Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with Jay Drake, racing here just a couple weeks ago, week and a half ago, finishing second in the midget portion of the Copper Classic as he ran second. Great to have Jay with us. Jay is a West Coast guy that moved to the Midwest several years ago and has made a name for himself as one of the best open-wheel racers in the USAC ranks, regardless of division. Last year he won his first USAC national championship, he was the 2004 Spring Car champion. Jay, good to see you. Larry Curry is certainly no stranger to any of us here in the Indy Racing League. A former championship team manager, a former team owner in this series. It's great to have him back. Larry, nice to see you. Ed Carpenter, who has been racing now for the better part of his life. Ed, you turned a wheel for the first time strapped into a race car when you were how old?
ED CARPENTER: Eight years old.
THE MODERATOR: Now 23 or 24?
ED CARPENTER: 23. I'll be 24 March 3rd.
THE MODERATOR: Nearly 16 years Ed Carpenter has been strapping into race cars. Last year he was a rookie in the IndyCar Series. He posted three Top 10 finishes in events. He had some tough luck at times but certainly showed some promise. It's always good to see Ed. Next to Ed is Tony George, the founder of the Indy Racing League, as we get set to begin the 10th year of competition. Up until this year, Tony was the president and the CEO of the Indy Racing League. Earlier this year the president's position was turned over to Brian Barnhart. Tony remains as the CEO of the Indy Racing League. We'll start with comments from Tony.
TONY GEORGE: Great to be out here in sunny Phoenix as we prepare for the 10th season for the Indy Racing League. It's only three or four weeks until the start of the season. We're here today to announce the formation of the latest entry into the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series as well as the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Over the course of the winter, as Tom Kelley was trying to execute a graceful exit from the car owner ranks of the Indy Racing League, I followed that progress closely. Knowing Tom quite well, having a personal role in getting him to become a car owner in the first place, he's been a great champion, competitor in this series, and I certainly appreciate that. But over the off-season, as he tried to make that graceful exit, I watched the frustration he was experiencing. I knew the organization that he had built over there, I knew the assets that he was offering for sale. I believe it would be a great value for some team that was looking for an opportunity to enter the series. After a few things fell apart, about three weeks ago, a little over three weeks ago, I started considering all those assets that he had and some other business opportunities that I was looking into doing and started to realize it would be a great opportunity for me to maybe look at acquiring those assets. A little over two weeks ago we started seriously talking about it. Just a little over a week ago, we actually closed the sale of Kelley Racing assets. We'll be closing on the real estate, but we have access to the real estate as it existed with Kelley Racing at the end of 2004. We're putting all that together. We're going to take advantage of the great opportunity that presented itself at the end of 2004. Today I'm here to announce the formation of Vision Racing. The principals you see sitting next to me are Ed as the driver in the IndyCar, Larry Curry as the team manager, and Jay Drake as the driver of the Pro Series car. We're looking forward to the challenge ahead with only three weeks to go before we load in at Homestead. It's going to be a real challenge. Things have been moving along quickly over the last week. They've been interviewing and trying to consider the hires for the team. It's going to be very challenging. We've signed a letter of intent to use Toyota power. We feel like that's the best option for us at this point as team trying to get started with three weeks to go. We think we'll be able to benefit from their success in the past and the strong performance I'm sure they're expecting to show for the balance of the year. With that, I'll turn it over to Larry first for a few comments, his insight and impressions of the challenge that lies ahead as we head into the season opener.
LARRY CURRY: Thank you, Tony. First of all, I'm really, really excited about this opportunity that Tony has offered me. I look very much forward to the challenge. I haven't been around the IRL cars in a couple years, but have been staying in close ties with what was going on through what I was working, running Tony Stewart's Spring Car Midget and Silver Crown operation, and also was doing a little bit of consulting for some IPS cars. It's going to be a large task to get this put together and to get down to Homestead, but I know that I'm up to the challenge. Everyone that we're interviewing for the job, they're going to be up to the challenge, as well. I think the important thing for this starting out is that we're going to set realistic goals to where our first order of business is to be in Miami on March the 3rd to load the cars into the paddock. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to work with Ed. I've worked with Jay as Tony Stewart's won the Spring Car championship last year. I'm really, really pleased that he's getting an opportunity at this also. I think that Jay is one of those guys that maybe has been overlooked a little bit. So we're planning on getting a chance to showcase his talent.
THE MODERATOR: Ed, if we could also get a comment from you. The one advantage obviously you have is you're going back to these racetracks for a second and in some cases a third or fourth time, based on your Menards Infiniti Pro Series experience.
ED CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, I'm just thrilled to be a part of this, like Larry. Two weeks ago, I really didn't know where I stood as far as an IndyCar Series driver. It was getting to the point where I was going to be running an Indy-only program. That's not what I wanted to do. I want to be a full-time race car driver. So this has come together. It's really awesome. Larry and I have been working together for a week. There are guys back at the shop working as we speak. It's a huge task, but it's presenting more challenges to me other than driving the car. Most of you know I did go to college and have a degree, so I feel like I'm going to bring a lot to the table with this team, try to build something from the ground up. With the three races I ran two years ago and competing full-time last year with Eddie Cheever, I've learned a lot, whether it's good or bad. I'm going to take all that into this new program and make this thing work.
THE MODERATOR: Jay, you were out yesterday to do a few laps, as well. Talk about transitioning to this next phase of your career, what you hope is going to come of this.
JAY DRAKE: Well, obviously, like the rest of these guys said, I'm just thrilled to death and excited to have an opportunity like this, to step ahead and further my career. It's an awesome opportunity in any case, and then to do it with this caliber of a team, what this caliber of a team is going to become, is obviously very thrilling to me. The question you asked about making the transition from the open-wheel type of Sprint cars into an Indy-style race car, it's quite big actually. It's a whole different learning process for me. Like you say, I was fortunate enough, Brian Stewart Racing had an extra car yesterday and gave me the opportunity to get in it and take a few laps, just to basically learn the differences between the types of cars I ran here a week ago and these types of race car. Gained a lot of experience from that for when we do come back here. I think that's going to help speed our process along, our learning process along. Last year, running the speedway in the Infiniti Pro Series, it was a dream come true for me just to get to race at that racetrack. It was something I'd always dreamed of and never really expected a chance to get to do it. And to do it, actually run what I thought was a very successful performance to get in that car and get up to speed as quickly as we did, that's just a testament for Larry Curry. He was able to coach me along quickly and get me comfortable enough into that car. When he told me I could go out there and run it wide open, I believed it. I went out and did it. It worked. It's actually not as easy as it sounds (laughter). You know, I believed in him full-heartedly. I went out there and we qualified fourth, ran fourth in the race. It was a great day. I expect more of the same for the upcoming races this year. It's just a pleasure to get to work with these guys.
THE MODERATOR: By the way, for those of you who may not have been around for the 10 years of the of the IndyCar Series, it was Larry Curry who convinced John Menard to hire a young guy by the name of Tony Stewart, who in the previous season, 1995, had won the USAC triple crown, first driver to win the triple crown in a single season. He convinced John to hire Tony Stewart. Did a great job in '96, won the championship in 1997. That's just a little quick history tidbit there. Let's open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, the question is "Why"?
TONY GEORGE: As I said, there were many and varied reasons for acquiring the assets. I have other business interests. Why? Because I believe in this series. I believe in the opportunity it represents. As the off-season wound down, it became obvious that we needed a car count. We were going to be needing to keep all that equipment that Tom had for sale in the system. There were a lot of teams that were looking at acquiring bits and pieces of it. But I felt that the best opportunity was to try and keep it together for someone to take advantage of. As we went on, I started thinking about it and talking to Ed about trying to run a team. Didn't really talk to my wife at first about it, which was probably a mistake. But after we got over that hurdle, she started to come around. All of this came together very quickly. She's come around to support the idea. I've really been looking for a different challenge. I'm still very involved with our businesses. As Mike had said, turned over the day-to-day operation of all three of our business units in Terre Haute and Indianapolis over to others to run. I'm there to support them and work with them. But it's just something that the more I thought about it, the more I got excited about it. I think it will be a good experience for me. I started driving race cars so I could understand the technical side of the business and a different perspective from being involved with the speedway. For much the same reasons, I'm going to get a taste of what it's like to be a car owner in this series. I think I have a pretty good sense of what it's going to take. I think I have a pretty good sense for what the challenges are for the series. I think I have a pretty good sense for the direction we need to be going. I'm sure there are a lot of people that view this decision differently, will question it and scrutinize it, but that's nothing new. I think more for the challenge than anything is why.
Q. The team is not owned by the league, but owned personally by Tony George?
TONY GEORGE: Personally. And also I think it is a great opportunity for Ed, not only to further his driving career, but I think, as he said, we spent a fair amount of money on his education over the last 23 years. He's able to now put it to use. He did a good job in school all the way through, grade school, high school and college. He maintained B and C grades.
ED CARPENTER: We can print my report cards so you guys can see (laughter).
TONY GEORGE: B and C averages all the way through college in a very difficult school that prepares you very well for life. He managed to do that while he raced every weekend. He would fly to the West Coast on Friday and come home on the redeye on Sunday and manage to show up at class and did a really good job. This is an opportunity for him. This is something I'm fully committed to and will help get off the ground. The length of my involvement is yet to be determined, but I'm committed now. It may be an opportunity for Ed down the road or somebody else that may be there when I'm ready to move on to another challenge.
THE MODERATOR: I'm not sure if there's any of you that don't know, but for those of you that may not understand what Tony and Ed are talking about, about them paying for the education, Ed is Tony's stepson. If there's anyone wondering what the connection is, that's what it is.
Q. Ed, you're not going to be a manager, but you're going to have a management role.
ED CARPENTER: I wouldn't say I'm going to have a management role. Every race team I've ever been a part of, whether it was our own Spring Car program, or when I was with Cheever last year, I'm not the type of driver that shows up on weekends with the helmet and gets in the car. I'm there every day. It's what I love to do. I love being in the shop. I go to the gym in the morning. I'm there to support Larry and help him. Just another guy for him to lean on and think about. We've been in the process of hiring a crew together. I think the way we're building this program, it's going to lay a foundation for success. I believe that a hundred percent. I think it will show here in the future.
THE MODERATOR: Larry, how difficult to put a team together in such a short time frame and be ready to race inside of three or four weeks?
LARRY CURRY: It's a rather large task, of course. But since the word got out, and in racing it's difficult to keep any kind of secrets, but once the word got out, we actually were starting to be approached by some pretty good people. Ed and I picked a couple people that we in particular wanted to get on board. We're doing our process I think a little bit differently than some other teams have done it. But it's been pretty consistent with how I've operated in a team manager's role, that we want to get people in key positions. We have them in the process in the rest of the hiring to build the thing successfully. Everybody has to believe in one another, what their abilities are. That's exactly how we're going through it. Ed has been in every interview that I've had, whether it was a truck driver or whatever position it is. We're going to be not a big team. We're hiring people that are multi-tasked. We are not going to have a large engineering staff, we're not going to have a large fabrication staff. We're going to try to have all of the bases covered to prepare reliable, safe race cars that can go out in practice sessions and we can work with the car to try to get the performance out of it the best we can, and then just grow into the team as it evolves. We're excited about the people that have contacted us. As soon as I can get back to Indianapolis, try to get out of here tonight, we're going to try to get all the positions filled in hopefully by the first of next week and just be flat out.
Q. Any commercial partners involved?
TONY GEORGE: Not at this point.
Q. Tony, has there been any discussion with or reaction from the other team owners?
TONY GEORGE: I've had some conversations with a few of them. I've heard some reaction from a few of them. Nothing that I would really care to share one way or another.
Q. Tony, by "reaction," negative reaction?
TONY GEORGE: No. I think the fact that I've decided to form a team, basically I'm the founding member of Vision Racing, LLC. The day-to-day responsibility lies with these guys. They're going to work as a team to operate it. I'm involved obviously on the front office side of setting the thing up. That's where my responsibility is going to lie. Certainly I'm there to support. I've been there most days this last week with them. I obviously have other things I have to attend to, as well. But I think a lot of the owners I've talked to - I've only talked to three personally - but all of them are certainly understanding of why I'm doing it, certainly think it will be a good experience for me. Like I said, I think I already have a fairly good appreciation for what's involved in team ownership. I guess this will just more or less validate that.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, when you used to race, be it the Super Vee or your midget, did you own those teams or did you drive for someone else?
TONY GEORGE: Both. I started off driving for someone else in Formula Ford basically, then I started to form my own team. I had the most fun with my own team, won races with my own team. It's always difficult sometimes to drive for someone else at that level. But I turned the Formula Ford team into a Super Vee team. We had success in that, as well. I had a lot of fun. I started driving for someone else and paying to drive with someone else. That wasn't fun anymore. I've always found it a good experience to be involved in the ownership and the decision-making process so you know where things lie at all times.
THE MODERATOR: Jay, if you could comment a bit. You coming from the background you come from, I don't know how much, if any, road racing you've done. You'll get the opportunity to do that several occasions this year. If you could talk about the challenge of adapting to a completely new form of racing for you.
JAY DRAKE: Obviously that's going to be quite a bit of a challenge. I have had very limited experience with road racing. I've run some go-kart races a few years back on very small road courses, but nothing at this level. In fact, I've already invested in a racing school that I'm going to go off to here in the next two weeks and see what I can learn. It will be a huge learning experience for me. There again, fortunately I have some guys involved with the team already that can help me out with that learning process, too, hopefully give me good cars. That's a big part of it. Having good equipment is a big part of getting around any kind of racetrack, and I'm confident that we're going to have that. It will be up to me to shorten my learning curve as much as possible and see what we can do with it.
Q. Larry, what percentage of the team remains in terms of needing to be hired?
LARRY CURRY: I would say around 70% (laughter). Like I said, I had some prior commitments that I had to honor. We worked all weekend. I forget how many people Ed and I interviewed on Sunday, but it was a lot. I had to come out to do a test with Jon Herb out here with the IPS car. Completed that yesterday. We had this scheduled for today. Hopefully, like I said, when I get back home and get back in there tomorrow, we're going to shorten that number up by quite a bit and have this thing up and going by Monday of next week.
THE MODERATOR: Do you have assigned car numbers yet?
LARRY CURRY: Yes, we do.
THE MODERATOR: Is that going to be a secret?
TONY GEORGE: No. I think we've landed on 20.
THE MODERATOR: Both cars?
TONY GEORGE: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: 20/20 Vision. I like that.
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