By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
FONTANA, Calif. -- Steve Park gained closure to one chapter in his racing career Friday night at California Speedway, when he won the American Racing Wheels 200 in the Craftsman Truck Series.
In doing so, he entered his name into one of the most select groups in racing: Drivers who have scored a victory in each of NASCAR's three national touring series.
Before he left Fontana to do a planned motorcycle ride, Park sat down with NASCAR.COM senior writer Dave Rodman to discuss his Orleans Racing team, the impact of teammate Brendan Gaughan and achieving closure and the rejuvenation of his career.
Q: What's your frame of mind after becoming the third man to win a race in all three of NASCAR's national touring series?
It's huge. Craftsman does a great job with the Truck Series and the competition is so high these days, that to win a race is a huge accomplishment.
But even more than that, to be able to say that you won in all three major touring series is something -- you know? You're on a list of only 10 people that have done that.
That's huge for me and I want to thank NASCAR for giving me the opportunity, as a guy growing up in New York to go to work for a guy like Dale Earnhardt. To start in the Busch Series and to win races, then go to Nextel Cup and win and now winning in the Truck Series is just remarkable.
It'll probably take another day or so for it to sink in.
Q: Careers are made of dreams, but when you think back to racing Modifieds at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, and then in Busch North and the Modified Tour -- what was your goal and did you think attaining this milestone was possible?
The way to answer that is to say it just didn't (seem possible). I was tearing up the bullrings on Long Island, racing with my dad and he was a big supporter of mine.
Then, getting the opportunity with Bob Bahre building that track (New Hampshire International Speedway) up in New Hampshire. That gave us an opportunity to showcase some talent in front of the Cup guys and to get the attention of a guy by the name of Dale Earnhardt and to go to work for him driving his Busch cars.
It's a storybook tale, and a story of just how things have happened for me, from starting out on Long Island on the bullrings to going to work for a guy like Dale Earnhardt and to win races for him, and now Mr. Gaughan and the Orleans Dodge -- it's just incredible.
The answer to the question is that you would never picture that, being a 15-year-old kid racing open-wheel cars on a short track in New York -- so it's really a storybook ending.
Q: What a difference a year makes. Last year you guys showed the potential to win, but bad luck nailed you every turn of the way. What do things look like in 2005, with crew chief Charlie Wilson and your Orleans crew?
Believe it or not, we're still growing. We thought right towards the end of last year we were going to win some races, and we didn't (because) we had a little bit of bad luck, so we're hoping to put that behind us.
We feel we're a stronger team. We've spent a year getting to know each other and to come out in the second race and win is a credit to the entire Orleans Dodge team. We weren't at our best.
That was one thing that we talked about, even yesterday. We feel like we can still improve, and we're sitting here winning races, so the competition's got to be a little weary if we get our trucks where they need to be.
We'd like to contend for top-fives and wins throughout the year.
Q: How much of a difference do you feel like Brendan Gaughan has meant to your team, since he's come back and is racing full-time with you?
It's just nice. His enthusiasm goes throughout the whole team. He just picks everybody up -- including myself. We look for a guy in the shop to straighten things out and get things running the right way.
Who could you ask for to be in a better situation than to have a guy like Brendan Gaughan to do that? He's standing in right now and doing that and to hire the people we need to move forward and for him to move forward in the Truck Series, too -- so it's just a welcome addition to the team.
Q: Is it especially sweet to win here in California, where you had that bitter experience in 2003, winning the pole for DEI and then crashing on the first lap?
Yeah, but you know -- it wasn't bitter. I sat on the pole and I was instructed in how we wanted a nice clean start and for everyone to use their head on the first lap.
I had a good clean start and used my head and the next thing I know we're three- or four-wide down in Turn 1, at the drop of the green flag. I'm not going to take any credit for being any part of that -- I was a victim in that whole entire situation.
It took a guy who qualified on the pole and could have run in the top 10 that entire race and took him out before we even came around to complete one lap. So I was just very disappointed.
Q: Talk about confidence, and your relationship with the Gaughan family.
From the time I came back I knew I could race and win races. It seemed like nobody else had confidence. It's been a three-year book. It's a story of winning races, getting hurt, losing your job, struggling back to winning races again.
I wasn't going to give up until I reached this level of winning races again. I got hurt winning races, and now I'm back to winning races again. I felt from the time I got back in the racecar with the right opportunity I could do that. I was never given the opportunity until Mr. Gaughan called last year and said 'I want you to come and drive my truck.'
I had an opportunity in Busch that I was going to take, but this just felt right in my heart. It was something I wanted to do and we just struck up a deal. The credit goes to the Orleans/Jasper team. These guys didn't quit.
It's nice to go to work in the morning knowing you have the confidence of an owner and a sponsor and people around you that know you can get the job done and win races. I haven't had that feeling the last couple of years and now I do. It's not going to be our last time here. We'll see you again.
Q: As you said in your news conference, your confidence has never wavered in your ability. So what are your hopes of putting closure to any of the doubts people in the stands, the media and the industry might have had?
It's closure now. I didn't know what it would take to put closure to it, but nobody can say (now) that you can't win a race -- because we're sitting here and we won a race. And we're going to go on and win more races.
It's time that history closes the book on that part of my life. I've closed it a long time ago and it just needs for everybody else to close it and for all of us to move on. The only way we can do that is by winning races like we did (Friday) night.
We're going to do it in the future, too -- we're just really happy. I worked hard to get to the point of getting back in a car -- or a truck -- that could win races and getting back to winning races, because that's what makes me happy.
Q: There have been some big victories in your career: Rockingham in 2001 and your home track, Watkins Glen, where Dale Earnhardt really noticed you. Where does this truck victory fit in your career accomplishments, to you?
It fits right in and is parallel to any of them. Your first win is something you always remember -- (coming) in my home state of New York, and Dale (Earnhardt) was there in Victory Lane and that's something you'll always remember.
Then, with Dale passing on at Daytona (in 2001) and then not knowing what we were going to do -- but knowing that if Dale were still with us he'd tell us to suck it up and go to Rockingham and win that race for him.
Then, to go there and win that race, I mean, (was incredible). The last three laps I was falling to pieces and I had a voice come over my shoulder saying "Don't be such a sissy, suck it up and get up on top of that wheel" -- just like he would say.
We went on to win that race and it was just a huge experience. Now, getting hurt and coming back, two-and-a-half or three years later and winning a race ranks right up there because this is something I wanted to do.
I didn't want to end my career at any (low) point. I wanted just to get back in a situation where I could win races, and that's where we're at right now with this Orleans Dodge.
Q: How big is that grin on your face going to be this week riding your motorcycle?
It's going to be ear-to-ear (laughing), so people will probably be asking me, "What are you grinning about?"
It's probably going to be hard to explain, but I'm excited. It's great being out here in California and to win a race. We've got a nice trip planned.
Like I said, it's going to sink in, in a couple days and know that we're on that top-10 list of people that have won in every touring series in NASCAR and we're pretty excited about that.