Below is the transcript from todayís teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Steve Park (No. 62 Orleans Racing Dodge) and Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge and co-owner of Orleans Racing).
Park won his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at California Speedway on Feb. 25. His victory behind the wheel of a pickup truck made him only the 10th driver to win in all three major NASCAR touring series Ė Craftsman Truck, Busch and Nextel Cup. Gaughan is Parkís teammate, and the co-owner of Orleans Racing. Gaughan has eight career wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns to action next Friday, March 18 at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the World Financial Group 200. The race is scheduled to start at 9:15 p.m. ET.
(Question) Steve, by winning California last weekend you completed what many have termed as a comeback from your injury several years ago. You were also added to a club of only 10 drivers who have won in all three major NASCAR touring series. What did that victory mean to you and to Orleans Racing?
Steve Park: It meant a lot. We felt that last year we developed into a team that could win races but we just fell short of that. The fact that we won in our second race of the year kind of proved to all of us that we are a team capable of winning. I want to thank Michael Gaughan and Brendan and everybody at the Orleans Dodge to give me the opportunity to be in equipment we can win with. To win for Jasper was a big deal not only for us, but for them too. I didnít know that until Fontana that was the first time that they actually won a major NASCAR event in their history; and theyíve been involved since 1988. Their support in the sport since then has been tremendous, and weíre proud to be a part of that.
(Question) Brendan, you are returning to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2005 after a year in the Nextel Cup Series. Can you talk a little bit about the increase in the competition level that you have seen in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from when you left to now?
Brendan Gaughan: This series is no longer the days of Jack (Sprague) and Ron (Hornaday) and Mike (Skinner) winning seven, eight, nine, 10 or 11 races a year. Those days are gone. The Craftsman Truck Series has more competition now than itís ever had. To win in this series is going to be a serious deal from now on. Iíd say there are 16 drivers every week now that can win a race. In the past there was five or six or seven that really had a legit shot. Now there are literally 16 of us. What did I read, what are there 11 former Nextel Cup drivers racing full time in the Truck Series?
The Craftsman Truck Series is still that stepping stone Ė itís still doing what it was designed for. The only way to get better as a driver, and I learned this back from my Winston West days when people yelled and screamed when Kenny Schrader shows up, that the only way for me to get better is to race against the best --- and Schrader is one of the best. Now the Craftsman Truck Series has the best when it comes to Nextel Cup drivers, but itís also a place where the kids can come and get a stepping-stone.
The Truck Series is stronger now than itís ever been. Itís exciting to be able to say weíve been a part of it for so long.
(Question) Steve, what are your plans for the Las Vegas weekend?
Park: Weíre having an Open House on Friday. All the fans will be there to see myself and Brendan and the whole Orleans Dodge team and the shop that Brendan helped build to what it is today. Iíll probably be there through the weekend.
(Question) After the Fontana win, will you feel any differently walking through the Cup and Busch garages? It will be a lot of the guysí first chance to congratulate you. With all the rumors that Ďyou canít win anymoreí laid to rest, are you going to walk through there with a big smile?
Park: I always walk through there with a big smile no matter what. If you look at how many people that can actually say they won a Nextel Cup Series event, they are the guys that I think need to be worried about walking through the pit area with a smile on their face. I always knew that I could win, and I always knew that as a team we could win in the truck series. And that it was just a matter of time of getting this team to where it needed to be to win races, and we felt at the end of last year that we were close to achieving that. Just to achieve that goal is something we all worked hard for. Itís just nice for me in the aspect of being hurt, making a comeback and then finally you donít end the story until you win a race again. Now, weíve been able to achieve that, and so hopefully it will be the end of the story. Iíve heard it for three years, and Iím about ready to put a ĎThe Endí on it.
(Question) Bobby Hamilton said after the race he was happy to see you get the checkered flag instead of him. Did you get a lot of calls after the race from other drivers and friends from Cup to congratulate you?
Park: I sure did. Phone calls came from pretty much everybody. Everybody was almost as excited to see me win as I was. Again, there are some people in the schedule that we lead that you sometimes forget about. Whatís great about the Craftsman Truck Series is being able to have a little time to spend with your friends and family and also enjoy the first victory. Itís just overall been a great time for all of us.
(Question) To have so many people respond so positively to your win, it must make you feel good as a person to know that so many people like and care about you?
Park: Thatís very true. Brendan won Most Popular Driver two years ago, and I won it last year. I think you donít reach a level to achieve an award like that unless you are making a difference in the sport and appealing to not only your peers, but to the fans who are out there. I think with Brendanís personality, he reaches out to the fans quite a bit. And I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy the people that are involved in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Nextel Cup and the Busch Series.
Gaughan: (Laughing) Yeah, but Iím going to win it this year.
Park: I think it shows up.
(Question) No truth to the rumors that Jasper is going to be switching their sponsorship away from Brendan to you, Steve?
Park: As long as they are sponsoring an Orleans Dodge, weíre happy. Theyíve been a big supporter of Brendan in Cup and in Truck. Dougís (Bawel Ė of Jasper Engines) a great supporter of NASCAR, and all his employees deserved the win as much as I did.
(Question) Steve, tell us a little bit about how you got your start in racing?
Park: Really, my dad. I grew up in Long Island, and there arenít many people from Long Island that really reach the level of NASCAR Nextel Cup. I grew up racing go-karts when I was about 10-years-old and graduated to cars when I was 15 Ė all because of my dad. My dad was my hero. Growing up as a kid, you can imagine going to school with your dad being a race car driver that you were probably the most popular kid in school. Other kids knew that your dad raced cars, and how cool is that. I just had the opportunity to do it myself, and then go to work for a guy by the name of Dale Earnhardt was a long-time dream for me. Itís just been a success story from the time I started in go-karts until we won the Craftsman Truck race. Iím just thankful for the opportunities that I have had along the way, and the people Iíve had a chance to meet and the race fans that Iíve had a chance to meet. Without surrounding yourself with good people, you canít achieve these goals.
(Question) Brendan, tell us what is so special about Las Vegas the city and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gaughan: Well, the city, for myself personally, it is just the family history. Like Steve said, I grew up with my hero being my dad and my grandfather, and my grandfather has been in Las Vegas since 1948. Las Vegas is one of those towns that people look out from the outside and see ĎOh, itís Las Vegas Ė the casinos, the gambling.í Itís been known as ĎSin City.í Itís been known as a lot of things. What you miss though is that this is a town that is great for families. Itís great for children. It can be as big as you want it to be or as small. This town now has the big city feel, which Iím not all that big of a fan of. Or it has the small town feel, which is more me. I have seven friends, and thatís all my spend my time with. And then I have 30 friends at my race shop. And thatís all I do is spend time with those close friends, so it becomes a very small town to me.
As far as a race track, this was the first of those what we now call the Ďcookie-cutter tracks.í Las Vegas was the first mile-and-a-half that had the 14 to 18 degree banking, and itís the only one that hasnít had to be rebuilt twice because it was build incorrectly or anything. Itís a fantastic place. We get a 120,00 plus people in the grandstands. Of all the things that Las Vegas does through the year, whether it be conventions or whatever, the biggest is the NASCAR Nextel Cup race. That is the biggest event in Las Vegas every year. The track has a very big distinction of all the things that Las Vegas can do, the race track and the Nextel Cup race is the biggest.
(Question) Would it be fair to say that the win in California was more than Ďjust a winí?
Park: Yes. It was a big win Ė to win in the Craftsman Truck Series. The Series has grown so much in the last couple of years that when I had the opportunity to go to Busch or Truck, when Mr. (Michael) Gaughan called, I decided to go to trucks because the competition was where it needed to be and because I was actually looking for an easier schedule just to take a break from all the stuff that I had been through the last two years in Nextel Cup. It was a big win. People ask if it ranks right up there with wins in Nextel Cup, and it does. A win is a win especially in a hard series like the Craftsman Truck Series.
The first win in Nextel Cup was in my home state of New York at Watkins Glen. That was emotional, and something you will remember your whole life. And then the second win was after Dale (Earnhardt) passed away. You know it was an extremely emotional win. I felt myself falling apart in the last four laps thinking I was going to win this race. All the emotions we went through that week Ė the thought of not racing or racing, making the decision with Teresa (Earnhardt) and Dale Jr. that we were going to race because Dale (Earnhardt) would want us to race and win that race. Now, here we are on the verge of winning the race. I thought I was falling apart to the point where I wasnít going to be able to finish the race. And you hear this all the time, but itís like a voice came over my shoulder and said ĎJust suck it up, boy, and get up on that wheel and get it done.í Thatís true Dale Earnhardt fashion.
It was an emotional win just like the win in the truck race in California was. Three years coming, working my way back from being hurt, getting the opportunity to be in good equipment to win a race. Dodge and Orleans Racing provided us the equipment to do that. Itís history. It ranks right up there with all the wins.
(Question) Talk a little bit about working with the Gaughan family.
Park: Itís great. The opportunity last year Ė Iíve known Brendan professionally for the last couple of years at the race track, and last year was the first year I had the chance to meet his dad. Itís the Gaughan family. Itís a rich history, and a great family in Las Vegas. Brendan was talking about his grandfather earlier, and I just love to hear the stories about the old days and the ĎRat Pack.í And Brendan is absolutely right, I thought Vegas was ĎThe Strip.í I thought that was the only thing there until they put the race track there. Becoming a part of The Orleans family, learning that there is actually something else out there besides ĎThe Strip.í Itís a great place to live. Itís a great place to raise a family. The climate is great. It has every bit of a small town feel that you want alongside a big city.
(Question) Describe your feelings during the cool down lap after you had taken the checkered flag and were making your way around California Speedway.
Park: It just felt good. It was just a relief. It was like taking a 200-pound weight off your shoulders that youíve been carrying around for the last two-and-a-half years, and finally achieving what you knew that you could achieve. Getting the opportunity with the Orleans Dodge and working closely with them to get to the point of where we were last year at the beginning until the end of last year to knowing that we can win a race. I donít just race for the fact of winning races. What I enjoy about racing is also the whole development and the people aspect of the team. It is a team sport, and no man is an island. You donít win unless you surround yourself with good people and a good team. And the Gaughan family and Dodge gave me the opportunity to do that. Iím just happy to be a part of it.
(Question) Last year you were very close to a win, but it never happened. Was there ever a point where you got frustrated or wondered if you would get to victory lane again?
Park: Youíre exactly right. There were three or four opportunities that we had to win a race, and something always happened. Even in California, we knew that we had a truck that could win that race. In the back of your mind, you hear people talking about they hear noises in the truck, just wondering what was going to happen to keep us from winning another race. Everything worked in our favor. Weíve worked hard over the winter and at the start of this year to limit our opportunities to lose races and to capitalize on them. Thatís what we did that Friday night in California.
(Question) Brendan, how proud are you of Steve?
Gaughan: Iím tired of hearing the same question, and Iím hoping this is one of the last times we get to hear the question of the injury or this or that. Iím tired of it Ė not as much as Steve is of it, I know. But Iím tired of it because when we called a year-and-a-half ago to see if Steve would be available to drive when I left, the first name on top of the list was Steve Park. And people said it then. Iíve heard it from fans. Iíve heard it from media. Iíve heard it from even officials and people, that ĎOh, are you sure he is alright?í To finally be able to look at everybody and stick your tongue out at them and go ĎThank you guys. Now leave us alone. Letís go win six races this year.í Iím proud of Steve because he had to put up with a lot. And I know how it is nowadays listening to the media and listening when you start believing what they are writing. It means a lot because this team finally got back on track. And it means a lot to have Steve get it because he put up with a lot last year that he shouldnít have had to deal with. Iím glad it was him first.
(Question) Brendan, talk about what it is like being a team based in Las Vegas. Is it has difficult as it seems logistically or are there some hidden advantages to being so far outside the Charlotte hub?
Gaughan: There are many logistical issues with it. But thatís the key is how well prepared you are for them. The Orleans Racing Team has been dealing with it since 2000. We know the logistics of it, and we are pretty darn good at it. Yes, there are big logistical issues. Fortunately for us, weíve gotten really darn good at it. There are actually advantages. This year, the schedule doesnít give us as big of an advantage as last year. We like it when the teams have to go from like last year from New Hampshire to California to Las Vegas all in back-to-back-to-back weeks. That helps us. It means that everybody has to learn how to do what we do, and theyíre not prepared for it. One of the biggest advantages isÖfinding guys is a little bit of an issue, but keeping the employees you have is much less of an issue. We have guys that worked with Steve at Dale Earnhardt Inc. working out here because they were tired of Nextel Cup. We have guys that worked all over the country for all sorts of Cup or other teams. They want to come to us. I donít necessarily hire those guys. We have ourselves now a great core group of employees, and they donít leave. They like to be here. They want to be here. They like the drivers. They like my dad. They like the way he owns the team, and weíre a little bit more family-oriented. So the guys that have been other places realize it and go ĎWow.í They donít want to leave and thatís become an advantage for us.
(Question) The Busch teams in the midst of this California-Mexico-Las Vegas swing had to switch out cars a couple of times in Texas. Is that what you guys have to do when you have back-to-back races on the East Coast.
Gaughan: Iím not going to let out our secrets. Iím not going to let everybody know how we do it. But there are ways. We are more prepared. We have teams right now changing things here in Las Vegas. We have teams that went to Mexico City with a back-up car that was a Las Vegas car hoping they didnít get into a wreck. There are ways to logistically do it, and be able to bring the correct piece to every race and not have to hope that you donít have a problem. Like I said, Iím not going to let my secrets out because we are extremely well prepared for it. But there are a lot of times that our semis donít travel home.
(Question) Was the Orleans Racing team approached by any Busch teams about using your shop this week with them being gone from the East Coast for so long?
Gaughan: Would the three teams that are in my new building be any proof of that? The Orleans Racing Team is run almost like an old desert team. We share. We help teams. We take care of people that need help, and we always do that. A lot of teams called and asked if they could borrow space or borrow whatever. Anything that we have, they are welcome to use our space to help them out as much as we can. Weíre trying to do a job also, and weíre working. But we have space for them, and if I can help them out, Iíd be more than happy to.
(Question) The NASCAR schedule seems to be moving west. Thereís talk of adding Seattle, going to Mexico again and maybe Canada. Does it make sense for teams based in Charlotte to maybe have satellite shops out toward Las Vegas or centrally located in the United States?
Gaughan: The satellite shop idea is tough. Walker Evans tried that years ago, back when Steve drove a couple of races for Walker. He had a satellite shop in Mooresville. The satellite shop idea is a lot of money. You increase a lot of costs by doing that. There are better ways to do it. I have an engine shop Ė Kroyer Racing Engines Ė that builds great engines. I donít need to go spend the money and build a second engine shop back east. You just have to learn how to do it, how to shuttle your stuff around the country and how to make it a feasible unit.
(Question) Once you get used to doing stuff in your shop, you donít really want to do it in another shop?
Gaughan: You donít want to have a whole second place. Think about the costs. Think about the extra employees. If one guy starts a car back here and finishes a car on the east coast, you never want that. Youíd never know if the nuts and bolts were tightened.
(Question) Brendan, this was your first win as the General Manager of Orleans Racing. How does it compare to the feeling of winning as a driver?
Gaughan: That win was pretty darn big. To be able to look at my dad and make the joke that I made Ė that my dad had the team for a year and didnít do anything, and I was only back for three months and we got one. To be able to say that is all fun and games, but it means a lot to the team. It means a lot to Steve. It means a lot to all those guys who were put through a tough year last year. I think every press release we add a different stupid title to my name because thatís the style of the Orleans Racing team Ė having fun. It means the world. Steve did it for Jasper. I promised the Jasper employees that I would get them a win. I didnít describe how. I just said I would get them a win. To be able to make that decision Ė a lot of that, I have to give a special shout out to Ricky Cobb of RC Decals. Doug Bawel of Jasper flat out said ĎDonít worry about it. Do the black American Racing truck, let Steve run the 62 Orleans Racing Dodge. Donít worry about it.í Because Ricky Cobb had the ability to do what they call vinyl wraps now, Ricky Cobb stayed up until 3 in the morning right before it left for California, putting the yellow vinyl on Steveís truck. Those decisions were made because we do have a sponsor in Jasper and we do have a sponsor in American Racing Wheels. So we made those decisions at the last minute to rewrap these trucks. If we had to paint them, we would have had a blue Orleans truck and a yellow Jasper truck, and that was it. But we were able to swap yellows and put black, and all these things and those decisions were made Ė they cost me a little bit of money, but in the end, I think itís going to pay off pretty big.
(Question) So are you going to sponsor Rick Cobb (a Vegas racer) in the Super Late Models now?
Gaughan: (Laughing) No, Ricky doesnít have time to drive Super Late Models now that the Orleans Racing team is doing these wraps. So, Ricky Cobb will not be able to race this year.
(Question) Brendan, a lot has changed in your driving career in a year. There was a lot of hoop-la when you came to Vegas a year ago in the 77 Cup car. You have said that you are happy with your current situation, but when you go to the Speedway this weekend, is there going to be any disappointment, wishing that you were still there?
Gaughan: Nope. One you are assuming something that may not be true. I donít even know if I am going to go through the garages. Weíre working. Weíve got ĎLone Starí back for my primary for Atlanta. Steveís going to take the truck that he just won in California with and thatís going to Atlanta. Weíre working on those. Weíre working on back-ups. Weíre working on Martinsville test trucks. The Orleans team is going to be working all weekend. If I make it to the garages, itís not a priority. If I do though, Iím going to got there with a big old smile because I get to show all those guys that Ė Steve can probably attest to it, a lot of times it is not very fun Ė and they can come over and see my shop with hoods hanging from rafters and banners hanging from all the wins weíve got, Steveís new banner, and all our Craftsman tool boxes laying on our trophy shelf. They can come over here, and I get to have a big legit smile. Steve will be here with the fans and autographs on Friday, and everybody can look at us and know one thing Ė weíre actually having fun, not faking it.
(Question) Two years ago you would have walked through the Cup garage because you wanted to get to Cup. Are you not pursuing that now? What if someone offered you a deal with a legit team?
Gaughan: It would have to be a really big deal right now. Look at the way Steve won that race. He drove his tail off, and when it came down to it, I got to be a real teammate. I got to let him draft. I got to try to push him into a corner. It was more fun for me once he had that lead for me to try to do anything that I could to help. Thatís what teammates do. To get me away from the Orleans Team right now, itís going to have to be something pretty darn big. And Iíve had some pretty good offers.
Yeah, a couple of years ago I would be in the garage just walking around. Iíll probably still go to the garage because I want to go say hi to Robby (Gordon) and Jimmie (Johnson), some of my buddies that Iím friends with and give them a hard time for things. Otherwise, weíre going to be working. Iím trying to be co-interim-part-time general manager.
(Question) It seems like you are enjoying the General Manager role at Orleans Racing.
Gaughan: (Laughing) No. I like Parkís deal Ė he can have the GM deal. He has the old job, and the old job isnít bad. The new job Ė Iíve got a guy named Mike Lesle out here, helping me Ďgeneral manage.í Heís an old off-roader. Heís actually the GM right now. But still a lot of the decisions are mine. I donít want this job. All General Manager applications Ė we are open, willing and available. General Managers all across the country drop off a resume, weíre looking. Because the one weíve got right now isnít good Ė itís me.
Nobody wants to ask whoís going to win ĎMost Popular Driverí this year?
(Question) Whoís going to win ĎMost Popular Driverí this year?
Gaughan: (Laughing) Me. Itís my turn Ė Steve won last year.
(Question) Brendan, are you still looking at 18 races?
Gaughan: At the moment.
(Question) Maybe, more?
Gaughan: Maybe more.
(Question) Is that just so you can get in front of more fans to get votes win ĎMost Popular Driverí
Gaughan: Well, now, yeah. With Steve winning the award last year and winning California, itís put some pressure on me to go back and win the thing. I got to get a win, and try to beat him on that ĎMost Popular Driverí thing.