The Cockpit and Beyond · Toni Montgomery · Thursday July 27, 2006
David Green, the 1994 Busch Series champion, has been a staple of the series for a number of years. With the Cup drivers grabbing the majority of media attention this season, Green has spent his year flying under the radar with the No. 27 Kleenex Ford, but he still has some things to say before 2006 is done, and is very much looking forward to a possible return to Victory Lane. Green talked with Frontstretch about growing up in a racing family, some ideas for the future of the Busch Series, this week's race at Gateway, and the great fans of NASCAR.
Toni Heffelfinger, FS: Tell us a little bit about growing up in a family with three racing brothers. Are you guys super competitive?
David Green: Absolutely. Even from the very beginning. Tricycles, bicycles, go-karts, and then the local tracks. Mark and I are like 13 months apart where Jeff is a little bit younger, but Mark and I were in the same class in go-karts and such. Mark was the first one to get into stock cars back home, and then Jeff and I followed. Jeff was in another class, so Mark and I were probably the most competitive early on…but once Jeff got up there into adult classes, it was a three way battle. Very competitive…but all that was good, I think, because as we grew up each one made the other ones more competitive. We always felt like Mark was the best driver, but just never got the good break it seemed like Jeff and I got.
We're very competitive, but very supportive, and I think it's kind of cool and unique that out of all the hundreds and hundreds of drivers everywhere that not only did the three of us get opportunities to run the Busch and Cup Series, but that we were able to win championships. That's really cool from the family side of it.
Toni: What do they put in the water in Owensboro? What's the secret?
David Green: Well, I don't know if it's the water because we're better known for barbecue, so I've always said it's the barbecue! Seriously, I think it’s since there was a local track, Kentucky Motor Speedway, and Darrell (Waltrip), way back when, kind of paved the way, or at least got the road laid out for us. And then Jeremy (Mayfield), Michael (Waltrip), and the three of us, plus a lot of crew guys just kept following that dream. The city and community were supportive of racing, and I think that was generated in Darrell's days. We also had Nashville close by and Louisville and Indy, plus a lot of go-kart tracks that we could all go to in the radius of Owensboro and be able to race with a lot of different people and become competitive. That, I think, is the key, and the bottom line is none of us ever gave up. We just kept digging.
Toni: You're heading to Gateway this week. How do you feel about your chances for a win or a good finish there?
David Green: It's always been a good track for me personally since we started going there. I ran some Cup races those first years that Gateway appeared on our schedule, but ever since I've gotten to run there, it's always been a really good track and I've had some really good runs. It's always one that you mark on your calendar. It seems like in the past, this has been the time of the summer when we've really hit our stride and gotten going. A year ago we were able to win Pikes Peak about this time of the year, so we went in to Gateway fresh off a victory. I know this particular week we're taking one of my favorite cars, and it's one of our best cars.
If history repeats itself, we'll be a contender, but this year has been full of a lot of disappointments. A lot of little things that each and every week have seemed to pop up and detoured our progress…we've had to work really hard at getting back on track through the course of the event. With the competition level the way it is right now in the Busch Series, you can't have any kind of detours or hit any stoplights. You have to hit them all on green, you know? So we hope we can shake some of our bad luck. I know Saturday night at Gateway, if we do our job as a team, we can be a contender for the win.
I'm excited about going there. It's always cool and exciting to get there because our series sponsor is based there, and we're celebrating 25 years for those folks being involved in the series. This series would not be what it is, which I still say is better than the Cup Series because of the competitiveness and different venues we go to, without Anheuser Busch. It's great that they've stuck with this series and never ventured off into Cup, just like my sponsor, Kleenex, who has been in the sport for 13 years and has never said they'd like to go off and do something in Cup instead. They're a true Busch Series sponsor, and it's kind of cool that we can bring those folks in on the celebration as well. We're due for a good run, and I'd really like to do it there. It's kind of close to Owensboro, just a couple of hours away, so there will probably be some extra friends and family there as well. We're ready, and we want to shake all the disappointment we've had in the last month and turn it into a victory.
Toni: Let's talk about the Busch Series in general. If you could be in charge of the series, what would you do with it?
David Green: I think, for the most part, it was headed in the right direction. The last three or four years, with testing in Cup being limited and now no longer allowed, it has really brought the Cup owners and drivers into the series. I'm not by any means saying that's bad, because to be the best you have to beat the best. Even though I think some of the best drivers are in the Busch Series, it's always good to welcome those other guys. But what I would like to see happen is to make room for new Busch Series teams and drivers, just like I was able to get my start and Jason Keller was able to get his start. We were able to use our talent and abilities to get in the series and not use somebody's checkbook to get into it, so to speak, or have a sponsor that took us right into it. We had to earn our way in.
I think the big picture of things nowadays, I keep hearing there's a driver shortage, there's not a good driver pool, and I don't see who thinks that's true because there are several drivers, not just in the Busch Series, but in the Truck Series and other series that can do the job. We've almost kind of strangled the system that the Busch Series was made famous for, and that was bringing new owners and new drivers into the sport. The Busch Series brought new people into NASCAR, and then, as they won races and championships and elected to move on to Cup, they had their good training ground (in this Series). We've just strangled that now because we have twentysome Cup drivers attempting a lot of these races, and it's basically just pushing these new teams and new drivers out the door. It's taken about three to four years for this to become an issue, but it's now an issue.
I think if we have too many people at a (Busch Series) race, the ones that need to go home (should be) the slowest of the Cup drivers. What a race that would be…if cars don't go fast enough to make the race, don't send the Busch guys home, send some of those guys home.
Toni: That's a really good idea. I like that suggestion.
David Green: Yeah, they won't listen, butâ€¦ You know, a perfect example is Charlotte. There were 25 Cup drivers and 50 cars showed up, so we're going to send seven home. That's 25 Cup drivers out of 50 cars, half the field. So to me, the seven that should have gone home are the seven slowest of those 25 Cup drivers. No matter where they ended up qualifying, the seven slowest should fail to make the race. That does two things: That allows those seven Busch teams that got sent home to now participate, because this is the Busch race. It's not the Cup Series…it's the Busch Series race, so they get to participate. Those seven that went home will naturally get stronger and if they attempt another race, they will hopefully get in, because they're not running a full schedule, so they can bounce their races around. The other thing is, by sending seven home, that still leaves 18 (Cup drivers), if my math is right, in the race. I still will bet my paycheck that the bulk of the people sitting in the grandstands will not get up and leave when those seven Cup drivers fail to make the race, because there are 18 more of them.
If you do it this way, it keeps everybody happy. Those seven that went home can't be mad because they're not Busch regulars, they're Cup Series regulars, and they would just rebound and get stronger and come to the next race. It would be a race within a race for the Cup guys to make the field. It also keeps the Busch Series people happy because if they had a rule like that, it would safety net the Busch teams. I, and a lot of other people, would not hesitate a second to start a team because we know we would be covered. We have signed up to run all the races, and we know there would be a provision in there that will basically keep us in the race.
Another thing is, why does the Cup Series lock in the Top 35 in points when the Busch Series only locks in 30? I think the reason is if we locked in 35, then that would lock out five Cup teams from having the opportunity to get in the race. Maybe that's all we need to do. Maybe NASCAR just needs to say, “Hey we're going to bring that number up to 35.” Now, all of a sudden, five spots will be more than likely filled by a Busch Series team because they're going to be there every week trying to get into that Top 35. I think the bottom line is we just need to take care of the Busch Series teams that have elected to compete because it is the Busch Series. If we were over there trying to make the Sunday Cup race, we would not expect any kind of provision to make sure we got in the race, and there won't be. We just have to roll up our sleeves and do it. It's all about preserving the Series the way it is, but not excluding those guys because Tony Stewart would be the first to say there is a law saying you have to give everyone the opportunity to compete.
We're not saying you can't compete, we're just saying there has to be some guidelines because this is the Busch Series, not the Cup Series, and we have rules too. That's what I'd like to see happen.
Toni: Would you be in favor of changes to the Busch Series cars in order to help give the series its own identity?
David Green: A body change would be OK, but as soon as we talk about changes, we start talking about the money that it would cost to make changes. Now, the argument I have is why not just change the Cup cars? And they are. The Car of Tomorrow (CoT) will be the biggest benefactor to the Busch Series in a long, long time. If we can institute the CoT sooner, that will knock out some of those guys wanting to double dip, because now there's no comparison (to the Cup cars). I'm almost to the point of saying, why should we change our cars? Why tell the Busch Series owners that have smaller budgets that now they have to spend another couple hundred thousand dollars to change all your cars. That's not fair.
But what I'd like to see done is maybe a different tire. Tires cost the same, so why don't we just run a tire that's totally different. A Goodyear tire from the year 2000, maybe. Let Goodyear make those tires for us, and oh, they might be a little bit cheaper by the way. Not cheaper in construction, but cheaper in price, and then let the Cup guys run whatever they want to run. That way, there's some differences in the cars. When I started in the series in '91, we had the sixes (six cylinder engines). We had the same bodies, but different engines. The wheel base has always been different, but the engines alone kept a lot of the drivers from double dipping just because they didn't learn anything with the V-6s.
We didn't run as many companion events either, which I think is good in a way, but it's also not good because we need to go to the big markets, too. We need to reap some of the benefits of the big purses. But do we need to run all those big venues? No, we need to keep running tracks like Gateway, and even Martinsville, and IRP. Pikes Peak was on the schedule last year and now, all of a sudden, they dropped it. It was a nice little race for the Busch Series. Anytime we're separate from the Cup guys, it seems to make it a little bit harder for them to get there, a big number of them anyway. In Gateway, with the off week, there will be the typical seven that are running, and to be honest, at this point in the game it's not about knocking those seven out of the field, because they have elected to support our series 100%. In a way, yes, they are Busch regular drivers.
Now, as we take it further, eventually we would get into a discussion about those guys because they have all their Cup personnel that's supporting those teams which is still a big thorn in our side, but first things first, and that is to get our car count back up with Busch Series teams and drivers. When that all happens, then we can go a little deeper into it. If I were to put myself in the place of a Nextel Cup owner and I had an established team and driver that was winning, do you go risk the chance of that driver getting hurt, or keep your focus on your Cup program? I'd say (the Cup program) is priority. I don't think there's a problem when someone like Robert Yates Racing puts Stephen Leicht or Matt McCall in a Busch car to help him learn. That's no problem because there you have an inexperienced driver that's trying to learn, but it gets a little bit tough when there's 25 Cup guys that show up at a Busch race and they're all probably in the Top 35 of Cup owner points or driver points.
It gets a little bit lopsided on the playing field. I think it's a several step process, but again, what I said earlier about our Busch Series owners and drivers getting in the race, that's step one. Once we get that nailed down, we'll go a little bit deeper, but there just needs to be a difference in the series to where we can generate new owners, drivers, and crew members, and then as they get to that point, they can graduate to the Cup Series. It's almost like going to high school or college and going straight to the 12th grade. There was never any process along the line to establish yourself to that point.
Toni: Do you think it should be allowed that drivers can run for championships in both the Cup and Busch Series?
David Green: That's probably step two in the process. To answer your question, no. I think it's going to be awful odd and strange to the race fan. It's not going to be so much to us, because we're in it every day. But how's it going to be when the Busch Series banquet might have to be delayed if it's on the same weekend as the Cup banquet, because the Cup champion or the Cup driver that finished in the Top 10 in the Chase can't jump on his jet and fly to the Busch banquet because he won the Busch championship. The banquet would have to be delayed because the Cup driver isn't there yet.
I'm kind of joking about all that, but I do feel for the Busch Series, for Anheuser Busch that we have to share that. It should be simply that here's the Busch champion, and one day he might move to Nextel Cup, but now it's going to be diluted.
I'm not giving in and throwing in the towel. Obviously, we don't have a shot at the championship this year as a team. Is it fair? No, it's not fair to the fans that don't understand it, and it's not fair to our series sponsor and it's not fair to our series that this happens. Maybe they'll address it, but bottom line is they'll say that David Green's complaining because he can't beat those guys, so he just wants to run them out of there…But I'm telling you, the biggest satisfaction in the world is to beat Kevin Harvick or Carl Edwards and Reed Sorenson and those guys, and we welcome that every week. But is it really fair? It's the Busch Series…are you a Busch Series driver or are you a Cup driver?
That's just my opinion. It's not going to affect me at this stage in my career; in a way, it's more of an impact on my team. My team is based out of Kentucky…we're a Busch Series team and we have no affiliation with a Cup team, and I don't see us doing that in the near future even though I think we ought to. It's tough on my team to compete on the level that we should be competing at. In 2003, we won four races and came within 14 points of winning the championship racing against Brian Vickers in the Hendrick car. Since then, we've lost grasp of that just because the series has been diluted with all of these Cup teams. We can do it, it's just a matter of getting the playing field back to equal.
Toni: Now that we've talked about the heavy issues, it's time for some fun questions. What kind of things do you do in your time off for fun?
David Green: I don't know that I get to do a whole lot. I've got a nine year old daughter and a five year old son and they're fun, but, as you can imagine, it's a lot of work. Maybe if there's anything I can put into being fun, it's just spending time with them, whether it's Kaylie doing her cheerleading competitions or Austin's riding a go-kart now and doing some go-kart stuff. Eventually some day maybe he'll want to follow in Dad's footsteps. I'm a big drag racing fan, so whether I watch it on TV or get to go be at a drag race, Greg Anderson is a good friend of mine that runs NHRA Pro Stock. That's probably my only hobbies I get to do that are relaxing, but that kind of gets diluted as well because things are so busy with everything else and keeping track and being in a frustrated mood after a frustrating weekend.
Toni: What's the most unique fan experience you've ever had?
David Green: Things have been pretty quiet on that end of it. I really can't think of anything that steps out of bounds, other than maybe signing a person's arm or a leg and then come back a race or two later and they've had that tattooed on their arm or leg. That's maybe the most far-fetched I think I've seen. But speaking of fans, the thing I'd want to say more than anything is besides being extraordinary like that, how much support they have not only to a particular driver, but to a sponsor/driver relationship. Dating back all the way through the Slim Jim days and Caterpillar days, AFG Glass days, Timberwolf days, and now Kleenex/Kimberly Clark days, the fans are 110% supportive of not only me and our sponsors, but they seem to really be able to put a direct relationship between the two. To me, what really drives me more than anything is the presence of having the fan support there that in turn flows over into our sponsor's day to day activities. There's nothing greater, obviously winning races is cool and very satisfying, but there's also a lot of satisfaction knowing and hearing fans say, "Hey, we're making sure we're buying Kleenex. We like your team, and we like you, and you're a good spokesperson for Kleenex." To me, that's a grand slam, and winning races are home runs, but the sponsor relationships are grand slams and we can't do it without them. That, to me, is the most special part of it.
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