Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Earlier this week car owner and former Indianapolis 500 and Indy Car Series points champion Rom Hemelgarn announced he will be returning full-time to the Indy Car Series circuit with driver Paul Dana for the 2005 season. We are pleased that both of them are able to join us on today's call. And gentlemen, I know it's a busy time of the year, especially with your new news, so thank you very much for joining us today. Ron, let's go ahead and start with you. And first, welcome back to the Indy Car Series, for 17 races this year. You must be very excited with this news you had this week.
RON HEMELGARN: Absolutely. We've been working on this program a long time, and we feel that we've put together a great program, signing a four-year deal with Ethanol and with Paul Dana as a driver. And I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge of the competition and the next four years.
THE MODERATOR: How long, Ron -- I know you said you've been working on this a long time, but was it just before the end of the year last year that you thought "we really need to roll up our sleeves this year, we're going to be busy this summer"?
RON HEMELGARN: Yes, in '03 I started talking with Paul, and we actually started working on an Ethanol program and we were actually working on a program separately from Paul. So Paul and I got together and we started working together. Paul had a great relationship the Ethanol people on a smaller scale for the Pro Series, and so we decided to go into the '04 series with the Pro car, and we began to work with the Ethanol people with the purpose of actually bringing them into the Indy Car Series, which successfully that was done as of last week. It's been a long, long process. However, it's been -- we've had great results in the Pro Series. We've been doing some winter testing, unfortunately not with '05 car, but basically with our '02 car with the Chevrolet engine that we tested over the winter, just getting Paul miles in a high-speed car. So now we are really ready to take on the challenge of '05, with a Dallara chassis, Toyota-powered and with Ethanol as our major sponsor, and hopefully that will go continuously for the next four years with Paul being the driver.
THE MODERATOR: That's really exciting and we're happy you're back. That is one thing, I guess, it looks like it's a brand new team coming in with new driver/owner combo. But talk about last year, I guess you guys learned a little bit from each other in the Pro Series so it's not really a new driver/owner combination; it is in the Indy Car Series, but you certainly got some mileage under your belt last year.
RON HEMELGARN: We did. I mean, we got along well. We had one first-place finish. We had many second-place finishes. We finished second in the championship. It was a building year as far as learning each other; Paul learning about Hemelgarn Racing and Hemelgarn Racing with Paul and with our team. Hemelgarn Racing has been around a long time and Lee Kuntzman (ph), for example, my team manager has been with me for 22 years. So it's not like it's a brand new team. It's a very old, established team and in fact, a lot of our crew members on our Indy Car side stayed on the payroll all last year. Even though we were not running in the series, we kept those guys on the payroll knowing that we would return. And the biggest thing that I wanted to do was have that loyalty to those people and those people having the loyalty to me, because that same crew was a crew that took Buddy Lazier to this championship in 2000, and also some of those were on the team when we won the Indy 500. So I think that Paul has an opportunity to work with some seasoned veterans.
THE MODERATOR: Exactly and again, we're happy that you're back, a very seasoned team for the IRL. So we're glad that you're back, Ron. Paul, you're a two-year veteran of the IRL's Menards Infiniti Pro Series, and as Ron mentioned, you have one win to your credit in Milwaukee in '04. And every time a guy who is up from the Pro Series from the Indy Car Series we ask this question, but have you had a chance to maybe talk with Mark Taylor or Ed Carpenter and kind of get their views on what it's like to take that next step?
PAUL DANA: Ed more than the other guys, just because I occasionally bounce into him in the gym in the Speedway, and he and I both leave in town. He's been real good. Actually, just the biggest thing is it's not actually the car. A race car is a race car; it's got four tires. The speeds are up, but if it's set up right it will behave the same and respond to changes the same. The biggest thing is just the length of the races and the conditioning required. When we tested down at Phoenix and Homestead, even though I've been driving for many, many years nothing prepares you for the G-load hitting you. I think it's over four G's hitting you through turns 3 and 4 in Phoenix, so it's just unreal. A lot of it is conditioning and working on your focus and working on your ability to perform through the races. The races are more than twice the length of the Pro Series races in a lot of cases, especially the 500-milers, so that's where the biggest part of the learning curve is.
THE MODERATOR: That's one thing that's interesting, because you ask guys and I think you get different answers from everyone, but do you feel a huge deference between the Pro Series car and the Indy Series car, other than the G-forces? Can you really feel the horsepower?
PAUL DANA: Yeah, it's going faster. At Homestead I think our average was over 213 and our top speed was over 217, and that was my first time going over 200 miles an hour. The fastest we ever went in the Pro Series car I think was 198; so the extra 20 miles an hour gets your attention, certainly. To be honest, in Ron's '02 car, that thing is so well-sorted, that is literally the same car they won a bunch of races with; that's the best race car I have ever driven. It actually made it a lot easier than I expected, and in a lot of ways that thing handled better and was more predictable and tuneable than some of the times we had the Pro Series car. We were quick a lot of times in the Pro Series car, but a lot of times, we also struggled. But I'm told the current chassis with it's reduced the aero package and less downforce and whatnot can be a bit more skittish and stuff. So I think that '02 generation car is actually the best in terms of grip and stability, which was a good thing for me to drive for the first two times out, just because it's a little bit more conservative. And we'll just have to see what we come up with on the big car. But like I said, if they are in the window, and you just get a feel for how they respond to changes, the Pro Series is really good training. It should be very similar.
THE MODERATOR: Well, Paul, to your credit and a lot of people have recognized this over the last few days since it's been announced, you've gone out, certainly with some help, gone out and secured this sponsorship, certainly with the help of Ron and the team. And you did it, I know in your Pro Series, your two years in the Pro Series, as well. Do you feel like is that the future of Indy Car racing that you need to -- as an individual, if you want to get in a race car, you need to go out and hustle that money?
PAUL DANA: I think it's just reality in all forms of the sport, particularly in getting to the top level. There's so many of the drivers come up the ranks where their families have been involved in racing and they have been involved in racing since they were real little or whatnot and they are used to having their families or their family's financial backing take them most of the way and build up enough resume and race wins that eventually they get noticed by a top team and get hired, which is certainly the goal. I kind of feel like I just -- my family wasn't involved. My brother is involved in racing in a business capacity, but he and I both started basically at the same time when we were in college and we've just kind of carved out our place in the sport on our own. So I've never had anything handed to me and never had a dime of financial support from my family. So for me, it's just the reality of what it is, and if you're going to make it happen, you've got to get out there and hustle. I know a lot of really, really talented drivers that don't have an opportunity that, you know, think something is going to get handed to them, and occasionally it does happen, and it's a great story when it does. But on the flipside, I know plenty of drivers who know you've got to work at it and you know you've got to get out there and promote yourself constantly and be on the phone constantly and be in team owners' faces constantly. I think I met Ron, actually, for the first time the year before I ran the Pro Series when he was the first team in the Pro Series, and I knew that's where I wanted to go and with the growth of the IRL and whatnot that would be the place to be. So I actually sought him out at a test or something and introduced myself. It's that sort of thing, you want to know that every team owner knows your name and knows you're coming so that down the road if the stars line up right, you are able to work together and that's what's happened here.
THE MODERATOR: You've done a nice job and should be an inspiration to guys up-and-coming seeing that it certainly can be done.
Q. Paul, back I think it was '96, you were working on the cars in Ontario, I believe I read it was?
PAUL DANA: Yeah, started up as a mechanic up at the Bridgestone Racing School which at the time was the Shannonville circuit.
Q. Back then, did you ever envision you would make it to this level or what was your dream back then I guess?
PAUL DANA: When I first started, no, I mean, I just wanted to do it. I had been a gear-head all my life and I really liked racing, more in the F-1/Indy tradition than in the NASCAR tradition. So when it first started, I just wanted to do this and know how to drive and know how to work on the cars and whatnot. But a little bit of success is a dangerous thing. And I was able to go quick and met an instructor up there named Mark Clague (ph) who became one of my best friends, actually stood in my wedding not too long ago. But he sort of, you know, kind of made me focus and say, you know, you've got the ability and if you work at this, you can make it something else. And after that, it's just sort of been like, you know, the Indy 500 is so huge, can't -- you think about it, but you don't really. It's sort of like one step at a time, and I've just taken it, every time I've been at a level, I've just tried to run up front win races and do whatever it takes to get to the next level and it's just worked out. One after another, I've been able to climb the ladder. It's a little bit surreal, but it's pretty huge of an opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Curious about the #91 that's been on your race car for a number of years. What's the history of that?
RON HEMELGARN: It's just a number that I picked out and actually used it for the first time in 1987, and it's a number I used with Scott Brayton, and then Gordon Johncock went on to use it, and then Stan Fox, and then Buddy Lazier and now Paul Dana. It's a number that we started using back then, and really, as far as why do we pick that, it's just a number I picked, and I believe that people recognize numbers or teams by numbers, and I think you've got to establish your team with a number. So that's why even when we won the championship, we never went to 1; we kept with 91, because that's a number in Indy Car racing that a race fan knows whose car that is, and it just goes on.
THE MODERATOR: A two-part question. One, the history of the purple on the race car; and two, is it going to be purple this year?
RON HEMELGARN: The purple is a very ironic thing how that happened in. 1991 we were racing up in Toronto, Canada, and I'm talking to some people, and peripheral vision, I'm watching cars go by, and my car at that time was red, but unfortunately, I could never tell when my car went by, but I could tell when, say, the Marlboro car went by or the Pennzoil car went by. I could see that without even reading the name because it was distinguished. At that point, I said, "I've got to have something different than anybody else." And so I unloaded at the Michigan 500, the following race, and I painted the car purple. And at that time, purple was not a real big color, and I can still remember the reaction of people and fans, like, "Purpose purple, oh my gosh." And it really got a lot of attention. So consequently, it did what it set out to do; it distinguished our cars from anyone else. So we ran that purple color for many, many, many years. Now the color this year with the Ethanol Hemelgarn Team is actually blue, white and green, and that's the cars of Ethanol, obviously being the agriculture, the green is very, very important; and the blue and white. So it's a blue, white and green color with the familiar 91 on the car.
THE MODERATOR: Good background, and I'm glad you're sticking with the 91. But the purple 91, you branded that in Indy car.
RON HEMELGARN: I did.
THE MODERATOR: You certainly knew which race car that was ran.
RON HEMELGARN: And that's what you want to do. You want to make sure the fan knows who they are rooting for.
THE MODERATOR: Paul, real quick, we talked about this last week, but has it sunk in yet if everything goes right in May that you will be one of the few people that really can say they have qualified and raced in the Indianapolis 500; is that sinking in a little bit?
PAUL DANA: I'll believe it when the green flag drops.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us today. I know it's a busy time of the year for you and we'll see you at the Phoenix test next week.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|