Teleconference: Mark Martin

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Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, was this week's guest on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference as he prepares to defend his victory at the NASCAR All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Q: Joining us today is the defending champion of that event, Mark Martin, who drives the #6 AAA Ford for Roush Racing. He also won the All Star event in 1998, so he has two victories in that event. The record for All Star victories is three; Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon both won it three times. How do you feel about your chances of tying that record this Saturday night?

MARK MARTIN: We've really been performing well. We've had really outstanding cars this year with our Fusion and, I don't know, you know, I don't like to make predictions, but I don't think that it would be a prediction to say that we expect to run real well here. I'd say that's more of an expectation than a prediction.

Q: Could you talk about the effect of the hard tires there, we're getting indications from some crew chiefs that this is going to be -- that grip is going to be awfully hard to get even on new surfaces. Is this going to be -- you're always talked about by other drivers as one of the most ethical drivers and in control out there. Is this going to be a race that cars are going to be slipping and sliding around and kind of almost a dirt tracker's type thing?

MARK MARTIN: I think it will be -- I think there will be a lot of mistakes made because it's -- you know, it's going to be a little bit more tricky. It's different than Darlington, because at Darlington, the tires give up, and you can -- you actually slide like you're sliding on a dirt track. What we have here is when the traction breaks away, you lose -- let's say you lose 90 percent of the grip or 80 percent of the grip. When the traction broke away at Darlington with that surface and the way that tire was, you only lost 50 percent of the grip. So you had a lot more control once the car started to slide.

The challenge that's going to be to the drivers and the crews is going to be, you know, keeping the cars under control when you push them right up to the edge where they start to slip. Because once they start to slip, it's a lot more difficult because of the speed and because of the fresh asphalt and the way the tire matches up to that asphalt. Once it starts to slide, it's going to be a great challenge to keep the cars, you know, under control and off of one another. So, you know, I think that the prospect of having better racing from a driver's point of view at this race is good than a year ago.

Q: When you talk about losing 90 percent of the grip, a, does it mean that the grip is going to go away so suddenly that it's sort of an all or nothing thing; and b, the guys who like loose cars and former dirt trackers and all that, they are going to have no advantage whatsoever in this situation, right?

MARK MARTIN: Less advantage. The first statement that you made was right on. The second statement we need to correct by saying, you know, if you like to slide the car, it will be much more of a challenge to reap a benefit from that under these conditions. It's going to be a very challenging, but I don't think, you know, catastrophic kind of thing. You know, last year we had, you know, problems -- all kinds of problems, not just -- not just a challenge to drive, but a challenge to keep the tires on and the air in them and the grooves were good in some spots and not good in others. I'm trying to say that I feel that we're in good shape with this racetrack going into this weekend's racing. The best shape of anywhere that I can ever remember with a new paving job.

Q: Is the difference maybe going to be in who is smart enough to lift a little bit when they need to and who just kind of refuses to lift; is that going to be the key between getting grip and all of a sudden losing it?

MARK MARTIN: You know, I think the most decisive will be much like a lot of places where the most decisive factor in this racing will be track position and how well your car works. If you have a better working car, you're going to be able to drive it, you know, harder and still have -- still have grip or still have control of the car. So I think that we're going to be in good shape for racing this weekend. I'm very proud of the paving job that they have done here. You know, I will be honest with you, it will be much better in two or three years than what it is going to be this weekend. I think this weekend will be a start, and by the time we get to the 600, we're going to have a lot of rubber on it and a lot of racing on it, and I think that we've got good tires that will hold up.

You know, they may be a little bit too conservative -- I would much rather have than the tire issues. And this is going to be a preview. This weekend, the truck race and the All Star event are going to be a tremendous preview for what's to come the next week, and with every race that they run here, this racetrack will get better and better, this racetrack surface will get better.

Q: Do you have desires to get more involved in ownership in this sport once your driving days are done?

MARK MARTIN: Absolutely not. It is not a good business plan, business model. I tell you, I just don't have -- it's hard to control and contain and predict your costs with the way -- especially with Toyota coming in as well. That's going to make it even more difficult to predict your costs and lay out a long range plan and make a long term commitment with a sponsor and all those things, and then implement those. I would be broke no matter how much money I got for sponsorship because of the escalating Scotts of things, and my competitive nature, I wouldn't have the discipline to run it like a business.

Q: The truck that you were going to drive this year that I assume you're still going to drive next year, would that be something -- would you own that or would Jack own that or what would the ownership situation be?

MARK MARTIN: I'm doing a total of 14 races, but it's running a full schedule with Scott s sponsoring the full schedule, it's the No. 6 truck, David Regan will drive it in the races I don't drive in. The sponsor of the team, the number, the whole thing, will run the full schedule, and then I'm slated to be in it next year full time at this time.

Q: Can you talk about the impact of your first trip to Daytona and how it set forth your future in racing?

MARK MARTIN: You're talking about before I raced, as a spectator, okay. It was as a true fan. I mean, it was my dad and his buddies and I got to go along, and some of my friends. We went down as fans. For me to be able to sit in the stands with binoculars and look down on to pit road and see the pit crews and see the cars and everything, was the first glimpse that I got of truly big time racing. Only thing I had seen prior to that was the dirt tracks in Arkansas. I was already right at the beginning stages of starting to drive myself on the dirt tracks. That was the first time that I really saw it live and in person. You know, it's hard to describe the feeling that you get. But, you know, that was the thrill -- that was the thrill of my life and something that I may be in my wildest dreams would have liked to be a part of but didn't allow myself to expect to ever be able to do that. It was the thrill of my life.

Q: Do you remember the day, do you remember who won, do you remember the impact that it had on you, was that what told you, hey, I've got to get out of the dirt tracks and move on to bigger and better things if I ever want to race at that level?

MARK MARTIN: In a sense. It didn't happen exactly like that because I was just starting dirt track racing and I was just getting a visual of what the real big time racing was all about. You know, it was exciting. I don't remember the particular race. I remember, I was sitting in the stands when Petty and Pearson tangled at the finish line. That was more like about 1976 though, I think. I had been there, you know, where they crashed coming through the finish. I think that was 1976. But I was there, you know, back up in 1973 or 1974, the first time that we went.

It was just a progression from that, and then after racing on the dirt tracks in 1974, 1975, and 1976, that in 1976 is when I said, you know, I might as well -- we may as well start racing on pavement, because we're having to travel around to tracks out of state to really find the competition that challenges us the way we need to be challenged. And there is no -- the Daytona 500 is not on dirt, so it's time to move into the pavement racing. So it was 1976 before I really realized, you know, that that was something I was really going for. But in 1976, the Daytona 500 had made an impression deep enough in me, I was just 17, that it was time to switch from dirt track racing to pavement racing.

Q: You had said I think last year that Tony Stewart was the best driver you ever raced against. I wonder if there's anyway to quantify that, because, you know, NASCAR has that whole stat package this year and this driver rating, compares all these numbers, average running position on the lead lap and most laps led and all this stuff. Does all that quantify, you know, that Tony Stewart is the best driver you've ever raced against, is there any way to quantify that?

MARK MARTIN: Let's start by saying, that's my opinion. So I'm -- you know, I'm the expert on my opinion. So let's start with that and say that that's my opinion. Next of all, my opinion, also, is I don't know what those stats say, but I don't care, because those stats don't, you know, they don't prove anything to me where they say he is or he's not, based on those stats. Because a lot of things can manipulate those stats, like luck, like equipment, team, you know, the kind of team or how the team is performing, all those things. That doesn't mean that he's not the most skillful or fierce driver, whatever any stats say.

I say that about Tony because I think I know -- first of all, I'm the expert on my opinion, and I think I know what I see in racing. And I see a guy that can wheel a large variety of cars on all kinds of situations from road courses to Super Speedways to Sprint cars, World of Outlaw cars to midgets, dirt midgets, asphalt midgets, you name it, he can happen in and go. Very much like Al Unser, Junior. My No. 1 guy before Tony Stewart, believe it or not, was Al Unser, Junior. He was the one I thought, you know, was I thought the most versatile. Tony Stewart, he's just the man, in my opinion.

Q: In your expert opinion, do you think you're the fifth best driver out there, because that's where you're rated right now.

MARK MARTIN: (Laughing). I'm humbled by that. It's nice to be considered that, especially at 47 years old when I'm sure most are 15 years or more younger than I. So at this stage of the game, that's very humbling. I feel honored. But I do also feel that, you know, in my expert opinion, that's why I say I don't know what the stats say about Tony, but it doesn't matter -- like to me, it doesn't matter that I haven't won a NEXTEL Cup championship. You know, that doesn't determine whether or not I'm any good, you know what I'm saying? Because things can manipulate that particular result.

Q: Are you accusing NASCAR -- no, I'm just kidding.

MARK MARTIN: No, I'm talking about the things I said about Tony. Your team, your car, your gas mileage you name it, but I forgot, I wouldn't even have thrown in that other part, but you're right, that could even -- especially in days gone past, it's less likely something like that might happen today. You know, results aren't -- to me, the trophy doesn't make the man, I know you've heard me say that. Looking at the stats in Tony, I don't know where that puts him.

Q: Well, he's No. 1 right now, so you're right on spot there?

MARK MARTIN: But if they didn't, I'd still say that about Tony. I'd still say, because to me, I don't care if he didn't lead any of those races or whatever it was. Doesn't mean he wasn't driving the fool out of his stuff and getting more out of it than the other guy. Sometimes you can't judge someone by the results. You've got to judge them by -- it's grayer than that.

Q: Your son, Matt, won a late model race last weekend. How would you care him to how you were, and the second part of the question is, how hard is it from a father's standpoint to not be there to watch him week after week on his local track?

MARK MARTIN: It's interesting, last week, Saturday afternoon, I had an urge to call and tell him not to race. I just didn't feel good about it. I wasn't going to be there and not that it wouldn't make any difference, but, you know, I just felt like that I know they have a lot of crashes in that division. I just was uneasy about it. But, you know, he's younger. He's been racing seven years. He's 14 now. I didn't start until I was 15. So he is definitely ahead of where I was, you know, getting started.

But his competition for the greatest part is that young as well, you know what I'm saying. Everybody gets started -- like I was considered young as a race car driver at 15 because I started in stock cars, but everybody couldn't get over me being so young. Well, if you started at 15 now, man, you'd be behind. So it's a different world now.

There are a lot of great, young, really young, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year old talent with a lot of experience today. But yeah, that was really, really great. He qualified well and he ran a fantastic race and he did finish second to Sam Watts. But Sam was considerably light after the inspection. So something that I never expected us to be able to achieve this year because you know in the late models down there, that's pretty -- that's pretty, you know, almost over our heads. But he's just really caught on real well, incredibly talented driver, but he only races about probably -- I'm going to say once a month, and he races against folks that race every week, sometimes twice a week.

But that seems to work well for us. Keeps him motivated, interested, desire, and, you know, he seems to do better when he's challenged than trying to just do repetition over and over and over again. So he doesn't race as much as the guys that he races with. But we're just having fun. That's one of the most cool things and just one of most cool experiences that he and I have had. It was cool for me to be in the car and cool for him to tell me while I was still on the racetrack at Darlington to tell me how things turned out, really happy.

Q: What inspired your rap anthem as opposed to a country, and are you a big fan of hip hop and rap?

MARK MARTIN: I am. First of all, I'm 47. Most people don't expect me to listen to rap and hip hop, and I do, and I really like it. But, I will say this. I mean, still I mean, I'm coming home from somewhere the other day, rare occasion I'm driving by myself, and the radio station I was listening to, AC/DC comes on, and I did get myself a headache and I do have brain damage from listening to AC/DC at painful levels of volume. So I mean, I do listen to everything. I do listen to country. I do have a love for AC/DC. The greatest singer alive is Stevie Nicks; I listen to Neil Young. But I certainly do enjoy the latest stuff that's out there and rap and hip hop as well.

Q: What's the inspiration to come out with a rap anthem? What prompted you to do rap?

MARK MARTIN: Well, that's I guess because it's unexpected for me, or was, you know, until about a year ago. So that's kind of at the top of my list today of what I listen to.

Q: Can you talk about the difference of mentality in racing this weekend versus a regular points race?

MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, it is a little bit, because it's not a points race, you know, your concern about things going back, either being in an accident or taking a chance, taking a risk, whether it be pit strategy or anything else, it means less. It's more okay. In other words, if you're running along, you're running good, but you're probably not going to be able to win the race. To take a stab at the -- the difference between running sixth and taking a chance to win, you don't hedge for that. You just go for the win.

If you're racing in the 600 and you're trying to make the Chase, you probably don't want to take a risk. You probably want to take your 6th place finish rather than risk a 20th place finish trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat, if you can follow me a minute. It's more than driving recklessly. We can drive recklessly all the time, all the time. We have to drive with the desire of not wrecking, so we drive as reckless as we can all the time without, you know, overjeopardizing ourselves. So I think it's more in other decisions rather than it is how wild do you drive.

Q: Has there been in one of these All Star races that you can point to, maybe a move that's helped you in one of those two that you might not have made if it were a points race?

MARK MARTIN: No, I drive these things very much like I do any other race. It is so far to go -- after the green flag comes out, I don't consider it a short race. I consider it whatever it is. When the green flag comes out, it's time to go and I race accordingly. So in the short race, you don't rest. You've got to be getting with it all the time. And in a 600 mile race when the green flag comes out, you can kind of rest a little bit. You don't have to be incredibly intense, and the intensity builds, and at some point in that race, it becomes just as short as the All Star race. You see how my philosophy is?

Q: Yeah, it's just compacted, is basically what you're saying.

MARK MARTIN: Yeah, it's almost over when it starts, where the 600 only gets to that when it's almost over. But it's still the same thing. You strategize, you think, you put yourself in a position, you do everything you can; in the All Star race, you just can't wait and think about it as long. You've got to start doing things and putting yourself in position now, whereas the 600, you have to gradually ease yourself into that, and then at some point, it's only so many to go, and at that point, you'd better be making things happen just as you did in the All Star race. So I approach these races obviously different because I never hear anybody else talk about that. But you know, when they talk about the 600 being so long, you know, after you get the green flag, it's 399 to go, 399 laps to go. I don't think about being -- at some point, it's 99 to go, which makes it -- at that point it's the same as every other race at that point. I don't know, that's sort of my philosophy on these things.

Q: You've addressed this in different ways, I'll ask you straight out: What do you want your legacy to be when you leave the sport?

MARK MARTIN: Let me just rearrange that just slightly because I've come up with an answer to how do you want to be remembered. My answer is: I just want to be remembered. (Laughing) I hope that I'm respected for the drive and desire and commitment that I've made to my career.

Q: One of the things that seems to jump out about you more so than anybody else, year after year after year, being a very clean racer.

MARK MARTIN: I try. I've always tried to, you know, to race people the way I wanted to be raced. I never wanted to be robbed, and so never wanted to rob anyone. I had to fix my own wrecked race cars for a lot of years, and I had to race against a lot of people who had to fix their own race cars for a lot of years, and we raced hard and put on fierce races and had great shows. But we didn't run over each other, because we neither could afford it or, you know, had time to fix them. So you know, we made this stuff -- we were able to race without, you know, running over each other. I don't know, I would have to think that people who have raced me would say that I'm a fierce driver, I believe I'm a fierce driver. I believe I've raced with great ferocity. Also, there is that other side of me, which there's not a lot of room for in today's racing. That era is pretty much going any the wayside.

Q: The growth of NASCAR since you broke in 25 years ago has been maybe, in a word, remarkable. Today the Busch Series is all but confirmed to be expanding to Montreal next summer which is going to put that series in three countries. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about your feelings about expansion of this sport and the demands for NASCAR racing far seems to exceed the supply, and how it's grown beyond your wildest expectations since you first got involved?

MARK MARTIN: Oh, certainly. I'd have to say that one of the reasons you don't hear me criticizing NASCAR on a regular occasion is because they have to be quite a bit smarter than I am. Just look, you know, look at the success. I have great respect for NASCAR, the France family in what are and what they have done. I know that not everyone's like me, but for me, it's not surprising because I meet up with it. I love it, too. I can see how the growth would be possible but it still was driven and led by brilliant people at NASCAR.

Q: Have you had a chance to see a Formula 1 race in Montreal, at least to see Villenueve (ph) and if you can comment on how you think stock cars are going to be able to navigate that track?

MARK MARTIN: I'm sure I've watched them race there on TV but I didn't look at it in that context, so I didn't -- I don't remember, so actually I don't know what the course looks like, even though I may be watched it, I don't remember thinking it was in Montreal or whatever. I was just thinking about watching the Formula 1 guys race. I really don't know, but I'm sure that it will be a spectacular success.

Q: Have you raced in Canada before and it is exciting for you to see Canada move into international markets, to see it expanding into different countries, too, must be quite something.

MARK MARTIN: It's something, all right. I raced in Cayuga for years. ASA had races will and stuff and I've been to Canada a number of times. You know, out there, working on cars and building cars and racing in Cayuga and all that. You know, it's just not really surprising. Logically, it's really, really tough. But that's why this thing is becoming more and more a young man's sport.

Q: Three out of the past four years, you've finished in fourth, would you say this season is going according to your plan or where do you think it stands right now?

MARK MARTIN: I'd say overall, I'm thrilled. I am really thrilled with the way things are going. But I would say that the cars I'm driving are as good as I ever drove in my life and better than last year. We do have we are having -- we do have some minor issues that have held us back from doing better on the racetrack, and, you know, we're working to try to sort those out, you know, with pit stops particularly, which is a great challenge today. And we'll get those sorted out. If we make the Chase, by then, we'll have them sorted out and hopefully we'll get them sorted out, you know, gradually, soon, so that it doesn't take us out of a shot to be in the Chase. But at this point in time, my luck has been better than almost ever, and the car's performance itself has been better or as good as ever. And my relationship with AAA and the issues that we've been able to work on with the team, driving safety, seat belts and those things like that with AAA has been incredibly rewarding for me. I'm having the time of my life.

Q: What about the next two tracks, Charlotte and Dover? You've consistently been up front. You said that your luck has been better than almost ever; can we expect you to be up front in both of these races?

MARK MARTIN: My expectations are extremely high for Dover. My expectations are just in limbo for Loews based on the new pavement. I don't know, I can't guarantee, I can't let myself expect to be. I just have to wait and see on Loews to see how we adapt and perform on this payment. I know we're going to run good. I just don't know if we're going to go out there and kill them or not. We go to Dover, I would expect, I really have expectations for there.

Q: You were mentioning Toyota and I know that Jack has been out spoken on the fact that it's going to be bringing so much money into the sport, while Toyota is saying that they are not doing that. So you were reflecting on the business plan, what part of that do you think will be unpredictable in the costs?

MARK MARTIN: Let me just put it to you this way. It's already bad enough in our sport today. If a race team has everything, every piece of the puzzle is really good on the race team, but they need one thing and let's just say for example a shock specialist, that's all they need, and they would have it all. Well, teams are a lot more willing to pay a huge sum of money for a shock specialist just to close the deal out so that they have got it all.

You know, I don't care what Toyota says. Once you bring more teams and more funding, that just makes that more out of control, then you end up paying for what you were going to pay your shock specialist for the next three years, and now if you want to keep yours, you're in trouble or you've got to train a new one, one of the two if you follow me. That's sort of how it works.

So you didn't have any expectation of one of your employees, one of your positions over the course of two or three years, what they would make, doubling. That's just an example of how hard it is to contain the costs.

Q: I see what you're saying. And another question on an unrelated topic, are you actually rapping on the CD, or is it someone else and it's to benefit like something that you're promoting, but are you actually doing the rapping?

MARK MARTIN: No, I don't really have any rhyme, rhythm. I can't dance and I sure can't sing and I won't even try like old Darryl does all the time. I'm not even going to try because I can't sink as good as DW.

Q: So it's someone else on the CD?

MARK MARTIN: Yes.

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