Thursday Media Tour Pit Notes
Michael Waltrip hosted a dinner for the media on day three of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the owner/driver's first opportunity to show media members around Race World, a 137,000-square-foot facility that is part race shop and part NASCAR-themed entertainment complex.
The facility houses Michael Waltrip Racing's three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams, which field cars for Waltrip, Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann. Less than a year after opening to the public, Waltrip's' vision of a fan-friendly race shop is a reality and it has become a popular destination for fans from across the country.
"I wanted to have a shop that was different from everybody else's," explained Waltrip, who drives the No. 15 NAPA Toyota. "People kind of know me as being a different type of person, so I wanted to continue that and build a race shop where fans can actually go in and see what all it takes for us to go racing on Sundays. I'm very proud of it because it's a cool place. I'm happy with how everything looks on both the inside and outside, but I'm really happy because it gives something back to the fans.
"At Race World, we give race fans the chance to see something that they won't or can't see anywhere else," Waltrip continued. "How many times do you get to say something like that? We're doing something that nobody else is doing and it has really been a lot of fun."
While Waltrip proudly showed off his facility, much of the media's attention was focused team's impressive performance during testing at Daytona. Another highlight was Waltrip's announcement that former ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Michael McDowell will take over the No. 00 Dominos Toyota after five races when Dale Jarrett steps out of the No. 44 UPS Toyota and is replaced by David Reutimann.
"I appreciate the opportunity that Michael has given me, not only last season but also this year as I bow out of the sport," Jarrett said. "I'm proud to have been a part of the great sport of NASCAR since 1987. I'm really proud that the fans know my name and who I am because of what I decided to do for a living. I'm at the point in time where it's just time for me to move on and do something new."
McDowell admits he has been granted the chance of a lifetime.
"It's humbling that I will be able to compete in the Sprint Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota," McDowell said. "With Michael making the announcement tonight, it makes it official and solidifies everything that I've worked so hard for in my career. Even though I'm only 23 years old, it feels like I've been doing this for a long time. I started racing professionally in 2003 and I've been at it ever since. It hasn't been a long career, but it has been five years of trying to put deals together and trying to make it from one series to another without spending my own money."
Reutimann, who will run full schedules in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, said his goals for 2008 were really rather simple.
"Since we're sitting outside the top 35 in the standings, we absolutely have to get into these first few races by our qualifying time," Reutimann said. "Qualifying is going to be the biggest thing for us until we can get back on track and get back inside the top 35. Once we get that done it's all a matter of finishing races and building on our consistency. I'm looking forward to it even though I know it's going to be a challenge."
Wednesday's portion of the Media Tour concluded back at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center with a hospitality function hosted by NASCAR.com.
The fourth and final day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway began with breakfast presented by Nationwide Insurance where company officials and drivers discussed Nationwide's new sponsorship of what was formerly the NASCAR Busch Series.
"We know NASCAR fans are the most passionate and loyal in sports and we're committed to taking the Nationwide Series experience to the next level for them," said John Aman, strategic sponsorship officer for Nationwide Insurance. "The NASCAR Nationwide Series gives fans the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds."
Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton, who competes in several Nationwide Series events each year, believes Nationwide's sponsorship will entice other companies to become involved in the series.
"Nationwide starts off with one of the best racing divisions in America," Burton said. "I'm excited as a driver to have a company like Nationwide come on board this year after all that the folks at Busch did for us the last few years. The more people that watch our sport, the stronger our product is going to be. The best thing about having Nationwide as our title sponsor is the fact that everybody knows who they are and what they do. That's not all that easy with a product that nobody knows exactly what it is because they are limited in what they can do or say."
Nationwide Series regular Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 59 Kingsford Ford, summed up his thoughts on the new title sponsorship rather succinctly.
"I'm glad to have Nationwide Insurance as a primary sponsor because I might wreck a few cars this year," Ambrose said with a laugh.
For the next function, Ford brought several of its drivers from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series to the hotel for an informal interview session.
"We have set very high goals for our team," said Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Circle Bar RV Park Ford in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "We want to race and work hard with (new teammate) Brendan Gaughan as well as our Fords. I race for the championship every year. We had a good year last season, but Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday had just an exceptional year. If we could go back and add a couple of points at a race here and there, we'd have won the championship because it was that good of a year. We had enough points to win the championship last year compared to the last five years, but their year was that much better. This is a new year and we're all starting from scratch as far as the points go."
Roush Racing driver Erik Darnell is also looking for big things during the 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"I definitely have set a couple of goals," said Darnell, driver of the No. 99 Northern Tool & Equipment Ford. "My main goal is to go out and contend for the Craftsman Truck Series championship and win races. Last year didn't go the way we wanted it to at all because we didn't perform the way we should have. Our goals are pretty simple and that means winning races and being in contention for the championship. I know we have all the resources we need to make it happen."
Media members then hit the road and headed to Charlotte Motor Speedway where track founder and chairman Bruton Smith unveiled plans for the "crown jewel" of drag-racing facilities.
The quarter-mile drag strip will join Charlotte Motor Speedway's legendary 1.5-mile superspeedway and four-tenths-mile dirt track in presenting America's most popular auto racing series to fans from around the world.
Preliminary grading work is underway and construction on the grandstand foundation will begin in early February. The facility will open Sept. 11-14 with the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals, round 19 of the 24-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The strip is currently being called The Dragway @ Charlotte Motor Speedway, but Smith is asking fans to name the facility by participating in a contest at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. The individual submitting the name chosen for the facility will receive a VIP experience during the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals.
"I love to build things and this is an exciting project because we are going to build the crown jewel of drag strips," Smith said following the unveiling, which was part of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Drag racing is the perfect compliment to the wide variety of motorsports entertainment already on the schedule here at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We are constantly looking for ways to grow our business and the success of NHRA racing at our other tracks told us that adding a drag strip here was a tremendous opportunity," Smith added. "Plus, there is just something special about a race car with 7,000 horsepower."
The dragway will be located on 125 acres of LMS property across U.S. Highway 29 from the superspeedway, adjacent to The Dirt Track. The drag racing facility's track, pit areas and midway will cover 46.5 acres, or two million square feet. Engineers estimate construction will require moving 750,000 cubic yards of dirt; placing 65,000 tons of aggregate stone base and paving 50,000 tons of asphalt.
The most prominent feature of the dragway will be a 34,000-square-foot starting-line tower that will include 16 luxury suites and an additional 4,000 square-feet of roof access for guests. The tower will also include a control area for race officials, a broadcast booth for ESPN's announcers and a press box for media members.
Initial plans call for two steel-and-aluminum grandstand structures, one on each side of the quarter-mile drag strip, with a seating capacity of 30,000 and room for expansion to 60,000. The primary grandstand will be on the drivers' left, adjacent to the Manufacturer's Midway and Pro Pits. It will feature premium flip-down seating as well as 20-inch-wide bench seats with backs. Two tunnels will connect the grandstands underneath the strip to enhance fan mobility. Twenty-four luxury suites with hospitality accommodations will be located above the main grandstand.
"We're going to build one of the nicest drag-racing facilities that has ever been built," Smith added. "This is going to be the Bellagio of all drag strips. If you know where the Bellagio is you know it's a tremendous property. We're getting ready to show you the design and I hope you like this as much as I do. This isn't an idea we just came up with last week. We're now under construction and I'm so glad we have Tom (Compton, president of the NHRA) here to talk about our plans, so he can see what I'm talking about and where we're heading in the future. I think he's going to be as pleased with the new design just as much as I am."
"I can't tell you how excited everybody at NHRA is about making this announcement," said Tom Compton, president of the drag racing sanctioning body. "This has been a long time coming. I've seen the designs for the new drag strip and it's a going to be a truly amazing sight. We are also announcing a fairly significant race date as it falls right after Labor Day weekend. It's a significant date to go along with a very special place."
"It's exciting that this is the area where Bruton has decided to build another drag strip because it's so close to home," said NHRA Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert, who lives in nearby Lincolnton, N.C.
The final stop of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway was at Roush Fenway Racing's complex in Concord, N.C., and featured several Ford executives, team owners and drivers.
"I can't believe another year has gone by already because it seems like not too long ago you guys were here for last season's Media Tour," said team owner Jack Roush. "We're very proud of what we have here. I've been with Ford for more than 40 years and it's been a very good relationship. We're all excited to get the year started, but then again you guys have been to a lot of shops and talked to a lot of people and everybody is excited. We won seven Sprint Cup Series races last year with every one of our drivers except David Ragan and we really do expect him to change that this year. As far as that goes, I don't think we could have done a whole lot better. We have a very good line-up of drivers so we're anxious to get the season off and running."
"Our number one goal is to make the chase for the championship," said Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford. "Another goal is to win a race and then add on to the number of wins from there. We want to be on that plateau of teams that can win races. There are teams that can win races and there are teams that can't win races. If we can win a race or two and make the chase, I really believe we will have the opportunity to contend for the title. We just have to get a handle on our consistency and I feel like we're pretty close to doing that. We were running very good at the end of last year so hopefully we can kind of just pick up on that consistency and take it from there."
"My goal this season is to win the Sprint Cup Series championship and the Nationwide Series championship," said Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Office Depot Ford. "I know that's asking for a lot, but those are my honest goals and what would make this the ultimate season. Anything short of that will be disappointing. We won the championship in the old Busch Series, but as far as winning the title in Sprint Cup would have had to have taken some kind of divine intervention because of the season Jimmie Johnson and that No. 48 team had. We've got to run that well if we want to win one championship, much less two titles. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me it just keeps getting harder and harder to win a championship because there is always at least one team that really picks it up. It's just going to be a matter of running well and finishing races."
Sponsorship was the main topic of discussion among members of the Yates Racing operation as neither of the team's two NASCAR Sprint Cup entries have primary sponsors.
"Our goal is to get a sponsor," said driver David Gilliland. "We also want to finish in the top 15 in the points and that's not out of the question. Getting a sponsor is just the start of it. I also want to visit victory lane this year."
Yates said that while heading into the season-opening Daytona 500 without a sponsor is cause for concern, that's not the biggest problem currently on his mind.
"Our focus right now is on performance," Yates said. "What we do is race and that's what I like about Jack Roush and his group as well as Ford Motor Company. We're here to race and perform and that's all we're worried about. After I leave here, I'm going back to the shop to see how many horsepower they guys have gained on the dyno. That's what's going to make us successful. If we work hard enough, we will make it work. The one thing about this sport is you have to have a cash flow coming into the business. We do have some people that believe in us like Ford Motor Company that is giving us some support."