The UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway reached the halfway point on Wednesday, day three of the annual five-day event.
Day three began with breakfast hosted by Hills Bros. Coffee, who joined Bill Davis Racing along with driver Hut Stricklin for the 2002 season. Stricklin drove a part-time schedule last year for Junie Donlavey in the #90 Ford, but left that team last November to join BDR and brought Hills Bros. Coffee with him to the new #23 Dodge. Stricklin, testing in Daytona, answered questions via a conference call.
Brothers followed Hut Stricklin over to Bill Davis
Racing for 2002.
"I compare driving for Bill Davis to a situation I had early in my career when I drove for Bobby Allison." Stricklin said, "It is that kind of a team and probably a little better. It is close to the best
situation I've ever had. I feel like this situation-we are not starting off in a hole like so many situations I've been in during my career."
"I put more pressure on myself to perform every week than anyone else could put on me. I feel I'll have everything in place to enhance our position. Hopefully, we can win a race or two and stay in the top 10 or 15 in points."
Later in the day, the media tour visited the shops of Haas-Carter Motorsports and PPI Motorsports, the first of nine area race shops to host the media tour over the next three days.
At Haas-Carter Motorsports, the team's primary sponsor Kmart outlined their 2002 sponsorship package for both the #66 Ford, driven by Todd Bodine, and #26 Ford driven by new driver, Joe
"We want to see Kmart take the checkered flag this season," said Tom Lemke, Vice-President of Marketing and Sales for Kmart. "Our customers love NASCAR racing and we are putting the power of the Kmart brand behind a program that will give them some great racing action."
Nemechek's #26 Ford will carry the logo of Kmart's "School Spirit" program, a year-round program that turns eligible purchases made at Kmart into cash for schools. Kmart plans to donate a minimum of $10 million to participating schools during the 2001-2002 school year.
"I'm really looking forward to driving the #26 Kmart School Spirit Ford," said Nemechek. "As a parent, I think it's great that Kmart is so dedicated to helping America's children. I feel good about driving for such a good cause."
Nemechek left Andy Petree Racing at the end of the 2001 season to join Hass-Carter Motorsports, replacing Jimmy Spencer, who signed on with Ganassi Racing. Nemechek finished 28th in the points in 2001, missing several weeks last May after he was injured in a crash at Dover Downs. He won his second career race at Rockingham last November.
stable will sport a number of paint schemes and products
"I'm looking forward to the season, I think Todd is too." Nemechek said, "I think there is a lot of potential with the teams that are put together here. Having Robert Yates doing the engines is a very big plus. I think there's a heck of an opportunity and I think I'm going to have a shot at winning some races...I'm a race car driver and all I want to do is race. If I could race two or three times a week, I would. I have been in some great situations with some great car owners during my career, but I see a lot of potential with this team."
Bodine's #66 Ford has been chosen to represent several Kmart brands, such as Route 66, Joe Boxer, and the Blue Light Special. The car will have several paint schemes this season, each one featuring a different Kmart brand.
"I feel good about this season and my new teammate Joe Nemechek, "said Bodine, in his second season with Haas-Carter Motorsports. "I think it will be fun to represent all of Kmart's different brands. I hope that I will be able to bring Kmart and its brands into the winners circle this year."
Given Kmart's recent financial troubles, with the possibility of the retailer declaring bankruptcy looming on the horizon, some are wondering if the retailer be able to continue sponsoring the two-car team, but the team feels confident that their sponsorship is secure.
"Kmart has shown us a strong commitment," said team co-owner Travis Carter. "We received our (sponsorship) payments on-time. They're showing us that they are fulfilling their obligations, they're putting forth their best effort this year of any year we've been associated with them. We're looking at everything positively. They have given us assurances."
Next up was PPI Motorsports, where they made several announcements regarding their sponsor as well as their driver, Ricky Craven.
"I'm pleased to announce that we've recently signed on with Proctor and Gamble for an additional two years, through 2004," said team owner Cal Wells. "Our hope is, just as their legacy in Winston Cup will hopefully continue for decades to come, we hope it continues with PPI Motorsports."
"To ensure that continuity, we've taken up our option with Ricky Craven who I'm proud to announce will be driving the Tide Ford through 2004, if not beyond."
Craven, in his second season with PPI Motorsports, signed a one-year deal last year after spending the parts of the previous two seasons with MidWest Transit Racing. He broke through the winless barrier last year, winning his first career race in October at Martinsville.
"The big difference in this team, between today and a year ago, was that there was only a building full of people a year ago, and toady we've got a very, very good race team." Craven said, "It's a fantastic group of people. One of the things I'm most proud of is during the off-season, when changes can be made, where team member can be lured away by other teams, everybody stayed."
"It's a great testimonial to how strong this team is and what a good guy Cal is to race for. If you compare that to other sports, you can understand the significance of it."
approved by NASCAR, PPI developed a new seat made of
aluminum and carbon fiber.
Cal Wells also presented the development of a new safety feature for drivers- a new composite seat for race drivers designed to minimize the impact from crashes, especially side-impact crashes. Such a crash has recently sidelined DEI driver Steve Park, and a similar crash in 1997 caused Craven to suffer post-concussion symptoms for several months - so long that some thought Craven's career might be over. Out of concern for the safety of his driver as well as other drivers, Cal Wells PPI Motorsports company designed the new seat, which is made of aluminum honeycomb with carbon cloth applied to both sides, and also features a six-point restraint system mounted directly to the seat and energy-dispersing bead foam body inserts custom-fitted to each driver. The seat, manufactured by Reynard Motorsports, has been undergoing testing and was recently approved by NASCAR.
"The basic structure is designed to contain the driver," said Wells. "Consequentially the drivers weigh doesn't build inertia and fold the seat and take the (seat) belts out of the their most geometrically efficient position. That's added by the fact that we can hold on to the driver's head, HANS or no HANS."
"This seat, side to side, whether you wear a HANS or not, will be a huge help."
As far as head injuries from side-to-side impacts, "This will eliminate it," said Wells.
Earlier in the day, NASCAR officials, led by Senior Vice President George Pyne, made a presentation regarding the state of NASCAR. Among the topics discussed were safety, competition maximizing the exposure of the sport and raising its value, as well as watching the costs.
Helton and a NASCAR panel meets the press.
"As we begin our 54th season, our hope is that we operate with great respect for the core values and principles that got us where we are, but at the same time are mindful of the day's standards," said NASCAR president Mike Helton. "We are proud of our heritage and we are proud of our organization and we want to stay out in front of these issues not only to provide for our future, but to protect our future."
"The economy is definitely an issue for everybody," said NASCAR Senior Vice President Brian France. "If you look at the costs of the sport, you also have to look at the revenues, and the revenues are up...the one engine rule is a big issue for the teams. I think it will save a lot of money. We will look at anything and everything we can do to cut costs...the #1 cost is labor. Ask any car owner and he will tell you his number one cost is labor."
On the issue of safety, Senior Vice President George Pyne announced that data recorders would be in all the cars for all NASCAR-sanctioned races during Speedweeks, and that NASCAR is continuing tests on energy-absorbing barriers. He also announced that NASCAR has created and hired several key people including a crash investigator, a design engineer, aerodynamics engineer and medical liaisons for each of NASCAR's three national divisions.
Other announcements made by NASCAR today -
- The Winston Cup series exposure value rose 143% in 2001, while the Busch Grand National Series exposure value grew by 68% in 2001.
- Television ratings for the Winston Cup Series grew by 8% on network TV and 13% on cable.
- The NASCAR fan base grew by 19%, while the amount of hardcore fans grew by 60%, from 25 million fans in 2000 to 40 million in 2001.
NASCAR also announced a restructuring of the Competition Department, moving several longtime officials into new positions:
- Gary Nelson, formerly NASCAR Winston Cup Series Director, is now Managing Director of Competition.
- Kevin Triplett, formerly NASCAR Director of Operations, is now Managing Director Of Business Operations.
- John Darby, formerly NASCAR Busch Series Director, is now Winston Cup Series Director, replacing Gary Nelson.
- Brian DeHart, formerly a technical inspector on the Winston Cup and Busch Series, is now NASCAR Busch Series Director, replacing John Darby.
- Joe Garone, a former crew chief in several NASCAR divisions, is now the Research And Development Center Director.
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