Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll start with some exciting news from the Nunn Motor Sports camp. We are joined to start the call today with Kathryn Nunn, the only female team owner in the Indy Racing League; and Lyn St. James, a seven-time starter in the Indianapolis 500. We'll be joined later by Indy Car Series driver Sam Hornish, Junior. But first, Kathryn Nunn and Lyn St. James made an exciting announcement yesterday in regards to their plans for the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series season. Nunn is the owner of the current two-car team in the Pro Series, with brothers P.J. Chessom and James Chessom, behind the wheel. However, next year the Chessom brothers could be joined by a female driver as Nunn and St. James have teamed in an effort to identify several female drivers to participate in a Pro Series test. The test will be at Texas Motor Speedway November 8 through 10. And ladies, thank you very much for joining us today. Kathryn, let's start with you. You've already had an amazing year in 2004 with success, really almost right off the bat in your Pro Series program, but this new adventure must be an exciting one for you as you prepare for the 2005 season.
KATHRYN NUNN: Yes, it is very exciting. Lyn and I met maybe a month and a half ago and somehow came up with the idea for the test. Lyn came up with about ten drivers right off the bat and since then we've had lots of queries and we're up to about 14 now, aren't we Lyn?
LYN ST. JAMES: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: Is this something that you and Lyn put together, and then went after the female drivers? Or because you are a female owner in the IRL, did some of the top-notch female drivers come to you and say, "Put me in the car, give me a chance"?
KATHRYN NUNN: No, they really haven't. I have had queries from young women drivers over the last few months. But it wasn't until Lyn and I met and talked about some of the drivers that she's been developing in her Driver Development Program that we came up with the idea to have an open test, realizing how many young women are out there struggling to get their careers kick-started. And, you know, I've always thought I'd like to run a woman in a Pro Series car so, hopefully I'll be able to do that in 2005.
THE MODERATOR: Lyn, since your retirement from Indy style racing you've been on the forefront of developing young female drivers from around the country. When Nunn Motor Sports announced that Kathryn would be heading up a new Pro Series team in the IRL, you must have been pondering this idea from the start when you heard that news.
LYN ST. JAMES: Well, actually I've been doing my driver development program for ten years. So this something that started -- my driver development program really started as a result of the fan mail that I got over the years, and particularly after my rookie year at Indy. It was not just autograph requests; it was real, wanting advice about how they could pursue a career in racing or go-kart racers or how they could do what I have done. And I realized I could not just send them an autograph and thank them for writing me, and I couldn't travel all over the place to find out how well they really raced. So that was really the sort of planting of the seed of me doing my Driver Development Program. And so the last ten years I've tested or had in my program over 160 drivers from 32 states and -- 34 states and two countries; 80 percent of those have been females. And the first couple of years the average age was probably 30 or 35, and now I'm evaluating resumes for my program this year, and I've got an eight-year-old and 12-year-old and a 13-year-old, and 14 and 15. So the whole -- the whole society and the whole population of racing has changed dramatically, particularly at a grass roots level. I'm convinced it's because moms and dads are saying it's okay for my little girl to do what my little boy has always been able to do. So far, half the competitors are girls, and over half of the junior drag racers, probably 25 percent are go-kart racers, and close to 50 percent of quarter midget racers are girls. So we have this sort of happening, which is a real positive I think. But at the same time the top end of the pyramid it's maybe not quite as dramatic. And so, I'm really pleased that Kathryn is doing this. It's an initiative that has a lot of focus, and maybe it's media hype, but it's not just hype. It's got some tangible goals and objectives of what she wants to accomplish, and these drivers are preparing the best they can, but you know, they need opportunities to show their talent, and this is just an opportunity to do that. So, it's just a very positive, tangible, real thing that I think drivers, particularly women drivers, now have an opportunity to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Logistically, have you thought about how the test will work? Will it be a competition?
LYN ST. JAMES: No, it won't be a competition. But this is a real test. We'll have the entire crew there, and Brian Welling and Jerry Gordon, the engineers for the Chessom brothers will be there evaluating the drivers. They will each get close to half a day in the cars, and, you know, we're very excited. In addition to that, Butch Meyer, the technical director for the Infiniti Pro Series, will be down there observing. So this will also serve as a rookie test for these young women. So should another opportunity come up during the season, they are ready to get that car.
THE MODERATOR: It should be a very neat event and we are very much looking forward to it on a league level. Let's open it up for questions.
Q. I was recently involved in a project which will be on Discovery Channel in November, and it regarded one of the women racers over in the Grand American Sports Car Series, which IRL has at times raced with on weekends. And I of course had to recount the difficulty that women have had in getting into seats, despite their being talented as Ms. St. James has demonstrated with her drivers over the years, particularly in sports cars, as well. Why is it that women have found such obstacles placed in their path?
KATHRYN NUNN: Go ahead, Lyn.
LYN ST. JAMES: First of all, if we probably knew the answer to that, then we probably would have more women racing. It's not a simple question to answer. I mean, even myself who raced for 30 years, still is a bit mystified with that. I guess I could take a guess at it and say part of it is it's just a cultural change. And when you have predominately males in an arena, in a competition in a whole organization, sometimes people just aren't -- they are not ready for change. They just kind of look at it and go, wait a minute, it's not supposed to be happening. Not that it's wrong, but it's just different and change. That's a part of it. The other part of it is we still know that funding is what really drives our sport, and women have had a hard time generating the funding. I've approached it these last ten years is women don't know enough about what they need to know to be successful. And there are a lot of men that are not racing today because they don't know what it takes to be successful. It isn't just getting the job done in the race car; that's the first and most important thing is you have to get the job done in the race car, but there's a lot more to it. I've never seen a book written about it. I see an article from time to time where Derek Dale or some of the other drivers have shared this, but there's no real school that you can go to find out what it takes to find all of the skills, which it takes to be a race car driver, which is what we focus on in my driver development program. It takes a whole package of knowledge and expertise, physical fitness, mental preparation, business, you have to have a business acumen, you have to understand how the business as a sport runs and not many drivers, men or women and particularly of minorities or underrepresented populations, they probably don't have a handle on that, as well. So, it's a very competitive, but not just competitive in the cockpit, but also competitive every place you operate in the sport. And it's a business.
Q. Kathryn, Ms. St. James raises a good point about funding. It's not inexpensive, the IPS of course is a developmental series, but they still have some pretty techy cars out there. I know you guys at Mo Nunn Racing have been throwing your resources in that direction, and they have certainly proved beneficial. Where will the funding come for the female that you hope to place into a car?
KATHRYN NUNN: Well, actually, I've already had a lot of interest in this from some existing sponsors and from new sponsors out there. So they are waiting to see what happens. I am very positive about this. I think we'll have some good news by the end of the year.
LYN ST. JAMES: I just want to add to that is it's not just a woman driver we are talking about, but a woman owner and the whole leadership. This is a different opportunity than I think we've ever had before. So it's a woman team owner with a woman driver. So it's a program that really has a strength and depth about it that I don't think has ever existed.
Q. As we know, this has been tried many times before with other series, and obviously having Kathryn on board helps a lot because it's two women trying to get this done. But what makes you think that you can succeed where others have failed before in getting the development program to the point where we do have viable women drivers, not just eye candy?
KATHRYN NUNN: Well, maybe the time is right now. There are some very, very good young women drivers out there running in other series, Sprint cars and World of Outlaws. Maybe the opportunities have not been there for them. I really believe in the Pro Series, or I wouldn't be in it right now. And I think to have a young woman in the car who is already good who already has a lot of talent and to help develop her to drive in this series and then hopefully move her up into the IRL, I just think it's very exciting and I don't see any reason why we can't do it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ladies. We appreciate it very much and we look forward to November 8 to 10 at Texas Motor Speedway. Kathryn, Lyn, thank you for joining us today. We are joined by Sam Hornish, Junior. He won the opener at Homestead Miami Speedway back in February and currently sits 7th in the point standings. It was this time last year when Hornish made a strong run in the Indy Car Series, which included a win at the California Speedway, where the Indy cars will be this weekend. During that win at California, Hornish set the record for fastest race speed average for a closed course racetrack. Hornish won the race with an average speed of 207.151 miles per hour. Sam, thank you very much for joining us today.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You're welcome.
THE MODERATOR: You are obviously a fan of the racetrack in California, as you are really the only winner the Indy Car Series has ever had at that facility. You won in 2002 and 2003, both of those races were really at blistering speeds. Can you talk about how California and tracks similar to that really fit your style of racing?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm not really sure what it is about California that has been so good for me. But one of the things about it is it's kind of a real patient racetrack. You have to bide your time, weight around and make the right move at the end of race. It's all about positioning yourself for the last ten laps or the last five laps. One of the things that really helps in 2002 was we didn't have the fastest car all day, but we got right in behind the leaders and stayed in the draft all day, conserved fuel, went a little bit longer on some of the pit stops than what they did. And when it came up to the end there, a couple of guys had taken themselves out of the race by mistakes, and it was just, you know, just able to make the right moves, the right decisions at the right time.
THE MODERATOR: California, obviously, is such a different type of race course, and the three road courses the league has added for the 2005 season, how did things go for you at Homestead last week during that road course test, and are you looking forward to road course racing next year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. There's always things that you need to work on when you go into something that you haven't been doing for a while. I haven't been -- I haven't raced a road course in about five years. And I've never driven an Indy car on a road course. So, there's a lot of things for me to learn, the braking that the cars -- the amount of brakes that the cars have is pretty unbelievable and how much you can slow the cars down. So I always felt like I was overslowing the car a little bit, but just wanted to keep on working on making sure that we keep going go out there and keep running and learn a little bit more about it. When it comes time to race hopefully I'll have everything I need to be able to be competitive.
Q. With limited IRL testing for next year, what will you do to practice the road courses for next season?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: A lot of it is just getting your timing right. I don't think it's going to take a long time. I think that there's going to be things that we're going to be able to do just with getting a little bit of time to think about it and a few more days in the car. I don't know exactly how much practice that we're going to get on the road courses. But I think a lot of people will be doing that versus some of the other stuff because they know that even though there's only three of those races on the schedule, that they are going to be extremely important in winning the championship.
Q. Are we looking at the inevitable this weekend, Tony only needs to finish fourth or better to clinch, is anybody conceding anything to this guy or how do you approach this weekend?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm out there to get all of the points that I can, so I'm not going to concede anything to him. You know, he has had a great year, has not had any problems at all. It's the kind of year that racers dream about. I'm sure Tony is going to go out there to do what he can to try to finish in the top four. Like I said, he's not going to push it too far. He's been pretty smart with how he's done things this year, and he's been pretty smart with how he's been racing out on the tracks. I think that he'll probably go out there and give his best, but he's not going to push it super hard and not make any mistakes that he doesn't need to. He's been so fast this year that I wouldn't doubt that he just goes out there and finishes in the Top 3 anyhow.
Q. Do you feel you guys have really closed, or Toyota has closed the performance gap the last two races, do you feel more confident that you can race with these guys, the Honda boys?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You look at it, I finished, what, sixth at Chicago and I was the first Toyota. So I don't think that it's anywhere near where we need to be at yet. Qualifying has gone a little bit better for us. I think a lot of that is just the fact this we know how to get the car set up and how to get them to run real free. When it comes to the race, you still have to have a certain amount of downforce to drive these cars in the big packs. Once we put that downforce on that we need to be able to go out there and run, then we are not obviously fast enough. I think we are getting some gains in performance. But on the other hand, I know that the other manufacturers are not sitting around waiting to catch up, or waiting for us to catch up. We gain, you know, eight horsepower in between a race or whatever and they've gain seven, we only really gained one. So if you're down 20, that takes you 20 races to make it up, it's a tough deal. That's what's good about the off-season you is get a lot of testing in and you get an opportunity to go out there and try new things. And they have a lot of time to think about what they need to do differently for the next year or to how to make the engine a little bit better. It's a lot about just maintenance right now and going out there and trying to keep ourselves in the Top-10 in points and trying to pick up a little bit here and there.
Q. It's kind of a different feeling for you this year, usually at this time of the year you're racing for a championship and now you're just trying to go out and get a win without any chance for a championship. How frustrating has this year been coming to Team Penske with all of these high hopes?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Obviously, like you said, we have high hopes and we are obviously expecting a little bit more than what we've ended up getting this year. I don't know, I've been pretty lucky to be able to have three good years where even though we had problems at the beginning of 2003, we were fighting for a championship all three years. To win two championships was great, and I think next year we're going to be stronger than we've ever been. So, going in there with Penske Racing, it's just been a dream come true for me to be able to go work with those guys and to run with them. Hopefully next year will turn out quite a bit better than this year has, and I'll keep working away at it and keep my head up. I always look forward to the next race and to next year. I think that as long as you keep positive and stay focused it should be some good times ahead for us in the future.
Q. Has it all been just a product of Toyota missing the power a little bit this year that's been the downfall for you guys?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, you know, if we were getting really beaten up by a couple other Toyota teams, I would say that we are not doing our job. But Helio and I are the top two Toyota cars in the championship right now. So, when we look at that, we know that we're doing the best that we can do at this point in time. I know that they are doing the best that they can do, also. We're just not where we need to be. That's unfortunate for us but we'll keep working at it till we get to where we need to be at.
Q. When you were coming up through the ranks, you had a really good reputation as a CART driver, and I'm wondering from there are any tracks near your home that you can work on those road racing skills on?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Unfortunately for me, the best place where we can go for shifter car is about three hours away to test, either go to the new facility down at Indianapolis or just south of Columbus. There's isn't really anything right now that I know of as far as that goes. But there's a lot of times when we test in the off-season down in Miami, and I'm sure that if I needed to, that that would be something that I could go back there and do. A lot of it right now is just getting into my head that I can drive deeper into the corners and that I can trail-brake a little bit more, because when you've gone from -- everything I've really driven as far as road course up until now has been, you know, very small things with very little horsepower and a little bit more downforce than what you need. And this is a little bit different than that. You know, the cars are heavier, the brakes are really good, which is something that I wasn't really anticipating and still have a hard time getting along with. The cars are fairly -- have enough downforce, but it kind of gets you into a weird feeling, because some of the corners are pretty adequate as far as the downforce, and some are less. So it's just about getting used to it and getting my rhythm back is the big thing. But I think we have some more testing coming up, as far as that goes, and I'm sure the league will have more open tests. A lot of it is getting used to and getting your bearings back.
Q. So it's mostly mental?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, and you go there and you start to get frustrated with it a little bit the first day. So I'm not one that normally gets frustrated, but, I don't know, I can't say that that doesn't happen to me once in awhile.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today and we'll see you this weekend in California and good luck.
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