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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Bryan Herta
September 22, 1998


RON RICHARDS: I'd like to thank everybody for joining us here today. Today our guest is somebody who recorded his first FedEx Championship Series victory in our last race at the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Texaco/Havoline 300. He dominated the race leading 81 of 83 laps and for the first time this year he was the only guy who has swept the points. He scored all 22 points by winning from the pole and leading the most laps. He took home all 22 possible points for his finish 1st. Also I think it is worthy to note the fact that in 70 Champ Car starts, our guest today has been in the pole six times since first running in the FedEx Series in 1994. He drives the Shell Reynard Ford from Team Rahal, our guest is Bryan Herta. Bryan, I wanted to mention before we get into the Q and A session, I wanted to mention the fact that in speaking with Wally Dallenbach, our chief steward, he noted that your probation has been lifted. So do you have any comment on that?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, that is great. I guess I can really go wild now.

RON RICHARDS: Okay, with that said, why don't we open it up to questions.

Q. First of all, Bryan, you and I have talked a lot over these last, I guess, couple of three years about looking for that first win. Now I must say, congratulations. What does it feel like?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, it is really great, Ron. It is a nice feeling. I got to say it is probably as much a relief at this point as anything just to, you know, finally get that first one out of the way and it is nice to know that I won't have to answer your questions or all the questions I have been asked, you know, anymore about when is that first win going to come. I think it took a long time certainly, but it was worth the wait.

Q. One person that has persevered with you through all of this - and I know he has given you a lot of: Come on, you can stay at it, just keep at it - and that is Bobby Rahal. What were the first words he said to you?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, you know, it was - we had a nice moment there right after the race and he kind of leaned over to me and basically what he said was, he said: Bryan, I always knew you are a winner, now everybody knows it. That is what he said.

Q. I have to admit while I watch races and I don't have any favorite drivers, boy, I was pulling for you this past weekend.

BRYAN HERTA: Well, thank you very much.

Q. How do you feel about going into Houston now, do you think you can pull off what some of the other guys have done, pull off another one, back-to-back?

BRYAN HERTA: Gosh, it would sure be nice especially with -- you know, being down in Houston and, you know, Shell Oil Company, our main sponsor, is based right there, so it is right in their backyard. So, it is certainly an important event for us and I guess would you have to say we have got some good momentum, I mean, in addition to the win and qualifying pretty much on the front row the last few races, I feel like we are doing a good job with the equipment. We have got great equipment. I mean, the Ford engine has been, I think, it is certainly the class of the field right now. The tires are great from Firestone and the Reynard chassis, I think those three factors together in combination are probably the best to have.

Q. They always say that you take you take -- it takes a while for you to learn how to win. Do you think you have learned how to win now or how is it different?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, that is the funny thing is we really didn't do anything different. I think not in every case, but I think a few of the times in the past couple of years when we have been right there with a chance to win, you know, we have been a little bit unlucky at times. In this case, I think we were a little bit lucky because I think, as everybody knows, coming down towards the end of the race, it was certainly a fuel economy run and everybody was trying to maintain as quick a pace as they possibly could, yet we still had to try and save fuel and that was going to be a difficult thing. It was going to be, I would say, 50/50 whether we were going to make it -- whether we were going to run outcome go down the hill or whether we were going to make it coming down the start/finish line. Then we got the yellow and that opened it up for us where then when we did go green again at the end, I'd had 100% fuel and it was wide open. So it was a great finish to the race that way.

Q. How do you keep from not looking back at a time like that?

BRYAN HERTA: What do you mean?

Q. At the end of the race, at Monterey, does your crew chief tell you: Don't look back in the mirror?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, don't look back.

Q. How do you keep from doing that?

BRYAN HERTA: You do a little bit. Especially when you have got a guy like Alex right back there, I mean, you know where he is and you can sense it more than you can see it. You just know. You can kind of see the little flashes of red in the mirror there and know where he is at. But that is the thing is we haven't won a race but I have led a lot of laps. So it wasn't -- that wasn't a new experience to me and that wasn't the difficult part, you know, the focus, everything was just kind of kept my head down and said, you know, let us finish this one.

Q. I have talked to you a whole lot over the past few years and one thing that -- just listening to you now, you are a whole lot more relaxed. It is almost like a big albatross has been taken off your neck.

BRYAN HERTA: Well --

Q. Do you find that there is a whole lot of relief now?

BRYAN HERTA: Maybe so. Maybe people want to hear that too. I mean, certainly it takes some of the pressure off, although, as I have said before, I don't think anybody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself. So it was a personally very satisfying victory and not just to get the first win, but I think you know that the circumstances around it were really -- it was really a nice -- I guess my story there at Laguna Seca and my battles with Alex Zanardi there at Laguna Seca, you know, I take a lot of satisfaction, not just the win but the way the win happened and everything that built up to it.

Q. That was a hell of a job. Good luck in Houston.

BRYAN HERTA: Thank you very much. .

Q. At times like this I could ask the standard question of how do you think this makes your crew feel and isn't it great that they get some reward as well. That is certainly all true. But I like to ask it a slightly different way which is: Do you ever or did you ever have thoughts of, gosh, I have got keep pushing here because I don't want the crew -- I have got to get a win; I don't want the crew to lose confidence in me and even if they didn't you might have that in the back of your mind and now all of that has disappeared, even if you -- if they did have complete confidence in you, now there is absolutely no doubt, did, that ever run through your mind?

BRYAN HERTA: No, it didn't. I think that you are right, it could have, but I think that says a lot about the guys on the team and the crew that I have and the fact that, you know, we have really stuck by each other and stood behind each other and believed in -- you know, you can -- they have believed in me as much as I have believed in them. I think we, as a group, all of us together, individually, and, as a group had a lot at stake, you know, to win a race and to do it this year and we have done that. The nice thing is that nobody has taken the attitude, okay, great, now we have done it, we can relax. It has reinvigorated us even more to say we want to go out and do it again. It just makes you hungrier for more.

Q. Did some of the experience from Rahal side of the team-because he hasn't had a win in a while, but they keep on trying to get that win - did that help influence your side of the team and did Jim Prescott have anything to do with that?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, certainly Jim and particularly among the mechanics, I mean, Jimmy Prescott and my chief mechanic, Larry Ellert, those two guys are the leaders not just because they are the chief mechanics but because they have got the most experience. And, especially, Jimmy brings the experience with him like Bobby does of having won championships; having won races. So a guy like that, you know, he can reassure the guys who haven't won yet. And I won't forget, one of the guys Ricky on my crew after the race, he ran over and grabbed me and squeezed me so tight I thought I was going to spit my stomach out but he said: I have been racing ten years, this is my first win. He was so excited. And, for guys like that, you know, to have a Jimmy Prescott there who said, you know, look, I have been through this all before, I have been through the ups and downs, what we are doing is the right thing; we have just got to keep on doing what we are doing, because it is easy to try and look for other answers. Maybe I didn't wear the right socks on Sunday morning or silly stuff, and for him to be able to reassure the guys: Hey, don't worry, this thing is going to come right, we have got a talented group of people. You guys just keep doing your job and believing in yourselves.

Q. I imagine you have got some of that from Larry Ellert too because he came from a team years ago in CART which they didn't have much success at all, but then he finally got with the Rahal organization and had some success, so he was probably telling you the same thing?

BRYAN HERTA: Absolutely. Not just me, but those guys are cheerleaders -- they are in the shop every day with the crew and a big part of their job is to keep them motivated, keep them focused and Elly is really, I think, in the three years that we have been together, he has really, really matured in his role as a chief mechanic and I think he has got the complete package of not just the mechanical skills and the understandings of the race car, but his understanding of people, and the way that he -- the way that he has been able to help these younger guys, as they are developing their skills.

RON RICHARDS: One thing occurred to me as you were answering that question, I just wondered, with the success that you have from a qualifying standpoint and being consistently up in the Top-5, does it give you a little bit of additional confidence as you look at a place like Houston where it is a street course, and knowing that you have consistently been able to qualify up front, knowing that it is difficult to get around people, does that give you a little added confidence as you go into a place like Houston or Australia for that matter.

BRYAN HERTA: No, not really. Not anymore than anywhere else especially going into Houston where we haven't seen the track, so our starting setup is going to be a little bit of a guess. I think I go down there not with -- you know, certainly I think a little bit of confidence just from having come off the win and that sort of thing. In terms of going into the event in particular, if anything, it is going to be more work because we don't know exactly what we are going to have to fight with. We don't have a list going down saying: Well, these are the things we want to try to fix those problems. We don't know what we are going to have to battle when we get there.

Q. When you saw the spinning dual checkered flags, what kind of emotions were you feeling?

BRYAN HERTA: Well, I was really happy, Ron. It is difficult to put exactly into words. But it is probably a little different than what some people might think. I guess I kind of likened it to -- it is not like winning the lottery because when you win the lottery it is a big surprise, and you are not expecting it. But we worked really hard for this. I wouldn't say we have expected it, but our expectations were that that is what we were gunning for and that was the goal. I think in a lot of ways I felt like that finally we did our job; we accomplished what we set out to do.

Q. You mentioned in the first part of this conversation that we had that it finally stops the questions from guys like myself and the media: When is that first win coming. Was that getting to be bothersome? Were we bugging the hell out of you with that?

BRYAN HERTA: I won't say -- and I don't want to pick -- you know, I just threw you out there, Ron, because you and I were talking, but just in general, I mean, I guess it was not bothersome. I mean, it became annoying in some ways. Especially because I thought it really focused a very bright light on me every week whereby we could have a great race and finish on the podium and it seemed like the picture was continually painted that somehow I failed in that rather than a lot of other guys would finish on the podium and it would be great result and good point and head on to the next race; where, I felt I was continually being set up to either win or lose. That is just I guess, the way the picture was pointed for me. But I understand that and I don't have a problem with -- like I said, it wasn't -- that did not motivate me and it didn't change my outlook and it didn't change really much of anything for me other than it was probably a little bit of a distraction at times.

Q. Is yours a story of: Perseverance, dedication, and hard work will bring positive results?

BRYAN HERTA: Yes. Yes, it is inasmuch as anybody's story that, you know, become a winner in our series, Dario Franchitti or Alex Zanardi or Jimmy Vasser a couple years back, I don't think my story differs from theirs really at all other than it took a little longer. But I think I was in a position probably by the second year of my career, you know, I was in a position challenging for race wins and obviously it took longer than I would have liked for it to finally have happened. But I won't say that -- you know, I know that I have taken a lot of dedication and perseverance to this job and this vocation that I think if you look at a guy like Dario that grew up racing in Europe and wanted to go to Formula 1 and that door kind of shut to him and he got a chance to come to Indy cars and then all of a sudden he got a chance to drive for Barry Green and get with a great sponsor and a great team, you know, I don't think my story differs in that way much from any of theirs.

Q. I was wondering if you had any comments on your new teammate for next year?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, Mad Mac. I really think that this is a golden opportunity for Mac. He has certainly shown his ability in other cars and I really think he has shown his ability already in these cars with what he has done -- I mean, there is no secret that Toyota -- that he was in the very early development stages with Toyota and they have been getting stronger and stronger. But in the beginning especially, he didn't have the tools to go out and fight hand-to-hand with a lot of these guys and he will have that next year. And I think there will be more pressure on him because of that expectation and I have seen that myself, you know, it is what you want as a driver, no excuses, good team, great sponsors, you know, all the equipment is there and it is good and it is capable of winning. So at that point then it really puts the only news on him to provide the result.

Q. We have watched you progress you might say through the chairs and through the cars coming up and I know that your win there at Laguna had to be a very, very satisfying moment in your career.

BRYAN HERTA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I don't know how to completely put it into perspective for anyone. I wish I could. But, obviously, it is extremely, extremely special to me and as I said, I wouldn't have chosen it to take this long. But, by the same token, all the things that have happened to me along the way and as difficult as it has been, when you finally get it, it makes you realize how special, how important and how worthwhile what, you know, all the work you had done to put into it, makes you appreciate it, I think in the way that something like that should be appreciated.

Q. Your car owner put it on national television crossing the start/finish line on the David Letterman Show on CBS. That had to be a thrill?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, how about that. He was so excited and he loves the sport so much that he just loves to be involved and I -- I actually haven't seen it yet. I haven't seen the tape of the show. I wasn't back home yet. But obviously a lot of people called and told me that he had done that. I called him up and said thank you and he was great. He just said he was so excited to be a part of it and he wanted to share that with everybody.

Q. Were you involved at all with the decision or was your opinion asked about having Max Papis on the team?

BRYAN HERTA: Really, the way it happened was Bobby, along with the management on our team, obviously went through an extremely exhaustive review process with drivers from all around the world and all types of background and they kept me up-to-date with all that as to what they were talking to and who they liked or who they were more preferential towards. When they finally -- they made up their minds on Max and they essentially let me know that that was their decision and I had an opportunity if I had had a problem with that certainly to voice that, but I was supportive of it because I think Max is a good guy. He has a lot of enthusiasm and he has a lot of desire and he is going to push me and he is going to push this whole team and that is what we need is somebody who is going to get in there and push us all forward. That is the benefit of a two-car team is to have two strong fast guys who can really raise each other's game.

Q. Getting back to David Letterman for a second, did he have any, oh, what can we say, smart aleck quip about your win?

BRYAN HERTA: No, he is obviously an extremely witty and funny individual, but he was just very happy and I guess he felt the occasion wasn't appropriate to be funny and so he wasn't. He actually just had a lot of the same emotions I did - happiness and relief, I think was certainly one and, you know, he actually -- I spoke with him on the cell phone not very long after the race and we sort of got to share in the afterglow of that.

Q. So he hasn't sent you a canned ham or anything?

BRYAN HERTA: No, but he did send all the members of our team a very, very nice bottle of champagne which I thought was a very classy move.

RON RICHARDS: I'd like to thank everybody for joining us today. Just a note here next Monday or Tuesday we are trying to work out the scheduling, we will have Michael Andretti on in advance of the Texaco Houston Grand Prix, so, thanks for joining us today.



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