Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Sam Hornish, Jr.
March 26, 2002
RON GREEN: Thank you all for participating in today's Indy Racing League teleconference call. My name is Ron Green. I'm the director of media relations for the Indy Racing League. Before we continue, I want to remind listeners that this teleconference is a service for the media who cover the Indy Racing League. We request that only accredited media participate in the question and answer portion of this teleconference. Joining us today is the driver you who continues to be the hottest driver in American motorsports, winner of this past weekend's Yamaha Indy 400 at California Speedway, Sam Hornish, Jr. Good morning, Sam.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Good morning.
RON GREEN: Sam drove down to Indianapolis today to do some media work and visit the team. He drove down through Ohio and northern Indiana on a morning that has seen most of the schools north of Indianapolis, including the Indianapolis area, closed, some businesses closed, due to ice and nasty conditions, yet you still drove down here. Amazing you got down here that fast, Sam.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I probably made a couple people mad.
RON GREEN: What was harder, driving in today's weather or trying to race Eddie Cheever, Jr. and Jaques those last couple laps for the victory?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. It was pretty close.
RON GREEN: Sam set lots of records this weekend. He has done so so far this year. We'll go over many of those during the call today. There are a lot of callers, so we want to go ahead and throw open the lines for questions. Please limit yourself to two questions per round. This should allow most of the media the to participate. If time permits, we will open the line for a second and possibly third line of questions.
Q. Are you just planning to try to lead every lap of the 2002 IRL season?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: That's my plan. I want to be up there, you know, running in front most of the time because, you know, you don't have to usually worry about any accidents and getting caught up in other people's problems. If you're fast, it's always good to have a Pennzoil car up front.
Q. I noticed in the race Sunday, right from the start, no patience, you went out and grabbed the lead.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I went in there, and they all let off going into turn one. I decided I didn't need to let off. I just went around the outside of them. One of those things where I really wasn't -- I didn't -- I wasn't daring or anything as far as I was concerned. You know, everybody else let off too much going into the corner.
RON GREEN: One of Sam's records that he established this weekend, Sam has led 1,109 laps during his Indy Racing League career, moving past Buddy Lazier into third place on the all-time lap leader list. Tony Stewart is first with 1,515 and Greg Ray is second with 1,149.
Q. With the weather being cooler out there than what you probably anticipated did you personally have any problems with the Firestones coming up on temperature so they'd handle well?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: No. The Firestone tires worked great for us this weekend. Actually on one of the stops we made, we refueled the car, we didn't even change tires. You know, we ran two stints on them and they were still good. We probably could have ran another 20 laps. You know, we didn't really have any problems with the cooler conditions. At those tracks, you can run a little bit higher air pressure in order to make the tires come up to temperature a little bit because, you know, you're not in the corners all the time and you don't have a ton of banking. You know, in actuality you're trying to get rid of a little bit of grip, you know, it doesn't allow the tires to overheat, but also you can get them up to temperature faster.
Q. Your success in the IRL, has that drawn any interest from NASCAR teams recently? Do you see your long-term future staying in the IRL?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I see my long-term future definitely being in the IRL because the IRL has the Indianapolis 500. Until some other league has the Indianapolis 500, I'm going to stay in the IRL. But I want to try to win the Indianapolis 500 first, and then maybe after I've done that, I might want to try to do something else. But, you know, that's my main focus right now.
Q. I think before the race you thought -- I think you made a prediction you felt like it would be decided in the last turn. Did you think it would be that you and Jaques or had you maybe thought about someone else?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, you know, I've known the problems that the Infinitis have had with reliability over the last year and at the beginning of this year. I'm sure they're working hard on getting that fixed. But when we started the race, I pretty much thought that Jaques was going to be my basic competition on that day. I was going to try to follow him for most of the race, and then just, you know, it happened that we got split up by pit stops. But I kind of envisioned Jaques being the guy out there that I was going to have to fight for the win. But Eddie was still hanging around with us about 20 laps to go. I was going, well, it's going to be tough to get by both of them. I think the car is good enough right now, if I can get the right run out of it, the right momentum at the right time, should be doing okay.
RON GREEN: More records that Sam established this weekend. This weekend Sam Hornish, Jr. has led now nine consecutive Indy racing events, one away from Tony Stewart's record of 10. Sam also extended his league record of consecutive races running at the finish to 16. In those 16 races, he has completed all but seven laps. That's also a testament to the Pennzoil Panther Racing Team. The margin of victory was .0281 seconds. That was the second closest finish in Indy Racing League racing history. The closest finish in league history was set by Sam Hornish, Jr. over Scott Sharp by .0188 of a second last October at Texas Motor Speedway.
Q. Sam, coming down the stretch there on Sunday, I don't know if you've seen video or not, but you actually touched tires. Better put, Jaques touched tires with you. When you watch something like that, number one, do you in replay think, "Man, this is crazy," or do you think, "This is even more exciting than I thought it was"?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You know, I didn't actually feel us touch during the race. But, you know, I watched it afterwards. I get nervous watching the races afterwards because, you know, I already know what's outcome is, but I still get nervous about it. Sometimes it's like, "Wow, I can't believe it was that close, I can't believe that we touched." It's just, you know, I guess how comfortable I am racing against the people that I race against in the Indy Racing League. You know, they all run, you know -- they do their best to make sure that they don't cause accidents or whatever. So I'm just, you know -- it always looks closer on TV than it does out there, I think. So that's one of the things about it. You know, that's the level of confidence that you get after doing this time after time. You just learn that, you know, it's going to be close like that, so you just try not to make any mistakes.
Q. What did it tell you about yourself, if you can kind of get introspective a bit, that you have the guts, and you've done this before, shown some guts, what did it tell you about maybe the competitive drive in yourself when you watch a video of what you've just done? Does it kind of reaffirm what you're all about as a driver?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I guess it either means one of two things: I'm either really brave or really stupid. I guess it does, you know. It takes a lot of confidence to be able to run next to those people, next to somebody at that speed. But, you know, I think that the more you get out there, the more you do this, you know, things seem to slow down a little bit through my eyes when you're out there on the racetrack. But, I don't know, I always just, you know, look at it as, you know, I've got one goal, and that's to try to win the race. I'm not happy -- if I have a car that's capable of winning the race and I don't win the race because of something I do wrong, I'm not happy about that. But when I do, you know, I know that the team is such a big part in that, because reliability is such a big standpoint. Green flag pit stops, yellow flag pit stops, are all a big deal. We've got, you know, good people like Chevrolet and Speedway Engines helping us out, making sure we have reliability. You know, it really keeps me in check. I know how good of people I have to work with in Panther Racing. You know, I don't take them for granted at all. I know they're a big part to what I do. All I got to do is go out there and drive the car. So it's one of those things where they don't ever let me think I'm better than I am.
Q. Two, three years ago you were driving out of Columbus. Is it amazing the trip you've taken? Do you sit back from time to time and go, "Wow, this is a huge jump"? Does it feel sort of natural to you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: When I first did it, I didn't know if I was ready to be running in the Indy Racing League. To tell you the truth, I don't think I really was at that point in time my first couple races. But there's nothing I think that can really prepare you until you go out there and you just do it. I ran for PDM Racing that first year. We were stretched very tight with money, you know, didn't always have the best of everything. They did their best to make sure I was out there in cars that were, you know, somewhat competitive. Just being able to have a place to show, you know, what I could do in the race car. Sometimes I'm pretty amazed that things have progressed this far. When I got the call to come and drive the Panther Racing car, I didn't even -- I was pretty much looking at not being able to race the next year because not enough sponsor money to be able to get out there and race the next year. It was one of those things, you know, where that's part of what keeps me in check. Very thankful for what I have because of the fact that at one point in time it didn't seem like I was going to do much racing in the future.
Q. The last two turns on Sunday seemed to indicate you've got something that you don't want to waste. You've got opportunity. That's kind of what you're talking about, you've been granted this opportunity, you want to make the most of it?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Exactly. You know, I think that just shows how badly that I want to win and that the team wants to win. We could have kind of sat back and got a second place finish. But none of the guys on the team come out to finish second, and neither could I. We want to go out there and we want to win every race. Just really shows, you know, how much drive we have because the race was pretty close to being over. We didn't think we had enough to get them there at the end. Just kept trying to find a smarter way to get around. We knew we weren't going to be able to get by on the inside, so it was try to find a way on the outside, and it worked out for us.
Q. In the last seven races, you've completed every one and driven 2000 miles without a flaw. Talk a bit about how Andy Brown and the guys have put a car together that you can have the confidence in to do what you have been doing?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You know, there's a lot of guys out there that have run their own races without flaws, you know, have gone out there and ran good races, and not finished because of mechanical problems or whatever. So that just really goes back to what I've been saying, is that they're such a big part in what I do because, you know, I can go out there and keep the car in between the two walls every time I went out there. But if things kept falling apart, you know, we're not going to do very well. I don't have those problems. A lot of the problems that I have with the race car are self-induced by myself. At Phoenix we had a real fast race car. I got a little overanxious coming out of the pits, you know, didn't have the clutch completely compressed and try to pull it into gear. It kind of stripped a couple teeth off the rings which keep the car in gear. I couldn't go to first gear. Ended up stalling the car. You know, really we were leading at that point in time. Cost myself the lead if not the race. I just, you know, want to go out there and try to, you know, to be as smart as I can about it because how well they've done keeping the car together, you know, making sure that it always is running. I feel like I owe it to them to be able to go out there and run good and try to be up towards the front and to not wreck the car.
Q. What about Andy Brown? What kind of a guy is he?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: He's the best kind of guy. He sits there and, you know, not a minute of his waking hours during the day he's not thinking about how to make the car go faster. That's one of those things where you really have to have somebody that's focused. And he's focused on going out there and being able to, you know, try to win. And all the guys are like that. They want to go out there and, you know, we've got -- I think we've got a bunch of winners as far as everybody. Nobody is just coming in there and doing this for a paycheck. They all want to go out there and they want to win.
Q. You were talking about you were kind of calm when you did this there at the end. How calm are you? You've told me in the past when nothing was happening, you could fall asleep in the car. You just don't get excited in those situations?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. I think I was more excited after the race than I was, you know, during it because I was working so hard to be able to try to find a place to get around Jaques. I really don't know how to answer that question. Yeah, I think I'm a totally different person when I'm out there racing compared to what I am in the pits. I don't know. I've always been pretty shy. When I put the helmet on, I don't really have to talk to anybody or be anybody but myself. That's my favorite part.
RON GREEN: Just to clarify, Dick was asking about Andy Brown. Andy Brown is the Pennzoil Panther Racing chief engineer. Kevin "Rocket" Blanch is the team manager. Simon Morley is the chief mechanic. Those three guys are critical in putting the car underneath Sam that's been so successful the last two years. Sam, there was some talk that during the race you could not communicate with your team, vice versa, they could not communicate with you. You couldn't hear them. More importantly, you couldn't hear Pancho. Likewise, they said the same about Jaques, that he had no communication with his team, and he could not hear them. What was the extent of that for you? Were you completely cut off from your team?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: They could hear me and I could hear about the first half of every word that they said. Every time I could hear kind of the beginning of "clear," I decided it was time to move down. Sometimes I didn't even -- I don't know if I was just imagining it or if I actually heard it. You know, I could hear just a little bit. I got a little bit better as the race went on. I think the first 115 laps, I couldn't hear anything that was being said. You know, that's one of those things where you'll have those problems. We've worked on ways to try to get around that.
RON GREEN: Did they communicate to you in any way that Jaques Lazier, that he could not hear his spotter? Were you aware of that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I wasn't aware of that till the end of the race. They told me they tried to tell me, but I couldn't really hear what he was saying. I didn't know if he was saying he couldn't hear them or they couldn't hear him or what the deal was. I think they just said he might have radio problems. You know, you have those problems. There were I think like four or five teams that had radio problems this last weekend. I don't really know what causes that or what makes it any different. But, you know, that's the thing about Panther Racing, they go out and they'll try to find a fix for it, they'll work on it till it's right.
RON GREEN: Brian in every driver's meeting before each race tells you guys use your spotters, but at the same time stresses that the spotters aren't driving the car, you are, you have to make the ultimate decisions. If you had been aware that Jaques hadn't had a spotter, would you have driven any differently around him when you were racing for the lead?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, you know, on the speedways, the best place to be if you're leading is to be down on the bottom to the white line because nobody can get underneath you. It's really tough to pass on the outside of those tracks because you're going the longer distance around the track, plus you're trying to make sure that the car doesn't push up into the wall or anything like that. You know, I pretty much knew where he was going to be, that he was going to stay down there by that white line. You know, there's times when other people have had problems with their spotters or the spotter didn't tell them what to do exactly right. I haven't had that problem. But I know of people that have had that. It's just one of those things where I pretty much -- anytime I go to pass somebody, I'm kind of counting on their watching their mirrors and paying attention to what is going on around them.
Q. You were talking about the team putting a reliable car under you. Is it almost like -- it seems like, from our perspective, you believe so much in that reliability that it's almost as though you're trying to drive the competition into the ground. You just drive hard and force them to drive hard till they break.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: That's pretty much it. When you have a car that's reliable, you want to go out there and run it and keep it up towards the front of the race. That's the best place to be to get your sponsors, you know, some coverage. You know, like I said before, you don't tend to run into as many problems when you're out there leading. You don't get caught up in crashes that aren't your own. So I just figure that, you know, I try to be up towards the front and I want to make those guys work for it. If they're going to beat me, I want them to work hard for it.
Q. You mentioned the Indianapolis 500. How often do you run in your mind last year's Indianapolis 500 as you prepare for this year's? Is it almost becoming a mental thing for you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Last year I think it was a lack of a mental thing that gave me the problem. I wasn't focusing on what I needed to be doing. I wasn't focusing on my patience level. So this year it's just trying to maintain that patience and keep thinking about how not to make that same mistake.
Q. You seem like everything is going your way, you have a lot of confidence. When you get into the car, I suppose you don't even consider not winning the race. You make the look easy. Eddie Cheever, he said he wore out a pair of racing gloves. Did you wear out anything in the race?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. My gloves were fine. I don't think I was even sweating too much. I think I was sweating more in spraying the champagne after the race (laughter). That's how comfortable I am if I'm not fighting the car all day. The worst thing you can have is to be out there fighting the car all day because you're not thinking about strategy and how to get by somebody, how to make a pass. You're thinking about how to keep that car on the racetrack, you know, hope you don't have an accident. That's, you know, mentally tiring. You know, you're not thinking about things you should be thinking about. So, you know, when you have a good race car, every time -- I don't think I've been in a race car in the last year that I've got into it and I've just been scared to drive it. You know, it's always been, you know, maybe the car's a little bit loose or maybe it's got a little bit of push, but it's never so erratic that I just feel that I don't want to be in the race car. And that's what it takes because if you have good race cars you can, you know, push them a little bit harder and you don't have to worry about having those problems.
Q. A lot was made of Team Penske coming into the IRL, raising the so-called bar. Looking at the results from this weekend, there was like 19 cars within being on the lead lap in the Top 10 on the lead lap after what amounted to a 400-mile shootout. Do you feel everybody this year has really stepped up and decided that it's time to really put a hundred percent effort into everything?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think they've done that in the past. But, you know, when you come out at the beginning of the year, everybody is kind of rusty a little bit, hasn't been running all year, or all winter, I should say. That's just part of the deal, being able to go out there and get a good start right from the beginning. You know, when you have a good start, it makes things go a lot easier throughout the year. But, you know, I think that there's going to be more and more people at every race that we go to that are going to have an opportunity to win. We're just trying to rack up as many points as we can at the beginning of the year.
RON GREEN: An added point to that question. There were ten cars running on the lead lap at the finish of the Yamaha Indy 400. There were only three cars one lap down at the end of the 400-mile race. It was a very great race from a reliability standpoint.
Q. I guess you still live at Defiance. Why haven't you moved to a bigger city? Did you get a parade there at the end of the year? Do you think you have to win Indy before you get that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think I have to win Indy before I get that parade. I like being in a small town. I like to be able to go and do whatever, be able to go out, relax, not have to, you know, be in the spotlight all the time. Plus I know when you go to a bigger city, they make you work harder, because there's more things they can have you go out and do. Plus that's where all my family is. I'm really family oriented, want to be able to be home so that I can, you know, have a life. I think that's -- you know, have a life outside of my racing life. I think that just allows me to be more relaxed when I go into the race.
Q. Are you a hunter? What do you do to pass the time? Are you a video games guy?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I do video games, motorcycles, bowling, anything I can find to keep my busy and out of trouble.
Q. What's your favorite bowling alley in Defiance or is there only one?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There's two, but I usually go over to Napoleon, another small town. Be able to go out, do my own thing.
RON GREEN: To follow up on a couple questions there, I described you before, this is a compliment, as the atypical professional athlete. You're very down-to-earth, very grounded. Like you said, you're very family oriented. What does a Sam Hornish, Jr. do the day after a race? I know you have commitments for the league that you do media-wise, some things for the team. Outside of that, what do you do the day after a race?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: First thing I do is I try to get all my media stuff out of the way, then I typically travel home. I got home late Sunday night.
RON GREEN: Do you have any tradition? Get a pizza, with friends?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Monday night is usually bowling night. I ended up doing that last night. Just one of those things, I want to go and just be able to have fun at certain points in time, do my own thing. Right now, I can still do that. So it is fun.
Q. You've had two of these races now where you finished within just a fraction of a second, got your nose in front. Which was the harder to win?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think they were about equal. I haven't -- neither one of them was easy. If I had it my way, the races would be boring for everybody else. But I know it's not like that. You know, it's not if you win by an inch, it's not if you win by a foot, it's not if you win by a lap. All that matters I guess is that you win. I'd like to, you know, plan some time, have it be a little more convincing than that. It's one of those things where I just want to -- you know, if I can just squeak by at the end, have made the right move. Because if I go by ten laps earlier, he might wait and get a run on me on the last lap, beat me by that much. I guess it's pretty much a game of chess, who has the patience for the longest, who ends up making the right move in the end.
Q. Being in second place, is it better now, like the old NASCAR races where second place might be better down the stretch than being in first place, or is it just you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. I think I've got something figured out on those tracks, how to use the draft there on the last couple laps to be able to get by. I'm going to have to work on it. I think I'd rather be leading a lot of times, but I think right there towards the end, sometimes it's good to be able to go out there and try to be able to make a move instead of having the move made on you. You really can't -- the way the IRL rules are, there's no blocking. If you're the one that the move is being made on, there's nothing you can do other than keep your foot flat out and try to keep going towards the front, you know, keep going forward. But when you're in second, you have a lot more liberty to be able to time your move.
Q. You don't have a race for three or four weeks, but you go to Nazareth. Unusual mile track with kind of an uphill/downhill thing. Have you ever raced there? The Penske drivers have some experience there. How do you look at that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I raced in the Toyota Atlantic. That was my first oval race in the Toyota Atlantic. I hit the wall. It wasn't a very good day overall. But I like the track. It's fun, you know, because there's a little bit of elevation change, all three corners are different, and it's also a short track, which has been what's suiting us pretty good so far this year. It suits Panther Racing very well. So I'm ready to go there. I wish the race was, you know, this weekend because that's the only bad thing about having some time off is, yeah, you do get to be home for a while, but you don't get to go out there and compete as much.
RON GREEN: About ten laps to go, you dropped back about two, maybe three car lengths. Eddie and Jaques were really battling for the lead up there. At that point had you resigned yourself to third with ten laps to go or what was your mindset at that time?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, at California, it's kind of hard to run right up behind somebody because you take the chance of burning your front tire off and making the car have a big push. I kind of just held back a little bit, just had to conserve some fuel, let those guys make their moves. Also, if there was an accident between them, I was far enough back that I probably could have got around it without being involved in it. I didn't really think that was going to happen. I just knew that was the case. I knew as long as I stayed right about where I was, I was still going to be able to keep in the draft and get up from for the last two-lap run.
Q. We've had three races, now going to Nazareth. What do you think -- which of these races you've seen so far would translate towards Indy, give us a better idea of what's going to happen at Indy?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think, in my opinion, somewhere a cross between Homestead because of the way that the track is flat, you know, fairly flat, you know, the corners are a little bit tight, you know, and then also between California because you have the reliability issue of a 400 mile, plus you have a tighter track with flat corners. I think somewhere of a combination between those two. But Indy is a place all of its own. I've just got to look at that as a point of, you know, you've got probably ten days of testing before you ever race at Indy that we'll be getting during the month of May. We have a lot of time to try to work out our strategy and try to get a good race car.
Q. Has the team set a date yet for private testing at Indy?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't believe we're going to be doing any private testing. I think we're going to be going out there the veteran days right after rookie orientation. Then I don't think we're going to be back till the beginning of the month.
Q. Talking about what you like to do in your off time, but looking at the tape from Helio going around asking questions of drivers, I take it you're not a big movie fan?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm a big movie fan. When he asked me what my favorite movie was, I told him, and he never heard of it. Naturally, he avoided that and went to the next question.
Q. Did you correct him later about who was going to win the race?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I didn't think I needed to go over and tell him that.
Q. What movie did you tell Helio was your favorite?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I told him Pulp Fiction.
Q. And when you bowl, are you a slammer or do you use finesse?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It depends. If I'm bowling a straight shot, it's a little more finesse. If I'm trying to pick up a tenpin, I tend to throw a little bit harder.
Q. Video games, what's the one you play? You have PS-2?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I have PlayStation 2. I have Grand Prix Legends, which is the 1967 Formula 1 circuit. The thing I like about that is it's almost impossible to beat. I've only ever won one race on that game and I've probably ran about 500 races. It's very challenging.
RON GREEN: Before we end the call, just a couple of announcements from the Indy Racing League. One is I want to encourage all the participants today on the call to get very familiar with the new photo system that we have at Indyracing.com. It's the same area in the restricted area of our media site. Get familiar with it. It's a very useful tool. It's been enhanced this year. You can do specific searches by drivers, by events, league officials and other personalities. Everything you see on the site is offered up in the high-rez version at the media site. The second announcement really, the more important of the two announcements, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is reviving its Indianapolis 500 media tour. The date for that media tour is April 10th through the 11th. That's rookie orientation week. The ROP is scheduled for the 12th and 13th. So the 500 media tour is the Wednesday, Thursday, the 10th and 11th, then ROP is Friday, Saturday, 12th and the 13th. Some things already planned for the two-day media tour include the announcement of the Indianapolis 500 pace car driver, Chevrolet will have a major industry announcement that it will make on Wednesday, there will be shop visits, including visits to the Panther Racing shop, probably tour an engine facility, some Indianapolis 500 veterans have already committed to making themselves available -- not veterans, but Indianapolis 500 winners, including Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever, Jr. two days of activities, make sure you put that on your schedule. There will be more information, hopefully a detailed schedule will be coming out before the end of the week, but something you should put on your calendars and plan on attending. Sam, again, congratulations on your fifth win and thank you for taking time today to participate in the call.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.
RON GREEN: That concludes today's teleconference.
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