Archive for June, 2008

Michael Waltrip Blog

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

In this week’s blog, I would like to talk about a family that is very important to me. That family is the Bahre family. They brought big time auto racing to the Northeast. Bob Bahre built a wonderful sporting facility that is now known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and that’s where we are racing this weekend.

It all started when they owned Oxford Plains Speedway. When I first started driving in 1985, Dick Bahre and his family took me to the Oxford race. I actually got to race in it. I ran a qualifying race. There were 40 cars in it. When I took the green, the leader was right behind me. That’s how little the bullring was. It was such a prestigious event. My brother raced there along with Harry Gant and the Bodines. Everybody has gone up there including Dale Earnhardt. Because of the area’s fan base, and because of what Bob saw going on at Oxford Plains, he wanted to build a bigger track. Bob built the track with his own money. He didn’t use tax dollars. He was just a guy who wanted a track. Dick even helped build the track with his own hands. He was on a bulldozer doing the grading. He put the tunnel in. All the work that went into New Hampshire Motor Speedway was Dick’s passion to help his brother.

Looking back on my Cup driving career, Dick was my car owner when I started. My first start was in 1985. He remained a part of my racing all the way up through my Bahari Racing days. He made many sacrifices and did a whole lot so I could race a car. In 1987, Bob sponsored me in the Daytona 500. I drove the Oxford Plains Speedway Chevrolet. I finished eighth or ninth in the qualifying race. I went on to finish 22nd in the Daytona 500.

I love the Bahre family. They are special people. I just want to say thank you to them. I want to say thank you for everything they did. This weekend, I am going to show them my appreciation by placing decals on the No. 00 car driven by Michael McDowell and my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry. The decal says, “Thank You Bahre Family.” I just think sometimes in the shuffle of big business we call NASCAR; we forget the reason why we race up in the Northeast. It is all because of one family. That’s the Bahre family. They are near and dear to my heart. Dick has been battling an illness. My heart goes out to him. I just can’t wait to see the family when we get up there.

The Bahre family has been a friend to the sport, and certainly, a friend of mine. I owe them a lot.  So when you watch the races from New Hampshire this weekend, know that a good family built that facility with their hearts and souls for the most important people in the sport … the fans.

– Michael

Greetings from Michigan

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

I have mixed emotions about my weekend in Michigan, but first things first. In case you were wondering about the mandatory meeting NASCAR had us attend on Friday morning here’s the scoop. Mr. Helton basically told us that if we had a problem, he would like us to come to NASCAR and discuss it. They would prefer us to talk to them versus complaining all the time and airing our dissatisfaction in the public. I think what led up to it was when drivers started complaining about how hot it was in the new car. Looking back, I will never forget watching Bobby Allison climb out of his Buick back in the 80s, just drenched. NASCAR is a sport. Of course we are going to get hot. There are many ways we can make things cooler in our car. It’s not the new car’s fault that we are hot. I also think some drivers have chosen to share their frustrations with their performance with the public and blame it on NASCAR. I never have done that. I don’t believe in that. When there is a race and one guy wins then obviously, he has his car working better than everyone else. That is what competition is all about. When the meeting was over, I went and found Mr. Helton and I told him thank you. I love this sport. I am a fan of this sport. I love the fact that our president has so much passion for what we do. He is in there with us. He loves racing and he wants to make sure the fans have a good time when they come to the race and I do too.

As for our performance this weekend, I had a pretty fast car in practice. We ended up having a late draw since we were outside the top 35 in points. Only a few cars got to make a qualifying attempt before it started to rain. NASCAR lined us up by the rulebook which meant I would start back in 36th place. To be honest, I did not mind it at all.  Michigan is the perfect place to start in the back because there is so much room to race. I also looked at it this way … in 2003 I was leading the Daytona 500 at halfway when the race was called for rain. I could have won that race if it was run to its completion, but I had it won right then. I didn’t have any interest in tempting fate. I wanted that Daytona 500 trophy rain or shine. The same held true for qualifying at Michigan. Give me a starting spot and I’ll take it because you never know what could happen during qualifying. I didn’t care where I started. The NAPA Toyota was in the race.

When the race started we ran three or four laps and went from 36th to 40th. I made one turn up against the fence and passed two cars. I knew then that I would have to run up high the rest of the day. That wasn’t easy. Running that close to the wall without messing up and ending our day was a lot of pressure. It was worth it because there was a lot of speed up there if we could do it right. We had a car that allowed me to do it right.

After that first pit stop, we were able to make a serious run and ended up running in the top 10, top 15 for most of the race. We had a really fast car. We also got some really nice TV time for NAPA. Then on the last lap, Martin Truex got into the wall and then got into me. We crashed and ended up 23rd. As I reflect back, I am a little disappointed. We ran really well all day. We were able to drive up there, pass a bunch of cars and just run really well. I know as a racer, running well cures a whole lot of hurt so in the end, I am feeling better than I have been over the last several weeks. I hope I am getting cured.

All and all, we gained enough points to head out to the road course in California in the top 35 in points. And most importantly, out of all those things, I think we finally got a direction when going to these big, banked tracks. We haven’t had that all season. We searched and searched. The things my car did on Sunday made me feel like a driver again. It felt great and I loved it.

Currently, I am testing at Kentucky Speedway. We are here for a two-day test. It’s important for us to be here because when you find something that you feel works like we had at Michigan, and like David Reutimann had at Charlotte, you want to build on it as soon as possible. We want to take what data we got and what Reutimann’s team obtained and refine it. We need to investigate and see if there are any nuisances of those exact setups that we can change, tweak and adapt so that we can achieve an even better performance.

Coming up this weekend is Infineon Raceway. It is our first road course event of the season. Last year Terry Labonte filled in for me. This year I am back at it. I feel really good about our three cars. I got myself a new steering wheel that will help quicken my steering ratio. Plus, Michael McDowell will be driving a second NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. I wanted to thank NAPA for all their support and if all goes well, McDowell and I can get them double the exposure. I really like that kid. He has a whole lot of road racing intelligence and knowledge. We are going to lean on him heavily for setup suggestions. McDowell is only 23 years old but has raced all over the world. He is an accomplished, successful road racer. MWR will be leaning on McDowell. He had a great test up at Virginia International Raceway. I feel really confident about his ability. I can’t wait to watch him show off. This is really his first chance to let everyone see his incredible driving talents. I am proud that he will be running a NAPA Toyota alongside me.

Here’s to a big weekend up in the NAPA valley!

Pocono

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Pocono was not a great weekend for us. We had a lot of high hopes because we had such a good test. When practice started on Friday, the car didn’t feel like it did during testing. It was great work by Bobby Kennedy and all the guys. They made really good adjustments. When qualifying came around, we got a top-20 qualifying spot. I was very happy with the NAPA Toyota.

In race trim on Saturday, we just could not get the NAPA Toyota to feel right. We worked really hard and shared notes with our teammates. We did all we could but could never get a great feel for the car.

When the race started on Sunday, it was really loose. We were able to run pretty competitively. We settled in to about 23rd or 24th place. We waited for the first pit stop and made some adjustments. At the halfway mark, I was so loose that I spun out. The spin really did not end our day. Thanks to the safer barriers, I had very little damage. I had a scratch on the side and some loose sheet metal in the back. My suspension was fine. Late in the going when we played out our strategy to maximize the best finish we could get, we got bit. We did not have our best pit stop of the day on the last stop. We lost a couple of seconds and that’s about half the big, long, front straightaway. Plus, we missed out in getting the “lucky dog” by one car that I was right behind. As it ended up, instead of having a top-25 finish, we ended up 37th. It was a long day.

When the race was over, I was pretty down on myself. I got home from Pocono on Sunday night. I just didn’t feel good about things in general and so I turned on the television and saw an old interview I did being replayed. It was on some sports show and I was talking about the honor of winning two Daytona 500s. I talked about the perseverance, dedication and the tough times I went through to make it to victory lane in Daytona. So I thought to myself that I have been down before and was able to bounce back. I certainly have the ability to persevere as I have done throughout my career. I really believe things happen for a reason so as soon as that show went off, I was thinking about Michigan already. I am focused on what we need to do to go up there. I am not only thinking about qualifying and racing well, but I am also focused on what we need to do to get a good finish. We can turn this season around. My teammate David Reutimann can consistently run in the top-20 so we can do the same. We’ll lean heavily on our teammate if we need some assistance with our setup. We’ll do what we need to do to get our cars running better. I am certainly sad about the weekend, but I am very focused, energetic and optimistic about going forward.

As for this week, I am travelling a bunch. Macy and I are having Father’s Day today. But before that, I am heading to Atlanta to meet some folks from Aaron’s to resign that deal and move forward for a few more years. When I get back, Macy and I are heading to uptown Charlotte. We are staying the night at a nice hotel and going to Ruth’s Chris Steak House for dinner. We are also planning a carriage ride through the city.

On Thursday on the way to Michigan, I am making a stop in Macon, Illinois to run a dirt race at Kenny Wallace’s dirt track. I am looking forward to that. Then on Friday night after qualifying, I will be going to I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa, Michigan. NAPA does some neat things at that track so I am going to go there and sign autographs. The promoter has a two-seater late modified that I can drive. I hope fans in those areas will come and say hello.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday continues to be all about the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. I am very optimistic about our weekend so I hope everyone watches us. More importantly, I would like to say HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the dads out there!

Michael

Dover Blog

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

As I write you, I am at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). I just met the outside retaining wall. I ran my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry into the wall. I hated that it happened but I felt really good about my car. I really needed to be here. I guess you could say it set our test session back a little notch, but I am really glad I came. Last year I did not get to run the road races. Terry Labonte drove my car. I haven’t been on a road course since 2006. I needed to warm up a little bit. We were able to run half a day before I got off the track. We learned so much. I like what I learned and what I felt. We have two cars up here.

 VIR is really a cool place. This is actually the first time I have ever been here. I think we are running the north course. It’s about a 2.5 miles long. It takes about a minute and a half to get around. VIR reminds me a lot of Infineon Raceway. It is really tight, twisting and slippery. The difference between our two road courses on the schedule is that Infineon Raceway is like a short-track road course while Watkins Glen is like a superspeedway road course. VIR is definitely a short-track road course. There is not a lot of grip and a whole lot of turns.

 Michael McDowell is also up here with me doing a little driving in the NAPA car. We also have some folks from Car and Driver magazine with us. The reporter is also taking laps in one of our NAPA cars. It’s going to be a big story. I will keep you posted when the article goes to print. We are really excited about the exposure NAPA will get through this multi-page spread. It’s very cool.

 Speaking of McDowell, he is a real asset here since he’s raced here a few times. He knows where all the corners are and how to shift for them. He knows where to stop and go. When I went out the first time, I told McDowell that there were a whole lot of turns out there that he did not tell me about. He was coaching me. He is really buttoned up. He is running really well here. He ran a minute thirty and most people are averaging a minute thirty three. He definitely has it going on.

 There are a bunch of cars up here. Gibbs, Hendrick, Ganassi, Red Bull, Gillette-Evernham, Bill Davis Racing, the Wood Brothers – all have cars up here. It feels like there are 40 cars out on the track.

 Looking back at Dover, the Roush cars and Kyle Busch were really stout. The MWR cars could not race them as hard as we needed to. We just went out there and did our best. There is a tight line of being really good and really bad. We are on the wrong side of it right now. We worked really hard all day long to try and get every point we could. We made every lap we could. Two of our cars, the No. 00 and No. 44 had some trouble on pit road. The NAPA team just had a bad day that cost us some spots. We could have been so much better, but it didn’t happen for us.

 We are now going to Pocono. We had a great test a few weeks ago. Our cars seem to work better on the flat tracks. That’s encouraging and I am glad that we will be racing there this weekend. Hopefully we can get all of our programs moving in the right direction. We were certainly very optimistic about how we started the season. It has sort of fallen into a little bit of a disappointment recently with the exception of Reutimann’s top-10 finish at Charlotte. I had a great test at Pocono so I hope it translates into a good finish when we go back up there.

 Michael