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Miller Lite Racing Team Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Team Rahal

Miller Lite Racing Team Media Conference

Bobby Rahal
November 20, 1997


TOM BLATTLER: This is Tom Blattler with the Miller Lite Racing Team, and I'd like to welcome everybody today for a very important media teleconference that many of you have speculated about, but we're finally getting down to a lot of off-season activities, and I believe this is going to be one of the biggest ones you'll be writing about this year. At this point I'd like to introduce our guest, Bobby Rahal, for an announcement, and I'll give you some background information after that.

BOBBY RAHAL: You want me to make it?

TOM BLATTLER: You go ahead, sir.

BOBBY RAHAL: Hi, everybody, first off, nice to have you with me. As I spoke here in Columbus not too long ago, today I am formally declaring that the 1998 season will be my last as a driver in any form of motor sport, let alone championship car racing. It's been a decision that has been long in coming, and a lot of thought. Frankly, because of the involvement as a team owner and as a board member of CART the decision, I guess, is probably a little easier to make, because I will still be heavily involved in motor racing. But I just felt that in looking at all the demands and my obligations to my family, to my children, to my wife and wanting to make sure that I went out on a high note, I came to the conclusion that we could commit ourselves to the sacrifices and things that are placed upon you as a driver for one more year, do everything we can to make sure this is our best year ever, win a fourth championship and ride off into the sunset as a driver, head held high and looking forward to helping some young drivers, Bryan and others, in the future, to achieve their dream. It's been a fun day, I have no regrets, no sense of sadness leaving the game. And I'm looking forward to the 1998 season. So that's basically -- that was basically my statement today, and so be it. And I'll let Tom, I guess --

TOM BLATTLER: I thought I could fill in some of the rest, Bobby, before we go into our questioning. Just for everyone's notification, many of you received the releases today regarding Bobby already. If you have not, please let us know after the conference and we'll make sure we fax those to you. From a Miller standpoint, Miller Lite announced today that they will commemorate the Rahal Last Ride, the name of the tour, with special celebrations at every venue on the 19 race tour. Miller is entering it's 15th year as a major sponsor and will be a contributor to a newly established Bobby Rahal Foundation, a nonprofit endowment created to generate and distribute funds during the Last Ride Tour. The foundation will identify worthwhile organizations within the race markets at each of the 19 events. So some of the money that will be created will be donated to local charities at different race markets. Initially both Miller and Shell have vowed to contribute five dollars for every lab Bobby has completed in the 1998 season, which is approximately -- there will be approximately 2500 laps this year. So if Bobby runs all the laps or has a very good season, obviously it would be over $12,000 donated to the Bobby Rahal Foundation. In addition we're collecting more charitable funds from other associate sponsors and participants in the CART series. In addition, Mike Welsh, Miller's Director of Event Marketing said today that Miller Lite will continue its relationship with Team Rahal after Bobby has concluded. So Miller will be on with Team Rahal for quite a while, as will Shell. Just a little background before we get into it. Bobby is the only active three time PPG Cup champion, two-time Driver of the Year winner, he's the only owner/driver on the PPG Cup series. He's the most experienced driver activity, 246 starts at 7th all time on the Indy car list. Most of this stuff many of you already have in your notes; second in all-time CART earnings. 24 career wins, 18 career pulls. 8th all time in laps led. And then also first CART driver to win a million dollars in a single season in '86; first CART driver to win one million dollars in the post season in '92; first CART driver to surpass 12 million dollars in earnings. So, at this point if you need any further information, like I said, please contact us here at Team Rahal. I'll give the phone number at the end, and we'll be glad to fax anymore information if you haven't received it already. We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Bobby is all your stuff now going to involve CART only, you're working still with Bryan, you're working with a driver on the Indy Lights circuit. I think I did a really bad boo-boo last week and I put you were taking on a NASCAR truck driver?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I don't think there's any question that -- I've never -- I don't think I've ever stated that Team Rahal's only objective was in championship car racing, I think that's obviously the natural as is Indy Lights. I think there's, as you well know we are in -- I'm in a partnership with Tom Gloy on the Ice House Ford truck. It's a very good way for me personally to get involved in the world of NASCAR. The ultimate goal of that I can't tell you, but you've got to obviously believe at some point in time, Winston Cup or whatever they call it at this point in time, has got to be a possibility. But that's some ways down the line. Frankly, sports car racing is something that appeals to me, having an American team that would win at LeMans is a noble venture, and one that I would find interesting as an owner. But I think our primary objective right now for Team Rahal is to win the CART championship and the Indy Lights championship, and that's a pretty heavy goal right there. So the future, what the future holds for Bobby Rahal as an owner and Team Rahal as a group is probably varied. But in the short-term it's to win the CART Championships, learn the NASCAR world through the truck program, and try to bring up some young American drivers through Indy Lights and what have you.

Q. The second part of that is now that you're only going to be working with -- with driver responsibility, is it going to change your view of the board meetings, are you planning to be more relaxed or are you going to be worse?

BOBBY RAHAL: I've got one year left of driving, so that means there's a lot of board meetings as an owner/driver. But I am bullish on the future of CART. There's a lot of important, exciting things happening that are being announced in the next several weeks. I think we've got a great series that can be better. As an owner I'm going to dedicate myself to helping make it better, and as a driver I've got one year to end up on a high note. And as I say after that it's rely a dedication towards the business of Team Rahal and the business of championship racing.

Q. Last summer when we were discussing requirement you said the financial pressure to race isn't there, it's going to be whether you had the desire to do it, purely and simply?

BOBBY RAHAL: Right.

Q. Have you lost that desire?

BOBBY RAHAL: No, I've not lost the desire for '98, and I think that's why I telegraph this retirement, rather than waiting until the end of '98, or waiting until some point in time. I know the obligations and the demands and the sacrifices, I know I'm capable of committing to those for '98, but in all honesty, my children are growing, this team is the future. My future is as an owner, is isn't as a driver. I know the things that are going to matter two, three, four, five years from now have some precedence, and in my understanding is to myself and any athlete knows this, an athlete who's honest with himself knows when he can commit and when he's not committing. And I know I can do it for another year, but I doubt seriously I can do it for more than that, because of the demands and what have you, as I verbalized. I'm just going to put everything I can into '98. We've had a great test in the Firestone tires in Fontana, I'm psyched about what that's going to do for us. I have great enthusiasm, but I just know I've got one year left, and my whole goal has always been is to leave on a competitive and winning note, strictly being competitive. There are a lot of reasons why you may or may not be able to win, but the important thing is to run up front. And I don't want to retire when I'm not able to do that. I want to go out when I know that I'm still capable of running up front.

Q. You just said during the last couple of years, Bobby, that all the various hats you've been wearing have kind of made it hard to juggle everything. Now you're kind of adding a farewell tour and all the attendant stuff that goes with that, are you worried that's going to get in your way to be competitive, how are you going to handle that?

BOBBY RAHAL: We've had meetings -- let me tell you this farewell tour, frankly, the bulk of it is to try to have charitable fund raising activities, maybe the middle part of the week, so we can try to make the foundation meaningful and give something back. I don't think -- I've got my businesses and what have you. So whatever extracurricular activity is going to be probably based more on the charitable side than anything. But we've sat down with Miller, with all of our sponsors as a team and we've said, okay, we're going to do all this, it's got to go organized and it cannot conflict or have an impact on my ability to prepare myself for a race weekend. What it might mean is I'm going into a town a day earlier than I normally would do, but come Thursday night Bobby Rahal is doing no more than he used to do as a driver. That way we're going to protect ourselves with getting inundated with a lot of these activities, I think.

Q. How long have you been debating this, Bobby?

BOBBY RAHAL: About a year, trying to determine when the right time was. And my wife and I have discussed this on and off for about a year, I guess, and some key people in the team have been aware of this for sometime, and we've discussed and I wanted to do what was right. And as a result it's been under discussion for sometime, not on a daily basis by any means, but it's been a subject to discuss and I'm glad it's out so now we can get on with life.

Q. Bobby, you've had a long career, seems like you've been around forever. Is there anything that you wish you could have done that you haven't? You've got one year left, there's still time to accomplish things, but is there anything that you really think you missed out on?

BOBBY RAHAL: My only -- if there's a regret, my only regret is that -- I guess if I have any regret, maybe two regrets. One regret is that I wasn't able to pursue my Formula One aspirations as much as I would have liked. I think we could have been successful in it. I'm not sure the timing was right, both for me personally or what have you. And then I guess if I have a regret it's just that I couldn't here in my last year or last several years win a second Indy 500. But aside from that, I've got to tell you I achieved a lot more than I ever thought I would. I've lived a dream, really. So I have -- for me to say there's regrets, would be a little penny ante, I have to look back and think that I've had a pretty damned good life.

Q. How much of this decision did you bounce off outside of your immediate circle to some of the recent other retirees around you, Mario or whatever, or did you, and if so, what kind of response did you get or reaction?

BOBBY RAHAL: I didn't really ask anybody. If I broached the subject at all with anybody it was probably Don Prudhomme who I've got to know and I really enjoy. Don retired a few years ago, and he did his thing. And he was really very supportive of my decision or my idea. I think he told me how good it is on the other side of the fence. And I just respect the job he did, and it was first class, and everything he does is real neat. As I say, if I talked to anybody it was really Don.

Q. The other thing, you mentioned once you get out you're out in terms of driving. A lot of guys still try to keep just a little finger in, perhaps in the 24 hour or rallies or whatever, have you completely ruled that out?

BOBBY RAHAL: Yes. I'm going to try to do the 24 hour Daytona this year. I was hoping to do LeMans this year, but I guess they've changed the date, and it conflicts with a CART date. But it comes down to you can't do anything halfway in motor racing, I don't believe, if you want to be successful. And to be honest after you've driven a CART, a championship car, I'm not sure there's anything much more thrilling or exciting. And the motivation has got to be there, from a sporting aspect. And on top of that my future and my commitment to motor racing is through this team, through the CART series. And so my commitment starting in November 3rd or whatever the day is after the Fontana race, 1998 has got to be one hundred percent as an owner and as a board member of CART. So I've wrestled with that six, eight months ago, would I dabble, would I keep a toe in, would I do some other form of racing, and I really don't think -- I think I'll do it the way Jackie Stewart or Roger Penske did, and that is once you're out, you're out.

Q. Just wanted to congratulate you on a hell of a career and thank you for all the races.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. What do you think your legacy to this sport will be as a driver?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know. I'm not sure it's up to me to say, frankly. I'm not sure you ever -- I don't know how anybody can ever sense what their legacy is, personally. As I say, I think that's for other people to comment on. And I'm not sure, as I've said many times to people, I feel that my impact and my participation in motor racing is going to go way beyond that of just being a driver. And so I'm not sure, or I would certainly hope that my influence or what have you, or impact, I don't think anybody is -- I hope nobody is going to know that for quite some time, in the overall scheme of things. So I don't know what my legacy is. All I can say is I've tried to be a gentleman. I've tried to race cleanly, I've tried to -- I've tried to just, I guess, behave and participate in a first class manner. But as I said, that's for others to determine that side, it's not for me.

Q. Do you have a short list at all in your mind of who you might like to replace you?

BOBBY RAHAL: Not right now. If somebody said, I would expect to be getting a lot of calls tomorrow. But A, my first hope is that he's an American; B, I guess you really have to determine do you want a young guy who has very little experience or none, maybe in championship cars or do you want somebody that's got -- is a proven winner or does have experience in a championship car. That decision isn't totally up to me. Obviously Miller has an opinion, and the people within my team are going to have an opinion. But certainly I've tried to live to the example of a Jim Trueman, and he said here's a guy named Bobby Rahal who had no Indy experience and gave him the opportunity. If there's a way, I'd like to do that, but only time will tell.

Q. Bobby, congratulations, first of all.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. It will be nice to see you do your best on the last year you've got. But talking about American drivers -- how important is it for you to have an American driver? I know you've emphasized that a number of times?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think it's very important. I think American drivers are as good as any others. The bar is quite high in terms of the necessity -- the commitment that's necessary and the level of talent and what have you, that I think there's a lot of young American drivers out there that -- how many, I don't know, but there's an awful lot of young guys that are having -- that are getting opportunities to show their talents, and you've got to believe that in that number there's a certain percentage that have the capabilities to go to the top. So this is an American team, this is an American series, and if at all possible and if we find the right guy I would much prefer to have an American driver.

Q. Bobby, congratulations, you've had a great career. I got a kick out of being with you here this summer. But all I can say to you is I wish you the best of luck in your final year of competition, and I hope that you'll be satisfied. I don't think you will, but -- I just don't think you will, Bobby, but good luck.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. Bobby, getting back to naming a replacement, do you have any kind of time table, do you want to wait until the end of the '98 season or will you do something midway through?

BOBBY RAHAL: No specific time table, obviously the sooner the better, within reason, just because it's always nice to know what's going to happen. But no specific time table at this stage.

Q. Bobby, you spoke a few moments ago -- and by the way I add my congratulations on a great career.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. You spoke a few moments ago about regrets that you possibly had. But as you look back now the proudest moments for Bobby Rahal?

BOBBY RAHAL: I was asked today in our press conference, in terms of championship car racing I guess you'd have to say Cleveland in '82, the first win, for a brand new team, young driver, the whole nine yards. Obviously '86, Indy, just a bittersweet moment for me, really. We were never able to really enjoy that, I think, like we could have. Obviously with Jim's illness that was like a wet blanket on everything, frankly, and understandably so. Like I said many times, I think it's not often in your life can you achieve somebody's dream for them. And if there's anything about that day that makes it special it was that. Obviously the championships '86, '87. I think '92 was particularly satisfying for me. Here you are an owner, everybody said you can't do it, you can't be both, and we did it. And the sense of satisfaction was tremendous from that. So there have been a lot of victories -- a lot of races that we were in the midst of winning and didn't for whatever reasons, but as I said here fortunately there's been a lot more ups than there were downs.

Q. You were also involved and one of the first drivers to not only be a driver, but also a businessman in the sport. Do you think that that is a legacy and that is something that you have left to the sport that is a positive influence?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, certainly -- possibly. Certainly my advice to Bryan Herta and a young Mike Borkowski, and Jimmy Vasser, and that is put your money away, invest it, build something for the future. I said to Skip Lozinski (ph.) I think it was last summer, early in my career I wanted to make absolutely positive, absolutely sure that when I turned 40 I was going to be racing because I wanted to race not because I had to race. And as many of you know we've got four automobile dealerships and various other things and the team here. It's taken a lot of effort, but it's given me a freedom in terms of what I've wanted to do that maybe a lot of drivers traditionally have not had. So if there's advice I give to any young driver that's start to go make money and make a name for himself it's invest it, put away for that rainy day, because it will come. And so perhaps as I said earlier about legacies it's not for me to say, but perhaps that would be one.

Q. You mentioned Don Prudhomme earlier, I was talking to Don at the end of the summer and we were talking about his retirement. Maybe he didn't tell you, but it is not easy standing there watching your car go around and you're not in it?

BOBBY RAHAL: I'm sure it isn't. I had an inkling of that in '93 when I didn't qualify for Indy and I sat there watching everybody race and I knew I did not belong where I was at that moment which was in the suite watching the race, I knew I belonged on the race track. But that's almost five years ago. I know in my heart that I've got one year left, and I'm going to be -- it might be tough. I'm going to have great demands on the drivers that drive for us. As any driver that's become an owner, you've been there and you know what's possible and what isn't. But the time is right.

Q. Bobby, thanks and congratulations again.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. I've got a question, looking forward to your role as team owner and board member, is there any agenda you have for the future, certainly you're one of the prototypical Indy car owners of the 1990s, do you have a specific agenda that you would like to see CART accomplish?

BOBBY RAHAL: First off I'm very bullish on CART, I said that today to a group. There's a lot of exciting announcements coming. We have 19 races, there's a number of races I want to have, I think we've got some tough decisions to make about how many races do we want. But certainly my agenda is to do everything I can to build this aspect of the sport. I think open wheel racing is legitimate and it's credible and I think that despite all the controversies it's succeeding. And I think we can do just that much more to build it in the future by just focusing. I still harbor a hope, perhaps it's remote, but it's a hope that we can get back with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I would do whatever I could to make that happen, but I suppose that's on a time table that not many of us know, frankly, if any. But I think we've got a great basis here, and I think my agenda or my goal as a board member is to do everything I can to help build a championship car racing.

Q. Congratulations on a great career, and we're looking forward to a great '98 for you. I'm wondering if you can elaborate a bit on the Bobby Rahal Foundation, what type of charities you'd be looking at and I'll ask my second question, as well, can you talk about the Firestone tire test in a bit more detail.

BOBBY RAHAL: Sure. As far as the foundation, obviously we're in the process of organizing some Miller people, in particular, will be organizing some activities in venues, in Portland, I can't tell you at this stage, but everybody knows golf is a favorite, so maybe it's a golf tournament, I don't know. But the foundation will at the end of the year disseminate the funds generated, it will be basically a one year foundation, disseminate funds to not only the areas in which we participate, to various charities. As I've said, we've not picked any charities at this stage of the game, and I'm sure they'll be different from one market to the next, but obviously as you might know I have a charity golf tournament here that provides money for children's charities, and I would assume that, at least it would certainly be my hope, that children's charities would be the benefactors. As far as the Firestone test, Bryan tested in Portland right after the Fontana race, had a very good test. Went to Homestead down in Miami, I don't believe anybody has gone as fast as he has, certainly he was the quickest at the time. The times we hear were still quickest, and we've got a lot of testing to do yet. But for me personally I ran at Fontana last Saturday and it was extremely -- I was very impressed with the Firestone tires. We ran speeds that I couldn't get within ten miles an hour of during the race, and I was just -- I mean honest, we're all -- there's a lot of smiles around here. We're all very enthusiastic and motivated for '98 as a result.

Q. Sounds like if you had Firestones for '97 you might have won a few races?

BOBBY RAHAL: Who knows? You can't turn the clock back.

Q. Have a great '98, we look forward to seeing you at the track?

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

Q. Bobby, I do remember 1978 up at Watkins Glen, I think that's where we first met.

BOBBY RAHAL: Right.

Q. When you and Debi and the kids sit down to Thanksgiving dinner next week, what are you going to be the most thankful for? My show runs on Thanksgiving and it was either you or Father Phil, and I think you probably would bring something good to that?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think you have to look around and you have to realize how fortunate I am as an individual and we are as a family. There are many, many people that have a lot less. All you have to do is look at those photos of those children in the Los Angeles area, whose parents are all drug addicts, and there but for the grace of God go you. And a lot of humility -- I think one thing about the holiday season is it should humble all of us to realize how lucky we really are. And so when we sit around that table with our friends enjoying each other's company, I think you have to reflect on just how fortunate and how lucky each and every one of us is.

Q. Well, we have been very lucky and very blessed by you and Debi, and all of your class operations through your ownership and your driving with Jim Trueman. And as I say, '98 will be an interesting year and '99 will be a new page in the book, and we wish you all the best of success. My question has been asked, just congratulations, Bobby, on your decision, and looking forward to you having an excellent year next year.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.

TOM BLATTLER: At this point we'd like to open it up for additional questions, if anyone has a question that hasn't asked or you have an additional question, go right ahead, just state your name and go right ahead.

Q. Jim Prescott has been with you forever. It's not an employer/employee relationship, I suspect. I suspect it's more like brothers. What's this final season -- obviously you'll stay together after that, but the final season as chief mechanic and driver, what's that going to be like for you?

BOBBY RAHAL: Jimmy has been with me since 1979 pretty much. And the nice thing, the great thing about over all those years whenever I've gotten in that race car I know, No. 1, it's safe and, No. 2, Jimmy is thorough, conscientious and a real professional and he attracts that in the people that work with him. I'm sure that last race is going to be an emotional time for he and I. Jimmy will always have a place in our organization. He is like a brother in many respects. And all I can say is that I think every driver, Roger Penske has Kainhofer, you can go back and Gurney had his guys, Phil Remington or what have you, there's always these associations that develop through the years, and certainly mine with Jim Prescott is one of them.

Q. Good luck next year, I look forward to seeing you in the winner's circle.

BOBBY RAHAL: Me, too.

Q. I'm curious about the support -- add my congratulations on a brilliant career and best of luck this year. I'm curious about the support of David Letterman and whether he'll remain as a co-owner after your departure.

BOBBY RAHAL: Two weeks ago I went to New York and talked to David and to let him know my decision. He was thrilled for me. He's still absolutely committed to our partnership and the team. But he was very happy for me. And I think he was happy because it's not often that we find ourselves in a position to make these kind of decisions. And I think when you see somebody who does, you've got to think, man, that's the way to go if you can do that, and I think that's the way he kind of felt, frankly. So it was a great meeting and David is as committed as ever to this partnership and this team.

Q. Bobby, do you think you'll put any inner pressure or are you taking steps to make sure you don't put inner pressure to have the season of all seasons in your last season?

BOBBY RAHAL: All I can do is just be prepared to get myself physically and mentally prepared during this time of the year. I've worked out very hard in the off-season, continuing to do so. I'm going to be very selfish about my time, frankly, so that I am prepared. I know what I need to have competitively in terms of my time to prepare and the time to be alone and be rested and what have you. And after all those years I at least have been able to come up with that. I'm going to be jealous of my time. But when you tell everybody it's your last year, they all think that's okay. So I don't think we're going to put any greater pressure. I don't think we're going to do anything crazy. I think we're going to take advantage of the efforts that this team has put forward the last several years. Now I think we can take advantage of that and I think we can have a very successful year.

Q. Is it a load off to finally have made that decision?

BOBBY RAHAL: It is in many respects because now it's like now we can get on with life. The questions will be asked all year, no doubt, but it's nice having say short-term goal in front of you, it tends to focus things a little more acutely. And so I'm glad it's out. I'm glad we're going on with it and I look forward to the '98 season and the future.

Q. Again, I do this kind of half in jest, but I would still like to see you and Dale Jarrett get together in a steel cage Nassau match, the money going to charity, Tom Blattler drive the cart and I'll be the caddy?

BOBBY RAHAL: I'd love to play with Dale in golf, he'd have to give me a bunch of strokes. That's what's great about golf. I've yet to meet Dale really, and I need to do that. A golf course is probably the place to do that.

Q. Congratulations, a lot of respect for your class and your career. Do you think you could have prolonged your career as a driver had you carved out something else earlier?

BOBBY RAHAL: I'm not sure what you mean by carving out something else.

Q. Had you eliminated a board position or some involvement with the auto dealerships, something else other than driving?

BOBBY RAHAL: No, I don't. I think having my team extended my career maybe in some respects, it certainly gave me control. Let's face it, I never wanted my involvement in motor racing to end when I stopped being a driver. You're going to stop being a driver at some point in time, everybody does. I wanted to make sure that I was prepared for the future. And the dealerships were one aspect, the board position was one aspect of that. Being a team owner is one aspect of that. And I have great people that work with me and take care of a lot of the day-to-day activities, so for me to -- it would be wrong of me to say that any one of those responsibilities detracted. I think if anything they might have been a benefit.

TOM BLATTLER: I want to thank everybody for participating today. I know many of you have called anticipating a few of the announcements coming down. It's been kind of a wild off-season for CART, I believe. Now that Team Rahal is out testing and Bobby has made his announcement, I'm going sure it's going to be a busy off-season.



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