Roger Penske, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, and Rusty Wallace reunited for a “Legends Q&A” session sharing their racing stories and memorable moments prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 on Sunday. Moderated by Jamie Little, NASCAR on FOX Pit Reporter, the Legends Q&A session took place on the main stage in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Fan Zone.
Here’s what the Legends had to say Sunday:
Roger Penske: “The No. 1 reason we decided to build this track was the fans here in California. We came back here in 1995 and talked to the city and had the opportunity to build this track. To think about what’s taken place here and all the great people who made a difference. For me it was wanting to race out here and have a track. We really copied Michigan when we built this track and made it better. But you folks out there are the ones that made a difference and I want to thank you for all your support.
“We really looked at Michigan as the template. We added a little more banking here and the apron to make it little smoother and you could see yesterday they were running top to bottom. You could mess it up so easy when you build these things. There were a lot of other tracks being built, but we really just kept it a Michigan-style track. And a little more banking really made the difference.”
Richard Petty: “I guess we came out here first to race Riverside, and then they built the track in Ontario. And then all that stuff went away. Racing was a Southern sport and then we started getting sponsors like STP and all the others that came along. They started advertising all over the country and then they started building tracks in different places. It took a long time to get out of the south, but we go all over the world with it now.
“If everything was smooth and everything we neat and it was a perfect situation, then anybody could go out and get around the race track pretty good. You’ve got to have a challenge at any race track in order to make racing. It’s what separates the men from the boys. As this track got older and the cracks got bigger it got a lot more competitive. The drivers like it because they had to do a little bit of driving. When we first came it was like a one-groove race track. You just went around and everyone stayed the same. So right now it’s probably in the best shape as far as for putting on a race. There’s going to be a bunch of slipping and sliding today. I watched the practice yesterday and there used to be a Darlington stripe, and now it’s a California stripe.
Michael Waltrip: “My favorite memories are just being able to run up front and lead the race. I think it was 2003 when the high lines started really opening up. And today you’re going to see guys running on the apron, and you’re going to see them running on the outside wall. So just seeing the different lines. Being a part of the first race here in California was something really special to me. I remember coming on Friday and Saturday and it was overcast, then we showed up Sunday morning and it was clear and I’m like, ‘There’s a damn mountain over there. When did they move that in?’ We didn’t see it. That mountain is beautiful and just the perfect setting. Just calling the race yesterday and seeing the infield and it was just packed with people and it’s filled with so much energy. I just love coming to Southern California and hanging out with you guys.
“I certainly miss being out there driving because it’s just so much fun. And you hear it from the drivers just how much it means to be able to get out there and make those bold moves. Eleven of the best drivers in the world yesterday got into the outside wall. Kyle Busch spun out trying to get around this place. So the challenges are going to be great today. But what I love most coming out here is just how much fun you people are. It’s so cool when I walk through the infield and the grid, there’s just people with big smiles on their faces because you don’t see NASCAR every weekend. I’m just looking forward to a great race today. Mr. Penske’s vision of this place and what it’s become and the fact that I’m sitting on the stage with these legends? That’s pretty cool.”
Rusty Wallace: “We won the race here in 2001. That particular day we had a really fast car and a lot of horsepower under the hood. I know Roger (Penske) did a lot of work with the engine companies giving us the all the power we needed. We came out here and had one of those Cinderella days where the car just handled great and ran fast and I won the California 500 and had to fend off Jeff Gordon that day. What was tough about that day that I remember was it was Dale Earnhardt Sr., birthday and the guys brought the No. 3 flag over to me and we drove around the track backwards. So it was a big day for me and Team Penske, but it was a sad day for all of the Earnhardt fans. I was able to win the last two races at Riverside. I won the last race at Sears Point, and I won here so at least I won all the Southern California races and so if feels good to come out here and see all you fans. I remember watching Roger and Les Richter build this track; it’s such a near track and we loves coming out here.
“I really don’t have a pick. I always fall back to my old car, the No. 2. I always look at Kevin Harvick’s car, the No. 4 car. Today I’ll be looking at the No. 42 car with Kyle Larson. That Chip Ganassi team is on a roll right now and they’ve got some momentum on their side. I’m going to be looking at Turn 4 because it seems like all the accidents are happening on Turn 4. You’ve got to remember they’ve got short little spoilers now which means less down force. And so they are picking up the throttle really early and as they exit the corner at Turn 4, that’s where it gets a little hairy for them.”