| - February 22, 2005
The Daytona 500 is history. We were competitive all week but didn’t produce the results I expected. We managed to get to the front – or near it at least - in every race. We led the Shootout, got 2nd in our qualifying race, led the Busch race in the Aaron’s Dream Machine and clawed our way to the top-5, only to end up 18th in the NAPA, Best Western, Domino’s, Sofa Express & More, Klaussner, Remington, Coke car (that’s even harder to type than it is to squeeze into a 30 second NBC interview). 18th, not too good. But wait. I led the 500 in 2005, broke a motor and finished 38th. Restrictor plate races have always been a strong suit for me; however, my 2005 average finish was about 30th in those events. While we didn’t finish where I believe we should have, a top-20 isn’t too bad for a new team. Waltrip/Jasper Racing is off and running. Derrick Finley, my crew chief that works with Bill Davis Racing did a great job all week. We communicated well and made good adjustments to our car. The next plate race is not until April in Talladega and I know our whole team will be better prepared.
Our off season test, preparing for California didn’t go very well. Derrick and the boys decided to take back a brand new NAPA car. While we were busy in Daytona, Tom Hoke – our shock specialist and several MWR and BDR engineers and employees were back in North Carolina testing our new California car in the wind tunnel and on the 7 post suspension shaker machine. These tests proved valuable and will put us in a better position to compete.
Obviously the last month has been quite hectic. It has also been lots of fun. Getting back in a race car, getting to know a new crew and the most fun was getting to tell the world about Michael Waltrip Racing’s 2007 plans to race the NAPA/ Best Western Camry. The announcement was history making and we were certainly proud to be a part of it. Toyota entered the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004 and blended right into the NASCAR landscape. Their philosophy upon entering the Truck Series was to partner with new teams instead of buying away existing teams from other manufacturers. Darrell Waltrip Motorsports was one of those new teams. While Toyota was successful in 2004, it was a building year for all their teams. In mid 2005 the Toyota teams began to dominate the series. Poles and wins came most every week. A year and a half Toyota went from start up manufacturer with start up teams to domination. Pretty amazing. As most of you know, I do the SPEED TV telecasts of the Truck Series. Prior to the season beginning Flex Fuel 250 at Daytona last week, our broadcast team was asked to choose which driver would win the 2006 NASCAR Truck Series title. Several of us picked different drivers: Skinner. Bodine. Reutimann. Everyone’s choice had one thing in common – They all drive Toyota Tundra’s! Very strong statement.
Toyota is using the same entry philosophy as they enter NASCAR’s top series - new teams. Michael Waltrip Racing is working hand in hand with Toyota developing the 2007 Camry. With the quality people we have on board, we will be a key technical partner in all areas of the building process. We are even developing our own 2006 Dodge cars. The reason for this is three fold. First, to run a five-race 2006 schedule, which will be announced Friday afternoon of the Las Vegas race weekend next month. At that time, we will also announce a driver and sponsor combination. Secondly, to assist Toyota in understanding where the cars that are on track today are aerodynamically. And lastly, to help MWR’s employees to stay current with the competition. This group will be much better prepared to race in 2007 because of this plan.
Waltrip Racing World is gaining more and more momentum. On February 6, 2006, we finalized zoning approval for the entire 11-acre campus. We plan to begin demolition and renovations by March 1, 2006. Everyone we talk to about our fan friendly, interactive entertainment based concept believes it will be a hit. Race tracks, baseball stadiums –heck, all sports venues have become interactive. Now, the first race shop will be. Our real estate partner, Noah Lazes, has been busy visiting other race shops, Daytona USA, Basketball arenas, etc., making sure our project is the latest and greatest in the world of sports-themed destinations.
Bobby Kennedy, MWR’s V.P. of Competition, along with Larry Carter, MWR and former Penske Racing crew chief, have been equally as busy making sure every detail is in order for the team to produce the fastest race cars possible out of our facility. We are blessed that Larry recently helped in the design of Roger Penske’s new Penske Racing shop. His experience and knowledge of the project ensures me our team will need nothing when we move in.
Thanks to all of you who have made this possible. I’m off to California.