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DRO: You had an obvious role in giving credibility to the TV programming in the first year of its five-season deal. But what about the Powerade partnership?

CP: I was concerned about replacing Winston. The longer it took for NHRA to announce the new series sponsor, the more people wondered (if the sanctioning body, indeed, had a sponsor on the horizon). But they've exceeded my expectations. I don't think there could be a better series sponsor. Just the name Powerade is perfect. We're all about power.

DRO: You said you were inundated last season by people asking when you were going to be back behind the wheel. Did that irritate you?

CP: I enjoyed the fact I was in the broadcast booth. Looking back on it, I thought I did a decent job. . . . I didn't miss racing like people thought I might have. "Missing it" has many meanings. There's no thrill like winning a race. I got a taste of that in Englishtown in 2000. I'm like the rock 'n' roll star who had it all but then thought there's something missing in life and gets miserable. I've been there. But I run it like a business. That's why I don't get my jollies going down the track in a race car. If it doesn't make good business sense, I don't want to do it. Now everything is falling into place the way I want it to.

DRO: When you came back in 1999, for a limited time and with a limited budget, the overwhelming message seemed to be that you finally were your own boss. How important is that to you now?

CP: In '99, I piecemealed the team and did the best I could. I feel I made some good decisions. But I saw the writing on the wall, and I had to bite the bullet. It was good for me. I paid attention. I think I'm in a good position to react to things.

My dad was a self-taught guy, and that's what I'm doing -- doing it slow. You follow your dream. That's the motivation. You can overcome anything with motivation. I'm sure at times I'll have to be a cheerleader for the team. I'll have to remind the crew that racin' is fun. We could be laying concrete or pouring asphalt in the hot sun. When you own the team, you can work and get the most out of your guys. But if you're just the hired driver and you try to motivate the crew, people think you're butting in.

There's a lot of responsibility. It's not fun when you're talking to the lawyers and accountants, but you have to do that. It's not all about going fast in a race car. You have to be happy with what you're doing, and I think I found (happiness) in doing it on my own. The magic lies with me. Now I'm in control.

DRO: You've won one series championship and 22 national events, including three U.S. Nationals, in 40 final-round appearances. You singled out that (Sept. 9, 2000) victory in Englishtown. Is it more gratifying than most of the others?

CP: I was grateful for the opportunity to race for some great teams, but in the end, unless you own it . . . I can remember winning races and thinking, "I've conquered all." Then I'd sit back and say, "This isn't my team. This is somebody else's vision." In Englishtown, I was so thrilled to be there. I didn't have a sponsor to go to that race. I got much greater satisfaction.

Not to take anything away from hired drivers, but you look at all the big names . . . Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Don Prudhomme, Joe Amato . . . they've all owned their own teams.

DRO: Simply owning a team and parlaying that into success can be two different things.

CP: I've always believed that what separates the winners from the rest -- besides money, of course -- is management. And that is verified by what I saw. There's only one formula to win: You have to want to be the best and want to do the things that get you there. That's why John Force is a winner, and his team mirrors that. They're the first team to show up in the morning, and one of the last to leave at night. I've been in the winner's circle many times, with different teams. And during that time, John has had one crew chief. No doubt about it, he's very dedicated. I've driven for great owners, but we didn't always go to the mountaintop like we wanted to. I had one owner (for whom) drag racing was a hobby. I had one who treated it like a red-headed stepchild.


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