretty quickly, and I took him around Brands Hatch, which Hurley has no doubt been there, it's a pretty amazing circuit, a bit like the Glen but a bit more hills and a bit more corners. This guy, I thought it might be astounded by the way the boost came in and the car lipped up the road. But the one thing he did notice is under-braking and turning - he could not believe how he could brake and turn in the corner. That's what he was astounded by.
The other thing I thought when you asked the question was the fact they cannot believe how relaxed we are when we drive and how light a touch we have. I know the last day Hurley and I did together, we put down I think what it was we felt made a good driver or what we tried to impart, and I can't remember what Hurley's was. I know it was different from mine but we all had different feelings of what we wanted to put over to people, but driving is about sensitivity and feel, and I'm sure Hurley would remember what his was, but I can't remember right now.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Mine was patience.
DEREK BELL: Which of course is what you were saying just before.
Q. Hurley and Derek, I watched you race for years. You're both stars in the Sports Car Series as far as I'm concerned, as are many others. You're older drivers but you're fit, and what is the difference between the way you will approach these races and the younger drivers coming in? How much value does your experience give over a newer driver, a younger driver?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, when you're a new driver or a young driver, you've got a whole career ahead of you to gain experience, and I think the more experienced drivers and the older drivers are much more secure in sort of their position in life and their position in the racing community, and they have nothing to prove. When you're out there on a racetrack and you're trying to prove how fast you are to your team owner or other team owners, you run the big risk of crashing or making a big mistake.
I think the older guys bring a bit of maturity to a racing team, and that's why a lot of the teams employ older drivers, to give the younger guys sort of their opportunity to gain from their experience, and it's kind of a calming effect. Usually when you go to a race weekend it's a pretty hectic schedule, and things never go right, and the car always has some sort of problem, and miraculously they get the car fixed by the time the race starts and then you go into your race.
I think the guys that have the most amount of experience have sort of a calming effect on the junior members. I know Porsche was always very, very insistent upon having seasoned drivers mixed in with their young tigers, and the young guys are always a little bit quicker, but the older guys sort of give that sort of even keel to the whole situation.
DEREK BELL: Yeah, I remember obviously -- Hurley spoke a lot there of exactly what I was going to say, but by the same token, I remember I was talking with Hans Stuck the other day, literally in the last month because he has a place here in Florida, and he was saying when they joined Porsche they put him with me because they thought I'd be a calming influence on him. It didn't work, but that was what I was there for.
I think as Hurley said, my feeling is that I'd be in a race, and I've had this from experience, you'll be watching somebody catching you up behind and he's all over the road, you'll see puffs of dust going everywhere and the car looking pretty unstable, and this happened to me at St. Petersburg a couple years ago. I remember seeing this kid come, and I knew who it was because I'd seen him in qualifying and he was very quick, but he was like 19, and the team called me and said, so-and-so is behind you, and I said, I can see him all right, but I'm going to let him by because he won't stay on the road for more than a couple more laps, and sure enough, I let him by and he crashed two laps later. And that is the experience we have as an older person.
That might sound awfully boring, but we also know our limits, and I think these are the limits that have allowed Hurley and I to get to this ripe old age, whereas a lot of people have never found the limits. You have to know what the limits are. Some people find the limits very easily, some people never, ever find them. I personally could get to a limit and be right on the edge of that limit, which is actually the edge of falling over the edge, but there will be a fine limit. Some people, they stay below the limit or they're well over it. They can't balance it in the middle.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I agree totally with Derek. I heard somebody once describe that really well. He said, some people draw that line with a fine pencil and others draw it with a Crayon.
DEREK BELL: All due respect, I'm sure Hurley and I could tell stories all day, which we do on our Legends Days, but I remember I had -- so many times I would go and do test drives with different teams in my long, long career, and you would appear there and obviously there would be other drivers with you. I remember implicitly when I had my Ferrari test drive. I went out there and drove to this limit in the rain, in a Formula One car which I never sat in, in the rain in a situation where I daren't go over that edge. But if I went below it, Mr. Ferrari was sitting there in his two plus two on the edge of the track watching me go around. When a couple of other drivers went around, one went slow and the other fell off and they select me.
Now, I'm not saying, aren't I wonderful, but the fact was I had a much finer line, as Hurley mentioned, and the others didn't.
Q. In this Grand-Am Rolex race at the Glen, what will be the most challenging part of the race, the length, the course?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, just remember one thing, if you watch the 24 hours at Daytona, that was a sprint race from the minute the green flag fell. So just think of a six-hour race as a monumental sprint race. It's going to be every team, every driver, every car is going to have to go as fast as they possibly can and hope nothing goes wrong.
Again, it's experience that allows that to happen, and the guys are -- the drivers and the teams are getting more and more experience and better and better at doing their jobs, so it makes my life very difficult, I'll tell you (laughing).
DEREK BELL: Well, I'm not in the race, so I haven't got to worry. I'll just watch Hurley.
Q. For Hurley, whether or not you're starting the race or in the middle or at the final, do you have a favorite part that you would rather -- time of the race you like to be in the car? And what are the more challenging parts of the Glen for you?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Well, I love every single bit of the Glen. The uphill is great. It's really a rush going up that thing. In our cars it's taken flat out, so you come out of one and accelerate and you're flat on it all the way up the hill. So that's a pretty big rush. So the boot is really a lot of fun. The whole track has got such a great rhythm and it's such a classic racetrack that I really enjoy driving there.
I think given my druthers, I think I like starting the race. The start of the race is when all of the bad things could possibly go wrong, and I just like the standpoint that I've started so many races that I just have a lot of experience. But for the Glen, I think that J. C. is going to start. We're trying to get him up to get a lot of points in the Truman's Cup Award, so I think he'll start, and then Barbosa will go second because if anything happens to the cars, those guys need the points, and then I'll probably go in third.
It's all relative to pit stops and yellow flags and all that kind of stuff.
DEREK BELL: I must just say one thing that nobody has brought up yet, but Hurley is talking about three drivers. Hurley remembers very vividly that back in the '70s and '80s we used to drive 12- or 24-hour races with just two drivers. Nowadays I know you're going to say the cars are quicker around the corners and there are more G forces, but it's amazing we used to do those races. The sheer concentration, whether it's more G force or not is immense, still is immense. But two guys used to do it not so long ago.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: Derek is absolutely right. Derek and myself do a lot of vintage racing with some of these older cars that we've driven in their prime, and when I get it, we have a 962 in our collection, and when I drive that at tracks like Daytona or Atlanta or wherever we're going to go, I'm just amazed at how difficult those cars physically work to drive. We're all spoiled right now. We've got power steering and sequential shifting, and the gear box in the 962 is like pushing a paddle through cement. It was really a monumental effort.
As Derek said, we used to do 24-hour races at Le Mans with three people, but many times we would do Six Hours with just two guys. And that was a real physical --
DEREK BELL: I did my first 13 Le Manses with two drivers, and I did 26 in total.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: You're in better condition -- you're stronger than I am.
DEREK BELL: No, I'm not. You would have done it, too. That's the point that people overlook. I did an interview yesterday about the Porsche 917 because it's the 40th anniversary of the fabled Porsche 917 this year, and I drove that car during that era, and in the '70s and '71s. If we didn't take the drive in the car there are numerous drivers that would. You then turn around to Porsche and say, I'm sorry, sir, I'm not driving your car because it's too difficult or I'm not strong enough. You just bloody would get in and do it. And we all had the ability because we had such desire to win, and we had that passion about driving that we'd get in and do it even if afterwards we went, I don't want to do it again, but we would.
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I remember in 1977, it was the first year of the turbo charged cars, the 935s at Daytona, and I didn't have faith in that kind of technology for a long-distance race, so I ended up driving an RSR. My two teammates that were very on it were very kind of inexperienced guys. At about 10:00 o'clock at night, they came up and they said, we don't want to drive at night. I kind of looked at them and said, well, it's just the three of us, what are we going to do? You're going to drive. I basically did an eight-hour shift at night non-stop. And the reason that I was able to do that, I was pretty exhausted after the stint, was we were really moving up in the standings, and turbo charged cars would have problems and we'd get up to fifth or fourth and then third and second, so that was enough adrenaline to keep me going. But you just did what you had to do.
Q. A lot has been made about the heat in the Daytona prototypes. How does that compare with the heat in some of the older cars you guys have driven?
HURLEY HAYWOOD: I mean, I am not good with heat. If I don't have air blowing on me the way these cars are Daytona prototypes, they made them a lot better, but they are just like little ovens. We have air conditioned helmets now, we have cool suits that we wear when it's really hot outside. So it makes life a lot easier.
But the same heat was created back in the 962 days with the Daytona prototype. You had those big huge radiators in the front and they would just dump all this hot air. I remember one time I burnt my feet on the pedals because they got so hot down there.
And then back you didn't have things like air conditioned helmets and cool suits. So you just had to live with it. Again, you dealt with it and you tried to take as good a care of yourself between the stints, put as much liquid back into your system. But unfortunately that sometimes is just not good enough.
Nowadays I've got a doctor that goes to the races with our team, and when it's really hot the guys get out of the car and they get an IV with liquid in it to get back into their systems because 20 minutes on the IV and you're ready to go back in the car again. Modern technology is wonderful.
DEREK BELL: You're really lucky. What you have to remember of course is Hurley and I aren't 25 anymore, and I think the heat affects us more. I don't remember it being nearly as bad in those early days of the '70s, but it certainly seems to have got a lot worse. But I do remember testing at Brands Hatch in a Porsche 962 in about '83 or '84, '84 or '85, and we had these special temperature gauges across the top of the tires in the wheel arches that could detect the temperature. At the end of the day we'd be driving literally in 75 degree heat but Brands is very humid in that area. I'd say the hell with the temperature gauge, stick it on the passenger seat, let's see how hot it is, and it was 150 degrees. We very rarely take temperatures ourselves in the cockpit because nobody has time to do that, but that shows the sort of thing we have to put up with.
Another time at Daytona in the 24-hour, Al Unser Jr., somehow the window or the side screen of the door got broken. A rock must have come up and broken it, and I was driving the car -- well, we all were driving it, and I thought, what a relief, we're going to have cool air coming in from the outside because it's never that hot at Daytona in the first weekend at February. But of course lo and behold all the window being removed does is it actually sucks the heat from the radiators and from the engine compartment which is either end of us and sucks it into that window and all our lips were blistered at the end of the race from the heat passing over our lips.
HERB BRANHAM: Guys, what can you say about this? This was just a wonderful way to help us get some advance publicity for Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hour event at Watkins Glen. Derek Bell, Hurley Haywood, thank you very much. Hurley, best of luck. Keep J.C. in line and get him going and I'm sure it'll be a great day.
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