Where Are They Now? Steve Park
May 23, 2016
Very few people can say they have reached the pinnacle in their respective professions. In the racing world it is no different. Only 26 drivers can make the claim that they have won in all three of NASCAR’s top series. One of those 26 is Steve Park. Park experienced several ups and downs throughout his career, which spanned an incredible 4 decades. From humble beginnings in the Northeast, to driving for one of the biggest names in the sports history, Steve Park experienced success at each stop.
Last week Keep It 35 caught up with Steve to discuss his career and what life is like for him today.
Keep It 35: What does a day in your life consist of today?
Steve Park: I have some commercial real estate that I manage. My son just turned 6 years old and started kindergarten and with that we looked into buying a franchise in Mooresville, because we love living here and raising our family. We bought a Batteries Plus Bulbs independently owned franchise in Mooresville, NC. And from a day to day standpoint, I’ve been running the store, and managing real estate, and raising a 6 year old.
35: What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?
Steve: Oh Boy, I like to play golf and I like to ride my motorcycle quite a bit. I really like now fishing with my son, and doing a little go-karting with him. He’s into little league baseball and he likes to play golf a little bit, so I like to take him out once a week to do some twilight golf when I get done working.
35: If you had your way would you have your son be a baseball player, golf, or move into racing?
Steve : People ask me that all the time. My main goal as a parent is to introduce him to a lot of things that are available to him, and let him decide just like my dad did. I mean, my Dad raced cars, I grew up in a racing family and I decided that I wanted to race. And I decided I wanted to race more so than my parents decided for me. I want to do the same thing for him. I want to introduce him to everything that’s available for him to do, find out what he likes, find out what he’s good at and let him pursue it.
35: How would you describe your career in a few words?
Steve: Awesome. I’ve had one heck of a career in NASCAR. Starting out in New England, grinding it out on the Saturday night short tracks. The people that I had a chance to meet driving for my own team and eventually driving for other people. I think every opportunity that I had in New England, right up to the construction of New Hampshire International Speedway and Bob Behr giving us the opportunity to showcase talent in front of some of the southern race teams. It gave a guy like me from the Northeast the opportunity to go work for Dale Earnhardt. So, what people don’t realize is being a kid and having that dream, and then being able to live that dream, to eventually achieve the goal of back then which was Winston Cup for an owner like Dale Earnhardt, and then to win at that level is incredible. And you know I think that I’ve had a storied career. I’ve been able to reach that pinnacle of racing and not only reach it, but win at that level. I was able to achieve all goals that I had set for myself.
35: You’ve had a lot of memorable moments, is there any one moment that sticks out as your favorite?
Steve: I think my favorite was winning my first race at Watkins Glen. There’s a lot that we were going through as a team, growing and having a great sponsor like Pennzoil. To go to my home state of New York and to win on a road course, which I think is one of the toughest venues to go to, and to beat a guy like Mark Martin. I sit back and I pinch myself, and if you think about it. Steve Park? Who is that guy? He beat Mark Martin at Watkins Glen? I still pinch myself, because I’ve always considered myself the average working guy. I think that’s how I related so well to Dale Earnhardt and achieved incredible goals with the tools that were set out in front of me. So again, I feel that I’m very fortunate.
35: Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Steve: Not really. The way I look at it, if the good Lord came down and said you can go back 20 years and try it all over again to learn from your mistakes and do things different, I wouldn’t take that opportunity. I wouldn’t take that opportunity to fail. I’ve met so many good people and I’ve taken advantage of so many good opportunities and achieved the goals that I’ve wanted to achieve. I wouldn’t want to have the opportunity to go back and try to do it again, because I already know the results of what I’ve been through and I’m real happy and real blessed.
35: I’m sure you could spend hours telling them, but is there any one Dale story you can share that is very memorable to you?
Steve: I have hundreds of Dale stories, but when I first went to work for him I actually lived at his house for a while. I just remember in the first week or two of being down south and living at Dale Earnhardt’s house and working on, back then the Busch team, and just going to dinner one night. I go to get in the back of the car and he calls my name and he goes “Hey Park!”, and he tosses the keys of the car up in the air. I catch the keys and he says “You’re driving!.” I was like “Uhh, uhh Ok!” And I thought it was a test, so I got in his Monte Carlo, he got in the passenger seat, and Teresa Earnhardt and Taylor Earnhardt got in the back. I’m trying to keep the car in between the white lines and yellow lines, and we’re driving to one of his favorite restaurants. It was a nerve racking experience just driving the car because I realized that I was driving Dale Earnhardt, and his wife, and his little girl to dinner. I had to kind of block that out because I had a job to do, and that was to drive one mile around the corner to his favorite restaurant. So pretty simple things that end up being pretty crazy but those stories and times I had to spend with him will be with me until I go to my grave. Just very fortunate.
35: In 1997 you drove the No. 14 Burger King, but in 1998 you switch to the No. 1. Was there any reason for this switch?
Steve: There’s a great reason. We originally had the 14 number registered for Dale Earnhardt and I think Rick Mast drove the 1 Skoal car. When Dale heard a rumbling that that team was going to be up for sale, he had talked to I think it was Leo Jackson at the time. He tried his best to acquire the No. 1 because he thought with Pennzoil being the number 1 leading Motor Oil, If he could get that No. 1 and put it on the side of our car, it would just be that much cooler for Pennzoil and ourselves. And in true Dale Earnhardt fashion, he was able to pull it off.
35: How close do you follow NASCAR today?
Steve: Not as much as I used to follow it. There have been a lot of changes in NASCAR, obviously over the years. I still probably go to 10 or 12 races a year and still get a chance to see a couple of my old friends that were involved in NASCAR. I still follow the sport, and enjoy the sport, and enjoy what NASCAR is doing. And my thought is that we’re kind of going through a growth spurt right now with a new style car. If you look at the drivers, you know we got a changing of the guard with guys like Joey Logano, and Keselowski that are being the new front runners, compared to when I grew up in the Earnhardt, Waltrip, Baker days. I think that we’re going through a transition and hopefully coming towards the end of it. I think the product, as we can see in the last year, they’re putting on one hell of a race out there. These guys are driving their butts off and I think that the sport of NASCAR rivals any stick and ball sport out there.
35: Have you had any thoughts of being a commentator, or being more involved in the sport?
Steve: I think in the earlier years, when I first started getting out of the sport I had thought about maybe doing some commentating, but again through those transitional years I think we’ve seen some people come and go even on the reporting side of it. I think the main goal, a good answer to the question is once I learned and adapted that being home, and having somewhat of a normal schedule of not traveling so much, it made it really hard for me and my family to decide that it would be a good thing for Dad to be gone again all the time. We waited long to start a family, and the one good thing that I’m thankful for is through me semi-retiring and retiring and not racing as much, I got to see my first kids steps, their first words and I wasn’t having to drag him across the country and educate him out of a motorhome. I’m pushing 50 years old this year, my son just turned 6 and he’s just been fun to actually watch grow in those first couple of years to what he’s developed now and I can’t wait for the next 10.
35: If you could start up a team, and you could choose any driver, who would you choose?
Steve: Boy that’s a good question. I never thought of starting a team, you’d start to look at some of these younger drivers. How could you not pick Kyle Busch? I think some of the really good racers, especially with the downforce coming out of these cars, are the guys that came out of truck. Another guy I wouldn’t shy away from would be a guy like Carl Edwards. I think he can drive the heck out of a race car.
Steve: We haven’t mentioned the race fans. I can’t thank them enough for the amount of support that they’ve given me throughout my career. Without the fans, we wouldn’t have racing like we do today and the amount of support I had from them when I was racing. It used to amaze me that people would stand in autograph lines for hours and hours just to get me to sign a piece of paper. I think coming from my background that always made me feel like they were the ones that were special, because they were the ones that were standing out in the rain, standing in lines for hours in the hot sun, to get a guy like myself signature. Again I just want to thank them for their support too!