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Indy Racing League Series: Indianapolis 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

Indy Racing League Series: Indianapolis 500

Arie Luyendyk, Jr.
May 9, 2002


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

MIKE KING: Good morning. I want to let you know, once again, coming in from Terre Haute this morning, there is a window over Terre Haute. I would imagine since there was no rain and the sun was starting to come out when I left there about an hour and a half ago, I would imagine we'll be able to see cars on the track around 2:00. Not a lot of rain behind us. For the fourth straight day, a rain delay here at the Speedway. Great to have Arie Luyendyk at the World Complex. First off, the release this morning, I remember the first time I ever saw you here, Provimi (ph) was prominently displayed on your car. This announcement here, the fact that Provimi will be back with you here at the Speedway and will be on Arie, Jr.'s car for the Infiniti Pro Series, that's pretty neat.

ARIE LUYENDYK: Yeah, they have been a big part of my life, especially since I came over to the States. '83, actually I met Art Grunfeld (ph) and his brother Eric in 1981 when I was doing the Super Vee Series here. That's when I first met them. They were sponsoring Tony Bettenhausen, also Gary, then later Derek Daly joined their team in '83. It was in '83 they started to help me out in the Super Vee's right at the end of the year. Then we did the full season in the Super Vee's in '84 and won the championship. Also drove my first Indy car race for their team after Derek Daly was injured in Michigan. Basically since then, my relationship has been with them and it's been more than a sponsorship deal, they've become family over the years. Of course, I lived in Wisconsin for several years. So it's really great to have them back as a sponsor. Knowing Arty, he really does it to help us out. It's not like he's looking for much publicity for his company. He just wants to help us out. Now he wants to help Arie, Jr. in the beginning of his career move up into Indy cars.

MIKE KING: Let's talk about Arie, Jr. how significant is the announcement that you got the deal done for the Infiniti Pro Series and how forward are you looking to that starting in July?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Well, I know he's looking forward to it. I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to watching him race on the sidelines because I know how bad it can get out there. But I think the Infiniti Pro Series can be a very good series. Obviously, I can't say it is a good series because we haven't seen them run yet. But I've seen the car. The car is a great car. Great product built by Dallara. The concept is good with the Infiniti motor producing about 450 horsepower. So I think the concept is really good. The only thing, there's always a few suggestions that I can make. So far this year on the schedule, mainly big tracks, but I would recommend them to run on the smaller tracks just because the car is probably a little bit under-powered for the big tracks. So you'll see a lot of close racing this year. But for the future, I hope they go to Phoenix and other one-mile tracks. What's the smallest track?

MIKE KING: Richmond.

ARIE LUYENDYK: Richmond. That would be a great place for them to run, as well. But he's pretty good on the ovals, what he's done so far in the 2000 series. This is a good class for him to move up to.

MIKE KING: If I'm not mistaken, the Infiniti Pro Series will run with the Indy Racing League at all the events next year. We'll have an opportunity to see them at Nazareth, Phoenix, Richmond, Colorado, for example. Questions.

Q. When you look back at your race day last year, what kind of really do you see as the biggest reason why you didn't do as well as you normally do? Was that also a situation where you looked back and said, "I know I can do better"?

ARIE LUYENDYK: If it would have kept running all day long without being -- basically I stalled the car in the pits twice. The first two pit stops, right there we lost two laps. We finished two laps behind. That was basically it. The problem last year was when I would come in the pit, the clutch pedal was all the way to the floor. I had hardly any travel on the clutch, couldn't get out. Then in the next pit stop, basically pump up the clutch as much as I could, then have the guys push me as long as they could, and I could get out. Our pit stops were our downfall last year. Our speed wasn't up to the level that I could have run for the win anyway. I think a sixth- or seventh-place finish probably would have been the best we could have done. We have to improve on the setup from last year. The main thing is getting out of the pits probably. Then when you get into a situation like that, where you're down a couple of laps, you're not going to be as racy as you would if you're on the lead lap and contending. I mean, you're not going to bust yourself for 13th or 12th place. I mean, I'm not. That's just being realistic about it and being sensible about it, I guess.

Q. As a father, how do you feel about your son going racing? Wouldn't you be just a little nervous at the prospect of him racing ovals?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Yeah, I am nervous about it. I will be when it starts. But like there's no turning back now because he's pretty much made up his mind that this is what he wants to do. So I'll help him as much as I can to accomplish that. I'm helping him now. I'm really kind of like his manager and mentor and everything, helping him out a lot because I do believe he has the potential to be a good Indy car driver, otherwise I wouldn't do it. Otherwise I would have told him years ago to not continue with racing. But I see the potential. I am nervous about him racing at any race.

Q. Seeing as they're going to put up the safer barrier at New Hampshire, I'm assuming that many tracks will follow. Will that provide any peace of mind for you? A hit is always going to be a hit, it's going to be dangerous. Seeing what you've seen here, does that safer barrier provide you more peace of mind, knowing Arie is going to competing I guess under circumstances that will be far different from the walls that you have had to deal with over the years?

ARIE LUYENDYK: You know, I've been thinking about the softer wall. It appears that it does reduce the impact. On the other hand, though, we've gone many years without them. When you see some of the hits that have happened in the past, guys get out, the one thing that just concerns me right now is we've had two crashes this week, and both guys have minimal, but they've had cracked vertebras. I'm just a little puzzled. We seem to have the best headrests we've ever had in the cars. We seem to have the best seats that takes us a long time to make a seat the way it should be, then it's supposed to help you. Now we have the softer wall. Yet guys are still sustaining, you know, small injuries. Of course, you can say the injuries would have been a lot worse. But in the past, they've hit the wall and they've hit with less protection in the cars, some of them just got out and walked away, or most of them. So it's a little bit puzzling actually. But I do believe that the wall is a great step in the right direction. It appears to help and reduce the impact, which is great. It already gives me a peace of mind here driving around that if something goes wrong, I'm not going to hit the concrete first, but I'll be saved and helped a little bit by the new wall. So for me it's a peace of mind. I think and hope this will be the case, that a few years from now we'll all be saying to ourselves, "Why did we ever run without them?" Hopefully they can keep working on the wall and make it better and better.

Q. When you look at the depth of the field here this year, it's always a tough race to win, there seems to be more and more people to have the potential to run up front here. How difficult do you see this field being this year?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Well, yesterday we had a really off day. For some reason the engine was running fine when we tested here, now it didn't run so good yesterday. We did a 223 on our own, that puts us 25th or 26th. You really have to have your act together. My car is handling really good. I think as far as the setup for the car, we're in good shape. Tomorrow we'll get a new engine in the car that we'll use for qualifying. Hopefully it's a good one and that's going to help us qualify really easily, hopefully in the first couple of rows. But the depth of the field is very deep and strong. The teams are really well-organized. There's a lot of high-caliber drivers, equipment and teams out there. I think it's going to be one of the better races that we've ever seen here because you don't know now, and I don't think anybody could predict who is going to win this race.

Q. Talk about your ability to adapt instantly to speed here, but also after the limited amount of time in a car you've had in the last year.

ARIE LUYENDYK: Well, I did go and test in Vegas for two days, I went to Fontana. We really couldn't run much there because of the problem with the car, the engine. It didn't run fast. But I did do a bunch of laps. That basically got me up to speed again. It's not extremely hard to do it, but I do feel that I could use more laps than I'm getting in right now. I've only done -- I did 70 laps before we started yesterday. Yesterday was a wasted day. So I could use more laps at the moment, but I don't feel like it affects me because every lap that I put in, if it's a clear lap, it's a good lap. It's nice and smooth. The car is handling well for me. It's a good thing that I have a good balanced car that's handling well. I could not imagine having to step in a car that's ugly to drive. That would make it more difficult. I couldn't tell you how long I can keep doing this one-race-a-year deal. I can't really predict the future as far as my reflexes and everything. Reflexes and everything is really good.

Q. Can you tell me what you think about the track surface now? Do you think it's going to be a problem on race day as far as tire wear?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Well, the track surface is nice and smooth. There's not really any bumps to contend with. A little bit on the white line on four. Right now I don't go there, but there are some bumps that aren't a problem either. The surface is really good. But the tire wear is excessive. You know, I think what we're seeing now is the two-car teams or three-car teams that are out there, that one of those guys is doing some tire monitoring runs. I think it's going to be important to preserve the tires and really look at your tire wear and find a setup where you get the most out of the tire. Because the tire wear is pretty bad. I mean, it doesn't take long to wear them out. Before the surface was done, you could get a lot more laps out of the tires. With 35 gallons of fuel, I don't think you can run until the end of the tank without having a tire that's completely worn out. You might see premature stops where the guys need tires before they need fuel. It's a situation that I guess Brian is still looking at.

Q. Redon came within a flick of the eye of going 230 again. Will it be possible Saturday for somebody to at least clock one lap at 230 this weekend?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Well, it's possible if you say he was driving with his regular Infiniti motor. Maybe they've got a qualifier somewhere just to do the qualifying run with. They might be in the 230 range. But, as he said, he had a tow on that lap. I think yesterday he was able to do a 28 on his own. I'm not sure. It's possible. It depends on how much they have in store for them. If they have 30, 40 horsepower more for Saturday, he could do it. It certainly is a big jump from where these engines came from. They've already reduced the rev limit throughout the year. It's time to rethink it again. I guess they'll slow them down after that.

Q. In years past when it's rained like it has here incessantly, it takes two or three or four hours to get some rubber on the track to get up to speed. This year it doesn't seem like that. Right away they're quick. It has to be the new surface. It's a bit abrasive. Every driver I've talked to said you have more of the tire on the track, there's grip instantly.

ARIE LUYENDYK: When you turn into the corner, you can just feel a grinding away at the rubber. You just feel it through the corner. Grip is not an issue. Too much grip at the moment.

Q. Can you give us the benefit of your wisdom, your experience, who is your pick for pole and why?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Like I said, there's no way to predict who's going to win the race. I think right now if you look at the potential guys for the pole, there's quite a few guys out there with a chance of winning it, which is obviously Scott Sharp could do it again, but so could his teammate, who has a tendency to just kind of relax a little bit, then show what he has when it counts. Al Unser, Jr., castroneves has been quick, Gil has probably been working on race setup more than anything else. You can't count him out for the pole either. I really wouldn't want to comment on who is going to get the pole because it's an open field, and it's going to be probably exciting to watch. Hopefully I'll be in the group, too. Right now we're just struggling a little bit.

Q. You touched on it a little bit before. How do you view this race in terms of your future here? Is this possibly your last harrah at the 500?

ARIE LUYENDYK: I'm never going to make any more predictions of what I'm going to do. Yeah, I even announced what I was going to do and it changed. '99 I retired, so... Not long after that announcement, I thought to myself, "What did I do now?" Probably better for me to just be quiet on that matter (laughter).

Q. Kind of hard to call a former winner a dark horse. A guy making a return this year that doesn't seem to be getting as much attention would be Kenny Brack. He seems to have a good knack for this racetrack. Do you view him as a threat on race day?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Kenny has been so good on the ovals, it's unbelievable. When he started on the IRL, he was quick off the bat. He had a dry spell where he wasn't really, you know, that much of a factor as he became like in '98 when he won the championship. All of a sudden the coin dropped and he got the idea of how to tackle the ovals. Last year he was I think if he was a little more lucky, he would have run every oval race in CART. Kenny is definitely going to be one of the guys to look for on race day. Maybe not qualifying, but race day. He seems to be more geared towards that.

Q. For years the winner here has often come from the first three rows, although there have been a few guys from further back. Is it still very important to be up front for the start of this race or less important because the fields are so close?

ARIE LUYENDYK: I think because the field is so close and so tight, it's always more important to be up front. Track position is very important because the field is so tight. It's not easy to pass. I mean, last year you didn't really see a bunch of passing either. At one point, Robbie Buhl was just trying to pass Helio for I don't know how long, and it didn't work because they're so equal. So track position is everything. It starts with the start. The better track position you have there, the better chance you have of winning this race. Having said that, it can always change. You look at Nazareth where Scott Sharp started - I'm not sure - but he wasn't up front. That's probably one of the most difficult tracks to pass of all of these tracks. So there track position would be very important. But you pit stop, get out of sequence with other teams, you end up skipping a pit stop when they go in, you go to the front, then it could fall into your hands where you catch the right yellow on the break and you're in sequence again, but now you're in the front of the pack. That's always going to be a part of oval racing. That could always come into play.

Q. You became one of the great oval drivers here. Have you ever reflected about the possibility if you had gotten a decent chance in Formula 1 where you would be today, and driving on road courses entirely?

ARIE LUYENDYK: I always say, you know, I'm pretty happy with my career based on the teams that I drove for, I guess. If I would have driven for Penske and have won seven Indy car -- if I would have run seven races, driving for Newman/Haas, Penske, the best teams in the business, then I probably would be ashamed of myself. But now I'm not because I really haven't been with top-level, top, top teams. Formula 1 was something that I obviously dreamed of. To be honest with you, before I came to the States in '81, I did my first season here, I was invited to do a race at the end of '80. By then my career was almost like done because I couldn't really progress any more in Europe. I kind of missed that window of getting a good ride in Formula 2, then maybe go to Formula 1. Formula 1 never really came up in my mind after that. But I would still like to get in a Formula 1 car right now and go out one day and test it just for the fun of it.

Q. One of the things Formula 1 is looking for is a good American driver. Would you like to see your son become that American driver?

ARIE LUYENDYK: First he has to become American, which is something that could happen soon, just for several reasons. This is not really important for us to write about, but if he were to get into trouble with the law, whatever incident, but just as an example.

Q. Speaking hypothetically.

ARIE LUYENDYK: He has a green card, but he's been living here since he's two years old. He's really American. But if something were to happen, they could deport him back to Holland, he could never come back to the States, which would kind of be a joke because he really is American in a way. So we've been thinking about naturalization for him, so that could happen soon.

Q. Are you an American citizen?

ARIE LUYENDYK: No, I'm still Dutch. Also a registered alien, as they say.

Q. Have you ever thought about becoming an American citizen or is that just something that really doesn't matter?

ARIE LUYENDYK: No. I mean, if I have to. I don't have problems with becoming an American because I have strong ties to Holland, but not in the way that I say, "I'm absolutely not going to change my citizenship." A lot of legal reasons might want me to do it. Roberto became an American citizen in the '80s. I look at Roberto, and I don't think he's American, but he has done that. I think for some of the reasons I just said, his kids are born here. I have three children that were born here, too. It would make sense for me. I just don't want to do the homework thing.

Q. When you see those bobble head dolls, are you glad they didn't go down to two-time Indy 500 winners?

ARIE LUYENDYK: I think they're kind of cute actually. They got way too much attention for what they are. You know, I wouldn't mind having my own bobble head.

Q. Secretly, you covet your own bobble head?

ARIE LUYENDYK: So far the four-time winners have one, so, yeah, I'd like one.

Q. Maybe Coca-Cola will work on that. That's a Pepsi deal. Maybe Coca-Cola will work on that.

ARIE LUYENDYK: If I have another win?

MIKE KING: I was watching a replay of the '87 race. It's incredible to note the difference, the susceptibility of the driver's head in the car 14, 15 years ago, even a decade ago, versus -- you're in a virtual cocoon now based on what you used to be. Are you surprised at the risks that you used to take 15 years ago in an open-wheel car versus the way you're protected now?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Yeah. That's what I said earlier, I'm so surprised by some of these injuries with all the stuff we have around us. We're much lower in the car. It seems the head is much lower and surrounded. We have less vision to the side. Never really needed much vision to the side anyway. Just in the name of safety, but it's a big difference. Back then we just didn't, you know -- that's why there's always evolution going on. Probably 10 years from now they will be doing stuff to the cars. We'll say, "Why didn't we do that sooner?" That's part of the evolution. A lot of smart people out there thinking about driver safety. Tough to do to the racetracks, as well, for driver safety. Even look at the tracks now that we used to come into the pits here coming out of turn four at 220 miles an hour, drive it right in the pits at over 200, then you'd be happy to be able to slow down by the end of the pit if your pit was there. If a guy would pull out in front of you, it was toast. Never happened that often, but it could have. The pit seed limits and all these things have increased the safety of racing. It's great to see. I guess we did a lot of foolish things in the past.

Q. AJ used to say he was going to retire when his eyesight went. He used to be like 20/10. How is your eyesight? Do you look at it the same way?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Oh, yeah. If I would have to start wearing glasses to race, I think it's pretty much the time to hang it up. I think Mario wore glasses at one point. Maybe not for racing. Some guys, they've always had eyesight problems. They needed glasses to drive. But if you're like me and you've never needed them in your whole life, you would need them to drive, that's pretty much a good sign to say, "See you." But my eyesight is really good.

MIKE KING: That's going to do it. Any chance we'll see you in any of the other 11 IRL events, 10 after this race?

ARIE LUYENDYK: I don't know. I really don't know.

MIKE KING: Won't rule it out?

ARIE LUYENDYK: Probably.

MIKE KING: Thanks very much. Good luck.



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