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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

John Barnes
Tomas Enge
Mike Kitchel
Tomas Scheckter
Russ Weiner
February 24, 2005


TIM HARMS: Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. Welcome to today's call. We are joined today by representatives of Panther Racing, who are I know excited about making an announcement of a new sponsorship. And to proceed with that I'll turn the call over to Mike Kitchel, media relations representative for Panther Racing.

MIKE KITCHEL: Thanks, Tim. Thank you very much to everybody that's joined us today for this very special announcement. Today Panther Racing is very proud to introduce ROCKSTAR Energy Drink as its newest partner. ROCKSTAR is going to be the primary sponsor or Tomas Enge's No. 2 Chevrolet. In addition to that, ROCKSTAR is going to be an associate sponsor on Tomas Scheckter's No. 4 Pennzoil Chevy. This has all kind of come together rather quickly for us in the last couple weeks, but it actually originated last year when a lot of folks from ROCKSTAR came to the race at California Speedway. Kind of like everybody else that experiences the IndyCar Series for the first time up close, I think to a certain extent they were really kind of blown away by what we have to offer and at the same time how we can both benefit from this partnership. To tell you just a little bit about the new company, I'll let Russ Weiner, the founder and CEO of ROCKSTAR, explain a little bit more. ROCKSTAR is headquartered in Las Vegas. They have two satellite offices in California, and another in New York. Currently ROCKSTAR is the second largest selling energy drink in the United States. Like I said, I'll let Russ describe a little bit more about their company and this partnership. Also joining us is John Barnes, who is the CEO and co-owner of Panther Racing, Tomas Enge, driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet, and Tomas Scheckter, IndyCar Series veteran and driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Chevy. I think Tim is going to ask these guys a few questions, then we can open it up for the media. Once again, thanks everybody for joining us. I'll turn it back over to Tim.

TIM HARMS: John, why don't you start with us and just tell us a little bit about the significance of this partnership and kind of review for us how you guys came together at the California track and how the relationship has developed.

JOHN BARNES: Well, actually, we have to thank Tomas' brother Toby for introducing us to each other at Fontana. We got to meet each other and talk. As Kit said, they had a chance to see IndyCar racing is all about. We're really excited about it. Panther Racing is a team that's known for their relationships, long-lasting relationships. Pennzoil has been a sponsor of ours for eight years. We hope to continue that for a long time. We're just really excited about the product, too. Our trainer, we have a personal trainer that's here with our group five days a week, the workout procedures and stuff the guys all in the pits do. He really likes the product a lot. In fact, everybody here, as soon as we got it in the other day, we went through about six cases in about three days. We're really looking forward to their involvement, and hopefully we can help build their brand.

TIM HARMS: Great. Russ, congratulations to you obviously on a great new partnership. Welcome to the Indy Racing League. What makes the IRL and specifically Panther Racing such an attractive platform for your business?

RUSS WEINER: First of all, I want to be clear, I'm really happy to be part of the Indy family. It's unique for me and us. It's a really big step for our evolution. It's our first major sponsorship. We basically said: We want to go for the biggest first, why waste time? I met Toby and Tomas in California. I was down in LA. I had the best day, the energy of all those cars starting at one time, the thousands and thousands of horsepower screaming around the track. Yeah, I was sold from that second forward. Also Tomas, it was fun to see Tomas go from last place to almost winning the race and then crash. It was pretty fun, I have to admit. Him having the greatest spirit after, him having the energy to go out at night and hit the town in LA, party like a "ROCKSTAR". I said, you know what, this is our guy, this is the team, perfect match. Obviously, we were friends before we were doing business together. I never really went there with the intention to work with him. I went just mainly to get these guys as friends. From that point forward an opportunity opened up, I jumped on. I said, "We're going to do it. We're going to go to the big time right away." That's where we stand right now.

TIM HARMS: I'm not sure Tomas would share your thoughts about how cool it was to crash in California.

RUSS WEINER: He crashed with class. I'm just saying, from an outsider, my experience, to see a guy that struggles all the way from the bottom like we did, an independent company from zero. He goes from last place, struggles through the race all the way up to fourth or seventh, it was pretty amazing. His guts and determination showed me this guy is definitely going to win some races this year, I know it. We knew they would have other qualified drivers by far. I think this season, these guys are going to probably win a couple races at least is my guess.

TIM HARMS: In addition to having your name on the cars, do you have other plans already for involvement with the series?

RUSS WEINER: Yeah. I think we're going to have hospitality areas backstage. We're going to bring our top reps from around the country to these races in different cities. We're going to use this opportunity to bring buyers from all the major convenience and grocery stores around the country to the different races, to thank them for all their business.

TIM HARMS: I've seen in the press release, too, announcing this, that your goal is to increase your business and expand overseas, including Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan. Does the fact that Panther's drivers, Tomas Enge being from the Czech Republic, and Tomas Scheckter from South Africa, is that a key in this partnership as well?

RUSS WEINER: It truthfully wasn't a key. It's an added benefit. If they were American drivers, it would have been the same to me. I think the main thing is they're very good drivers, number one. I think Panther Racing seems to be a great organization. They respond fast. They put this thing together very quickly. You know, that they're European and South African, that's fine, that's great. That will help obviously when we go international, of course. It's good news. It wasn't the primary reason; it was an ancillary benefit, which is fine. Now we can go to Europe and hopefully put up some billboards with our IndyCar with Tomas on there in the Czech Republic. I'm sure that will be a big hit. That will get ROCKSTAR exposure fast in the Czech Republic.

TIM HARMS: Tomas, are you in the Czech Republic right now?

TOMAS ENGE: Exactly, I am.

TIM HARMS: Tell us a little bit about the importance of adding ROCKSTAR Energy Drink to the car.

TOMAS ENGE: Well, for me, it is very important because, as you know, to have so big and great company like a sponsor is going to grow up the image of the whole car, of myself as well. I will obviously try to make sure that my car will drive so fast like ROCKSTAR.

RUSS WEINER: Couldn't have said it better myself.

TIM HARMS: Tomas, it sounds like you have a relationship going back a little bit further with these guys. I'm sure you're excited to have them part of the team.

TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it was great, you know. We invited Jason and Russ the first time also with intentions just for them to come along and watch the race. Obviously, they were pretty excited about it. You know, we started speaking further on from that, and they really wanted to get involved. It's great on their part how quickly and how strongly they've committed to doing this, not only to Panther Racing but to the Indy Racing League. I'm proud also to have ROCKSTAR on my car. We're just going to try to do the best and make sure that they have a great experience at Panther Racing and the Indy Racing League.

TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions from the media on the call.

Q. How will this sponsorship reflect on the delivery the Tomas' car? Will there be a color change of any type or will you continue with the colors you've had?

JOHN BARNES: I think you can go to our website. I think the pictures of it are up right now. I think it's absolutely beautiful. Guys have been working here 24/7 in our paint shop trying to get things finished up. It is absolutely the most gorgeous car I've ever seen.

Q. Even better if it's in Victory Lane real soon?

JOHN BARNES: They all look good there (laughter).

Q. For the ROCKSTAR guys, was the ability to compete against Red Bull part of the enticement for this sponsorship?

RUSS WEINER: You mean beat Red Bull? I think our guys are going to be out there. We got two cars out there fighting the Red Bull car or cars. I think we're going to do some damage against them in terms of winning. I'm excited about that. Yes, it is fun because I think we have the American ROCKSTAR against the Austrian Red Bull car, and we're going to win.

Q. John, how confident are you that Chevrolet will produce a competitive engine from the start of this season?

JOHN BARNES: We're very competitive. The testing that's been done so far is very good. The cars are on par with anybody out there. I think we all have got a point to prove here.

Q. Do you think it will be an advantage for you to be the only Chevy team? In other words, they'll be able to make more changes quickly because there's only two cars to concentrate on?

JOHN BARNES: Obviously, that's been very evident so far this year. They make changes and stuff, we get it on the racetrack within a few days. It's an ongoing effort that all the people up in Detroit are working on. We feel like we're in the catbird seat.

Q. Do you feel like you'll be able to make a run for the championship?

JOHN BARNES: I don't know if you can win the championship by winning every race, but that's our plan.

TIM HARMS: We talked to you guys about a month ago, just before the first test of the season. Tomas, tell us a little bit about how the tests went and now what the team's expectations are heading into the race next week at Homestead?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, the testing was great. We really worked a lot. Like John said, Chevrolet has been really pushing on the development. So everything looks really good. I know one thing for sure: Going to Homestead, I've got a great race car. Again, you know, the confidence is boosted up. Bringing ROCKSTAR on board, they're a great young company with two young guys that push really hard, Russ and Jason. So there's a lot of energy in the team. Hopefully we can transfer that across onto the track and make sure we get results for them and for the team.

TIM HARMS: Tomas, one quick question about pre-season testing. Last year you ran a limited schedule. Your experience was kind of limited in the IndyCar Series cars. So the testing has to have been very valuable to you preparing for your first full season.

TOMAS ENGE: Yeah, for sure. I've got, let's say, two tests before the first race last year, before my first race, which was actually the second to the last. I would say I didn't get so much experience with the last two races together as I get in these first two tests this year with Panther Racing. They are really helpful to me, especially John. He looks to me very special of watching the drivers and, you know, telling them what they have to do. When I always listen him and try to do what he is saying, everything was working. So I improve myself a lot. I mean, I still don't have the experiences as my teammate Tomas has, but basically these two tests helped me a lot. It helps also obviously to get myself together with the team with all the engineers and mechanics. I think we are quite prepared for the season. Unfortunately, we couldn't have any more tests before the first race. But I guess we need another one, two, three races to get into the groove much better and then I hope we can match Tomas' speed and we can be competitive somewhere in the front.

Q. How long has ROCKSTAR been in business?

RUSS WEINER: Five years.

TIM HARMS: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today. Congratulations on the exciting announcement of this partnership between ROCKSTAR Energy Drink and Panther Racing. We look forward to seeing everybody at the track next weekend.

RUSS WEINER: ROCKSTAR's going to win.

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