January 24, 2017
This is the first installment of our new Memory Lane Series. The new Series will focus on talking to current drivers who are getting close to the end of their career. We want to bring you facts and stories about these drivers from a personal standpoint. We also feel that these drivers do not necessarily get the publicity and respect that they should for the successes that they have had throughout their careers.
The @NASCARMemories Twitter account and the KeepIt35.com website have shown us how many people respect and embrace the past and we know you will deservingly give credit and positive exposure to these drivers for their successful careers.
To kick off our new column, we spoke with 2000 Busch Series champion Jeff Green about many things, including his favorite moments, driving for Dale Earnhardt, an opportunity to go full-time Winston Cup racing in 1995, as well as what the future holds for him in 2017 and beyond.
Keep It 35: I’m sure the championship is right at the top of your list, but what would you say are a few of the top moments of your career?
Jeff Green: There are so many of them in the Busch Series, but in the hay-day of my career I felt that every day I went to the race track, I had an opportunity to win. Looking back to Pikes Peak, when my brother David and I raced to the checkered flag. We passed each other two or three times in the last 10 laps and I was able to win. That was a special day to be able to beat my brother and for us to be able to race as hard as we did. I’m sure he wasn’t happy with the result, but we won and he ran second.
As for the Cup Series, sitting on the pole at Bristol and the Daytona 500 was a top of the career day for me.
35: Is there a Cup race that sticks out to you as one that got away?
Jeff: Yeah, I ran second at New Hampshire (2002 New England 300), around 2002. As the race came down to the end, it was Ward Burton, Dale Jarrett and myself. We ended up finishing second but I feel like if I was better on the final restart, I would have had a chance to win. That was my best finish. I ran third a few times but that was one that I wish I could have again.
35: What was it like to be able to drive for legends such as Richard Childress, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty?
Jeff: It was amazing. I had a call from Dale Earnhardt on my answering machine to come drive his Busch Series car. I spent the next few hours trying to figure out which one of my friends was trying to play a trick on me and thinking about who sounded the most like Dale Earnhardt. That was my first opportunity to be with an established team, one that gave me the opportunity to win races.
It’s an opportunity that I’ll always look back on, not just for the times on the race track but those out of the race car too. The times I spent with Dale Earnhardt taught me as much about life as it did about racing. After Dale passed away,
I had the opportunity to drive for Richard Childress and that was an opportunity of a lifetime. We had a bunch of great runs, a great team and a great sponsor in AOL.
I looked up to all three of those guys growing up and being able to drive to the airport or go out to dinner with them, it was awesome. You can’t buy those moments.
35: I’m sure you have plenty of great stories from the times you spent with Dale. Is there one that you could share with us?
Jeff: I have tons of stories from my time at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated from when we would go out and hunt on the farm. Dale and I went hunting and he let me shoot a buck one afternoon. One of his prized bucks was right beside it. He warned me and let me know to make sure that I shot the right deer, but not in those exact words.
It was a funny story to me and one that will always stick with me. I was hunting with the great Dale Earnhardt on his farm. I couldn’t believe it. Those memories spent with him will always be with me.
35: After you drove for Dale, you moved over and drove the No. 8 car in the Busch Series. Partway through the season, the team shut down and you moved to the Winston Cup Series. At the time, you were third in the Busch Series standings.
What was going through your mind at the time knowing that you had an opportunity to go to the Cup Series, but also that it might have cost you an opportunity at the Championship?
Jeff: I think everybody wants to drive a Cup car, so that was a bonus for me. The stakes got higher and the pressure rose, so that was the downfall of it. Growing up, we raced short tracks in Kentucky and we always did whatever we could to achieve our dreams of making it to the Cup Series. I could never have argued with Gary Bechtel for making that choice.
Looking back, it probably wasn’t the right choice for us to move up but it was the only choice we had at the time. We did contend in a few races, running in the top-10 at Atlanta and California. We might not have been as good as we wanted to be, but we did have some great races which was a good bonus for us.
I think I look at it different too knowing that I had another shot later in my career to win the championship, so the regret isn’t really there.
35: Do you have any regrets or anything you feel you would have done different throughout your career?
Jeff: I got the call to drive for Dale Earnhardt in the Busch Series at the end of the 1994 season. At the same time, I had an opportunity to drive for Junior Johnson in the Winston Cup Series. I actually drove the season finale in Atlanta for Junior in 1994. I mean, how do you argue with Junior Johnson or Dale Earnhardt? How do you choose?
I felt that it would be beneficial for my career to go through the Busch Series before I went to Cup. I hated to turn Junior down, but I don’t think I can look back and regret that. I feel that I always made the best out of every opportunity that I had and that it always ended up working out for the best.
Every road has its different path. Who knows, if I went and drove for Junior, my career could have ended up a lot different. It could have ended a lot sooner or it could have lasted a lot longer. I just felt I needed to prove myself and had a better opportunity with the exposure driving the No. 3 car. I think hooking up with Dale did my name more justice driving for Junior.
35: Fast forward to now, do you have a plan in your head for how much longer you will be driving?
Jeff: As long as they’ll keep having me! In all honesty, most likely two or three more years. I feel like I have a really good opportunity to race this year and to be competitive. I want to put more into it than the past few years. This year we will be able to race and see some checkered flags and there will be a few races where we could be knocking on the door for a win. Anything can happen at the restrictor plate tracks and if we do the best job that we can, the opportunities will be there.
As far as the future, you just need opportunities. Once that good opportunity is gone, I feel like I will do something different. There are so many things that I can do, around the house and on my farm here. I’ll pay the bills with the money I make right now and my retirement kicks in about four years, so after that hopefully we can hang it up.
If we still lived in North Carolina, I feel like I would already be doing something different. There are so many jobs in racing that I would enjoy as much as driving, but we moved back to Kentucky about five years ago. I’m able to hunt on my farm and have a lot of fun here so I am happy with that.
35: Can you tell us anything about your plans for this year?
Jeff: We will be announcing the deal in the next week or so. It will be for one team and we will be racing each week in the XFINITY Series. I have a great opportunity to go out there and run every week to the checkered flag and have a lot of fun. I raced three times at the end of the year and had some success so I hope we can build on that success.
35: That’s all the questions we have for you. Thank you so much for your time and we hope everything works out for you this year!
Jeff: Thank you guys, I really appreciate it!