Truck Series team owner Billy...
Truck Series team owner Billy Ballew gave Shane Hmiel a chanceto return to NASCAR last season.
SCR: What was it like coming into the Busch Series with the'Young Guns' tag?
HMIEL: My first year in Busch in 2002, I was the second or thirdyoungest guy. The Young Guns thing was cool, but at the end of the day,I didn't race as well as I thought I needed to. I went from a Goody'sDash car to a 35-race, unsponsored, under-funded Busch team. We had notesting, so I'd show up at a place like Darlington without testing. Ijumped in and that was it. It was like 'what do I do? Am I good? Wheream I getting beat? Am I not giving good feedback? What's the deal?' Itwas tough. I wish it had been a 15- or 20-race schedule instead of thefull season deal. I was completely lost. I needed to sit back and watch,evaluate and figure out what was going on. Still, I have to thank GeorgedeBidart for giving me that opportunity because without it, I wouldn'tbe here today.
SCR: When you started shopping yourself around for this year, wasit an open or closed door with car owners?
HMIEL: The team owners and crew people were more open to myreturn than the sponsors were. I didn't get reinstated until the weekbefore Daytona, so it wasn't like everyone knew I would be coming back.I've actually tried to use what happened to me as a positive by speakingat events like D.A.R.E. graduations. I'm just hoping that the sponsorswill come around. It's going to take some to win them back, but theowners and people inside NASCAR have been great.
SCR: You wound up with Billy Ballew Motorsports in the NASCARTruck Series. How did that come about?
HMIEL: I saw Billy at a restaurant and he asked me what I wasdoing. I had never met him before, but I knew who he was. I told him allI was trying to do is to get reinstated. A couple of weeks went by andwhen it looked like that might happen, I told Billy that I would workall winter helping him get his trucks ready for the season and if I wasreinstated, I would drive. If not, we'd put someone else in it. As itturned out, I got reinstated right before Daytona and we wound up doingpretty decent. After that, Billy asked me to drive for him some more andwe've been able to run the full season, thank goodness.
SCR: How about the Truck Series? What are your impressions ofthat series after coming out of the Busch ranks?
HMIEL: After the first 15 races this season, I was 16th in theTruck Series points. Last year, I missed nine races in the Busch Seriesand finished 15th in the standings. You tell me which one you think ismore competitive. If you're not in a DEI, Hendrick, or Ford-backed entryin the Busch Series, you are not going to win. End of story. In theTruck Series, where all the vehicle noses are the same and they make alot of drag and downforce, the driver can make a big difference. Otherthan Cup, the Truck Series is the best thing going.
SCR: You almost won the truck race at Memphis and Bristol, buthave also have had several other top runs produce disappointingfinishes. How frustrating has that been for you?
HMIEL: I would rather lead the race all day and lose it on thelast lap than finish fifth because a bunch of people fell out. All Iwant people to know is that I was there and my truck ran good. That'sall I care about.
SCR: You've been getting some shots in the Busch Series like theNo. 38 car at Indy and are also doing a five-race Cup deal for BillDavis Racing. Do you see yourself headed back to Cup or Busch soon?
HMIEL: I don't know. It depends where everything falls. BillyBallew has given me a great opportunity and he is the first guy to giveme a shot at coming back. That means a lot to me. Billy and I are morethan an owner and a driver. We're good friends. We talk about six timesa day on the telephone. I talk to him more than I talk to my mom andgirlfriend. Billy knows that I have to make a living and we're doing thebest we can finding sponsorship deals. Billy works night and day on thatstuff. I want to stay here, but if Billy got a $5 million sponsor andthey wanted to put another driver in the seat, I'd be mad at Billy if hedidn't do that. No matter what happens, we're going to do what's bestfor each other.
SCR: With NASCAR getting younger every day with guys like KyleBusch and Vickers, do you think you still have a shot at a Cup career?
HMIEL: Sure, I'm only 24. Other guys like Scott Wimmer and JohnnySauter are 26. I don't think it's going anywhere. If you can drive, youcan drive. If I was 35, it might be a different story. Heck, it might bethat way when I'm 30. By that time, they might be putting 14 year oldsin the seat. I don't need to be able to tell my grandkids that I racedin Cup. That's not what I am about. I just want to race and becompetitive each week. As long as I can make a good living doing that,it doesn't matter to me where I do it.
SCR: You've moved on from your past - do you think Cup owners andsponsors will do the same and eventually give you that chance?
HMIEL: Six months ago, no, that wouldn't happen. Today I can saymaybe. Six more months, hopefully. It's all going to take time. I thinkthe sponsors can take what has happened to me and turn it into apositive. If they look at what I have come through, that could be apositive story for a company. I'd like to think that could happen. Itmight not. I think there are ways to use what happened to me to do somegood. We just have to find the right company that believes in that kindof story.
SCR: What's the most important thing you've learned over the pastyear and a half?
HMIEL: My biggest lesson, other than not being an idiot, is tonot give up. I've worked a lot harder to get back than I ever worked toget where I was before this happened. I was 22 years old and I thought Ihad made it. I was a racecar driver, had a lot of money, girls, parties.Now it's two years later, I lost everything I had, and I'm workingharder and I'm happier than I have ever been. You just don't know howgrateful I am to be doing this again. It means everything to me.