Park does Earnhardt proud
By Joe Mink
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
(August 14, 2000)
Steve Park receives a hug from car
owner Dale Earnhardt following Park's victory.
With his victory in Sunday's Global Crossing@the Glen,
Steve Park has accomplished something his boss, Dale Earnhardt, has never done.
Earnhardt, owner of Park's No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet,
has never won a Winston Cup race at Watkins Glen International. But don't expect Park to
tease the racing legend about that.
"I wouldn't tell Dale anything he wouldn't want to hear.
He's going to buy lunch this week for the crew," Park joked, before turning serious.
"I hope I can have one-third the career he's had. He's a great owner. If I mess up,
he's all over my butt, just like my dad used to.
"But he's always stood behind me. I told him I always
knew I could win. He'd say to me, 'I never doubted you. When we get the pieces in place,
you'll win.' You had all these road-racing experts here. We weren't the favorite. We had
to come from the middle of the pack and pass cars. This wasn't a fluke victory."
"I'm so proud of him," Earnhardt said.
"They've been needing something to turn 'em around. Maybe this will be it."
Park and Earnhardt earlier this season signed a two-year deal
to continue the relationship.
"It was important for us to do that early in the
year," Park said. "I think I put a lot of pressure on the team and Dale and our
sponsor to get that done so Steve Park as a driver could focus on winning and not worry
about what the Silly Season (off-season) was going to bring."
Park joined Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott as the only active
drivers to win their first race on a road course. Rudd now has 20 career victories;
"It feels great to be a part of that elite group. There
are a lot of guys in that garage who haven't been able to win at this level," Park
said. "Watkins Glen is a tough track to win at. There are lots of corners and
shifting. But I have a lot of experience here, more so than at others (road
A native of East Northport on Long Island, Park has competed
at the Glen in Busch Series, Busch North, Craftsman Truck and Modified races. He said he
remembers his father taking him to races at Watkins Glen, so getting his first Cup win
here is something special to him.
"If you had asked me three years ago where I'd get my
first win, I would only hope it'd come at Watkins Glen because this is the place it seems
like I got my start. It got me noticed for Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Inc. ... Who
would ever believe it?"
Park has displayed grace under pressure. He's performed in
the shadow of the Earnhardts and with the need to make strong showings for Pennzoil, his
sponsor. And on Sunday he dealt with the pressure of Mark Martin, a three-time winner at
the Glen, closely pursuing him over the last 10 laps. One mistake would likely have cost
Park the race. He didn't make it.
"A young guy like me (he turns 33 on Aug. 23) is not
used to the pressure of having Mark Martin behind you to try to hold off for the
win," Park said. "The guys did a good job of telling me to stay focused and not
make the rookie mistake of overdriving the car.
"I had to stay calm, keep my composure and not make any
mistakes. That's really hard to do when you're on the verge of winning your first race and
you've got seasoned veterans behind you."
He said he appreciated the way Martin and Jeff Burton -- who
was running second behind Park midway through the race before Martin got Burton him on the
80th lap -- raced cleanly while trying to pass him. There wasn't the bumping and banging
one might expect from Park's boss.
Thanks to his victory, Park made the biggest jump in the
Winston Cup drivers' point ranking, from 17th to 13th. Among those he passed was his more
famous teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 40th after have an accident and
"It just motivates you," Park said of Junior's
success in his rookie year, which includes two victories. "We work as one unit at the
race shop and we compete against each other at the race track. Dale Jr. has tremendous
talent, so it didn't really surprise any of us when he came out and won right off the bat.
We took that energy they had and used that to our advantage."
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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