Iracingone On One:/I Travis Carter

Travis Carter wanted to be a driver, but figured if he worked hard enough, one day he could own his own NASCAR Winston Cup Series race team. He now – as a partner with Carl Haas – owns two, the No. 66 Kmart Ford driven by Todd Bodine, and the No. 26 Kmart Ford driven by Joe Nemechek. He hasn’t won a Winston Cup race yet with his teams, but is optimistic that will happen in 2002.

RacingOne: After such a long-standing relationship with Jimmy Spencer, were you at all hurt when he came to you and said he’s got a better deal and he’s going elsewhere?

Travis Carter: Disappointed, but I wouldn’t say hurt. You can’t take things like that personally because this is a very tough business. I got wind of it a couple of days before he even told me, so when we got to Kansas City (in late September), I just approached him and asked him what the deal was, and if he planned to drive our car next year. He said no, I’m driving for somebody else. That’s probably the best way to do it rather than haggle back and forth. We kinda knew what position we were in and what we could do with him and what we couldn’t. Quite honestly, I don’t think it would have been a good decision to make a commitment to him. He had a team offer him a three-year contract, which is more than we could offer him right now. It wasn’t necessarily a better deal, but it was a longer deal. At his age, I think he did the right thing. We found a replacement driver with Joe, and we’re really looking forward to our relationship with him. Joe is really looking forward to coming to this team. Joe really sought us out to talk, and that was a positive step. The second thing is, he said he believes he can really win races with this 26 car. Certainly he’s going in with the right attitude and that’s a big boost to our people. He knows if we can continue to improve these cars we can run up front and win some races.

RacingOne: For a driver to stick around with one team as long as Jimmy did with you, that’s not the norm in this sport anymore, is it?

Travis Carter: No, it really isn’t. I don’t believe Jimmy had more than a two-year contract with us at any time. Most of the time, it was year to year. It seems like we knew every year he’d be back. With Spencer, you go through this every year. He’d always have 35 other offers every year, and blah, blah, blah…but we knew he’d always be back. And quite frankly, I thought that’s kinda where he was coming from this year. But when we sat down and talked, I realized his other offer was legitimate. But maybe it was just time. It was time for us, and it was time for him. The situation is perhaps the best thing for all of us.

RacingOne: Todd Bodine qualified your No. 66 cars very well this past season, but the race results were less than desirable. Can you pinpoint what the problem might be?

Travis Carter: Less than desirable? Call it like it is, we were terrible. There are a lot of reasons for that. We’re working on some areas to improve that. We’re changing the structure of things a little bit. We’re not necessarily going to change the direction totally, but we’re going to change the structure a little bit to try and improve performance. They ran a really good race in Miami, but they didn’t finish quite as well as what I thought they should. They had a good car all day and it stayed relatively competitive. We saw a lot of positive things there. Once in a while you’re going to make an adjustment that doesn’t work quite as well as what you had hoped, but that didn’t happen at Miami and that’s a big step. There are some good things happening with Todd’s team. Certainly Joe had some great runs in the last few weeks of the season and that builds momentum going into the 2002 season.

RacingOne: When you went to a two-car team prior to the 1999 season, did you see the writing on the wall as far as the necessity of being a two-car team to be competitive in Winston Cup?

Travis Carter: Yes, I sure did. I’ve worked a long time in the industry and I always wanted to be a car owner – ever since I started in 1971 – I’ve wanted to own a team. I’ve worked hard and have been able to achieve that with a lot of good fortune along the way. The one-car thing, you could tell we had a weak position there. I was so fortunate to have someone introduce me to Carl Haas. I didn’t even know the guy. I got some information that Kmart wanted to come back into this arena, and he was in a position to do business with them. I said that it makes sense. He wanted a partner. I said, ‘I don’t know the man, but I can get along with anybody.’ It just made good business sense. That’s why we joined forces to be able to field two cars.

RacingOne: You say you had always wanted to be a team owner. What prompted you to invest your life in this business and make it your life’s venture?

Travis Carter: I wanted to be a driver. Everybody wants to be a driver. But after racing a few times, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do that because I’ve got to sacrifice everything else. There’s no guaranteed income, and very few people make it to the top. I told myself that if I work very hard, then one day I could own my own team. I thought it would become big. This was 30 years ago. I always envisioned it growing and being what it is today. I wanted to be a part of that.

RacingOne: Do you believe there will be times in 2002 where it will actually be difficult to field 43 cars in a Winston Cup Series event?

Travis Carter: I believe there will still be people going home next year from every race. Somehow, the cars are always there. They’ll come out of the woodwork and be there. People seem to put things together at the last minute. I believe the economy is going to pick up and we’ll see some more sponsors come through next year. I’m probably not the most optimistic guy in the world, either.

RacingOne: Kmart’s contract with you for both of your cars is up after the 2002 season. Will you be OK after that?

Travis Carter: In today’s economy and the way things are worldwide, there’s always concern about sponsorships and the longevity of them. A year ago in November, Kmart, they kinda thought that they didn’t want to be in motorsports anymore. But the spring rolled around and it was a total reversal for them. They decided that this is something they need to be doing, it’s something they want to doing. Through all of that, we had a contract with them through the year 2002. They said we have every intention of supporting what we’re doing here and continuing on with it and making the most of it. Our position now is that we’re working on things for beyond 2002. We don’t know what the state of things will be at that time, obviously, but I think there’s a good chance that Kmart will be around a lot longer than just next year.

RacingOne: What is your opinion on the new rule of mandating helmets and firesuits for pit crew members?

Travis Carter: It’s a very good idea. It’s going to be bulky for the guys, it’s going to be hot. You have to keep up with all of this stuff, but overall I think safety is a real concern, especially after what happened at Homestead. Certainly, head injuries are the most prominent injuries that we have and probably the most debilitating in a lot of cases. This will certain help to avoid all of that.

RacingOne: With the economy the way it is, what is your opinion on the state of NASCAR right now?

Travis Carter: I believe it’s pretty darn strong given the circumstances that surround us.

RacingOne: Does it seem like, at times, that NASCAR has just become a show instead of teams getting out there and racing?

Travis Carter: That’s really a two-fold issue. Some of it is showmanship, but you have to remember, this is an entertainment business. Motorsports, racing, it is entertainment. There are certain factors that go with that entertainment that enhance it. The key to a sponsor’s involvement and their success depends on how well they can promote what they’re doing with their teams. First of all, it certainly runs deeper than having a car with the Kmart name on it on the track. Making commercials and stuff like that are the kinds of things that enhance the involvement with that car. The car, to me, is probably the vehicle that allows them to do everything else to make the program work. Kmart hasn’t done as much of the commercial deals as we probably would like them to do. We encourage them to do more promotions and things that we can help with. We want them certainly to get the bang for their buck. That’s how we keep them.

RacingOne: You got involved with NASCAR at a time where it was just go out there and race. Now, it’s gone uptown with Jeff Gordon doing all types of “white collar” promotions, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. What’s your take on what’s happened there?

Travis Carter: It’s rising to a higher level, and that draws a new audience. That’s where the gains in viewership has occurred over the last few years. We’ve reached more and more sectors of the country recently. We’ve reached more types of people with different backgrounds, ones that didn’t know anything about race cars. They’ve all become fans. I was just speaking with some guy recently from South Florida in the communications industry, and this guy three years ago probably wasn’t a fan. But now, he’s become a race fan.

RacingOne: With all of the teams based near the Charlotte area, why do you have your team based in Statesville (N.C.), which is a good 40 miles away? Is there some advantage to that?

Travis Carter: The reason we’re in Statesville is that we were associated with the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company for five years. They wanted their team to be located closer to Winston-Salem. They actually wanted me to go to Winston-Salem, but I told them I didn’t really want to do that. We kinda compromised, and settled on Statesville. It’s a good fit between where I live in Denver and Winston-Salem. We were fortunate enough to find a property to build right off the interstate (I-40). To me, that’s a big asset for the sponsor. To have that visibility 24 hours a day is just tremendous. A lot of the shops are door-to-door, and you can only drive in because you know it’s there. They just don’t get a lot of people flowing back and forth to go in and take a look. It’s a good location for us. Statesville really is a central location for a lot of our guys here at the shop, too.

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