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MT: You know, it's kind of wild because when we -- and I always say "we" because I'm nobody by myself. It's my team, it's my sponsors, my family, my friends, "we" is everybody -- but when we won in 1990, 91, 92, 94, I did my own tuning, I did a lot of the work because I grew up working on my own stuff and learning how to do everything. And it was one of those things that meant back then that I lived and breathed and slept and ate drag racing.

But, as we go on through life we all mature and we get more responsibilities. For me, there's a pretty big farm and obviously there's my family. So, not that we ever meant to let it slip away, but you kind of have to prioritize your things in life. All through the '90s, we were always number two or number three and the worst we ever did I think was number four in the points, but in 2000, we had changed our combination. The first two or three races we were in the top three in points, we were doing pretty well and then we went to Grand Bend up in Canada, where a good friend of mine, Jack Dustman, got killed.

We offered to take his widow, his brother, and his brother's wife home from Canada in this motorhome after we picked them up at the hospital. So we took them home, to where they live just seven miles from my house, and I had never seen people grieve so hard until I saw his family. It really hit me hard. We stayed with them for three days -- they didn't want us to leave -- and at that point in time I really rethought things. I looked at my wife and kids and thought, "You know, I've done this a long time and nothing crazy has ever happened. I don't need to continue with this." At that point, I had decided I was going to quit at the end of the year.

So when we got to Shreveport and Wayne Bailey got killed -- and Wayne had been to my house before, I liked him a lot, he was a really good guy who worked hard and was very serious about what he did -- it just made me all the more determined. Plus, that race at Shreveport was also the first time in my life that I didn't qualify for a race -- ever! I mean, you go back to 1984 since we were running Funny Car and I've qualified at every single race.

I knew my heart was taken out of it when Jack got killed, but I had decided for sponsorship commitments that I was going to make it through the year. So, I told our sponsor at the end of the year that I was going to quit, and they had been with us for 12 years at the time and they're the reason we won world championships. And Mike Wagner of the Ohio Corn Growers Association called me up and said, "I really need you now. I need you to not quit right now," and I thought about it and I realized then that he was there when I needed him, so we struck a deal with Jim and Eileen Lape to come on and help us out.

DRO: A lot of people were skeptical about how that would work out, though, right?

MT: Well, Jim is very intense about what he does, that's known well here at the racetrack, he's a very intense person, but that's why I wanted him. We got together with my crew of Rod, Greg, and Randy, who have all been friends of mine for a long time, and we decided that we were going to go after this thing hard last year.

We did okay at the start of the year and Jim and I had our differences, but once we got that out of the way at Norwalk and we decided to work on the competition instead of on each other, it got a lot better. We had both been our own crew chiefs for a long time and it's tough to give up your own ways of doing things.


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