Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Interview Transcript – July 16, 2004
Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma American Le Mans Series weekend
The following is a transcript of a press conference held on Friday, July 16, with Corvette drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Boris Said, as well as Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing.
The conference was held in conjunction with the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma American Le Mans Series weekend at Infineon Raceway. The main event will be held on Sunday, July 18, at 11 a.m. (PDT).
Dale, you were here just a month ago for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race. Talk a little about technology differences between the NEXTEL Cup car and the Corvette C5-R.
DE – The car is tremendously different from anything I drive in NEXTEL Cup. In my opinion, it might be one of the greatest cars I’ve ever driven. No. 1, you get in the car knowing it doesn’t have any noticeable flaws while you’re driving it, so it’s easier to learn your way around the track and learn the limits of the cars. So, it’s really easy to get in there and be a quick learner. I’ve been in the car before and I’ve been around the people before, so all those things make it easier to adjust. I was really glad to be able to get out there today and be competitive, and give Boris and these guys some confidence. We went and tested at Gingerman and that was a big help.
Boris, what are your thoughts about Junior?
BS – At Gingerman (Mich.), I think we ran the same time within a few hundredths of a second. He drives great and I’m happy to be driving with him. The car is amazing and it’s the best car I’ve ever driven. The team is so awesome and organized. Normally, I barely get a cup of water when I get out of the car, let alone all these people asking me what I want. The car gives you so much confidence to be aggressive. If my NEXTEL Cup car handled a little bit like this, I’d have one for sure. It seems like we’re going 50 mph faster through the esses.
Is it a tough challenge getting in the car alongside your?
DE — Personally, there is a quest for me to learn and become better. My goal is to take what I learn from being around Boris and Ron (Fellows) and apply to my Cup experience and see of I can become a better Cup driver. When I’m around the Corvette guys, I’m comfortable right away being around this environment. Ron and Boris are both good friends of mine and they don’t put any unnecessary pressure on me. I don’t expect to go out there and accomplish what they can accomplish, but I can go out there and run competitive times. I just have a lot of polishing to do to become a better road-course driver, and this is where I’m doing it. There is no question I’m in the best car in the field. I didn’t have to think twice about it when they gave me the opportunity. It’s a lot of fun and its great people. They love racing, the take care of themselves and each other.
Boris and Dale, where will you be on Sunday?
BS – Win, lose or draw, we’ll try to win. We also have to respect the fact that the other teammates are going for a championship. We’re going to just have fun and enjoy it and try to win. We’re not going to lie down, but we don’t want to get in their way. It comes down to not making any mistakes.
Dale, are you surprised this series hasn’t caught on in a bigger way in the United States?
DE – Yeah, I am. I believe that it’s entertaining for me and the personalities, the drivers, are there. The equipment is a lot of fun to look at and to drive. They’re good looking race cars in the different classes and it’s really interesting. I really like running here. Who’s to say that it won’t?
Dale, this is unusual for you to be in a race where there are some cars that are slower and faster. What challenges will that present?
DE – Me and Boris have talked about that. We think it might be a good idea for us to have a spotter to help us with the prototypes. In Daytona it’s a lot easier because there are so many straightaways, but here with all the turns the drivers will take the first open door they see. We’ll take the necessary precautions to bridge that gap for me. The other guys do this all the time and sense it. A lot of times, I was surprised with their ability to catch me as fast as they were. As far as the slower traffic, I need more time on the track to find more comfortable passing opportunities. Like Boris said, the most important thing with these cars is to not run into the side of somebody. If you have to give up some time on the lap, it’s better than contact. Running the endurance races has helped a lot, but some of these guys it’s hard to find the difference they’re going to go. Time in the car really helps the most. It’s a totally different style of racing than what I do.
Doug, are you going to let all of the Corvettes race to the end?
DF — I think any of you who watched the Lime Rock race witnessed two cars and two great teams fight to want he race. There are three simple rules – don’t hit anything, don’t break anything and keep the car on the racetrack. The minute you put yourself in danger of violating those rules, you’ve got a problem. Anybody can win these races and all three of these cars will have an equal opportunity to do it. There will be no team orders. You’ve see that Dale went out in the first session and was right there time-wise. Any of these three teams could win.
Doug, are there any possibilities of bringing Dale back?
DF — Dale Jr. has an open invitation to race with Corvette racing, any time his schedule allows.
Dale, what habits do you have to break in these types of cars?
DE — One of these things you do with a NEXTEL Cup car, is you’re a lot easier on the gas pedal and into the corner. That’s a no-no in these cars. The first thing I do is slide one of the front tires into the corner. You’ve got to brake very hard, very fast and deep into the corner before you start turning in. Braking is the most difficult thing to work your way into. It’s very inviting, though, and very comfortable. It just takes time. Also, the acceleration out of the corner and how much acceleration these cars have out of the corner. I can’t believe how fast these cars accelerate out of the corner.
Doug, what challenges does it present to team to have third car?
DF — A lot of things go on in this series that a lot of people aren’t aware of when you look at this schedule and you look at adding a third car for this race. Since we returned from Le Mans, I think this team has had two days off. I can tell you that by bringing this car in here, it serves as a focal point for them. It’s a high point of the season and it’s worked as an energizing force. I think it helps keep us dedicated. It’s a challenge the team welcomes and looks forward to, and these are guys that are exhausted. We bring more people that usual, but we’ve got a shop full of people to draw from. They were standing in line to be able to get in on the eight car.
Dale, first time running the Carousel, what are your thoughts?
DE — It’s a lot of fun. The carousel is a carnival ride. It’s a lot of fun to go through there. The one thing that I keep having to remind myself is how quickly you turn off the course we normally run at Turn 4. You com up over the hill and you have to immediately start thinking brake. A lot of times I’m overshooting that entry or getting in there too hot. I think that’s just part of the deal. There is lots of time to be gained there. The carousel is a blast. Exiting on to the drag strip full throttle is just a lot of fun and you’re shooting up there. I like it a lot and I wish the Cup cars actually ran that.
Dale, what’s the comfortable factor versus the cup car?
DE — The Cup car usually ranges 120-125 degrees inside the cockpit. From the middle of July-September it gets to 140. This car is a lot cooler than that. There are a lot of ducts to bring air into the car. Plus, running on the road course brings a lot of air in through the side windows. Visibility is pretty cool. I wish I had a big review mirror and glass to look out of. But you’ve got side-view mirrors and I’m not used to looking out of them. Boris knows right away where they are, but for me it’s just a learning curve. This car is so comfortable, it’s amazing. The Corvette is amazing and so much fun to drive. If there’s a flaw in the car, I haven’t found it yet. I wish we could drive all day long.
Doug, who will start the race?
DF — We don’t know yet. It’ll be a community decision. We’ll look at what’s going on and pick something that everyone’s comfortable with. We won’t just start a guy that’s good for TV. I think we’ll make a good decision based on what everyone’s comfortable with.
Dale, your father once said he’s like to do Le Mans – you?
DE — Obviously, you have to say yes. To come here and drive the car or drive it in Daytona is cool because we can do that. I’d love to do it and be a part of it. They tell me so many stories about what goes on over there. I watch all the races when they go there. It’s something that whether you win or lose, it’s an experience I’d like to have.
How tough will the driver change be?
DE — It’s kind of like that movie “Twins” with our size difference. But, it’s pretty easy actually. I thought about using an insert, so with that we don’t have to change lap belts. Him being the bigger guy, it’s harder for him to get in and out of the car. That’s one reason we thought about me starting the race. It’s not something I do all the time. I’m not sure about Boris. For me, it’s tough. In Daytona, they basically grabbed me by the lapels and yanked me out. Hopefully they’ll just do that here, too.
Boris, about a month ago you raced in three races here at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup weekend. This weekend, it’s only one race. Your thoughts?
BS — It’s like a vacation here. You have a lot of time sitting and waiting to get in. The car is amazing, though. On that end, it’s tough because you’re like a kid waiting for Christmas.