The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit with Eric McClure by Mike Neff -- Friday May 11, 2012

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Beyond the Cockpit with Eric McClure

Mike Neff · Friday May 11, 2012

 

Eric McClure met with the assembled media at Darlington Raceway Friday morning and discussed his physical health, his recollection of his wreck, his steps to get back into the race car and how safe he feels in his race car. After the public press conference he made a little time for Frontstretch to ask him a handful of questions and get his honest answers.

Mike Neff: Darrell Waltrip made a comment during one of the shows last week, as they were viewing your wreck, that he did not think your throttle hung. In the press conference today you said your brakes weren’t there when you hit them on the back straight. Did your guys look and see if your throttle acted up? It looked as if you sped up but was it just that your car didn’t have brakes and everyone else did?

Eric McClure: I think that was what it was. I know my foot was not on the throttle. I know that for a fact. I don’t have the speed numbers so I can’t gauge what happened. If you look at the replay, as soon as the smoke happened I let off the gas, there were no brakes, you could see a couple of cars go by me and then I never slowed down from there. I believe I’m a good enough driver to take my foot off the gas, but the brakes were the issue, the biggest issue. You’re going so fast at that race track, even just on the first lap coming up to speed that things happen that quick and you just don’t have time to slow down. We were involved in a wreck earlier in the day where we got run over by the 24 trying to avoid a big wreck and I had the brakes locked down to a point that it flattened the tires and I still slid from before the start/finish line all of the way to turn one with them locked up to where I slowed down enough. I think it is deceiving and I don’t have all of the data from that but I do know there were no brakes.

MN: They talked a little in Carl Edwards’ press conference about where you hit that there was still SAFER barrier but a little further down there was not. Do you remember when you were headed that way if you saw where there wasn’t SAFER barrier and does this reinforce the fact that cars always seem to find a place on a track to wreck where no one thinks they will?

EM: I assumed there were SAFER barriers there, you don’t think about that when you’re racing. It seems that the wrecks that are publicized you always notice that there weren’t SAFER barriers. Obviously, in life sometimes, you have to find out what went wrong before you can make it right. I think SAFER barriers should be everywhere but that isn’t my call. I don’t think it was some kind of negligence on anyone’s part. I’m thankful I hit the place where there were SAFER barriers. I’d be afraid to think what would have happened if I hadn’t. I didn’t think about it, I was just headed straight to the wall and I figured it was going to hurt. Y’know, honestly a lot of things go through your mind. Everything slows down. In reality it may have been two seconds from the time I got turned until the time I hit but it seemed like an eternity. It is hard to put into words everything that was happening. I really can’t explain it properly. I also think what happened was a freak deal. I don’t think you’re going to have wrecks like that a lot, but I think that was a very hard hit and a situation where I don’t think you’ll have another wreck like that right there at the track. However, to be safe, I think you definitely need to have SAFER barriers on as many parts of the track as possible.

MN: You made a comment during your press conference that, now that you’ve been through that wreck, and I know it might have been a little facetious, but relatively walked away. Is the sport almost to a point where the sport is so safe that the drivers have almost got a false confidence that maybe the danger element has been diminished more than it should be?

EM: I think, from a perception the danger is diminished, but it is something that drivers don’t think about. It is always there but you think the cars are so safe and everything NASCAR has done has made it to a point that you can drive over your head a little bit. What I meant by the comment was it should give me more confidence to drive because, maybe there has been a time where I had to qualify on speed and I just had to go and couldn’t think about what could happen. In my situation, in the early years of my career, we wouldn’t have a backup car or we only had a couple of cars at the shop so you can’t wreck a car. When you’re in a situation where you aren’t competing for wins, which sadly is the reality right now for our team, you have to think of the greater picture and what is best for your organization. So now, it never was a concern that I am going to wreck and get hurt it was always I can’t wreck the car. Now it is like ‘I can drive as hard as I can and what is the worse that is going to happen?’. So that isn’t going to change the perspective of how many cars we have at the shop, that is always going to be something that plagues teams like ours but, at the same time, I don’t know that I’ll ever hit harder than that in my career. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t but I hope not. So maybe you can drive into these places and if the car does this and was supposed to do that, what is the worst that is going to happen? I’ve never, except early in my career part timing or in a situation where we had to qualify on speed, it was always a blessing to qualify well but it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Growing up in situations with Morgan-McClure and then driving for Jimmy Means and things like that, you didn’t have the luxury that some of the development guys have of going out there and wrecking until you found the edge, you had to creep up on the edge because you can’t afford to step over it. Now, maybe I have a little more leeway, at least from a personal perspective, now I can drive a little extra, over my head a little bit when the situation warrants it, and not have to worry about the repercussions.

MN: During the press conference today, I looked up and noticed your car was on the track, during practice, while you were answering questions. Did you happen to look up and see it when that was going on and what went through your mind at that moment?

EM: Broke my heart, it was just sad. I love to do this. I’ve never claimed to be the greatest at it but I believe I am a good race car driver and I set goals for myself based on that, but I’ve always seen it as my car for the last two years. Jeff has been there for me the last two years and we’ve become really close friends. He’s helped me become a better driver and he’s filled in for me when I’ve been sick or helped in practice if I needed somebody to jump in and feel something. But when you come down to the situation, and you know in your mind that you’re not going to be in the car at all and someone else is going to drive your car, but seeing it right there made it real. It hurt my feelings a little. I like to do it and I like to challenge myself to get better. I try to get better every week. It is hard knowing that it is your guys and that is your friend but they’re doing it and you’re just there for moral support, and you’re not the focus and that is ok. It was tough to see it and I almost commented on it but I didn’t know what to say. I’m not the only guy that that has ever happened to, that has ever had to step out, but that was the first experience I’ve ever had where I’ve known coming in that someone was going to drive it. I probably wasn’t ready to see it but I’m here to support those guys and I know that is my car and my team and they are behind me 100% and tonight I’ll be a good teammate. It is about more than me it is about our sponsors and it is about Tri-Star. I’m glad that Jeff has an opportunity to race because he’s helped me so much, I’m glad he gets that chance.

Everybody is a racer and I don’t speak for people who are in the start and park position, but as competitors they don’t want to do it but it is a way to still be in the sport. By Jeff doing that he is a big help to me, and so is Mike Bliss, but Jeff just being there for me, and this is another incidence of him being there for me. Of course he wants to race and I’m glad he’ll be able to do it because he is a good representative for our partners, but as far as the race, I’m not worried about Jeff, I’m sure he’ll do very well. I think it is a good opportunity for me to listen and hear his feedback. There are a lot of times that I’ve learned over the last years that when he drives the car and I drive the car we’ll run the same speed and have the same lap times, but his feedback is different. He can help me help the crew, and that is one of the biggest weaknesses I have, relaying exactly what I want. So it is a good opportunity.

I wondered if anybody noticed that it was on the TV. The first time seeing that was a little challenging at first but I’m still proud to be here and be part of the team.

MN: Who is your seat manufacturer?

EM: Butler.

MN: I was just curious because that was obviously a huge factor in you walking away from that crash.

EM: It was. I’ve used different kinds over the years and I just like the feel of that one and I’ve been in wrecks before and they’ve always done what they’re supposed to do but I was pretty proud of my little seat there.

MN: Is this your second concussion?

EM: I’ll just say I’ve had more than one.

MN: Ok, well kind of like cautions, concussions breed concussions. Normally it makes it easier, once you’ve had one, to have a second one. I know you said something about following the NASCAR protocol to get back in the car. Do they establish a baseline, like the NFL does, where you have to take a test before the season or something to have a baseline and then, if you get one, you have to get back to within a certain amount of that baseline before you’re cleared?

EM: There is nothing before the season starts. There are reasons they do that, but I’ll tell you the people they consult with, in this case I’m seeing Dr. Petty, they have their own ways, based on their experience, to determine whether you’re ready to participate. So I’m following that. I’m sure it probably varies by the doctor but I know Dr. Petty is very thorough and has a lot of experience with drivers and other folks in the industry, so I’ll do whatever he asks me to do. I know there is concern, while concussions seem to be a rarity in the sport, but in my case I’ve had a couple and I know it is a precautionary deal because you don’t want to get in the situation where it becomes easy to get one. I hope that’s not the case. I don’t wreck a lot but it seems like when I do it is big. I’ll do what they say. I look forward to getting back in the car. I always feel like I need to be in the car. I want to. I have the desire to race and I’ll do whatever I need to do to get back in full-time.

McClure added that his wife fully supports him in his endeavors and there was never any doubt about him getting back into the car after this incident. As tough as it was for him to watch someone else pilot his car on the aging surface at Darlington he knows it is for the best in the long run and he’s going to be patient so that he doesn’t put himself in harm’s way before it is reasonable.

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