Tony Stewart probably said it best. The 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion was signing autographs at a grand opening for another Home Depot store. It was midway in the '03 season, and Stewart was still in the hunt for a repeat title. But he wasn't optimistic about his chances.
"It's tough to repeat," he said. "To win a title, so much has to go right. And a lot of those things are nothing a driver has control over, like getting caught in a wreck you had nothing to do with, or like a mechanical failure on a part that just shouldn't break.
"Then you figure it all has to go right two years in a row," he explained. "The odds are really against it."
Yet it happens. It is becoming rare in Nextel Cup, but at local tracks there are some drivers who so dominate their hometown oval that what they can't control in luck they can make up for in skill, familiarity, or consistency. Their houses and shops are filled with trophies, and they emerge as icons among their peers.
Some of the best ones go on to become champions in NASCAR's Dodge Weekly Racing Series. Some are track champions, others win divisional titles, and a few go on to become the nation's top short-track driver.
It isn't all driving skill, says Andy Bozell, who has conquered all comers at Kalamazoo Speedway for the past seven years. It is knowing how to be around at the end of the race, scoring as many points as possible, and being able to wring every ounce of performance out of a car without crossing the line and ending a good run on the outside wall.
Bozell and four other of short-track racing's most successful drivers shared their secrets of what they see as keys to becoming a track champion over and over again.
OK. They didn't share all their secrets. But here are the ones they-and some of the people who have watched them dominate their ovals-were willing to talk about.
Raw PowerBozell won his track titles and the NASCAR national weekly series championship in 1998 in one of racing's toughest classes.
He drives a 2,600-pound Outlaw Modified in a class with no engine rules. You stuff as much power as you can find between the framerails and hang on.
"We run at Kalamazoo Speedway, a 31/48-mile high-banked oval, and we turn 12.5-second laps," he said. "So it's pretty quick."
Bozell likes the track. It is 20 miles from his home, the management is fair, and the track pays a good purse. That's important when you expect a race car to pay for much of its own keep.
"Consistency is the key," he said. "You've got to be on the track at the end to score points."
To do that, you have to recognize when you have the car to win, and you have to keep it underneath you until the checker flag falls.
"We don't dominate the competition," he said. "There are a bunch of cars at the track every weekend that can win."
Bozell says he has won some championships with as few as four wins in a season, and others with as many as seven.
"But we always score points," he said. "Last year our worst finish was Fourth."
He says a driver must recognize when he has a car capable of winning and when the best he can do is finish Third or Fourth.
"You can wreck a lot of cars trying to take a Third place car and force it to First," he said. "If you want to win a championship, you have to look at the larger picture."
Part of that is looking at what other teams are doing.
"I always look a few series up from where we are," said the engineer-by-day. "I look at the latest technology in Cup, Busch, or Craftsman Trucks and study what they are doing and then decide if it is something we can adapt. There are things you can always learn from other teams."