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Indy Car Racing Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Car Racing Media Conference

Robby Gordon
June 20, 1995

JOHN PROCIDA: Thank you all for joining us today. We're very fortunate to have Robby Gordon with us. Robby of course is the winner of our last race in Detroit where he became the first driver this year to win from the pole and back-swept every possible point after also leading the most laps. Robby has also won this year at Phoenix and that was his first career victory and he's also won the pole at Nazareth and enters this weekend's race at Portland currently second in the points. One thing I want to remind everybody out there is that we do have some radio people with us and to make sure that they have a clean bite, we want to ask you to try to keep all of the noise down in the background, any typing noise is a big difficulty for our radio people. So if we could possibly hit a mute button if you have it, that would be great. The way that we're going to make sure that everybody gets a question today, I'd like everyone to keep that in mind that we want everyone to have the opportunity to ask one question before we start to have people asking a second question. And with that we'll open up with Robby.

Q. I just wanted to know from you what separates Derrick Walker from other people that you've worked for and I'd like you to name names and be as specific as possible?

ROBBY GORDON: I think the biggest thing driving for Derrick is that he's very good under pressure. You know, I think last week at Detroit he put me in a position where I was able to win the race by calling a pit stop at the right time. You know, and that's very important at a street circuit race. If you can get in the pits and back out before somebody else gets in and out it makes a big difference because track position plays a big role. And Derrick is very, very good at that. Plus one of the major things that separates Derrick from some of the other teams that I've driven for in the past, which I have driven for a lot of teams that have been run like this, racing is his business. You know, he's not an oil well guy that goes racing or telephone guy or something like that, racing his is his everyday business and that's how he makes his living just like I do. So he's behind it 110 percent.

Q. Robby, what's going to be the different -- what are you going to do differently at Portland rather than Detroit to win that race?

ROBBY GORDON: We're going to go in there with the same attitude. I mean, when I left Milwaukee, you know, we gained a couple points on Jacques and, you know, our big goal this year is try to win the championship just like everybody else is. And we're in a position right now that I don't think I've ever been in before -- I have led the points before but now being consistent. The car has been a top five contender every weekend. We went into Detroit saying we weren't going to make any mistakes in the race. We had a rough weekend up to the race, but it happens. You know, there's a lot of circumstances that happened and, you know, we went into the race with our race mode helmet on that we're going to go for championship points and we still won the race even racing like that. So we're going to continue with the same thing. We're after a championship for 1995 and that's our goal. So we won't take any unnecessary chances in the race.

Q. Robby, you've got to question after Detroit about the fact that maybe you're first win wasn't all that deserving, and did you feel like Detroit was more deserving? Does it kind of rankle you a bit that people are still sort of not quite believing that the Walker team is for real, that you guys are contenders.

ROBBY GORDON: They can believe whatever they want to believe because it really doesn't matter to us what they believe. Our main objective is to win the championship. And when we win the championship, hopefully we'll catch them by surprise. They don't we're championship contenders, I think they're 100 percent wrong and we'll see at the end of the year.

Q. Robby, how has Derrick changed your demeanor? You talk about going in with the goal to win, to get points, et cetera whereas you were always known as a charger and a guy who would jump up as quickly as possible and maybe take some unnecessary chances. How has he changed you're thinking in that regard.

ROBBY GORDON: I think he's changed it a little bit but you've got to look back at last year. You know, last year we were ready to be consistent. You know, think I think our only major incident was Australia last year was the only race that I crashed out of the race. The rest of them we were pretty consistent all year long. And we finished fifth in the points last year, so I think it shows we are capable of being strong weekend after weekend.

Q. Robby, just to me maybe go on with that a little farther. You think you've changed in any particular ways over the last couple of years that really got you ready to win this year?

ROBBY GORDON: No -- well, the biggest thing is I understand the game a little better. You know, by understanding the game on the track, what happens -- what you can do to make things up, you know, as far as pit stops, you know, where the pace car is at. Maybe I'm a little more alert. That would be the most thing. And now I've got better equipment under me, that's probably the two major things.

Q. Could you just talk about what that would mean to your career say if you would go ahead and win the championship or maybe even come close to it, the attention you might be getting maybe from other race teams, you know, what it looks to the future; just what that would mean to your career?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, I think right now we're definitely getting plenty of attention. But everybody sets goals at the beginning of the year and our first goal was to try to win the Indianapolis which, you know, we had a very rough start and we still almost won. Now we need to put that behind us and concentrate on championship and try to be fast every weekend. You know, we've really struggled all year long before we got to Detroit on the street circuits. We didn't get a point all year. Now we come to Detroit and we're competitive. You know, we qualified in the pole, lead the most laps and win the race. So I think we've got a bit of a handle on the street circuits now. Portland is going to be our first road course, true road course. I think the Reynard will be real good at Portland. And like I said, our main goal is to walk out of every weekend with a ten point average. At the end of the year if we say every weekend we got a minimum of ten points, that means top five every weekend, that we'd be real happy.

Q. I don't mean so much the team, I'm talking about you, yourself. You're still in your 20s and that's relatively young in this sport. As far as being in your 20s, you're not that far out of IMSA, to go ahead winning IndyCar career, you know, what I'm getting at? What that would mean as far is your reputation goes?

ROBBY GORDON: I think that I'd be very happy and I think it would prove a lot of people wrong for a couple of years there. Everybody said he won't be able to figure out IndyCars. You know, looking at it right now, I would have to say I have it figured out a little bit. You know, also I've put myself in the position to be with good teams or a good team and great sponsors. That is the most important thing in IndyCar Racing is to have good guys behind you and surround yourself with good guys, and I think that's something that I've done over the last couple of years.

JOHN PROCIDA: Let me add one note before we move on. Right now Robby as well as Jacques Villeneuve, who are one and two in the points right now, both would be on pace to become the youngest champion in Indy Car history. And that was Rick Mears did that when he was only 27.

Q. Robby, can you talk about how much confidence you gained from your first victory at Phoenix and if it served as a kind of a momentum builder for the rest of the season to kind of ride off.

ROBBY GORDON: Well, at Phoenix we got a little bit behind in the beginning of the race, the car wasn't handling properly and I think that was the first race that showed that I'm learning what to do to the car during the race to make it better. And that's exactly what we did. You know, we came from a lap and something behind to win the race. And at the end of the race it wasn't like we weren't the quickest car either. You know, even when Emerson was running, we were catching him a half a second to a second a lap. You know, I don't think we would have caught him if he would have pitted, but he pitted under a caution and got a break and that's how he got in front of Michael and me and by a pretty large margin. You know, he was at the front of the pace car and we were some 12 cars back and then when it restarted he put 15, 20 seconds on us real quick because he had clean traffic -- clean air. But we fought back the whole race and then won. And everybody said oh, you know, Michael was sleeping and this and that, but I think we came back in Detroit and showed that we were for real and we came back at Nazareth and showed we were for real by getting the pole. You know, the team's been strong weekend after weekend, doesn't matter if it's a street circuit or super speedway or a one mile oval, I think that all my guys are just doing a great job over there at Derrick Walker Racing and it makes my job a lot easier.

JOHN PROCIDA: Okay. Just a reminder, if you have mute buttons out there, we are getting some background noise, to please use your mute buttons.

Q. I'm just going through a bio of you and one of the things that you said that you wanted to do was race in Formula I. Given all the success that you've been having with Walker Racing this year and second in the points, is this still something you want to do?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think it's definitely something I want to do, but, you know, I want to get to the position where it's -- where the ball's in my court and I go over there on my rules instead of going over there on somebody else's rules.

Q. Have you had any offers?

ROBBY GORDON: There's been some talk. The right deal has not come up.

Q. Okay.

ROBBY GORDON: That's the easiest way to say it, you know. Like I was saying a little while ago, I've surrounded myself with the right people and it definitely plays a role in FI too that if you're not with the right team, don't even go. And that's where I'm at. If the right deal doesn't come available, I wouldn't even think of doing it.

Q. Drawing a couple of analogies one to Paul Tracy and one to Damon Hill, both of them went through some of the most excruciating near wins before they finally got their first victory. Then the victories seemed to come pretty rapidly after that. In your own situation last year you came close so many times, things like cut down tires, late in the race and those kinds of things that you went through. You finally got your first win at Phoenix. How does that change your mental approach to your racing and do you feel like now where we saw at Detroit that the wins will start coming a lot easier now that you've gotten the first one behind you?

ROBBY GORDON: I think they will come easier but I think the only reason they're going to come easier is because we've gained experience over the last two years, three years. You know, I see things from a track that Derrick doesn't see and Derrick is very good at calling when to pit and how to pit. I think that the biggest thing that I've learned is you must first finish to finish first. You've got to be in a position to take advantage of some situations late in the race because there's normally cautions in every race. But if you make a mistake early in the race and you've got an injured car, you're not going to be able to take advantage of anything. You know, I think I've got three different race speeds, and I'm learning how to use those race speeds.

Q. Let me just follow-up. Is there an element of pressure that comes with being a promising young driver who has not won, and once you finally do win is that pressure then gone?

ROBBY GORDON: I think there's pressure every weekend when you have major sponsors like Valvoline and Cummins and Craftsman and driving for a top notch IndyCar team. I mean you definitely have pressure. But I really don't worry about it. Some of it gets to drivers, some of it doesn't. I just go out every weekend and try to do my best job I can and, you know, whatever we get is what we deserve. If it wasn't our turn to win, it wasn't our turn to win and we'll come back next weekend with the same attitude. I think a lot of these guys get so emotional about this deal that they dial themselves right out of the game. And if you can go in with a ahh, whatever happens attitude, you've got great chances of winning races and championships. I think that's one of Junior's big advantages, that's how he's always gone into it is, you know, it wasn't my turn to win this weekend. And I've kind of followed that a little bit.

Q. Robby, I remember back in '92 when you took your first ride with Chip Ganassi here in Memphis at the Memphis Motorsports Park. When you look back to that day and over the last three or four years, do you -- did you feel that your career and your abilities were progressing the way that you wanted them to or did you become impatient?

ROBBY GORDON: Maybe a little impatient. Maybe a lot impatient. You know, every series before IndyCars wins came pretty easy for me. I don't know if I was with the best teams or whatever it was, but they clicked off every other weekend. Where here I went through a pretty long dry spell before I won races. But now it looks like -- nothing is coming easy, but we're in a position to win every time we go to the racetrack. Every race this year I've been running at least fifth at some point in the race; even the races that we DNF'd at that point when we DNF'd we were fifth or better. So I think by being a top five guy every weekend, the opportunities come a little easier to win. You know, guys make mistake, you take advantage of a pit stop or you just have a better car than the next guy.

Q. Admittedly at the beginning of the year you were behind the eight ball on your road course set up on the car. What have you done setupwise and maybe either the mixture of strategywise to be so much more competitive on road courses and street courses?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think the biggest thing was, you know, we switched from a Lola to a Reynard last year at the end of year and we're running a Reynard this year, and the car behaved differently. Things we did to the car just didn't work. Things that we did like to a Lola. So it took us a little while to figure out the Reynard and basically we had to get back to the basics and when you get back to the basics the car was a very good street circuit car. And we've had a handle on the oval every since we went to Phoenix in the wintertime and ran 19 second laps there. But the major thing was during the month of May we had a pretty smooth month of May and Rob Edwards, the engineer, and myself and the whole team, we pulled together and just went back to the basics for Detroit.

Q. What do you mean by going back to the basic? Back to basic settings that Reynard gave you or what do you mean by that?

ROBBY GORDON: No. Just understanding the car a little different than understanding it like a Lola. It's not a Lola and, you know, we had to not try to trick ourselves with different gadgets that they had. We went back to a pretty standard setup car. When I say pretty standard, I'm talking about -- I'm not going to say what we ran, but by role bars by anti-lift by anti-dive and all that stuff and just went to a pretty simple setting and the car was dynamite all weekend at Detroit.

JOHN PROCIDA: Let me add one note with Robby. As he stands second in the PPG Cup points right now, the real amazing thing to think is that they did not score in the season's first two races, so he's been able to notch up his 75 points in the last six races. We will now open it up for questions. Please keep in mind that there are others on the line as well, but we have an open line.

Q. Robby, let me ask you this, there's been a lot of talk in the last year or so about the whole issue regarding IRL and IndyCar and Indianapolis, and it seems to me that you are the perfect example of the young American driver who came up from the grass roots level of racing and succeeded in IndyCar. And seeing that that's a fact, I'm curious as to what your opinion is on this whole issue. I mean we look at the IndyCar schedule that was released a couple weeks ago and Indianapolis is not there and it's a little bit of a strange feeling. What's your take on this whole thing.

ROBBY GORDON: Well, there's no doubt in my mind that we will run Indianapolis. If we run it -- we'll do whatever Valvoline and Cummins wants to do. I think that's the major thing that separates Derrick Walker and me from somebody else. You know, we have to do whatever our sponsors want to do. And whatever they want to do is what we're going to do. You know, if they say we're running CART and not running IRL -- and that's not the case at all, I'm just talking the talk.

Q. Sure. I understand.

ROBBY GORDON: Or if they say we're running IRL, we're going to do whatever they say.

Q. Robby, you said earlier you have three race speeds. Could you just expand on that a little bit?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think I'm taking -- I'm racing an IndyCar like the NASCAR guys are racing their stock cars. On an oval we want to stay on the lead lap. It's all we really worry about until 50 miles to go. On some of the other tracks -- you know, I pace myself and try to save the best for last because, you know, that last ten laps are definitely the most important ten laps of the race. But you've got to be there. So if you drive 110 percent for a 70 lap race, your odds of finishing are not very good. If you drive 110 percent of ten laps, your odds are pretty good. So that's what I'm trying to say is instead of driving wide open all the time, I run it -- I try to save the car, save the tires, save everything for the last ten laps of the race.

Q. Robby, is that a trait that you have recently developed or is that something that you brought to the program?

ROBBY GORDON: I think that's something I brought to the program. I think that in the beginning with some of the first teams I've run for, maybe our cars weren't quite as good as what I'm driving now, so I had to drive a lot harder to be competitive, so I was running 110 percent all the time. But that's -- I had to run 110 percent just to stay in the game. Where now, my equipment is good enough, you know, or I've got to learn how to set up the car. Maybe the cars were good enough then and was just setting them up wrong and not working with the engineer right. But I've -- I'm taking it a different way, a different approach.

Q. Robby, could you talk about the first time you drove in Portland and could you talk about some of the things you need to do to go fast there and how important will qualifying be being up front on a road course where there's not a lot of places to pass?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, Portland is a pretty good place to pass now. It used to be very difficult, but now they put that chicane on the front straightaway, it opens quite a bit of passing opportunity. You know, Portland is a road course, but it's almost -- if you look at it, it's almost a right-hand turn oval, you know, because it has so many right-hand turns that you've got to have a car that handles at high speed and you've got to make the car change direction well for the low speeds stuff so you can pass somebody. So there's a bit of compromise there. But qualifying is pretty important and the way we look at it right now, you know, another point to point, one more would put us three points behind Villeneuve, so we're going do everything we can in qualifying and try to get the pole.

JOHN PROCIDA: Do we have anymore questions for Robby?

Q. Robby, we've all had the pleasure of I guess eaves dropping in via the television on some of your radio communications with Derrick. Can you give us a little bit of an inside, just kind of a day to day what it's like working with Derrick Walker and what your relationship with him is like?

ROBBY GORDON: Like I said, Derrick is very, very mellow. I think that we've got a great relationship. I understand what he wants and he knows exactly what he wants out of me. Our major thing is just to stay cool and not let things bother us on the day to day basis and that way when we get to the racetrack we can concentrate on racing 110 percent.

JOHN PROCIDA: Okay. Well, Derrick Walker has joined us. And if we have no more questions for Robby, we'll let him go. And I want to thank you for being with us Robby.

ROBBY GORDON: Thanks a lot. Talk you guys later.

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