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January 10, 2018

Ken Squier

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are joined today by legends of our sport who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday.
We'll start with Ken Squier. Thank you so much for joining us today. With the induction ceremony a week away, I'm sure your speech is in a good place. Maybe kick us off with what are some of the highlights you plan to touch on in your speech come next Friday.
KEN SQUIER: Well, I guess as much as anything, the standard of the five people who are represented in the Hall of Fame this year, and the consequence of that combination of people that is a bit different than what it has been in the past.
I'm really excited about it for Red Byron, who I truly believe is one of the most misunderstood heroes of that time period. I'm thrilled that I'm one of the ones that will join him in the Hall of Fame.
As far as I was concerned, from the outset, Red Byron should have been there. But that's what it's all about, because it's voted by the peers. So many are younger than the generation that Red Byron came from and when he won the title in 1948. History has been rectified a bit. I'm thrilled about that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Ken. I think we can open it up to some questions.

Q. Ken, in 1979, ABC had already been doing flag‑to‑flag coverage of the Indy 500 for seven years. How hard was it for you to sell CBS on the same thing with the '79 Daytona 500, which turned out to be a benchmark in many ways?
KEN SQUIER: It was a matter of introducing people from Manhattan into the scope of American stockcar racing. In the bread basket of America, that was the name of the tune that turned people on the most at that time.
No one really understood that. All you city guys, you had it down as to what was sport and what was not. Usually it came out that the stockcar racing is defined as a good race around the block with a few exciting moments in it.
Having them, CBS, take an interest in it, we did a group of races before we ever did the Daytona 500, and they did it so well. It was like everything the network did in those days. They spent the time, spent the energy, forethought to really put together what it was about. This was a new page.
We had done races. We had done them live. The Great American Race was one unto itself. It really represented the face of the entire stockcar sport. After a little match was touched, they got onto it. Bob Wesler (phonetic) at those times, early times, in the late '70s, went down and took a peek. He said, Yup, that's the right deal. We'll begin to think about how we could do it and do it better.

Q. I remember when CBS ran its last Daytona 500, one of the things that you talked about was how big you thought and how big Bill France Sr. thought the sport would become because of that television participation.
KEN SQUIER: Bill France thought big all the time. That never changed (laughter).
He was one of the most innovative and incredible people in the history of American sport, as far as I'm concerned. Got thrown out of Indianapolis, tossed out the door. Those stockcar guys, what a crowd that was. He went home to Daytona Beach and said, I'll fix that. He did. He built that two‑and‑a‑half mile track, got the investors. He was brilliant enough to get the backing of the people that changed people's minds. Fellows like the New York Times became hot on his list. It wasn't just the racing newspapers, the rag trade, it was top to bottom that this was the opportunity for this sport to blossom. Bill took full advantage.

Q. Ken, I was wondering what you see as the biggest impact of Ray Evernham, who is being inducted in the class with you?
KEN SQUIER: Well, he's one of those people that has grown up in it. He's come through all the various divisions of NASCAR. He turned out to be a pretty good announcer.
His background is deep. He is totally dedicated. I don't know what more you can add to that. After all, he started at Belmar, Wall Stadium down in New Jersey. He carried on and found ways. He's a guy of principle. He found a way to continue to develop his ability to do things in racing. He was one of those people that was going to be needed, and needed badly, who not only understood how to put some pieces and parts together, but he also was a good manager of people. That was a whole part of the act.
A lot of those early days of stockcar racing, you got the neighbors to come help. If you were lucky, you were the Wood Brothers in Virginia with a bunch of cousins, a nice barn they could build a car in, they were in business.
That changed. It changed so dramatically. It needed the kind of people that Evernham represented. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he just kept growing on it. It wasn't something that he was born with, a natural thing to do. It was something that he really dedicated himself to.
When he and Jeff Gordon got together, that was some of the magic in that period, in the early '80s.

Q. Ken, I think you get credited for coming up with the phrase 'The Great American Race' to describe the Daytona 500. What were some of the origins, and how did that phrase come about?
KEN SQUIER: Well, France Sr. had me down there from the '60s. Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most racetracks in America were closed. It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there. They raced down that hard‑packed beach. That never stopped. One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.
That Spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country. In my mind, it needed something that set it aside. Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports. Indeed, it was.
But what was Daytona? Well, it was All‑American stockcars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town. What would come to mind? I fooled around with that for a long time.
I was in Australia doing a show. They had a great race over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday. On the way home, I thought, God, that's what Daytona is. It's The Great American Race.
I got chewed up pretty good about that. Hadn't I ever heard of Indy? I sure as the dickens had. This was coming from a different place. Sure enough in 1958, when those three cars came across wheel‑to‑wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.

Q. Ken, if I'm remembering correctly, you were pretty heavily involved in the development of some of the first in‑car cameras. How did all that happen from your perspective?
KEN SQUIER: Went over to Sydney, Australia, to do a bodybuilding program in the Sydney Opera House. Naturally I got chatting with the folks from TV down there. They were telling me about these cameras they had. We had already done two or three years of actively trying to do things at CBS with in‑car cameras, which incidentally I feel was as important as nearly anything, not quite as important as the '79 race, but the idea that you could take what most people considered a reality sport, and a calamity one, you could actually get inside the car and ride with the fella or lady, and experience what they experienced.
I thought that did as much as anything. Cale Yarborough has full credit. Well, Benny Parsons originally. My God, I think he drove to third or fifth the year he carried it. All of them were concerned about it. You talk about balance, how important it is in the car. Crew chiefs, they were snake bit about that thing.
The Australians had developed a camera that would turn 360 degrees. They could look out the front, look out the back, look out the side, and look at the guy's feet when he was pedaling along in the thing. It was just the kind of thing that America needed to see. You could talk about being 200 miles an hour, but until you actually set beside Cale Yarborough and were going 200 miles, it was just a name, a number, and nothing more. That changed all that.
I'll tell you a great story. Cale Yarborough, the first year he ran it, that was the year I believe of the 200‑mile‑an‑hour lap, did it right, then showed you what happened if you did it wrong, slid down the front straightaway on his roof. He was excited about the concept of being able to do stuff from inside the car. Of course, everybody knows he's a little crazy anyway (laughter).
He said, You know, I'll do that on one condition. I can describe the start of the race.
Whoa, wait a minute. In those days, if you'd done anything with Formula One, that was sacrosanct. You didn't talk to the driver before he climbed in and settled down to go. And Cale said, Yeah, I could go. Well, we didn't have time for it then, nor place for it because there was consideration, and serious, about what would happen if Cale put it on his ear.
We ran that first race. There actually was audio from his car. It was the sound of the car. Got down toward showtime, the finish, the audio guy, who was one of the brilliant people from CBS in those days, said, We're developing a problem here. We've got a harmonic, and I can't find it. It just keeps coming. Every time this car goes up on that 31‑degree banking, we can't hear anything but this ZZZZ going around the track. That was high harmonic. It took them about 15 minutes to realize that the sound they were hearing was that of Cale Yarborough describing each lap when he got down and bore down, hammered down on the high banks. He would take a deep breath, then he would exhale. We heard it all around the world. It was a bit of a mystery, but not a mystery if you knew Cale Yarborough.

Q. So much has been said and written about that '79 finish. I think Cale still thinks he was in the right. Donnie still thinks he was in the right. What is your view of that? Is one more at fault than the other for what happened?
KEN SQUIER: No, no. If you read Donnie's book, I thought he did a pretty good job with that. They were racers. Here is the point: They were short track racers. They were used to that kind of in‑your‑door, side‑by‑side, you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing kind of stuff. When it come down to it, they both came down from two laps down, made it up, and there they were scrapping to win, their Kentucky Derby, whatever you will.
So they were on each other, both as determined as any race drivers that ever walked the face of the earth. They were not going to give it up. There you saw the result. It was a very dramatic moment.
Then we had to search around and find third, fourth and fifth. They were running tail to tail about 12 seconds back. It just built into an incredible finish, along with weather conditions in the east, and the whole sense of drama of that race.
Cale and Donnie were knocked out early, spun down into the first and second turn. Everybody pretty much thought, Well, that's the end of their day. No, not with those guys. If that car would run, and run well, they'd put it right back into contention. Indeed, they did.

Q. Ken, this is the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's lone Daytona 500 win. You had the opportunity to be in Victory Lane and interview him in that special moment. I'm wondering, of the things that you did particularly on air, where does that rank in your highlights? What are the special moments that still stand out of being in Victory Lane at Daytona in 1998 with Dale Earnhardt, the only time he was there for the 500?
KEN SQUIER: Well, he was there more than anyone else as far as pulling into Victory Lane. But the one that kept escaping him was that one, the 500. He was determined to win it.
Just how emotional he could be, pretty much always hide it. But you couldn't hide that. Everything that he thought about all of his life was winning the Daytona 500. That represented to him the top of the mountain. That was it. Heretofore, he was just Sysipus, rolling the rock up the mountain. It rolled back on top of him a lot of times when it came to the Daytona 500.
It was an accomplishment that I don't think many people could understand. Anyone who's run second, third, fourth, fifth, that kind of thing, and tried so hard, come up short for one reason or another, I think they would understand it. But in Earnhardt's case, that determination and that fixation, he never backed out. He was there to the finish every time, including the year that he passed away, crashed up there in turn three. He was still going.
I've often thought, particularly about Dale, that when he saw his car with young Waltrip driving, Michael, and his son wheel‑to‑wheel, battling it out, I often thought that was the one time perhaps that he wasn't on the floor and just holding that car up, balancing it on every end of the track, being satisfied he'd won it, and there was his son battling one of his cars. What a moment that must have been for him.
He was back there with his pals, Sterling Marlin, that crowd. They were all guys that had grown old together, racing together. I just can't imagine what it was like for him when he poured down into turn three and had the sense that, Hey, either his team or his son was on their way in the Daytona 500.

Q. Any other special memories of being with Dale in Victory Lane in that 1998 Daytona 500 because of all the things that he went through, like you talked about? Obviously you got that opportunity to be there where so many people would have loved to be able to be a part of that moment.
KEN SQUIER: You know, that's such a good question. I can't give you an answer. I need to go back and look at that thing again. You're right, it was the moment.
No, I didn't do well by you in trying to remind myself of that. I'll have to look at some notes. I bet I didn't have it down.

Q. Ken, I was hoping you could maybe share with us what you consider to be the greatest media advancement in covering NASCAR racing now.
KEN SQUIER: Where we are today?

Q. Yes. From what you've seen through all the years, your involvement in the sport, what do you think is something you either thought, I can't believe this happened, this is such a fantastic thing? What makes you impressed?
KEN SQUIER: I guess what's most impressive ‑ this sounds pretty silly ‑ but it's the competition. Take that back to Mike Helton. When he came in there in the 1990s, was such a good human being, was so fair, but was so determined that he was going to keep that thing on the straight and narrow. Now, you're dealing with 40 cars in a race, and everyone has an opinion on how to read that rule book. He survived that.
What you have today, that is the fruit of it. It's pretty good tasting. The competition is close, and the cars are better, and they are safer. But the safety was never a factor in those early days. I mean, it was racing, and everybody understood it, that it was dangerous. They advanced the safety. They advanced the cars. They advanced all the parts and pieces that go into those things. I think that, as you watch these races today, and particularly the stage racing, I wasn't very happy about that when they were going to do that. I love the stage idea. I had some other ideas about how they should do it.
But what they did was they added the intensity with which those guys can compete, for all of them, to every lap. In the old days, it wasn't that way. There were guys out there having a heck of a good time, but they weren't driving as hard as they could because they could not, they should not. They didn't have a nickel to put together on a lot of those cars when the race was over, but they'd given it a good shot. The economics of it were such that they had to race within their means. That's gone away.
When we see them out there today racing, it's a whole different world than the world I live in. That's not to say that those days with Pearson and Cale and Richard and the Allisons, all that crowd, weren't great races, great personalities. But today what they have effected in NASCAR is a form of racing in which you have to be part of it, you have to be able to stay the course under the incredible pressure that they exert on each other. We see the crisis and chaos when just one guy puts a wheel out of line midway through an event.
That kind of thing, I thought, would buoy the whole sport up again. It hasn't come to pass yet, but I've got to think that as time goes on it will help NASCAR and racing to be understood for what it is, because it sure is different.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Ken, for your time, the great stories and great answers today. Good luck in the next week and a half. I bet you're all wrapped up on your speech.
KEN SQUIER: Speech? There's a speech involved in this thing? All they said was I had to show up for dinner at all those things and get the chicken (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much.

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