GENE HAAS, STEWART-HAAS RACING CO-OWNER, KURT BUSCH, DRIVER OF THE HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET BEGINNING IN 2014 AND GREG ZIPADELLI, COMPETITION DIRECTOR OF STEWART-HAAS RACING WERE GUESTS ON THIS WEEK’S NASCAR TELECONFERENCE.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for coming to today’s announcement. We have three speakers; really wish we had four with Tony Stewart. He certainly wants to be here. Still recovering from his broken leg sustained August 5th. Certainly wants to be here. We’ll get him back out in front of you guys sooner rather than later.
First off, want to introduce everyone here. On the far left, Gene Haas, co‑owner of Stewart‑Haas Racing. Kurt Busch, driver of the Haas Automation Chevrolet beginning in 2014. And Greg Zipadelli, competition director of Stewart‑Haas Racing.
Let’s go ahead and get started.
Gene, you’re expanding Stewart‑Haas Racing to a four‑car team in 2014 and you’re doing with a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in Kurt Busch. How did this all come about?
GENE HAAS: Well, it’s been a story in the making. There was an opportunity to have Kurt Busch join us as the driver. I’m in this business to win races. I talked to Kurt Busch over the years. He’s been kind of a favorite of mine. I see his on‑track performance. I thought this was a great opportunity to pair him up with Haas Automation, for him to be the driver of my choice. It was an opportunity that I just felt was too great to pass up.
I bent a few rules, pushed, had some conversations with Kurt. Everything started to line up. We just needed to figure out how we’re going to do this.
One of the biggest problems in any race team obviously is sponsorship. With the other three cars having their sponsorship pretty much filled up, it was an opportunity for Haas Automation to be a primary sponsor. In the past, I’ve always been a co‑sponsor on the Stewart‑Haas Racing team. That’s a good position to be in. I have no problems with that. This is going to be my shot at being a primary sponsor, going to the Daytona 500, the Brickyard as the primary sponsor.
Haas Automation has never been in the winner’s circle, and I’m sure that’s going to change next year.
So that’s my primary reason for basically pushing this expansion. It’s been met with a little bit of resistance. We have a lot of great people here that are going to have to work hard to make this a reality, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm with it. As a matter of fact, I think the enthusiasm has been overwhelming from both people outside Stewart‑Haas Racing and inside. A lot of people are telling me this is great, they feel enthusiastic. Attitude is what wins races.
I’m happy we’re doing this. I think it’s going to be an exciting year. I’m looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, welcome to Stewart‑Haas Racing. Now that you’re a part of this team, you join Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, collectively that is a lineup that boasts four Sprint Cup championships, 36 poles and 93 wins. Talk about this opportunity.
KURT BUSCH: The excitement is just at an all‑time high. To be in this position, it’s amazing to have Gene Haas call you up and say, Let’s go do this, win some races together. To have the opportunity to have Stewart‑Haas as the emblem on the door as I go to work every day, work on making faster racecars with all the mechanics, but also to work alongside Tony Stewart as a co‑owner and as a driver, he sees things from the driver’s seat that I’ve been trying to explain for years to team personnel and owners. That’s what makes his position so valuable.
To have a guy like Kevin Harvick that I’ve gotten a chance to work with at RCR this year, the Furniture Row situation, behind the scenes, carrying a banner on it that says Kurt Busch. Harvick and I, an amazing connection we’ve had all through our career. Being rookies together, now to be coming to the same program at the same time.
Then with Danica and her growth. I’ve always tried to take young drivers under my wing, show them some things around the track. That will be a nice situation for me to be in as well.
The opportunity is about people. That’s what makes this so important that I’ve neglected in the past, is understanding the people, knowing that that makes the difference if you’re going to Victory Lane or not.
Stewart‑Haas, Gene, Tony, this combination is so powerful. That’s what makes it so exciting. It’s tough for me. I have to remember I have 12 weeks left in the regular season. Right now if we can have two good weeks, we’ll make the Chase.
THE MODERATOR: And Greg Zipadelli, you’ve been in the sport a long time, which means you’ve competed against Kurt a long time. Now that he’s part of Stewart‑Haas Racing, what does he bring to the table?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think he brings a ton. If you look back at his record, at the competitiveness he carries within him, he’ll demand from everybody here at SHR, I think will push us to new heights, along with Kevin coming and Tony. That’s a dream come true as far as having a driver lineup.
Danica, going into her second full year, with those three guys, to be able to lean on them, hopefully be able to help her, we’ll have something special here with these three guys and Danica.
It’s not often that you get the opportunity to expand the way things are in this sport today. From where I’m sitting, it’s awesome. I know from the time we had the meeting yesterday with the guys, the things I’ve heard in the last 24 hours, how excited they are, that means an awful lot. That’s encouraging to me that these guys will jump onboard and do what it takes. We’ll certainly do our best to perform at the highest level next year.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Zippy and Gene, where are you putting four cars? I guess you have to build. How quickly can that be done? Where will it be done? Who is paying for that? Zippy, how quickly are you going to have to build a team around Kurt? Where will you get those people from?
GREG ZIPADELLI: There’s people out there looking for jobs. The amount of résumés that I’ve gotten in the last week since this has kind of broke has been unbelievable, phone calls. There’s a lot of great people out there.
We haven’t started looking at people. We’ve been looking at getting Kevin Harvick’s deal done. Obviously until Monday morning, this wasn’t a done deal. So we’ve kind of looked at the structure of the building.
There’s some areas we’re going to move, rooms we’re going to knock down to expand each department, the building is going next door, so.
We’re not sure how we’re all going to lay all that out. That’s kind of the stuff we’re going through now, designing that. But it will be tight for a little bit. But we’ll prioritize what we need to work on.
The biggest thing, we’re going to have to move cars around. We have plenty of rooms to have plates, that type of stuff, body shop, we’ve already added on to that this year, there’s no issues with that. It will physically be, where are the cars.
GENE HAAS: When we originally started at this location, we purchased 30‑acres of land. The building layouts were already done. It was part of the previous layout. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch.
It will take probably somewhere around six to nine months to get the struct
ure up, but we hope to have it open by June.
The way we do things around here is a little unique in the sense that we just focus on racing. That’s really our primary things. Things like chassis, engines, obviously come from Hendrick Motorsports. Some of that load will go on them to increase their output.
It’s going to be challenging mainly from a space standpoint. But I think we can offload some of that to some other locations. We can just focus on the races at hand.
Q. Kurt, when Kevin Harvick won the Coca‑Cola 600, he praised you a lot, said that RCR was a lot better because you gave feedback that was accurate and you drove the car hard enough that it was useful feedback. Five or six years ago you were pretty bitter rivals. Now you seem to be working real well. You and Tony have had some incidents in the past. When you sign on the dotted line, does all that go out the window? How do you work together where before you were such fierce competitors?
KURT BUSCH: You know, I got a bunch of phone calls, of course, in the last couple weeks. The last one before I came in here today was Kevin Harvick. 10 years ago we weren’t in a place in our careers to do this. We’ve had different roads we’ve been on, but at the same time they’ve paralleled one another because we were rookies together.
I think we’re in a great spot in our careers now to join another fierce competitor such as Tony, and to look up to Tony as our co‑owner with Gene, and to know that our spot here is to build these four cars together and to make them as fast as we can.
That’s what made this opportunity for me so unique is the people that are involved and the teammates that I will have to work with. Harvick is a fierce competitor that knows how to get the most out of his car. Tony is the same way. If I can give Zipadelli some notes on the feedback that I’m feeling to have another little small thing to give us an advantage, I’ve always prided myself in trying to make the crew chief’s job easier. This structure here is structured around the crew chief operating the team. That’s what makes it an even better fit.
Harvick and I in the past, Tony even, we are now in a better spot in our careers to be able to do this.
Q. Gene, what pushed you over the top with the Outlaw, his tenacity, a little bit more about what you see from him on the racetrack?
GENE HAAS: Well, I think we all see how Kurt has done on the racetrack. He’s done an amazing job with the 78 car, taking a car that is a single‑car team, has a lot of competitors that are way ahead of it. They’ve done a remarkable job of being able to compete in that top‑10 bracket.
I think that was something that was obvious. I know Kurt’s résumé as well as anybody. I kind of like his attitude. He’s passionate about what he does. He likes to win. He’s not afraid to get in people’s faces. I think that kind of reflects my company a little bit.
I think there’s a good match there. He’s a passionate person, and it takes a lot of passion to win these races. The fact that he runs into his friends at 200 miles an hour once in a while, has a few tough words with that, they all do that, so I don’t really have any problems with that either.
I think at the end of the day they all seem to get along and they’re all there at the next race. It is a sport. I think there’s a lot of camaraderie there in the garage and among the drivers. That’s what makes this NASCAR business somewhat of a hobby to me.
Q. Kurt, what kind of conversation did you have with Tony as I’m sure you talked about this?
KURT BUSCH: Tony was slapping me a high five. He says we’re tapping into Gene’s wallet the way I wanted to (laughter).
Tony is about finding better people and better products to go and utilize so he has a better chance of winning.
But all kidding aside, Tony knows the same things that I know: it takes people to make a difference. Just like what Greg Zipadelli was talking about, the opportunities when you expand to four teams, you have the ability to start from scratch on one of those teams, but still use the blueprints, that’s what Tony was trying to reiterate to me. There is a structure here, proven success. The fact we’re going to have a chance to start something fresh at the same time as working on the current situation, he was in that owner mode. It was easy to respect him when he was talking that way. Then when he would switch into driver mode, we’d throw sarcasm at each other, it was a unique element. Even though we spent Sunday watching a little bit of the IndyCar race together, we were talking about things from the driver’s side of it.
To me it matches a lot of my racing passion on trying to explore different avenues in racing and at the same time keeping your eye on the big prize, which is ultimately another Sprint Cup championship.
Q. Kurt, has the team decided on a number for your car? Can you sort of put into words what you gained from the experience of the last year racing the 78, basically having to box above your weight every week?
KURT BUSCH: We haven’t come to a decision on a car number. It’s obviously Gene’s team and Tony Stewart is the car owner. They’ve given me some nice input on what they’d like. They’ve actually been open to what I would like.
My eight‑year‑old Houston says, Put 360 on the door.
Because you’ve come full circle.
When kids speak and they hit it on the head of the nail like that, it’s amazing. I don’t know if 360 works, but we’ll come up with the right number. I like the theme here with 4 with Harvick, 14 with Tony, 10 with Danica. A 4, a 1, even multiplication tables or addition tables can all add up here. That’s the fun part. That will be later on.
Right now the battle that we have of getting into the Chase, like you said boxing in a rink that might be a heavier‑weight division than what we’re showing up with on the 78 car. Barney Visser has done a tremendous job at making us a player, something that competes with the big dogs. It’s been a tremendous effort this year by a lot of people. We’ve had some bad luck go against us, we’ve also had some good luck to be in position to make the Chase.
It’s taught me a lot about myself on how to understand disappointment better, and it’s also taught me a lot about how to help with crew members when they stumble or they trip on something, to be there for them. So that’s why I feel like I’m in a better place mentally and spiritually as well. Barney is a guy that believes, and a lot of things happen for reasons. He’s given me a tremendous amount to go out there and race against the big dogs. We still have 12 more weeks to do it.
Q. Gene, you said you encountered some resistance in making this decision. Was that internally? What were some of the potential holdups?
GENE HAAS: Well, it really all started at the General Motors dinner in Indianapolis. I talked to Kurt, found out that he really didn’t have a firm contract with his current team. I was a little surprised at that because we had talked to him the previous year. We were just trying to find out where he stood.
When he took the 78 ride, you know, usually it’s for several years. When I was talking to him, he said, No, no, there’s some transitions, they’re going to try to find out what manufacturer they’re going with before they announce the driver. That was Indianapolis, only a few weeks ago.
So I talked to Joe Custer. Joe reached out to Kurt who found out that things were lining up. I wanted to go forward with th
at. Tony broke his leg. I didn’t have really a chance to talk to Tony about it at all since he wasn’t really talking to anybody. So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tich there. I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with. I’ve been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was, he was a little upset.
At first he said, Oh, wow, we can’t really do this because this is going to be too much of a load on the team. We’re not prepared for it. We don’t have the space. There’s a whole line. He actually is an astute businessman. He thought about all these little things, where are we going to get the people, the money, where are the buildings going to come from. I didn’t think about any of that. From Tony’s standpoint, he’s more of a businessman. I just thought it would be kind of neat to have.
That’s how it came about. We all know Tony’s problems he was having, so I couldn’t talk to him too much. When I finally did talk to him, he was saying, maybe we should wait a little while. I think he actually said, you need to wait a while. I kind of made an offer to Kurt here, I don’t know if he’s going to take it or not, and if he takes it, I’m not backing down. That’s where we were.
About a week later, Tony said, Okay, all right. He thought, it’s okay. What are you going to do? Don’t have much choice. It’s a series of events. Chance meeting Kurt at the General Motors dinner, Tony being incapacitated where I couldn’t talk to him, I wanted to do something. I stepped up and said I would fund it.
It’s very difficult to find a sponsor in less than 24 hours. So we did that, too. We did a lot of stuff. That’s why we’re here today.
Q. This situation will be similar to Furniture Row in that the owner is the sponsor. Did that dynamic work better than just representing a corporate entity separate from the team? And will the rules be a little bit different when Kurt is representing your company?
KURT BUSCH: The way that Barney is committed to NASCAR, the way that Gene is committed to NASCAR is very similar. You want to go to the racetrack and have the least amount of responsibilities on a Friday through Sunday, just have to focus on the car. That was what Furniture Row provided me this year.
I think having that freedom is something that I enjoyed. That was part of the discussion with Gene on how we were going to orchestrate the schedule, what it took to make both sides work.
There was hardly much discussion about it. It was the opportunity with the people that we’re going to bring onboard here and with the equipment that Gene and Tony use, which is Hendrick engines and Hendrick chassis. That was the difference‑maker. Obviously having teammates such as Tony to work with, Harvick, and Danica. When you have less responsibilities and it’s more about the car, that’s the fun part of it.
GENE HAAS: Haas Automation has always been a sponsor in the NASCAR Cup Series. I can’t remember a year that my name wasn’t on a Cup car. All of a sudden I’m faced with this reality I’m not going to be there anymore. I had a little bit of a vested interest in having a sponsored car. That was my point of view, something I wanted to do. I wanted to be a sponsor.
Now here is an opportunity to be a primary sponsor, which carries with it a lot of advantages, a lot of disadvantages, too. From that point of view, I was willing to go ahead and do that.
I think it’s money well spent. I think advertising is a good value for your money and I wasn’t afraid to commit to it, and I could do it quickly.
Q. Gene, throughout most of your career as owner, co‑owner, you’ve had a lower profile. You now are more at the forefront, obviously very involved in making this deal happen. Why from the background to the forefront? It seems like this is different than what the NASCAR fans have seen in the past. You are sponsoring Kurt with your own company. The question fans would ask is, Why didn’t you do the same thing with Ryan Newman in that situation?
GENE HAAS: Okay, there’s a few questions there.
Well, you know, from the start I have to admit Tony Stewart is somewhat of an overwhelming personality. When he came in here, Haas CNC Racing had no credibility. We were a small, struggling team in the back that would have died out and nobody would have noticed. When Tony came in, Tony selected himself as a driver. That made perfect sense. He also selected Ryan Newman as his co‑driver. That relationship effectively lasted for four years until Danica Patrick came on.
It was really the die was set, it was cast, that was the way it was going to be. Wasn’t much wiggle room for me to do much. And I have a lot of respect for Tony. Tony works really, really hard. He drives that car every weekend. He works with sponsors. He’s on the airplane going back and forth. I’ve never been a co‑owner, but I’ve never seen a co‑owner that would actually work that hard. That’s probably why I think Tony was more, you know, in front of everybody.
As far as what I do, I obviously build machines. That’s my day job. That’s what gives me my ability to participate in this kind of sport. I know what I do well. That’s what I do well. I know what Tony does well. Quite frankly, we’re very, very good at what we do, and that’s why this company has been successful.
Like I say, this was just an opportunity. I have the ability to react quick. I reacted quick. This is something as an owner and also as a sponsor, it’s something I wanted to do. That’s why I did it.
Your third question was why not Ryan? You know, Ryan has been an excellent driver. He’s been with us going on five years now. I think he’s done a great job driving the car. I think he’s been a great sponsor driver. He’s done well at all of that. He’s brought us some of our sponsors, like the Army, kept them for four years. I think he has done his job.
The question is, at some point I am now going to be the sponsor. I just simply wanted a change and an opportunity to do something different. I don’t think this says anything negative about Ryan. He’s been a great driver, done a great job. After five years I just feel that I want to take hold of an opportunity that was presented to me. It gives me a chance to, you know, be a sponsor and direct things the way I wanted to direct them.
Q. Kurt, you talked about helping crew guys when they stumble. Obviously single‑car teams don’t have the depth of multi‑car teams. Were there too many stumbles with the 78? What happened Saturday, did that have any effect on your decision?
KURT BUSCH: No, nothing that happened Saturday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’re not going to look at one circumstance and say it affected a future plan to where you have a long‑term commitment and such an exciting opportunity that you can team up and drive cars with Tony Stewart, with Kevin Harvick.
The 78 car is as good as anybody. The part that failed on Saturday night is something that you might see more in quality control if you are burning up four sets of hubs each week. Four times four would be 16. That’s what we’re going to have here next year. It’s something that slipped through the cracks. You have those part failures.
Right now, since we haven’t built any cushion to have those pitfalls and still make the Chase, that’s why it makes it so significant.&nbs
p; We have to be perfect the next two weeks to make the Chase. I’m as fired up as ever to try to deliver these guys into an area that they never thought was achievable and at the same time I have the future in front of me with Stewart‑Haas Racing to know when you’re starting a team out like this, you have teammates such as Stewart, Harvick and Danica, we’re going to be putting all of the cars in the Chase next year. That’s the difference of trying one car versus four.
Q. Greg, can you talk about trying to handle four pretty distinct personalities? What do you imagine driver meetings to be like?
GREG ZIPADELLI: We built a rubber room upstairs, that’s the first thing we did (laughter).
When you have four passionate drivers, I would much rather deal with that than to try to figure out how to get them going. You’re born with that. The competitiveness that these guys have, that’s what you need in this sport.
We’ll deal with what comes our way on a weekly basis and we’ll continue to race. It’s as simple as that. I think what makes this unique is there’s three guys and Danica that all had their days. I think they can all help each other. At least that’s the theory I’m going with.
Q. Kurt, you’ve touched on this a little bit. You said you learned more the importance of people. You said you were in a better place mentally and spiritually. Seems like in the past you were trying to be someone that other people wanted you to be, where now you’re at peace with yourself and you know who you are. Is that accurate? If so, did that play a role in the fact that Gene reached out to you?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it’s easy as a 25‑year‑old to say you know everything, that you can do everything by yourself. That’s what I thought that I could do when I moved from Roush Racing to Penske back in 2006, to bring Roger his first championship. I thought I could wear all the weight on my back. That was not the case. That’s when you learn it’s about the people, team communication, how it filters through all the channels.
The Penske thing, the image, all of that, it wasn’t your own identity, you were trying to be something else, stepping back and hitting the reset button, heading to Phoenix Racing, finding the true fun and true reason to go to the racetrack, rolling up your sleeves, getting dirty, being there with the guys, to feel that camaraderie, that old school let’s work hard and not think about how to publicize things, how to put a twist on it to make it bigger than what it’s supposed to be. That was so educational for me with having 10 years of experience in this sport.
Then with Furniture Row, having the opportunity to catch them on an up‑swing, to see Todd Berrier go over there, wear out my phone, come out here and drive, we can do great things. You don’t have the sponsor requirements, to have the stress and fatigue of that part of the schedule, that’s what allowed me to stay focused on the car, to stay genuine, and to still allow myself to grow and develop into what I really am, and that is a true hard‑nosed racer that gives it their all. You got to let the rough edges drag sometimes. When you have a guy like Gene Haas that wants to make you part of a four‑car, super‑power team calling, you have the ability to be yourself, to work with guys that have those same edgy attitudes as yourself, that’s the journey I’ve been on over the last 18 months.
Q. Everyone obviously is operating under the scenario that Tony will be back and ready to go in 2014. If there were some unforeseen complication in his recovery, would Kurt be a viable option for the 14 or would you likely go the route of a substitute guy like you’ve been doing right now?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I don’t think there’s much question whether he’ll be back or not. Prognosis is better every time he goes to the doctor. We’re not going to push him to get in a car until probably Daytona. We’ll give him all the time he needs.
It would take some disaster. I don’t see anything of that with what he’s facing, so…
Q. Kurt, Gene was talking about what his team was before Tony came along. Do you take personal pride in seeing what has transpired at Furniture Row since your arrival? How would you like to end your season with them?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it’s been very satisfying to take the team from where they were to where we are now. But I didn’t do it by myself. There’s so many people that have jumped onboard to come out there because of Todd Berrier, his ability to lead people.
Any situation that I get in I want to try to leave it in a better place than where it was before, whether it’s driver feedback, driver reports, the notes on when they’re going to unload at the track. Let’s just say at Phoenix in 2014. They’re going to have my notes to look over and a setup that’s been proven. I hope that that’s there.
We still have the present that’s right in front of us. The next two weeks are the post important weeks of the 78 car’s career. If we find ourselves racing somebody heads up going into Richmond, that’s what I want to be there for, to deliver them into the Chase, and at the same time it’s the goal achieved of being in that position. When points can reset, we’ll only be five points away from the championship lead. There’s no sense in giving up then. We’ll keep plugging away and pushing. Time is now with the 78 car.
Q. Kurt, when you’re hanging out in January 2012, you have an unknown future, you don’t know what it’s going to be. You know how bad you want it, but you also have the realization somebody else has to have the same amount of passion to get back to that level. You now have that. Back in 2012, what percentage chance would you have given yourself to be sitting right there today with those guys?
KURT BUSCH: That’s a great question. The internal drive that I have within me, would I have given it a high percentage? Yes and no. It’s a matter of finding the opportunities. You never know what’s around the next corner.
All I needed to do was to bear down and to put the blinders on and to learn more about myself, which was to jump in the car and just race and have fun on that side of it, but also grow as a person. Now being a 25‑year‑old champion is different than being a 35‑year‑old champion.
I have the potential to show up here January 1, 2004, with two championships under my arm. It’s not done individually. I’ve had great people to lean on. My family has been there to help me. Patricia has been wonderful to help me understand more about life. Having Houston there as an eight‑year‑old, to show him about things in life, it was an element that all came together perfectly.
What percentage I don’t know I could have put on at getting back to this point. I didn’t know how long it was going to take. I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to keep racing, and different opportunities pop up if you present yourself in the right position.
Q. Zippy, you’re only looking at about four months before you have to see a car on the racetrack. Can you talk about the difficulties of adding a fourth team? How did you first find out about all this?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, anytime you expand, there’s difficulties. We expanded last year. We kind of sat back and looked at some of the things that we went through last year, how we can prevent some of them. We can start building cars today, which we couldn’t do last year because of the body change. We can start putting people in here to go to work in the fab shop to take some of that load today, which we couldn’t do last year. We were behind on getting plates in here, things of t
As far as that goes, I think we’re in much better shape than we were a year ago for many reasons, especially, like I said, the car change was huge last year. It hurt everybody. It affected us even more to start than others.
So we already have that I think behind us. I think we’re building great racecars. I think we can continue to build them and make them better.
I talked to Gene, I guess it was jokingly in Nationwide. He said, Let’s start a fourth Cup team. This is a couple hours before he went to the GM dinner. I heard it but I didn’t quite grasp it at that time.
Q. Kurt, you mentioned Houston, the number 360. Can you talk about your transition going from Roush to Penske to Phoenix, Furniture Row, now back to one of the top teams in the sport. Your fans are out there wondering how you’ve come full circle.
KURT BUSCH: It’s been a great journey. When I first started out, I was an undiscovered punk out on the West Coast. Jack Roush put me in his truck. I didn’t know where the brake pedal was apparently because I ran into everything. We had a start to the truck season that was unreal.
By the end of my first truck season, I’m running Cup cars. So from running late models on a Saturday night short track, not knowing how you’re going to scrape together enough money to get to the next race with gas money, nine months later I’m running Cup cars.
Just going as fast as ever, I never knew when to slow down or what was next, I just kept going. With the different transitions through life, coming from young 20s into the later 20s, now being 35, I find myself in a great position with stability in the sport, knowing what I’ve done wrong, knowing what I’ve done right, then having a guy like Gene Haas believing in you and wanting to reach new heights with his team, where I still want to go, what I still want to achieve.
The Stewart‑Haas Racing combination is incredible. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and at the same time I’m pulling out my old go‑kart that my dad got me when I was little, dusting it off, changing the carburetor in it, putting Houston in the seat so he can go drive around in the parking lot so I can teach him the same things that my dad taught me.
Q. Kurt, I know it’s a tough decision, but what are you looking for as a crew chief for next year?
KURT BUSCH: That’s a decision that we’ll all make together here at Stewart‑Haas Racing. There’s four teams that we have to present to our competitors that we’ve got to go up against in Daytona. We want the best guys that we can possibly get assembled.
We have the opportunity to create an All‑Star team here for this group. The Rolodex that Zipadelli has, the people that Gene knows, Custer, Tony, Harvick, there’s a large contingent of people that know a lot of people in this sport. We’ll see how it all filters out.
They told me this is a crew chief‑run organization, so you’re going to want the best leader possible in that position. It could be a veteran or a young, gun‑slinger engineer.
Q. Gene, what would have happened if Tony had simply put down his foot ‑ his good foot ‑ and said, No, this is not going to happen, I forbid it? What happens then?
GENE HAAS: I never crossed that bridge. You know, I don’t know. Tony kind of does his own thing, I kind of do my own thing. I have to admit we kind of think alike.
Like I say, I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did. But I think he saw it my way, you know (laughter). Either that or get out of the building.
Anyway, he has a lot of power. I have to admit, you know, I have some power, too. I think in a sense it’s a check‑and‑balance system where the two powers balance each other out.
I have a lot of respect for Tony. He’s a great driver, past champion. Tony has a lot of respect for me. I carry a lot of depth with my company. We have the ability. How can we expand to a fourth team, where will the resources come from? I am highly qualified in that area to do this. I think that gives us an edge. Putting a super team together with four top drivers, what we have, I mean, that’s kind of like your Dream Team.
I think, you know, initially since it wasn’t Tony’s idea, he was taken aback a little bit by it. But I think he saw it wasn’t a bad idea. In retrospect it looks like it’s going to be a great idea. If we don’t win any races next year, hey, I’m going to look like an idiot.
I take gambles, I made a decision, and I think I’m going to be proven right. I think we’re going to win a lot more races than anybody ever thought possible.
Q. Gene, the talk has been about sponsoring as a primary sponsor. Is that in all 38 scheduled races next year? Do you envision involving any associate sponsorship as well? I haven’t seen anything here about it being a multi‑year contract or just for the next year.
GENE HAAS: Well, the contract with Kurt is a multi‑year contract. Other than that, we kind of keep that private.
We like sponsors. We always have room for another sponsor. We welcome sponsors. We love our sponsors and we’d like to have more. This is a business and we need our sponsors to help make this work.
My primary purpose here, though, is winning. I think if you focus on the winning part of it, the sponsors will come.
Obviously, you decide to hire a driver, chicken and egg, what comes first, the driver or sponsor? In a perfect world, you’d like to have both of them.
In this case I knew that we were going to be able to go out and find a sponsor for Kurt Busch. Like I say, quite frankly, having Haas Automation on the front of the NASCAR is very good advertising, that actually we use the NASCAR races to promote the machine tool business. We do that with customers, with our dealers. It makes very good business sense.
I was just able to step up and make that decision. Time will tell how that all works out. But I’m confident that, if anything, I’m going to win races. I tell you, I’ve been racing in NASCAR for over 10 years, I’ve seen an awful lot of teams put their whole lives and fortunes into racing, and wind up with nothing. I have my little trophy to show for it and I’m very thankful for that, I thank Tony for that. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about winning. It’s about proving that you’re a winner. It’s about transferring that kind of attitude over to your customers that buy your products.
So to me it all goes full circle. I was able to make that decision. Most sponsors take a very long time to decide where they want to put their advertising dollars. I just made that decision in a minute.
Q. Kurt, is the Indy 500 something that you’ll still consider doing, something your new owner is interested in?
KURT BUSCH: It’s something that’s still on the table. There’s certain timelines that I’ve agreed to with Michael Andretti if we’re still going to do the deal. We’re working on things. I mention that to Tony when we got together. He said, Man, if you’re going to run Fontana this year, I’m rolling with you and I’m going to be there with you.
There’s still the concern of running extracurricular races. But right now the focus is obviously on these next two weeks and getting the 78 car in the Chase. We’ll see what opportunities lie ahead. Everything has to be the right situation for it to happen.
Q. Gene, will it change the dynamics of your company? Will this change the dynamics of you within the company a lot?
GENE HAAS: Well, I’ve always been
here at Stewart‑Haas Racing. Maybe I just wasn’t as important. I’ve been to these video conferences, whatever they are, before. No one ever asked me any questions. Now all of a sudden you’re asking me questions (laughter).
Just have to adapt to it. It’s fun. This is part of the business that the drivers get to do all the time along with the crew chiefs. For the most part I don’t think the media is really that interested in the owners. Obviously the dynamics of the race, the drivers, is probably the most important thing.
Will it change me? I don’t know. If people ask me questions, I’ll try my best to answer them. We’ll see where it goes from there.
I think the most interesting thing was the fact that Kurt Busch and Haas Automation coming together was really done by me. I guess that is different than what you’ve seen in the past. In that respect, yes, there’s going to be new dynamics. My main goal here is to win races. I think Tony’s main goal is not only to win races but to run a successful business. I’m more interested in seeing the winning part of it. Maybe Tony is going to be more the businessman now.
Q. Kurt, what does this say to people? You look at celebrities, people learning when they’re young and coming back, what does this say you can achieve and do, maybe people that don’t do everything right the first time around?
KURT BUSCH: This is a tough game. It was on my résumé when I first started out racing to be in the top 1% of any racing division that I got into. When I achieved success at an early age, I was in that top 1%. I began to abuse that, and I wasn’t in the right situation to be at the top anymore.
When you fall away from the focus on what got you to your first goal, the ultimate goal which was to raise up a Sprint Cup trophy, you don’t want to throw away the God‑given talent you’ve been given.
I wasn’t advancing with the sport like I needed to. It all comes around knowing what to do in all the different situations, whether it’s team meetings, interviews afterwards, whether it’s in Victory Lane when you’re going to go down and spray the team owner because he’s the one that gave you that chance. It’s knowing what to do in all situations.
Q. Gene, looking back when you ran a few races with Jack Sprague, John Andretti, the like, did you ever think you’d be sitting here with two champions on your roster, a regular Chase contender, and somebody who is the best‑marketed driver in all of auto sports?
GENE HAAS: No. When I started this thing, I always had an interest in racing. Even going to high school, I used to machine magnesium wheels for a company called LaGrande Racecars in North Hollywood. I’ve been racing cars most of my life. When I started out in 2002, Joe Custer and myself, we ventured out, talked to some NASCAR teams, Bill Davis Racing, we were already working with Rick Hendrick. Rick kind of looked at me and said, I don’t even know why you’d want to do something like this. You’re totally insane to get into NASCAR racing. If you want to get into it, I’ll help you. That was really the start of it.
A lot of people can sit home and watch TV, some of us like to go out and do other things. Whether I failed at it or not, that wasn’t the point. The point was just doing it. That’s what I’ve always done. I never really thought that I could be in a league with Rick and the other teams. But we are. I guess we’re getting there. To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel that much different. If you say it is, I guess it is.
Quite frankly, I won one championship with Tony. It felt good. I’d like to do it again maybe a couple more times.
Q. You mentioned about the trophy. How much did winning that make you more willing to make the kind of financial commitment like you are today? Did it whet your appetite a little bit more?
GENE HAAS: Well, winning the trophy was bittersweet. I think there was a lot of work that went into it, and it felt really good to win that. Once you win it, it’s like, What do we do next?
There’s always another challenge. That’s what I like to do, is figure out what that next challenge is. Once we won that trophy, it would be nice to have another one. Not so much maybe win the trophy, but to put an organization together that can win it.
With Kurt Busch, I saw an opportunity. Even though Tony was incapacitated, I couldn’t really talk to him about it, I just decided it was something that was too good to pass up.
So I think winning the trophy means a lot, but it also means a lot to have an organization that can back it up and do it again. A lot of people, stupid luck to do it the first time. If you do it the second or third time, maybe we have something here. That’s what it is. It’s very rewarding to be able to put together an organization that can accomplish something like that.
I have to be honest with you, by my nature, I’m not a very organized person, not good at putting things together. In my own strange way, I have some talents that I’m very good at. It’s a matter of figuring out what you’re good at, getting it done. I can’t drive a car, but I can have a winning team to go with that car. The fun part is trying to find the people to make it work, the personalities that go along with it. All the people that work here, from the guys that drive the trucks all the way up to the crew chiefs and owners, are all personalities, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun.
Q. Greg, the expectation is that you are going to hire Rodney Childers to be Kevin’s crew chief. Can you say where you are in that process?
GREG ZIPADELLI: We’re still working on that. I feel like we’re in a good spot, but we don’t have it done yet honestly. Hopefully in the next week to 10 days it will be done and official.
Q. Gene, is Tony hooked in like he is with some of the races listening to the press conference? You made some jokes a while ago. Really addressing the issue of this organization and Tony coming back next year from his injury, is there some type of a risk here, anything behind the scenes that people are speculating about?
GENE HAAS: I’m sure Tony is watching it. How you doing, Tony (smiling)?
I don’t know. To be honest with you, I can’t really think about too many times that we’ve had too many riffs. We both like doing this. We both want to win. We’re kind of pointed in the same direction.
To sit there and say we’re at odds… The only thing we could be at odds at is do we have enough money, enough resources. Those are more logistics to figure out. The primary goal here of winning races, kicking butt, that’s what we do, that’s what we want to do. That primary goal is my goal. It’s to put together an organization.
I can guarantee Tony doesn’t really care squat about money. I don’t really care that much about it. It’s an important measure. But we’re using the money to accomplish something bigger than the money, and that’s to win races. These races are incredibly hard to win. There’s so much competition out there. Tony is a diehard racer, Kurt Busch is, Kevin is, I assume Danica is a diehard racer. That’s just what we do. We don’t know what else to do.
GREG ZIPADELLI: Tony was very much in favor of the fourth team. What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year. Just so you don’t read anything more into it.
I had a couple weeks to process it, spend time with Gene and Joe, talk about it. Tony was in the hospital. Tony didn’t know the discussions
that were going on. When we all met and talked about it and assured him we would do our best to make sure things didn’t slip through the cracks, it took him a couple days to process it. I was like, Are you kidding me?
But it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for a race team to have a caliber of a driver like this. I know he’s very excited about it now. But it’s a little overwhelming when you’re first hit with it.
Q. Gene approached you at the Chevrolet dinner about getting this done for next year, is that correct?
KURT BUSCH: We talked when we were at dinner, but it was more about how I could sell more of his machines to Barney. That’s really how the discussion was going.
When you have chances to be in front of people, you’re working on developing relationships. At the Chevrolet dinner, when everybody is there to sit down and just talk about what’s going on at Indy, we just sit there and we’re talking about racing.
Q. When he popped the question, as it were, what was the emotion?
KURT BUSCH: He didn’t pop it. He sent his dirty work guys in there to do that.
No, I got a phone call on a Monday after a race. Looking at different things in life. I’m unboxing things I got shipped back from South America when we went on our vacation in the July off week. I got this bowl that I really liked. It came in a thousand pieces when I got it back. So I’m gluing it together with super glue along with Patricia. The phone is ringing. It’s not a number I recognize, it’s Monday, I should take it.
It’s a real story every driver talks about when they get a call from an owner. That’s the most exciting phone call you could ever receive. There’s a thousand guys they could have called and I’m glad they called me.
GENE HAAS, STEWART-HAAS RACING CO-OWNER, KURT BUSCH, DRIVER OF THE HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET BEGINNING IN 2014 AND GREG ZIPADELLI, COMPETITION DIRECTOR OF STEWART-HAAS RACING WERE GUESTS ON THIS WEEK’S NASCAR TELECONFERENCE.