Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have four guests joining us this afternoon. IndyCar Series drivers Alex Barron, AJ Foyt IV and Danica Patrick will join us in a few minutes. We're going to start the call with Geoff Dodge, the winner of the Fast Track to Indy Rookie-of-the-Year program from the 45th Annual Knoxville Nationals which were contested last weekend in Knoxville, Iowa. Hi, Geoff, thanks for joining us.
GEOFF DODGE: Thanks, good to be here.
TIM HARMS: Absolutely. The Indy Racing League and Knoxville Raceway announced a program a couple months ago where the top rookie 18 or older this year would earn a test in a Menards Infiniti Pro Series car this fall, and upon passing that test, IRL and Knoxville officials are going to work to secure sponsorship for a minimum of six races in the Pro Series in 2006. We're happy to announce that Geoff Dodge is the winner of that first-time award. Congratulations to you, Geoff. Why don't you tell us a little about your racing background, how you got started, how long you've been running sprint cars, kind of what you hope to do in the future.
GEOFF DODGE: I got started when I was 15, it would be about '98. My dad had raced before me up on Pikes Peak for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. He did well up there. He had raced sprint cars. I wanted to get started racing, so we started racing in go-karts like so many of the other racers that we race with all the time. We worked up through the go-kart ranks. We ran nationally with the shifter kart. At that point we had to make a decision which direction we wanted to go. Formula cars were one interest for me, to try to get to someplace like Indy or to the IRL. I always had this love of sprint car racing, too. We just decided that, given our position, we were better geared to go sprint car racing and more financially able to foot the bill for a sprint car. We did a year in a 1200 cc mini sprint, won Rookie-of-the-Year, then moved on to a 360 sprint car in 2003. We ran a limited schedule. We were fairly successful with the ASCS Rocky Mountain region, won Rookie-of-the-Year there, too. Then last year we continued running the 360. This year looked like it was going to be much of the same, then I got hooked up with Larry Haneborg out of Nebraska, started driving his cars. He had some 410 stuff. We started running that a little bit, went to Knoxville after five nights in a 410 sprint car, managed to get through pretty well. I was really happy with how the Nationals went. So here we are now. I'm really excited.
TIM HARMS: Obviously, heading into the Nationals, you had very limited experience in that type of sprint car. Tell us about how you heard about the Fast Track to Indy, what your thoughts were when you first heard about it, kind of what you're thinking about now that you've won it.
GEOFF DODGE: Honestly, I heard about it on Wind Tunnel for the first time. I was home from the shop after working on race cars, was watching a rerun of Wind Tunnel. I thought, man, that would be an unbelievable deal for somebody. But given my limited experience in the 410 sprint car, which is really an entirely different animal than the 360, I figured there was going to be a lot of really good young racers there that would be vying for that, the Fast Track program. I didn't think about it too much because it seemed too farfetched to happen to me. We got to Knoxville and we went to the rookie meeting where they talked to us about the program and kind of introduced us to everything that was going to take place. It was still something to where I didn't think we really had a shot at it. There were a lot of good racers in there with me. We just focused on doing our own thing through the whole Nationals. When it all shook down about Sunday afternoon, I kind of took a look and they said we were leading the points for the thing. It dawned on me we had a real shot at it. When we got it, it was just absolute elation. I couldn't believe it. Now it's had some time to sink in. I'm just really excited to get started. I think it's a great opportunity for myself that never in my wildest dreams would have thought I'd get.
TIM HARMS: It's kind of a coincidence obviously. Geoff, grew up and lives in Colorado Springs obviously where the Indy Racing League is going to be heading this weekend. You're coming out to the track on Saturday and Sunday. Have you been to an IRL race before or is this going to be a new experience for you?
GEOFF DODGE: I actually was at the first IRL race at Pikes Peak. We had a good friend who was doing some work for some drivers there. She took me down to the races. I'd seen the IRL there. They put on a pretty good show there for sure. Pikes Peak is a pretty neat racetrack also. It will be really nice to go home. I haven't been back to Colorado Springs in about two and a half months. There's a lot of people there I'm looking forward to seeing. It's going to be nice to be home again.
TIM HARMS: One more question from me, then we'll take some questions from the media. Growing up, your dad was a racer. I know to me you mentioned the other day you watched the Indianapolis 500 growing up. Did you have some aspirations for yourself of competing in the 500 someday?
GEOFF DODGE: As a kid, I think just about anybody who's around the open-wheel scene probably has aspirations of running the 500. I certainly wanted to. It was a dream I had since I was a little kid. As I got older and got racing, it seemed to me that the 500 was so distant and so far that it couldn't be grasped. I try to be realistic with my expectations of racing. So I kind of put that on hold. I never really thought we'd get a shot to even make an effort at it. A couple years ago I went to the PIR show in Indianapolis, went down to the Speedway at night, it was raining. It just blew me away, the size and scope of everything. I'm just really excited to get a chance to try for this thing. It was a dream I had as a kid. It was so far off in the distance that I never thought I'd be close. Now here I am. It's almost like I can touch it now.
TIM HARMS: We will now take some questions for you.
Q. Geoff, when the realization came to you that you had won the award, what was the first thing that went through your mind?
GEOFF DODGE: Oh, the first thing that went through my mind is, well, you better cock your hammer because those Infiniti Pro cars look pretty cool and they go pretty fast, and you better do a good job, both for myself and all the other guys who I know probably really wish they had a shot at this that we race the sprint cars with. And I'd like to make them proud, too. That was the first thing I thought, was that I better really cock my hammer and do a good job.
Q. Now that you're getting ready to do this, how much pressure do you think you'll be feeling on that day?
GEOFF DODGE: Oh, there will be some pressure. I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody from the outside puts on me. I'm a person who is real competitive and likes to succeed. There will be some pressure, but I really just want to enjoy it and learn as much as I can. I know there's going to be some people there to coach me, so I'm going to go with the attitude that I need to learn and try not to focus on what expectations might be.
Q. What are your expectations?
GEOFF DODGE: Really my expectations are to do a good enough job that they're looking forward to having me in the car next year. I've never driven anything like that in my life, so I really don't want to say that my expectation is to go out and run a such and such lap time or go break the track record or anything. I just want to go out and leave them confident that I can do a good job.
Q. Did you go to high school out here?
GEOFF DODGE: Yeah. I went to Air Academy High School. I graduated in 2002.
Q. This test that you're doing, what exactly is it? What does it entail exactly?
GEOFF DODGE: Wow, that might not be the best question for me. As far as I know at this point, I guess we're going to go to Chicagoland Speedway, which is kind of a tentative thing at this point, and we're going to run for a day. We're going to do a session in the morning where we run on the track and we'll do a session in the afternoon. This is just what they told us in the press conference at Knoxville. They'll have two or three people there to coach me through the deal. They're going to evaluate what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are, what I need to work on. I guess it entails running a lot of laps on the racetrack by myself and having people watch and determine what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.
Q. Then after that, will there be like a follow-up thing where you come back later or will they make a decision from there?
GEOFF DODGE: That I'm not really sure.
Q. You're just racing by yourself? It's not against anybody at that point, right?
GEOFF DODGE: Right, right, yeah. We're just the only car on the track as far as I know. That's usually how a test session works.
Q. Do you like that better, to just kind of be out there and not have to worry about getting thrown in an actual race right away?
GEOFF DODGE: Yeah. That's definitely nice because it gives you a little bit more space to get a feel for the car. The only downside to being out there by yourself is if you have never competed with that type of car at that level, there's nothing to judge your progress by. I mean, when you're on the racetrack with a bunch of cars, it's easy to tell us we're fast or we're slow. When you're by yourself, you only have your own feel to judge it. I think it's probably a real good thing that we're the only ones out there the first go-around.
Q. Geoff, you said you had limited experience in a 410. Prior to Knoxville, how many times had you competed against the Outlaws?
GEOFF DODGE: Zero. I ran -- my first time in a 410 sprint car was up Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They run a weekly Sunday night program. They also were running a July 4th special on the 4th. We ran the July 4th special. Then we went to Knoxville for two nights for the Summer Classic, but that's not an Outlaw-sanctioned race either. That was two and three. I ran the 410 at Oscaloosa, Iowa, and that was Terry McCarl's promoted deal. I think there was one more night in there. Sorry, there were two nights at Sioux Falls, two nights at Knoxville and then Oscaloosa.
Q. Sixth time in the car you win this deal?
GEOFF DODGE: Yeah. That's pretty much the way it went.
Q. Do you have any races lined up this weekend anywhere?
GEOFF DODGE: No. Right now the plan is to be at PPIR to do some promotional stuff for this Fast Track Indy program. We ran the All-Star Circuit of Champions race at McCool Junction, Nebraska last night with the 410. Then tonight I'm supposed to be up in Nebraska running the 360, but that rained out.
Q. What is your timetable? What do you actually start these tests?
GEOFF DODGE: They've tossed around September and October. Today it sounded like we were going to go on Monday, September 12th at Chicagoland. But I think everything is tentative at this point.
Q. How do you prepare for something like this? Is there anything you can do?
GEOFF DODGE: This is the first thing I've done of the kind. I'll probably go back and try to get somebody to let me run one of their shifter karts to go run on the pavement again, just kind of brush up on my pavement skills a little bit. Other than that, I guess the best thing you can do is just mentally prepare yourself to learn and try to keep calm and relaxed.
TIM HARMS: Geoff, congratulations again. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. We look forward to seeing you out at the track this weekend.
GEOFF DODGE: Yeah, definitely.
TIM HARMS: We're joined now by IndyCar Series drivers Alex Barron and AJ Foyt IV. Both drivers are coming off-season-best performances in the race at Kentucky. Alex started 18th and finished fourth, representing his best finish since a third-place finish at Texas in June of 2004. AJ made the switch to Chevy power this past weekend here in the 12th place starting position, which is five spots higher than his previous best of the season, and went on to a ninth place finish. Alex, let's start with a couple questions for you. Why don't you tell us about the race. Obviously, very impressive moving up from 18th to 4th. Tell us about the day.
ALEX BARRON: Well, we started off making some adjustments on the car after warm-up. We decided to go with a little bit different philosophy with the setup. The biggest thing in the race was we were able to gain positions on the track as well as in the pits. We struggled to do that all year. With that combined and then a good restart at the end of the event, we were able to move into 4th and hang on to the three Hondas that were in front of us to pull us around the track.
TIM HARMS: Did you get a sense as far as being able to pull around some guys on the track that maybe you had some extra horsepower, some extra gains this time around?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think all in all, the biggest thing is we were able to go flat out pretty much the whole race. A lot of the cars were blistering right rear tires. We were able to keep the right rear on our car good and still have a good front end. I think that that played a big part in being able to move up at the end of the fuel stints. We were doing quite a few laps under green. Any time the cars in front of you start blistering a right rear, you're able to take advantage of that because you're still flat and everybody else has to lift, especially halfway through the corners on both sides of the track.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned the gains in the pits. Just want to point out to the folks listening in, the first two stops that we made under yellow, you improved two positions. The next two stops you moved up one spot each time. Had the crew spent extra time preparing this race? Were they working on specific things to improve the pit stops or did things just happen to really mesh this time around?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think it's several things. We've had a lot of guys actually quit the team and move on to other teams. We had a lot of new guys coming in to replace them. It's taken a long time for the crew to gel together, to get the fuel probe in, to have good stops with the tires. When you have turnover like that, you have new guys coming in, it's really hard to gel as a whole group on a particular car. The 51 car, we struggled in the pits pretty much all season. This last race it seems like everything's coming together. Hopefully that will continue for the rest of the year. With four races to go, we'd like to end the season at least finishing on the podium and hopefully trying to win an event.
TIM HARMS: AJ, let me ask you a couple questions here. As I mentioned, the team made the switch to the Chevy engine this past weekend. Tell us about the switch and the difference that it made for you.
AJ FOYT IV: Yeah, I think it made a lot of difference for us. It just started out in practice, everything started a lot more smoother for us. We found some speed that we've been looking for pretty much all year. It was a tough decision to do what we did, but we just needed to make a change to at least try to solve one of the problems we were having of not finishing well in the races. We figured that that would be our first step to take, and it definitely helped us to be more racey and competitive. Definitely glad we made the switch. Hopefully we can continue this momentum for the rest of the season.
TIM HARMS: Tell us a little bit about your race. You were obviously running in the top 10 to 15 positions all day. Particularly that final restart, you really jumped from 9th to 6th. Give us a little bit of a recap there.
AJ FOYT IV: Yeah, our car was really good all day. I think we maybe had just a little bit too much downforce on it to have the really good speed. But in traffic, it was really well. I didn't have a problem with blistering tires that some other guys did. Our car overall was really good. I had pretty good restarts all day. Just I gained those three positions on the last restart. I lost fifth gear at the end of the race, so that kind of hurt us in traffic. When I got bogged down, didn't have another gear to go to. That kind of hurt us. Overall, a great day. I had a lot of fun that I hadn't had in a long time in the car because we were so much more racey and competitive.
TIM HARMS: Good to hear. Alex, two of the last four races are in your home state of California, including the first visit to Infineon in a couple weeks. Tell us about what we should expect to see in those two races.
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think running so many ovals in a row, I'm really excited to go back to a couple of road courses. We've done some testing at Watkins Glen and Infineon. They went fairly well. I think we balanced some things to go back there to find some grip with the car. It's just nice knowing with four races to go it's a mixture of tracks. I think that that makes it exciting for a driver as well as the fans. We got Infineon coming up here. Got a lot of family and friends going up there. It should be a good event. I really like the way IRL has done the format for qualifying for the road courses. As soon as you leave the pits, you come around, take the green, you're on your flying lap. You see a lot of things that the drivers are trying to do quite quickly. I think it's exciting for the fans because there's a lot of aggressive things going on in the car. It's just nice not having to travel all the way back east. Living in California, the travel has been quite extensive here in the last three or four months. To go to local tracks here and participate in them I think is going to be pretty exciting for me.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for both Alex and AJ.
Q. AJ, how has this season been for you in terms of dealing with having to switch equipment, trying to be competitive every week? Do you feel like you have found the right track to be competitive the rest of the season?
AJ FOYT IV: I think we are. I mean, I think definitely on the whole I think we've definitely been struggling on the road courses. We haven't been going to any tests or anything like that, haven't really been at one of those racetracks. Just not going there and testing, it's going to be very difficult for me to get used to, especially with the guys, most of the guys I race with have a lot of experience on road courses anyway. I think those we're going to struggle quite a bit. But looking forward to the rest of the ovals. I think the Chevy power definitely improved it. I mean, didn't cure all of our problems, but I think it definitely helped us out a little bit. Now we need to just start massaging the rest of the problems out of it. I think we've done well doing that here lately. So hopefully we can do it for the rest of the year.
Q. What is it like racing against a guy like Scott Sharp? Scott got his start in the IRL with your grandpa and won the series championship back in '96. What is he like racing against?
AJ FOYT IV: Most of the guys that I race with are all really good guys. I mean, I think it's really -- a lot of the guys in the league are really close friends. It's neat racing against him, since he did race with my grandpa and was successful with him. He's always been a good guy to me. Congratulations to him for winning this past weekend. Just like I said, most of the guys I race with usually respect each other pretty well. I think you can see that by watching the races.
Q. AJ, you talked a little bit about the speed that you were able to get out of Kentucky with the Chevy. Was that the biggest reason for making the change there?
AJ FOYT IV: Yeah, I mean, we noticed we had problems with -- well, it's not just the engine, but setup and all that. We just figured here at the end of the season we needed to try to make a change, get a couple good finishes for our team and our sponsor. We just needed to get a good finish. Our guys work way too hard for us to be running in the back all the time. I think my grandpa was kind of willing to do anything to get us up in the front. I think it definitely helped. We were in sixth at one point, racing good, racing hard all day. Really glad we made the switch.
Q. AJ, with your name and the background of your family, is there any extra pressure on you?
AJ FOYT IV: I put more pressure on myself to be successful than anybody else really can. I'm myself, I'm my own driver. I'm not trying to match what he did or nothing. I want to pretty much do all the things he accomplished, but I don't really try to measure most of what he's done. It's a totally different era. I'm just trying to be myself and do what I can do for myself, try to make a name for myself.
Q. How is he recovering from all those bee stings he had?
AJ FOYT IV: He's recovered well. He got a family doctor, Dr. Freeman (phonetic), came out and gave him some medicine. All the swelling went down. It's just in the itching stage now. He's doing pretty well. A pretty scary moment.
TIM HARMS: Looks like all the questions we have this afternoon. We appreciate you taking the time to join us. We wish you best of luck this weekend at Pikes Peak. We're joined by Danica Patrick. Danica leads the Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year standings, ranks 12th overall in points, has two poles, including this past weekend at Kentucky, and two fourth-place finishes this season, including the Indianapolis 500. Danica, give us some thoughts on Pikes Peak, another facility you don't have any experience at. What are your thoughts as you head there?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I'm anxious to have a good weekend; I don't really care where it's at. I think we've been improving in the car at the short ovals. Hopefully that can carry on over and have a good race.
TIM HARMS: We'll open it up for questions for Danica.
Q. Expectations are extremely high after your finish at Indy. Are they higher than a rookie should have to shoulder? Do you find you are driving closer to the edge because of those expectations?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't feel like -- I haven't in all this felt like I had to do anything. I think in feeling like that, I don't let the expectation or the anticipation or all the articles written get to me. I don't feel like I have to do anything. So, you know, it's probably what keeps me sane. What was the second part of your question? Do I feel like I'm driving harder?
DANICA PATRICK: No. I would drive this hard whether there was a bunch of people looking or none.
Q. Looking ahead a week, you drove Infineon one time, is that correct?
DANICA PATRICK: Uh-huh.
Q. This year?
DANICA PATRICK: No, last year.
Q. Infineon, the road racing course.
DANICA PATRICK: I've never raced there.
Q. You never have?
DANICA PATRICK: No.
Q. With Scottsdale kind of your adopted hometown, it become official, PIR next year is not hosting a race.
DANICA PATRICK: In all honesty, we didn't have the best race there. If they took something like Indy off the schedule or Motegi, the last weekend - where were we? They're all blending into one. Kentucky. Then I'd be disappointed. We didn't have the best race there, so putting more big ovals on the schedule is probably more ideal for our situation. You know, you never like to see a hometown race go. It's always nice to have one that you can drive to as opposed to fly. You know, I would imagine that the reason for it coming off the schedule is a good reason and it will be replaced by a great event.
Q. Are you looking forward to racing at Infineon? You do have a road racing background. It should be a little easier for you than learning some of the new ovals.
DANICA PATRICK: Am I looking forward to a road course, is that what you're asking?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I mean, it's always fun to go do something different. I obviously love road racing. But I still am going to be very, very much a rookie. I mean, these guys have raced in big cars far more than I have, you know, with past Champ Car drivers, past guys that have been doing, you know, Formula One stuff, Indy Lights, all that kind of stuff. Atlantic is a very sort of slow, under-powered car. It doesn't really -- it's not really very equal to an IndyCar.
Q. Would you like to see more road courses in the IRL series?
DANICA PATRICK: Yes. I mean, I'd love to see a couple more, definitely. I like street racing. Street racing is definitely fun. It would be nice to get downtown, a couple cities. Experiencing that within the last couple years was a lot of fun. I do hope that there are a few more on the schedule for sure.
Q. You tested at Infineon?
DANICA PATRICK: Yes
Q. What did you like about the course and what didn't you like about it?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I thought it was -- it was just good to get to a road course. It was fun. You know, I mean, any road course is fun. I think it's a rhythm track. If you can get the rhythm down there, it would be good. I didn't like -- our car has so much grip there, it's incredible how much grip and how many Gs we're probably pulling in all those corners. It's very physical. It's kind of during the long duration of the race going to be difficult for everyone. I don't think it should be a weight-lifting competition.
Q. Do you prepare physically different for the road course? Are you doing a different kind of workout?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm just lifting harder, more. Being very consistent with it. That's all I can do.
Q. At what age did you know that you had a natural ability to drive?
DANICA PATRICK: I guess probably from the start. I don't know. I was winning races within my first year of racing. I think, you know, something that has driven me all the time is the yearning to prove myself over and over again. Be confident you're good enough, but always feel you need to earn your keep where you're at. I think it just grows over time. I don't think there's ever a distinctive moment where I said, "I belong." As soon as you get there, you still have to do the job. I think you have to continue to prove yourself all the time.
Q. You mentioned for your situation you'd like to see more of the bigger ovals. What is your comfort level going into a mile track like Pikes Peak?
DANICA PATRICK: Depends on how the car's going to be. If the car's good, it's a lot of fun. It's much more straightforward. If the car is going to be difficult, if it's going to be a struggle, then it's not as exciting. We'll have to wait and see on that one.
Q. It's not a case of the length of the track as much as how the car's performing?
DANICA PATRICK: Right. When the car is fast, it's actually really very easy, believe it or not. When the car is bad, that's when you earn your money.
Q. You're 12th in the points race. Do you see being able to improve on that in the season?
DANICA PATRICK: I sure hope so. That's the goal.
Q. Do you feel pretty comfortable with where you are?
DANICA PATRICK: Do I feel comfortable with where I'm at?
Q. Being able to launch forward.
DANICA PATRICK: I'm hoping to. Every single race we go out there, we are always trying to win the race. I mean, every single one. That's what you're going into it hoping for and trying to do. Am I happy and comfortable with being 12th? No. I mean, obviously I want to be higher than that. Everybody has their good runs and bad runs in the duration of the championship. I've had a bad run. I've basically kind of DNF'd three races.
Q. Time for a change?
DANICA PATRICK: I sure as heck hope so.
Q. Could you describe your association with Bobby Rahal as far as utilizing his experience to improve your own racing, maybe give us a sample.
DANICA PATRICK: He's a knowledgeable guy from the standpoint of business, on-track stuff. I use him as much as I can to keep excelling and keep learning.
TIM HARMS: Looks like all the questions we have this afternoon for you, Danica. Thanks for taking the time to join us. Good luck this weekend.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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