Tim Cindric, President, Penske Racing, July 20, 2009
Q. What strikes you most about Parker’s performance this season?
A. We had seen some progress last year. I should say, I guess, we got acquainted with him last year. In the couple races that he ran, we thought, “Hey, this guy, he seems like our kind of guy.” As we sat down this year, he had some support from Briggs Cunningham. And I talked to Kerry Scherer over at Cunningham and he said, “Hey, Briggs is willing to help Parker run a couple races. We know that you guys had signed him as a development driver and so forth. What do you think we’re going to be able to do together if we don’t find a sponsor?” And we committed to eight races this year for Parker. What we decided to do between Michael Nelson and myself was go ahead frontload them, run the first eight races, and see where it ended up. He just continued to impress us, not only with the result but just his approach. He’s got real good savvy in terms of staying calm. He’s very calculated. But there’s guys that have that intuition and guys that don’t, and he just struck us as someone that has the potential to take it to the next level.
Q. Do you know anything about his two seasons in midgets and are you able to say anything about how valuable those are?
A. I can’t tell you that we followed it very closely. The real connection there was the fact that in his midget he was running an Ilmor engine. Obviously with Roger’s stake in Ilmor, the Ilmor guys had come to us, as well as Perona, and said, “Can we introduce you to Parker? Can you put aside an hour or two [for us] to bring him by the Penske shop?” You know, here’s a kid from Connecticut that really hasn’t had any financial backing or is not going to sit there and write a check, but he’s doing this pretty much on his own. But he seems like he has talent and the equipment that he’s driving, he’s shown results. If you go back and look at his bio, the kid’s always been successful in whatever he’s driven. And we sat down with him. We were intrigued because the people that were telling us about the kid are people that we know and trust. We tried to figure out a way to get him in an ARCA car and just see what he could do. So that’s where it all started. As far as the results of it—did we follow him at every track? No. But obviously we had people that were keeping us abreast of that.
Q. I had spoken at length to Perona about those two seasons and Parker got a real schooling by driving on those tracks in that type of car. I just wondered what you had known about it. You know, there are a lot of ten-year-old kids who sit watching the Speed channel or play video games and dream of being a race driver, but Parker has actualized that. Are you able to say how that happened, how he bridged that, from fantasy to reality?
A. To me, it just seems like the ambition that he has, and the ability to continue to knock on doors—and you know, he has a good personality. He has a very approachable personality, a very likable personality. He’s humble enough in some ways but confident enough in others. There’s that fine balance. All race drivers have to have an ego and they have to be confident, but they have to do it in a manner which isn’t too aggressive. He wasn’t one of these kids where his father was taking him to every racetrack and trying to sell him.
Q. Not at all.
A. It was kind of the opposite in a lot of ways.
Q. His mother was his crew chief in karting.
A. When we sent him his development contract, he called me, and he goes, “All I can say is thanks, and I can’t wait to go show my dad.” That was his response to receiving paperwork from us. Where a lot of kids who look at these things are like, “I don’t understand it” or “I don’t want to get into all this legalese” and all that. We try to keep it simple. We feel like we don’t need somebody that’s completely giving away their firstborn for us. But we want to have some connection to where there’s some skin in the game for what we put into it. So it’s a fine balance, but it’s something he welcomed with open arms. It was just all about the fact that he felt like he had been recognized.
Q. Can you tell me what is involved with being a development driver?
A. For us—the Cunningham organization is what we would call our development partner. We don’t have an ARCA team or teams below the Nationwide program. In fact, this is the first year that we’ve ever even run a Nationwide, full season. Basically, just because a driver drives for Cunningham doesn’t mean they’re one of our development drivers. Driving for Cunningham means that they’re going to get exposure and access to us, if you will, as a race team, because we’re going to pay attention; obviously, we have a direct line to those guys, and so forth. A development driver, for us, basically means the first person that we go to with any type of funding or resource, be it cars, parts, equipment, that type of thing, engines, to try and give them an opportunity to further their career. Typically, there’s no guarantees. We didn’t tell Parker that he’s going to run in any races for us. We didn’t promise him anything. We said that we’re going to give you our word that we’re going to try and do the best that we can to develop your career, and if you see another path to do that while that happens, you can’t just go talk about it to someone or go do a deal—you have to come to us, basically, and say, “Hey, what do you think?” Roger’s reputation is such that we can do that. We could almost have a handshake with a lot of these kids. When someone’s winning five out of six races like this year, you put a certain amount into it in terms of time, effort, resource, that you don’t want your competitor to just benefit from it overnight. You’ve got to have some kind of connection to the kid, longer term.
Q. Is there also—part of the job description is testing your cars?
A. Yeah. He’s driven our Cup car. We’ll go do various tests, whether you’re doing straight-line testing or whether you’re testing at Little Rock or what have you. Most of these tests are monotonous tests that the Cup drivers don’t want to do, but it’s a great experience, not only on track but typically the top technical guys or even the crew chiefs of the Cup cars are running these tests. You get instant exposure to the guys that make it happen on the Cup scene. You can’t buy that. You can’t get in front of them in any other way. Again, that’s access and experience that they couldn’t otherwise really have.
Q. So what point was it when you decided to extend your support for the rest of the season?
A. We’ve been going race by race. There’s a lot of assumptions out there with the success that he’s had. It’d be tough to back up now. We’re still going there with, basically, Cunningham has two full-time guys. And then Chris Carrier, who’s been a crew chief for us, we’ve allowed him to go with Parker and race with him, just to make sure that we’ve got an experienced crew chief with him. Aside from that, it’s a pretty shoestring program.
Q. So really there’s no formal statement that he’ll race in every race the rest of the season?
A. No, there’s no promises there. I know he’s made the statement [that] it looks like we’re going to go all the way, and it’d be hard not to when you’re leading the ARCA championship. But I’ve continued to tell him to take one race at a time. There really is no sponsor. It’s basically a culmination of Cunningham Racing, Briggs Cunningham on a personal level, and Penske Racing trying to get by, race to race.
Q. I’m committed to go and watch him the rest of the season—just thought I’d throw that in.
A. I’d be surprised if we let you down.
Q. I have a shoestring travel budget myself. I had a sixty-dollar motel Saturday night [after Kentucky Speedway]. Last thing is the difference between the previous two races, Iowa Speedway and Mansfield, where he dominated, leading 140 laps at one and 103 at the other. This time, he really had to—he was toying with them at Iowa, I told Bob Perona—but this time he really had to scratch and claw. And Perona told him once, “You’ve got to want it more than the other guy.” And I think he showed that there [last-lap pass to win at Kentucky]. I just wondered what your reaction was, if you were able to watch the race.
A. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I watched it and, talking to the guys today at the shop, you know, how does someone react to adversity? Because it’s easy when you’re winning or when things are going right. The real test for us is: When things aren’t going right, how do you respond? And he’s always taken the right path. When he got cut off there by the Two car on the dogleg, where he was running—I don’t know if it was four or five laps to go, or three, or what it was, they came up on Tim George, Jr., there in the Two car—who just happens to be Justin Lofton’s teammate [laughs]—but they come up on him and he could have taken a better line on the racetrack to let those guys go around him. But instead Parker pretty much ran out of racetrack on the low line after he was committed. There was no real response on the radio. There was no description [laughs] of the backmarker, or anything like that. Chris told him, “Just hit your marks and stay focused.” And he goes, “Don’t worry, just tell me when there’s two to go.” He has that confidence, but he has that calmness that the Jimmie Johnsons of the world have. You can talk all about resources and teams and all the rest of it, but the driver’s still got to have his head on to be a consistent winner, to be the champion. We think he has those qualities. Obviously, we’re trying to put a good car under him. But Cunningham’s typically running a second car there, and there’s no secrets between the two cars. The other drivers—some of them are experienced, some of them aren’t experienced, but Parker shows that there’s a definite difference right now.
Q. I was right behind the wall in the pits with his parents, and Briggs Cunningham was there, too. Boy, was there delirium when he came across that finish line first!
A. It’s more satisfying in some ways when you know that you made it through that.