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TRANSCRIPT: Tony Stewart, Gene Haas talk about team's switch to Ford

Posted On Tuesday, 23 February 2016 19:00 Written by
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TONY STEWART, Co-Owner, Stewart-Haas Racing – CAN YOU EXPAND ON THE DECISION TO SWITCH TO FORD IN 2017?  “First and foremost, I want to recognize our relationship and successes with Chevrolet.  They’ve been an awesome partner and we’ve done a lot of special things together, including two championships and a ton of races.  We hope to do that again this year.  As far as moving forward, this is a constantly evolving sport.  From our side with the ownership and senior management we try to make decisions that best position us for the future, so we consider our partners, our drivers, and our employees when we think of these strategies.  We feel this future relationship with Ford provides us with a bright future, great stability for SHR, and an opportunity to compete at a very top level in the sport.  We’re obviously very excited about it.

RAJ NAIR, Executive Vice President for Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer, Ford Motor Company – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ADDING A TEAM THE MAGNITUDE OF STEWART-HAAS?  “We at Ford are obviously thrilled to be able to add a championship-caliber team like Stewart-Haas Racing to our NASCAR program.  Since we started these discussions it’s been clear that everyone we’ve talked to at Stewart-Haas, whether it’s Tony or Gene or the rest of the team, have that same passion for winning that we do, so this incredibly talented team of drivers and personnel that they have, we think, is really going to fit well into what we’re trying to do in this sport.”

GENE HAAS, Co-Owner, Stewart-Haas Racing – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PASSION FOR WINNING?  “I think I’ll start with thanking Chevrolet for providing us with such a long and awesome run to bring us to where we are today with two championships and 30 race wins.  We are aligning ourselves, though, with Raj’s vision of his winning model and that’s really who we’re going to partner with, and we think it provides the kind of ability and resources that will ultimately bring Stewart-Haas Racing the stability that it really needs.  Racing is a difficult sport that has its ups-and-downs, and we just feel this is a good decision to help the Stewart-Haas members and all of our employees for the long-term commitment that we seek.”

DAVE PERICAK, Global Director, Ford Performance – HOW DOES THIS ADDITION FIT INTO THE OVERALL FORD PERFORMANCE PROGRAM?  “I think you’ve seen over the past year with the formulation of Ford Performance that we have a different approach to our racing program.  A lot of people have heard me say that we don’t race to race, we race to win and we also race to learn.  So we’re truly using racing as an innovation test bed in development of new technologies, tools and our people.  I think Stewart-Haas brings with it just an enormous amount of expertise and the way that they approach racing is a very technical way, so all of that is going to blend very well with what we’ve been doing within Ford Performance and how we are approaching now our racing program.”


TONY STEWART CONTINUED – HOW WILL THIS IMPACT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HENDRICK THIS YEAR, IF AT ALL, AND IN 2017 WILL YOU WANT AN ALLIANCE WITH ANYONE OR CAN YOU DO IT ALL IN-HOUSE?  “As you know, we’ve had a great relationship with Hendrick Motorsports.  Rick was a big part of helping me meet Gene and Joe Custer and helping me become part of the Stewart-Haas family.  We’ve had a great relationship with their motor program, the chassis program and the technical side and we’re grateful for the partnership we’ve had with them, but, obviously, it will change in some respects for 2016 with this news, but we believe we’ll still have a really good working relationship for another year this year.  As far as next year, we’re trying to do everything we can to try to be as self-sufficient as we can going into 2017.  We’re gonna be adding a lot of personnel to our organization, doing our own chassis program, and we’re excited about it.  We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s not just changing OEMs, it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails, to a certain degree, and really get out on our own and I think that’s something everybody here at SHR is really excited about and proud that we’re finally in a position to do this and branch out in this way.”

WILL YOU EXPECT THERE WILL BE A STEP BACK IN PERFORMANCE FOR A YEAR OR TWO AS YOU GET UP TO SPEED ON DOING YOUR OWN STUFF?  “I don’t honestly think so.  I feel like our relationship with Hendrick has been changing a little bit over the last year.  The technical side of it has changed quite a bit going into this season, so we’ve kind of been working this direction.  I think we’re early enough in the season this year that it will give us some time later in the year to really get working on this project.  I don’t feel like it’s gonna be a step backwards.  We’ve got Greg Zipadelli.  We have Rex Stump, who came from Hendrick.  I feel like we’re pretty stacked on personnel and quality people that can make sure when we make this move that we’re as prepared as possible.  I don’t anticipate any setbacks, to be honest.  I fully feel like when we come out of the box next year we’re gonna have our ducks in a row.  Sure, there could be growing pains, but I’m pretty confident in our staff and our group here that we’re gonna be as prepared as we can be going into next season.”

HOW LONG HAS THIS DEAL BEEN IN THE WORKS AND WHAT WAS THE GENESIS TO GET YOU GOING IN THIS DIRECTION?  “It’s been a little over six months.  Honestly, it started out as casual conversation in passing and then the conversations got more serious obviously.  The more we talked to the group at Ford, the more we realized that our passion and desire to win races and championships, and their approach, is very much in line with how we approach it at Stewart-Haas Racing.  There wasn’t anything in this deal that was a disappointment from the Chevy side.  We weren’t disappointed with what we were doing with Chevy, but we felt like when we got in conversations with the Ford group that it just really seemed like a partnership that made a lot of sense the further that we went into it.  The longer the conversations went, the more excited that both sides were about making this a reality.  That’s really how it all evolved and came to where we are today.”

WAS IT ALWAYS THE INTENTION TO BECOME MORE SELF-SUFFICIENT AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO BE THAT WAY?  “I think we’ve been very pleased with our relationship with Hendrick, obviously, and we value that.  But I think from the time that I came into Stewart-Haas Racing, we never initially talked about being self-sufficient.  We were very happy with our alliance with Hendrick Motorsports and we still are.  We’re still proud of that, but as time has gone on, and like we said, the sport evolves so fast that there are aspects of it that you realize as time goes on if you’re gonna truly put yourself in a position to be at the top of the field each week, there are things you have to do on your own.  I think we’ve learned a lot with our partnership with Hendrick and have valued that, but at the same time I think when Rex Stump came into our organization that gave us a lot of confidence to change directions and feel confident that we could do it on our own.  There have been a lot of conversations in-house with us and making sure that this was something we all felt comfortable with and was the right decision.  Everyone in upper management all agreed that this was the right thing for our company and we were committed to being able to do this and do it in the right way.  I think from day one, none of this was just done on a coin toss.  Like we said, we put over six months of thought into it and after that we realized that we feel very comfortable with this decision to branch out and do what we’re doing now.”

DAVE PERICAK CONTINUED – WHAT WAS IT SPECIFICALLY ABOUT STEWART-HAAS THAT ATTRACTED YOU AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ROUSH FENWAY RACING IN THE FUTURE?   “We mentioned already that we’re excited to add a championship-level team like Stewart-Haas to our portfolio.  We definitely are very serious about winning championships.  I think we have demonstrated that passion to do so and there is no doubt that the Stewart-Haas team comes with that capability.  That’s really important to us to be adding that to our lineup.  As far as what it means for Roush Fenway, we’ve been partners with Roush Fenway for a long time.  We’re committed to them and we look forward to continuing a relationship with Roush Fenway.  This doesn’t have anything to do with that.  This is really about adding to an already strong Ford team and making it even stronger, and aligning all of our teams around the vision that we have of getting back in the winner’s circle.”

THIS WOULD GIVE YOU 13 TEAMS UNDER THE FORD UMBRELLA.  WILL THEY ALL BE SUPPORTED IN THE SAME WAY THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST?  WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ROUSH AND RPM?  “We’ve been increasing, through Raj’s support and the reorganization within Ford, we’ve been increasing our involvement and our technical support of all of our teams.  This is just going to be another addition.  We’re not eliminating or reducing support of any of our current teams.  We are going to make available to Stewart-Haas the exact same level of support.  We’re continually increasing that support each and every day.  We’re in this to win it and we’re in this to get back in that winner’s circle, so everyone will get the support that they’ve been getting, and Stewart-Haas will be in addition to that.”

WILL THE DRIVER DEALS AT STEWART-HAAS BECOME FORD PERSONAL SERVICE DEALS?  “I don’t think that we want to go through that detail at this time.”

TONY STEWART CONTINUED – YOU HAVE A BUSINESS TO RUN.  CAN YOU ADDRESS LOOKING AT BUSINESS VERSUS LOYALTY ON A MANUFACTURER CHANGE?  “Obviously, for 20 years I’ve been under the GM banner.  I was very honest when I spoke to our employees this morning.  I never would have dreamed that we were gonna be having this conversation today, but, at the same time, because of this being a very big business – I have 280 employees to look out for, their families, I have Gene’s best interest to look out for when we’re making decisions here.  It was a business decision.  It’s what is best for our company going forward.  There’s a little bit of a tug-o-war with me because of my loyalty, but, at the same time, I didn’t have any of those relationships when I came into this sport.  I went through the same thing when Joe Gibbs Racing switched to Toyota.  I was with Toyota for a year before I came over with Gene’s organization, so I’ve kind of been down this road.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been on Twitter since 9 o’clock reading what everybody has been writing.  I respect everybody’s views on it, but this was a decision that was made because of the passion that I see with Ford and their commitment to Stewart-Haas Racing in the future.  I understand there are people that are gonna be upset about it, and then I’ve read comments that people are ecstatic about it.  This is what we felt like was best and as a business owner you can’t overlook great opportunities and that’s what this was – it was a great opportunity for our company.  I wouldn’t be doing my job as a car owner if I didn’t look and explore every opportunity that was out there to make our company better and help give us the best opportunity to win more races and championships in the future.”

HOW MUCH IMPACT WILL THIS HAVE ON YOU THIS SEASON AS FAR AS DEVELOPMENT AND INFORMATION SHARING BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT FORD YET, BUT A LITTLE LESS CHEVY THAN YESTERDAY?  “Yeah, we definitely understand that, but at the same time we’re committed to Chevrolet this year and we’re committed to winning races and trying to contend for a championship again this year.  They realize that.  We’re still all-in this year with Chevrolet.  Our partnership with Ford doesn’t start until next year and we’re excited about it, but this year we’re still a Chevy team and we’re still committed to going out and doing everything we can to win races and a championship for them.  That’s what we do.  That’s our commitment as a race team.  We still respect our partnership with Chevy at this point.”

GENE HAAS CONTINUED – DID YOU EVER ENVISION THE DAY YOUR ORGANIZATION WOULD ENJOY THE SUCCESS IT HAS AND THEN ONE DAY BE ABLE TO VENTURE OUT ON ITS OWN TWO FEET?  “Right from the start Rick Hendrick has always been a very supportive partner and businessman.  He’s given us the best engines, the best chassis.  He’s provided personnel for us and he actually provided our first shop for us.  I don’t think Rick looks at this as this is a betrayal of him.  It’s more like he treated my first Haas CNC Racing as kind of his own child and he was doing everything he could to make sure we were successful.  He was never selfish about it or looking to benefit himself.  I think he respects the decision we’ve made because the bottom line is it’s a business decision that, I think, enhances Stewart-Haas Racing in the future.  It’s just an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and it’s one of those things that it’s kind of like Rick would look at it like, well, this is something that you need to do and I think he understands that.  I know Rick and I actually think he probably would be quite happy about it and saying ‘it’s good to see that you guys are gonna be a long-term player in NASCAR racing,’ and this is just the path we’re taking to get there.”

TONY STEWART CONTINUED – WHY MAKE THIS ANNOUNCEMENT SO EARLY IN THE SEASON?  “It’s very hard to keep secrets in this sport and for us to be able to work for over six months on this and it to stay as quiet as it has has been pretty remarkable, I think.  No matter when this got announced we’re still committed to what we’re doing in 2016 with Chevy, but I think as we kind of figured, things were going to start getting out.  We’re being proactive in announcing this.  We’re gonna get it out there and then go back to business.  I don’t think timing was necessarily an issue other than just making sure that from our side we contacted Rick Hendrick and let him know that we were probably going to make a change, and talking with Chevrolet and working through the details on that side.  I don’t know that the timing was really a big issue for us, other than we just wanted to make sure we were more in control of it than letting you guys get the ball early and run with it and make it a little bit more chaotic for us.  By doing it now, we’re able to be controlled with it and strategic with what we’re saying and how we’re doing everything and making sure we’re respecting our current partner as well as letting everybody know that we’re excited about our future partners.  I think it’s been done the right way.”

RAJ NAIR CONTINUED – WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN HELPING SHR MAKE THIS TRANSITION?  “I think that’s one of the reasons we did want to announce early is so we could start working that transition and start having the engineering teams working together.  Obviously, it’s a big change for Stewart-Haas with a change in the body and change in the chassis, but we’re going to be doing a lot of work with them to support that changeover during this year, and then on the Roush Yates side I think we’ve shown that we provide some excellent equipment that doesn’t differentiate whether that’s going into a Roush Fenway car or a Penske car and in the future going into a Stewart-Haas car.  The initial discussions have been really great.  We’ve been really enjoying the discussions working with Zippy and his team, and I think it’s going to fit in well with the program we have planned.”

TONY STEWART CONTINUED – “From our side, we’re focused on Atlanta this weekend, Vegas and Phoenix and Fontana, obviously, but we realize at some point we’re gonna need to start preparing for the transition.  It’s way too early in the process to have an exact map for how that’s gonna work, but it’s definitely gonna take another layer of employees.  We don’t want to do anything to compromise our 2016 season, so we definitely are going to have plans to work on it, but it’s not strictly detailed on exactly how that’s going to play out.”

GENE HAAS CONTINUED – ONE OF THE BIGGEST RIVALIRIES HAS BEEN FORD AND FERRARI.  DID ANYBODY THINK ABOUT THAT?  “That was a long, long time ago.  You’re talking about something back in the sixties.  I think over the years I feel that that animosity is probably gone because I don’t Ford and Ferrari really compete at the dealership level anymore.  It’s kind of humorous you say that, but I don’t think Ferrari is going to say anything about it.  I can tell you that the conversations I had with Ford that was never brought up, so that’s really a unique question.  It will all be good, I’m sure of that.”

RAJ NAIR CONTINUED – “That really never came up.  We respect all of our competitors, whether it’s Ferrari or Chevy or whoever, and that rivalry is probably going to heat up a little bit when we get to Le Mans with the GT this year, but that really has never come up.  We have other relationships, whether it’s Roger Penske, who has a Chevy in Indy Car, or Chip Ganassi, who races Chevy in NASCAR.  We really treat those deals as separate.”

TONY STEWART CONTINUED – WHEN DID YOU TELL RICK HENDRICK AND WHO MADE THE FIRST OVERTURE ABOUT THIS DEAL?  “I’ll answer the second one first.  It was kind of just casual conversation that happened and then it became a lot more serious once the casual conversations went a little further.  As far as talking with Rick, at the beginning of the year this year we reached out to Rick and let him know that we were probably going to make a change.  We weren’t 100 percent decided yet, but we were 99.9 percent there.  We wanted to be fair to Rick.  Like Gene said, Rick has been a great partner.  I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to partner up with Gene if it wasn’t for Rick, so we obviously have a great deal of respect for him.  That was something that was important to us to make sure that we reached out to him and let him know about this before he heard it from anyone else.  That was something that came in January, and I don’t think it’s gonna have a huge impact on the partnership we have this year.  The dynamic of it was kind of already changing before all this happened anyway, so I don’t think where we’re at with the partnership we have with them this year is going to be impacted at all.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMER ABOUT DRIVING FORDS FOR STEVE LEWIS?  “I kind of forgot that in the past with Steve Lewis Racing in the USAC Midget Series I ran a Ford for one year.  They were strong, I can promise you that.  I won a lot of races with the Chevy-based motor, but the Ford was really strong when we ran the USAC car for Lewis.”

WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN IN FORD THE LAST YEAR THAT MADE YOU WANT TO HAVE THIS PARTNERSHIP?  “I think more than anything once we got in conversations with them it was the resources that we learned we would have access to is what really intrigued us.  I think that was the one thing that really caught our attention was how dedicated they are and the amount of resources that they’re willing to put forth to help us all accomplish the goal that both sides want to accomplish in all this.  That was very impressive.  The technology layer is huge.  I feel like they’re giving us something that we really need right now that’s going to help us down the road.  That was really a huge factor in making this decision.”

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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