Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have three guests joining us this afternoon. IndyCar drivers Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick will join us in a few minutes. Joining us to start the call is Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Travis Gregg. Hi, Travis.
TRAVIS GREGG: Hi, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Travis is a rookie in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil Products entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Currently second in the points standing, 33 points behind Wade Cunningham. Travis has three wins this season, all of them on mile-and-a-half ovals, kind of like Chicagoland Speedway where we'll be racing this weekend. Travis, obviously Chicago is one of the three tracks that you raced at last season, so you go there already knowing what to expect. You couple that with the success you and the team have on the one-and-a-half-mile tracks, you've got to feel pretty good heading up there. What's your game plan as you head into Chicagoland this weekend?
TRAVIS GREGG: The game plan is pretty simple. We have to go there and win. We got (inaudible). So our goal is to win. Definitely getting the pole will be important, too, getting extra points. I do some configuring for the finishes, for the last few races. It could come down to the points. Depending on how Wade finishes, it could be close.
THE MODERATOR: The tracks you've won at so far this year, Kentucky and Texas, those were also places you raced at last year. Does it give you a boost of confidence going back to Chicago, having that kind of a history?
TRAVIS GREGG: Yeah, maybe a little bit. You know, Chicago is a little bit different than Kentucky and Texas. But it's pretty similar. You know, I think it just helps me out mentally, basically. You know, I've been there before, so I expect to run a little bit better.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned you have three races, you've got to cut into Wade's lead and make up 33 points. Two of those races are ovals, one is a road course. Is there one race that's more important to you at this point as you look ahead?
TRAVIS GREGG: I think the Watkins Glen race will really be important. There we'll have to finish relatively close to Wade. I'm just hoping to do well on the ovals, and step it up on the Watkins Glen race. We should be okay.
THE MODERATOR: Coming into the season, I'm sure winning the championship was one of your goals. What were some of the other goals that you had? Have you been able to achieve those so far?
TRAVIS GREGG: Yeah, I mean, you know, I wanted my first win. I had a bit of success last year winning the pole, finishing second. I wanted to, you know, come in this year and grab some wins. Definitely the main goal was winning the championship. But, you know, I definitely gained a lot of experience this year, and hopefully it will further me along in my career as I race, try to get into the IndyCar Series.
THE MODERATOR: You talk about furthering your career. What are your plans as you look today now to next year? Do you anticipate another year in the Pro Series as a step to get into the IndyCar Series? Do you really pursue an IndyCar Series ride for next year already?
TRAVIS GREGG: I think another year in the Pro Series would definitely be, you know, a valuable experience. This is my first full year in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, so I think even another year in the series would help me out even more, give me that little edge.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take some questions for Travis.
Q. In a points race such as this, with the season closing down on you, is it hard not to really press? You want to finish close to the front, but of course it doesn't take a mad scientist to know a DNF takes you out of it.
TRAVIS GREGG: Yeah. You know, I don't think the pressure's really on me. I think the pressure's on Wade to keep finishing high. He's been in the top five every race all year. But I think if we just keep doing what we're doing, we'll be good.
Q. When you look at being in a championship fight, you talked a moment ago about wanting to learn, gain experience, there's no better experience than the pressure of a championship fight.
TRAVIS GREGG: Oh, yeah. I mean, this is what it comes down to. I mean, you have to know when to take chances and when to, you know, kind of settle in and settle for what you can get. Definitely, it's an experience.
Q. You had pretty much a whole season here in the Pro Series, three races last year, 14 this year. You've run at the front of the pack. You've been back in the middle. You race d in a lot of different conditions. How comfortable are you feeling now going into these last three races in terms of your car and being able to deal with whatever you might encounter in the last three?
TRAVIS GREGG: You know, I feel really good. We raced at Chicago last year. You know, we're going there this weekend. I feel fairly confident in myself and also with the team, good history there last year with Thiago winning the pole and the race. That plays a big part of it. You know, the team, they're comfortable with me and I'm comfortable with them. They know how I drive. I think all of that works together and develops a good understanding of each other.
Q. I think you and Carl Edwards in the NASCAR Busch Series are the only two guys that do a back flip when they win. Are you in a little bit of a competition with Carl? Who is leading in the number of victories and back flips?
TRAVIS GREGG: Maybe a little bit. I was just talking with some of my friends, what I could do to step it up a little bit different. Maybe next time when I win, there will be something more to go along with that.
Q. The third race he won was at Kentucky. You won your third race there at Kentucky, even with him there at Kentucky. Last Saturday he won at Fontana, at California. There's a challenge for you there.
TRAVIS GREGG: Oh, yeah, I'll have to step it up for sure.
Q. What are you doing to step up as far as Watkins Glen goes?
TRAVIS GREGG: Well, we did a lot of testing this year on the road courses. I think our performance has improved a little bit. I also have a shifter kart that I ran pretty much all day yesterday. I'm kind of sore from the hour and a half straight I went one session, then my ribs were kind of sore. I'm just trying to do whatever I can, training in a different series -- not a different series, but when we went out to California for Sonoma, I did the driving school out there. Just little things like that, just really pounding it pretty hard at my family's go-kart track.
Q. Kind of surprising you don't do better than what you're doing now on the road courses. Is that you or is that the team?
TRAVIS GREGG: I think it's pretty much me. It's kind of frustrating at times. But I just need to step it up. I can look at the data between my teammates and myself and really kind of find out what I'm doing, what I need to be doing better. I think it will come along. It's just a little bit of a different learning curve for me.
Q. Could you talk about Watkins Glen, what you know about the track coming in as far as the place has a lot of history, and then on the track as far as what it's going to take to be successful on the track.
TRAVIS GREGG: Actually, I've never really seen Watkins Glen up close. I know they have a really long history there, especially with the IndyCars returning. As far as what to expect on the track, you know, I'm not really certain as specific to Watkins Glen. But just like every other road course, you know it's going to be important to go out there in that first practice session and just get a feel for the track, know where you need to be, then really work on getting speed that second practice session for qualifying. I really haven't -- I've watched races on television at Watkins Glen, but I've never really been there in person.
THE MODERATOR: Travis, thanks a lot for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Good luck this weekend.
TRAVIS GREGG: All right, thanks.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta. Good afternoon, Bryan.
BRYAN HERTA: How are you?
THE MODERATOR: Doing well. Thanks for taking some time. Bryan drives the No. 7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. He has four top five finishes this season, including a third at the Indianapolis 500 and a win at Michigan in July. He's currently eighth in points. Bryan, let's start with Chicagoland Speedway where we've got the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300. You finished third at Chicagoland in 2003 and were second there last year. Tell us a little bit about the track and your success there in the past, what your expectations are for this weekend as you go back.
BRYAN HERTA: Okay. Well, if I went third and second, then I guess I got to win this year (laughter). You know, Chicago is one of the -- really, it's a mile and a half but it's one of our superspeedway events. It's one of the tracks where we run in a pack of cars side by side. You know, it's that type of racing, one of those places. You know, just really expecting just a very close race, side-by-side finish is pretty common there. I had the opportunity with a few of the Honda teams to test there last week. It's one of the few tracks we actually tested on this year before we get to race there. Hopefully at least on a two-day weekend where the track time is limited, maybe that will give us a little bit of an edge.
THE MODERATOR: If you had to kind of rate this season, you've been around now, this is your third season in the IndyCar Series, comparing it to some others, how would you rate the season?
BRYAN HERTA: For me personally?
THE MODERATOR: For you personally. You've had finishes that have been good, some finishes that have been bad, but a strong finish at Indianapolis, getting back in the winner's circle at Michigan. Has it been what you'd hoped it would be?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, no, because I'm not leading the championship by 79 points like Wheldon is. You know, it's been a good year. We've had -- like you said, we've had some good results. We've led a bunch of races. I've had three poles and finally got that first win for the XM guys. Had some definite high points. Like you said, we've finished out of a bunch of races and there have been a couple races where we weren't as competitive as I was hoping or expecting. You know, I think the speed has definitely improved this year for my car, with the 7 car, but the consistency still is not quite where I hope it will be. Looking forward to next year, hopefully that is the one thing I think we've shown championship speed, but we just haven't shown championship consistency. That's the area where I hope we can continue to improve.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of next year, from a team standpoint, it really sounds like Andretti Green Racing is going to bring back all four of you guys, have almost locked up back-to-back championships. You mentioned for yourself a little bit better consistency. As a whole, as a team, how does the team continue to get better next year?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, that's the challenge, isn't it? I mean, I think we asked ourselves those same questions at the end of last season. We had such a great year with Tony winning the championship, and we won a whole bunch of races. You know, I was really impressed with the attitude of the engineers and the crew guys and everybody on the team over the winter, was not, "Hey, we finally arrived, we're doing what we want to do." It's, "Shoot, these guys are going to come gunning for us next year, we're going to have to keep it up big time if we want to keep our momentum going." And they did. I think it's going to be the same kind of thing. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. I'm not signed for next year. But, you know, I fully hope and plan to be back with the team. But, you know, I think the first thing really for the team to do is to get all four of us back under contract. They've got Tony right now. I think they're close with Dan. Hopefully they'll get Dario and I all signed up and we'll keep that consistency. I think that's been a big part of our success, is to just try and keep whatever formula it is that we've got going, it seems to be working, so let's not mess with it.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Regarding the fact you haven't been signed, a thought hit me a couple weeks ago, your career has been one where you find success and then there's that little break. Is there concern that there may not be a deal for you with Andretti Green in 2006?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, it's not what I've been told by the team. You know, I don't have any reason to doubt them. No, I think it's just a timing issue, you know. This is really, you know, we're just getting into August or September, and this is the time of year where those things start really getting situated for next year. I'm at the end of a two-year contract. I don't anticipate any changes. But as they say, you know, it's not done till it's done.
Q. I wasn't saying I had heard anything about that. I was asking where you stood.
BRYAN HERTA: I know.
Q. When you look at the way this team has been formulated, from the outside looking in, it's almost like a football team or baseball team in the fact that all four of you have different things that you bring to the table and make one good team. Am I right in that assessment?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I think, yeah. You know, from the driving standpoint, the four of us each have very different backgrounds. We're actually pretty different characters. I think the different types of experience and the different sort of approaches that we take to racing, I think it's kind of -- I've learned a lot from my three teammates. You always learn from your teammates. But I've learned a lot from these three teammates. Just beyond that, you can't give enough credit to really Kyle and George, Tino, Pete, all the engineers. There's so many people on this team who contribute to the success, you really can't put it down to any one or couple of people. It's just been the whole group and the way we've been able to work together that's really made it happen.
Q. Back to the old days, the days of CART. When you competed as a driver against Michael, did you ever think that someday you would be driving for him and that he would be able to put together a package like he's put together?
BRYAN HERTA: No, you know, don't think about things like that, especially when you're racing against somebody. You're just focused on the time at hand. I mean, I never -- it doesn't surprise me. I mean, Mike has had a great history in racing. It's his background, what he knows, what he does well. I'm not surprised that he's put together a team. I'm pleased that he's hired me to drive. It's not something I kind of thought five years ago, "Hey, it would be great if Mike put together a team and hired me."
Q. You were too busy trying to beat him.
BRYAN HERTA: That's right.
Q. Just to pursue the last question a bit. In terms of the team chemistry, which seems so unique, the amount of time you guys as drivers spend together is unique in a positive way. What is it about this team that brings you guys together the way it does?
BRYAN HERTA: I don't know. I don't know how to answer that really. I don't know exactly. I think it's two things. It's probably, one, a willingness on all of our parts to check the ego a little bit at the door and just accept -- instead of looking at your teammate as enemy number one, which is kind of more normal in racing, is to say, "Hey, how can I learn from this person and work together to make all of our cars better so that hopefully at the end of the race we're battling each other instead of everybody else?"
Q. Where do Michael and Kim come into that equation?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I mean, Mike a lot. I mean, Mike always tells us, you know, he wants to be the guy we go to if we have a problem. If we're fighting amongst ourselves, if we have a disagreement, we always try and talk it out, work it out amongst ourselves. But if we can't work it out on our own, Mike is the guy we go to. He's got good perspective. He's been helpful at trying to mediate issues when they do come up. You have four competitive guys. I mean, you don't want the impression that we're all just, "Hey, everything's great all the time." We fight and argue and disagree a lot. But we kind of use those challenges to remotivate ourselves. Believe me, nobody wants to beat anybody more on the track than we want to beat each other. By the same token, we understand we can help each other, too.
THE MODERATOR: Bryan, thank you for taking some time out of your day to join us. Good luck this weekend.
BRYAN HERTA: You got it. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Danica Patrick. She ranks 12th overall in points and leads the Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year standings. She's got two top five finish es this year and six top tens, and of course she finished fourth at the Indianapolis 500 back in May. This weekend will be your first time racing at Chicagoland Speedway, but I know you tested there last week, were very fast. Just tell us a little bit about what you learned about the track and how you think things will shape up this weekend.
DANICA PATRICK: It was good to be able to get on a track before the race. The only other track I'd ever been on before at all was Milwaukee. It was in Atlantics, so it was quite different. It's nice to have been to one before now, and I just feel more comfortable going to it from the standpoint of how the car feels from the difference between qualifying and race setup with full fuel, how it feels running in traffic with people around me, you know, how the first, second, third groove feels on the track. It really gives me a lot of confidence going into the weekend knowing what to expect.
THE MODERATOR: There's three races left in the season. What do you have in your mind as things that you want to accomplish by the end of the season? Any goals left to achieve in the final three races?
DANICA PATRICK: I just, you know, hope I have a strong end of the season. That's going to kind of, you know -- I'm really -- I can't ever put a number on it. I don't think it's the right thing to do. I think that you have to use the circumstances provided. If the car is extremely fast this weekend, I'm going to hope to win. If the car is a little off the pace, I'm around like seventh or eighth or something, you know, I'm going to hope to do that. You always hope for the best, meaning winning, but you have to use circumstances provided or you're just kind of putting too high expectations and only going -- and that will only result in frustration and disappointment.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Danica.
Q. I talked to your parents at Infineon. Two questions about how you grew up as a race car driver. What was your parents' effect on your career?
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, I think they provided racing for me. They got me to the racetrack, got me go-karts, supported me.
Q. When did you realize racing was a career for you?
DANICA PATRICK: I probably knew after a year or two. I then made it my full-time career forever probably at about 16 when I left school.
Q. Looking ahead to Watkins Glen, it's a track with a lot of history, very excited to have open-wheel racing back. What do you know about the track? I know you tested there this year. What did you know about the track beforehand or is this all new, learning about the track as far as how to race it and as far as the history involved, why they're so excited to have open-wheel back?
DANICA PATRICK: I have to say that I'm not much of a history buff. I don't really get into that side of it, so I don't really know. I know it's a very historic track, though. I know that there have been some amazing drivers that have come through. It's a special place with great fans. But outside of that, I mean, I was born in 1982. I think the racing that had happened was well before that. My parents were probably young. That's about all I know.
Q. I know there's plenty of racing left, but on the other hand three races to go, has this season met your expectations on any level, competition-wise, PR-wise? How has it been for you? Can you size it up?
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's been a year of, you know, great things, lots of fun, learning, exciting things. I think there's a lot of great things that happened on and off track that have impacted myself, the series. And hopefully other people in the series, too, will result in the good things that happened.
Q. With the PR, there have been unprecedented things you've done which has brought along some unprecedented coverage. I'm sure this is not the first teleconference you're doing. Has it been overwhelming in any sense, surprising at all? In any way is the end of the season kind of a relief attention-wise or obligation-wise that things may slow down?
DANICA PATRICK: I've enjoyed myself. You know, there have been times when things have been extremely busy, but it's been tolerable, it's been exciting, it's been a lot of fun. I'm never going to have this year back in my life. I'm trying to do my best to just enjoy it while it's here and hope for better things to come still. But I'm excited for a break. I'm excited to get married.
Q. Danica, is there any extra incentive for you this weekend, being that it's close to home? Does this race maybe mean more to you in a sense than some of the other races throughout the year?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. I mean, a little bit probably just because it's closer to home. But, you know, a little bit also because it's getting towards the end of the season and I'm hoping to have, you know -- I really want to have a good race to close out the season. I feel like I'm learning more, better prepared for the events as we go along. My expectations, you know, get higher. But at the same time they're all very important, and that's why, you know, I still get really nervous before every event. They all mean so much. You want to do well at all of them.
Q. Throughout this season, one of the things I've noticed is the stories in the media that surround you is more tinted towards your personal life than with racing. With most drivers it's racing first and personal life second. Have you noticed that difference? Do sometimes you wish it to be - don't take this the wrong way - just one of the guys out there racing?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm not sure what you mean it's more about my personal life. What do you mean?
Q. I'll explain it. A couple of questions ago you were asked about when you started racing. You were asked a lot about things that you do at home, instead of stuff actually happening on the racetrack. That's my perception.
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think that's accurate, though. I think, you know, like you said, the question was about how did I start racing. That's racing. I think that lots of questions have to do with racing. I think I'm fortunate enough that I have a lot of people writing articles and doing stories, which I wouldn't change it for the world. I'm so lucky. But, you know, people want to know more. I mean, I think that we see that with, geeze, all the magazines that come out these days about, you know, gossip and everything. People want to know about personal stuff. I think as the articles go on, I mean, we haven't raced for two weeks. I don't know. I just think that people want to know more about everyone these days. I don't know. I think personal questions will come up, but I do still think that they're mostly all about racing.
Q. With that point, as a rookie, do you feel you've accomplished what you need to accomplish to set yourself as a racer in the future? When I say that, in other words, it's almost like being a freshman in college. You set your base for your future. Do you feel like you've set a strong enough personal base as far as being in the race car?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm sorry. Do I feel like I've set up a good personal base to drive a race car?
Q. Do you feel you've accomplished the things you need to learn on the learning curve? Make it simple.
DANICA PATRICK: I feel like I'm learning. I'm continually learning. I think that everybody is. I don't think that anybody ever stops. That's why it's so difficult, just because people continue to learn all the time. So I'm going to do that, too. It's always going to be the same, that the rookies learn -- your first year you're going to learn a lot more than in your second year and third year. But, yeah, I absolutely do feel like that. I think everybody's pleased. I think that I feel like everything has gone very well this year.
Q. Early in the season, actually right before the Homestead race, you did an interview with Jamie Little. I don't remember the question she asked, but I remember the answer you gave. You said you think there are two sides to being a race car driver, and that the marketability side is important besides just being a driver. It seem as lot of drivers still think there's only one side, you just have to be fast, try to win some poles and races, and that's it. In your career, before you arrived at the IRL, was there a turning point or something when you realized there are really two sides, that the marketability side has a lot of potential advantages and opportunities?
DANICA PATRICK: I think I've always known that. I think I've always done the best job I can to capitalize when people are interested and want to do stories. You know, of course, as your career's starting, going along, it's much more -- they're much more sparse and rare, and you need to do the best you can when they come along. I've always known that the marketability side has been needed. I think I knew that because if it was just great drivers that made it, I think the field would be different. I think there would be a lot more race car drivers probably. It would be a much larger field. But, let's face it, that's not what it takes. It takes a lot more than just driving a fast car. You have to present yourself well. You have to represent your sponsors well. You have to do a great job on the track. You know, I think I've always known that.
Q. Clearly you started promoting yourself and your marketability before you got to the IRL back in the Atlantic Series. It seems pretty clear when you arrived at the IRL you had a lot of skills in that area that you already had a lot of practice at. After the Motegi race when you qualified in the front row, passed Sam Hornish a couple times, people realized you're really for real as a driver. Then the events of May at Indianapolis, because of all the publicity, fans, you ended up doing a lot of interviews, autograph sessions with fans, sponsor work. Would you have been able to deal with that the way you did had you not had the kind of experience before you arrived in the marketability area I'll call it?
DANICA PATRICK: Probably not. I do feel fortunate that I've been able to be exposed to media throughout my whole career. I mean, ABC came and did a special called The Passion of Play, with Anna Kournikova and Tara Lapinski. It was an hour-long special. We were all 14 years old. They came and did interviews, they taped us at the house, they taped me at school, at the track. Later on in that same year, MTV came and did the same thing. I have had to perform in front of a camera, be composed in front of a camera, speak well. I promise you, I wasn't what I am today then, of course, because I was just starting. But, yeah, I do feel like the amount of exposure I've had throughout my career has definitely prepared me for what was to come this year.
Q. Back to the month of May. In terms of all the appearances you made, what amount of those were optional on your part as opposed to required by the league, sponsors, team, whatever?
DANICA PATRICK: Interviews? Well, "strongly recommended" is what it probably was. And "strongly recommended" means pretty close to mandatory. But I do still have a say so. At the end of the day, I would have probably done just about all of it because it was all important and it all went a long way. I understand that it helps me and it helps, you know, the sponsors and the team and the series, too. But I guess I do have the ultimate decision. You know, there's obviously a lot of pressure to do it all because, you know, everybody wants exposure.
Q. At what point in your career did you have the services of a PR agent to help you manage your time in that area a bit?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it was probably -- it was the year before Atlantic. I did some Barber Dodge stuff. Probably 2002, sometime in that area. It was Team Rahal that was the first ones to actually come through and help me with that kind of thing. But along the way, there have been people that have put in good words. I know Lyn St. James has definitely helped me with some things along the way in recommending me. But an actual PR department didn't come until Team Rahal.
Q. What do you recommend in terms of development series, that sort of thing, where it's the Infiniti Pro Series or the Atlantic Series, wherever drivers are coming from, to end up at the IndyCar level, working on developing driver skills in the marketability area?
DANICA PATRICK: How do you do it?
Q. How do you be prepared when you get to the IndyCar level?
DANICA PATRICK: I think you have to have something inside of you that can. Some people are shy and probably won't ever get there. You know, you have to be comfortable. You have to be confident. You have to try, as far as media, you know, to do it more. The more you do it, the better you become. As far as racing and progressing through the ranks, I think I say this time and time again, but I really believe it, if you don't have the complete passion and the complete dedication and everything that it takes, you won't be able to go through all the difficult times. I say that because when I look back, some of it was, and I didn't realize it, because I just wanted to do it so badly, I wanted to make it to the top. I think it takes that kind of dedication to get through the tough stuff. I'd say just make sure it's a passion.
Q. You're going to be married soon. In the man's world of racing, it really doesn't make much difference with having children. They continue their careers. Would you continue your career after starting a family or would you wait to end your career before you start a family?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I have to say that I never really -- I wasn't really the kid-loving kind of type. I have always taken my job very seriously. You know, that's obviously a personal thing. That's something to be discussed with my husband to be. But at this point in time in my life, I'm very dedicated to my career, and I will do -- I will be doing that for as long as I'm excited and interested and having fun with it. Then the stuff after will come after. Like I said, that's something sort of personal. Again, right now, career.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, thanks again for taking time to join us this week. Good luck this weekend.
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