Hamilton calls on another veteran, Robert Pressley, to help lead the way for Hamilton
Pressley won the season opener at Daytona, giving Bobby Hamilton Racing reason to celebra
During filming of the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder, Hamilton drove a Mello
Hamilton says one of his greatest accomplishments in racing was returning Petty Enterpris
Hamilton says he knows his bread-and-butter lies in the Winston Cup Series, but hes
Bobby Hamilton knows his limitations. As a full-time driver in the Winston Cup Series and owner of a three-truck Dodge team in the Craftsman Truck Series, Hamilton has little room left on his plate. Stock Car Racing spoke with Hamilton about how he pulls off this juggling act.
SCR: In the first half of the year, you, as an owner, and two of your drivers sat at the top of the points standings in the Craftsman Truck Series. As a full-time Winston Cup Series driver, how do you find the time and energy to run a three-truck team?
Hamilton: In any business, you surround yourself with good people, and I am fortunate enough to have good people here at my truck team. I dont have any other kind of hobby, so I basically run through here on Monday and Tuesday and see if they need me for anything. Well talk and compare notes or whatever. Then Ill go do my Winston Cup deal and let them have at it. I dont let it take away from my Winston Cup deal. I know my bread and butter is in Winston Cup, but I know my future lies within this truck team.
SCR: Why did you pick the Truck Series over the Busch Series?
Hamilton: I raced in the Truck Series and I thought it was better racing than the Busch Series. The big reason was I had a chance to go with Dodge and be a factory-backed team. I had known through talking with Richard Petty what effort they put forth. They want to win really bad and will really support you in a lot of ways beyond money.
SCR: Your truck shop is in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, when the majority of the stock car racing workforce is in Charlotte, North Carolina. What keeps you in Tennessee?
Hamilton: Driving Winston Cup cars, you see the same face on three or four different teams throughout the year. The reason is everybody lives in Charlotte and they just roll their toolbox from one shop to the next. Since I started this deal three and a half years ago I might have had one turnover and I am up to 34 people now. I didnt want to invest my time in someone, have them learn what youre doing, and lose them to another race team. Everybody lives here and the few people who have moved up here, stay here.
SCR: You are part of a Winston Cup team that has seen firsthand the current economic strains. Yet, as a team owner, you added a third truck to your stable. How are you promoting the Truck Series to sponsors?
Hamilton: We just look at it as TV time. We are all proud in Winston Cup of the TV package that we have, but they are not allowed to mention sponsors. ESPN, Jerry Punch, and all of those guys work really tight with us in the Truck Series. They give the sponsors all kinds of credit. They talk about the drivers. They talk about drivers appearances or truck appearances down the road at a Dodge dealership. Here I am with a $2 million sponsorship and my truck is getting $5 million to $7 million a year in exposure. I think last year we were at 930 sponsor mentions, 920 manufacturer mentions, and 800 driver mentions. That is totally unheard of in Winston Cup. That is the sales force we use with it.
SCR: One of your drivers is an African-Americanwhich is a rare occurence in stock car racing. Tell us how Bill Lester came your way and how you got involved in the Dodge Motorsports Diversity Program.
Hamilton: Dodge actually brought it to my attention and asked me if I would be interested. We did the deal with Willy T. (Ribbs) last year. They wanted Willy because he had established a name for himself and had been around in various motorsports, so we did that last year and built the program. Then we jointly wanted to make a change for this year. We started testing drivers and Bill was actually one of the first guys I tested.
SCR: One of your drivers, Brian Rose, is a veteran of Nashville Speedway USA, as you are. Do you see a little of yourself in him?
Hamilton: Brian has a lot of ability. He listens well. He is a very good racer. The thing that surprises me with Brian is he will look lost at a place like Darlington. Hell go out to qualify and suck it up and cut a lap. Then we go out and practice Happy Hour and are one of the worst trucks there. The next thing you know, we are leading Darlington and finish in the Top 10 on the lead lap. He is just that kind of guy. When the flag drops, something natural comes out. I think he knows how to let his ability take over and not let his worries take over. We are hoping to build a program with Brian here. I dont have a contract with Brian; I am just trying to help his career along a little bit.
SCR: Is it true that Bobby Hamilton Racing is planning on running a couple of Winston Cup races this season?
Hamilton: It has been tossed around. One thing I have to stress: a lot of people think sometimes you get too much on your plate. Clint Eastwood says in his movies, Every mans got to know his limitations. I know my limitations. Until we get completely caught up around here, we are looking at something deep in the second half of the season. I know for a fact that it helps my race team. We built a Winston Cup car here two years ago and went to Homestead with Little Bobby (Hamilton Jr.) and made the race down there. It made my race team so much better with just that one race because they worked in the atmosphere of professional Winston Cup teams. So that is the main reason I do it. I thought it would be pretty cool to put one together again. We will start right now and build one car. It will take three or four months to build it. Then we will go test it and be ready to race.
SCR: You talk about having this Truck team as something to fall back on when your career as a driver is over. Are you grooming your team for Bobby Hamilton Jr.?
Hamilton: That is in the back of my mind. The way he is coming along nowhe is with a good race team; he could surpass us and that is OK, too. I could keep going on with my own deal. The bottom line is that I dont have anything else to do. I dont understand football, baseball. I cant play golf. I can play a little pool, but you learn how to drink beer when you do that. I just love NASCAR racing. I am going to let the sky be its limit. Im going to let it go as far as it can go. If it goes to Winston Cup, Ill try it. If it doesnt, Ill stay in trucks.
SCR: You have a great attitude about Bobby Jr.s racing career. You basically let him go out there and learn on his own. However, has there been some advice you have given him?
Hamilton: The advice is there if he needs it. At first, there was a lot of advice. There was a point when we felt like he didnt have his heart in it; but I think if you asked him right now he would say he definitely has his head in it a lot more than he did three years ago. To watch him finish in the Top 10 leading laps and almost win, not to even be on the radio with him is great. To just know he has taken the ball and run with it and has learned how to work with his people and communicate with his crew chief makes me feel really proud of him. He has taken that upon himself to learn how to do that.
SCR: Your start in racing was actually working under the hood with your father and grandfather.
Hamilton: Yeah, it was. I think that has helped me along. There is probably nothing on a Winston Cup race car that I cant do. If the motor man isnt there, I can adjust the valves; I can read the spark plugs, adjust the carburetor. Hell, I can pull the cylinder heads off and put another pair on if we need to. I can build the gears, transmission, set the car up, build the shocks. That is something that has always interested me. I would probably be a little out of date on it, but I can make us finish the race.
SCR: With that mechanical knowledge, do you think you have an advantage over those who dont know the difference between a speed bump and bumpsteer?
Hamilton: Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. What I have learned is that if you have a smart crew chief, let him make all the calls. When you know something is wrong, then you can speak up. A mechanically inclined driver can over-engineer himself at times. I only speak up if I know something is wrong. If Im not sure, I dont put my two cents in.
SCR: Your first Winston Cup start was in 1989 in Phoenix in a car used for the film Days of Thunder. You qualified fifth and were running in the Top 10 when NASCAR asked you to retire from the race.
Hamilton: The car was actually owned by Rick Hendrick, but was shown as owned by Paramount Pictures. Stories escalate as the years go. We actually had a motor problem. They were monitoring all the movie cars and knew we were having a motor problem. Rusty (Wallace) had already gotten spun out by a rookie and it could have cost him the championship. We elected, along with NASCAR, to park. We led the race. We were the best qualifying Hendrick car. There was nothing else to do. I got a lot of exposure. To play it safe was to park the car.
SCR: Was there actual footage of that race in the movie Days of Thunder?
Hamilton: Yeah. The movie shows me in the No. 51 Exxon car at Phoenix running. That is actual footage of it. I also drove the No. 51 Mello Yello car at Daytona.
SCR: From there your career took off. You have won a race in four out of six seasons and driven for names like Petty, Sabates, McClure, and Petree. How important is it to you to have given Petree his first win, or the Pettys their first win since 1983?
Hamilton: Richard Petty is probably the best thing that ever happened to me as a driver. The whole Petty familyLinda, all the kidsthey are just great people. To go to Victory Lane for them, to see Richard get emotionally choked up on pit road, to know that we had to send after Dale (Inman) in the bathroom because he was real emotional, seeing Lindas face. Kyle stuck his head in the window after the race. He was shaking my hand and had tears in his eyes. You just never would have dreamed of how much it meant to them, seeing the No. 43 back in Victory Lane. That is a moment Ill cherish for a long time.
SCR: What about Andy Petree jumping on your car last year when you won Talladega?
Hamilton: I told him it reminded me of someone falling out of an airplane landing on the hood. Just all of the people I have worked with, there has been something special there.
SCR: How much of what you put out on the track is for you and how much of it is for your team?
Hamilton: You know, I have never looked at it like that. I am more concerned about performing well for my race team. When I run bad, I feel bad for my race team, not for myself. Drivers have good days and bad days. Those guys are the ones who put all the work in it. As far as what you get paid to do this, nobody gets paid enough. The drivers and owners are the only ones who make any money. The only bonus the team gets out of it is seeing their equipment run good.
SCR: You have four victories on four different types of tracks. Your win at Talladega rid you of the flat-track racer title. You seem to be proficient on any type of racing surface, but what is your favorite track?
Hamilton: It is easier to ask my least favorite. I dont like the cookie-cutter racetracksthe one groove tracks like Kansas and Chicago. All these new tracks will become multiple groove racetracks in two or three years. I just have a problem when you have to pass a guy on the bottom and he is running on the bottom. You cant do anything because you are stuck in traffic. I like road courses. I almost won a road course last year when I finished second to Jeff Gordon at Sears Point. I love restrictor plate racing. Heck, I just enjoy what I do.