Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
July 12, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's Indy Racing teleconference. Today we've got rookie Geoff Dodge, and we'll be joined by president of Penske Performance Tim Cendric.
Geoff returns to the Pro Series lineup this weekend in Nashville as part of the Knoxville Fast Track to Indy Program. Geoff Dodge earned the Indy Pro Series ride with Brian Stewart racing after winning at last years Knoxville National's by winning the Rookie of the Year award. He is scheduled to race in six oval races on the Pro Series schedule this year, and he finished 7th at Homestead Miami after starting 10th. And at the Freedom 100, he became the biggest mover in the history of the Freedom 100 after he started 19th and finished 8th.
Geoff, welcome to the call.
GEOFF DODGE: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the amazing run at Indianapolis, starting at the very back of the field and went from 19th to eighth after 40 straight green flag laps. Just talk about that run.
GEOFF DODGE: Well, the run at Indy was certainly probably one of my favorite races that I've gotten to do in my career with Indy, but also we had a pretty good day.
Like you said, it started in the final practice session the day before the race, Thursday. We lost an engine. But Speedway Engine Development is doing the engines for the IPS series now and they have been dead-reliable except for mine. But, no, they are doing a really good job. Unfortunately we had a problem and they were quick to get us another motor, and the Brian Stewart racing guys did a great job getting it switched out in time to make it literally for the last six or eight minutes of the final practice of the day. Like you said, we had to start 19th. Coming to the racetrack, taking the short track to the Speedway, just bringing your sprint car mentality of working high, low, whatever it takes to get past people.
We were fortunate to have a good race. I thought I threw it a within lap four or five coming off the wall and thought it was over right there. But we were fortunate, we were able to continue. And definitely big thanks to the IRL and Knoxville raceway and World of Outlaws director for getting us together and getting us there.
THE MODERATOR: Clearly it can be done, like Steve Kinser (ph), Jay Drake (ph), Craig Dollansky, can you talk about the adjustment of going from a winged sprint car on dirt to an IndyCar on pavement with downforce and a different type of race car?
GEOFF DODGE: Yeah, it is a different type of race car. But I guess I'm of the mentality that if you're a good race car driver, given some time to adjust and learn a different form of racing you're going to be pretty good at whatever you do.
I guess the biggest difference between the sprint car and the Indy Pro Series cars is obviously like you said is that your transition is from dirt to pavement. In sprint car, you're always freed up and loose, and in an IndyCar that's not a really good way to run the thing. You've got to get used to driving with the car planted underneath you. The IndyCar is a lot smoother and a lot more precise than a sprint car.
Road racing is a whole other deal. But, you know, in the ovals there are some things that are similar because in a winged front car at a big racetrack like Knoxville, you do have to deal with turbulent air and the car handles behind people differently than it does on its own.
I think the biggest thing a sprint car racer brings to the table is just the ability to race. In a sprint car race, you've got 30 laps, 25 or 30 laps to do whatever you're going to do. And you know, if you're starting 10th, that means you're on the move right away if you're going to end up near the front. So you get in that kill mode and I think that comes over to the IndyCar side of things and you've got to learn to kind of roll that back a little bit so you're still around at the end of the race. But sprint car drivers are comfortable working traffic and comfortable racing with other people.
THE MODERATOR: A year ago right now, you're our sprint car guy in Colorado Springs and getting ready for Knoxville. A year later, did you ever expect to be where you're at? Is this a dream come true?
GEOFF DODGE: No, I had no idea where we were going to be. A year ago this time I wasn't even sure we were going to run the Knoxville nationals. Matter of fact, 4th of July is the first time I've ever run a four sprint car because we've been running three. Less an than a year after this time last year, to think we would be racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that was unfathomable for me. Thanks to Knoxville and IRL for putting it together and our sponsors, World of Outlaws, we were able to get there this year and we showed we can get the job done.
Q. With the state of open-wheel racing today and all that's gone on as far as guys moving teams, teams changing series and everything else, how beneficial do you think in your position, not only for you, but for the series itself, it is to have grass roots guys given an opportunity to kind of come up and go from a Knoxville and all of a sudden be racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? You touched on that it was kind of unfathomable for you, but do you think it benefitted the series as well to kind of have the Cinderella stories and give guys a shot that are certainly worthy, but maybe otherwise would not have had an opportunity to run at that level?
GEOFF DODGE: I think it's crucial to the survival of IndyCar racing and open-wheel racing in general. Grass roots racers bring a lot to the table as far as people who follow their careers and race fans. Look at the guys who have gone south in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley, all of these guys brought a in lot of people who maybe weren't interested in paying attention to Indy Car racing before, and they follow stock car racing a lot more closely because they felt personally connected with those guys when they were at the short track. I think it's crucial that short track open-wheel guys keep coming to Indy.
The door seems like it's pretty tightly closed sometimes but I think the IRL has got some really good base steps to try and open the door for track guys like myself to try to come back. I think the average American race fans really can associate with a sprint car racer maybe a little better than somebody that came from formula cars.
Q. What has been for you the biggest adjustment in this style of racing?
GEOFF DODGE: There's been a few. One big adjustment you is don't really race all that frequently. In sprint car racing, you run three nights a week so you have to get used to that. We run longer races and you have to get used to that.
Probably the single biggest adjustment is going from dirt to pavement and quarter to a half mile, and coming to unbelievable facilities like Indianapolis Motor Speedway and learning to race a completely different style.
Q. Do you have a WAY of giving some perspective to how the -- I see how you being on this end is helpful to you and it's brought some attention to you in this series. I wonder if what attention this program has brought to Knoxville guys running sprint cars, do you think people are really watching what's happening and the flow is going backwards, people are paying more attention to the IRL because of this?
GEOFF DODGE: There's no question about it. We're doing appearances at short tracks around the area, places like Eldora Speedway, Bloomington Speedway, Kokomo, been back to Knoxville this year; and everywhere we go, people welcome you back with open arms, and I hear what's going on. I've heard a lot of people say that they are paying attention to the Indy Pro Series right now because of my involvement there and paying attention to the IndyCar Series because somebody like JJ Chessom involved there for the first time in a long time. These people are also grass roots people. They are not your corporate CEO types, even the ones that have blue-collar type jobs that might be machinists or welders or whatever and go to the races on the weekends.
It's about the racing but it's also about the people. You can walk up and shake somebody's hand after a race, a lot of the fans will really be closely connected -- look when Jack Hewitt came to Indy. A number of people that came to watch him, you had tough biker guys crying when Jack Hewitt was starting the Indy 500 but when Jack Hewitt left, a lot of those people haven't been back. I think the sprint car connection is there and people are paying attention. I think as far as the drivers are racing are concerned, you know, gives a ray of hope that they, too, might have an opportunity to fulfill a dream and go to Indy.
Q. Jack was a good example, he was kind of a big enough star out of that formula and get people to watch, but you don't have that kind of following. Do you think you've built a much greater fan base or people paying attention because of this?
GEOFF DODGE: I think certainly people are paying attention to what I'm doing because of this. Maybe there are sprint car people from California that I've never raced in front of, never spoken with before, but they see me and know that I'm part of the Knoxville nationals program. I'm going and running the IPF series. I went to Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago because I went to drive for a sprint car guy out there and sit down and meet him face-to-face. There were people that came up to me and said hello and congratulated me on what we had done at Homestead and wished me luck at Indy I didn't know. So I think that, yeah, there are people that maybe weren't fans of mine before that are following my career now.
But by the same token, because the IRL really can't take a Steve Kinser away from what he's doing, he's making a good living doing what he's doing. He's 50-something years old and he's not going to have a future in IndyCar racing long term whereas a young guy like myself can.
Q. Thanks for asking even though it was a discombobulated question.
GEOFF DODGE: Oh, it's no problem.
Q. There's been so much made of NASCAR being the big fish out there and everybody's gravitating towards it, like you mentioned, with Kasey Kahne and J.J. Yeley and all of these sprint and open-wheel guys who got their start there and switch over to NASCAR, do you think sprint car drivers still gravitate towards open-wheel racing and the Indy 500 being the ultimate goal?
GEOFF DODGE: Well, I think there are a whole lot of them but at the same time it's hard to argue, look at Brian Folsom (ph), 16 years old, signed by Chip Ganassi to drive stock cars down south, getting paid in a stock car and midget. Stock car racers are usually the people that have to take opportunities where they are. We are not the type that bring corporate sponsorship. We're the type that show up at a racetrack with talent and desire more than we show up with dollars.
So, yeah, right now I would say that NASCAR probably is the goal of more sprint car and midget guys. But if there's a young open-wheel kid out there that tells you they don't want to go to Indy, they would be lying through their teeth, because the Indy 500 is the crown jewel of modern motorsports, I don't care what anybody says. There's a huge desire to be here if there's a way to do it.
Q. Is it your ultimate goal?
GEOFF DODGE: Of course it's my ultimate goal. I was given an opportunity to come here and I've gotten my foot in the door now and hopefully we can parlay that into running Indy some day. It was my goal from the time I was a little kid.
But I'll be honest with you, before this program came around, I really had kind of given up on the idea going to Indy, because for me, making it to the next sprint car race was pretty challenging itself.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today and we'll see you this weekend at Nashville. Thanks again for joining us.
GEOFF DODGE: Thanks, Tom and we'll go to Nashville this weekend and give her our all and take her one race at a time and race her like it's the last time we get to race.
THE MODERATOR: See you in victory lane.
GEOFF DODGE: Hopefully.
THE MODERATOR: We welcome president of Penske Performance, Tim Cendric. So far this season, he has engineered Marlboro Team Penske to the top of the points championship and Sam Hornish is on top, and teammate Helio Castroneves is 20 points back in second place. However, Cendric will have to adjust to mother nature's adversity after their entire Pennsylvania flood shop was lost to flood waters earlier this month.
Thank you for joining us on today's call.
TIM CENDRIC: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Take us through exactly what happened and what was the loss at the shop.
TIM CENDRIC: Basically for those that have been there, there's a river across the way. In fact, I think it was 1972, there was a hurricane, I think Agnes was the name that hit that area, and actually flooded that whole area. It's essentially why Roger got the land so cheap. And at that point there were a lot of tax incentives and the team moved in there, 1973, and really has not had anything like it since.
There was about a year ago, year and a half, one of the guys on the crew, Pat Hosla (ph) was having his wedding in Redding and the flood point actually got to the point where it was actually in the street but didn't get to the shop. Although we evacuated the race stuff at that point in time.
But anyway, just prior to the last race, we had a flood I think it was on Tuesday and went about five feet through the race shop, and about an inch of silt and mud. So we have evacuated the race equipment at that point in time, and obviously there's a lot more left behind and relocated 15, 20 minutes away.
THE MODERATOR: Was it equipment or historical stuff that was lost or equipment that you used was lost?
TIM CENDRIC: Fortunately from the historic perspective, everybody has their own pieces, and mechanics and so forth had tool boxes and things they cherish, as the office staff. In terms of overall Penske, we're lucky enough to have both our restoration facility in Pontiac, Michigan, as well as our museum in Scottsdale. So from an historic perspective we're still in good shape.
THE MODERATOR: Clearly this has to affect in you in the moving forward in the points championship this season. Does it, or how do you move forward?
TIM CENDRIC: Well, we've got a resilient group. One thing it really showed me was how much the people we have care about the facility. If you've ever been there, it's nothing flashy, nothing fancy. We take our show on the road. But some people have been there 25, 30 years, and had a lot of pride in the place. And you know, to see it in that kind of condition, it was a bit overwhelming to most.
In terms of the championship, we definitely have a very resilient group and hopefully see that on the racetrack. You know, you saw that at Indy and again there at Kansas. The group we have, you couldn't ask enough about picking up the pieces and moving on.
Q. Can you give me some figures about how much you guys lost in the flood, and how much of the stuff were you actually able to get out of there before the waters came up?
TIM CENDRIC: The figures, I can't give you anything there because we're still evaluating the losses. So that's probably going to be a little while before we have a good estimate there.
But in terms of, you know what equipment we lost, basically any -- we moved everything to bench height or desk height throughout the facility. But obviously big machines, whether it's millions, lay, welding equipment, tool boxes, dynamometers, pieces and parts; you can go on and on in terms of the equipment that was still left behind. You know, we were fortunate like I said to move all of our traveling equipment across town. But most of the stationary equipment was lost.
Q. Is your company was moving its facilities up to North Carolina?
TIM CENDRIC: Yeah, actually down to North Carolina at the end of the race season, we were going to consolidate the IndyCar season with our IndyCar program with that of our sports car program and our NASCAR program.
Q. So had you moved any equipment yet before this flood happened or were you just getting ready to move?
TIM CENDRIC: Getting ready to move. I've been located there since November, but the majority of our equipment was basically still in the race shop.
Q. My sympathy on that, I've been in a building that was flooded throughout and it was absolutely no fun. On a totally different subject, your company has both sides of NASCAR and Indy racing, and there's been a lot made about how so many racers are gravitating towards NASCAR. How do you keep people in open-wheel racing? How do you make that enticing for drivers?
TIM CENDRIC: Well, some people, I guess it's really what they desire to do. You look at a guy like Sam Hornish where before we hired him there was a lot of talk about him going to DEI or Hendricks or whatever in terms of the NASCAR world because we had won two championships. But there's the great case of a guy that, you know, really had a passion to win Indianapolis and that passion was beyond wanting to be more famous or Mike more money or what have you.
It's guys like him that are going to help the series continue to grow with decisions like that. But obviously the series needs to continue to attract young stars, and you know, how you do that, some of it is through passion, but some of it is through the different avenues that they have to get there.
You know, I think it's well-documented that I guess the ways in which things have gone as far as the open-wheel guys, looking at the Jeff Gordons and the Kasey Kahnes and the Ryan Newmans, where they are going right now. From an open-wheel perspective, we've got to continue to get guys like that into the series. But at the same time, they have to earn their way in rather than just because they were in one of those series.
Q. And what do you think of Montoya coming over? Do you think he'll do well in NASCAR?
TIM CENDRIC: He'll be fun to watch. He's definitely proven what he can do behind the wheel of a race car and he's been successful in everything he's done. It will be a little about the of a culture shock but I think he will be -- he's in good company for sure.
Q. You've been in North Carolina pretty much since November now. Can you talk a little about the efficiencies and the effectiveness, I assume you think both of those parts are going to really improve for the IndyCar side and perhaps even for the stock car and sports car side when you're all three in the same -- in the same quarters?
TIM CENDRIC: I don't think it's going to be an overnight change. Everybody is going to have to adjust to their surroundings a little bit. It's a big facility, 400,000-some square feet. We start with the same people and same locations to a certain degree. Obviously there's some crossover in the management side and some other areas.
I think we have to take it a step at a time, and if you try and throw everybody in a big building and give them all responsibilities that cross over, sometimes they don't really understand what those are.
So I think, you know, we're trying to be very deliberate in terms of making sure that we keep the continuity that we have to a certain degree. The IndyCar team is obviously continued to have success in recent years and we want to keep that going, but we're also looking longer term. And longer term, you see a lot of sponsors that crossover between our various programs. Mobile One is a great example. Hugo Boss is in a couple of our programs and so forth. And to be able to give them all that under one roof is pretty unique.
Q. So maybe the benefits have more to do with outside the car than actually putting the thing together and making that car faster?
TIM CENDRIC: Yeah, I think that, you know, from a faster perspective, we can more efficiently utilize our lot more and seven-post rig. Now we have travel back from Redding whether it's every other week, over other month, once a month, whatever it may be. There's definitely some an on that front. There can be some cross over on the engineering from the technical perspective. It becomes easier to compare notes in terms of the vehicle dynamics and that type of thing. But you know, I think that as far as putting cars together, we've proved that we can do that through really any facility.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us today. I know you have lot going on and we'll see you this weekend in Nashville.
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