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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Robby Gordon
August 9, 2005

DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. We've got some housekeeping a little bit to do first. This week's NEXTEL Wake-Up Call will begin at 11:00 Friday morning at the infield media center at Watkins Glen International. Dropping by will be a trio of road course races, Ron Fellows, Boris Said, and Scott Pruett, who I know are very familiar to many of you at Watkins Glen. Today we're joined by another driver who excels on road courses, Robby Gordon. Robby is going to pull double duty this weekend. He's driving in Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event and in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series event. Robby has one win at the Glen, 2003. He finished 16th earlier this season at Infineon Raceway, the other road course on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. Robby, what does it take to win at the Glen? Do you run a different kind of race there than you do at Infineon?

ROBBY GORDON: I think any race you have to finish to win. You have to be there at the end. Half the battle (inaudible) after the race, and then having enough race car left, brakes, engine, transmission, that you haven't used in the first half of the race that you can run it hard for the last half to quarter of the race.

DENISE MALOOF: Let's take some questions for you.

Q. Off-the-wall question here. We all know how difficult it is for a single-car team to compete in today's NEXTEL Cup Series. Is there a chance with the fact you've been building sponsors all throughout the season that either in 2006 or the near future we may see a second car running out of the Robby Gordon stable?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think that is a possibility. Obviously we have some great companies that are surrounding our organization. You know, the first thing we've been working really hard putting all of our specs and procedures and processes in place to be able to run one car. Once we get that done and get all that stuff ironed out, it will be easier to run two cars. Our car has been getting a lot more competitive week in and week out. We're qualifying pretty good now. We race pretty good normally. And, you know, I think the engines are getting better. A two-car program is something we'd like to do in the future. It would definitely make us a lot stronger. But you first got to be able to crawl before you walk, walk before you run.

Q. Could it be as early as 2006?

ROBBY GORDON: I don't see a two-Cup program starting as early as 2006 unless something happened here very, very soon. We started last time in October getting ready for 2005, and we were behind. Now we do have our procedures on how to build cars and we've got one full -- a full fleet of cars built up to be able to race week in and week out and race this schedule. You know, racing the schedule is a big part of it. The first half of the season, we raced the wrong race. We raced the Thursday race to get the thing in the truck to go to the racetrack. And now we're to the point where we're two weeks ahead and we have cars that are done now for Michigan and we're looking at Bristol and races like that, as well.

Q. I guess you're in this for the long haul. Is this something you want to do beyond even when your driving career I guess ends?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, the next - how do you say it - Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs has to come from somewhere. And I love the sport. I like the competition that NEXTEL Cup gives us. The schedule is a bit difficult. But I think it's something I want to do for sure. I'm 35 years old now. I believe that if we can stay on the same path, we'll be able to grow our company into a company. We dreamed to grow our company into something that Richard Childress has. We're working hard and we're getting more competitive. Hopefully that becomes a reality.

Q. What has been the most difficult part, and maybe something you didn't foresee that has come up as being an owner?

ROBBY GORDON: There's been a few things that have been difficult. Obviously, the fleet of cars, some of the personnel issues have been interesting at least. And I think, you know, it's easy to point out and say our engines have been our biggest problem because we have lost a lot of engines. But I'm going to say in the beginning, our team wasn't good enough for the engines and the engines were an easy excuse. They blew up and kind of saved us from looking like a bad race team. Now we're a better race team and our engines are getting a lot more reliable and competitive. We finished the Coca-Cola 600, we finished this weekend here at Indianapolis without any problems with engines. It's getting better week in and week out.

Q. Obviously this season has been something of a struggle for a new team starting up. What possessed you to, as hard as it is to win in NASCAR now, to start up an owner/driver one-car team, as difficult as it is? Also, now that you're 35, when you were 20, 15 years ago Jeff Gordon, Jeff has said often since then that the reason he left Ford Motor Company in the first place was that Robby Gordon, for sure, was the designated star to be of Ford Motor Company. At 35, do you sometimes look back and say, "Wait a minute, what happened? It was supposed to be different than this"?

ROBBY GORDON: Yes and no. Obviously, some things happen that were completely out of my control. You know, I was raised an open-wheel racer. Open-wheel racing has foundered for the last nine years. Since the split at the end of 2005 open-wheel racing hasn't been the same. I would say I was definitely on track all the way through 1995, 1996. At the end of '96, yeah, I've changed my career, I've changed my driving style, changed about everything we do to move my career towards stock cars. It's been a learning process. You know, if in 1988 I would have decided to go stock car racing instead of IndyCar racing, I believe my career would be a lot different than it is today. But I'm glad I've had all those experiences. I had a lot of fun racing open-wheel race cars. I've learned a tremendous amount of technology through Derrick Walker, AJ Foyt, you know, the Toyota organization when I drove their IndyCars. I drove for Jack Roush for four years. I've learned a lot. That's why I believe we have our own race team now, is the experiences I've learned working at other places.

Q. Are you disappointed when you look back?

ROBBY GORDON: Not at all. Not even at all. I mean, obviously I'm disappointed in '99 we ran out of fuel leading the Indy 500. Heartbreak, okay? '95, running fourth -- running second to Scott Goodyear, 10 laps to go, ahead of Villeneuve, thought I had a flat tire, pitted, didn't have a flat tire. Villeneuve wins the race because Goodyear jumps the restart. Two Indy 500s that slipped out of my hands. But I've enjoyed racing open-wheel. That's a part of racing that I think all of us wake up every day and love. We love the competition and we love the excitement. I've been able to learn a lot. I know for a fact I've driven more cars than anybody in NEXTEL Cup. I have more experience with different types of race teams on the way they've done situations, formulas, technologies, et cetera. I believe that will make us a stronger team as we grow in the future. We're a little under-budget right now. We're not quite where we want to be. But I expect the second half of the season to be a lot better. We qualified 13th there at Indianapolis, finished 24th. You know, wasn't a great day for us. We could very easily win both races this weekend. Look forward to going back to Michigan next weekend. Qualified eighth last time we were there. Ended up -- losing to Coyle. I think we were running fifth, lost to Coyle. We've had some good cars and we're definitely getting competitive. Our pit crew has stepped up their game and I expect a good second half of the season.

Q. You're an accomplished road racer. Do you get the impression that some of your fellow drivers wish there weren't any road courses at all in NASCAR because they have the stock car mindset?

ROBBY GORDON: I think stock car racing has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I believe there used to be that, but I believe these guys have gotten very good on road courses, as well. And I think they like mixing it up a little bit and bringing the driver ability into the program. The driver definitely shows up more on road courses. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Ovals, it's been that way with IndyCars, it's that way with stock cars. You got to have the setup and you got to have a car that is good. You got to hit the balance. Road course, the driver can come into play and make a difference.

Q. You get questions about things haven't gone the way you expected, but what has worked? What have been some positives with the car ownership/driver role?

ROBBY GORDON: It hasn't been easy for anybody. The Joe Gibbs car has gone home this year. There has been good cars that have gone home that have been in the sport for a long time. The positives are, we are alive and well. Sponsorship is good. Things are building. We're not shrinking in any way, shape or form. Opportunities continue to open up on a daily basis. We're going to do everything we can to capitalize on those opportunities.

Q. This weekend at Watkins Glen, the Busch and the Cup Series, how different will it be or will it be different running in a Busch car at Watkins Glen after not running there a few years?

ROBBY GORDON: We went and tested there with the Busch car a few weeks back. I may be wrong, but I think we were the quickest car out of all cars with our Busch car. We built a purpose-built road course car that we took to Mexico City. Qualified on the front row down there, qualified second. Ended up having an engine failure. We went to Watkins and we put 150 miles on it and drove it really hard. I don't think driving a Busch car and Cup car is going to be very much different. The Busch cars seem to turn a little better than the Cup cars. Because of the spoiler change on Cup this year, the Busch cars actually make more downforce. I think that may make them even a little faster than the Cup car, even though the Cup car has 70 or 80 more horsepower.

Q. What is the biggest difference between owning a Busch team and a Cup team?

ROBBY GORDON: I think last year obviously owning a Busch team, we won races with our Fruit of the Loom Chevrolet last year. We ran very competitive week in and week out. Cup is a different level. It's not the same. The cars look the same. They even feel the same. The competition level is black and white. It is so, so competitive. We had to push every area. Another thing is half these races that we've fallen out of would have been the -- the Busch race would have been over with, so we've had to step up our mileage programs. We've had to step up our preparation, our engines and stuff like that have had to been stepped up. And it's definitely getting better. We're finishing races and we're consistently racing ourselves into the top 15 and most of the time we race ourselves into the top 10. I know the results have not shown that, but we're definitely getting better week in and week out.

Q. Paul Tracy testing at Michigan, possibly running with you at Michigan later on in the month, what do you think about that? You competed against him in IndyCars.

ROBBY GORDON: I think that's cool. You know, he's driving for a team that I drove for for the last three and a half years. Richard Childress obviously is not afraid to give an open-wheeler an opportunity. He gave me one when I won the first race in the Lowe's car back in 2001. I think he's got a great situation. He has Kevin Harvick to bounce ideas off of. He has a team. I think he's got a great opportunity. I don't know, I know he's tested. I didn't know how fast he went yesterday. I went on the website to check out and see how he ran. I'm a fan of Paul Tracy, as well. The guy can drive the wheels off a race car. Interested to see how he does at Michigan when we show up next week.

Q. Will it be fun to race against him?

ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, Paul and me have had some great battles over the years. It's going to be a lot of fun to race him. It's going to be fun to get his opinions of stock cars. They're not IndyCars. They don't do things like IndyCars do. That's part of the fun about a stock car, too, because they're not as technical of race cars and they're not fighter planes. An IndyCar, you give it two turns the front wing, stock car you don't have the ability to give it two turns the front wing, because it's the whole body built into it. You have to find other ways to adjust the balance of the race car. Him having a teammate and a team like Childress Racing, I'm sure he'll do a good job.

Q. When you came to Atlanta and sat on the pole for the race, probably one of your first paved oval races ever, when you came to the Daytona 500, but for a mistake that your spotter made, you would have been probably very competitive in that race. Were all of us in the media maybe expecting too much Superman stuff from you in NASCAR or did you sort of have those expectations for yourself at the time?

ROBBY GORDON: I think there's a lot of things that have come into play a little bit. Up until I drove for Richard Childress Racing in stock cars, I never really drove for a competitive NEXTEL Cup team or Winston Cup team. They were all second- or third-rate teams. We're all aware of what the difference a team will do for somebody. We can talk about Michael Waltrip, if you want. He struggled for years until he got with a professional team like DEI, and he's an experienced awesome race car driver. It doesn't happen by yourself. You have to have the team around you. That's something we're working really hard here to do.

Q. Do you feel like maybe Ford or others early in your career, where those steps to the real good teams were critical, do you feel like maybe also with AJ Foyt, a team that wasn't as competitive as others at the time?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, we made that team competitive. We put that team back on the podium. When I went there, you know, I brought a team manager with me. Ironically it's the same team manager that is now the team manager on Dan Wheldon's IndyCar, John Anderson. I brought Kenny Anderson as an engineer there to AJ Foyt. I think there's reasons why we run good at certain times and there's reasons why we don't run good at certain times. It's all about the people you surround yourself with.

Q. Just the other day Casey got out of a lawsuit by Ford essentially showing that Ford hadn't given him a whole lot. Do you feel early in your NASCAR career you were let down as far as the NASCAR side was concerned?

ROBBY GORDON: I have to be honest, the NASCAR side was not my primary focus early in my career. Ford was great to me. I will state that Ford was wonderful and awesome to work for. Michael Lee, Bob, all the guys, you know, Jack. I wouldn't be in the position I'm in today without Ford Motor Company. I don't know if Casey Mears would be in the position he's in without Ford, as well. I hope you respect that and appreciate the help they gave. Remember, early in my career I didn't want to race stock cars. I wanted to race IndyCars. I didn't change my decision of racing until 1997.

Q. At Infineon you expressed kind of a concern between qualifying well plus staying on the track. Do you feel that same way at Watkins Glen?

ROBBY GORDON: I feel that way every weekend. You know, being outside the top 35 in points is very, very, very tough. You know, I will qualify the same way when we head to Watkins this weekend.

Q. Conservatively?

ROBBY GORDON: I'm confident we'll have a car for the pole. The key is to -- the key is I got to be in the race to race the race. If I slide it off the road there, you only get one lap at Watkins Glen. Two laps you can't do because you're going to overheat your engine. I can't make any mistakes. Got to stay on the asphalt, can't lock up any brakes. We proved every session we were the car for the pole at Infineon. When it came down to qualifying, I just had to get in the show. Qualified fifth, I think. So every race this year, I can't take a risk of missing the show. We've got to make the show.

Q. What have been the hardest things about operating an owner/driver team?

ROBBY GORDON: You know, there's been some difficult things and there hasn't been some difficult things. You know, we operate our company no different than any other company in NEXTEL Cup. I mean, I'm not the crew chief. I'm not the general manager. I'm not the shop foreman. I'm not a chief fabricator. We have people in these positions to do these jobs, no different than Richard Childress Racing or Roger Penske Racing for that matter. Roger is not involved with his Cup team on a daily basis. He may talk to somebody there, but he's not running the organization. We are building our processes so I will not have to run the organization.

DENISE MALOOF: Thanks, Robby, for joining us today. Good luck on Sunday. Thanks, everybody, for your participation. We'll see everybody next week.

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