Quote Quest Story and photos by Dwight Drum Web work by Larsen & Drum
Drivers Today, Drivers Past. Part Two
Sources: Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR, NHRA, ANd IndyCar teleconferences and the Internet
Do drivers today need more skills than drivers decades ago?
Kenny Wallace (NASCAR)
“I think that argument with the driver vs car has been going on forever. To me it’s like a horse race. It’s like in the Belmont this year where Big Brown won the first two of the Triple Crown and there’s always that question, who wins the horse race the jockey or the horse? My firm belief is always been the trainer. All the jockeys are pretty good or else they wouldn’t be there.
“That’s the way I feel about our sport. I think all the jockeys are pretty darn good or they wouldn’t be there. I think what separates our drivers is not who is good or who is bad it’s what team has found out what trick. We look at Carl Edwards where he found the twisting of the rear end to be the deal. Last year Hendrick jumped up and found something early. I think NASCAR spoils great race car drivers. I think it has to come down to who is finding what in testing. That’s really the deal.”
Patrick Carpentier (NASCAR)
“I think you have to do so many things. I think that just personality-wise, media-wise and sponsorship-wise are as important and more than what you do in the race car also. It’s gotten to a point where all of it is pretty important. A lot of guys are really true racers and don’t really care about the rest of it, it’s harder now days. But as far as driving the car and racing it, a good racer is a good racer. He’ll end up at the front no matter what.”
Marcus Ambrose (NASCAR)
“I’m not sure about that. I think it’s always been a team sport and the driver is in effect the team leader. He’s the guy responsible on race day to bring that car home as far as he can with the help of the crew. That hasn’t changed in 50, 60 years. It’s always been the same.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. (NHRA Pro Stock Car Champion)
“You can certainly answer that question two ways. Without question technology has improved with our equipment making the cars more efficient; hence smoother or possibly easier to drive. But, on the other hand, there are many more competitive cars fielded today than years ago which makes it much more stressful and difficult for drivers!
“Bottom line is you must reach the finish line first to WIN!”
Jack Beckman (NHRA Funny Car Driver)
“Great question. I think that any time you put more competitive people in a single environment, it raises the level of performance for everybody. I think stick-and-ball sports you can make the same argument. Forty years ago most of the drivers were also the owners and the tuners. Their objective, quite different than ours today, was to make money. They did a lot of match races. They’d do as many as a hundred match races a year, so they’d beat the cars down road, unload ‘em, drive, load ‘em back up. So there wasn’t this specialty. Today a lot of the drivers are just that, drivers. Our other duties include interacting with the fans, and with the sponsors and the media. So I think it has freed us up to focus on things that can help us be better at our single duty out there on race day.”
D.J. Kennington (NASCAR Nationwide)
“I don’t know if you have to have more ability. A lot of the drivers today are just drivers. They couldn’t go build their own race car. You go back in the days, like Rusty Wallace and Matt Kenseth, they could build their own racecars from the ground up. They’re fabricators. They’ve done it all. I got a lot of respect for them. A lot of the kids coming in now are so young they don’t even have the opportunity to do that yet. They’re just really good drivers. I guess they deserve to be here too. It’s kind of an evolution. Now they have engineers and crews that do so much work to these cars that drivers don’t have to. Their main job is to concentrate on driving that car. That’s what they have to concentrate on and the crew has to concentrate on making it fast.
"Our situation is a little different. I love working with my guys. If we don’t have enough guys I get right in there and help them. I go through tech with them and so on. I just absolutely love it. For me I don’t think I could do it any other way.”
Eric McClure (NASCAR Nationwide)
“Not necessarily. Obviously there is a difference between the popular drivers and the inexperienced drivers. The difference now between drivers would be the amount of technology in the sport now requires more out of the drivers now than it would say 10 years ago."
Wayne Taylor (Grand Am)
“It’s a great question and it’s a difficult one to answer. I look at Formula 1 today and I look at those drivers of the 70’s. My gut feeling tells me drivers of the 70’s were more talented drivers than current F1 drivers because I think in the 60’s and 70’s the driver was the driver making the difference. It wasn’t engineering aides or technological aides. It was all about the driver, so I think the modern era certainly in Formula 1 is not at the same level as those past drivers.”
Eddie Cheever (Grand Am)
“Every year racing and every sport gets more difficult. In racing the arrival of technology makes it a prerequisite that you can dive in and understand everything that’s around you. I think drivers have improved dramatically when it comes to making sure the machine works around the track. Would Petty be as good as he was then? Most likely. But he’d have to learn a different series of things to be successful. Drivers are very good at picking out what they need to be successful.”
Jon Fogarty (Grand Am)
“Not really. We don’t have to have special abilities that drivers in the past didn’t have. We don’t really have to worry about the safety needs of our equipment. We pretty much stretch ourselves to the limit from the getgo and just try to make it go. If something breaks we rely on our suppliers to make our car stronger or better. It’s a different sport and I think the way Grand Am has done it with the prototypes and the GTs. Without traction control our cars are not super technologically advanced relative to classier series that are racing around the world. We definitely have our hands full out there. We still drive with the feel of the car. We don’t have driver aides. There are certain skills like I mentioned with the equipment. The safety level has come up so much in these cars as well. We probably don’t have as many reservations as drivers in the past have.”
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