Michael Waltrip Racing Media Conference
Topics: Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex, Jr.
July 7, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to a live speed special report at the Michael Waltrip head quarters. We have a crowded house here today, the media is gathered here today and every single member of Michael Waltrip Racing is here from all three teams.
A unique perspective for the fans today. Michael Waltrip is all about the fans. There is a catwalk overlooking the shop here and hundreds of fans are on the catwalk here today to overlook this press conference.
Hello everyone. We all know that Michael Waltrip is one of the most interesting characters in the history of our sport. Today we find out what the future holds for this four-time winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is a two-time Daytona victor, and he has done so much for our sponsors and so much for our sport.
He has competed in all three of the NASCAR series, the NASCAR truck series, the Sprint Cup Series, and the Nationwide Series as well. We mentioned that he is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, with his best win coming in 2003 with two victories.
His brother is a three-time champion as well, but Michael has beaten his brother Darrell as far as victories in the Daytona. What holds for him as far as the future in the sport. We will find out. We will go to the podium.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Hello everyone, and welcome to this important press conference here today. I would like to welcome everyone here to MWR and certainly like to welcome the Motor Sports press, thank you for being here, all of our friends that are around the balcony up above, partners, sponsors and employees of Michael Waltrip Racing.
A very special thank to you, all of our friends at SPEED and NAPA online who are broadcasting our important event live today. I would like to take a moment to recognize a few very important people who are here with us today.
First of all from NAPA, Gaylord Spencer, vice president of marketing strategy. (Applause) Mike Reardon, director of events and sponsorships (applause) and a couple of guys that are important to the program, from Toyota, Lee White and Andy Graves. From NASCAR our friends Joe Gregory and Chad Siegler.
From Freightliner, we can't get up and down the road without those Freightliners, and we got some nice ones, and we would like to welcome Stacy Primeau, and from Loew's Food, because we do like to eat, we have Terry Harrison and Lisa Selib.
(Applause.) We have a couple of board members from Michael Waltrip Racing, Mike Malone and Phil Parsons, and our partners from JPG Racing, Tad and Jody Gaschecter.
And of course I wouldn't be here, and Michael wouldn't be here, if it wasn't for our mom, Margaret Jean Waltrip, and then we have Connie and Dave and Bobby and Rene and Caroline and Lee Bob, the whole family is here. This is our brother and sisters and mom, and my wife Stevie, whom you all know, and today is Stevie's birthday, so I just want to wish her a happy birthday. (Applause.)
And a guy that would get the vote for watching from the furthest away, Rob Kauffman. I know you're in London today, Rob, and I just want to say "good day" to you and hope you are well where you are. Bob is over in London today. (Applause.)
Today is a very special today. Michael Waltrip Racing is a young organization, as all of you folks know, and they are two seasons and 17 races old, and I can remember -- and it's not like it was yesterday, either, I can remember when Michael told me about his plans, and I told him, I said, "Bro, I've been there, I've done that, and it's really, really hard."
And it has been. It's been very hard. To get this thing from where it was to where it is today, first of all, I just want to commend every guy and gal in this place, because when I walked in here two and a half years ago, three years ago, um, it was still a movie theater, and Michael said, "This is where I'm going to build my race shop," and I said, "That's nice. What season do you intend to compete in?" He said, "Next season."
It was in July then, July or August, so he had four months to get ready for the Daytona 500, and I shook my head and I said, "You know, that's a huge undertaking for anybody," and he said, "Oh, by the way, we're going to have three cars."
And that's when I called my mom and I said, "Mom, we're going to have to have a talk with Michael, because I'm not sure he's as stable as we thought he was."
Anyway, he pulled it off, he was able to put a great organization together. He made it to Daytona, and I was so impressed. He shows up the Daytona, and you know better than I, it looked like a team that had been in existence for a long time. He had three beautiful haulers, three beautiful cars, and he was off and running.
Well, he was off! The running didn't go so good. The first year or so was disastrous, as most of you know, and I think Michael, when I think about his race shop that he had out behind his house where he fielded the then Busch cars, the Nationwide cars today, out behind his house, reminded me of Junior Johnson.
I didn't tell him that then, I'll tell him that now, because Junior Johnson was pretty successful. But that was his vision, he wanted to be a team owner, and he wanted to do it right. And I have so much respect for what he accomplished, because I tried it, a bunch of us, Buddy, Kerry, a bunch of us tried it, and we couldn't make it work.
Unlike so many others, Michael had the fortitude to hang in there, he paid a heavy price, and here he is today sitting here with all of you employees, a beautiful shop, got a World 600 trophy -- a Coca-Cola 600 trophy, excuse me, in the cabinet, along with a couple of Daytona 500 trophies, and his dream is coming true.
Y'all just give him a big hand because he's accomplished so much. (Applause.)
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Thank you very much.
DARRELL WALTRIP: All right, brother, I'll turn it over to you. There is a lot more there, but I know you need time yourself. Have at it.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Okay. I got a story to tell, too. First of all, thank you all very much. This is my family, as Darrell mentioned, and they helped shape me into who I am, so thank you, I think.
Obviously, as Darrell said, it's been a heck of a road. When I was born, my brother was 16 years old, and all I've ever known my whole life is running up and down the road going to races. From a very young age I knew exactly what I wanted to be: I wanted to be a race car driver, just like my big brother.
And I wanted to be a team owner at some point, just like my big brother, so I've got -- a lot of my inspiration and a lot of the direction and things I've done in my life come from Darrell. And the thing that I'm most proud about is he never let me down.
He was a role model that was there for me, and I'm certainly thankful for him in more ways than you can imagine, especially in this world where sometimes your heroes let you down, my brother never did, so thank you, big brother.
I started racing because I wanted to drive a car. And today, you know, that's exactly where I am. I just love driving race cars. Having a team was a part of my dream.
I'm here today to tell y'all that there has been a time or two when I thought maybe it was going to say "for sale" or "for lease" out front instead of "Michael Waltrip Racing," but we pushed through, and we've made this place a formidable competition to the rest.
Winning the Coca-Cola was one of the best days of my career, and I can't tell you how wonderful having that trophy is. I didn't think about winning a race, I just thought about racing. I've won $47 million, I read the other day, and FYI, my half in this team cost about $48, so -- (laughter) I'm not up by any stretch of the imagination.
But it's been fun to be "all in" and invest in the sport like I've been able to do. There are so many people that have helped me get here, and I've gained a tremendous amount of respect for and some that I wish were here now, including my dad, LeRoy, Mr. France gave me direction and suggestions on how to act at a time or two, told me not to act like my brother, which -- that was kinda hard, Dick Bahre, Chuck Rider and Dale Ernhardt, who helped me to find my career.
There have been great sponsors, Penzoil, Aaron's, Kraft, Citizens, Best Western, Freightliner, and those folks have helped me get to where we are today. But there has been one sponsor that has defined my career, and we've been together for nine seasons, and that's NAPA Auto Parts. I'm the only driver that has ever driven the car full-time for NAPA, and we have one of the longest driver/sponsor relationships in the sport.
I'm certainly proud of our relationship and all we've been able to accomplish over the last nine years and especially proud of how much their support has meant to me. They started running ad campaigns that let me goof off and be me, and I think it helped make NAPA and me synonymous with one another.
It certainly was a joy for me to be a part of. I told them about my dream in 2005 about owning a Sprint Cup team, and they said they wanted to live my dream with me and we started on this road in the middle of '05 toward racing for the first time in '07.
There was a time or two in '07 when we all thought maybe the dream wasn't that good of an idea, but when I got down, they were there saying, "You're our owner, you're our driver, we'll get through this. This isn't how the dream ends. The dream ends with the NAPA car being in victory lane."
And that's what kept me going. As an owner I knew there would come a time when I wouldn't be a full-time driver anymore, and that time is now. In 2010 I'm going to run a limited schedule, a few races here and there, not really sure how many or where they will be.
I do know that for the 52nd running of my favorite race and the biggest race in the world, the 52nd run of the Daytona 500, thanks to NAPA Auto Parts I will be racing in the 500 in my NAPA car No. 55.
There is a young man that is going to take my seat, and you'll meet him in just a minute, but before I turn it over -- before you do that, I would like to turn it over to Bob Susor, who is the president of NAPA and a dear friend of mine for a few words. Thank you. (Applause.)
BOB SUSOR: Thanks, Michael. You know, over the past nine years NAPA and Michael Waltrip have forged a bond that's helped us sell a lot of auto parts, and Michael's already sort of spilled the beans, but we are proud to announce that Michael will drive the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for his 24th Daytona 500 next season, and our sincere hope is that we will be able to meet him in victory lane for the third time.
Over our time together, Michael has evolved into our NAPA Auto Parts spokesman. NAPA has always wanted to be more than just an advertiser in NASCAR. Our sense is that NASCAR fans really very quickly perceive whether a sponsor gets the whole NASCAR thing or if they're just there to advertise.
When Michael approached us with his Michael Waltrip Racing idea, we felt that was a real opportunity for us and NAPA to do something special for the sport. After a somewhat rough start, we find ourselves here today. Moving forward, NAPA's proud of what Michael Waltrip, Rob Kauffman and their entire organization have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.
NAPA believes in Michael Waltrip, and we believe in his vision for Michael Waltrip Racing. We are, therefore, pleased to announce that we've extended our contract with Michael Waltrip Racing, and he's going to have a little bit of stability here going forward, so, Michael, that's pretty much -- they said to keep it brief, and I'm trying to do my part. Thank you.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Thank you very much, really appreciate it. (Applause.)
That's all the business. Let's get down to some fun, and I want to introduce you to the new driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, Martin Truex, Junior. (Applause.)
Welcome aboard, brother.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Can you hear me?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I hear ya. As driver of the NAPA car you're going to have to wear a lot of hats. Not only do you get to race that beautiful car, which I thought looked great, I'm proud that you get to carry your family number with you as well, but you also get to make commercials and be a part of helping us sell more auto parts. Just quickly, the N96045, what's that?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Fuel filter for Toyota Camry.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I think he's going to be fine! I've been driving around for nine years with this on the roof of my car, and I want to proudly turn it over to you. People will see you coming now.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I appreciate it. Thank you. It's cool! Thank you. First of all, I'm really excited to be here. NAPA Auto Parts and Michael Waltrip Racing have been synonymous with each other, and NAPA's been a great supporter of Michael Waltrip I'm going to be a proud driver of that car next year. I'm so thank of for the opportunity that Michael and NAPA and Bob have given me to do this next year.
Just looking forward to going on to do really good things. The sky's the limit, and they've built a good operation here, and just looking forward to it and excited for next year.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Thanks, Martin.
TY NORRIS: We're going to open it up for questions in just a second, but Martin, tell them about the significance of the car number change.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: The car number has been -- 56 has been in my family for a long time. My dad raced it some back in the 80s, and everything, I've raced it until I moved down to North Carolina, the Busch series had the No. 56 on it, so it's a number I've had a lot of success with, it's one I used from the time I raced my first go-kart all the way up through the ranks.
It's always been my number and it's special, you know, that everybody here let me use my number, and the folks at NAPA were kind enough to help us make it happen. So it's really significant for me and it's really cool.
TY NORRIS: This has been a long process. What's it like? We've been talking about July 7th for two months now, Michael, here we sit.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I'm proud and happy. I'm turning my car over to a guy that I think can go win the championship in it, and I've always said -- I've been racing these cars for a long time, as we all well know. If I thought I wasn't the best man for the job, I wouldn't have had a ride for this long. If I wasn't the guy to go race it on Sunday, somebody else would take my place.
And I believe at this time in my career that Martin is the right guy to take over my car and go win races in it. I'm sitting here happy about the fact that Martin is taking over my car. I didn't have to quit, I didn't need to quit, I just wanted to do this for -- to me it's always been about the sponsors, and NAPA has been the greatest sponsor I could ever have, and I thought this was an opportunity to put them in victory lane on a regular basis, and that's why we're sitting here today. I couldn't be happy we are or prouder. I'm really thankful.
TY NORRIS: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Congratulations, Martin and Michael. Michael, a lot of drivers struggle with this. It's not an easy decision to scale back. Can you talk us through that? It had to be emotional for you. Were you always certain that this was the right thing to do and now?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Totally. And I started out in February by saying to you guys at preseason, before the 500, that I had to go out and perform at the same level or better than David did and that Marcus did, and that's putting a lot of pressure on a driver, and I don't mind -- I didn't mind doing that, because it was multipurpose.
I knew that's what I was going to have to do in order to be able to justify racing in 2010 and beyond. But I also wanted to make sure people like Martin and drivers of his caliber knew there was going to be a good seat available in 2010 if things didn't go like I wanted them to.
So making those statements in Florida was a precursor to what we're doing here today; it was just a chance for me to say, you know, I'm proud of what I've accomplished, I think I'm more -- I was genuinely more happy when David won that race in Charlotte than I've been in a long time in my career.
So that was confirmation that I made the right decision, that I can get joy out of helping mold and shape MWR and helping to make all of these wonderful men and women that work here understand that their owner is in there with them, in the trenches, fighting, working, trying to help them do whatever we need to to help them have success. So I'm totally at ease with where I'm at. I think my legacy as a driver has been shaped up by now.
I probably don't have Hall of Fame numbers, there is one time I lost 462 races in a row, I remember that pretty good. When people talk about giving up, that's not who I am. That's not a part of me, and you don't race 462 times in a row -- I woke up on the morning of that Daytona 500 and I knew I was going to win it; I knew I could win it.
That's the same way I look at this team. I feel like we're in a battle and we're going to win it. So it makes me -- I'm happy.
Q. Martin, a lot of times -- first of all congratulations to all of you gentlemen. A lot of times when these announcements are made mid-season or before the season is over you wonder are you going to be in your current ride for the rest of that season? How confident are you that you will be there the rest of the year or come here prior to season's end.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I'm 100% committed to the EGR team for driving the No. 1 car. We haven't had any discussions further than that, but that's the plan. We're all on the same page with Chip over there, that I'm 100% committed to them and trying to get back to victory lane.
Q. I have one for Martin and Michael. Martin, they talked earlier about the struggles they went through early in ownership here. I'm wondering what your perception was back then of MWR and how that changed over time?
Michael, I'm wondering if you're thinking that you could carve a legacy in ownership that will possibly surpass what you did as a driver?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I certainly -- I'll answer first, and Martin doesn't have to answer the question about what he thought about us at first.
Q. Please, do.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I'm okay if he sits on that one. That was certainly the goal. Darrell knows a little bit about the history of this plan, it dates pack to early '03 when I heard Toyota was going to come truck racing. I raced a Chevy, I just won the Daytona 500 in my Chevy, and I called Darrell up and I said, "I can't have a truck team but I think you would be a darn good truck owner."
He got David to drive for him, which was the best driver that DW could have possibly gotten. He got him, and they raced for a championship, and that's the relationship between Toyota and the Waltrips and got us where we are today.
The plan is to win mini races, and I do admit that was the plan with my driving career, too, though. So it's easier to sit up here and talk about it than it is to do it but, darn, look around. We've got a good foundation built to race forward for many years to come.
And we have great ownership from Mr. Kauffman, who joined our team in the middle of '07, solid support. So I think Martin is in a great, great position, and I'm proud for him and happy for him. He's got a wonderful family, Martin, Senior, who owns a paint company.
I used to get -- they were talking about talking to Martin, and they kept saying they were going to have to see what Martin, Senior said, and I thought, what's a paint company got to do with this? But it was his dad.
It was funnier when I told them earlier. But I think Martin is in a great position to win races, and I'm very proud. If you remember the question, go ahead.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: You don't want me to, do you? I can't remember -- I can't recall what I thought then, but in three years, they've come a long way, there is no doubt about that.
I know what it's like switching teams or changing teams around or changing the way you do things or moving shops and moving buildings, little things like that, how they can change and disrupt and make it harder to race, you know. So for them starting three teams three years ago all at once and to be where they are now, I think they've made great leaps and bounds, and I'm excited to be part of it.
Q. Congratulations, Martin. I guess one thing is, what was the one thing that pushed you over the top in making the decision to come? I wonder if the stability of Toyota perhaps had something to do with that? How long is the NAPA deal for? Martin, congratulations, again.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Thank you. NAPA is a multi-year deal. There were a lot of things that went into my decision, it wasn't just one thing. It was me talking with Ty and Michael and their passion and how bad they wanted me, and how much appreciation they showed me that I was thinking about coming here, talking to them, and then it was their on track performance.
David Reutmann and Marcos Ambrose have been running really, really good. There was just a lot of things. I like the way they do business. My little brother has been racing here all year and going out there and doing a great job. I got a glimpse and got to see how they run their business and the way they do things in their shop, and the people they have working here, and everybody I talk to, you know, tells me about how much they love it here.
Just everything. There was a lot of things. It wasn't just one little thing that made the decisions for me. It was a lot of things. I have been able to see they have got a great thing here, a great company, and we're just starting to see what they can do, and that's something -- I wanted to be a part of it, and from here on out I think it will keep getting better.
Certainly that's how I hope it to be, and I hope I can make an impact and come in here and help 'em do even better. For me it's a great situation over all.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: It doesn't hurt that they have great backing from Toyota, and that's definitely a positive with what's going on today, so that definitely has a lot to do with it.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I would like to add one thing. The thing I'm most proud of this organization is what Martin touched on, people, people truly like working here. I've raced out of buildings where there was seemingly constant turmoil and you walk around here and folks are happy.
They feel appreciated, they feel involved on what's going on. So thank you to all you guys and girls wearing the NAPA blue! (Applause.)
It's always been a passion of mine for everybody to feel like they own the team and they know as much about what's going on as I do. You know, we have great people here, and so I think that's -- I think, Martin, you're right, people do enjoy it here and we're real proud that you're here with us.
Q. How well did you all know each other when Martin was first racing, maybe his first year at DEI? Is there anything of what you knew about each other back then or that drove you to make this decision?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We didn't know each other that good. I remember just being impressed. Because we've all seen kids come and kids go in this sport. You know, I've lived through the next coming of Richard Petty probably 10 or 12 different times; that didn't ever materialize. But when Martin showed up -- was your first race Rockingham?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Richmond.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: He qualified, ran up front, that was awesome, that was the day after my birthday, wasn't it?
TY NORRIS: Yeah.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: That's a funny story, remind me to tell you that. We had my 40th birthday a couple days before that race, and I know a funny story about it that I won't share right now.
But I was impressed when we went to Rockingham, Richmond, places he showed up and started racing. He got it. He was up there in the front. That's all I needed to know, that DEI got them a guy, Dale's buddy could drive a race car. That's all it meant to me.
And Dale's been talking to him and happy for us and happy for Martin, and I think it's important because, I mean, I don't guess all of this wouldn't have happened for you so quickly if it weren't for Dale, Junior.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Absolutely. We didn't know each other all that well, and probably the last few years we've known each other better than we did when we raced together, which is strange.
Q. Michael, couple things. As you scale back and move toward the ownership role, what more might you be able to do as an owner now, once you scale back? Also, as you look back upon your career, other than the wins, what do you look upon as your legacy? What are the things that stand out about your career?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: From the career side, perseverance and passion. I hear people talk about using the word "racer" that's supposed to be -- that's a term of endearment, it's something special to be that.
When I think about all the sacrifices I made over the last 25 years and all the hits I took from not winning races and struggling along the way and waking up every day still believing that I was going to go win the race, and to be able to show up at Daytona in 2001 with Dale and a new team and have the conviction and the determination that I was going to win that race, I just -- I would like for people to get -- I learned a life lesson out of that: Don't give up, don't quit, be passionate and confident, and you can make things happen.
And as far as the ownership side, my job is to continue to be a part of the men and women you see on the floor, listen to them, understand what they like, what they see, what we can do better. I love that part.
I like being able to race a car on Sunday and sit in a competition meeting on Monday and talk about what our cars are doing, what David is dealing with, what Marcus is dealing with, what Martin will be dealing with. I love that part of it. Then the relationship with the sponsors, my friendship with Bob and what NAPA and I have been able to build together, we'll just continue to try to make that more than it's ever been, and with Aaron's as well, Robin and all the folks there are dear to me.
It's not unlike me to pick up the phone and call one of them up and say, "What do you think about this idea?" Or "What do you think we can do to sell more NAPA parts?" And same with Aaron's, and I want to do that, be the voice for NAPA and our team about how we can do things better.
Q. Michael, in each of the last three seasons you made definite and steady improvement or in each of the last two. What do you need to do as an organization to get you to a championship level or a contending for a championship level next year?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, we're 50-some points away from it right now with David's car. He could race his way into this chase, and he's very competitive everywhere. So I think we're not that far off.
I hope everybody is taking notice to what we've accomplished with that rookie from Australia, with Tad and Jody's team. He is impressive. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't race his way into position to race for the championship in 2010 as well.
Then you got Martin, who has chase experience and, like I said, when he walked up in 2004, he's been solid ever since, or 2003, whenever it was.
I think we're positioning ourselves nicely to contend. Our goal when we started this year was to infiltrate -- make our way into the top four or five teams, and we've been able to accomplish that. Now we just need to try to make that -- bring the other cars along with it.
Q. Bob, NAPA kinda gets the best of both world's here. You get a new driver in Martin, and you still get to keep Michael as the team owner and a spokesman. How do you guys feel about that? How do you plan to use your dual pitch me know here?
BOB SUSOR: We do plan to use both of them, and that obviously was part of the decision for us to extend the contract with Michael Waltrip Racing.
You know, while there is a -- you would like to think it's a personal relationship, it's a commercial relationship at the end of the day, and I can tell you that even when we were having a rough time, Michael scored extremely well in all the research that we looked at in terms of being a great brand ambassador for us and maintaining a high level of popularity, despite the performance issues that they were having at the time.
So we've never lost any faith in Michael in terms of his ability to help promote our brand. He always said all along as soon as he could find somebody he felt could make the car go as fast or faster than he could, he would get out of car.
It's a little bit of a bittersweet moment for all of us, because we believed in Michael, we still think he has a lot of talent as a driver, but at the same time he's making a decision that's good for Michael Waltrip Racing and ultimately will be good for NAPA Auto Parts.
Q. Michael, what do you anticipate the 56 team structure will look like? Will your current team become his team, from a crew chief-engineer perspective?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We haven't formulated exactly what that will look like. I do know that I'm going to run four or five races, maybe as many as 10 or 12, so we not only will have to have a team for Martin to race with, we will have to have one for me to race with as well.
I love my NAPA boys, I've got a great, great team and I don't anticipate -- I just anticipate adding more people to take care of the fact that there will be two NAPA cars in the Daytona 500, and then I'll drive a car in some other races as well.
Q. Do the number of races you run depend on sponsorship? Are you looking for sponsorship for yourself, and are you entertaining any thoughts of putting another person in that car for the races you don't run?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Translation? NAPA is going to sponsor me in the Daytona 500. We do need sponsorship for the other races I will run, and we're planning on it being a limited schedule for me in that car, and we'll stick with the three teams, and then the one part-time team. That's the plan as of now.
We also have a technical alliance and are helping the Prism Racing with Phil Parson's team, so there might be an opportunity for me to run my races with that team as well. So who knows how it will all look, but we support Phil's team as well as ours, and if I drive for that team, that might make sense, too.
I just know I get to race in the Daytona 500, which makes me smile now. I love going to Daytona in February; it's a special feeling. I used to get up in the car with mom and dad and drive 14 hours from Kentucky to be there on Thursday morning to watch the qualifying races, and it's just part of me.
I will always be that guy. I love Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: The press conference is winding down. Thank you for joining us here.
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