Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two drivers to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Both of these guys made significant moves throughout the field on Saturday at the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Joining us to open the call is Alex Barron, who started in the 21st position and finished an impressive third place right behind the leaders in what could arguably be stated as one of the more better runs in the last few years we've seen in the IRL. Thanks for joining us today, Alex.
ALEX BARRON: Thank you. Good to be here.
TOM SAVAGE: Can you talk about those final few laps? Did you think you actually had a chance, you were right there, but catching those guys, winning it from the last row?
ALEX BARRON: No. We got a couple of positions prior to the last restart, and then we were just trying to hang on to third. We didn't quite have enough speed in order to overtake the first two cars. We were just fortunate enough to have them pull us around the track and try to run some of the lap times that we did. But we were pretty much trying to fight off Sam to hang on to third place.
TOM SAVAGE: It seemed like the car got stronger and stronger as the race went on. Did the car start to come to you midway through the race? Was it right there at the end?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah. We kind of predicted that the track was going to slow down a little bit once it got dark, and it did. Our car kind of came to. But in the middle of the race, we were stuck a little bit because there was a couple of drivers we were dealing with that were pretty hard to get around. We were kind of looking at it like biding our time and trying not to get wrecked. At the end, we were more aggressive and we were just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time when people got checked out.
TOM SAVAGE: Alex started in the last row. It's a bit misleading. You didn't qualify that way, but you had something break on your car during your qualifying. What happened there?
ALEX BARRON: I believe it's the drop gear or the ring gear that let go in front of the gear stack. It just basically blew an eight-inch hole out of the bell housing on the back straight, and blew the undertray out, too. It was unfortunate because that happened right after I took the green flag coming down the back straight.
TOM SAVAGE: A place like Texas, what you did over the weekend is certainly fitting, but you don't really have to start up front to get to the front there. Were you surprised how you were able to get through the field that quickly?
ALEX BARRON: I knew in traffic we had a really good car. We were really concentrating on that. It was just unfortunate that we had to run in the first session the whole time because it just seemed like all 12 guys or 11 guys that were in the first practice session versus the second always seemed to drop, you know, a minimum of 10 positions once the second session got going. I just think that the majority of the faster cars were in second position. But we knew we had a car in bad air. It was unfortunate we didn't have a good qualifying time. But what we worked on I think paid off in the race, for sure, as far as setup goes.
TOM SAVAGE: A bit of a tough start to the season. Is this kind of the momentum or the break you think you needed to get going in the second half of the season?
ALEX BARRON: Gosh, I hope so. It's definitely been pretty rocky. There's just been so many unfortunate things happen. It's put us back. But we seem to always climb to the top once the race gets going. Obviously, that's when it counts. But it just makes for a really long weekend for everybody.
TOM SAVAGE: Let's go ahead and open it up to the media for questions for Alex Barron.
Q. When Buddy Rice won the Indy 500, the first American in a few years, given the IRL's commitment to gain bigger audiences, does this series need a new answer to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or Tiger Woods, charismatic young American like yourself to jump-start the popularity of open-wheel racing?
ALEX BARRON: I think Buddy winning the Indy 500 definitely has helped that a great deal. You know, it would be nice if we saw more of the Americans up top more often. It's just a matter of just being a race car driver, just as anybody. It's about being at the right place at the right time. It always seems in the off-season it's a guessing game, kind of like what package you should have at the beginning of the season. I think with the three motor manufacturers, things fluctuate quite a bit because it's so competitive. But, you know, again, you just have to keep pushing along and try to get everything worked out, you know, to where you can have consecutive weekends pretty much up in the front. That's what it takes to win a championship. Everybody's always trying to win a race, and sometimes you're put in a position where you're just trying to get a good finish because just the way some of the packages work out, you know, some of the teams and the manufacturers are a bit behind and they're trying to catch up. It's so competitive now, it's just a matter of being at the right place at the right time to take advantage of it.
Q. Do you see yourself or Buddy or Sam Hornish, someone like that? What would it take to break through and become a household name for this sport?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think Sam has touched on that a great deal, you know, winning two championships and so many races. Again, he was at the right place at the right time. He did really well. I mean, when it was time to step up, he did. Buddy did the same thing at the 500. It was clear that he had an extremely fast car. But, you know, he also got it done when it came down to it. I'm still working to try to get there, and Red Bull Cheever Racing has come a long way since last year, and we're doing everything we can to get in the front. It was just really a good feel to get on the podium for the first time this year with all the bad luck we seemed to have had so far.
Q. It seems like there's fewer Americans maybe in the series now than there were a few years ago. Obviously, you had some time bouncing around between teams last year. Do you think it's tougher for an American to find a ride in the IRL now than before or is it circumstances that led to that sort of balance?
ALEX BARRON: Well, it's so hard to read that because so much of it is out of your control, you know. The way the careers go, there's just a lot of drivers, they're at the right place at the right time, and they shine. But I'm a firm believer in just keeping my head down and working with the people I'm around. Sooner or later you'll get there. I've had times where I've been able to drive cars like this weekend that were very quick, and we were able to make the best out of it.
Q. You said that Buddy Rice's victory could make a difference. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? Will it open more doors? Do you think this gives young Americans lower down on the rungs of the ladder more inspiration?
ALEX BARRON: I always kind of look at it from the car owners' side. A lot of the car owners, they think in different ways. A lot of them, it's where they come from and the way they evaluate drivers themselves. Again, it's so hard to read into that because you can't tell at all times what people are thinking. All you can do is, you know, take advantage of where you're at and try to do the best you can with what you got, you know, try to progress whatever you're doing within the team to make gains. You know, it was good. In a way, it was really good for me to see Buddy win the Indy 500 because he came up the same way I had. He was actually on two or three teams on the junior level that I was on, raced with him in karting. In a lot of ways, it does help me, too.
Q. It gives credence to coming through the ladder system.
ALEX BARRON: Yeah. Again, he was in an extremely quick car, and, you know, like his qualifying run, he got everything out of it. In the race, he put his head down and took the quick car to the front and pretty much dominated the race. You just need to be ready when you get the call with the right package and do the best with it. But with what you have and what you're working with, you know, we're still trying to develop everything we have here. And we're making gains on it. So when you get it right, then you know why you're quick. I think that's very important, when you get that opportunity.
Q. The question earlier was presented regarding, would this race be a springboard for the team. What was said among the team after the race was over? Could you feel a different spirit?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah, I could. I think everybody was extremely happy just because we were pretty optimistic when you're starting pretty much dead last. That was a pretty big kick in the side when the gearbox let go in qualifying. It was something that he was totally unexpected. It was just pretty much a part that failed and we didn't really have much control over it. Again, you know, we kept our heads down and going back at night after qualifying and being dead last, thinking, "Wow, took the green flag, everything was just right with the car, balance and gearing, and not able to put a time in." It's hard to dig out of that. All you can do is just keep pushing forward. The team, especially Eddie, he's pushing extremely hard for further development of the team. You know, we have a lot of key people in the right spots right now. We just need to keep doing what we're doing.
Q. Richmond, how difficult will that be for you guys?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I just heard a little bit about it. I've raced there in the past, obviously. I know they repaved it. I think the Gs are up to like 5.3 in the coroners. That's close to being flat out if not flat out. If it's smooth, I think it will be easier in setting the car up. It's one of those racetracks where you're always turning, and there's a lot of things that happen extremely quick, and restarts always play a big part, as well as pit stops. I think track position is key for sure there.
Q. Paul Gentilozzi said recently that the average open-wheel racing fan would rather see road courses and less ovals. In fact, they're voting with their wallets by not attending IRL races at ovals. Could you comment on that?
ALEX BARRON: I've only heard a little bit about that. It's a conversation that's been going on within the IRL. I think a lot of what's going on is people that are running the IRL right now, I know they've had a lot of meetings, and I see us going to road courses real soon. Being back in the day, racing in CART, I remember going to Long Beach, going to the Canadian races, Elkhart Lake, Mid-Ohio, and I see that coming here soon. Which events they are, I don't know. But I think street racing in itself is just great for the fans, and it brings out a lot of spectators. I see that coming in the IRL. I know that they're evaluating that, and they're expecting to have that happen here in the near future.
Q. How many things are you going to attempt to accomplish at Milwaukee? What do you expect as far as the IndyCar Series cars at that track? How important is this test for you guys?
ALEX BARRON: Racing there before, I've run like superspeedway downforce and then road course downforce there. I've won races there. I know a lot about the place. But, again, I haven't been there for a few years. I imagine if it hasn't been repaved since '96, it's pretty bumpy. There's just going to be a lot of development that we'll try to achieve, if the weather holds out for us, in a two-take test. I'll be testing, as well as Ed. We'll try to figure out as much as we can in a short amount of time. I know that track, the way it's configured, in the race setup is going to be key just because you do so many laps there on a tire stint that if the cars go off, you definitely fall back. I think that's because the track is so flat.
Q. Given past experience there, is there any track at all in the series circuit right now that would compare? Does Phoenix as a one-mile oval compare at all to the Milwaukee layout?
ALEX BARRON: No, I don't think so. Phoenix, both sides of the track are extremely different. It's a lot higher banking. Milwaukee is so flat. There's a lot of ways to set a car up for turning points. It changes a lot because the radius of the corner is so long and it's so round, there's no banking to ramp up on, and car setup I think is quite different.
Q. Any idea what makes Milwaukee a favorite to drivers? A couple of years ago, before Milwaukee was added to the schedule, if you went down pit lane and asked drivers if there was an oval they wanted to see added to the schedule, almost to a man the guys would all say Milwaukee. What is it about that track that makes it so popular among drivers?
ALEX BARRON: I think probably the biggest thing is because of the history there. There's been so many cars I think that have unexpectedly won just because they were so good in the race. Fuel strategy is a big part there because it's a mile oval. But I would say mostly it's because of the history there. When you get a good car in the race, you can make up a few positions on the end of a fuel stint because the cars go off as far as grip.
Q. Your relationship with Eddie Cheever, obviously he's had quite a few drivers in the last couple years. If you could elaborate on your relationship with Eddie.
ALEX BARRON: I hear that quite a bit actually. I don't understand what has happened in the past. I mean, Eddie's relationship as far as team owner with myself being a driver, I mean, you can't ask for a guy that pushes any harder. I think that's what it takes. When you're at the track and you're working, you need to work hard and look in the right direction. He has so much experience that his insight within the team, it goes a long way. And everything that we communicate about seems to progress in every way with Max Jones and all the engineers and all the mechanics of what we're trying to do to make the team better.
Q. Richmond was repaved. When Toyota tested here, there were a few laps below 16 seconds, quicker than the pole speed. What kind of effect do you think the increased speeds will have on the racing itself?
ALEX BARRON: I think if they've taken some of the bumps out, chassis setup will be quite different. We've been running these titanium pegs on the bottom of our cars on the last few races. I think they're going to take those off and we're going to run the cars quite lower there. I'm really surprised they're going under 16 seconds with a three-liter engine because, you know, obviously it's less power. That just shows the track must be extremely quick compared to what it was years prior.
Q. When you hear speeds like that, obviously that can mean a race pace above 170 on a three-quarter mile oval. Do you have any apprehension going that fast on that short a circuit?
ALEX BARRON: No, I don't. I just think it makes it that much more exciting. I just hope that we can go ahead and get two lines on the track so when cars slow down a little bit, coming up on lap traffic, things happen so fast there, you just need to have at least two lines going around the track, otherwise it causes for a chain reaction. With these three-liter engines, as we saw in Texas, you definitely don't want to lift. Being on a smaller track, the revs are going to go down quickly. A big factor in the race.
Q. Has that been the case in the past, two lanes of racing there?
ALEX BARRON: Richmond, usually a lane and a half. The car that's running low, if it's running a little bit high above the white line, it's extremely hard to pass. But coming off of turn four, it opens up a bit. You know, guys get good runs. But restarts have always been the biggest deal there for overtaking, for sure.
Q. The three-liter engine, you said you were surprised. That's pretty much cut speeds at every other track this year, right?
ALEX BARRON: Extremely. Shoot, at Texas, I think it was almost like 15 miles an hour. It's a pretty big deal, for sure.
Q. Eddie Cheever is sticking with the Chevy engine. Honda has won all but one race so far this year. Do you think Chevy has anything for Honda and Toyota in the coming races?
ALEX BARRON: I do. I know that they're developing a great deal right now, just as the other engine manufacturers. I think here in the near future, we're going to see some gains. It's just a matter of catching up with Honda, you know, before it gets too late in the season. I do know they have all the resources working extremely hard, and they got their head down. There's communication between the teams and Chevrolet right now, everybody's very dedicated. Hopefully we'll see that in the near future. But we're in communication with them pretty much every day. I know they're doing everything they can.
Q. Ed Carpenter seems to have had even worse luck than you so far this season. Is there anything you can do to help him?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I haven't seen the video of the last race. Overall, my weekend was extremely up and down, as well as Indy. I was just fortunate to have the race work out in my favor. You know, overall, he's done an outstanding job. He was actually quicker than the 51 car pretty much every session. He was in the second group and got to run with a lot of the fast guys. He did a lot of development in the car with his new engineer, Ian. I think we've increased our development of chassis setup. You know, some of the things that go on in the race, I think a lot of the guys were just very fortunate to stay out of some of the mess. There was a few times where I actually got clipped from behind and I didn't get taken out. So that race was a bit of like Russian roulette the way it was going on. I'm just happy to see that nobody got hurt.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you for joining us today. We will see you next weekend down in Richmond. Congrats on a great run in Texas.
ALEX BARRON: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: We're joined now by Greg Ray who started 15th at Texas and had an impressive run to finish 7th. Greg, thank you very much for joining us today.
GREG RAY: Thank you for having me.
TOM SAVAGE: In the press box at Texas, we all had our eyeballs peeled on you. Absolutely an amazing run to see what you did with that car that day. Can you just talk about Saturday's run at Texas.
GREG RAY: Yeah. I mean, I haven't got to see it on video, but I tell you, from my seat, it was a pretty exciting race. I think we had a great car. Mike Culver did a great job with our setup. We made some instinct calls for what to do on the race. We really got qualifying kind of wrong with the gears, and that was just -- it's like cutting hairs. You have to be so precise to get it right as the temperatures change on a track like Texas for qualifying. We missed there. We had a great car in warm-up, had a great car in the race. You know, I think I passed everybody on the racetrack several times with the exception of Tony Kanaan. Everybody that finished in front of us, I think we passed multiple times. It was unfortunate, we just got hung out in traffic a couple times, especially there late in the race got hung behind the car and really couldn't fight for the win. There was one controversial call which I have yet to hear anybody address me on, and that was when the -- there was an accident on the racetrack, and the cars did not come through pit lane immediately. We had to drive through kind of some of the debris. When they got some of the debris cleaned up, we started coming through pit lane. After we cycled through pit lane at 40 miles an hour a couple of times, they opened it for cars to actually stop and make changes, fuel and tires. It was really disappointing because we had kind of planned ourselves to be out of sequence since we were starting so far back. We didn't even have a chance to -- we were trying to stay out, and everybody else in front of us had pitted, stopped, got fuel, tires, got back out in front of us. It was really a controversial situation. I'm not so sure that it was done intentionally. I think the rule book is going to have to be addressed so that doesn't happen again.
TOM SAVAGE: You were clearly the fastest car on the racetrack for a majority of the race. Again, up in the press box, as the speeds came across, you were two or three miles an hour faster than anybody else on the track. Did it feel that way?
GREG RAY: Yeah, I mean, car felt good. Everybody had cars that were pretty good. It was a fight all night long. I mean, you saw six, eight, ten cars together all night long, swapping positions. We were a little bit off on our restart gears. I would kind of grind my teeth and tell the guys I'd do the best I could on restarts. But once we got going, the car was really, really good. I think we were -- I think we were the quickest car on our own. I think we were one of the quickest cars in traffic. You know, it was an exciting race. I had a lot of fun. Our pit guys did a fantastic job. Spotter did a great job. But that's just kind of the rub of racing sometimes. You really can't run three-wide here at speed. Certainly I wasn't in the mood to risk that. But we could run really good low. We could run really good high. We could probably run even the second and a half groove up. We worked traffic pretty good. You know, it was interesting listening to the last bit of Alex's comments there. He did a really nice job in traffic. To have the powerplant that he has, they did excellent. He stayed right in the draft all night long. I think we were, again, quicker than those guys. But when there's two cars wide in front of you, you just can't drive through the guy in front of you. There was a couple of times where we got clipped on the front straightaway, and I actually drove through the grass either two or three times. It was one of those situations where when somebody's coming at you from your right side, you have nowhere to go. Last thing I want to do is get in the grass, but I ended up there two or three times.
TOM SAVAGE: You had a tough month of May in Indianapolis. How big is this finish in Texas for you, for the small team?
GREG RAY: It's fantastic. Like I said, it really was. I think we had a great race. Everybody performed really well. I'm very happy as a small team and a team owner, for all our supporters, very pleased with the performance we had Saturday night and pleased with the seventh place finish. But the racer inside of me on the same note is very, very disappointed. Like I said, I think we clearly had a car that could have won the race. If we would have qualified closer to the front or maybe not had that controversial yellow, pit lane situation, we would have had better track position, and we could have kind of cleared some of that. But that's the way it goes. That's part of the exciting part of it. If we just knew we had the best car, you didn't have to race, then that wouldn't be too exciting. We're getting there day to day, brick by brick, stone by stone. We're building our team and performing better. We're looking forward to going to this Milwaukee test and getting a feel for the place. I haven't raced there since I ran in Toyota Atlantics and Indy Lights. But we ran extremely well there, won there in Atlantics, finished second in Indy Lights. Then we go to Richmond. I'm looking forward to that. We ran third most of the race last year. We led several laps the year before that in 2002. You know, going to some tracks that I've had some past success in and hopefully we're able to take the rhythm from the Texas race and keep on building on that, on the performance side, while we keep on working on our sponsorship side.
TOM SAVAGE: Let's open it up to questions for Greg Ray.
Q. As a former champion, I'd be interested in your feelings, does the IRL need a charismatic, hip American, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tiger Woods, to gain the popularity that the IRL needs?
GREG RAY: That's a hard question for me to answer from my position. I mean, certainly I think the personalities certainly add to the sport. But a lot of the other sports figures are promoted pretty well not only within their sport but through the outside promotions and advertising agencies, sponsorships, things like that. The demeanor and the character of the drivers, I think everybody has big personalities, but we're just not always put in positions to show it. I don't know really how to display that. While I have my own opinions to some degree, I'm focusing on the race team and those things first. I'm trying not to do the job of what the Indy Racing League should be doing.
Q. Who do you think are some of the candidates to step into the spotlight? Buddy by winning the 500, who would you think might be some people who create that buzz?
GREG RAY: You know, like I said, I'm trying not to worry -- I'm trying to worry about first things first on my side. While I have my opinions, I'm trying not to do my job and have to do the IRL's job, too. Clearly, I think we have the best racing on the planet. I think it's the most exciting racing on the planet. But, yeah, there definitely has to be, you know, some sort of focal point that brings the average fan, the person that is not educated, to give the sport a chance. Generally once you get somebody to the grandstand, you get them to see the race, you get them to taste the product, it's really not a problem getting them to come back. It's getting all the new players that haven't been exposed, all the new people exposed to it, how to get them to the grandstand for the first time is the big key.
Q. Do you think the IRL has not done as good a job in doing this as they can?
GREG RAY: I think there's room for improvement on everybody's sake. But I did say it many, many years ago when the Indy Racing League first started, it seemed to be all about the teams. I think everybody will tell you categorically, NASCAR is about the teams, but they really focus on promoting the drivers. We just haven't found that medium yet on how to do that.
Q. Talk about the difficulties of being an owner and a driver, of trying to balance both sides, not taking away from either side?
GREG RAY: It is a challenge, trying to be a father and a husband and a business person on one hand, then trying to grow a race team and the business of the racing on one side, to try to stay in physical shape and stay on the technical edge. It is a lot of hats to wear. I do get a little down on myself sometimes because, you know, something has to pay the price all the time. It's difficult to be the best at any one thing without something else paying the price. You know, wearing so many hats is very difficult. But I believe in all the tasks that I'm trying. I think trying to do it in a slow, methodical way is certainly much better than trying to, you know, bite off too much at one time. Like I said, I think we're getting there. Since we started this team in Japan last year, we've had some extremely competitive runs, some very incredible runs, great qualifying, great racing. We haven't made really any mechanical mistakes as a team, really haven't made any tactical errors on the racetrack. We've definitely been in that wrong place, wrong time scenario. We did have one part failure last year. But considering the size of our team, the scope of what we're fighting, you know, with the other teams, I think we're the constant overachiever in pit lane, if you look at pound for pound, what we're getting out of it.
Q. Has it gotten easier as you've done it longer, to figure out where the balance is, figure out where the lines are, to be able to focus as a driver when you get finished with the business and personal side of it?
GREG RAY: It's easy to separate it. It's difficult to -- it's difficult to have enough time in the day to really get all the jobs done to move it forward. I think the biggest thing is that we've learned what the most important facts are and what the most important focal points are day to day on getting shore to shore each and every weekend without sinking our ship, so to speak. And we've learned the most important things to focus on while we're trying to grow. We try not to waste our time on lot of things that aren't going to be productive for the program short-term, and really we spend most of our time on building the program long-term. We're definitely spending more time on building a two-, three-, four-year program with multiple companies than we do on a race to race basis.
Q. What are your goals for this season? When it's all said and done in October, what do you hope this team has accomplished this year?
GREG RAY: I don't think we're at a clear point where we can really spell out those goals on what the next race holds, what the end of the year holds. We know we have the team, we know we have the expertise. I feel like I have the ability behind the wheel. But we have to get it right day in and day out on a race weekend to go win. We know we can win some poles, we know we can lead races, we know we can win races. Ultimately, that is the goal to do that. Fighting the teams we're fighting, we have to get it absolutely, positively, 100% dead on to do that because the bigger teams just have so many sort of backup plans and countermeasures built into their program. Would we like to be on pole once before the race season ends? Absolutely. Would we like to win a race before the season's over? Absolutely. Really we take it race by race on keeping our goals realistic because it's really about the resources. We know it's unrealistic for us to have unrealistic expectations based on having 10% or 15% of the budget of what some of these big teams are spending. So we're trying to do the best we can while we're trying to put ourselves in position to have equal resources. That's the number one goal. We're racers. We want to race, we want to win. At the end of the day, we want to look in the mirror and know that we gave it our best shot instead of looking in the mirror going, "If we could have, if we would have, if we had this, if we had that." That type of scenario gets really old. You get tired of hearing it yourself. We're working hard to make sure we have the resources to go toe to toe with these guys.
Q. Honda has won the last four races, including both the 3.0 liter. How has Honda been able to keep that advantage, despite a significant downsizing?
GREG RAY: I think there's no doubt that I think Honda put a lot of emphasis on their three and a half liter program when it was going to Japan. A lot of teams I think or manufacturers had already shifted thinking on the Indy. You know, Honda is just synonymous -- when you think of Honda, whether it's a motorcycle, whether it's a car, whether it's a generator, whether it's a lawn mower, when you think of that name, you just think of something that's always the top of its field. When we picked them as a partner, motor partner, last year, their commitment has always been to win, irregardless (sic) of the cost. If they can't win, if they can't be the best, then they almost don't want to do it. We knew their commitment was going to be there. They almost ran these two completely separate full-bore development programs, one to keep on developing the three and a half liter engine to make sure they won at their home track in Motegi, while they were developing this new three-liter engine. They have just done a fabulous job. We have yet to have really any mechanical failure on any engine since we started our relationship with them back in April of last year. How are they doing? I don't know. All I know is they're committed and they burn the midnight oil seven days a week. They want to win. I think the fact that they are winning right now is only going to motivate them to continue to stay focused. And I hope so. It's a competitive world. This is a very competitive rules package. I'm sure the other manufacturers, there's going to be days where positions change. But I'm very pleased with their effort and their commitment, you know, very pleased to have a Honda motor behind my seat.
Q. They had a test year at Richmond a couple weeks ago, they repaved the track. Lap times were actually quicker than the pole speed. Could you give us some insight what you think the effect of having speeds that fast might have on the race here?
GREG RAY: How fast did they go there in the testing?
Q. Sub 16-second laps, 15.6 is what I heard.
GREG RAY: I think back in 2001 when we tested there, we had gone as fast as like 168 miles per hour, average speed.
Q. I think that would be about 16.1, 16.2.
GREG RAY: Obviously, that's pretty quick. The biggest challenging part about Richmond last year was getting through turn one, turn two, the compromise of the car from one end of the racetrack to the other. One end the racetrack was kind of pushy, one end the racetrack was kind of loose. I don't think the speeds are too high. But with it being smooth, it makes it that much easier for all the cars to be fast. I think it's going to make it a little bit more difficult to pass. But Richmond, I'll tell you what, that's a fun, fun racetrack. It's always been hard to pass, but I think with it being smoother, all the cars are going to be faster, it's going to be a little harder to pass. You may work 20 laps, 25 laps right behind somebody's rear wing hoping they make a mistake so you can get around them, or it's going to be a whole different pit strategy. I think from what I heard, it also may be a little bit of a tire wear issue with cars being so fast, there being so much grip, that's really abrasive on the tires. There's going to be a couple different strategies there. But I think we'll see how it plays out next weekend.
Q. No apprehension on your part of racing at those speeds?
GREG RAY: Not really. I did have a crash there preparing for qualifying in 2001. You know, it was probably the slowest crash I've ever had. Because the track is so small, the walls are so close, it was probably -- it hurt. It hurt pretty bad. You have to respect all these racetracks. But, yeah, really no apprehension. We go fast at every track. We try to be cautious and smart everywhere we go.
Q. You say you don't want to wear two hats. Have you considered talking to IRL officials about the way it promotes drivers?
GREG RAY: No, I haven't. I've got my basketful of tasks to do right now. The last thing I really need to do is be telling them how to do their business. I think in the years to come, whenever I decide driving is not the same fun factor for me and transition more to maybe ownership full-time and not driving, I think at that point in time I'll be a little more comfortable in giving ideas or my personal opinions. It's a little difficult now I think being a driver and owner. I think you have to be a little bit guarded with what you say, who you say it to, how you say it, because of the politics of the sport. The driver can't blame the owner, the owner can't blame the driver. In this circumstance, it's the same one. But, like I said, the product is good. The racing is great. It's very exciting. Tony George is very committed. Brian Barnhart has done a great job with keeping up with the rules package and the safety program. We're on the right track. But I think they definitely need, you know, some additional support and research. I think they need to try some different things on getting the first-time fan to the grandstands. Because, like I said, once you get them there, they're hooked.
Q. Is that almost a common sentiment among other drivers? Do you talk about that kind of thing?
GREG RAY: You know, I think if you talked to all the other drivers, all the other drivers are not really too focused on what the success of the league is. They're worried about their careers and their team. I don't think they really reflect too much on how to make the series better compared to NASCAR. That's kind of the incumbent. They've been around for 50 years. It's just a whole different approach. Our cars are faster. I think the racing is a lot more exciting. But they seem to have a little bit better circus. I think if you ask an NBA player what they're going to have to do to compete with NFL, the guy is going to look at you like, "What do you mean? I play basketball." I don't think most of the drivers are too concerned about it. But I think they're all willing to participate as much as possible. I mean, if you look at the autograph sessions that the drivers do or the public events that they do, that the league and the track promoters ask of everybody, the whole mentality is just so different. All these guys are very, very approachable. I think they're willing to do whatever anybody asks of them.
Q. From the booth, it looked like you clearly had a fast race car, but it also looked like you had a pretty clean race after the race in the garage area. I heard more than one driver say, I thought there were a lot of guys on the track using a stock car mentality. What was your take? How aggressive was it out there Saturday night?
GREG RAY: You know, I didn't really feel from my position, and I was kind of in the back of the pack working my way through the pack all the time. So, I mean, I drove wheel to wheel, side by side with just about everybody out there. I don't want to point out anybody specific, but there's a lot of guys that are very hypocritical because they talk out of one side of their mouth and then they go out there and do something else. I had a problem with some cars that would run wide, run the high line, they'd run two-by-two. I just couldn't get around them, even though we're faster. Then I had a problem with one car in particular that, you know, if I got checked up in traffic and he got a run around me, he'd come around me, then he'd come straight across my bow. It's a driver that I have a lot of respect for, but this night he drove uncharacteristically than what I've seen from him in the past. Like I said, I'm not going to point fingers and I'm not going to be a hypocrite, because that racing out there, to be successful at those types of speedways, you have to be aggressive, but you also have to have some sense of what your action is going to do to the driver behind you. Really, I had no problem. I don't think anybody did anything intentional. I got ran off the track a couple times, but I don't think that was intentional. I got run in the grass a couple times, I don't think that was intentional either. I think it's just kind of the nature of the race. It's very serious on the one hand because if something goes wrong, you're going at speeds and running wheel to wheel, and that can definitely be a bad situation. But the other token, it's a lot of fun. I mean, it's a very fun, fast, aggressive racing. For the most part, I think everybody did a pretty good job. But sometimes you get six, eight cars together, taking each other's air away, cars just move around, and sometimes they end up on the same piece of real estate.
Q. When you were going to the front, it was amazing to watch as you cut off the corner there in that first dogleg, it looked like you had the left side tire down on the grass. It was reminiscent of that chase that you and Billie had in '98.
GREG RAY: Yeah, I remember in '98, I was tucked up under his gearbox, trying to go around him. I didn't realize the track was there so quickly, ended up clipping the grass there. But, no, there was twice I think where literally the nose of my car, I was looking at the grass, the whole left side was in the grass. That's generally not good because there's not a lot of grip on grass. But, you know, I had two options: it was either to be hit by the car that was encroaching on me on the right side or to go in the grass. Really you learn just kind of to flank the cars around you, so when a car is moving, you have no option but to move as well to try to avoid it. Literally, yeah, I got in the grass I know three times, and twice pretty big. Luckily for me I had the car straight enough and knew where I was, could hang on to it. But it's pretty easy to spin the car in those types of situations. When you're running wheel to wheel, that can lead to a bad situation.
Q. Access Motorsports, are you going to Milwaukee for the test?
GREG RAY: Yeah, we are. The guys are there now. I'm in Texas hammering away at my desk on the business side. I fly out late tonight. We do tests Wednesday and Thursday.
Q. Earlier you pointed out that right now this business is being built brick by brick. The run that you had at Texas, how big a brick was that?
GREG RAY: Like I said, and I don't want to sound unappreciative or be taken the wrong way, because I think it was a fantastic event for us. I think we had a good result. But it's not representative of technically and physically what we're capable of. We had a car that I believe could have won the race and could have won the race pretty handily. We just never had the opportunity to get through traffic. Like I said, you can't really run three-wide safely there. You can't drive the car in front of you. So qualifying so far back, kind of getting the rub of the rules, that yellow pit stop through pit lane, you know, we worked our way up through traffic several times. I mean, we passed more cars that night than anybody because we went to the back a couple times and charged right back up to the front. But, you know, it was a big brick for us. It was a big brick. I think it continues to show the spirit of this team, that we are committed, that we are capable of the business side and the racing side and the performance side. But like I said, we didn't take any stupid chances, didn't put anybody else in jeopardy, you know, had a good, solid finish. We could have won the race, but seventh is a good, solid finish. We got four wheels on it and we're going to the test in Milwaukee.
Q. When you look at everything that Access Motorsports is against, it's almost David and Goliath.
GREG RAY: It's bigger than that. You can't even imagine. When I tell you that you're looking at your competitors with Andretti Greens, Bobby Rahals, Ganassis, Penskes, these teams have just been around for a very long time. They have a very big financial foundation, a lot of technical partners, expertise, they're very solid with their manufacturer relations. You know, like I said, when you're fighting somebody with literally 10% or 15% of their budget, and certainly when you're talking about having five, six, seven full-time people versus 100 or 120 on these big two-, three-, four-car teams, that's an enormous difference. It's even bigger than David versus Goliath. But we know we can do it. But we don't expect to do it overnight.
Q. Is it lonely sometimes?
GREG RAY: You know, that's a damn good word. There's days where we feel everybody sees what we see. They see our vision, they feel our spirit. But, you know, there's a lot of dog days that go on. It does feel pretty lonely. It does feel like people really don't expect or believe that we're going to succeed. But, you know, that's the same in any business that you go in. Anytime you're the new guy on the block and you're fighting the incumbents, that's a pretty natural thing. Any successful person in business that has any entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever, they're going to tell you about their trials and tribulations, their stories of when they first started out, trying to rub two pennies together to get that done or staying up all night to get that done, some of the unique ways in which people get the job done. Like I said, we're up for the fight and we're going to succeed. It's like a good chess game. A lot of people just don't see 20 or 30 moves down the road. We think we do. We think we're going to win.
TOM SAVAGE: Greg, thanks very much for joining us today. We appreciate you calling in from Texas.
GREG RAY: Thank you.
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