Rusty Wallace Racing driver Michael Annett, placed on NASCAR probation after a drunk driving arrest, spoke with the media at Daytona International Speedway last weekend. Here's a transcript of the Q&A session:
"First of all, I need to start out with making some apologies to some certain people out there. First off, my family - they've been with me since I started this career and they've been behind me the whole way. I think I let them down the biggest way a son or a brother really could. Next, would be the Rusty Wallace organization. They took a big chance on me this year and this obviously is not the way I wanted to start it out. Definitely disappointed Rusty (Wallace, team owner) and everybody there - my team as well as the No. 66 team. The next two years are going to be about earning their respect back. I'm definitely in a position where I'm ready to do that. With my sponsor, they've backed me since I started racing. Like I said, I think let down and embarrassment is kind of the key words for everybody. Last, is the NASCAR community. These people come here each weekend to watch us race and there's a lot of kids out there that look up to us as role models. If I had kids I think I would be the last real person that I would point to for them to look up to right now. I'm definitely owning up to the mistake I made and this is definitely the worst week of my life - the lowest I've ever felt as a person. This can go two ways, it can either be the end of me or it can be the start of a new life and a better person, better driver and the word I used earlier - role model. This is definitely something that I think is going to end up to be a success story in the end and definitely have the people behind me and the support from Rusty Wallace, my family and everybody I listed earlier. I have everybody I need behind me to do this in turning this around and being a better person."
Why did you choose to drive and were you worried about this ever happening?
"We're professional athletes and we need to maintain a certain lifestyle so we have to drive. Driving while intoxicated - besides shooting somebody, it's the worst thing you could possibly do. It was just a huge mistake on my part. It's something that no one should ever do. You can make a lot of mistakes in your life and that's one that you should just never make. It was just a horrible judgment call on my part and it's something that is never going to happen again. We're definitely taking steps to make sure that it never happens again."
Do you dispute anything you have been accused of in this situation?
"No, not at all. I'm owning up to everything I did and there's no excuse for it, there's nowhere to point a finger except right back at me. Taking full blame and just hoping everyone can learn from this. I know I have. Honestly, it scared the hell out of me. It's something that we're taking steps to make sure that it never happens again. There wouldn't need to be steps - I'm telling you, it honestly scared the hell out of me. It's something that's just never going to happen again and it shouldn't happen to anybody else."
Do you feel like you need some counseling to get through this?
"I really don't know. I know that's part of the things that we're doing with NASCAR and Rusty Wallace Racing. We are going to do some counseling classes and some awareness classes. After that I might be able to answer that question better and say, ‘Yeah, I did need this' or ‘No, I didn't.' It's something that I could control on my own. It's something I want to do even if they weren't mandating because like I said, as much as Saturday night scared me, if I didn't personally want to go to make sure there's not a problem then I would wonder why other people weren't helping me out here. It's something I want to do voluntarily and if they weren't making me do it, I would be there. I have already been there on Wednesday when I went in just to start the program. I wanted to get that started even before we start racing next weekend. We're taking everything and all the steps we need to take. I can answer that question better after I go to some classes and find out if there is a problem."
How exactly did the accident scare you?
"It scared me that I could have killed somebody or even injured somebody. I could have injured myself. Not only just the people that were involved in the accident and I drove a ways until we got to that point. There's so many lives that I risked and then also it was a wake-up call, the fact that I made that bad of a decision to get behind the wheel that night. I need to sit back and think what kind of person am I, and I nee d to better my life and better my decisions and definitely need to start making a lot better judgment calls."
Has your community service been determined?
"No, it hasn't and that goes along the lines that I am going to do that stuff anyways. If they say do 20 hours, I will probably be doing 40. This is the beginning of a new Michael Annett, a new person - not only in the NASCAR community, but as a person in general, as a family member, a better friend to everybody. It's just the start of a new person and community service is one of the best ways to get your head in the right place and realize what you really can do to help."
What has the support in the garage area been like this week?
"It's been huge. I've been getting phone calls and text messages from people I've never even talked to and that's just huge. It shows what our NASCAR community is like. Everybody talks about it and it just seems like it takes incidents like this to really prove that it's not all talk. People really do care about one another and you have disputes on the track, but if you saw them with a flat tire going down the road after the race, you would probably stop and help them."
Did you ever consider not racing this weekend?
"I never thought that I was going to get out of the car and not show up this weekend. To me, I'm in a position and at a high enough level where obviously what I did was a horrible mistake. It's public and everybody can see it. I can take it from being just the worst thing in the world and making it better. Somebody else out there who has nothing to do with racing hears about this and they know what happened to me and after they hear it they change their life around and make it better if they see that I have a success story. It's something where I'm in a position that I should have been doing this before this happened and should have done a lot better job at being a better person and being out there using the opportunity that I have for the good. I never once thought about getting out of the car. I'm taking the position I'm in to use it to its fullest."
Have you listened to what others have been saying about you?
"Rusty (Wallace, team owner) quoted it best yesterday - opinions are like butts, everybody's got one and I really don't need to hear their opinions. I know how I feel inside. I know the opinions of people that matter to me and those are the only ones I'm really going to listen to."
How do you plan to change your life?
"Really it's starting out with a zero tolerance policy for myself and that's being mandated by NASCAR, by Rusty Wallace Racing and with myself. Alcohol's a poison and to take a poison out of your body, everything you do throughout the day is going to be better - whether it's at the gym or whatever. You're not going to wake up and not feel good and not want to do anything. You can be at the shop at 7 a.m. working with your guys and being there and showing them your support and when you're done you can go out and do some community service. You're going to be a better person in general and be a better family member. Just certain things that when you take a poison out of your life like that, you're just going to be a better person in general."
What did Rusty Wallace say to you about the situation?
"Huge disappointment was the first thing. I couldn't blame him you know. I sat back and took everything. I owned up to it from the very beginning. I have never once denied anything that happened, I owned up to it and tried to apologize and just needed to let him know how he felt. After we got past that part and now it's all support and that's a really cool thing because he doesn't have to do that. He could have sent me out the door and I would be packing. He's behind me 110 percent - the whole Rusty Wallace Racing organization is behind me 110 percent. When you're going through the worst time of your life, you need people like that behind you and I definitely am fortunate enough to have that."
What did you say to your race team following the incident?
"That was one of the first things that I thought about - these people have families and if I'm not there - times are tough right now and someone might not be able to jump in the seat and drive that No. 62 car for the full season. I went in there at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, got the whole shop together and stood up in front of them, owned up to what I did, apologized for embarrassing them and told them, ‘I lost a lot of respect from you guys that you've given me and I've been here a month. I threw it all away.' I said this was something I did not expect to get back after this meeting, after two weeks, after three months, six months. I expect this to be years as bad as this situation is to gain that respect back. There's a difference between them supporting me 110 and 200 percent and they're going to work as hard as they ever have to make sure we're successful, but respect is something different. It's something I'm going to earn in the shop, I'm going to earn with them personally and on track. It's something that fortunately enough I have the opportunity to do and I'm looking forward to it."
Are you disappointed that no one talked you out of driving that night?
"I got behind the wheel, I had the keys in my hand and I turned the truck on. It was my choice and it was a horrible one, it was a huge mistake - just fortunate that no one got hurt. I was able to call the family that was involved yesterday and had a nice talk with the man that was driving the car and fortunately enough they were all OK. The cool thing was that he was really supportive. He understands that it was a mistake. He knows that's not the kind of person I am and luckily enough he was open-minded and understood that we all make mistakes in our life and this was the worst kind possible. Fortunate enough that this was just another person involved in this that is understanding and supportive."
What were the circumstances of a previous incident in which you were involved?
"I received a ticket for a failure to reduce speed earlier around the race of ORP (O'Reilly Raceway Park) last year. It was a bad judgment call. I compete in the Nationwide Series and they have a great program actually about texting while driving - an awareness program. I've participated in them and I've talked to kids about it. I definitely should have been doing a lot more listening than I was talking those days. That's part of being a better person. Put your phone in the backseat until you get to where you're going. It's a judgment call and what kind of call is a good person going to make - what kind of call is a guy that's not really thinking about others going to make? Unfortunately it took two times for me to realize that. It's sunk in now and hopefully I can go out and explain my situation to other people and learn from the other incident and that one as well."
How do you feel this will impact your career?
"I'm sure it will follow me, but I also hope the fact of where I was to where I'm going to be six months, a year or two down the road. I hope that's what they can look at, ‘Yeah, he made a big mistake at 24, but he's 25 or 26 now and look where he's at now. He realized he needed to change and he did.' They'll see that in the personal side of me. My dad said it best, I need to drive my way out of this. Hopefully we are going to put all this behind us and go out there and be competitive with RWR (Rusty Wallace Racing) this year. It's hard to go against success and that's what we're going to do - going to have success on and off the track."
Is Daytona the best track to being your comeback after winning the ARCA race three years ago?
"I was actually laying in bed thinking about that last night. Three years ago this was the best time of my life, standing here in Daytona on this day for the ARCA race and to come back here three years later and it's the worst time of my life. If there's any place I would like to be to turn it around, it's here and with the people I'm with and the organization I'm with."