Ernie Elliott interview

ERNIE ELLIOTT (Ernie Elliott, Inc., engine builder for Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Melling Racing) NOTE: Elliott's restrictor-plate engines qualified second for the Daytona 500 in February and won the pole for the Talladega 500.

Ernie Elliott interview

ERNIE ELLIOTT (Ernie Elliott, Inc., engine builder for Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Melling Racing)

NOTE: Elliott's restrictor-plate engines qualified second for the Daytona 500 in February and won the pole for the Talladega 500. Three Dodge Intrepid R/T teams will run Elliott's engines in the Pepsi 400 -- No. 40 Coors Light driver Sterling Marlin, No. 01 Cingular Wireless rookie driver Jason Leffler, and No. 92 Kodiak driver Stacy Compton. Compton's Dodge qualified second for the Daytona 500 and won the pole at Talladega. Older brother of two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott, Ernie talks about his early success this season with the Dodge engines.

"The biggest thing about a motor program is getting good base engine pieces. NASCAR requires cylinder blocks and cylinder heads and a couple of other pieces that come from the manufacturer. If you don't have good pieces there, it doesn't work good. Dodge gave us good pieces to work with, and it gave you the foundation. If you've got a good foundation, you've got a good program. Basically, we applied what we felt like we knew was good with the Ford and applied it to Dodge and everything worked. We had a few minor details we had to change, but overall, it was pretty straight forward.

"We've built 75 brand new motors this year for those three cars, and we'll do about 20 more new ones before the season's over. We feel like we've got areas in the restricted and unrestricted motor where we're deficient because the program is so young. When you look at all this stuff, we were years in the Ford development, and that was an on-going development program. Look at the Chevrolet guys, and they've got five years with the SB-2. For this program to be as good as it is for the first six months of the first year, I feel pretty confident that we can make the program a whole lot better. The biggest thing we're struggling with right now is the fact there's a little apprehension about what they're going to do with the rules next year. We've got an idea, and it's not it will affect what we're doing that much. Right now, you're kind of on hold until they decide exactly what the rules are going to be. Once they decide that, we can move forward with some aggressive development.

"Whatever they do for next year, if it's any major changes or anything that could cause any problems, you want to have all that stuff done and running a little bit this year and make sure there's no structural problems with any of the parts.

"The way my deal works, I pretty much just oversee the stuff. My main area that I concentrate on is cylinder heads and manifolds. I'm not going to say I'm hands-on that deal. I do a little bit, but pretty much my deal is making sure whatever is done head and manifold wise is the direction I want to go in. I let the guys have some flexibility in the direction they go in, but I don't want them getting too far off center one way or the other. I want to make sure it pretty much falls within the plans I have for the heads and manifolds. I think I have roughly 50 people working for me right now. I've got two shops. One is in Dawsonville, Ga., and one is in Concord, N.C. I'm in Dawsonville all the time. Tony Santanacola runs the shop in Concord. That's basically his deal. I run the one in Dawsonville. I visit the Concord shop about once a month. Tony is a really good guy. I'm very fortunate to have him. We've been friends a long time. This opportunity arose, and it didn't cause any hard feelings. When Cale Yarborough packed his deal away, I could go to Tony and make an arrangement that didn't cause any hard feelings in the garage. Tony is a bright individual. He brings a lot to the program. We each have areas we work in, and it allows me to do a general overseeing of the program, but it also allows me to concentrate on my pet area, which is heads and manifolds, and not have to worry about other areas as much. He can concentrate on other things.

"Chip Ganassi is a very nice guy. He's a racer. The thing that interested me about his program is the fact that it gives us the opportunity to be with a program that can win races. That's what we've been striving for here for a long time. Bill's program last year was a good program, but it just lacked the financing it took to be a real competitive team. I think we ran good for what money we had. As we all know, this deal now is such an extensive deal, if you don't have good budgets, you're not going to be competitive. That's one thing that Chip's program allows me to do, have a budget that allows me to be competitive. We're basically locked in to (building motors for) Chip and the 92 car. That allows us to spend a lot of time on producing what we feel is a good, competitive Dodge racing engine.

"This is Winston Cup, and what you did last week is old news. It's what you do today. Nobody has been on the race track here yet, but right now, we go everywhere with the expectation of winning the pole or winning the race. There's just a few places we've gone this year that we felt like we weren't good enough to be competitive.

"I guess we put more emphasis on the race motor than the qualifying motors. We're working hard on the qualifiers right now, but I will have to say the major portion of the emphasis has been put on race motors. As far as I'm concerned, I'd much rather win the race than sit on the pole.

"We started together (Elliott brothers, Ernie, Bill and Dan). We had a good relationship over the years. I guess we could basically read each other's minds. I feel like we were very successful. I guess I'm kind of a funny person. You give it 100 percent effort, but you've got to be well financed, and that became difficult to do. You've got to have the right funding to do it. McDonald's was a great sponsor, but the funding was just not there to do the program. It's hard to see where this sport is really going because everything is moving so fast and technology is at such a rapid clip. It just takes cubic dollars.

"People quote motor prices, and that's ridiculous. You have to look at program cost. I've argued that for 25 years. The program cost is what's important. Someone has to pay for research and development. You spend as much money on R&D as you do on coming and running the race. It all has to figure out at the end. When it's all said and done, if the motor shop spends $2 million and there's 20 races a year, then it costs you a hundred grand a race for motors. That's relatively simple. It is what it is. That's what it costs you. If you've got 30 motors, it costs you $75,000 a piece. I still don't think you can put a price on a motor. This is an argument from a motor guy's standpoint. Whatever a motor program costs, it's the best bargain in Winston Cup Racing. I've yet to see one of these cars win a race without one.

"I'm 53 years old, and I'm going to keep doing this as long as it's fun and I can be competitive. Ganassi gave us a program that could be competitive. I'm not going to say I'm going to retire next year or the year after. As long as I'm competitive, I'll continue to do it. When it gets to the point where you don't have the money to do it right, then I'm not going to do it.

"I got very little help from Ford. I got virtually none. Robert Yates got most of the program, and that's great. It's great for Ford. Yates gave them good performance over the years. It's kind of one of those deals where maybe we dropped the ball a little bit. It's that old adage, "what have you done for me lately?' If you've not done anything, it's kind of hard for them to keep the program going.

"Dodge afforded an excellent opportunity for me. The Ford teams I was doing the motors for had budget-minded programs. They had to be because their sponsorships weren't that great. You never had the money you needed. If Ganassi had said he was going to run another brand, then I would have done it just because it afforded me an opportunity to put together a competitive engine program, which we have not had in a long time."

IF THE 9 CAR AND 40 CAR ARE DOOR-TO-DOOR ON THE LAST LAP SATURDAY NIGHT, WHO WILL YOU BE ROOTING FOR?

"Well, obviously the 40. Blood is thicker than water, but we're talking about racing. We're not talking about blood."

-Dodge Motorsports

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