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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League, Iowa Speedway

Indy Racing League Media Conference

John Lewis
Rusty Wallace
August 2, 2006

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Appreciate you joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests this afternoon are John Lewis, the vice president of league development for the Indy Racing League, and Rusty Wallace, a former NASCAR champion and current ABC Sports, ESPN IndyCar Series commentator, who is also co-designing the Iowa Speedway. The two are joining us today from that facility where earlier today the Indy Racing League announced that the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series will compete at the new racetrack in 2007. The IndyCar Series will run a 250-lap race on the seven-eighths mile oval on Sunday, June 24th, while the Indy Pro Series will have a 100-mile event on Saturday, June 23rd.
The track itself is near Des Moines, not far from Knoxville Raceway, features a 60-foot wide tri-oval with 12-to-14-degree compound banking in the turns. It will be the first track to have the SAFER barrier installed around the entire perimeter of the track.
John, I know this is an exciting day for the Indy Racing League, making the announcement to go to Iowa Speedway, conducting the compatibility test with Scott and Wade. Tell us what makes Iowa Speedway such a good fit for the Indy Racing League.
JOHN LEWIS: Well, really it's a rewarding day for the Indy Racing League and the Indy Racing League fans. The Speedway is just a fabulous, fabulous venue. I know the people here have done a lot of hard work and preparation to get this oval to this point. To be able to bring both an IndyCar and Indy Pro Series car out here to do our compatibility run has just been a great day.
The people, the facility, everything surrounding the racetrack has just been first class. We're thrilled to be here.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned there was quite a bit of media turnout at the facility today for the announcement. Sounds like there's a lot of buzz and excitement about the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series coming to Iowa next summer.
JOHN LEWIS: Yeah. I'm not good at speculating about how many people. We were in a pretty good size room for the media announcement. It was shoulder-to-shoulder. They came from all corners to come out and endorse the announcement. They seemed very, very happy that we're here. Like I said earlier, we're just ecstatic to be a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: We mentioned Scott Dixon, the 2003 IndyCar Series champion, Wade Cunningham, the 2005 Indy Pro Series champion, are at the track today doing a compatibility test. What was their feedback to you so far from running a few laps in the morning?
JOHN LEWIS: Both drivers said immediately after their initial runs that the pavement is flawless. When you come to a new venue, there are a lot of things that you need to do the average spectator would probably just take for granted with regard to is it smooth, transitioning from the pit lane to the racetrack, is the racetrack smooth itself, the actual racing surface, sight lines, drivability, so on and so forth.
They both went out. After their first runs they came back in and said it's perfect, they really did a good job here, did their homework, delivered an excellent venue.
THE MODERATOR: That's great.
Rusty, congratulations to you also on this announcement. I know you had a few months back and probably several times a chance to drive the track in various stages. Tell us a little bit about your own experience since you've been out there on the track, some specific details about your role in designing the track.
RUSTY WALLACE: The details right off the bat, I was called four years ago to design a track. The question went like this. They said -- the group of investors said, Which driver is it that designs all the racetracks? I said, There is none. They said, It's not like golf? I said, No. Said, okay, We want to build kind of a short racetrack. Let me ask the question a different way. Who has won the most short track races? Said, Rusty Wallace has won the most short track races in NASCAR. Let's call him up. That's how it started.
They called me up. Got hooked up with Paxton Waters, Andy (indiscernible) out of Indianapolis. Sat down, said, Guys, this is what I'd like it to look like. I've raced many tracks around the country. Granted, IndyCars don't have to have a lot of banking to really perform, but the stock cars do. So we worked really, really hard on ensuring side-by-side racing. That's the reason I designed a 12 and 13, 14 degree banking racetrack. That's 12, 13 and 14. I carried the radiuses a little farther off of turn two. Designed the track primarily for safety and side-by-side racing, but made it unique also.
It's the first ever seven-eighths miles racetrack in the country. First racetrack to have soft wall technology developed by Nebraska, Nebraska University, that designed the soft wall all the way around. It does not have a concrete wall. There is no concrete wall here. This thing is soft walls bolted down to a concrete foundation. Not only is it just in the corners, it's also in the straightaways. Trust me, they can wreck in the straightaways, too. We wanted it very, very safe.
About the seven-eighths the soft wall, the 12, 13, 14 degree banking, that was what I wanted. I've been here every week for many, many times now. I drove it when the track was dirt. I drove it when it had stone on it. I drove it the first layer of asphalt, the second layer of asphalt. Each layer we kept making adjustments to try to get the transitions better yet. It ended up where it is right now.
This is a big day for me because I drove this track in high-performance street cars, but never in a real car. When I drove through the tunnel today, walked up in pit road, Scott Dixon pulled out in his IndyCar, ran around this track almost wide open, I guess it was wide open, and pushing speeds he said that in qualifying we're going to push speeds close to 185. He said, I love the track. Wade Cunningham drove into turn one and said, I got in a little hot, slid up the track and went, wow, there's another groove there. He came around turn two, slid up a little higher, there's another groove there. You can race all over this place.
As a track designer, it really made me feel good.
THE MODERATOR: You saw the IndyCars race at Richmond for the first time this season, which obviously is a three-quarter mile. They're obviously not exactly the same. How do you foresee similarities between the Richmond race and the Iowa race, and what things will be different between the racetracks?
RUSTY WALLACE: It would be different. It's a complete different designed racetrack. Richmond, everybody considers it in stock car racing, I believe and in IndyCar racing, to be a pretty cool track to race on. I've won there I think in Richmond like six times in the stock cars. It's a three-quarter mile with 12-degree banking.
But you look at the track, there's a couple things I think it could be better on. The exit of turn two, I learned from Richmond, we should carry turn two a little more. The banking angle, carry it a little farther. I learned because of turn one, maybe we should change that a little bit. We learned that if we're going to have a multi-use facility, we can actually make money at and do things, the track has to be a little bit bigger, but still we don't want it too big. People like small quarters where you can get some action going on, excitement. We designed a seven-eighths. That enabled us to put a 1.4 mile road course inside, which last week we announced the Rolex 24 Series was coming to Iowa to race on.
This design has done a lot of cool things for us.
THE MODERATOR: Great. Let's just get your impressions overall on the IndyCar Series. It's your first season really around the IndyCar Series on a week-to-week basis. Give us your impressions of the year so far.
RUSTY WALLACE: Impressions are real simple. My wife tells me every time I come home from IndyCar Series, You didn't come home with that big a big smile your whole NASCAR career every single week. I said, Well, it's exciting racing. It's a little shorter. The schedule is not near as hectic. I've got to meet a bunch of people, see a bunch of new friends, see some racing that's just incredible.
When you see these guys coming past you 220 miles an hour, they're banging wheels side by side, passing every single lap, it's unbelievably exciting. I'm an ambassador out there, trying to tell the world about, Hey, you might not have been watching IndyCar for a long time, but you better wake up because, boy, it's incredible what these guys can do. Sitting up in that booth every single week making -- announcing with myself and the other guys with ESPN and ABC, it's fun to call these races because I can't sit down. I constantly stand up because the action is just that great.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let's go ahead and open it up for questions for both Rusty and John.

Q. John, can you talk a little bit about the IRL schedule for 2007, how it's coming along.
JOHN LEWIS: The schedule is coming along nicely. We are actually getting ready to announce some other dates. Really want to focus this on Iowa. They've done a lot of hard work out here. They've got a lot of good people around. We're happy to be here.
I would encourage you to stay tuned within the next two or three weeks as we have more announcements and more good news to follow.

Q. Rusty and John, Iowa obviously is not a major population center. How are we expecting the facility to draw?
RUSTY WALLACE: This facility already, all of our suites are completely sold out. They're lined up for tickets. Because Iowa is located right on Interstate 80, just outside of Des Moines, which is a fairly metropolitan area, these people, they don't have a big football team here, a big baseball team, big sports. Right now racing to them is everything in the world.
We're not concerned at all about drawing. People do say a lot, Why didn't you take this to a major metro city or an established racetrack? It's because when they called me up to design a track, they wanted it in Iowa, number one. Once I got to Iowa, I was really excited and amazed how much popularity there was here in town. I was recently in Texas. I was at a big dinner with Bruton Smith, the owner of Charlotte, Texas. He said, I tell you what, Rusty, one thing for sure, you're going to sell every seat out there every race. He said, People love racing in Iowa. You're going to pack 'em in. That's the response we've got so far.

Q. John, I'd like to know if there is any plan to add a course in Montréal, in Canada?
JOHN LEWIS: We've had some dialogue with some people north of the border. We're really not in a position to speculate as to what event or what venue could be added. We would like to run up there. The feedback we've gotten from promoters up there is they would like to have us as well.
Again, not to be rude or flippant, but the Iowa facility really deserves all the attention for this phone call. They've done a fabulous job down here. Not to sell short any other racetrack we run at, but until you guys come here and see this, I don't think you understand just how nice this racetrack is. Rusty touched on it just moments ago, with the ticket demand, the people that have come out to support it. There's just something about it, as I was driving into the Speedway, where if you have to base anything off a hunch or off of your gut, the best analogy I guess I could give you would be the Green Bay Packers. If you looked at charts and numbers, a football team probably shouldn't survive up there in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But yet they've got the most loyal fans, the best atmosphere, some of the best football ever played in the NFL. I think the Iowa Speedway is going to be the same type of analogy for IndyCar racing. I think fans are going to come out, support us, I think the numbers are going to get bigger, bigger, bigger. They have built such a nice racetrack, the on-track product, this facility is just going to be spectacular.
RUSTY WALLACE: I would encourage everybody to take a look at the website, IowaSpeedway.com. Go to the photo gallery, look at all the photographs of the track in its current state. Also go by and look at the archives section, photographs of the construction of the track.
We're about 25 miles out of Des Moines, I don't know the exact number, right on Interstate 80, right off Interstate 80 is the racetrack. The Newton Regional Airport is right behind us, there a lot of private airplanes and jets land right at the track. Right on Interstate 80. It's on the website. Take a look at that.

Q. Gentlemen, ingress, egress off of I-80, what is that like? What is the seating capacity for this Speedway?
RUSTY WALLACE: Seating capacity next year for the IndyCar race will be 44,000 seats. Right now we're going to start our first race September 15th with the Hooter's Pro Cup Series with 28,000 seats. Brand-new four-lane exit off of Interstate 80 right into the Speedway, solid concrete. Amazing amount of money put into this facility as far as the road system, drainage. We're thinking about the fans, everything. A lot of access. No problem. You're going to be amazed when you come here how good the roads are.
JOHN LEWIS: I think it's exit 164.
RUSTY WALLACE: It's a brand-new exit we created. I didn't know the number right offhand.

Q. I hope it can carry 44,000 plus people. That's going to be your big trial next June. But before then, you have a brand-new surface here, has to go that its first winter. Have you done anything special to prepare for that?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yes, we have. We've hired one of the best designers in the asphalt business to help mix. We bought 140 truckloads of granite in from up north to put in the final upper layer of the asphalt. We have looked at drainage. We've looked at temperature changes. We looked at everything in the world. The Manatt family, who pave a lot of roads in the state of Iowa, experts at it. We feel very, very comfortable with the people we got lined up. We've looked at all that already. We've even looked at all the traffic flow. Everything is paved. There's no dirt, no dirt parking, no dirt roads. Everything is concrete and asphalt to withstand an amazing amount of rain you can have during an event. Try not to have any problems that some of the other tracks have encountered because of they opened their facility too early.

Q. All that's left is the trees?
RUSTY WALLACE: We have a lot of trees. You should come out here. Are you from Iowa?

Q. I'm in Long Beach, California.
RUSTY WALLACE: You're in Long Beach. Oh, my gosh, got to come out to Iowa, see what we've done. I can see why you're talking about traffic problems. We're not going to have that type of problem. We've really thought that out and took that into account.
Again, go to the website and look at the road structure. You'll understand.

Q. Mr. Lewis, question in regards to the June 24th date that in the past has traditionally been the Richmond date. Where will Richmond fall now?
JOHN LEWIS: We're talking to the good people at Richmond. I think they're going to go one weekend later. We've still got some T's to cross and I's to dot with the good folks at ISC. Looks like we'll come here and race on a beautiful, what do you think Rusty, 75 degree afternoon on Sunday the 24th?
RUSTY WALLACE: That's exactly what we're hoping, John, yes.
JOHN LEWIS: Then we'll head east and do Richmond the following Saturday night, but that's not been finalized yet, but that's our goal.

Q. Rusty, has the Speedway had any conversation with NASCAR about a date?
RUSTY WALLACE: No, we have not. Although I have kept NASCAR in the loop of everything we're doing, we haven't asked for a date. They know we would love to have a date.
You know, I'm smart enough to know we need to build this facility, show what we can do, we need to race. I think the IRL has already realized what we can do here. That's the reason we were able to hook up with the IRL as quickly as we did, which we're so excited to have it's unreal. I got to witness all this racing. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to the show they can put on. They're incredible.
I haven't had any dialogue. To be quite honest, with NASCAR coming off its recent lawsuit with Texas, its recent lawsuit with Kentucky, you don't even go to them and ask them for a date. Just the way it is.

Q. Hopefully the schedule will allow me to make the opening show.
RUSTY WALLACE: I'm hoping when NASCAR sees our facility, they'll want to come to us. We appreciate it. We feel like we've got one of the number one facilities right now here in the world with the IRL. We're excited about it.
THE MODERATOR: John and Rusty, thank you so much for your time today. Congratulations again on today's announcement. We'll see you in Kentucky next weekend.
JOHN LEWIS: Thanks, Tim.

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