Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Conference
Topics: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
July 6, 2011
PAUL KELLY: Welcome, everyone, to a historic day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. About an hour ago the Super Weekend at the Brickyard for 2012 was announced in which the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Grand-Am road racing will join the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for a full weekend of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It will be the first time in IMS history that races will take place on the two-and-a-half-mile oval and 2.534 Grand Prix road course during the same weekend, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Grand-Am road racing will make their IMS debut.
It's a full weekend of racing with Nationwide Series practice on Thursday, July 26, Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series practice, qualifying and races on Friday, July 27th, NASCAR Nationwide Series practice, qualifying, and its race on Saturday, along with Sprint Cup Series practice and qualifying, then on Sunday, July 29th, the Brickyard 400 will take place.
Today for guests we have Jeff Belskus, the president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, Tom Bledsoe, president of Grand-Am road racing, and drivers Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Scott Pruett.
Jeff, describe, if you would, what this announcement and what the growth of this event means for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
JEFF BELSKUS: This is a very important announcement for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's an important announcement for the City of Indianapolis. We have an 18-year relationship with NASCAR through the Sprint Cup Series. We're excited to have the Grand-Am cars here, the Nationwide cars here.
It's going to be a great weekend of racing, very historic weekend. It will provide great value for our fans. They'll get to see four races. I understand two different Grand-Am events on Friday, the Nationwide cars on Saturday, and the Sprint Cup cars on Sunday.
PAUL KELLY: Mike, it was a huge event when the Brickyard 400 made its debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994. Describe what it means for NASCAR as an organization to expand its relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, adding the Nationwide Series to the Super Weekend in 2012.
MIKE HELTON: It's still a huge event to come to the Brickyard 400 and participate here. We're anxiously waiting the next four weeks to get here and run that event.
But when you add in 2012 the Nationwide Series to the mix, then the sports car program from Grand-Am, that just makes this week stand out and become a very motorsports-destination weekend because of the magnitude of all the content that we'll have at the same racetrack on the same weekend.
For NASCAR it's a great opportunity in the middle of its season to perform at an internationally iconic facility with its sports car product, the Grand-Am, Rolex, and Continental, then our Nationwide Series, which is second only to the Sprint Cup stock car series in this country, and then the Sprint Cup that has the tradition of being here.
You put all that together, it reignites the energy of NASCAR being able to participate at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
PAUL KELLY: Tom, Grand-Am road racing tested at Indianapolis in 2009. At that point obviously the goal was to get to the Speedway. Did you think it would come together this quickly? For your organization, what does it mean to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
TOM BLEDSOE: Well, that test was a great test. The cars looked very good. They drove the track very good. Everybody was very happy with it. And, yes, since September 2009 we've been dealing with the track, talking back and forth. Grand-Am currently for 2011 has some very big initiatives, very busy. On the top of that list was Indy. I'm very happy to be able to check that one off.
It's very significant. It's probably the most significant announcement we've made. We have big plans for it in regards to maybe doing some different things, getting some more cars involved. Although with Continental and Rolex here, we expect to have over 110 cars, possibly more. It's huge for us.
PAUL KELLY: We'll open it up to the media for questions at this point.
Q. Jeff, what's the major emphasis behind this decision? There's been a lot of talk about attendance at Indianapolis having dropped off in past years, maybe this being a way to inject some excitement into the Brickyard. Talk about how moving Nationwide and Grand-Am to Indy relates to that.
JEFF BELSKUS: Sure. We're looking to add content to the event for the weekend. We're going to triple our hours of track activity here. That will be good for the fans. It will be good for the sponsors.
We're billing it as a Super Weekend in Motorsports. To come here and see all the different types of competition, whether it be on the road course or on the oval, it will be great for our fans, it will be good for the sponsors. It's going to be a fun weekend really.
Q. I looked at your release and I'm wondering about the length of the events. Mike, I guess that would go to you.
MIKE HELTON: Well, the Brickyard 400 obviously stays the Brickyard 400. We're still working on the length of the Nationwide race. It will be similar to other two-and-a-half mile tracks in length.
Tom can speak to the Grand-Am lengths.
TOM BLEDSOE: Continental will be the 2 hour 45 minutes. The Rolex we're going to increase it to 3 hours because we have some plans for a possible endurance championship that we're real excited about. We're going to do them all in one day, like practice, qualifying, both races. It's going to be a full day.
Q. Mike, as far as Lucas Oil Raceway, do you feel the Nationwide Series has outgrown that track? What would it mean if you lose that from the schedule?
MIKE HELTON: It hasn't outgrown the track. This is such a great opportunity for us in the Indianapolis market. This is the only weekend we run in Indianapolis. So it was a tough decision because the Raceway Park has been such an important part of the Nationwide program for so many years.
Hopefully we'd like to try to figure out a way to be in their future and their in ours. But this weekend just presented itself with too much of an opportunity to make a very significant event in the middle of our season.
Q. Jeff, with the Nationwide race on Saturday, what sort of bump in the crowd are you expecting? I think they drew like 30,000 at Lucas Oil Raceway. Do you expect you'll see that kind of crowd or bigger on Saturday?
JEFF BELSKUS: We have high expectations. We hope a lot of people come out and can enjoy some good racing.
We've got hundreds of thousands of seats here. I suppose the sky's the limit there. But we're going to price it appropriately. Again, we're interested in providing a good value for our race fans, and we hope that brings them out.
We're looking forward to a good event. Again, I think the sky's the limit on what we can get, so...
Q. I got a Twitter from a reader commenting about the NHRA race. This makes Indianapolis the high ground in American racing. But my question is about the Continental Tire series. As the rumors got out that these things were happening, that one didn't come in until a little later. What was your thinking with that series? A lot of people like that series because it's full-time, rock'n roll racing. Some people call it old-time stock car racing.
TOM BLEDSOE: The naming has been new, but the series has been around I think since 2002 when it was the Motorola Cup. That group, and we've had racers in it from the very beginning, they've been around for a long time.
Yeah, we're real happy with it. We have an average car count of 60, in big events, 70. We expect this to be probably the biggest. It's very exciting. It's very close, it has a myriad of car manufacturers in it. It's right now doing well on TV and at the events. Very happy with the Continental Series. And Continental as a sponsor has done a lot to step up and promote that series, activated it from a marketing standpoint very well for us.
Q. Mike, you talk about the opportunity this affords you. I assume this opportunity has been out there in recent years. The question is, why now? Is there something you felt you either needed or IMS needed to make this move beginning next year?
MIKE HELTON: I don't know that it's a matter of need in anything. It just happened to present itself that we both had a high level of interest, both NASCAR, Jeff and his folks here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, of reenergizing the Brickyard 400, making a modern statement, if you will, in both of our facilities, both of our series. This gave us the opportunity to do it.
Sure, we could have moved the Nationwide Series over here years ago and have had dialogue back and forth for some time. But I think it wasn't a function of needing anything as much as it just made sense.
When you add the Grand-Am aspect to it, I think it puts a significant onus on this weekend to be a world class, significant motorsports event, when you put all three of them together, so the timing made sense.
Q. I'd like to get the drivers' perspectives - Ricky, Carl and Scott - about these three races, or four races, on this weekend.
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: I think it's going to be a huge weekend. I think the fans, the ones that are disappointed that we're not going back to Lucas Oil on this weekend, I think they're going to get to the racetrack and be surprised how much on-track activity, how many things both of these series are going to have to offer them, especially the on-track activity.
We're going to be on the racetrack every minute just about of the whole weekend. I think they're really going to enjoy that.
As for myself, it's going to be huge just to make laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's something every racecar driver wants to do. It doesn't matter what series you race in. To finally be able to do that is going to be a huge, huge deal in my accomplishments of racing.
CARL EDWARDS: We were just sitting here talking about how neat it's going to be to see the Continental and Rolex cars run. I don't think I have a shot at getting a ride in a Rolex car as I wrecked one of those pretty bad in Montréal before the green flag was even thrown.
But Jack Roush, Jr. and Billy Johnson run in the Continental Series in a Ford Mustang. I had no clue they were going to have 60 cars here. I think that will be something that a lot of people are going to be excited to see. The Rolex cars are spectacular. I can tell you firsthand, those guys are amazing drivers and they're really great racecars.
I think for us in the Cup Series, you know, if we're solely running the Cup race like normal, this will be just more fun for us as fans of the sport to be able to see a weekend like this. It will be more of a destination for my friends and family that want to come out here to the race. They'll be entertained all weekend. Then it culminates with the Brickyard 400, which to us is as big as any race of the year. It will be a huge one for any of us to win.
SCOTT PRUETT: This is truly historic. When you think about having that big a weekend, then seeing sports cars come here for the first time, I think you talk about a destination weekend, it's going to be absolutely incredible.
The races we can put on, whether it's the Continental Series, my series with the Prototypes, the GT cars, we'll be starting I guarantee probably 30 cars in the Prototype side and probably another 50 cars. So they could be easily starting 50, 60 cars for the Grand-Am Series as well.
Everybody and anybody, when you look at even our team based not too far from here, the Ganassi organization, we'll look at every opportunity to put at least one more car out there. Every racer, as we heard earlier, they want to come be a part of this event. We're all concerned with the economy right now. We're all feeling that pinch. I think it's a good thing that seeing responsibility from, like, Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they're concerned for that, trying to give the fans more for the dollar, not just adding more stuff, but adding good, quality races, that are going to entertain fans. My home is in California. I already have guys booking flights that want to be a part of it, be part of this action, seeing our friends.
We all are friends along the way, all the drivers, and unfortunately only have a few opportunities to catch up with each other, whether it's at Watkins Glen when we race with Nationwide, or the Cup Series. That in itself makes it that much more, from a selfish standpoint, enjoyable.
Q. Jeff, I saw that in your release one of the incentives for the Super Weekend, you were encouraging fans to buy tickets for this weekend so they could renew for 2012. Have sales picked up? What are you expectations regarding the crowd?
JEFF BELSKUS: We still have high expectations. Right now we're running even with last year. We hope that will bring out more fans, this announcement.
But additionally we have some other aspects, other things that we've added for this year's Brickyard 400 with a concert on Saturday with Hender, a relationship with Big Machine Records, Rascal Flats, others performing on race day. Again, it's no additional price on the ticket. It will be an opportunity to come out and see some great racing and see some good concert acts, as well.
So, yeah, we're working at adding content and are optimistic it's going to produce a good result for everybody.
Q. Jeff, I was curious if you felt any impact from Kentucky having a Cup race? Did you feel you had to add content to your weekend if you're going to be two or three weeks after a Kentucky triple-header weekend?
JEFF BELSKUS: So far we don't seem to be feeling much effect from Kentucky. But it's a competitive world. When we started the Brickyard 400 in 1994, I think Michigan was the only other Cup race in this area or this vicinity. Now we've got Chicagoland and Kentucky added. So it's a competitive world. We're doing what we can to keep ourselves current and be relevant and be a part of that.
So, you know, this will help with our fans, with the value. So we're excited to see it. I said earlier, I wish we could have gotten this done in 2011 and not have to wait till 2012.
Q. Tom, you tested there in 2009. Now you're announcing a race in 2012. These guys must be really tough to negotiate with. It's just you and me on the line here, so...
TOM BLEDSOE: It's been a good relationship. I mean, it's been not heavy negotiations but we've been keeping in touch because we both had interests. Timing had to be right, so... Basically this is where we ended up. Very excited to be here.
Q. I know it's nearly a year away, but have you given any thought to what the trophy might be like for this historic event?
JEFF BELSKUS: We haven't only not thought about the trophy, we don't have a start time yet. But those are all important details. As you heard Scott Pruett say, it's an historic event and we want to commemorate it in an appropriate way.
So, yeah, we have a few weeks, few months to work on those details. We'll get after it.
Q. Mike, on the move of the Nationwide race from Lucas Oil to Indianapolis, there was some speculation about what may have caused it. There was some speculation a sanctioning fee may have been involved. Did you move this on your own? Did you give the track a chance to bid or keep it? Did you make this decision independent of anything they were doing?
MIKE HELTON: We spent a lot of time in our relationship with NHRA, the folks with Raceway Park, over time discussed the possibilities of one day, since we are only in the Indianapolis marketplace one weekend a year, how that weekend might change its shape.
As I've said on a couple of occasions today already, it was a tough decision to sit down with those folks over the past two or three years and talk about when that moment might happen. But the opportunity to be here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is significant.
We'd like to think that we're going to stay in Raceway Park's future and them in ours.
PAUL KELLY: Gentlemen, very much appreciate you taking the time today to participate in the call. Again, congratulations on such an historic announcement and such a big day for NASCAR, for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for Grand-Am road racing. Thank you very much for joining us.
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