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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

PJ Chesson
Kathryn Nunn
June 22, 2004


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our two guests today are Kathryn Nunn and P.J. Chesson. They both join us simultaneously on the call here. Welcome to you both and thanks to both of you for joining us this morning. Kathryn is the team manager for Mo Nunn Racing, a new team in the Menard Infiniti Pro Series. Kathryn and her husband, Morris, have fielded a car in the Indy Car Series since 2002. And also joining us, P.J. Chesson, he will drive the #76 car for Mo Nunn Racing. P.J. has been racing in the World of Outlaws for the past four years and has earned more than 50 Top-10 finishes. The team took delivery of a Dalara chassis and put it together for a test at the Milwaukee Mile last week where P.J. ran 114 laps with a top speed of 140.819. P.J. and the team are now looking forward to competing in their first race at Kansas Speedway on July 3. We'll start with a couple of questions for you, Kathryn. The formation of this new team I know has taken a while to come together. Can you kind of just take us through the whole process starting, I know it started as just an idea, over a year ago, and just tell us how it all came together.

KATHRYN NUNN: Certainly. I had started watching the Pro Series races actually a couple of years ago when my good friend Miko Luyendyk's son got involved, Arie Junior, and I thought it was really good racing. So I talked Morris into coming out and watching a couple of races on the weekend, and he enjoyed it and I just suggested that we field a team and help develop drivers to bring them up; and it would have been useful to us on the IRL side to have development drivers in this series. He had sort of a lot on his plate and he said, "Well, if you will put it together, do all of the deals, get the funding, the drivers, the crew and manage the team, then I'll be all for it." So, as you say, it's taken me about a year to get this together, but it's finally happening and we really look forward to working with P.J. He's going to be brilliant.

MODERATOR: When did you guys actually purchase the car and take delivery of the actual car?

KATHRYN NUNN: It was -- as of today, it's been 13 days. We had it delivered when we appeared at Milwaukee last Tuesday. We are exactly seven days old as a team.

MODERATOR: And when you talk about hiring a crew and things like that, are you using any of the same people that work on the Indy Car Series team, or is it a completely separate crew?

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, it's a completely separate team. But we did actually have the opportunity, one of our young junior engineers who has been with the team quite a few years and has worked with Felipe Giafone, and before that Jimmy Vasser, asked if he could come over. He was familiar with P.J.'s career and was very excited and he said, "I'd love to engineer one of these cars." So, we moved him over to our side and there are some other, like our crew chief Butch we had worked with before in the IRL, so he was excited to come and join us. So he is now the crew chief for P.J., and the other mechanics are new guys.

MODERATOR: Obviously you put the team together and one of the major components then of course is the driver. As you started to look to who you were going to put in that driver's seat and started hearing P.J.'s name, what characteristics stood out that made P.J. the right fit for you guys?

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, we did have to do some research into the sprint car and the dirt track races, but I was introduced to P.J. -- was it Roger Bailey, P.J.  -- I think introduced us before Indianapolis. And we chatted because Roger knew I was trying to put something together. And I introduced P.J. to Morris, and Morris really liked him because he's quite colorful and quite a character and we started talking and he's had a lot of success in the series he's been racing in. So, you know, it's a good fit. He's got a lot of oval experience. We just need to convert that into asphalt experience.

MODERATOR: You've obviously been around racing for a number of years. Were there any special emotions that you felt of the team, just seven days old as you mentioned, prepared to roll the car out for the first time at Milwaukee last week?

KATHRYN NUNN: Oh, yes, it was very exciting. It was very exciting, and I have to say Morris is excited about this. He likes the racing, as well. As I mentioned before he likes P.J. He likes new projects and he was anxious to see how it would come together, and I think we were very well organized. Our engineer had a good plan for the day, and I have to say, I was quite emotional.

MODERATOR: With that under your belt now, the time in Milwaukee, is there a new set of emotions as the first race comes up next weekend in Kansas or what's the mood like now?

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, we are just really excited. Now I really have a lot of confidence in P.J. It was a very successful test last week, and Morris was very impressed with his ability and how he handles the car and how quickly he got up to speed and with the feedback. Because Morris is an engineer by trade, the feedback that P.J. was giving really impressed Morris.

MODERATOR: P.J., let's turn our attention to you for a couple of minutes here. You've obviously had your own set of emotions throughout this entire process. What was it like for you to take to the track in the Pro Series car for the first time?

P.J. CHESSON: It was really cool. I felt the last time that I did something for the first time was a long time ago. It was really good. I was very comfortable with the situation. It's the first time I've ever driven for somebody outside of my family, so to go there, you know, it's very easy for a driver to be not comfortable with the situation or whatever. But with this program, it felt so natural. I mean, Kathryn has done a wonderful job organizing everybody, and she's done an amazing job coordinating a bunch of really good people to work on the car; therefore, making my job a lot easier and much more comforting, knowing that we're going to be there totally organized with the best guys that are possibly roaming around out there. So, while I'm loading the car and doing all that, it was I'm sure, probably much more emotional for Kathryn and Morris because it's their program. For me, it was just like the best situation that I could have really imagined for the first time to be starting, and it's really cool to be a part of their inaugural rolling out of the car, I guess you could say.

MODERATOR: You ran as Kathryn said, well, all day there in Milwaukee learning about the car, pushing the limits in the afternoon. Do you feel like you're ready to go into the race mode in Kansas?

P.J. CHESSON: You know, I don't know, I've always  -- I've always been a better racer  -- when I get too much time on my hands even sitting around the house, I start thinking too much and trying stuff. I think I'm probably most definitely probably a better racer than I would be like at testing because my mind runs. You know, when I have a goal, I'm a real competitive kind of a guy. So I guess it will be quicker  -- it will be easier for me to learn, being around a bunch of other cars. Do I think I'm ready to get in there and dice with guys and go really hard? I don't know. We'll have to see how comfortable I am around the other cars. But the first couple of races, I just want to get some good laps under my belt and work with the guys, and if we can post a good finish, that would be really good. Just try and keep our noses clean and learn as much as we possibly can. But I think we are definitely going to have a very fast car there. Just a matter of whether or not the chauffeur (ph) is going to be up for the challenge.

MODERATOR: You grew up obviously in a racing background, your father did a lot of racing, and you mentioned yourself, you've pretty much raced for his team throughout your career. But as a kid, as you've grown up around racing and started racing yourself, what kind of aspirations and goals did you have for your career?

P.J. CHESSON: I remember when I was little, I started out go-kart racing and my dad was involved. We used to take my brothers to World of Outlaw races and we would meet Sammy Wendell (ph) and Steve Kizzer (ph) and all those guys, and I never thought in a million years I would be racing with them. You know, 15 years later, I was racing with them and actually beating them. So it was like as a kid, looking in all of these series and the great drivers that are in them, it's a totally different perspective, and for me to be here now racing with these guys, it's every little kid's dream, I guess, that ever wanted to drive a race car. And you just have to enjoy it on the way up and not really  -- I don't know that I ever really aspired to be a professional race car driver. It just always seemed like a lot of fun, and I guess I'm still having fun at it. And I guess if you are having fun and being successful, take the next step, and I guess you just keep going until there's no more steps to be had.

MODERATOR: Let me ask you just a two-part question before we open it up for questions. You've got the background in the short tracks, do you think there will be a lot of other drivers in that arena that will be watching your progress in this series, and could your success in the IRL lead to more of those drivers looking for an opportunity to compete here?

P.J. CHESSON: I really hope so. I can guarantee you there's going to be a lot of people watching from the short track dirt world. Even the short track world in general, the Midget guys, Silver Crown guys, there's definitely going to be a lot of them looking, and I think definitely, if things go well, and we have a little bit of success here, I think that you'll definitely see more open-wheel racers, short track guys, coming maybe aspiring to this direction instead of the NASCAR, which I think would be great. I think it could be great for everybody involved in both worlds, the short-track world and the Indy world. We'll have to see. Who knows? Only time will tell, I guess.

Q. I couldn't help, I had other questions to ask, but I had to put this one down. Now, you said that you made the announcement -- the day that you made the announcement was very emotional, coming public on this team and putting it together and all that stuff?

KATHRYN NUNN: Right.

Q. Had you shot golf that day, what would you have shot?

KATHRYN NUNN: Oh, dear, about 115.

Q. Okay. That tells me you really would have been upset. How many female managers are there in the IPS?

KATHRYN NUNN: Oh, dear, I think I might be the only one at this point. Tim might be better prepared to answer that.

MODERATOR: To my knowledge, she's probably the only one, yes.

Q. And Kathryn, do you feel like you're blazing a path here, you've explained to me before and you reiterated today what you were seeking to do was help develop the talent in the IPS and perhaps bring it up into the Indy car series. But do you feel like you're blazing a package in this area?

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, I haven't actually had much time to think about blazing anything. But, no, maybe it's just that women haven't had the opportunity or have thought of this yet. It just sort of happened, just like I said, as a result of developing some drivers. A couple of situations last year with the two cars on the IRL team, it would have been nice to have someone like P.J., and say, "P.J. we need to you get in the car tomorrow." So, you know, in the future, this can happen.

Q. And this is no disrespect to your dear husband, but you've noticed he's lost some hair, and I presume that has a lot to do with being in a position that he's in. Do you expect to be losing any of yours?

KATHRYN NUNN: Oh, God, I hope not. (Laughing).

Q. It already sounds as if it has been a test of one's resolve.

KATHRYN NUNN: Really, it's just been the organization. As I said before, I have been working on it for almost a year, but there's a lot of planning and we want to have P.J. surrounded by good guys and good equipment and have everything organized for the first race. So yeah it has been a bit stressful, but I'll be fine once we get Kansas under our best.

Q. You said you had a junior engineer that you brought to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Who is that?

KATHRYN NUNN: That's Brian Welling.

Q. And he's been with the team for a few years now?

KATHRYN NUNN: Actually four or five years.

Q. And I had heard all kinds of rumors at Texas, you know how the paddock is, that you might have two cars, not just one.

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, we are working on a second deal for a second car, but you know how these things take a lot of time. So that's on the back burner for now. We are just going to proceed to Kansas.

Q. P.J., how old are you?

P.J. CHESSON: 25.

Q. And there are two types of open-wheel drivers, those who will hit the wall and those who have hit the wall, and I understand that you became acquainted with turn four at Milwaukee last week; sorry about that. But it's an indoctrination, you don't have to think about it; you've already done it, right?

P.J. CHESSON: Yeah.

Q. How bad was the damage there?

P.J. CHESSON: I don't know. I guess we hurt the right side of the car a little bit. I don't know how extensive the damage actually was. But it didn't feel like we hit very hard, that's for sure. The cars are built pretty well and it was just an unfortunate incident. But, whatever, you know. We met, we shook hands and now hopefully we don't have to have that conversation again; that is, the wall and I.

Q. Your expectations are obviously to get some Top-10s under your belt and move up from there. Do you have the ultimate goal in open-wheel at this point?

P.J. CHESSON: Yeah, you just have to take things one step at a time. If things go, you know, well and everyone is having a good time to go doing it, I can't imagine that I wouldn't want to go to the next level and drive an Indy car. So, that's just all the stuff and we have to wait and see what happens. As well as Kathryn has putting this team together, I'm talking to her about maybe driving a car at Milwaukee next time. (Laughter).

Q. Who is the crew chief on this car?

KATHRYN NUNN: It is Butch Winkle.

Q. Who did you talk to for any advice on driving this kind of car as your first time in a rear-engine car? Did you talk to any of the other Pro Series drivers?

P.J. CHESSON: Actually Jeff Simmons was there at the test. And we made some laps early in the morning and we discussed a lot of stuff and all of the little questions that I had from a driver standpoint I could fire at him, and he's a really good kid. He's a great driver. He helped me out quite a bit. He helped me get up to speed and also Morris's knowledge and Rick Mears and Butch and Brian. I guess pretty much everybody at Mo Nunn. There's a lot of people there with a lot of knowledge. So it wasn't very hard to find somebody to talk to that knew what they were doing or they had some experience. So it was pretty easy to find some information.

Q. Take us through the learning curve as far as shifting and how that played out in your mind, how they went through that with you for the test?

P.J. CHESSON: Actually, for a driver, I think that's probably the most nerve-wracking part, stalling the car in the pits or doing something dumb like that. Really, the shifting, that's easy. You could get in an old Corolla and just practice that. Those things, they are nice to drive. I guess the weird part for me was sitting down the way we do, lying down, I should say, in the car and having your head totally secure in the car and that kind of stuff, the crotch drafts (ph) they have are pretty tight; that was pretty tough to get used to. Other than that, I mean, they are comfortable. They are nice to drive.

Q. Did you get a chance to practice any restarts or anything like that?

P.J. CHESSON: Not really. Just coming out of the pits every now and again, I would practice getting through the gears pretty quickly. That's stuff that I like to work on a little bit more in Kansas. Again, Milwaukee was more of a shakedown kind of a session for us and for me to get a feel for the car. It's a shorter track, so it was easier to feel the car there on a shorter track. So, that's about all.

Q. In your opinion, would it be better if the IRL would be running it, like Richmond, if the series was joining the IRL there?

KATHRYN NUNN: I can only tell from you my standpoint, I enjoy the larger tracks a lot more than the really small ones. I think you'd have to ask P.J. how he feels about the smaller tracks.

Q. From a learning standpoint, you said you went to the short track so you could learn the car better?

P.J. CHESSON: Well, a shorter track gives you a better chance to feel the car. But those tracks are also the more difficult tracks, as well, because you are not flat and you do have to drive the car, especially when the car is flat like Milwaukee is. Richmond I think would be a great place because there's high bank there and there's a little more room, where Milwaukee  -- a little more room for error. Milwaukee, there's really not much room for error. It's a single-lane track; it's really flat. So, I don't know, I think that Richmond would probably  -- everyone says, everyone I've spoken to, they are like, "Oh, man, Richmond would be a great place for a Pro Series car." You know, I don't know, that's there for the IRL to determine, not me.

Q. P.J., are you racing anything else?

P.J. CHESSON: No.

Q. I heard P.J. mention the people who assisted him in understanding and perhaps getting up to speed in the car and the name Rick Mears was mentioned. How was Rick involved in that?

KATHRYN NUNN: I don't know. P.J. might have been talking about his rookie test when Rick is generally one of the people who observe and offer advice; is that correct, P.J.?

P.J. CHESSON: Yeah, I actually talk to Rick quite a bit on the telephone on a regular basis. He's just  -- he's a great guy. He's a great guy to be able to talk to. He's very good at expressing how a car works and answering the questions, the feels that you'll have. More from a driver standpoint, they are questions that a driver would really want to know, and he has been very helpful. I spoke to him, I guess the night after Milwaukee, and we talked for about 45 minutes about stuff. His big quote that I'll always remember, I guess, is these cars whisper to you, whereas like a sprint car would scream and holler, we are tight, we're loose, where these cars are much more subtle in how you feel them and react to them.

Q. Jeff Simmons must have been at the test; right?

KATHRYN NUNN: Yes, he was. And he graciously offered at Minneapolis to come to the Milwaukee test and talk to P.J. and offer whatever advice he could, and he showed up first thing in the morning and he stayed there pretty much all day.

Q. He's been around a good chapter of the last month or so, hasn't he?

KATHRYN NUNN: Yes.

MODERATOR: Coming in midseason, obviously it's probably going to be difficult to compete with some of the established teams. What what's your short-term goal for this year for the Pro Series team, and then as you move into the future, what are your long-term goals for the team?

KATHRYN NUNN: Well, for the rest of this year, we are behind a bit. There's really no pressure on P.J. at all. If there's any pressure, it's coming from him. We just want him to learn the tracks. We're considering the rest of this year just a learning experience to get comfortable with the car, with the crew, with his engineer. And next year, we'll certainly concentrate a lot more on being at the front of the pack all the time. When P.J. and I first met, he did have a plan for his career. He would like to end up in Indy cars, and hopefully we'll be able to move him up there. If he does do very well next year, Morris would not give a thought to putting him in an IRL car in a race or a test and see how he does.

MODERATOR: Well, I want to thank both of you for taking time out of your schedules for joining us today and everyone else who joined us for the call.

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