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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

Mishael Abbott
Danica Patrick
March 1, 2005


TIM HARMS: Welcome, everybody, to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference as we get ready for our 10th season of IndyCar Series racing starting this weekend down at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Today's call features two women who hope to make their mark in the Indy Racing League this season. Joining us in a few minutes will be Danica Patrick, who will be the third woman to race in the IndyCar Series and only the fourth woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 if she completes that feat later in May. Joining us on the call right now is Mishael Abbott, who will be the first woman to compete in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. She'll be driving the No. 91 Hemelgarn Johnson entry this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mishael's name is spelled M-i-s-h-a-e-l A-b-b-o-t-t. Mishael, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Thank you for having me.

TIM HARMS: We were talking just a minute ago. You're a student at Florida Atlantic University. I understand you had to duck out of class to join us today. What class are we making you miss right now?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Yeah, you're actually making me miss it's called inclusive education. I'm an education major getting ready to graduate with an elementary degree in December. So my professor is not really happy, but I have my priorities, and racing comes first.

TIM HARMS: You're really a new face to the IRL this season. Let's just kind of start and talk a little bit about your background and racing. How did you get involved in racing? What age? How did that love for racing kind of develop with you?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Well, I can tell you that I've been born with the love of racing. My birth announcement from being born was -- had race cars on it. My dad raced when I was really young. When I was about 13, my parents finally decided to send me to a karting school before they invested a whole bunch of money in buying me my own kart. They wanted to make sure I wasn't scared or really wanted to do this. I did karting for quite a few years. Ran hundred cc shifter karts, then I moved up to the 125 shifter karts, became the first female to ever win a professional shifter kart race in the United States. Then moved on to do SECA stuff, running my Formula Mazda. It's brought me now to running in the Infiniti Pro Series.

TIM HARMS: I know from your website and talking to you, your lifelong dream is to win the Indianapolis 500. You mentioned you were born into a racing family. Was that something early on or did that dream come about once you got in the car yourself?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: That dream came about once I got in the car, you know, and found that love in my blood myself. I went to my first 500 in '99. I said, I've got to be the first woman to win this. That is my complete goal.

TIM HARMS: You talked about some of your accomplishments coming up through karting and Formula Mazda, even some USAC Midget events, most recently Formula Mazda. What was the most challenging aspect of that series for you?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: That series more than anything is the fact that my father and I ran the team ourselves and have done all of the marketing, all of the car preparation, travel, driving. Everything to run that series has been really challenging. But I succeeded and did very well in the series on our own and a very limited budget. It's a great series, a great steppingstone, and it got me to where I am now.

TIM HARMS: You're moving up now to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. We're talking about cars with 420 horsepower, going 190 miles per hour on the superspeedways. What do you think your biggest challenge is going to be to adapt to these cars?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Well, when I did my rookie test down in Homestead, I took my time and did things consistently and at my own pace. The only thing that I'm really -- I'm not worried about being up at speed and everything, it's just the aerodynamics and the downforce that these cars have is going to be something that is going to take some time for me to get used to. But I know I can do it and be successful in the series.

TIM HARMS: You're signed to race in five races. Is that the first five races of the season?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: No. We're going to do Homestead, because it's my home track. It's an hour from my house. We're going to do St. Petersburg, the two races at Indy, the oval and the road course, and then Watkins Glen. Hopefully as the season goes on and we're able to secure some more sponsorship money, add races to that schedule.

TIM HARMS: What are your overall expectations then out of these five and hopefully more races? What do you hope to accomplish this season?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: The goal is, first at Homestead, to finish every lap that is possible for the car to drive and to go out and do well and finish on the podium, to keep that going throughout the season and just make the few sponsors I have right now really happy and get them really excited to be able to add more races to my season. Hopefully I can get enough races added that I can go out there and compete for Rookie-of-the-Year.

TIM HARMS: Let's open it up for some questions.

Q. It's one of those sports where you would think a woman would have equal footing with a man on the track because you're both in cars. Do you feel that this is something as a woman, it's very realistic that you could be winning the Indy 500 someday?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Absolutely. You know, the only difference -- there is no difference when you put that helmet on, whether you're a male or female. The difference that opens doors up for myself being a female is there's a lot more marketing opportunities for myself than there is for another racer that's a male. But once you put that helmet on, you're out on the track, there is no difference. The car doesn't know the difference.

Q. Have you been welcomed in the garage by your male colleagues? What has been the reception?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Absolutely. They've all been wonderful. I've had numerous drivers, If you need any help, please feel free to come ask. Paul Dana, who is going to run the Hemelgarn IRL car, was wonderful when I was down for the test, talking to me about the car and how the car handles, what I should do. I have no problems with any of the other drivers, and they accept me with everything.

Q. Could you please explain the unique spelling of your first name? Where does that come from?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: It actually is in the Bible. My parents are devout Christians, along with myself. It's something that my father found in the Bible. That's where it comes from.

Q. Talk about the transition to oval tracks. As I listen to you describe your past experience, sounded like it was mostly of a road racing nature. How has the transition to the oval tracks been from your perspective?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: I had driven a few oval tracks previously. I drove some USAC Midget stuff and I took my Mazda out to Pikes Peak and driven there on the oval and been successful. It suits my driving style incredibly because I'm incredibly smooth. There hasn't been much of a transition. I just absolutely feel right at home on those ovals.

Q. How did you come together with the Hemelgarn team?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: When I found enough sponsorship money this season, I talked to Roger Bailey from the IRL office. He gave me a couple different teams to contact. I contacted them. We just seemed to fit really well with the Hemelgarn Johnson guys. They're wonderful. They're racers at heart, will drop anything to do anything for me. That's how we meshed really well together.

Q. One of the female drivers who preceded you and appeared to have good prospects for success, Sarah Fisher, left the IRL series in a fairly acrimonious way. Did that cause you any pause at all? What do you think about how her experience might relate to yours?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: I really don't because I've always kind of taken the attitude of doing things my own way and what works best for me. I don't look at being a female as any different than any other driver who has come into the series or left the series. I don't take that aspect of being a female any different than just being a race car driver.

Q. Is there a support group for you there at FAU? Do your fellow undergraduates know what you're doing? I suspect you'll have a rooting section this weekend.

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Absolutely. Most of my classes, you have to realize, they're all full of females because I'm an education major. When the word gets out, I have so many of my girlfriends, the first thing they say to our professor is, Do you realize we have a professional race car driver in our class? Most of my professors are really supportive, you know, watch me on TV, follow my website and everything like that. Things here at FAU have been wonderful.

Q. In the time you've come into an awareness of racing, obviously some things have changed. I'm curious how you gravitated more towards open-wheel when more kids seem to be gravitating towards the NASCAR form of racing?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: My heart and love since I was a child has always been open-wheel cars. My Mazda is an open-wheel car. I absolutely love 'em. With my goal being to go to the 500 and win the Indy 500, that's the route to take. I just think they're so cool and they're so fast. The fan base is really great.

Q. There's no racing league in the world that has come up with the incredible finishes, they get out a microscope to figure out who won, why do you think it is that more people aren't interested in that or are gravitating towards that as you have?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: I feel that because NASCAR is so big, so accessible to the fans, I think a lot of people aren't understanding what open-wheel cars are. You can't experience 200 miles an hour watching television. We really need to get the fans out to the tracks. I remember watching the Homestead race last year as a spectator, and I left with no voice because I was screaming the whole race and absolutely loved it. The people that were there loved it, too. I think just getting more people out to the track and experience what an open-wheel race is like at 200 miles an hour banging wheels together.

TIM HARMS: You mention for your schedule, to work in the racing, how you've crammed all your schoolwork into basically just two days of the week. Can you review that for us, till 10:00 at night on Tuesdays, you mentioned?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: I do my schedule, I've done this since I've been going to college so I can travel, I will only take classes on Monday night. So this semester I have classes from 6 to 10 at Mondays. Tuesday I'm at school all day. I leave my house at about 10:30 and I don't get home till about 10:30 at night. Wednesday I have an afternoon class. That leaves me the ability to travel to the races on Thursday, Friday and have most of the day on Monday to be focusing on my racing.

Q. I was interested in practice. How much time have you practiced and keep your curriculum going, actually practicing on pitting and all the rest of the things that go along with it? How important is teamwork to you as a racer?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Well, I couldn't do this without my team, without my race team and then my personal team around me. Hemelgarn Johnson preparing an unbelievable car, and then my own personal team that helps me because I am a full-time student preparing for the races and taking care of all my press releases, media contacts, everything like that. I just kind of schedule myself. I'm a very type of scheduled person. I've driven the Menards Infiniti Pro Series twice. Once was in 2002 down at Las Vegas when I tested for Sam Schmidt, rookie test down here at Homestead. Other than that, I have a personal trainer where I'm in the gym six days a week. My next time out at the track will be Friday.

Q. You can get to practice and back to the University and balance all that?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: It's very difficult. Many people wonder how I do it. I am an extreme overachiever in school. Many of my classmates, I am upset when I don't get an A on an exam or an A in a class. They're like, How do you do it? It's the support system I've built around myself. The people that do my marketing, website, PR stuff, it's the type of person I am, scheduling myself to the absolute minute of every single day. I get it all done. It takes a lot of discipline from myself, the support of my family and everybody. I couldn't do what I'm doing without them.

Q. Why do you even go to school if you're so set on a very intensive racing program? College is something that would always be down the road for you should the racing thing not work out or perhaps even if it did. Did you ever consider perhaps postponing your college plans while you explored your racing talents?

MISHAEL ABBOTT: I have. I've taken different semesters off for different racing reasons or taken a smaller class load. But education is so important to me that I'm not willing to not come to school. I'm always willing to change, step out of my class for racing, because racing comes first. I want to finish my degree. That's a personal goal I've set. If I get the opportunity to run the entire season in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, I would step back from school and take some time off. As it stands right now, with only five races, I need to continue going to school because that's something I want to accomplish for my personal life.

TIM HARMS: Thank you, Mishael, for taking time out of your schedule, as busy as it is, to join us. Got you out of a full half hour of class. Happy to help in that regard.

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Thanks very much.

TIM HARMS: Look forward to seeing you on the track this weekend at Homestead and the other races this season.

MISHAEL ABBOTT: Thank you so much.

TIM HARMS: We're joined by Danica Patrick. Danica, you've been working obviously towards racing at this level for most of your life. It's been several months now since the official announcement that you'd be moving up into the IndyCar Series. Tell me about the last couple months. Do they seem to have flown by or drag on, like, When are we going to get down to business and get racing? What has it been like for you?

DANICA PATRICK: You know, I've been trying to just imagine what could happen, and it's difficult when I've never been in the situation before. For me, I'm nervous, for sure, which makes you think, Oh, just another day would be okay. But I also want to just start it, just get going and just start the season.

TIM HARMS: Obviously there have been a lot of demands for your time, team commitments, sponsor commitments, league commitments. I believe you're heading out to New York later today to do some media things the next couple days. With all those kind of distractions along the way, have you been able to maintain your focus on racing?

DANICA PATRICK: We haven't been racing, so it's been necessarily easy. I think the real challenge and the real test will be when the season actually starts. That's when I'll really be able to tell, this is a bit much, I need to focus on what's really important here, and that's just doing well. Or if I can say, hey, I can handle more, this is fine.

TIM HARMS: You've had a couple chances so far to test the IndyCar Series cars in the past couple months. On the Rahal Letterman team, how has the rapport been among you and Buddy and Vitor as you guys have been out on the track? Overall, how pleased were you with the results of those tests?

DANICA PATRICK: We get along really well as teammates. Definitely from my point of view, they're very helpful, which is important for me at this point in the game. As a whole, as a team, I think the testing's gone really well. With all the cars at some point in time, one of them has gone fast for sure or all of us, which is a good sign of what's to come. I think when we put all of our ducks in a row come the first race, I think we're going to be pretty darn good.

TIM HARMS: There only have been three other women to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher. I know from listening to you previously, you don't necessarily like to draw comparisons to yourself, but I think the media always will use those ladies as a measuring stick when they look at your performance. How does that affect you when you go about your business out on the track?

DANICA PATRICK: Not at all. I can only do what I can do, so I guess I'm answering it the way you thought I was going to. You know, they're there, and the things they've done have obviously made other women be able to be respected and come into competition a little bit easier. At the end of the day, I'm just another driver. I have my own expectations and my own goals and my own career to focus on. To me it doesn't matter so much. I just need to go out there and kick some butt and hopefully everybody's happy and I'm happy, and that's a fun story to write about.

TIM HARMS: We'll go ahead and take some questions.

Q. It's not fair to compare you to Guthrie, St. James and Fisher because I think they were different. One way they're different is because, in all seriousness, regardless of what they've done in the past, they were never successes. How do you see yourself being a success when they were not?

DANICA PATRICK: All I can do, like I said again, is just be me, just do what I do and be confident, focus on what's going on within the team, understand what's happening, learning every time, and not trying to get overly excited about things and not get down on myself about things. I think this is going to be a big growing year. I think there's going to be lots of ups and downs. I think if I stay focused, I'll become an even more rounded driver for the years to come, that's I think the way you become a real champion.

Q. The difference in horsepower, in your testing, what was the most significant thing you noticed driving the IRL car?

DANICA PATRICK: Probably that it actually does burnout, that's about it.

Q. The increase in power wasn't really anything that affected your driving; it was just as easy to drive as the Atlantic car?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, it's just different. It's just different, that's all there is to it. The biggest difference is the initial acceleration and break of traction, unlike the Atlantic car when you pull away. You get used to speeds. Everybody is kind of going around the same rate anyway. It's all irrelevant. It's like driving down the highway when you're going 80. Everybody's going about the same, except for that crazy person in the left lane doing 65.

Q. How did you get interested in racing when you were growing up?

DANICA PATRICK: I started go-kart racing when I was 10 years old. My father used to race snowmobiles, midgets, motorcross. It was my sister who is two years younger than me, she was eight, I was 10 then, who really wanted to race. I just said I'd give it a whirl, I didn't want to be left out. I think I wanted to be a singer at that point so I was confused.

Q. What is your sister's name?

DANICA PATRICK: Brooke.

Q. What are some of the Top 10 things you'd put on your list, what's great about being Danica?

DANICA PATRICK: That's going to take a while. I don't know. Number one, I get to drive a race car, which is a passion of mine. I think that's the most important thing. Number two, I get to travel all over the place. I get to meet interesting people, number three. I can't think any more. Number one, I get to drive race cars. I get to perform my passion day in and day out.

Q. You know better than any of us how big a step this is for you. Most of your past is in a Sprint race format. Now you'll go for these long drives on Sunday afternoons in hot weather. How if at all have you changed your physical preparation for the rigors of driving these cars at these G loads and these speeds?

DANICA PATRICK: It's definitely been consistent. I think I've learned from my fiance actually, who knows very much about this, he's a physical therapist, how important it is to be persistent and not to lose a day of strength training. Lifting a bit heavier weights, that kind of stuff has really been the main difference. I still run a truckload and all the rest of it for cardio. I think keeping your weight sessions regular and intense has been the only difference really.

Q. When Sarah Fisher left the series, she did so in a fairly acrimonious way. Does that raise any red flags in your mind perhaps how you approach your early years in the series?

DANICA PATRICK: For me, I just really, really need to concentrate on what's happening and be aware of what's going on within the team and myself and make sure that our goals are being met, make sure that everybody is seeing progress. I think as long as progress is being made and everyone's happy, I can't see a reason why I won't continue and accelerate, grow as a driver, and as a result championship wins and results will all go up. I really try not to think too much about what other people have done. I just try and really keep an eye on what's happening within myself and the team.

Q. How much of a help is it to you, if that's the right word, to go road racing in your first season in the IndyCars?

DANICA PATRICK: It's a little comfort. It was pretty cool that my first test was actually at a road course, that was nice, to be able to transition from the Atlantic to the road course in an IndyCar, then a pretty straightforward flat oval, then to Phoenix. So it was a very nice transition through it all. I'm pretty excited. I went to St. Pete a few years ago when the Champ Cars were there. It was a lot of fun. I'm excited to go back. I'm excited to go to all the rest of the road courses, too. I think it's a little bit of what's to come. I think hopefully we'll do more, yeah, because I love road racing.

Q. What are the set of wheels in your driveway that you normally drive?

DANICA PATRICK: I have a Honda MDX and I have a 645 BMW.

Q. You prepare different food before you race or you go in and have your favorites?

DANICA PATRICK: I eat a big pizza before. No, I'm kidding. I keep it pretty consistent. I eat pretty healthy. Just make sure my blood sugar stays right and doesn't go too high. That's about it.

Q. Don't want your sugar genes to beat the boys on the frontline?

DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. Beating them is okay. If more sugar is what it takes, bring it.

Q. I'm wondering if you set any specific goals for this year? Obviously, I'm sure you'd like to be Rookie-of-the-Year. Anything beyond that?

DANICA PATRICK: I think it's silly to go into the season and not hope you can win a race. Every driver wants to win a championship. But I think it's only wise to be realistic and be patient, and if it comes, it comes, not be too content with that, make sure you still keep pushing. I think this year I really am just going to, you know, keep an eye on Buddy and Vitor and use those guys as my best markers, as they're probably the closest apples to apples I can use.

Q. Are you going to be in Phoenix?

DANICA PATRICK: Oh, yeah. I think I'm racing all the races.

Q. I'm interested about the meaning of the word "team," and how it's going. Are you smoothly oiled?

DANICA PATRICK: Yeah. From one point of view, I'm kind of the veteran. I've been with Rahal Letterman -- I did two years of Atlantic, and I signed the year before that very early, September time. I've been around for a long time, longer than the other drivers. But I haven't been in IndyCars for a long time. I'm definitely the rookie there. I've had teammates in the past. But these guys are definitely out to help me. I was testing at Homestead, and I was out there. I caught the Andretti Green cars. I don't know if I was third or something at that point. Buddy came over. He was looking at the throttle traces. He said, Nobody talk to her, I'll go up and talk to her, I know exactly what she's doing. He came over and was helping me, wanted to know what I was doing, just giving me advice. He's like, Doesn't do me any good if you're in the back, I want you up front with me. So that's really nice to hear.

TIM HARMS: Danica, thank you very much for taking the time out to join us this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck in the upcoming season.

DANICA PATRICK: Thank you very much.



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