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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Brian Barnhart
Stan Clement
Wade Cunningham
Scott Dixon
Rusty Wallace
August 2, 2006


RUSTY WALLACE: I'm here to announce today that the Indy Racing League will be here at Iowa next June 22nd through the 24th. The race will be on Sunday, June 24th, live on ABC Sports with a 1:00 start. We're really happy about that.
It's something we're real proud of. It's a premiere slot, a premiere time slot. We chose the time slot. We sat down with the programming at ABC and ESPN, looked at all the racing around the country, and our race will be started and finished, that same day NASCAR runs out at Sonoma, California, that same day our race will be started, finished and done. We won't have NASCAR competing with IRL. We won't have IRL competing with NASCAR. It's a perfect time slot.
We're really happy to show our racetrack off on a nice Sunday afternoon here in Iowa. It's a slot we were able to get through ABC and real excited about that. IRL facilitated all that for us. We appreciate everything they've done.
Our main guy, everybody has the main man, right? Walks in the room, you go, "Shit, did I do that right?" Oh, my gosh, I'm sorry. This is the man. Brian Barnhart. He leads the IRL. He's the president and chief operating officer of the Indy Racing League. When you look at the Indy 500, Brian and his group of people are operating that. He's became a real good friend of mine, a mentor, a guy that I can go right up to, talk to, ask any question I want, he tries to answer. He's a wonderful man. With that, I'd like to bring up Brian Barnhart with the Indy Racing League to talk about the IndyCars coming to Iowa. After that, we'll bring up Wade Cunningham and Scott and have a question and answer period after that.
BRIAN BARNHART: Thanks, Rusty. Good afternoon, everyone. What a great turnout. This is just fabulous. It has been several months in the works with a lot of conversations with Rusty and his group. Again, I can't thank Rusty, Stan Clement, Andy Vertrees, the entire Iowa Speedway staff for their hospitality, everyone's attention for coming out today, the excitement surrounding this event is evident. The Indy Racing League will be proud to be racing here with the IndyCar Series as Rusty mentioned on Sunday, June 24th, 2007, live on ABC TV. We'll also be running the Indy Pro Series on Saturday, June 23rd. Looking forward to that as well as our support series will be here.
I'd also like to echo the earlier comments as well, what a great amount of appreciation we have for Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Wade Cunningham and Brian Stewart Racing, coming out, doing our compatibility test.
Really excited about this relationship. We're about 30 miles north of Knoxville Speedway where the Knoxville Nationals are run. There's a pretty good history between the Knoxville Nationals and the Indianapolis 500. I believe there have been 18 drivers that have run in the Knoxville Nationals who also competed at the Indianapolis 500. Some of the notables include Steve Kinser, PJ Chesson, Billy Boat, Sarah Fisher, Al Unser, Jr. There's a great tie there.
I don't know how many of you know this from Iowa. There are 56 oval tracks in the state of Iowa, ranking second in the United States, only behind the 59 oval tracks in Pennsylvania. That's a natural for us. An oval-based IndyCar Series to bring the IndyCars here to Iowa. We're very excited about that. Roughly 45% of our fans come from the 19 major markets in the Midwest and our television ratings in the Midwest consistently outweigh the rest of the country when the IndyCar Series is on TV.
It's a perfect fit for us. It's natural. We're very excited to be here. We thank you all for your attendance here this afternoon. As Rusty said, we're going to get both cars back on track here in a little bit.
I'd like to bring up Scott Dixon and Wade Cunningham for comments, and then some questions and answers for everybody.
Wade Cunningham from Brian Stewart Racing is the defending champion of the Indy Pro Series. Scott Dixon for Target Chip Ganassi Racing is the 2003 IndyCar Series champion and is in the middle of a very tight points race with the IndyCar Series this year, with three races remaining. His teammate Dan Wheldon and the two Penske cars from Sam Hornish, this year's Indy 500 winner, and Helio Castroneves, have a very tight point battle going, and even Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira are in the hunt as well. It's the tightest points race in IRL history with three races to go. Scott is in the middle of it. He did the testing for the IndyCar Series. There's Scott and Wade.
RUSTY WALLACE: Scott, everybody in this room has worked real hard on the track. We're all committed to any changes we need to make to make the track one of the best tracks in America. We're talking about walls. I got to tell you, when I came through that tunnel, you guys know me from sitting in the booth, talking about you guys all day long, talking about NASCAR. You probably don't know I'm up here every other week playing around with this racetrack. It's something we're excited about.
First racetrack ever, seven-eighths of a mile in length. First racetrack ever that I know of with 12, 13, 14 degree banking. First tract ever with the soft wall design all the way around, not just in the corners. Really interested in your expertise answer, don't sugar coat it, tell us what you think of your first experience on the track.
SCOTT DIXON: You know, first of all, is great to see so many people here for a bit of an open test, all of the media. It's good to see the turnout. Thanks for having us. I think it's a great opportunity for Team Target to get out here, get on the track first, trying to help with the development for the further progress of the circuit.
From the first time on it, I think for us, we were very conservative with the car. But the facility, even though it's not quite finished yet, is looking great. The track is unique. I think it's not like any other one that we do get to run on throughout the year. I think more racetracks that we get to go to with different character, different kind of size, configuration for us is very good.
We have a lot of mile and a half and same size and even sister tracks that we race on, which the racing is great, but having a track I think under a mile length and still providing the banking, the progressive corners to enable us to race side by side I think is going to be a huge race and extremely close and a lot of passing for the fans to watch.
RUSTY WALLACE: Thank you very much.
Wade, what did you think about it?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: It's the first time we've been on the track shorter than a mile. It was interesting to get out there. It was unbelievable how fast the corners come up. Already we're about three seconds quicker than Milwaukee. There's not a lot of time to do anything, which is nice. It's great to be able to race on a track where the driver has a lot of input into the car and the overall lap times. It's great for the Pro Series to be able to come here next year and race on a tough track like this.
RUSTY WALLACE: The entry of the corners, especially turn one, felt like it tightened up on or did you feel like you have enough room to race? If you get in hot, as a driver speaking, you get a little deep into turn one, run up the racetrack, can you use the second and third lane, maybe pass a car?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think we're a bit shy on downforce. I'm using all of the track today (laughter). We're fighting a bit of understeer.
RUSTY WALLACE: There you go, folks. We can use the whole track (laughter).
WADE CUNNINGHAM: We're not flat out the whole way yet. We really have to use the corners and the banking. Got a little bit of understeer coming out of two. Looks like we're going uphill. We'll just keep working. I'm sure for next year it's going to be very, very tough.
RUSTY WALLACE: Scott, what do you think, when it's all said and done you go back, in Indianapolis these fellows run approximately 2200 pounds of total downforce. When you go to Nashville, you're running about 3500 pounds. Here you're about 5500 pounds. There's a mid, middle, max. Scott today has his max. Today you were telling me maybe it needs the middle package, is that correct?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know. It's obviously something with the data we do gather from here, it's something we have to look at. I think if we went intermediate, it might be a little too quick. I don't think the racing will be as good. I think it's going to have to be maybe a low end of our high downforce circuits, maybe similar to Phoenix, when we ran there. Maybe a little less than that even.
I think today, you know, it's definitely easy for me just sort of mash it in the turns, does everything by itself. It's good in that sense. But I think, you know, coming into a race weekend, the speeds are going to pick up a lot with the less downforce, the less drag. It's something everybody has to consider and think about what needs to be race trim.
RUSTY WALLACE: Give us an approximate speed you think the pole will be when the IndyCars come here.
SCOTT DIXON: I said to you earlier, I think probably an average of 185 should be fairly close. We're sort of already over 170. The car still has a lot of downforce, a lot of grip, a fair bit of drag. Racing will probably be between 175 and 180. I don't know. It's always hard to tell.
RUSTY WALLACE: Right now, folks, the race is listed as a 250. That's part of what we wanted to do here today, is get the cars on the racetrack, actually see how fast they are, see what the drivers say, go back to the sanctioning body, see if we need to adjust that from a 250 to 300, less or more. Sometimes you got to go to the track to figure out what you really got for speeds, what these cars really can do. You estimate what they can do. Until they're on the track and the drivers give you some good feedback, you don't know.
We're real excited about the date. Excited that these guys are here. When I came through the tunnel, heard that IndyCar go wide open, I went, Whoa. Wide open the top, middle and bottom of the track. I want to thank you guys for showing up.
Right now I'd like to open it up to a question and answer period. I have to thank our team of guys that helped design this. Paxton, Andy, Andy Vertrees. You know Andy best. He used to run the Kentucky Motor Speedway. Came over to work on this. Todd, our general manager. Came from Lake Erie Speedway up north. The whole team, Larry Clement, Conrad Clement. Conrad is the one that gave me the call first four years ago, saying, Hey, got this guys want to build a racetrack. What do you think of that idea? I said, Tell them I'll get involved if they got any money. I don't want to get involved in one of these things where everybody got a great idea, it doesn't happen. You seen ideas. The papers were full, they were going to build this track. You hear it all day long. I said, I'm not going to get involved in this thing unless we're going to make this happen. Started off a little tough.
Stan, you should come up here, introduce our investors. People always want to know who owns this racetrack. Tell everybody who owns this track.
STAN CLEMENT: Brad Manatt is in Africa. He's unable to be here today. I know Joanne is here. Tony Manatt I don't believe could make it today. Brad, Joanne and Tony, as well as John, who was involved, but now has retired. So we went from four owners to three. It's all because of the Manatts.
RUSTY WALLACE: We want to thank you. We appreciate it.
My involvement in the team, I designed the track, I'm a 10% owner of the speedway, every nut and bolt in it. That's my financial involvement in this racetrack also.
What else can we talk about? I think we should do that. Brian, why don't you come on up. I think most of these questions are going to head your way.
First question, please.

Q. (No microphone.)
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, I think it was last summer, the first time I had met with Paxton and Rusty about the design of the racetrack. As he mentioned, we had a lot of input into the racetrack. Even long before that, Conrad Clement, their relationship with Featherlite, the IndyCar Series, goes back a long way. Obviously, Featherlite located in Iowa, Indy Racing League for a long time. When Conrad talked to Tony George about building a racetrack here, it basically was the same type of deal. Whatever we needed to come is what they wanted to build. It was almost like The Field of Dreams movie, you know, 'build it and they will come'.
We had a lot of people talk to us about what specifications we needed in a racetrack, especially ones that are a mile or shorter in length. There are a lot of cookie cutter racetracks, I refer to them as a mile and a half, a lot of sister tracks, a lot of similarities, what Scott was referring to earlier. We kind of wanted some diversity in the schedule.
It was funny, I got to a point where I used to tell people, you know, what do we want in a racetrack that's a mile or less in length. We'd start telling them. I finally said, well, buy a plane ticket and go to Pikes Peak, go look at that racetrack, which Paxton had a lot to do with out there. As a one-mile racetrack it worked perfect for the IndyCars, everything else that ran there. There was a Busch Series race, Truck Series race. It was easier for us to see, go to Pikes Peak and look at that. With Paxton being involved here, you see a lot of similarities involved from that standpoint.
I guess that's a long way of getting to what you're saying. I see this being a long-term relationship. If we race anything like we do at Milwaukee or anything like we do at Richmond, I think the fans are going to see a fantastic show put on by some of the best race drivers in the world. I think it will be a very long relationship.

Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT DIXON: I nearly missed it actually the first time I came here. You know, I think all tracks are very unique. This one, you know, you come off of three, I don't think we'll be able to come off on four in the race like we do a lot of the other circuits. It's very similar to Richmond where you have to come off in three, follow it around. It seems fine.
The track is very smooth on the apron. I had no major issues apart from missing it the first time.

Q. (No microphone.)
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Base that sort of thing off the amount of banking in the corners, the radius, length of the straight, stuff like that. Most of that is pretty close before we get here. We won't really be changing any of that today because we're just here for the compatibility toast. Next year there might be a different tire, slightly different down, force. It will be fine tuning race weekend.

Q. (No microphone.)
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, as I mentioned earlier, it's important for us to get back to our grass-roots racing, combined with the uniqueness of the racetrack, one that we don't have anything like anywhere else in the country, the Midwest is important to the IndyCar Series. I mentioned nearly half of our fan base is based out of the Midwest. We have great television numbers in the Midwest when we're on there.
I think the last component of that that was exciting to us was we're running an Ethanol blend this year in the race cars. It's 90% Methanol, 10% Ethanol. Next year we'll be switching the IndyCar Series to a hundred percent fuel-grade Ethanol. We'll be the first racing series ever in the world to do that. It's important for us, again, it kind of demonstrates the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and by extension the IndyCar Series, legacy to leadership through race-bred innovation, our commitment to our energy and our nation's energy security. It is a hundred percent biodegradable, it's a renewable fuel source, it's cleaner from every aspect of it. We just think that's one of the greatest things we can be doing from an IndyCar Series standpoint so the 100% fuel grade Ethanol comes into play next year. I think that fits in with the Midwest as well. All those factors combined made it a very attractive market for us.

Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT DIXON: No, I think it's the basic one. You start with making sure you finish the race, to start with (laughter).
But, no, you know, changes on how long the race is going to be, what fuel mileage you're getting, how the tires of wearing. It's a whole combination of what when you to come the weekend, that's pretty much what you're given. From the morning the race is when you start going over strategies, deciding on where you qualified, if you're at the front, you want to stretch it as long as possible. So many different pieces to the race before you can even start going into strategies. It's not one for short tracks, big tracks, medium tracks.

Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT DIXON: It will make it different on its own. It's so weekend related as opposed to throughout the whole year, you can't plan ahead for it.

Q. (No microphone.)
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Especially for the Indy Pro Series, it is completely unique. The shortest track we run on is Milwaukee so far. Go around here in 20 seconds. Probably under. By the time we come back next year, you're very, very busy, got to stay engaged the whole lap. That's fun. Hopefully we have the night race like they're talking about, which is also going to be kind of new for next year.
SCOTT DIXON: It's unique. I think the closest thing we can get it to is between Richmond and Nashville. It not like anything else.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSTY WALLACE: There's a lot of things that are first for me. I didn't think I wouldn't be in a car this year, you know. I just felt like my career was going really good. I was going for the championship last year. Said, hey, I want to go out on top, that's it. ABC called up the same time, said we wanted to sign you for a six-year deal. I said, Cool. We were already three years into this racetrack. There's a lot of things happening. There's a lot of things that are different that aren't normal for a guy like me to be involved in or doing or would expect me to do.
I'm still adjusting to a lot of things. I still have a hard time walking to the garage area and asking a question to a driver when I was a driver. I feel awkward, you know. I feel like I'm supposed to be standing there with a piece of paper and pencil. That's not me. I don't know how to do that.
I'm a people person. I like talking to people. I like helping make people happy. I like to build a story. I told my wife, When I go to NASCAR next year, I'm going to miss it. She said, Why. I built some good relationships over there, I got some cool friends, I love the racing. I quit racing NASCAR because 36 races was too hard on the family, too hard on me. I'm not a young guy no more. I got tired of doing that. I don't want to live in a motor coach my whole life. I love having a decent life with IRL. I love calling Indy. If you asked me a year ago, Rusty, guess what, jump out of NASCAR, you're going to call the 95th running of the Indy 500. I go, What? That happened. A lot of things change. Just don't get prepared for. That's it.

Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT DIXON: I think in hindsight, everybody would like to see a merge. It's not so easy. There's so many -- you've got two series running at full speed, and it's not so easy with cars, engine manufactures. There's so many pieces that don't fit. I'm sure both sides are working extremely hard as trying to do something because in the long run I think it will be a lot better for open-wheel racing, for drivers, for teams, for sponsors, for everybody involved.
For me, I'm a driver, I'd love to see it. That's just my opinion. For what happens, you just have to wait and see, I guess.
RUSTY WALLACE: I want to add on that, if I could. One thing about the IRL that you might not know, IRL has contracts in place with Honda engine company, they've got contracts in place with Firestone Tire Company. They're racing brand-new 2006 model race cars, television contracts. They got all these great things in place and running. The series is strong. Not saying anything negative about the other series. The problem we got here, the perception is out there that there's two open-wheel series. We have to figure out a way to get the perception out that there's one series.
I believe the two series agree, they need to have a merger, it was better with one, yeah. Just like Scott said, how do you tell those guys to give up their cars, engines, everything, we're going to do this. It's a real tough deal. At least they agreed to work on it. They're constantly working on it.
I will tell you the IRL is so healthy because of engine contracts, tire contracts, television contracts, brand-new cars, worldly, international, great drivers. I mentioned Scott here, he's sitting here at our track doing testing, Wade just won the 24 Hours at Daytona against the world's greatest drivers. Pretty strong talent in this division. I learned that real quick when I got here covering it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Rusty, Brian, our drivers.



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