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Friday, March 2
Pizza Hut doesn't deliver for Dallenbach
By Jerry Bonkowski
Some people complain if their pizza delivery takes longer than 30 minutes.
Winston Cup driver Wally Dallenbach patiently waited nearly seven months for his pizza to be delivered -- but it never showed up on his doorstep.
That's the primary reason why Dallenbach is sitting at home in Daytona Beach, Fla., this weekend, rather than being behind the wheel in Las Vegas for Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When he joined Darwin Oordt's Galaxy Motorsports team last season, it appeared Dallenbach had finally found a home after nearly 10 seasons on the circuit. No longer would he have to worry about being merely a replacement driver for any team that needed one. No longer would he have to worry about driving for an under-financed and under-equipped outfit. No longer would he have to endure one-year contracts from season to season.
With a signed three-year deal to drive for the team, Galaxy was Dallenbach's ticket to what he had longed for his whole life: Winston Cup success and stardom.
And set to be the engine that drove Dallenbach and Galaxy into the elite class of the top teams in Winston Cup beginning in 2001 was a reported three-year, $30 million sponsorship from Pizza Hut, a deal Oordt had begun working on last summer.
Everything seemed on track. Pizza Hut wanted Oordt and Dallenbach, and obviously Oordt and Dallenbach wanted Pizza Hut ... in a bad way.
But Dallenbach began getting a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach as days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months -- and yet, the Pizza Hut deal still had not been signed, sealed and yes, delivered.
Even after the season ended in mid-November, Dallenbach said he was repeatedly assured a signed contract was imminent; he just needed to be patient a little longer. But as each day passed, that funny feeling began to turn into a sick feeling.
Compounding the problem was Dallenbach turned down feelers from five other Winston Cup teams during the off-season, partly out of a sense of loyalty to Oordt and Galaxy, and partly due to his desire to see the mega-million deal with Pizza Hut become reality.
"I stuck with my guns. I'm under contract (to Galaxy), and for everything I'm being told, that this sponsorship is going to come through, and that we were going to go racing, sponsor or no sponsor," Dallenbach said earlier this week in a phone conversation.
By mid-January, the Pizza Hut deal had fallen through ... and so had Dallenbach's chances of driving for another team. Oordt told him that the team would forge ahead and was preparing for the Daytona 500, as well as the rest of the season, even if it was without a major sponsor.
Three weeks later, and just two weeks before teams started heading to Daytona, Dallenbach's worst nightmare came true: Not only was Pizza Hut long gone, he said he was told by Oordt that Galaxy would not be competing at Daytona and, unless another sponsor could be found, racing in the rest of the 2001 season was likely not going to happen, either.
"Some parties didn't hold up their end of the bargain," Dallenbach said. "Certainly, I would have been driving (for another team) if we had gone into this thing realistically and said, 'Hey, we don't have a sponsor signed, and maybe you (Dallenbach) should go off and do something else.' But that wasn't going to be done because part of the reason in putting a sponsorship package together for a team is that the driver is in place. It's a double-edged sword."
What had been the kind of deal every Winston Cup driver dreams about only a few months earlier had disintegrated into every driver's nightmare: no sponsor, no team, no racing.
"I'm sitting here, wondering how I'm going to pay my bills," Dallenbach said. "The timing on this thing couldn't have been any worse. Here we are, coming into the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500, and basically you find out that there's nothing there to go with."
"You don't start looking for a new ride in February. It's the same in Busch as it is in Winston Cup: everybody's set, everybody has their program in place. Everything is set for the year. To come in and look for a Cup or Busch or Truck or any kind of ride at this time of year is ridiculous. You've just got to wait it out, and if it's meant to be, it'll happen.
"What I've done is stated the fact I'm available (to other teams) and usually, things will start shaking out after the fourth or fifth race of the season, when some teams may want to make a driver change, and maybe there'll be an opening.
"But, to be honest with you, I'm not interested in an opening that's not going to be better than where I was at (at Galaxy, before everything fell apart). I just kind of have to wait and see what comes up. I'm keeping my options open. There may also be a situation in the IRL, but there's as much of a situation there of getting a Cup deal, too.
"My focus right now is whatever I do, it's going to be with a good team. And I'll wait and sit it out until it happens. I may go to the poor house doing it, but I believe enough in my abilities that if I'm in the right situation, I can be competitive and win races. For the last nine years in Cup, it's been bouncing around from one deal to the next, for whatever reason.
"Thinking you had a three-year deal and thinking you were involved in a building program, I put a lot of time and effort into Galaxy and trying to make it into a good race team. And then, basically, I had the rug pulled out from under me. You just pick up the pieces and keep being positive about it and move forward."
Dallenbach has since begun fighting back. He has filed suit against Oordt, seeking to be released from the two remaining years on his contract, is hoping to perhaps replace a struggling driver in another Cup car in the coming weeks, and is also exploring the possibility of going back to his family's open wheel roots and compete in the Indianapolis 500 in May.
"There's one situation that is probably pretty serious (to race in the IRL)," Dallenbach said. "I know that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IRL are certainly interested in having Wally Dallenbach come over and run Indy cars. I know they're working very hard to put something together. I know they would like me over there, and they're doing everything they can to put the package together."
To say Dallenbach is bitter is an understatement. He refuses to even call Oordt by name, constantly referring in the interview to his former boss as "one party."
"I was only hearing information from one party, so I don't know what the truth or what wasn't the truth was as far as how the (Pizza Hut) deal was going," Dallenbach said. "The information I was getting was, 'It's close. It's getting closer, it's getting closer.'
"My concerns about it was we started the discussions (with Pizza Hut) back in June. And, when June turned to July and July turned to August and it kept getting later and later and later, my concerns were, 'Hey, we need to put a drop-dead date on this thing to have them (Pizza Hut) give us an answer. If we don't, this thing is going to go through December and January, and when they decide they don't want to go racing, we're going to be in trouble.' Well, we didn't put a drop-dead date on it, and that's exactly what happened.
"There's a lot less Winston Cup and Busch teams out there than there were a year ago. It's gotten a lot tougher to get sponsorship. At one time last year we really had a lot of interest, we had a lot of (potential) sponsors we were talking to. Then, all of a sudden, when it gets to that point where a check needs to be written, they all quietly disappear. So, although there was a lot of interest, there wasn't a lot of people who I feel that were real players. When it got down to November, basically the only one we did have that was a possibility was the Pizza Hut deal.
"I don't know, really, how close that was. I never spoke with anybody at Pizza Hut. It could have been just a process of them looking at it or whatever. I was getting information from the team, our team, and they could paint any picture they want."
Dallenbach said he is "absolutely" finished with Galaxy and Oordt. Yet, as frustrating and topsy-turvy things have become for Dallenbach in recent months, he is surprisingly even-keeled about what has happened to him.
"The anger thing, you get over that," Dallenbach said. "I've never had the luxury of having a two- or three-year contract with anybody. I'm pretty much used to going year-to-year. I guess 'disappointed' is the biggest word. All you can go by is a man's word. Contracts are contracts, but when somebody tells you something and then they don't back it up, well, that gets around and the handwriting is on the wall.
"All I can say is that when I say I'm going to do something, I do it. When I look in the mirror in the morning, I can look in the mirror without having to look away because of what I told somebody and couldn't back it up. This hasn't only affected me. It's affected about 30 or 35 other people in that race shop. There's a lot of other people who've lost their jobs there because there's no sponsorship. So, there's a whole team that's in the same boat as I am."
With the last two years of his contractual agreement with Oordt now tied up in legal proceedings, Dallenbach is trying not to worry about what the future holds. He's taking things as they come.
"I've always been a true believer that what's meant to be is meant to be," Dallenbach said. "I feel like something will happen and something will come through for me; it always has, I've rebounded every year.
"I do myself no good getting with a team that's not properly funded. If you're not properly funded, you don't have the resources that you need to be competitive. There is no magic in this sport. You look at the guys that are running up front, they're in good equipment.
"I truly believe the old saying that a driver is only as good as the car that's around him. With the field getting smaller, and the haves and have-nots in racing, you've got to be in a good situation.
"At this point in my career, I feel I've proved my point. I'll just try to get myself in a really good situation, go have fun and run up front."
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