Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup champion, took part in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference on Tuesday. During the teleconference, he spoke, among other things, about his son Chase’s racing career. Chase Elliott currently races under a development deal with Hendrick Motorsports and runs a partial NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule. Bill Elliott also touched on the possibility, or lack thereof, of possibly racing again, himself. Here’s the transcript:
Q. Bill, on July 28, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 20th time. What does it mean to win at such an historic racetrack?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, I think going there, even for the first time — everybody relates kind of racing to either Daytona or Indy. Having us and having NASCAR and Cup being able to go there was very important.
To pull off a win there, along with Daytona — don’t get me wrong, all of them were big wins, but that was definitely a great place to win a race. And I’ve always enjoyed racing there over the years that I did race there.
Q. If you could just give us a comment on Chase and his career, and you know, where — I don’t know if you look at it more as a dad or a team owner or whatever the perspective is, but just kind of how he’s doing.
BILL ELLIOTT: Depends on what time of the day.
I think he does very well. Just looking at it from the standpoint of, you know, kind of where we started at, and the things that we’ve done and the direction we’ve gone into, you know, step-by-step, when we first started running go-karts on dirt to transitioning to asphalt, to Bandoleros and Legends and late models and now K&N, Truck, ARCO; I look at it as it’s been a very good transition.
I feel like we’ve got the ability to do it. Just you’ve got to have all the right pieces around you. I feel like for the most part, we’ve got most of it, being with Hendrick and Aaron’s, but there’s still things that you can’t control as time goes on and get in different circumstances.
But I see it, I couldn’t expect any better, and I guess it’s kind of gone farther than what I ever thought.
Q. Chase talked earlier about learning from his mistakes and improvement on little things. How close do you think he is to winning at, say, like the Truck level.
BILL ELLIOTT: I think very close. I mean, given the right circumstances, as good as we’ve run the past number of races, and you never know and it’s all a matter of circumstances, getting in the right place at the right time, and you don’t necessarily have to have the best truck. You’ve just got to put yourself in position to win.
You know, as I said a minute ago, we’ve got a great group of guys around him, and given the right circumstance, I believe he can have them, but on the flipside, it can go the other way, too.
But I think it’s very, very possible. I mean, we ran really well at Dover. You know, you kind of look at that scenario and how tough a racetrack that is, and you know, now we’re going to Iowa and we’ll just — he’s had good success there in what he’s run there.
So, you know, he’s got a pretty good understanding of that racetrack and he seems to do very well at those top racetracks, from Phoenix to Iowa to Loudon to Dover. We’ve got to kind of take it a step at a time, but I feel that things are going in a very good direction.
Q. As a dad and a racer who has been there, can you envision in your head seeing your son celebrating victory lane after a NASCAR event?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, I’ll worry about that when the time comes, but it is a good thing. You’ve just got to — you know, just never know. I mean, you don’t count it until it happens, and you worry about that on the next step. You know, hopefully everything will go in a good direction, and you did what you’ve got to do. But I guess I’m too much of a realist.
But you know, it’s a tough sport, and that’s one thing you’ve got to understand about it. It’s not a very forgiving sport, and I think you’ve seen that the last number of races here with Jimmie and all the guys; somebody can have a really good race going, and all of a sudden things can turn around and go the other way. Just Lady Luck’s on your side that afternoon and put all the pieces together that you come out in victory lane.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, just listening to Chase answer questions and his demeanor, I mean, if you didn’t know better and you were just listening, you would think that he was 26 or 27 years old. He’s just amazingly mature for his age. What do you attribute that to in his upbringing? What did you guys do? I mean, he really is — it really catches you off-guard how mature he is for his age.
BILL ELLIOTT: I don’t know how to answer that. I just — you know, he’s been around a lot of — he grew up around the races and a lot of adults. He handles himself very well from that standpoint, and from there, I don’t know.
You know, we’ve tried to — I think a lot of it is just being able to — as much as we’ve traveled and as much as we’ve done, it just kind of puts you a little bit in that position. But he seems to know what he wants. It’s just if we can just get there.
Q. Question, if you allow me to stray off the Chase topic and talk about your career. As the most popular driver for so many years in a row in that contest ongoing, Dale Junior has won it many times in a row. What did it mean to you for so many years to be chosen as the most popular driver when there were stars like Earnhardt and wall ace and Waltrip and all those others? What does it mean to you?
BILL ELLIOTT: When you look back on your career, that is probably one of the most gratifying, because you kind of instill in a fan base — you know, there’s a lot of fans out there that kind of caught on and started following Chase, and a lot of the people that have followed my career have kind of backed away from racing and it’s now kind of comeback to following it today with him.
You know, if you look at the whole scenario, and that’s the most important part, without the fans in the stands, there would be no sport. And that’s whether they are in the stands or watching on television or through all other social media that you’ve got, that’s the key part, without any injuries. Just like anything else you do, if you don’t have any injuries, if nobody has any interest in it, it’s going to go away. I think that’s a very key point that we’ve all got to keep in mind.
Q. When you decided to step away from that and withdraw your name from consideration, were you worried at all that fans may — there might be some kind of backlash; that they didn’t have that kind of choice to support Bill Elliott anymore.
BILL ELLIOTT: No, not really. I think at the point in time, it all worked out great. You know, Dale Junior, with all the circumstances that happened there with his dad and stuff, and everything that went on, I think everything just kind of fell into place.
You know, you just never look back. I’ve always been a guy that’s kind of been, I would like to say, kind of under the radar, so to speak. You know, I felt like that some days, I was undeserving and it’s hard as the fans work in what they do and the way support you, it’s very gratifying from the flipside of it. It wasn’t taking anything away from the fan side of it. It’s just my demeanor.
Q. I asked Chase earlier, Rick Hendrick made the comment a few weeks ago that he thought he wanted to put Chase in a Nationwide car next year. Can you talk about, do you feel like Chase is ready for Nationwide, and where would you say he stacks up to where you were around the same age?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, I’m not even close. I mean, you know, I think everybody misses the point, if you’ve looked at what he’s done to this point, it’s incredible.
If you just look at the pure racing side of it, when I was 17, I wasn’t just barely but racing, ran about a handful of races a year, ten, 12 races, that’s it. I didn’t go very many places.
When I got old enough, my dad took me to Daytona and then we started from there. I think we went to Atlanta first in the fall and then we tried to go here and there around and about, but back then, God, racing was so different back then. You had very few options of what you could race or where you could go and what you could do.
And now, you’ve got so many options to do, and I’ve just tried to grow him to get him as much experience at the different racetracks as we possibly can. But my God, what the kid’s already won is just incredible.
Q. Do you feel like he’s ready for Nationwide?
BILL ELLIOTT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s no question in my mind. You know, the Super Speedways might be a little — you know, a little bit of time to get a little handle around, but I don’t think that’s an issue, either.
But you know, the bad thing about going to Daytona or Talladega, it’s either you run well or wreck, and that’s just kind of the way it is. I think going from the Truck to the Nationwide to the Cup level, everybody feels the same way (laughing).
Q. Are you planning to drive any more on the Cup level, or are you basically starting your petition to be a Hall of Famer one day?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, you know, right now, I’m just trying to weigh my options — do more races, or if that’s in the cards, I’ll go the other directions. I’d like to go out and do some other stuff, but right now try to focus on Chase and what he needs to do on that side. That’s kind of been my focus here the last number of months, and, you know, take that a step at a time, and once that kind of goes, then go from there.
Q. You said you would like to weigh your options; do you have any options for any more Cup races?
BILL ELLIOTT: I don’t at the moment. There’s just not a lot of opportunities out there. You know, after driving the car that I drove the last Fourth of July for Turner Motorsports, and that’s as good a car as I had and as good as that car ran, man, it’s hard to do any less, I’m telling you.
And the problem is, it’s just, man, it’s just such a struggle today. I mean, either you go out there and make your laps or you go out there to run good. I want to race to run good, but man, it’s just hard to do.
Q. You hear fans all the time talking about, why is Bill Elliott a candidate for the Hall of Fame — I said you have to be out of it for three years to be eligible. Do you get asked that same question?
BILL ELLIOTT: Yeah, and I’m still young — you know, young in one stance and not in another.
Right now, that’s something that I feel like I’m looking at down the road, you know, not trying to make it sooner or later. But like I said, I just — right now, I’m just kind of waiting.
Q. Was there a point in your career, early in your career, where you thought, I can do this, I can go to the top levels, early in your career? And I asked Mario Andretti about watching for talented kids, and he said not all kids are created equally. You know, your son, do you see something in him early that you knew that he could be able to do this?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, just watching him do different things and the way he handles himself, I feel like he’s as good as anybody there. There again, you’ve got to get in the right circumstances.
You’ve got to have — just like Jimmie, just like, for example, you take Jimmie Johnson, just use him as an example. You’ve got to have good people around you. You know, Chad’s been good for Jimmie and vice versa. And then Chad has been able to keep that nucleus of team around him through good and bad times. And that’s what it takes.
If I look back on my career, and the things that happened and transpired throughout, there’s always something going on that caused me to either run good or run bad. If you had things going in a good direction and people were working together and in a good direction, then we ran well.
But if something happened, just like, for example, my brother, Ernie was a big part of my deal (ph) and in ’86 and he got sick and couldn’t come to the races and we struggled that year. In ’87, came back, won races, won a championship in ’88, came back in ’89 at Daytona and it was a struggle from that point on.
’90 was a tough year and ’91 was equally a tough year with deciding he didn’t know if he wanted to stay in racing, come or go.
And then I went to juniors, and that first year at juniors, man, it was unbelievable. We won race, almost won the championship again. Then we struggled from that point on. But you know, you just look at through my deal with McDonald’s, I ran well, but I never was able to come to the next level.
Looking where racing really got turned around through the 90s when Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham and we driving for Ray early in 2000 kind of opened my eyes to what I missed throughout the nine ties.
But yet, you look at all that, and it’s all — long story short, it’s all how you get yourself aligned regardless of who you have. I think that’s a key part of making your career successful.
Q. The time just flies by. It seems like just yesterday that I had that opportunity to interview you in downtown Jackson. Can you explain to what you have to do and what you have to go through watching your son on the track; it’s just not being a proud father, is it.
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, there’s so many pieces to the puzzle, and that’s what I’ve been trying to allude through everything I’ve said. It’s more than just putting a car on the track. It’s how well it handles itself. It’s how well the crew chief and everybody meshes around him.
It’s how well you handle the different circumstances that are thrown at you, and I think that’s as important as anything is how you handle the different things that are thrown at you, and that’s things that I look at.
I mean, just like us, the only reason Harry Melling came along with us at that point in time that we did — I mean, we had a hell of a work ethic. We worked hard and we did what we had to do, and hairy saw that in us and took a chance. And we didn’t let him down and I think that was a key part as time went on.
And to me, without the Harry Mellings of the world ever giving me a chance, I would have never made it. So anyway, that’s the way I look at it, and to me, as you continue on through your career, you need everybody to keep things going in place to make things better as you continue on through your career.
It’s just a lot of hard work and it is a constant battle to keep things going forward in that direction. I think that’s the key part of being successful and not.
Q. Do you feel the desire to go out and race?
BILL ELLIOTT: Oh, yeah, I think so. You know, I would love to do it. But you know, just you’ve got to — it’s just like what I said a minute ago. You’ve got to have all the right circumstances.
And to me, without putting all the good pieces together, and that’s where I look at as time goes on, to kind of make things better. You’re only as good as the equipment you’re in, and if you don’t get good equipment, then you’ll never know how good you really are.
To me, it’s a point of getting the right circumstances and getting the right things together. That’s the way I look at it today. There’s so many good drivers that are on the sidelines that are looking for that good drive.
Q. And what’s your take on NASCAR today as compared to when you started out in it in the 1980s?
BILL ELLIOTT: The racing is so different. I look at it, you know, where our cars were more, I’ll go back to the 70s when I kind of started. It was more of an open — more of a — you didn’t have the engineers. You went to the junkyard, you pulled out a car, you put your beefed up suspension and you did what you needed to do, and that’s the things that made it better.
As time went on, you know, the cars got better. Safety got better. Everything is so much different.
Now if you don’t have the engineers and you don’t have all the right people, it’s hard to go out — I guess long story short to your question is to me, without all the right people to help you do what you need to do, it’s hard to go out on your own.
You just can’t go out and race without having the engineers and the right people and a lot of money to make it all work, and that to me is the key part. If you are don’t have that, you might as well sit and watch.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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