NASCAR Sprint Sound & Speed presented by SunTrust
January 9, 2010
KERRY THARP: Our next session, representing NASCAR is Mike Skinner. He has been one of the more successful drivers we have had in our sport. He is the 1995 NASCAR Camping World Series champion. The first year of that series, Mike Skinner was the champion. He finished third in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season. He is the series all-time leader with 47 poles. He's competed in the Camping World Truck Series since 1995. Welcome to Sound & Speed, Mike Skinner.
HOLLY: For 30 years Riders in the Sky have been remaining true to the integrity of western music. They have become modern day icons by branding the genre with their own whacky humor and way-out western wit and all along the way encouraging folks to live life the cowboy way. Please say howdy to Ranger Doug, the governor of the great state of rhythm.
KERRY THARP: Mike Skinner, certainly you dressed the part today. Not only do you look the rugged western man, but certainly as you look ahead to this 2010 season, your thoughts about how you think your team is going to do and then also your thoughts about being here this weekend.
MIKE SKINNER: First of all, when you get my age, you're not supposed to have as much desire as I do to go get started and get racing again. I wish Daytona was tomorrow. We are actually going to Daytona this week to do some short track testing at New Smyrna Speedway. It will be our first time back in a racecar or truck in this case since Homestead. I'm just chomping at the bit. I can't wait to do it.
This just revvs me up all the more, coming here and seeing the race fans, a lot of the country folks, country-western singers, stars, some of my fellow NASCAR drivers. I just can't wait. I wish, like I said, it was tomorrow.
You know, we started out in the Truck Series. We left the Truck Series in '97 and went to the Cup Series until 2004. So we left a big, big void there. We still hold a couple records. But I don't regret that move. I think the books might have been written a little bit different if I'd have stayed there all those years.
HOLLY: Tell us a little bit about Riders in the Sky, what you are up to now, how you got involved with Sound & Speed.
RANGER DOUG: We started 32 years ago in November. We started with the express desire to keep alive the great western music of Jean Autry and Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. We played 5,861 appearances now. Worked out to about 182.3 a year. Won a couple of Grammys for our work with Disney, Toy Story 2. 30 some albums.
I got involved in this because Michael down at the country music Hall of Fame said, Would you like to? I said, Sure. I love cars, I love helping a great cause, and I love the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well.
KERRY THARP: Questions now for Ranger Doug or Mike Skinner.
Q. Mike, is that a Stetson? Second question is, as far as pre-season testing, who determines when, where and what racetracks you do go to? New Smyrna track, how does that relate to which track you normally race in the series?
MIKE SKINNER: Well, the first part is, it's got a lot of X's. If you know anything about cowboy hats, that means something. But, anyway, NASCAR does not allow testing anymore. So you're not allowed to go test any racetrack that we actually are going to race at.
New Smyrna is not a NASCAR track. We don't have an event at New Smyrna Speedway. Whether it's the Nationwide Series, the Cup Series or the Camping World Truck Series, we find racetracks that we don't go to, and we'll go and test there just to get an idea. New Smyrna is about 12 or 13 degrees in banking. It's only a half-mile racetrack.
Racetracks that we will get data for and learn things about go from a range of Martinsville Speedway to New Hampshire to Pocono Speedway, Michigan, which is a two-mile speedway. There's a broad range of places that we can learn from even testing at a lot lower speed at a half-mile track. So we're basically compiling data, getting information on suspension parts, different things that we want to do throughout the year.
But nobody sets the rule. Actually, NASCAR does set the rules. They say, You can't test. You don't have to hide the fact you're testing; you just can't test on a NASCAR track.
Q. Ranger Doug, I wanted to talk to you about this other fine band that you have called the Time Jumpers. A lot of people probably don't know about them. Want to fill them in on it?
RANGER DOUG: The Time Jumpers started 10 years ago as people who play in the studios all day, play music for other people all day. Started a band of traditional western swing, just to play what they wanted to play. We play every Monday night at a place called The Station Inn on 11th and the Gulch, and rarely tour because everybody has such busy schedules.
We are just playing the music we love. There are 11 pieces, two girl singers, three fiddles, steel guitars, just like an old Texas dance band. I get to play rhythm guitar in that band. I don't have to front the group, think of clever things to say, I can just sit back there and play my heart out.
We were nominated for two Grammys last year. We didn't win either category, but it was nice to be recognized. Probably the premiere western swing group certainly of the last 30 or 40 years and maybe ever. Of course, we never have the success Bob Wills and Spade Coolley did. It's a wonderful, fun band. I advise anybody who enjoys traditional western swing to come visit us on a Wednesday night.
Q. With your record of poles in the Truck Series, Mike, what is the secret to being a good qualifier? What gets you up on the wheel? What do you do different that's better than other guys? What does it take to make one perfect lap?
MIKE SKINNER: I think the desire and the willingness to scare the hell out of yourself for two laps comes into play. You know, when they came out with I call 'em restrictor plates, but we run a spacer plate under the carburetor now that takes about a hundred horsepower or so out of the engine. We got to making so much horsepower, these trucks got to running over 200 miles an hour at some of these places. They're just not aerodynamically sound for that. NASCAR slowed us down to keep us from flying up and hurting somebody in the stands or hurting ourselves.
Nowadays, these big tracks like Texas, Atlanta, places like that, a few years ago, there might have been only three or four of us in the field that was crazy enough, brave enough, stupid enough, I'm not really sure which, to try to hold it wide open all the way around of the racetrack. I've been blessed to have the ability to be one of those people that has been able to do that.
Nowadays, everybody holds it wide open qualifying. So there's no real advantage to being a great qualifier any more in this day and time, except when you get to places like Martinsville, Virginia, Bristol. Anywhere you have to lift off the throttle, then it's really still important. But a lot of the racetracks we go to now, everybody runs wide open.
Q. Mike, the news this week, Ken Schrader is going to run for Red Bull in the Bud Shootout. Somebody told me you have an affiliation with Red Bull as well. Could you talk about that. Also talk about, it seems like for the over 50 crowd, Mark Martin, Schrader, Hornaday, there's a renaissance going on.
MIKE SKINNER: Golly, a few years ago if you were old enough to shave, you were washed up, too old to run NASCAR. Now us old guys have came back. In this past year I won three races. I think Ron won five or six, I'm not sure. Mark Martin, he won a bunch of races.
You know, it's kind of like the old guys have came back and we had really great success last year. There's no substitute for youth, but there's also no substitute for experience. I look at this gentleman right here, and I try to play the guitar. I play maybe five or six chords. I'm terrible. I just envy what they do. It's amazing what a fine line it is between the young guy that's coming in, the Joey Loganos that's coming in, that's going to be the face, the future of our sport, and the Mark Martins that have been here forever, guys like Hornaday and myself. We've got that knowledge of what to do. We don't have the youth anymore. For some reason, we're still getting it done.
Q. How about the Red Bull connection?
MIKE SKINNER: I'm sorry about that. The Red Bull connection, I have had an affiliation with Red Bull for the past few years. I'm basically like a substitute driver. If one of their drivers gets hurt, they've called on me to drive the car. I've done some driver development. I helped AJ Allmendinger out when they were struggling. Kind of mentored a little bit there, tried to help Scott Speed get going.
It's just been one of those deals, I'm kind of like the on-call guy. Kenny Schrader is running that race because he's guaranteed a spot in that race. I don't know if we're going to continue to have that relationship this coming here. It wouldn't surprise me.
But, you know, I may get called in to run 10 races. I might not get called at all. I do endorse the product. I like the product. I drink Red Bull. I think they're an awesome, awesome company. They got the best energy drink out there, per se.
This past year we went to Good Wood. It's another festival of speed over in England. It was fantastic to get to drive the Red Bull car up the hill.
Q. Mike, NASCAR put the taper spacers in the Camping World Truck Series in 2008. My opinion, I think it's diminished the racing of the trademark that is the Truck Series, which is the bumper-to-bumper racing. Do you think it takes more driving skill to drive a truck these days than driving a truck from 1996 or 1995?
MIKE SKINNER: I don't want to demean myself or anybody else by the way I answer this. But, you know, I agree with you. I don't like the spacers. I'm not a fan of the spacer. You know, I think that now the guy that's brave enough to run it off in the corner and try to get it slowed off and turned around isn't a big advantage anymore. They've taken guys we call wheelmen, they've taken that and tried to turn us into chess players.
We're more like tackles on a football field. We want to chomp at the bit, go out there and attack the racetrack, attack it every lap. With this spacer plate, that don't work too good. Like you said, it turned -- now you got to learn how to play chess instead of rock 'em, sock 'em.
Q. Have you pleaded with NASCAR to take the taper spacer out of the Nationwide and Camping World trucks and cars?
MIKE SKINNER: Yes, we have. I have to say that I would hate to be in NASCAR's position because it's a double-edged sword. They take those plates out of there, we put a truck up in the grandstand somewhere and harm our fans, now we've got a really big black eye in our sport. You know, we go out, a couple drivers lose their lives, we've got a huge black eye.
It's a double-edged sword. I totally understand NASCAR's position, but I do think we need to put recovery and acceleration back in these things. I still think that the Camping World Truck Series is the best show in NASCAR as far as the time of the race. It's about half the distance. We race every lap from green to checkered. But we're still the third-tier series, and that's okay. I enjoy it. I enjoy it just the way it is.
I would vote for putting the horsepower back in the motors, though.
Q. Doug, as they say, Riders in the Sky, when are we going to get a new CD? Is it going to be on to a different label?
RANGER DOUG: The first thing I might say, you may be a lousy guitar player, but you ought to see me drive.
MIKE SKINNER: I want to do what he wants to do and he wants to do what I want to do.
RANGER DOUG: We have a new CD about to come out. We did three days with the Nashville symphony about a year ago. We have symphonic charts. Western music, it's just built for symphony. It's like seeing an old John Ford western, you hear the violins, French horns come up. It will be out next month, on the Nashville Symphony label. It's called Riders in the Sky Lassoed Live at the (indiscernible), which is the concert hall for those of you who don't know.
Q. When is the next one after that?
RANGER DOUG: After that? We have about three of them half done, and continual requests for an inspirational album. I guess that will be the next one that comes out. Like many artists are doing today with the fluctuating music industry, it looks like we'll probably just put it out ourselves. So 1/10th as much, make twice as much money.
Q. Is Joey still playing with you?
RANGER DOUG: Yeah. He's still producing the record, squeezing his squeeze box. We found him by the side of the road with a sign that said, Will squeeze for food. We have given him a job and we're happy we've done that.
MIKE SKINNER: You talked about an album that you got two or three things half done. Is it like you don't want to put it out there until you got it perfected? Is that the deal? I think I've seen artists just throw a bunch of songs on an album to sell an album and an album be terrible.
RANGER DOUG: Right, we don't want to do that.
MIKE SKINNER: Is that why you have two or three going at the same time?
RANGER DOUG: We have a really busy road schedule. It's hard to finish the stuff. You can lay down the initial tracks, then you go back and lay down the vocals. To get all the pieces together and make them just perfect, it takes time, and we just haven't had it. We did 215 dates year before last, and 180 last year. It just doesn't leave you much time to go in the studio.
MIKE SKINNER: That's what I can't do, is put all the pieces together for some reason. But I admire what I do.
RANGER DOUG: Thank you. I admire what you do, too.
KERRY THARP: Thank you.
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