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Indy Car Racing Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Car Racing Media Conference

Derrick Walker
June 20, 1995


JOHN PROCIDA: Let me throw out a couple of things about Walker Racing. Derrick, of course, had previously run the Porsche effort, up through 1990 and then he started Walker Racing in 1991. The team scored its first victory in 1992 with Scott Goodyear at the Michigan 500 or the Marlboro 500. And then this year they have of course registered two victories with Robby at Phoenix and Detroit. And in addition, they are running a second car for Christian Fittipaldi. And Christian finished second at Indianapolis and was the 500 Rookie of the Year and also scored a top five in his very first race in Miami where he fifth. We will open it up for questions to Derrick. Again, please keep in mind that there are others on the line.

Q. Derrick, could you talk a little bit about Robby's -- his demeanor. Was he a little bit antsy when he first came to your team, and if so has he settled down a little bit, and if so, how much have you had to put in that?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, I think he's definitely mellowed. He used that word to describe me. I'd say that about him because when he first came to us he had a lot of energy and a lot of expectations which were very positive about winning, and what we had to do was to work as a team. So we went through that process and we've started to reap the benefits from it. So I think he's got a lot more confidence in himself and has a lot more confidence in the team having gone through that process, and that's, as I say, mellowed him out. He's much the same way, he's a lot more focused on how to win the race other than just keeping your foot flat to the floor. He does a lot more strategising with what he's going to do. I've never heard as much of that from him until lately in this last -- say last six months. He's taken his focus and he's a lot more concentrated. So it has a very stimulating effect on everybody because you can see him managing his talent, a lot more focused than it was in the past. And it works well with the team. And certainly I think as far as how that process has happened, I think it's more of a driver coming of age and of experience and a lot of different situations and gathering strength from them and having a lot of confidence in his team.

Q. Derrick, last week you and I talked about the business aspect of Walker Racing, and I was just listening to you talk just now and I'm wondering how do you separate or can you separate the fact that it is sport but yet it is business?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, from the business point of view it takes up most of the time. It's a business in the sense that we get companies like Valvoline and Cummins and Craftsman that are giving us lots of money to run a racing car and run a marketing program for them. So it has to be considered at a business level for them and for us. And when we look at how we go racing we have to look at all the elements that make up our business that they are investing in and make sure that we deliver as best a program in as professional a way as possible to meet their business objectives. When it becomes a sport, I think it's probably a lesser part of it in the sense that we all get a lot of enthusiasm out of racing. For example, at Detroit at the weekend it became a sport there for a short period in the race where it was fun to race against other competitors and obviously have a good result come out of it. The business aspect of it occupies probably most of the time because it is big business nowadays. I think it's still a sport in the sense that we have a sporting code of fair play, a respect for other competitors and other individuals in the sport. So it's still there, but it's driven by a lot of money and these companies are looking towards us to provide professional programs. So it has to be always leaning heavily towards business aspect of what we do.

Q. Which do you like best, the business or the sport?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, funny enough, since I've got involved in this business of ours, I've become more interested in the idea of building a company. And obviously in doing that you can only do that and feel good about it if you're successful. So you can't have one without the other. You've got to win races to feel good about it and you can't get the company to grow unless you're successful. So they're all actually intertwined with each other, but I'm probably more interested or my time is more taken up with how can I make this business better, how can I find more clients and how can I help make the process work better or how can I get, you know, our team to be more successful.

Q. Derrick, I first met in you 1991 here in Denver. You had a second-hand car, a kind of a skeleton crew and were looking desperately for sponsorship and now five years later you've got one of the high statures sponsors and you're obviously in a very good situation. Can you talk a little bit about the odyssey of the last five seasons for you and do you think it would be, considering the business aspect of racing, more difficult or a little bit easier for someone to do essentially what you've done in the last five years?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, I think we're -- you know, we're a good example of what our sport's all about. I think IndyCar Racing is wide open for competition. I think -- I mean, you mentioned that about us, but I can think about a couple of other teams that are doing exactly the same thing as we've done and very successfully. Barry Green is a classic example who's leading the championship now with Jacques. Steve Horne, you know, there's a lot of owner/operators that have come up through the ranks who are successful at making a living out of the business, and I think that's really what IndyCar series is about. It's wide open for competition and it really comes down to, you know, how well you can develop your business in terms of finding clients who have the trust and the belief that you can deliver what they want. And, you know, it's taken us five years to get ourselves positioned with companies like Valvoline and Cummins. And, you know, it's that kind of support that makes us get stronger and grows into a better team. They had their confidence in us after seeing us do a few years in the business. So I think you've got to have a lot of patience and you've got to have a lot of determination to be around long enough to give these companies to believe in the fact that you have a capability to be a run. But it's one of those kinds of things that yeah, five years down the road you've got companies, you've got Robby Gordon and Christian Fittipaldi, great drivers involved in your team, but racing is, by its very nature, creates obsolescence and you will become obsolete if you don't find the next level next year. You know, you've got to find more sponsors to do more things to be more competitive, to have more wins, and that's the good thing about the sport. It is an evolution, continual evolution, and if you don't participate in that evolution to the best you can, you will be become obsolete. So yeah, we're looking good after five years, but the next five years is going to be probably as more challenging or will require as much as an effort as it's taken to get the first five years.

JOHN PROCIDA: Derrick, John Procida from IndyCar. You had mentioned about the owners coming up through the ranks. You have two of the finest show drivers in the sport who have come up through two very different backgrounds. Can you compare and contrast those two?

DERRICK WALKER: Yeah, I think they're classic examples again blowing the horn about the series, but I think they're classic examples of what the series is about. You've Robby who's come out of -- basically come up through the ranks of Desert Racing and Trans Am and made it into IndyCar, and you've got Christian who probably went more of the typical route for open wheel races and gone through lower series in Brazil and moved into Formulas in Europe and then into Formula I. And they've both arrived here in IndyCar and competing on a level footing. I think Christian's experiences sort of led him here for different reasons from Robby, but nevertheless they've -- are both doing the same very good job in our series. Christian looked at Formula I and felt that the limitations that existed in Formula I for drivers of his capability were such that he needed to go another route to get satisfaction from his business. And he's chosen IndyCar because it's more competitive. There is a chance for him to be in a more competitive drive and win races which is what he's all about. And that's not saying that one day he might not go back to Formula I or it's not saying that Robby Gordon will not want to go to Formula I either. I think any racing driver worth his salt will want to be in more than one series and succeed in more than one series. And if I was a race driver I'd like to win the Indy 500 or the Detroit race or the Monaco or the Italian Grand Prix. I mean, racing is racing. So I think it's a tribute to the sport that we've got these two young guys from different backgrounds that are competing in a series. And again, I repeat myself, it's what the sport's all about at the moment.

Q. Derrick, how did you read Jimmy Vasser's comments about the driving tactics of some of the Brazilians; in particular Christian at Detroit? Is it sort of a sign that this Nations Cup thing is becoming more and more a point of pride for the foreign and the U.S.?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, I don't -- actually, Jimmy relayed those comments to me on the racetrack when we got into the congratulating everybody. He eluded to the fact that Christian had done something during the race which had annoyed him. I didn't actually see the incident so it would be unfair for me to comment about, you know, whether -- who was right or who wasn't. But I would just look at it -- I have, in all my years in racing, I haven't been around that long, but in the years that I have been involved in racing I haven't heard a driver yet who didn't have something to say about another driver. In a racing situation. Whether that's all it was or it wasn't, you know, who will tell. I don't think it's got anything to do with nationalities. I think some of the European drivers or the drivers that have driven in Europe that come over to IndyCar Racing, the very nature of that series over there creates -- series over in Europe creates a sort of a very aggressive style, and I think you see these drivers come into our series and they are initially quite aggressive and then after a while they sort of mellow out to the point where they don't -- they aren't overaggressive. Whether that's fair to say that that's what the situation was with Jimmy and Christian, I don't know. But I don't think it's anything to do with Brazilians, per se. I think it's more to do with driving style of the European or the, you know, the series outside of America -- open wheel series outside of America; typically more aggressive. But I said, with that I don't have any explanation for it.

Q. Derrick, you and Robby talk quite a lot on the radio during races. Is that something that you determined that Robby needed or is that just your normal operating procedure with any driver that drives for you?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, drivers that I've spoken to in the past, they differ. I've not really talked to drivers as much as I have done with Robby perhaps this year or a little bit last year. It's sort of evolved. I mean, initially I've always treated the communication with the driver to be one where you don't want to disturb his concentration but you need to give him bites of information about what's happening around him, and you also need to find out from him what does it feel like, what does he think. And so when you deal with it like that, there's a lot of limitations about, you know, what you say and how long you say it. What at first emerged to me that perhaps we needed more was actually when I was on the radio with Willy T. Ribbs. But he drove for us the first year, and Willy used to say to me well, you know, tell me more man, you know, it's lonely out there. He'd kind of joke about it and now I realize what he was saying, that sometimes more communication is helpful over and above just the normal here's what you need to know. How it evolved with Robby is that I think were at Phoenix last year and I don't know what was happening prior to that but for some reason or other I thought maybe I'll change my tact and give him a bit more information and maybe a bit more encouragement about what was going on. And it seemed to actually be quite successful and he seemed to like it. This year he actually said to me, you know, tell me -- you know, sometimes I fall asleep and I thought that was an amazing statement by Robby Gordon to say sometimes I go to sleep out there, you know, I just settle into a routine and maybe don't push as hard, so if you see me getting like that tell me. And I think it was at Indy he said to me. I says well, how soon do you want to me to tell you, how do I know the signs? He says well, start telling me right from the beginning of the race, you know, keep on me if I need to. And so it kind of evolved from there. So now it actually is a standard practice; I talk to him a lot. And in some cases like at ovals where you have an advantage to see the corners and see drivers ahead of him or behind him of how they are racing, you can actually tell him information about that driver so that he can help when he comes up on him and he's going to try and pass him, you know, much like NASCAR in terms of the spotter telling the driver when there's an accident where to go. Sometimes I get involved in telling him about the driver ahead and the way he looks like he's approaching the corner, so try and coach him through it. I think the biggest function now over what we are were doing before is one of encouragement. And when you think about it, the driver is sitting in his car and the only thing he's looking at is what's immediately in front of him. He has almost no perception about what's happening around the rest of the racetrack and where he is relative to everybody else. If he sees the leader disappearing off down the road, as far as he's concerned the leader is gone. He doesn't know that the leader is maybe only five seconds or ten seconds ahead of him and the leader's running at the same speed as he's running. And if you know the leader is only ten seconds ahead and he isn't pulling away from me or he's running the same lap times as you, that gives you a little bit more of a different perspective when you're in the race. That's the kind of information I think is real important to a driver which we can help paint the picture of what's happening around the racetrack. However, having said that, you have to be careful how much you say because the radios obviously are either being listened in by everybody or they're not that good on occasions. And sometimes you spend two or three laps saying what did you say or did you say that or -- I had had one situation with one driver in a previous team I worked when I gave him a radio communication to find out what the car was doing, he thought I was saying come in the pits and he came in the pits and we suffered the consequence because the radio communication wasn't that good. So it worked some places sometimes but, you know, I think it's just another aid that you can use in honest communication with your driver.

JOHN PROCIDA: Do we have anymore questions for Derrick?

Q. On the IRL thing, Derrick, how soon would you make a decision on whether or not you guys would show up at Orlando? I assume this would be after consultation with your sponsors and IndyCar, et cetera, but what are some of your thoughts on that?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, I mean, the IRL is a bit of a mystery in a way because I don't know if anybody really knows what the IRL is about. I mean, I can honestly say I don't. And I don't mean that in a negative sense towards IRL. I'm sure IRL has tried to build its plans and its organization and there's a lot that isn't decided, so it's very hard to make a business decision based on something that there is very little information about what it is. Equally so, I think all the IndyCar team owners are involved and, in fact, not just the owners but almost everybody in IndyCar has put a considerable investment into the sport as it is right now. And let's not forget, IndyCar was a rebel back 15 years ago and broke away from the status quo and formed its own organization and built the series as it is which I think nobody can deny it's got some problems but it's got a lot of positives in spite of what has gone over the last 15 years. It has emerged in a position of strength. So we've all got a lot of investment in that, and to look at an IRL and say well, look, you know, we ought to go off and do this series, you have to look at it and see, you know, where does it fit in the big scheme of things? What is the reason for doing this? Because if you go IRL, you're obviously going to undermine the IndyCar series, which as I've said, I think everybody has invested a lot of time in. For all of us, and certainly for from my point of view, we would all like to see a solution to it where both parties could be pulled together and form one strong organization that would work for the best of everybody. I'm maybe naive and maybe that is not a possibility for the future, I still hold out the hope that that would be what happens. But in the short term, in answer to your question, I would say we don't have a sponsorship to go race in IRL races. Our sponsor contracts are IndyCar. We don't have a financial reason to go to IRL. And I don't have a business reason to do that. I don't understand enough about that business to make that kind of decision. I think, you know, it's -- we really got to focus on what we're doing for our IndyCar series because as we see this year, it's so competitive that if you miss a footing or take your eye off the ball, in being involved in some other distraction, whether that's IRL or Touring Car or Indy Lights or whatever else you may want to do, you will lose a lot of momentum in what is surely the most competitive series from as far as I can remember back. So I -- as a company, we're not planning to be at the end of the IRL races next year. We're focusing on IndyCar. And I don't really know much else that can be said about it because there isn't a lot of information available that one could comment about the merits of it. I also would say, though, you know if tourney and the speedway want to develop their own series and have it, they have a right to. This is a free country. Everybody can do what they want to do. I think the fans ultimately will be the deciders as to whether IRL is where people want to go watch racing or whether they feel IndyCar or a bit of both. And I think that's the way we've got to approach it. We make business decisions and we go race where we think is where we need to be based on those business plans and you evaluate it when you can and when you have to. I hope that answers your question the long way around but --

Q. Based on the tremendous fan dissatisfaction with the labor problems and Major Legal Baseball, the possible problems with the NBA, the hockey strike, does it seem to you like this IS a dangerous time for the sport to be potentially divided this way?

DERRICK WALKER: Oh, very much so. I talk to a lot of potential sponsors and after you get beyond the subject of, you know, what is their interest in racing, all of them ask what's this IRL situation, what's it going to mean? And so it is very troublesome. It's very disruptive to all of us. But, you know, having said that, IRL has a right to exist if it's deemed by some -- you know, somebody who wanted to invest that much time and have a series. I think the fans must decide whether that's where they want to be. But I would like to think that, you know, when it comes down to racing next year, that we at IndyCar, if we don't go to IRL races, I'd like to think that we at IndyCar would still have an equal opportunity to race at the Indy 500 as would any other competitor who turns up the gate with an entry fee. I think it would be a great pity with this subject to have a situation which took away from what surely must be one of the all-time great races of this planet and the tradition that evolved at the Indy 500. I would like to -- and I'd like to think and hope that politics don't distort that history that we've evolved here at the Indy 500. So that's my only fear. The rest of it I think could be taken care of in a very business-like manner. You've got sponsors, they want to go here or they want to go there, you've got people, you've got race cars and you make business decisions. And the fans decide which one they like. I just hope that the political aspect of it doesn't interfere with the historical, you know, evolution of the Indy 500. I hope it stays so it's equal opportunity for all.

Q. Derrick, talking about this IRL, is there a chance that the teams that don't join the IRL could be shut out of the Indy 500?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, I'm sure some people would be nervous, some of the teams would be nervous about that happening. I think it would be a mistake to do that because, as I say about IndyCar, I think IndyCar has evolved as a very strong series on its own right and its own merit. We all know that it's made a lot of mistakes along the way. It's never pretended to be a perfect organization, and it isn't perfect to this day. It still has a lot of issues in cost containment, in management of the rules that it has to address. But it is still done a dam good job in spite of some of the problems of growing up as an organization and building an infrastructure. So I think, you know, that is the way it is and it's been recognized by the fans as what it is, and given the credit and the attendance levels that it's had because it's been worth watching. I would like to think that IRL would evolve the same way. If IRL is what the fans want and it builds up this organization on its own merit, then people will choose. The teams will choose to go to IRL because it will be a better organization if that's what it's going to be. And rather than use any political pressure, as I say, I call it political pressure, but putting any pressure on the teams to make their choice, I think if this is America and land of the free, then the free should choose where they want to go; whether it's want to go to the Indy 500 or want to got to IRL or want to got to IndyCar racing. And I have to say, I've said a lot more about this subject than perhaps is merit at this point, I have to say I've recognized no aggressive moves, and I'm living here in Indianapolis and meet these people on occasions, from the USAC and the speedway and that, I've not seen any aggressive signs that I can detect that is about trying to strong-arm the teams one way or the other. I've never seen any of that. Nevertheless, there's going to be a very competitive future for both organizations to compete for the same, you know, drivers, the same sponsors, the same promoters and the same race fans. So it's going to be a very competitive tight I assume climate that we're in. But I think as long as it's decided on merit, I don't think we've got anything to worry about. I think on the other hand it could be a positive. You know, if there are competitive series' that the fans endear, whether it's more towards IndyCar or IRL then the fans should decide and we should pay attention to that planned interest if that's what it is. But it should be done on its own merit, not on political pressure from either side. I mean, I'm talking about the IRL but it could come from within IndyCar too. It could be pressure from within the IndyCar group to say, you know, you as a team will not go to an IRL race. There should be no pressure like that either. And again, I don't see that from IndyCar either, but, you know, you've got to look at -- right now it's still a pretty calm pond. There's going to be some waves here in this upcoming year which is going to mean we're going to have to, you know, be very calm and make very careful decisions about what we do because it is a very delicate situation and these fans are very fragile. The sponsor interest is high right now, but it's -- we've seen times when it hasn't always been there, so we have to be very cognizant of the marketplace and how much we can screw around with it without damaging it.

Q. But it hasn't been used as a strong-arm tool; you don't go to the Indy 500 if you don't join the IRL?

DERRICK WALKER: I've certainly not experienced any of that kind of policy either verbally or seen anything in writing. And I think that's where we've kind of overreacted. I think we should react positive or negatively on what is done rather than -- and that's what I said initially on the IRL discussion. I think there's still a lot more to see before one could actually make comment on it. I could speculate about how bad an organization it is if it stops me from going and competing fairly as a competitor at the Indy 500, but it would be wrong for me to even comment about that because it's never been said, it's never been done and so I shouldn't fuel the fire with speculation either way. So I think you know we've just got to look at it and stay calm as it happens and make the best decisions, as I said, realizing that it's a very fragile world we're living in and we shouldn't take it for granted that we can just do what we want with the series. The fans, the sponsors, you know, promoters and the people that earn their living all have say in this process.

Q. Thank you.

DERRICK WALKER: Thank you.

JOHN PROCIDA: And with that I'll think we'll wrap it up with Derrick Walker. Should you need any information about Walker Racing, Derrick or Robby you can contact Kathi Lauterbach at (317) 387-1500. Next week we'll be having Jimmy Vasser and Chip Ganassi from the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. And I do again want to thank Derrick and Robby for being with us today.

DERRICK WALKER: Thank you. I enjoyed talking to you guys.



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