Originally created 02/11/99

Drivers make most of off-season



DAYTONA BEACH -- The schedule continues to grow as new tracks come into the fold. Sponsor and media demands are ever increasing. And as a result, NASCAR drivers are having their off-seasons squeezed tighter and tighter.

But even with a postseason exhibition race in Japan and Daytona testing in January, there's still a little free time.

Here's a sampling of how a few drivers spent their "vacations":

-- Jeff Gordon: "We went snow skiing in Aspen and did a little snowmobiling there. We also went to Europe (Paris and London) before Japan."

Despite the demands on his time, Gordon said he has no complaints about his winter.

"I mean, around New Year's, we had eight or nine days," he said. "That was the longest vacation I've had since I started Winston Cup. But then the longer you take, the more you've got to do when you get back. I still had a busy off-season with photo shoots and commercials and testing and Christmas parties -- just everything you have to do that's part of the sport."

-- Dale Jarrett: "I started a new truck team and worked on that during the winter. It's just something you like to do. At Atlanta (the season finale last Nov. 8), you say, `Man, I'm glad the season's over with.' A week and a half later, you're ready to get going again."

Asked whether the off-season has gotten too short, Jarrett said: "Well, there certainly isn't much of one -- maybe a couple of weeks around Christmas. You try to make sure you spend all of that time with your family and getting to know them. But you have to make your time. The seasons are kind of running together.

"But it's like anyone else's job except we do a lot of ours on the road, and that makes it more difficult. But the sport is in a great position right now, and I think we all want to capitalize on what is here now and also make sure things are going to continue (to go well) in the future."

-- Rusty Wallace: "We spent a lot of time in the North Carolina mountains relaxing. We built a home up there, and I love skiing and did a lot of that, and stayed home with the family a ton. I've been with my wife and kids probably more than I've ever been with them in my life, and we've had a blast."

Wallace said he also rented a large boat and took his family and close friends on a weeklong cruise to the Bahamas.

-- Jeremy Mayfield: "We went to Mexico for a week, and that's about it. I snorkeled a little bit and laid on the beach -- just basically relaxed and tried to get away from everything.

"It seems like yesterday that we were here. But then again, if it was any more time, I'd probably go crazy."

-- Bobby Hamilton: "Mostly hang out around home."

Hamilton is one who thinks the nine-month schedule isn't as grueling for drivers as its reputation.

"When you think about how many days we can stay home as a driver, it's really not as bad as what you might think," he said. "If you handle it right, you can actually have a day or two home more than people who work 40-hour-a-week jobs."

-- Ricky Rudd: "It doesn't feel like the last race of the year (the NAPA 500 at Atlanta last Nov. 8) really ever ended. To me, this is just an extension of last year, because we have been busy. The team's been busy building cars and getting ready for this 500. But it is a new season, a new look for everybody, new colors, a new car schemes to get used to. But again, our guys never really quit working."