Can you just give us some background of your age, where you are from, and
where you were raised?
GRAF – “I am 32 years-old and I am a German native. I live in the middle
of the Black Forrest in a town called Dornhan-a really pretty area. My
background is basically single-seaters. I was on the road to Formula One,
but as we all know, it’s very difficult so I changed my path and went to
sports car racing. I lived in America from 1999 to 2001 and raced in the
American Le Mans Series. I did that very successfully and also raced in
the Le Man 24-hour race and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Since 1999, and even
before, I always kept an eye on NASCAR. We all know it is very hard to
break into, especially Nextel Cup. We finally managed, with BAM Racing,
make it work out and here we are.”
Q. Now that you are running you first Cup race, what are your thoughts?
GRAF – “I am very excited. This is a very, very big thing. Back in Germany
this draws a lot of attention. Going against these guys this Sunday is
something really big for me. Although, I have been in a lot of important,
really big races, and have raced amongst a lot of elite drivers. I am just
going to try to enjoy myself and have a lot of fun out there.
“I have a blast driving these cars. This is a lot of fun for me and that’s
what I am trying to do. Obviously there is going to be a lot of attention
and a lot of eyes watching me, but I am used to that. I think we should
have a good weekend.”
Q. What are your expectations this weekend?
GRAF – “Well we tested at both Infineon and Virginia International Raceway
and had competition at both tests with other teams there. We were very
competitive. Obviously our first goal, at our first race, is to make the
show and finish the race. We know that we can do very well and we’ll see
how it goes. I don’t want to say any position, but I think we can be very
competitive. The race is long and it depends on how these other guys treat
me. We will give it our best. I think BAM Racing is best prepared as
Q. How much have you raced at Infineon and what tips have you passed on to
Ken Schrader about the track?
GRAF – “I’ve raced sports cars there in 2000 and 2001 with the American Le
Man Series and the configuration is a little bit different with the sports
cars. We race the entire race track, with the carousel, but that is not a
big change for us. It’s a really fun track with elevation change, up and
down, and it’s a very unique track in terms of grip and setup compared to
other road courses in America.
“Kenny is a good road racer. He has proved that in the past often. It’s
just matter of bringing back the memory and the feeling for a road course
and road race. These guys go 34 times a year on an oval, and on a road
course, you need a different kind of approach and different kind of
driving style- at least that’s what I found out driving on an oval. It’s
hard, even if you have done some testing before this weekend, to adjust
quickly to the different kind of driving style. I gave Kenny some help and
I’ll try to give some help in setting up the car.
Q. What’s the difference between stock cars and sports cars, the challenge
of racing Infineon, and also the challenge of you learning ovals?
GRAF – “The oval races are not 100 percent, but that’s what we are working
towards. The first question, NASCAR Nextel Cup cars are very heavy
compared to everything else that I’ve driven before. The sports cars I
drove in America had very similar power, a little less, but similar. I
also drove a ‘stock’ engine so I am used to the characteristics of that as
well. Sports cars have a lot more downforce, but after say that, at the
end of the day stock cars are still a race car. They still have four
wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel. You just have to get used to it.
We spent time testing and we’ve prepared well for this race. I enjoy
driving the car. They have a lot of power and it should be a lot of fun.
“Going to an oval is a whole different story. Kenny (Schrader) said
earlier that I did have some oval experience at both Kentucky and
Nashville. I really enjoyed it. Going out on your own is maybe not as big
as going out there and racing with 42 other drivers. It is going to be a
quite a different experience for me- racing at Infineon Raceway this
weekend is going to be different. It’s a big field and there is a lot of
racing to be done. It’s a 300-mile race. The duration of the race and the
amount of cars is going to be a big addition.
Q. Do you see yourself having a big learning curve coming into this
GRAF – “I’ve come from long-distance racing. The way our equipment is
there, even though for 24-hour races we have two or more drivers, you are
still in the car for maybe three hours at a time. I am used to being in
the car for a long period of time and still keeping up a high
concentration level. I don’t think that will be the problem.
“I think the key for the race is to take care of your equipment, and
especially your tires. You have to be there at the end of the race, and be
able to charge hard when it matters in the last 20 to 30 laps.
Q. How important are green-flag pit stops on a road course?
GRAF – “On a road course it’s very hard to overtake and take back track
position. So therefore, even it a yellow comes out, you might want to stay
out on the track just to keep track position. That might lead to the
position where you have to put under green, but you try to stretch out the
fuel to its maximum for you only have to pit on the least amount of stops.
Q. Do you think your pit team will be as competitive as the other top
GRAF – “We have the BAM Racing team right now, and that’s a one car team
with Ken Schrader. As far as I know I have been given a really good team,
and one that can give me really good pit stops. It will be something that
I’ll have to do very quickly. I haven’t me the guys yet, but I’ll meet the
boys and get familiar with them. I will talk with them and make them feel
apart of the team. We want to get a good chemistry going into the weekend
so that they are all fired up and we can have good pit stops.
Q. How different and challenging is shifting from a sports car to a stock
GRAF – “I am used to heel-and-toe shifting. In my Porsche GT car in
Germany we have to do the same thing, and it’s very similar to the Cup
car. I have always been someone that is used to this procedure of
shifting. I don’t think it will be a bog change for me. You have to treat
these cars, with the amount of horsepower and torque they have, in a
little special way to keep them smooth on the track. So far in testing I
didn’t have any problems adjusting to it.
Q. When you first climbed into a stock car what was that like?
GRAF – “Suddenly you are looking again at normal gages. You see the RPM,
fuel, and the temperature gages. I am used to digital stuff and high-tech
cockpits almost like plane cockpits, but then again when I started racing
it was the same way. It’s just a matter of adapting to it, and sometimes
it’s good to bring back old memories. You switch your memory on to
remember to look at the gages and you cope with it. At the end of the day
you’re still getting the same information of it, it’s just a different way
of getting it.
Q. Do you think the open wheel drivers will have their eyes on you this
GRAF – “I am sure. I met Boris (Said) at my test at Infineon and I know
him from my days in sports car racing. He said that I was going to love
this experience the racing is awesome. There will be a lot of attention
and a lot of guys watching me. It’s been very good that things worked out
and I am in this race. I hope that we do well. I think a lot of people
expect me to be a good road racer, but my goal is to finally be a good
oval racer too and maybe a full-time Cup driver as well. This will,
hopefully, just be an introduction into NASCAR Nextel Cup, and hopefully
this is a good starting point and we can move on from here.
Q. Do you see a difference in the aggressiveness of NASCAR drivers to
where you have come from?
GRAF – “I don’t think you see very much difference. In the American Le Man
Series races are like normal three-hour races, but they drive them like
sprint races. The racing I do right now is very aggressive because the
competition level is similar to Nextel Cup. There rubbing and banging and
running into each other. I don’t think there will be a problem with that.
I hope everyone treats me with respect. I don’t have a problem with anyone
racing hard against somebody as long as it’s all clean and within a
certain range of being fair. I can handle that, and as long as it’s not
nasty or getting completely out of hand, I have no problem with that.
Q. Is there one thing that you like about motorsports in general?
GRAF – “For me, the main thing is during the race competing against all
the other cars that are similar or equal equipment. That is to me the
argument that I can be better than someone else. Also, the pure
fascination of driving the cars and the performance of the car- moving the
car around at the ultimate limit to get the best lap time possible.
Q. What attracted you to NASCAR and to BAM Racing?
GRAF – “I was attracted to NASCAR and when I lived in America I realized
how bit it is. If we are honest, besides Formula One, NASCAR is the
biggest form of racing in the world. Even though it has only raced in
America. It’s a very high-profile sport. There a good drivers and good
competition. It’s very popular and it’s just very successful. That is one
of the main reasons for me to try to get in. I got in touch with BAM
Racing last September at Homestead (Miami) and explained to them what we
were trying to achieve. They are a young, upcoming team, and willing to
take a risk and put a lot of effort into this. I really appreciate that
and thank Beth Ann Morgenthau for giving me the opportunity to do this
Q. What is it going to take for you to become a full-time Nextel Cup
GRAF – “We want to get the two road course, Infineon and Watkins Glen,
under our belts and hopefully we can do some more oval stuff. We are
working on that right now. We need the financial resources, and ability to
put together a full second team at BAM Racing, so we can run a whole
schedule next to the Schwan’s Home Service team.
Q. Why have you chosen this race to make your Nextel Cup debut?
GRAF – “Obviously because if my background, this will be the easiest to
start with- if there is anything easy in Nextel Cup. This is some
territory that I know. I have been to the track and some variables are out
the picture right from the get go. That makes it easier.
Q. Can you explain the difference in driving a Cup car compared to a
GRAF – “It’s completely different. A single-seat car has about the third
of the weight of a NASCAR car. A single-seat car is very aggressive and
very responsive in their reaction and handling. A stock car, you can’t be
as aggressive. You have to be much smoother. The car is heavy and you have
to give the car more time because it really rolls a lot. You have to slow
down your motions a little bit. In a single-seater things happen a lot
Q. Do you miss the aggressiveness of the single-seater?
GRAF – “Sometimes I do. On a road course you just have to slow down. You
have to brake, turn into the turn, and you can feel the weight. On an oval
it’s different. The average speed is very high all the time and it’s more
comfortable to drive the car. The only difference is more of the pleasure
you get driving a single-seater or sports car. It’s very high in a
high-class sports car or single-seater. In a stock car, and on the
high-speeds tracks I’ve been on like Nashville and Kentucky, it’s a
pleasure driving ovals.
Q. What has been your effort to get to this point?
GRAF – “It has been a massive effort behind this whole thing with all the
people involved. We didn’t start this by just getting one day and deciding
to go Nextel Cup racing. We’ve been working on this for a long time. It
has almost been four years now. We always tried to get information from
people, and from a political situation in NASCAR, it’s a good time. You
need to have all the right components arrive at the right time and join
together to get something like this off the ground. Luckily we were able
to find BAM Racing who wanted to do this. We also have the right
ingredients from our end so we can go and make it work.
Q. What were some of the things that turned the corner in this process?
GRAF – “Until you go out on the track you don’t know what to expect. I
have my background and BAM has theirs. Until we finally went testing we
didn’t know what was going on. We tested well at Virginia International
Raceway and suddenly this whole deal gained momentum. That was basically
what we needed. At the end of the day you can prepare as best as you want,
but if the performance is not there BAM would not have done this- as
simple as that.
Q. What is your greatest achievement in racing?
GRAF – “I led the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. I didn’t win it because of
technical problems, which you can easily get in a 24-hour race. I am one
of the few who led the race. I would also say winning my first
championship in 1993 in the German Formula Ford Series.
Q. What is your perception of NASCAR personalities and the atmosphere in
GRAF – “I think a lot of it is just great. NASCAR is so extremely under
the spotlight. I raced in Indianapolis last weekend in the support race
for the Formula One race. We had dome arguments there and not everyone was
happy. I had a problem and have to prove my point and so did the other
person. This is nothing new to me. Sometimes in NASCAR things get out of
hand, but it’s part of the deal. A lot of things happen out of emotion.
The blood pressure is up, the adrenaline is pumping, and sometimes things
happen. Some of the things that happen are a little rough, but I have seen
similar things happen in Europe.
Q. How were your test times at in Infineon and do you know some spots
better than some of the NASCAR drivers?
GRAF – “I think you have to go around the whole circuit very well to have
a good lap time. I like the esses going down the back towards the hairpin.
Those are really high speeds and I like fast corners. That is a lot of
fun. It’s also one of the last points to possibly out brake and maybe
“We had a good test. I don’t want to state any time, but there were
several teams and we were very competitive. We were happy with our result.
Sonoma is a difficult track to setup any car. We were very happy with what
we achieved in the test.
Q. Do you see yourself breaking ground for European or other German
GRAF – “I think it might naturally be looked upon that way. I know a lot
of drivers have already tried, but just never had the right opportunity.
We know that Christian Fittipaldi drove a couple of races last year, so
there is always interest from the European world to get into NASCAR. I
don’t you will see some extreme movement of drivers from Europe come into
this sport, but you’ll see more attention made to it by the drivers and
European media. We have a lot of large companies over in Germany and I
think that it’s good, not only for myself, but for NASCAR as well.
Q. Do you see, down the road, BMW or Mercedes getting into NASCAR?
GRAF – “That is a tough question. Dodge is owned by Daimler-Chrysler so
they are already with a brand in NASCAR. Whether we one day see a European
manufacturer go into NASCAR, I don’t know? This is something really big
and difficult. Toyota, even with all their success in America, this is
something really big time.
Q. How is NASCAR racing perceived by European drivers?
GRAF – “I think the way NASCAR is, and the level of competition we see
here, everybody knows that this is a very high level. All the drivers in
NASCAR could do very well in any other type of racing. I am very convinced
about that. I’ve seen Jeff Gordon get into the Formula One car and he did
an awesome job. He has never been in anything like that and he did very
competitive lap times and was feeling very comfortable. The level of
professionalism and education they have is very high. These guys are just
as good as any other drivers in the world.
Q. Do you get the sense that NASCAR would like to see you establish
yourself in this series?
GRAF – “I’ve talked to a few officials and I haven’t had any bad comments
about it. I think they are open for new ways of promoting NASCAR, not only
in America, but the whole world.
Q. What is your next race and what do you need to do to get there?
GRAF – “The next race is Watkins Glen. That is because of my commitments
that I have in Europe right now. I still race for a Porsche team there. To
make some oval races happen we have to find some financing, testing time,
and time in my schedule. It’s a lot of logistic issues. BAM Racing also
has its full-time deal with Kenny so we have to make sure it doesn’t take
away from that. We also need to be prepared well. We don’t want to be in a
position where we just show up and not look good. The competition is so
close that we have to be prepared otherwise you can’t show what you are
Q. What was the level you got to in open wheel and who did you race for in
the United States?
GRAF – “I went up to Formula 3 in single-seater. A lot of guys went
straight from Formula 3 to Formula 1. It’s a very well regarded series in
Europe. I raced for Panoz in America. I stayed there for three years from
1999 to 2001. I raced in the biggest sports car class. “
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