STAMFORD, Conn. – September 1, 2015 – NBC Sports NASCAR analysts Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, VP of NASCAR Production Jeff Behnke, and legendary NASCAR broadcaster Ken Squier previewed Labor Day Weekend’s “Throwback” coverage from Darlington Raceway on a conference call earlier today. NBC presents its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event since the memorable July fireworks show from Daytona this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. On Saturday, NBC presents XFINITY Series Racing from Darlington Presented by K&N, at 3 p.m. ET. For a full rundown of NBC Sports Group’s “throwback” coverage click here.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today as we look ahead to this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY coverage from Darlington Raceway as well as a look back that we’ll be taking at the proud tradition of Labor Day Weekend at the Track Too Tough to Tame. Both Saturday’s 3:00 p.m. XFINITY and Sunday’s 7:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series race in primetime will air on NBC this weekend, and our NASCAR on NBC team will be joining Darlington in its throwback celebration of the 1970s era and NASCAR’s rich history.
A press release detailing our complete weekend coverage was issued earlier today. If you did not receive that, it can be found on NBCSportsGrouppressbox.com, where you can also find all of our press materials, including talent bios, talent headshots, logos and more. It’s a great resource. In fact, there will be a transcript of this call available there in a few hours. That’s NBCSportsGrouppressbox.com.
Speaking of talent, with us today to discuss this weekend’s throwback plans and the action on the track as the hunt for the Playoffs heat up, our NBC Sports NASCAR analysts Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty. We also have our VP of NASCAR production Jeff Behnke, as well as a very special guest, legendary NASCAR broadcaster Ken Squier, who will be joining our broadcast team this weekend. Ken has written and voiced an essay on Darlington Raceway that will air during Sunday’s Countdown to Prerace Show, which is something that we’re all very excited about.
Before we open up the call for questions, I’m going to turn the call over to Jeff Behnke for some opening remarks. Jeff, the floor is yours.
JEFF BEHNKE: Thank you, Tim, and thank you, everybody, for joining today. I think just first and foremost, for NBC Sports to be able to televise the Bojangles Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend, its traditional home, is a thrill for us, and Chip Wile and his group at Darlington Raceway have just done an amazing job with their idea and their concept, and so we’re proud to be a part of being able to televise and add some entertainment and some fun on throwback weekend over at Darlington this weekend.
Certainly it is a pleasure and honor to have Mr. Squier join us. Not only will Ken be joining us for a special essay that he’s written on Darlington, but on Sunday at some point during the race broadcast, he will be joined by Ned Jarrett and DJ to call part of the race, so for the fans and viewers, we think that’s going to be something quite special.
Each day this week on our NASCAR America Daily NASCAR show at 5:00, we will have throwback items and pieces of entertainment and production as we push towards the weekend, but I think first and foremost, the stories of the drivers as we push to the Playoffs is at the forefront for all of us, and the importance of two races, Darlington and Richmond, still open for the taking to get other drivers a win and make it into the Chase.
For all of us at NBC, we’re looking very forward to the weekend and everything, the throwback and the action on the track is going to bring. With that I will turn it back over to you, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff, and we mentioned that Ken Squier is with us not only this weekend but on today’s call. Ken, we mentioned the essay you’ll be presenting on Sunday. Your relationship with Darlington obviously goes back a long way. To start us off can you tell us a little bit about the experience of working on this essay and some of the memories that stood out to you over the years as you sat down to write it?
KEN SQUIER: Well, I’ve got to tell you, trying to parcel out among the luminaries that have been in the Southern 500, it turned out to be a real challenge. I think that one of the things we had to do was set the table as to the track itself because it is so unique, so different. It wasn’t intended that way, but that’s how it came out, and from there, through some of the luminaries that really made the difference in NASCAR stock car racing, in the ’60s Lorenzen, certainly the stories of Darlington done in the pictures in the early days play a heavy part in this role, and by the ’70s there was no question that Darlington had unequivocally proven that it was the game changer, and it talks about the personalities of the ’70s who did just exactly that, and for that matter in the ’80s.
All of a sudden the media turned their entire attention in this country to the Labor Day Southern 500, and it was for good reason, with Bill Elliott riding for a million‑dollar bonus, and I’m sure most of you know the history of what happened there.
But we have it in the story, and it brings us to the ’90s for sure and Earnhardt and his foil, Earnhardt against Gordon, the Wonder Boy, California kid versus a Carolina favorite, and that brings us into the modern time, a nine‑year break, and now we’re ready for the homecoming at this track where it truly all began.
Those original drivers had never run 500 miles, and particularly on pavement, and on a track that was rather rare in shape. Neither end matched up, nor did the degree of turns. It made for an interesting story, but it was the perfect place for Bill France to launch with those 75 cars that very first race and then carry on a tradition that is strictly the Southern 500.
THE MODERATOR: That’s great. Ken, thanks so much. I thought we could start off with some comments from Dale, Jeff and Kyle. Each of you competed at Darlington successfully but grew up going to races there. Let’s start with Dale, then Jeff, then Kyle, and just please tell us what Darlington means to you and what you’re most looking forward to this weekend. I know, Dale, you’re getting an opportunity to be in the booth with your dad. That’s got to be very special.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, certainly it’s something that I’m looking extremely forward to on Sunday night, to be there and have a chance to call some of the race with my dad and Ken Squier, two people that really helped put our sport on the map once we were able to get the TV on a regular basis there, and certainly my memories go back to those early days at Darlington. I’m sure Kyle remembers the big huge scoreboard that was in the middle of the infield, and it was kind of a playground underneath that, and those of us that were there for our dads to race, the Pearsons and Allisons and everybody, that was kind of our playground as the things were getting ready throughout the weekend.
It goes back a long time, and then the opportunity to race, you know, I’ve heard so much about it and knew the uniqueness of the racetrack and everything, but then the opportunity to go compete at a track where I think my dad still has a record for the largest victory of 14 laps that he won the Southern 500 in 1965.
But for me to get the chance to race on it was just incredible, and to visit victory lane. So many great memories. It’s going to be a great weekend. Looking forward to everything. I think obviously there are certain things in sports and competitions that deserve and should be on a certain time and date, and getting this back to Labor Day Weekend is extremely important for NASCAR, and I think everyone is going to really enjoy it, and we can talk about all of that.
As was mentioned, this is a huge weekend, for those drivers sitting basically outside that top 16 with not much of a chance to get into the Playoffs, taking a chance late in the race or something to get themselves into victory lane or having their car good enough just to drive and do that is of utmost importance, so should be a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks. Jeff?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, I remember going there as a kid. My dad wasn’t a racer, but he loved racing, and we went and we sat in the covered grandstands which is now off of Turn 2, used to be Turn 4, and I can remember my ears ringing for days and days after going there and just how loud it was and how much excitement it was. Much like Dale said, then later in life to get an opportunity to drive on that racetrack, a track that I have always felt was the essence of what NASCAR is, it’s hot, it’s slick, it’s difficult, you have to attack the racetrack. If you don’t attack it, you can’t go fast enough, but if you attack it, you’re also going to hit the wall, so there’s this great compromise that has to be made, and you have to make that for 500 miles, and to me that’s what NASCAR is all about is being able to do it right on the edge of control for 500 miles in difficult situations. That’s the essence of NASCAR.
When I got a chance to race there and ultimately win some races there, with no disrespect to any other racetrack, those wins mean a great deal to me because I know how difficult that racetrack is. Going this weekend with the date back in the traditional date, I know those competitors won’t like this, but I hope it’s 100 degrees, because that’s how it always was. It was always exceptionally hot, and that added to the challenge, so I hope it’s hot again and we have that traditional feel.
Like Dale and Jeff both mentioned, with so much on the line and going to a racetrack that is very demanding, and from everything that we’re hearing from the test, the track has changed a little bit like it used to be. It’s lost a lot of grip. The tire fall‑off is much larger than we’ve seen in the last several years, so this race could look much more like a race we saw 10 years ago at Darlington as compared to a race we’ve seen over the last several years where people stay out on tires and race for track position. We might get ‑‑ not only will we get a throwback weekend with paint schemes and all those kind of things, but from all the crew chiefs and drivers I’ve talked to we’re going to get a throwback weekend, too, in terms of the importance of tires and pit stops, so we could have a true Darlington Southern 500, which I’m really hoping for, because to me I don’t want to say it’s the biggest race of the year because I don’t want to downgrade any other race, but for me it is certainly one of the biggest races.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff. Kyle?
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, he started us off by saying that we had success there. Yes, Dale and Jeff had success there. I had no success there. You may remember, Darlington was a place that I said fill it with water and have stadium bath sessions. That was my thing to do with Darlington.
But Darlington, obviously for my family especially, and I have to go back to my granddad and him talking about going there for the very first time, and some of the guys running on the banks and some of the guys running on the flat of the racetrack because they didn’t want to get up on the bank, and going out in the infield and taking tires off cars in the infield so they could finish the race and the way it was, to what it became when my dad ran there. But for me growing up, just like Dale, it was Labor Day meant the Southern 500 and then you went back to school, and that’s the way it was.
In my mind, in the pecking order of races, for me it was always Daytona, the Southern 500 and then the Coca‑Cola 600. Those are the three big races, and I know we have races now, but from the traditional, from the history of the sport, when you look at the guys like Dale and Jeff that have won there but you go back and you look at Earnhardt and Baker and Pearson and all those guys that have had so much success there, Terry Labonte who’s going to be the grand marshal, first time he ever showed up there just fell in love with the place and ran the place well.
For me to go back to Labor Day, to go back to the Southern 500, there are places, and I’ve said it before, there are places that you go in sports, and whether it be Augusta or Churchill Downs or the old Boston Garden, whatever it may be, there’s places that evoke the history and the ghosts of the guys who came before you, and Darlington is that place. It’s still the same old racetrack that my granddad drove around 50, 60 years ago, the exact same place, and as Jeff said, if it gets hot, it’s going to feel about exactly the same place as it did for those guys today. So I was ecstatic when they moved it back to Labor Day. You have that opportunity, and was ecstatic to have a part with NBC and to be able to be a part of this.
Honoring the history of the sport has always been important to me and will continue to be more important, I guess, the older I get. But this is where it should be, and it seems like going into this, I know there’s a lot riding on it in the future, but for me all is right with the world this week because we’ll be in Darlington, and it’s Labor Day.
THE MODERATOR: Great, thanks, Kyle.
Jeff Burton, you briefly touched on this a little bit ago, this will be the first race in which the low downforce package gets matched with some specific tires, and I would say most people who watched the broadcast at Kentucky came away fairly entertained with what they saw. I just wondered if you had a feeling as to how things may be different at Darlington with this package and how things may be different with this package with a tire that’s matched to it.
JEFF BURTON: Well, this is what the drivers have been asking for for a long time. They’ve been wanting a tire that makes a lot more grip and less downforce, let the tire make the grip and make the downforce, lack of downforce not hurt you when you’re around other cars.
In principle, in theory, it’s a great idea. Everybody has told me that this tire was probably almost a second faster than the tire that was originally slated to run there. Then you take the downforce off and speeds are going to be similar. Drivers have been wanting fall‑off. They want the car to take off fast and then slow down as the run goes on to give an opportunity for someone to have an advantage so that if you’re in fifth and on a long run your car is better you can ultimately catch somebody and pass them and not be hampered by the downforce coming from the other car.
I think this racetrack is the perfect racetrack for it. I think it’s a track that can work really, really well because historically the asphalt is rough there and it wears the tires out. This tire is going to wear out, and I think it has a lot of promise, especially with what we saw in Kentucky.
What was so fascinating to me watching the Kentucky race was like the race from 5th to 25th was crazy. There was something going on the entire time, and the ability for a trailing car to negatively impact the car in front of him by getting close to him and taking downforce off his car and making him loose, that’s something we haven’t seen over the last several years. In some form or fashion, given the trailing car an advantage is what has to happen rather than just giving them a disadvantage, and this package stands to do that.
Steve, any thoughts from your end on that?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I think Jeff is right. I think that low downforce package definitely gives the trailing car less of a disadvantage, and I think while the goal might be to match the downforce, we might have placed ourselves in a situation where it also matches a track perfectly, so if Darlington’s surface has aged, as we all hope it has, then it’s going to leave a unique opportunity for crew chiefs to have multiple attempts to change their car, and the fight for track position won’t be quite as glaring as it is at some of these repaves or fuel mileage races where we’re going to see guys coming down pit road.
Now, as someone who was fortunate enough to win on the old track actually staying out, there still are options, I think that’s the key, and with the Playoffs still available, I think that we’re going to see much more desperate calls from the guys that see their opportunity to make the Playoffs dwindling, so with only two races remaining, I think what would normally be a scale of risk versus reward is going to be very tilted one way for a group of teams trying to make the post‑season.
What was your initial reaction when you found out that the NASCAR race was coming back to Darlington on Labor Day Weekend?
KEN SQUIER: As far as I’m concerned, it’s a homecoming for the Southern 500. It was where it originated. It was the game changer for years, and it’s back where it belongs on Labor Day, and I think it will demonstrate across the country an interest in the history of the game, and to play it on that track on Labor Day is perfect, even if it’s in the dark.
What are some of your craziest memories from past Southern 500s, whether as a driver or as a broadcaster, any of you?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think for me, I think the first time I went there, and going to the rookie meeting, the goal of the rookie meeting was to scare the hell out of you, and they basically told ‑‑ in so many words, they told you if you did it wrong, you were going to die. It was just like this unbelievable ‑‑ they just tried to scare you to death. They tried to scare you to make you understand how difficult the racetrack was, and you left that meeting extremely intimidated. Actually very few times in my life have I been scared. I actually left that rookie meeting like scared. They just intentionally scared you. That to me was one of the things that I remember the most is leaving that ‑‑ I was a young kid, thought I was afraid of nothing except for snakes, and I left that meeting realizing, well, there’s something else I’m afraid of, and it was really intimidating. That rookie meeting just will always stand out to me, how they tried to instill that fear in you.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, I think you can talk about a lot of things, we’ve obviously been around here a long time, but the thing that stands out the most is Bill Elliott and winning the million dollars, the first time that that was offered, and everything that he went through that day to get to that point and be able to pull it off, just incredible, what took place to make that happen. And then you think about ‑‑ as I think about people that I watched race there, obviously the one that comes to mind the most is David Pearson, just ‑‑ he is so smooth about what he did and what made him so great there was his ability to be smooth and fast for that long and very calculating. Then you had the total opposite side of that was Earnhardt who was just always in attack mode, and he had similar success there, and I think then you bring home a Jeff Gordon, who has a combination of the two of them and all the success that he’s had, and the other driver that stands out to me to watch that was so fun to watch race there, and it was somebody that helped me the very first time that I went there as I was preparing to run what my XFINITY Busch Series car at that time was Harry Gant. He actually took me around the racetrack, explained the way that he drove the track, and if he had not have done that, I would have probably first off crashed immediately because I would have been trying to do something that I couldn’t do, but just to have that idea of what it took to go fast around here and then race with those guys and around them was just incredible for me. But there are just so many things and so much history at the track that we’re going to probably see some more, probably somebody make some more history this weekend.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I think for me, like Dale hit it on the head, Bill Elliott going in there that year, and everything that surrounded the Winston Million and everything that went on that year and the way that team ran and it was a family organization, that was a huge day. That was a big day for the sport. I did a thing with Bill and did an interview with Bill recently, and I told him, the ones of us that were there, they gave out and dropped million dollar bills all around the racetrack with Bill’s picture on it, and my dad had some of them up in his museum up in Level Cross, and I told him, it’s pretty impressive when Richard Petty puts you in his museum, and that was pretty cool.
But watching Pearson drive there was always big, too, because my dad, when I first went there, he said, just watch Pearson and try to do what he does because he goes fast in places at this racetrack that nobody else can go fast, but he was so smooth, you could never figure out where he was going fast, he just drove away from you.
And then as a kid when my dad wrecked there, that was one of the first times for me as a son that I guess I realized how dangerous racing could be. To see that car upside down on the front stretch and pit wall the way it was torn up and his arm hanging out the window and to see the pictures of it later has always kind of stuck in my mind how that place does reach up and bite you.
JEFF BEHNKE: The piece that Kyle did with Bill and Chase Elliott was actually done at the start‑finish line, and it goes from Chip and the group at the track actually brought out the car from 1985 that Bill drove, and that’s where Kyle did the interview with Bill and Chase that’s going to run this Sunday in the pre‑race show.
DJ and Kyle and anybody who wants to weigh in, it’s not directly related to this weekend, now that we know for sure that Danica is coming back next year to Stewart‑Haas Racing, what do you think needed to happen to see that 10 team running better, and after 27 or so races now, how do you evaluate the driver‑crew chief relationship there
DALE JARRETT: Well, I think it’s obviously good for the sport, good for Danica, and what needs to take place is just getting her more opportunities at these racetracks, you know, with the lack of testing this day and time, it just makes it more difficult for people, whether it’s young drivers or someone like Danica who spent time in other forms of Motorsports trying to learn stock cars.
You know, I don’t care how much talent you have, it just takes time when it’s something totally different.
As far as the driver‑crew chief relationship, you know, that’s more up to the driver. If you feel like that’s who the person is that you want to work with and you can ultimately get there, then you stick with that plan and you continue to work together again. It just takes more time because you’re looking at a situation now to where you’re doing things more off of simulation than what you’re actually doing on track times, and when you run a place one time a year at some of these places, then you have to wait an entire year before you can go back and discuss that and how you can be better the next time. She’ll continue to improve, and hopefully it just means good things for her, for that organization, and for the sport.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, and I’m kind of on the same page. I don’t know ‑‑ you say what does it take for that team to run better, what does it take for any team to run better. We could ask that about the Hendrick organization at this point in time, the way they’ve run over the last six or seven weeks. But you know, I think from the time she came into the sport and everything that surrounded that, I think she’s improved. Every time she goes back to a racetrack ‑‑ her first year she amazed me at Darlington and at Bristol, two of the toughest places we go. I felt like she had her best races that first year at those racetracks, and she’s continued to improve on that.
You know, I don’t know what it takes sometimes for a team to improve. I think we’re not privy to what goes on with a crew chief and with a driver and how that relationship works and how it peaks or how it falls apart sometimes, but I think she has been good for the sport. Overall she’s been great for the sport. To see a sponsor come in and still believe in her, believe in that team and believe in NASCAR is a big boost for the sport. And I know it is for Stewart‑Haas Racing, with Tony and with Kurt and Danica and with Kevin over there. You need the organization to be healthy, and having her car be healthy and having that team be healthy financially is important.
But I do believe she’ll improve. She’s come to the sport ‑‑ the issue that she has as much as anything is what Dale spoke of, from the testing standpoint and that right now. She came to the sport late. We’re talking about we keep throwing names around like Erik Jones and guys like that that start when they’re 17, 18, 19 years old and they’re already running these racetracks. She came to this sport late. She wanted to be an open wheel driver who became a stock car driver. If you talk to Jeff Burton or Dale Jarrett or myself or most of these guys out here, all we ever wanted to do was drive stock cars. That was our dream. Her dream was to run open wheel, and at some point in time that dream changed and she had to move on to something else. But I think she continues to improve. She’s had a solid year this year. She’s had some really good races this year if you look back, and that’s all you can expect at this point in time.
In another couple of years, what will we expect out of her, I don’t know. As long as she continues to improve, that’s all any owner ever asks from a driver is just keep moving up the ladder.
STEVE LETARTE: I think they’ve got it all right. There’s not much to add to what those two had to say. I think without a doubt, I think Kyle said it the best, is what does everybody need to do to improve. It depends on where you’re at in the sport and what your goals are. I would say if you asked someone at Hendrick Motorsports currently, they’d be disappointed that they’re not more competitive on Sundays. I mean, to be honest, short of the guy who won last weekend, I can’t think of anybody that’s usually happy going into the next weekend, and that’s what makes the sport so great is that it’s not team against team, it’s team against 42 other teams, and it makes it very, very difficult. It also makes it very, very difficult to measure your performance because where is it? Do you compare to your teams within your company? Do you compare it to yourself against the sport? I think you have to learn what metric you want to use to measure your performance, and I think that’s most importantly measured internally with the owner, the sponsor and the people within the company.
There’s obviously something they see there. They’ve continued for another year. Danica is going to be behind the wheel and they have a sponsor on the car, so I think that’s great for the sport, and I’ve seen continued improvement, and we’re just going to have to see in ’16 if it can continue to move forward.
For Kyle and anybody else who wants to jump in, obviously NASCAR was very proactive after the number of deaths that unfortunately culminated with Dale Earnhardt in 2001. Today where do you see IndyCar in terms of driver safety given the tragic circumstances that we’ve seen recently involving Wheldon and Wilson?
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I almost can’t speak to that, just from the standpoint that I don’t know ‑‑ I know absolutely jack squat about IndyCars, from a construction standpoint, from where ‑‑ how they race, what their stuff is. You might as well be asking me about the space shuttle because I know stock cars. So when we talk safety in stock cars, you know, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, myself, we’ve built them, we’ve raced them, we’ve wrecked them, we’ve done everything that we could and you’ve lived through the safety improvements and you’ve lived that progression.
From IndyCars, I have no clue, and I wouldn’t even venture to go down that road. I think that NASCAR, IndyCar, all forms of racing always strive to make the sport safer. We try always to be proactive, but just as in life and in everything else, sometimes we get a step behind and we have to catch up. But that doesn’t mean we ever stop trying, and I think out of things that happen in that sport, whether it’s IndyCar, in Formula 1 will be safer at some point in time, stock cars will be safer, and that trickles down to running the Tuesday Night Shootouts here in Legends cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but specifically, I really don’t know.
Does anybody else want to handle that?
JEFF BURTON: I’d like to add a little bit to that. Sure, Kyle said it; we don’t technically know enough about IndyCars to make comment, but what we do know is about the effort and the rate of intensity. The thing about safety is you’re always ‑‑ something is always going to be thrown at you that you didn’t expect, and those really hurt you because you didn’t see it.
When there is an ongoing issue, it has to be addressed. The thing that NASCAR has done such a good job of over the last several years is they’ve been exceptionally proactive, exceptionally proactive, and that’s the type of requirement that you have to have that. I’m not saying IndyCar doesn’t have it, but safety is not a goal you’re going to reach. You’re not going to get done on a Friday night at 5:00 and say, hey, we’re done. It goes 24/7, and it can never stop. And as long as that’s the approach that’s being taken, that’s really all you can ask for.
But the industry has to take that approach. It has to be in every form of racing. It has to be everybody, the drivers, the manufacturers, the sanctioning body, the racetrack. It takes everybody to make it work.
But first there’s the philosophy, and the philosophy is it has to be 24/7, just an unbelievable effort by everybody involved.
In terms of this weekend’s programming and production, how will the ’70s throwback affect production and will you have to adjust your workflows at all?
JEFF BEHNKE: I think for the most part it’s going to be business as usual for us, but we’ve spent the better half of two months planning for this, so whether it’s things that we do from mic flags to features to the essays we’re doing, all those things are happening in post‑production, so we’ll be ready to go when we arrive.
I think one of the things that is going to be great for the viewers this weekend is all of the retro paint schemes that so many of the drivers and the teams are going to be a part of this weekend. I believe there’s over 30 cars that are participating in that, so we’re doing ‑‑ we’re showing photos, we’re showing video, all kinds of things from the retro paint schemes that the drivers are doing to help push that forward.
From a workflow standpoint, we’re in good shape and excited about providing the new look, the new‑old look for one weekend.
Rarely it seems does the entire industry pull in the same direction. Someone is going to have a problem with something at some point, but this throwback deal seems to be universally praised from the outset. It seems like there’s a rekindling of the authenticity that made NASCAR so great when I was younger, and that made me wonder from your perspectives, I want to hear from every one of you, how badly do you think the sport needed this type of shot of authenticity?
DALE JARRETT: I think it’s hugely important for the sport, and you know, in doing some of these races recently at the road courses and things and getting questions about that as to why fans are loving that now, I’m going to get back, and you can’t ever go back, as they say, but we’re proving this weekend that maybe you can for a little bit. But getting races at tracks that create ‑‑ I’m not talking about creating wrecks, but I’m talking about what created this sport, and that’s really, really close competition and rubbing and passing. The road courses have shown that they’re more like the short tracks at this time, and I think we lost something along the way by going away from some of those tracks that created that type of atmosphere. That’s where the sport was built. It was built a lot around the driver, the competitors, because as competitors, that’s what you like to do.
Yeah, Jeff Burton led every lap at New Hampshire, but he had to pass cars to do that as far as lap cars, but he will tell you that wasn’t the most exciting race that he ever ran and won. You want competition, and that’s what our sport was built on. Hopefully maybe this takes us back even a little bit more because I think people really want to see what brought this sport to the forefront and maybe we’ll get more of that.
JEFF BURTON: I thought that race was great, Dale. You know, I think it’s so important to kind of understand where you came from, to be able to really understand where you’re going. You know, what a perfect weekend to do it. It’s great to celebrate ‑‑ the cool thing, I think, about this weekend is at a time where we can celebrate the past, I think that with everything that’s going on this weekend from a current standpoint, we also have a lot to celebrate about what’s going on right now. I mean, if you think about the battle to make the Chase, you think about we’ve seen a lot of teams that looked good early in the year that don’t look so good now, we see some teams ‑‑ who’d have thought three months ago that Clint Bowyer’s team was in the position they’re in. We have teams getting hot at the right time. So I think at a time when we get to look back and celebrate our past, I think we can celebrate what’s going on right now, too. We don’t have to hide from it. I think it’s a great thing that’s going on. To me it’s just really good timing to be able to have all this happen on this weekend.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I agree with Dale and Jeff. I think a lot of it is ‑‑ it’s twofold, really. I think you look at it society‑wise. We look at ‑‑ you look at the Mustang, you look at the Camaro, you look at the Dodge Challenger. We’re just at a time where everybody looks back, and it seems to be a time that we go through this in society, there’s swings and ebbs and flows where you stop for that moment in time and look back to a period that you fantasize about or bring it glory, whatever it may be, but you look at it and you think, man, remember those days. And for us it’s an opportunity in the sport to have that reference or to look back and ‑‑ like Jeff said, to celebrate Tiny Lund with a paint scheme or David Pearson with a paint scheme, some of those guys. I would love to see Elmo Langley and G.C. Spencer and John Peters and guys like that celebrated with paint schemes, also, because they were a part of the sport at that time. You’re celebrating your past but you’re embracing the future at the same time because you’re going there with the low downforce package. So is that the future of the sport in are they embracing that in that type of racing? I think a lot of times we all wax nostalgic about things that happen, but here’s an opportunity to educate fans, too, when you see that 17 car of Ricky Stenhouse painted up like the old Holman & Moody 17, when you see the 16 car painted up like Tiny Lund and that kid that’s just been a fan since 2000 says, who was Tiny Lund, and it’s an opportunity to educate fans to the history of the sport, but at the same time at a place that has that much history like Darlington has, but at the same time introduce them to what the sport is today and grow them as a fan.
STEVE LETARTE: I think the word education is a great point because while I’ve been in the sport for over 20 years, my first year in the sport was 1995, I was born in 1979, so I as a huge race fan don’t have a firsthand experience of all this past of NASCAR, so when I sit at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and hear these stories or walk through the Hall of Fame and see these pieces written on these great pioneers of our sport, that educates me. I’m very thankful for the sport they’ve built that’s provided for me and my family and I am a huge NASCAR fan and also involved in it. So I look at this weekend as an awesome opportunity for me to go back and not relive the past because I wasn’t there to live it the first time. It’s a great opportunity for me to maybe find a little more firsthand appreciation to what has built the sport into what it is, and it just lined up to be a great opportunity.
I mean, the track has so much history, the weekend has so much history, so I agree with Kyle that it’s really ‑‑ not only is it nostalgic and with great respect, at the same time it’s a great opportunity to educate the new wave of race fans, and I’ll put myself in that. As only 20 years in, I’m still on the newer side of race fans.
KEN SQUIER: I just feel that this track is truly like no other, none. In its imperfections when Harold Brasington built it, it’s the perfect competitive place for NASCAR. Those stock cars were built as stock cars. They came off the highway and they had to go through whatever it was, and so we really have brought it home.
You really don’t have to look back. It’s here. It’s Darlington, and nothing else runs like it. You are running against 42 others, but the most important thing, and to me the most exciting part of it, is that that track is the thing that can beat you just as much as any other competitor.
We talk about that a lot, but this is the reality of what Darlington is. Do whatever you want to get ready, but it preceded all the business about how one came off the turns and how the turns were banked. It preceded the idea that they had to be perfect on both ends. It isn’t, and so it’s a thinking‑man’s race all the way through, and thinking about that track, it makes it so unique and so different. More like a road course, perhaps, but more because it’s an oval, where it’s still wide open, where there is a risk factor that isn’t talked up too much anymore. But it certainly is there and it always has been there with Darlington.
So to bring it back on Labor Day, I think this is perhaps one of the best moves that NASCAR has made in a decade.
Kind of along the same lines, but for Ken and DJ and Kyle, can you go back to June 2003 when they made the announcement that they were taking this race and moving it to California, and in the context of, man, sometimes things have to change for growth, did you think it was that way, or was this one of the biggest head‑scratching type moves that had been made while also trying to grow the sport?
KEN SQUIER: Well, I thought it was a tragedy when it left, and I think we all understood the responsibility to grow the sport, to take it to various parts of the country and make it work better and to make it a demonstration of what NASCAR was really all about.
But the sense of the homecoming now, that we’re coming back to the reality of from whence it came, this has always been a small‑town showdown, over and over again. It’s where the people came from that made this race, not university trained and where they introduce them in the NFL from this school and that. These are hometown people, and this was a hometown track built by a fellow that went up to Indy and said, by George, we need something of two‑and‑a‑half‑mile distance and go 500 miles and we’ll make it paved. That had never been done before for stock cars, and they did it there.
And to be able to play it, and not like a museum but a real, real race, I just think is so grand that they took the bull by the horns and brought it back to where it belongs.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I’ll say this: Honestly, from my perspective, and I remember when they moved it, and honestly I was ticked, and that’s putting that politely. Just from the standpoint that I think you can move forward in any business, in any industry and grow and flourish and prosper, but in a day in time when so many things we buy and so many things we do are ‑‑ is just in a throwaway society, I think we need traditions to live, and this was a tradition. It was a tradition of this sport. It was part of the cornerstone of this sport, being at Darlington, being there Labor Day, first Superspeedway. We go back to the very beginning of the sport when they first broke ground and said we’re going to have a racing series called NASCAR, then Darlington was there closely after that.
So I think for me, it was ‑‑ it hurt, and it hurt the sport and it hurt us in a lot of ways because you don’t ‑‑ we just threw away a tradition it seemed like.
But to realize that we need that and that people want that and fans want that, I think NASCAR has done a tremendous job of correcting and righting that boat and bringing it back to where it needs to be.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, well said. I can’t add much to that, but I’ll add my two cents here in that I understand that sometimes, as to Kyle’s point, I was not happy about the move at the time, but I also understand that sometimes the old saying, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and you have to try things and you have to look at opportunities and what may be there, and I’m going to take a little bit of something that Steve Letarte said yesterday on our NASCAR America show and I’m going to add one race to it. But there are a few things that NASCAR racing has always been about, and that’s the Daytona 500 in February as our first race. You’ve got the Coca‑Cola 600 on Memorial Day, and you’ve got the Southern 500 on Labor Day, and there’s no better time because every driver that runs this race will tell you how much work that is to run this race, and for others to be enjoying watching drivers work on this day, it’s back in its rightful place.