CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're pleased to be joined today by two points leader in their respective racing series. In just a minute we'll here from Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green, the current FedEx Championship Series points leader. A little later in our call we'll be coined by AJ Allmendinger who currently leads the competitive Barber Dodge Pro Series points standings. But first off we'll bring in Dario Franchitti. Dario is in his sixth year of competition in the CART FedEx Championship Series and he's posted seven career victories in that time. He currently leads the 2002 series points championship with 34 points, behind two podium finishes through the first three rounds of competition this season. In addition to Dario's success in CART, he's also qualified for his first Indianapolis 500 after posting an average speed of 228.177 miles per hour last Sunday and will start 28th in the field no Sunday's Indy 500. Dario, congratulations on your efforts this past weekend, and thank you very much for joining us on the teleconference today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No problem, thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions.
Q. Just explain the emotions of being the first Scot for over 30 years to take part in the Indy 500, since Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, and touch on the influence they both had on your career.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Jim Crawford qualified in the late '80s, as well.
Q. You're right.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: He was a very strong qualifier. As far as the emotions, really I didn't think of it in that way because I was just relieved all the problems of the past week had been put to rest. That was the main thing, was just the relief that we hadn't had any problems as we had had the previous Saturday's qualifying run. I was just glad everything went okay and we were in the race.
Q. I know you talked to Jackie at the end of last year about how he dealt with the subtleties of The Brickyard. Did he give you any secrets?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not really. The cars were very, very different then. I think it was probably his one and only oval race. I'm not sure if that's true or not. He certainly had no experience on ovals. I think it was all very, very new for him, and the cars were very, very different. You know, we just had a quick chat about what he felt about it, all that sort of stuff. I think as usual, the wall, in an oval, was very intimidating, to have the wall there. That was one of his -- I think one of the things that got him. But he was very, very successful there. As far as his influence on my career, I mean, I'd drove for him for three years. I think if it hadn't been for Jackie, as well as a lot of people, but Jackie was certainly one of the instrumental people in getting me to this position. Jim Clark, as Jackie, is just a hero of mine, what he achieved as a racing driver and also as a person.
Q. Obviously you're looking forward to it?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yes, I am. Last week was very, very frustrating, as I said, because of the problems in the first qualifying run. But, yeah, I'm ready to go in there.
MERRILL CAIN: We also should point out Dario is testing today in Mid-Ohio at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. We graciously thank him for stepping off the track to spend a few minutes with us this afternoon.
Q. You and Paul both obviously had some difficulties qualifying, not getting in till Sunday. Is the adjustment from the CART car to the IRL type of machine a pretty tough thing to get ahold of?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No. I mean, I think one of the things I want to lay to rest right now is the thing, everybody, "You guys didn't have the speed to make the show," all that kind of stuff. I'm speaking from my side of things right now. We had a definite problem last week in the engine. We lost two miles an hour between the morning and qualifying. We had a definite problem. We had the speed to make the race. The car is the same car we qualified on Sunday there as we tried to qualify the weekend before. The only difference is the engine was running a hundred percent this time. Everybody has been saying, "Team Green has been struggling and stuff." Paul had a couple of struggles, but by the time it came to doing the job, he did it just fine. He didn't have a chance to qualify because he was in an accident last weekend. As far as people saying, "Team Green," we felt we had the speed to qualify and I think we proved that by qualifying in the same car, the same setup as we tried to qualify the week before. The only difference is, as I said, the engine was working fine. The cars do have some subtle differences. It's an adjustment from the driving side but an adjustment for the engineers, too. The guys with experience there, even the CART teams that have gone over, people that have experience, Morris' team, the Target guys, they have -- they're running a full-time program, and that's probably helping them a bit.
Q. When you look back at the month of May, I know you said you talked with Jackie Stewart, talk about the emotions of the month and the emotions, what you have to go through. Was it different than what you expected at Indy?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn't really have any preconceived ideas of what it would be like. I went in there with an open mind. You know, it's been a different experience to be in the car almost every day. It's been tough because while the guys have had days off, I've been over here testing. This has been our fourth day testing here at Mid-Ohio in the last two weeks. While other guys have been having those break days, we've been pounding around. From that point, it's been difficult. The one point where I sort of felt I was kind of - what's the word here - frustration kind of got to me was after qualifying last Saturday where we didn't know where the speed had gone. "Okay, what now?" That was the one point. Otherwise, it's been very controlled and we've just been doing our job.
Q. Has it hit you yet, the significance of being in the Indy 500?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I mean, for me at this point it just feels pretty much like qualifying for any other race. The difference is most of the races I've been in, you automatically qualify because there hasn't been -- you know, generally I think in any period of racing before, qualifying is generally a given. It just depends where you're going to qualify. This was the one race that the option was there not to make the field. No, for me right now it feels like any other race. I don't know if that will change come next Sunday. I'm sure it's going to be different walking out there, the atmosphere in the stands and stuff.
Q. And talk also a moment about having to test to maintain your points lead in the CART FedEx Championship Series and having to qualify. You're going from a road course to an oval. Is it hard to get everything sorted in your head? Mentally does it wear on you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No. I think I've been out in the car every day mentally, it wears on you a bit. I have to say it's like a breath of fresh air to come back and drive the CART here at Mid-Ohio. Again, that's another car that's new to me because it's the first time I've driving the Lola these last couple days we've run here. That's been something new to learn as well. I really love driving on road courses, and Mid-Ohio is a fantastic place. To get back into the car with all that power and, you know, the technology, it's been a lot of fun. It really has been a breath of fresh air for me to do that, you know, kind of refocus again for next weekend when we have the Indy 500.
Q. Almost like a mini vacation?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: Tell us a little bit about the Lola, trying to get used to that. How has it been for you? What can you tell us about the car?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I mean, the main thing for me, I'm notorious for getting comfortable in the car. When I get comfortable, I'm pretty happy in the car. It's just been moving seats around, steering wheel height, that sort of stuff. For me, there's sort of normal seating problems. The guys have all the seating problems of running a new car. Just gets used to those cars and sort of feeling the car out, see what sort of things it likes, what setup changes, what effect they have on the car. That's what we're doing here. As of right now, I'm very, very happy with the car. Without getting too carried away, it feels great. Yesterday was a good day, a day where just we'll continuing in the same vein. The guys from Honda, it's an engine test here, and Honda is doing some extensive work here as well. They're definitely making progress. It's been a good couple of days.
Q. I guess you wouldn't be testing at Mid-Ohio if you were still in the Reynard, or would you be?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, this engine test was scheduled I guess like four months ago. So, yeah, we would have been here. But it's obviously got the extra bit of meaning here that we're swapping cars. We had the days to use anyway. We didn't use our full quota in the preceding months, so now this is our sort of chance to use a full quota of days.
Q. Did you ever think you'd have a feeling that you were in the car too much?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm sure that could happen. But it hasn't happened yet. We had a couple days holiday, but a strategic holiday last Thursday, Friday. I went back to home. I had a couple days away from the car. That was definitely rejuvenating. It sort of cleared my head a bit.
Q. I've never actually been to Indy. Is it like, say, Michigan where it doesn't matter if you qualify 28th?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I don't know, because I haven't -- as I say, I haven't raced the cars before, so I don't know how it's going to play out. The corners are certainly tighter than Michigan or Fontana. I really don't know. I can't say yet how that's going to work out.
Q. Kind of an expansion on the former question there. It really doesn't matter where you qualify in this race. History says if you're near the front you can usually do pretty well. Where you are on the grid, have you thought about that? You're okay from there? What is your race day strategy? What have other veterans of the race been telling you what play out on race day?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely, 500-mile race. Last year, Michigan, went from last to second. So, yeah, as you say. But this is a different track, a different ballgame. My goal is to go in there and win the race. I hope right now we can win from that far back. As you say, it's a long race, got to take it one step at a time, you know, pick and choose your moments.
Q. The CART guys, I ask them what they feel the difference is between the IRL machinery and the CART machinery. Vasser talked about the lack of horsepower, 200 horsepower less than the CART car. In your experience, what are the differences, how it feels underneath your seat, the differences between the two cars?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I mean, for sure, the lack of horsepower is number one. You really notice that. You notice the gearbox is very -- this gearbox in the Champ car, we have a flat shift mechanism. You really can shift, up-shift with just your fingertips. Then downshifting, you can do that very, very quickly. The IRL car, you have to lift the shift. The gearbox is a lot heavier. It feels not as technically advanced, for sure, as the CART car. That's one of the main differences. You feel the weight of the engine up there. Higher center of gravity at the back of the car. The car is very, very sensitive to conditions. You know, I guess when the weather changes, you not only lose grip, you also lose horsepower. It's a very different machine.
Q. Being No. 1 in the points in CART, I imagine it's difficult to have this long break. I can imagine you're anxious to get back to racing.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I haven't really thought about it that way because I've been so busy with doing the 500. You know, the plan was always -- you know, my main focus I said all along is the CART championship. The month of May is going to be a distraction from that. It's like I've got sort of two different parts to my brain. I've got what I'm doing today, which is working on the Champ car, working with the Honda guys, Lola guys, all that, getting the car set up for Milwaukee, Laguna, all those type of places, then I've got what I'm doing next Sunday. Yeah, it's actually been quite nice to have the month off and be the points leader for this long (laughter). As far as that goes, you know, the most important thing now is for me the Milwaukee, Laguna, Portland section of races, trying to do the best possible results there, then we'll look to the next races after that.
Q. You've been first before. When you look down the schedule, is it possible to map out a way to close it so you end the season in first place?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know that you can be that precise about it because the way you look at these things, you go out every weekend, you do your best, you try to win every race. If you can't win it, you try and finish second, that type of thing, because you never know what's going to happen. You never know if you're going to have a problem, somebody's going to run into you, have a mechanical failure. You just never know. That's all you can do is just do your best every weekend.
Q. When you're testing at Mid-Ohio, a different course than an oval. Very different than Laguna, some of the other road courses on the schedule. Are there certain turns where you can set the car up to say, This approximates this track?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You know, not really. What you're doing here, we're sort of getting -- we're very much finding what the car likes in a very general sense. We're just generally finding what the car likes so that when we do have an imbalance at Laguna or Portland, we can say, "We know this works, let's try that."
Q. Getting a baseline so when you get to Laguna or Portland, you don't have to go so far to get it dead on?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Every track is different. As I said, we're just finding what the car likes in general, in general terms, what adjustments have what effect. You know, each track has a different baseline for sure, setup.
Q. How is married life treating you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's good, thank you.
Q. That was quick and short. Do you have any hesitation about going into the race at Indianapolis, never having been there before? Anything that might be different with 33 cars, three-wide start? Have you ever done one of those before?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I mean, everything is different, isn't it? Completely different car. Completely different -- in general, the people I'm racing against are different people. It's a track I've never raced on before, so it's all new. It's kind of exciting.
Q. How was practice? Did you get a sense if you were able to draft, how it is to run side by side there?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, a bit. Not as much as I would like. Hopefully on carb day we can do more. It's one of those situations you go out to do a qualifying run, the track is busy. You go out to practice, race setup, the track is deserted. We did run in traffic a good bit. We did some full tank runs, all that sort of stuff. I think we're reasonably well-prepared for the race.
Q. What do you plan to do on carburetion day, make sure there's no leaks?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Leak check, for sure. Probably try and do a couple laps. I'm not really sure. We haven't really discussed that. As I say, we're just really working on the Mid-Ohio today and we'll discuss carburetion day tomorrow.
Q. CART almost went to an IRL-like car for next year, then decided to keep the existing cars. Do you feel that was a wise decision? Sounded like from your comments you were happy to be back in the Champ car.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I really enjoy driving the Champ car. You know, it's just so much fun with all that power. It's got all that grip, driving on a road course. I've always felt that with these cars. It really -- some of the tracks we get to race on, from a driver's point of view it's brilliant. I think it is a good move by CART because, you know, as far as the costs and stuff, I think they've made the right decision. I think the IRL car could be made to work on the road course and stuff, but I think we'd certainly have to change the gearbox and all that sort of stuff. I'm a real fan that this formula that CART has just now, the powerful turbo engines and stuff. I really do enjoy driving them.
Q. Are you then a little bit disappointed horsepower will be down next year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah. I've been sort of -- my favorite was when we really had the 40 inches of boost, the real big horsepower. Those were really hard to drive, and you knew you had a lot of power. You know, you still have comparatively a lot, but it's still less than I guess the good old days. That shows how long I've been in the series, I guess (laughter).
Q. Do you notice any difference horsepower-wise from last year to this year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Just a bit less. The Honda guys are here on an engine test and they're working really hard to bring back some of that deficit. They're doing a pretty good job.
Q. There's been talk about tire wear at Indy with the new surface, the grinded surface. Have you been experiencing any problems? Do you feel your tires will last as long as the fuel will last in the tank?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Firestone has done a good job there. You know, the problem we've experienced, it's been almost a green track every day because of the rains. You know, the tire wear isn't much more severe on a green track. Everybody finds that. But the days when you actually had two set of consecutive days running, we definitely found tire wear was a lot better. I think we're going to be okay. I think it's not an issue.
Q. What do you see race speed being at, approximately?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I have no idea. I just don't know. I think it will certainly be a lot faster than last year.
Q. Going into Milwaukee the following week after Indy, I assume you're going to be using the Lola.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely, yeah.
Q. Do you have a baseline for that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah. I mean, we have a reasonable baseline. You know, with Paul and Michael having driven the car at Japan, that's given us some information on what it likes. Lola also provides baseline settings and the team comes up with their sort of take on that. Yeah, hopefully have a good baseline.
Q. Shouldn't be any real major problem transcending from the Indy car at Indianapolis to the Champ car at Milwaukee then?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, no. I mean, as I said, jumping back and forth, road course back to Indy with different cars and all that, just got to remember what you're doing.
Q. The introduction of this safer wall at Indianapolis, we've had a lot of press releases on the benefits and everything. A number of years ago CART had the soft wall at Rio. From a driver's perspective, how do you view it? Would you like to see it at CART ovals?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Touch wood, I haven't had anything to do with it yet. Hopefully that will remain true. I was watching a couple of the practice sessions, in particular I think Robby McGehee's accident, that was a big accident, it seemed to help him. I mean, I think if it does work, and it seems to, then it would be great to have it on some of the CART ovals. I hope the people at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I hope they're going to make that available to all tracks, all formulas of racing, you know, all types of racing. That would be -- a safety thing, that's the correct thing to do, no matter whether it's CART, IRL, NASCAR, whatever, they should be freely available for anybody to use.
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks again for joining us today. We'll all be keeping a close eye on you and the rest of the CART drivers in the field Sunday at Indianapolis. We look forward to seeing you at round four the CART FedEx Championship Series, The Miller Lite 250 at the Milwaukee Mile June 2nd. Best of luck testing the rest of the afternoon, too.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thanks, we'll see you there.
MERRILL CAIN: We switch gears a little bit and welcome in AJ Allmendinger of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry level pro series using CART's ladder system of driver development. AJ, thanks for participating in today's call.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Thanks for having me.
MERRILL CAIN: AJ is a 20-year-old California native who won the season opening Barber Dodge Pro Series at Sebring. His first professional race victory, by the way. In 2001 AJ was one of four top karters that was awarded the Barber CART scholarship which earned him a full season ride in the Formula Dodge National Championship. As we pointed out earlier, AJ currently leads the Barber Dodge Pro Series points race. AJ, we're going to open it up for questions. We'll take a run around and see who has some questions for you.
Q. You had the opportunity to kind of work up through the CART ladder here. How do you feel about the ladder? Does it have all the right steps now?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think the ladder's great. This year they just got the Toyota Atlantic series at the main entry level under the Champ Car Series. So far I've came up through karting, done the national series, now in the Pro Series. I think the ladder system really has all the steps in place that it takes to get the drivers up to where they want to be, and that's in the Champ Car Series. Right now I don't really see any improvements they could make. They have all the right steps. More and more the entry levels like the National Series and the Pro Series, they're getting more exposure. It's allowing young drivers to get that exposure and move up through the ranks.
Q. As a youngster when you started, was there any confusion on your part as to what karting series you should start in? There's so many out there. Should CART take the initiative and try to pull it together and make it a unified CART organization so there's no confusion as to where kids might start?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, are you just talk about the karting series?
Q. Yes, go-karts, yes.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Really, they have it. That's the Start It Small Program. There's a lot of karting series out there. For CART racing itself in the ladder system, they have the Start It Small Series run by Bryan Herta. I got to first experience that in 2000 when they first started at the race in Vegas. I fortunately got to test the Champ car. So that's the starting series they have in the ladder system. I think it's a great series. I'm actually still running in it every now and then this year when I get the opportunity. The exposure they get for karting, it's great. So CART itself to have the Start It Small Program be there to start off young drivers to move up through the ranks, I think it's perfect.
Q. Did you drive road shifter karts, direct drive karts on your way up?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I've driven a little bit of direct drive, but since like 1997 I've been driving shifter karts. I think, one, it gets -- still all the Champ car drivers, they drive shifter cars for endurance, to keep in shape. I think it's really great because it does simulate, 125, simulate what a Champ car is like, horsepower-to-weight ratio. I think the shifter car driving, it teaches a lot . For a young driver to start moving up through ranks, obviously you have to change a little bit your driving style once you move up in the cars, but it's a great starting point.
Q. Let's talk a little about instruction that you get in the Barber Dodge Pro Series outside of the car. In discussions we've had with Jeremy, there's a lot to be done in terms of instructing you guys on how to handle yourself outside of the car in terms of relationships with your sponsors, with fans, certainly with the media. Can you talk about the kind of instruction you get in that area?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: The Barber Dodge Pro Series, the Pro Series, it's great, because it's not just teaching you how to drive, it's teaching you about all aspects of racing. They really make sure on how you dress, how you act, how you're supposed to talk to your sponsors, the media. They really keep you informed and teach you about stuff like that. I've learned a lot just in basically the start of my second year and I've learned a lot about how to act in front of everybody, what kind of attitude you have to act in, and basically what you have to do to help try to find sponsors and once you have them to keep them. Jeremy, I mean, basically everybody knows him from sports car racing and all that. He's one of just many coaches that are there to help you keep that. And CART is a big part of that. To help you try to find sponsors and keep them once you do, I mean, it's huge. So without their help, half of us drivers would be out there just not knowing how to act once we got out of the car.
Q. Who is your competition this year in Barber? I know Davy Cook was coming up your tail pipes in Sebring. Who else is out there?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I mean, there's a lot of guys out there. Obviously Davy the first round. Julio Campos, I had to run against him last year in the National Series. I mean, he's a great driver. Nilton Rissoni, he won the championship I think in 2000. I mean, an exchampion, he's got a lot of knowledge about the cars and can drive them well. Christian Szymczak, Marc Breuers, Leonardo Maia. The list goes on about drivers. Rafael Sperafico, he was quick in Sebring. Unfortunately for him he had a lot of trouble during qualifying, then I think during the race, too. I would say there's about eight to nine guys that could possibly win a race. There's always those couple of guys that come out of nowhere that you don't expect at some races that do run up front. As I say, there's like nine or 10 guys that really possibly every race could win it. I mean, that's what makes this series exciting, is you're going into it, you don't know who's going to be the quick one there. There's 10 guys that could come out of nowhere. If you miss a setup, you could be all of a sudden qualified 12th or 13th. In the Barber Dodge Pro Series, if do you that, it's really hard to make that up in a race.
Q. Each of you have a coach, but each coach also has more than one driver. How many drivers does each coach have? How do y'all work together? He's got to be impartial between all the drivers he's working with.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Actually in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, there's a lot of drivers that hire coaches. For me, I don't have a hired coach. I really like working with Barry Waddell. Him and I really get along well. I've kind of adapted to him since last year in the National Series when he was working in that series, too. I've really started to grow a relationship with him, get along with him well. I can interact with him really good on car setup and driving and stuff like that. But most drivers, they hire driving coaches. Usually from what I've seen, there's about two drivers that hire the same coach. In a way, they're kind of on the same team. I know Davy Cook and Christian Szymczak, they had the same coach. If I'm correct, Tom Fogarty and Marc Breuers have the same coach. In that way they're kind of teammates. There's probably about 10 or 12 drivers that hire coaches, and each of them at most have two drivers. It's not a big deal about coaches trying to share their times. There's certain coaches like Barry, he's part of the Barber Dodge program. He's not really a coach, but I've started to interact with him well. That's what they're there for.
MERRILL CAIN: The next Barber Dodge Pro Series event is in Lime Rock Park, Connecticut, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27th. AJ, you haven't raced a pro series car there, but you competed in the Formula Dodge National Championship and won a regional race there in 2001. What are you looking forward to from Lime Rock coming up in about a week?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I'm very excited. Actually after I get off this, I actually go to the airport to leave for the race. I'm just excited. The layoff, two and a half months, has been -- I'm starting to bounce off the walls now I'm so ready to get back in the car. The track, it's short, it's very tricky. They have concrete patches over the corners. The track, there's not a lot of grip on it. You have to really hit your marks every lap there. Driving the National car last year, I got to feel how much just a little mistake, how that time -- how much time that costs you. I know qualifying is going to be very important up there. I would say if you're not in the first two rows, you might not have a chance to win the race because passing is so hard in the pro car there. Really the one huge passing place is down the front straightaway. Really coming down the hill in the draft, your car pushes because the downforce gets taken off. I think qualifying is going to be important there. We don't get a lot of track time. We only get one practice session before we go into the first round of qualifying. You're going to have to really know your car setup right away and make sure you make your first practice session a good one because then qualifying stars, and that's what's going be to be very important for it.
MERRILL CAIN: We want to point out, the first Barber Dodge Pro Series event that will join the CART FedEx Championship Series will be at Laguna Seca, that's the weekend of June 7th through the 9th.
Q. If there was one or two things that you could pinpoint that you have learned in the Barber Dodge Pro Series that you could say, "Okay, if I had not learned this, this is as far as I would ever go," what would it be?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: First off, it's car control. I mean, really, learning how to drive the car smooth, because coming from karting, my driving style really wasn't that smooth. I liked to kind of toss the go-kart around and stuff. Learning how to be smooth in the car is huge importance. The second thing is really I'm starting to learn the technical part of the car, how to set it up, what it takes to set up a car. Without that, you're definitely not going to go anywhere because it's very important to know about the car and what it takes to set it up. I've learned a lot the first round at Sebring this year. I think I'm going to carry that and just try to learn more and more about the car. So when I move up to hopefully Atlantics, I can take that in there, then hopefully up to Champ car. I think that's really what is important, the technical aspect that you learn about the cars, how to set them up. If you don't learn that, you're going to be way behind every other driver that knows how to do that.
Q. When we look at your name, the obvious question has to be: AJ, where did that come from?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I was actually named after AJ Foyt because growing up my dad raced, and that was his hero. It was funny. Before I was born, he kind of told my mom that if I was a boy, my initials had to be AJ. He didn't really care what my actual name stood for, but the initials had to be AJ. I guess I was destined to be a race car driver right from when I was born.
Q. If there has been one tough thing in your career to overcome, what has that been?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Lately I really have had to learn about finding sponsorship and the money aspect. My parents don't have a lot of money, so it's been hard trying to find money. That's huge, just learning what it takes to find the sponsors. Growing up I heard about what it took, how bad race car drivers sometimes had to just walk around and wait. I've learned that real quick now. So that's been huge. And just learning how to deal with anything that went wrong, like an accident or something, a crash that was my fault, just learning how to right after that get right back in the car and get going again. So that's been very important to me, too.
Q. Emotion control?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Oh, yeah, exactly. Obviously, anybody knows, a race car driver sometimes can lose their sight of what they're trying to achieve. You have an accident or something, I've learned real quick that once you do that, you you've just got to kind of put that in the back of your mind, forget about it, go back in the car and do what you know how to do.
MERRILL CAIN: AJ, you touched on sponsorship a little bit there. Just looking down some of my notes there, I know you list your mom as your main sponsor. I know you have some silent backers, as well. What is that like? Has to make for some interesting conversation around the dinner table?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Oh, yeah. I mean, my parents have been my huge backer my whole life. They're in this with me. They're just there with me. I mean, that's huge. Without them, definitely. I mean, a lot of kids can say that. Without their parents, they couldn't do it. I mean, right now I kind of have for sponsors just the family and a friend that's closely kind of started to watch me, and he's helping me out, then just small local companies that really -- there's no huge companies I can say right now that are sponsoring me. It's just a lot of little stuff. Right now that's been hard because going into the season I thought I was only going to be racing go-karts. Then all that kind of happened, now I got the funding for the season, now I'm just looking for funding for next season and possibly do some Atlantic testing. But, yeah, I mean, right now not having a major sponsor, that's kind of hard, but having little sponsors like little companies, especially my parents and the family friend, I mean, without them, you couldn't do it. Mom makes sure she keeps me in line since she's kind of paying for the racing - and my family friend, too. Can't get them mad at you.
MERRILL CAIN: Certainly making the most of what you have to work with.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Exactly.
Q. Two and a half months between races is one heck of a long time. You mentioned about the frustration, bouncing off the walls to get back on track. What do you do in that two and a half months?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I pest tested the pro car for two or three days. The testing went well at Sebring. That was in April. I did that. Then I learned a lot of stuff about the car. I've been still racing go-karts for Paul Tracy Karting. I've done two or three races for that. I went to Long Beach for the Champ car race to look for sponsors and actually really get to know a lot of the Atlantic teams. Really a lot of PR stuff, running a little bit of go-kart, testing a little bit for the pro series. Other than that, just keeping in shape and working out and just make sure for this weekend, when it finally came, that I'm ready for it.
Q. You mentioned driving the Barber car, one thing that you learned was to be more smooth in how you handle the car. I'm wondering if you take that, what you've learned in the Barber car, back into karting, and has that helped you in karting?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Actually, it has because after Sebring, I ran my first karting race of the year. Learning how to be a little bit more smooth with the car actually really helped me. Like I said, the help with the coaches that I talked about, especially Barry for myself, learning that stuff, it's helped me from where I started in karting now to the Barber Dodge Pro Series. I hope to take that up through the ranks into Toyota Atlantics and into Champ car. It's been great to learn that stuff.
Q. The issue of the sponsorship really interests me. How daunting is it for a 20-year-old without a huge trust fund to try to find the kinds of monies that are necessary to advance a career, even to Atlantic or certainly into car CART?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: It's stressful, for one thing. A lot of stress. But you always have to have the attitude -- I have the attitude of not giving up. You know, if you love the sport and you really have the heart for it, you're just going to keep pushing no matter how many times you get turned down and how many people say no. Because once you stop asking, you're never going to find a sponsor. You keep asking, three people say no, it's finally going to happen. Fortunately for myself, I've got the help for this season and I'm really working hard on stuff already for next year to where hopefully I move into the Toyota Atlantic series. It's hard. It's stressful. But you've just got to have that attitude of never saying no and never quitting. You keep doing that, everything's going to work out. So far it has for me. I'm going to keep that attitude for the rest of my life and for the rest of my career of just never giving up. Hopefully that will take me to the top level that I want to get to.
Q. I guess part of your coaching and training has been the ability to take that stress and leave it on the sidelines, not bring it into the car with you when you're racing.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Oh, exactly. Because I mean once you're in the car, I mean, that's my office. Once I get in the car, everything that -- all the problems, sponsorship-wise, any other problems I'm having, they're gone, and I'm purely focused on my task in hand of winning the race or getting the most out of the practice session that I'm in. Whatever my goal is in the car for that session, that's what I'm focused on. Once you start letting that sponsorship stuff or any problems you have start getting into the car with you, you're never going to be on your A game. I never let that happen. I always keep my focus. Especially in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, with everything so close and so many good drivers in the series, you lose that focus a little bit, and that 1% of focus, you could be way back in the field. I don't let that happen. Once I get in the car, that's my office, and I get to the business in hand that I'm trying to get to.
Q. The issue of coaching and media, give me some anecdotes on how your coaching has helped you get through this last 20 minutes with the media.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Just the people at Skip Barber, the people in CART that have helped me get to this point now, they let me know.
Q. What have they told you about dealing with pushy jerks like me who try to get you to say the one thing they want to hear about how to deal with the media and questions that are thrown at you at the last minute?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I've been taught always put your best foot forward. Never get frustrated with the media. The media has their job obviously. You're trying to get the answers that you want. They're going to ask the questions. So never get frustrated with them. Always put your best foot forward, always smile. You do that, hopefully everything works out and you can't walk away from that after it happens and be mad at yourself because you looked like an idiot or a jerk when talking to them. Always keep that smile and always keep that best foot forward and it should work out.
Q. And stay out of NASCAR.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: AJ, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. We enjoyed spending time with you today. Obviously, whoever is working with you on the media is doing a good job. You did a great job this afternoon. We wish you best of luck at Lime Rock coming up on Monday, May 27.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Thank you for having me.
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks to all who participated in today's call. We wish you a very pleasant afternoon.
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