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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Mike Potekhen
Rusty Wallace
June 13, 2007

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Appreciate you joining us today for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us.
In a few minutes we'll hear from the designer of the Iowa Speedway, Rusty Wallace. And joining us now to start the call is Indy Pro Series Driver, Mike Potekhen. Good afternoon, Mike.
MIKE POTEKHEN: How you doing?
THE MODERATOR: Good, thanks. After making five starts in the Indy Pro Series, at the end of last season where he recorded four top 10 finishes, Mike is back for his first full season in the Indy Pro Series, driving for Apex Racing. He's qualified in the Top 10 in all four attempts this season, including third at Indy, and fourth at Milwaukee. And he finished in the Top 10 three times, including a sixth on the oval at Indianapolis, and a career-best second place finish at Milwaukee two weekends ago.
Mike, let's talk a little bit first about the Apex Racing Team. You guys are one of a handful of new teams in the Indy Pro Series this year. And even though you had some strong showings in the first couple of races, you really put yourselves on the radar screen at Indy when Ken grabbed the poll. You qualified third, and then the results were there in the last couple of races. Just talk about the development of the team?
MIKE POTEKHEN: Yeah, you know, I think it would have been nice at Homestead to be at the point we're at now. But we got a little bit of a late start getting our cars, and just getting the team built up for the start of the season. And I think that's why we showed so much better at Indy and then most recently at Milwaukee.
But it's been a†-- it's been a bit of a struggle just getting everything together. Logistically, it's been a huge undertaking, and maybe a little bit more than we expected going into it. So, you know, at this point, I'm really proud of all of the guys that are working on our team, and they're doing a great job. And, you know, things are starting to come together here for us.
THE MODERATOR: Now you've not only made ten starts in the series, but essentially you're coming full circle. Your debut came at the Liberty Challenge in Indianapolis. Tell us about coming back to Indy, especially, since it's a place that you've raced on before in this car, and this time for two races on the road course.
MIKE POTEKHEN: I'm definitely excited about the weekend. We had -- last year, I actually ran really well. We were running in the top†-- in the Top 5 when I ended up getting into it with a back marker on that final restart. So the result didn't show the performance that we had that day, unfortunately.
But, you know, we had a really good car last year, and I'm looking forward to actually coming back to a track that I have been on. Up until this point, every race that we've done has been a new track in this car. So, definitely looking forward to getting back on the road course here and see if we can't come away with another podium finish this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Yeah, and following the Liberty Challenge at Indianapolis, we head to Iowa Speedway, brand-new place. I know you were one of probably anywhere from 10 to 12 cars about a week and a half ago that tested there. From what I heard, guys were running two-wide nose to tail. Sounds like that could be really a spectacular race. Give us your perspective on the upcoming race at Iowa.
MIKE POTEKHEN: Yeah, I think it should make for really good racing. It's a really neat track. They did a great job with it. The facility itself is topnotch. We ran, I think, ten cars that tested there. And just like most of the races we go to, all of us were within about a half a second of each other.
And, yeah, we were able to run two-wide, no problem. Plenty of banking there for our cars. And it should make for a really great show. I'm looking forward to that race as well.
THE MODERATOR: And as we go through the season, and you talked about the development of the team, I mean, obviously, there's a goal to go out and win every race. But as you look at the schedule coming up, are there certain tracks that stick out to you, and you kind of are eyeing and saying, You know what, we should really be able to win there or do really well there? Are there tracks like that on the rest of the schedule?
MIKE POTEKHEN: I think we felt that way going into Milwaukee, and we showed well there. Personally, I really like the shorter ovals. I like the tracks like Milwaukee and this car, especially where you have to lift a little bit and sometimes use the brakes. It's a little bit more of an oval driver's track, if you will.
With that being said, I'm really looking forward to going back to Watkins Glen. I haven't raced there in a number of years. I'm definitely looking forward to this weekend. But as far as any one track sticking out, it's, you know, it's a long season ahead of us, and we're just trying to take it a weekend at a time at this point.
THE MODERATOR: And finally, let's just talk a little bit about the charity that Apex Racing is involved with, TRACares. Give us a little background about the charity and the opportunity that you had to go to Africa earlier this year?
MIKE POTEKHEN: Yeah, absolutely. It's a neat opportunity for me. It adds so much more to my racing. It just gives it more of a cause. Track cares was developed or was put together by Ken Losch, my teammate and team owner and his two business partners, David Dewar and Jamie Dawson.
And basically, you know, their goal is to give back to the communities that help them so much in their success. So they've actually partnered with a gentleman over in Africa, his name's John Enright, and he's got a training center that he's developed in Kafakumba area and Zambia, Ndola, which is just on the northern coast there, the†northern border of Zambia.
So I got a chance to go over there and see everything that they're doing over there. It's a really neat, really neat deal.
They've got†-- they grow organic bananas, they have a fish hatchery. They have a sawmill where they make doors, windows, woodwork, wood floors. It's really neat.
But the thing that sets the charity apart of so many other charities is it's more†-- it's more about developing and helping build the community versus, you know, I think a lot of charities that just give food or give resources or give money to help people get by.
This actually partners with Ndola to partner with the local people, and give them work, so that ultimately, that is the†-- that is the solution to a big problem they have in Africa. So it's†-- it's a really neat, neat cause, and I'm super lucky to be involved in everything they're doing, in Africa especially.
And then they've also got -- or we do some local stuff as well around Tempe and around in the United States as well. There's a center in Phoenix, the THC. It's a center of habilitation. It basically helps find jobs for disabled people around Phoenix.
We help with the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs in Phoenix. And we're also getting involved with native Americans in South†Dakota for, basically, a very similar project here in the states like what we have going in Africa, basically, giving them jobs and ways to contribute. So it's a neat cause.
THE MODERATOR: Great, well, let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Mike. Mike, looks like we did a good job of covering all our bases over there. So appreciate you taking the time to join us this afternoon. And we'll look forward to seeing you this weekend at the Liberty Challenge and then next weekend in Iowa.
MIKE POTEKHEN: My pleasure, thanks for having me. And again, I'll be around all weekend if anybody does have any questions. Feel free to track me down.
THE MODERATOR: We know Rusty is a well-known retired NASCAR Nextel Cup Driver. He spent last season in the broadcast booth for the IndyCar Series, returned for the Indianapolis 500 this season. And he's also played an integral role in designing the Iowa Speedway which will play host to the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series next weekend.
Rusty, I know the track has hosted a couple of events already. Tell us about the success of those events and the types of reviews that the track has been getting?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, so far, the track has been getting rave reviews. It's like a dream come true for me as a designer. This is the first track I've ever designed. And we put a lot of time in it with Paxton Waters and with Andy Vertrees from Indianapolis, Indiana.
And what we've done, we decided to build a racetrack that had compound banking. I always believed that in order to have side-by-side racing, you had to just bank-up the second lane, and bank-up the third lane. So this racetrack is the first ever track in the United States that is 7/8 mile in length, and has a 12-, 13-, and 14-degree bank angle. So it's been really successful.
About a month ago, we had the Busch East Series Race there, and they both sold out. It turned out fantastic. Every single race we've had there has been side-by-side racing. And it just all my peers, and everybody that's test there had just really love the racetrack. So some things, some highlights about the track. In IndyCar Racing, we sold everything after the IndyCar race, and now we have add-ons and temporary seats. Another 5,000. So I believe we'll have those sold very shortly.
THE MODERATOR: That's great. Obviously, the IndyCar Series though, there's been a handful of cars that have tested there in the past. Do you think with that compound banking, that the IndyCars will be able to run side by side consistently through there?
RUSTY WALLACE: Oh, absolutely. I've talked to Tony Kanaan, and Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon, and all three of them said, "My gosh. I never drove on a track that had this much grip."
You can run all over the racetrack. From the bottom, the middle, the top of the track. In fact, when I was talking to Tony Kanaan, Tony told me that, you know, "I know I'm running close to 230 miles an hour at Indianapolis, but I feel like I'm running faster here at Iowa because the G-forces are so high."
THE MODERATOR: Well, it should be entertaining. Also entertaining, of course, was this year's Indianapolis 500. A lot of passing upfront for the lead. How much have you been able to follow the IndyCar Series this year with your schedule?
RUSTY WALLACE: I follow the IndyCar Series a lot. I really paid attention to a lot of the races going on. I'm also talking to my partners in the booth, Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear, to try to stay up to speed a little bit about some of the things going on.
You know, I watched this Texas race, I watched the Kansas City race, I watched the race in Homestead, Florida, the opening race, just to really get myself prepared for what's going on.
THE MODERATOR: Great. Well, let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Rusty.

Q. Hi, Rusty. I was just curious on your thoughts. I imagine you're going to be in Newton on that Sunday. I know you won't be in the television booth, but just what are your thoughts on coming back to Newton, and watching the IndyCars run there?
RUSTY WALLACE: I've been waiting for this event for a long time to happen. I watched the testing. I watched Scott Dixon do the test last year for IRL, and watch his smile that he has. He was just beaming when he jumped out of the car.
But I will be there on Saturday. I'm calling the Busch Race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ESPN. And as soon as the race is over, I'm getting in my plane and flying straight to Iowa. So I'll be getting in late Saturday night after the race. And I'll be there that night to watch the inaugural IRL Race.
So, yeah, I'll have my racetrack owner hat on. I own 10% of Iowa Speedway and the designer of it, along with some other folks. But, it's like a child to me, it really is. I watched it be built since birth, you know, and it was just an amazing track.
And all the partners up there and Stan Clement, and all the wonderful people that put their heart and soul in that thing, it's paid off, man. Because a lot of tracks you go to, people have a lot of negative comments. And we haven't had any negative comments about our track and Iowa.
We hope we have a good safe race. We feel that it's one of the safest racetracks in the country because of the soft-wall technology and one of the most exciting because of the multi-groove banking. And it's got some unique things also. It's got the TV cameras in the racetrack that show off the race in a different way.

Q. Yeah, I talked with Stan Clement, and he told me about how you helped him build the track. And you took him around for a ride around the track before the walls were up at 160 miles per hour. Can you tell me about that?
RUSTY WALLACE: I can tell you it wasn't 160. It was more like 140. But still it was going pretty doggone quick. We were driving a Dodge Charger around there, and sometimes we'd drive an SS Monte Carlo. We'd take different types of cars. And I would run the dirt surface as fast as I possibly could to feel the transition, and feel what the track felt like.
After we put the track in its first carving of dirt, so to speak, we kept carving on it more and more to make it. We decided on the Cad/Cam Computer by what we thought we were going to want. And after we actually cut it, the greater with those coordinates that we made on the Cad/Cam, we still had to do some tuning on it to make it real raceable, you know.
So we've made some changes on the entry of turn three. We made changes, a lot of changes on the exit of turn two. And the result was a really good racetrack. And I learned when I do more of these in the future, that that's the proper way to do it. You've got to drive every single layer, and every layer of asphalt goes down. You've got to get the car out there, and run it fast and feel it, because the transitions are what it's all about so you can pass cars.

Q. You know, a lot of drivers have been saying that have tested there, like Tony Kanaan, have been saying it's going to be a very physical race. Very physical racetrack, and he said, I believe you're going to find out who has been stepping up or keeping up with their workout routine. To a layperson, they kind of wonder maybe what, what makes a track physical? And as a former driver, maybe you can help explain what he means to people who maybe are just used to hopping in their cars to commute to work or something?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yeah, the best way I can explain that is the racetrack is so fast, because it's new. The way the track is designed, the asphalt has a lot of grip, because it's brand-new. When you drive down the corner, the tires just really stick good to the asphalt. It has a lot of grip, and because of the grip, you get a lot of speed.
But, when you drive down the corner that fast and you turn the wheel, the IndyCars do not have power steering like your street car might have, or even like the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Grand National cars have got. They've got power steering. But IndyCars don't. Why don't they? It's just they just designed them that way, and I think in the future they might start doing it.
But, I tell you what, imagine yourself driving to work, and all of a sudden, your power steering goes out, and you have no assistance whatsoever turning your steering wheel. It's really hard to turn. So that's what these IndyCar drivers feel on this racetrack, and the faster they go, the harder it is to turn. So Tony told me, so look, we had to change the front-end settings on the car to make it steer easier. And not necessarily makes the car run faster, but it makes it steer easier so you can control the car more. So some of the smaller drivers might have a tough time, just physically wearing out in the seat.

Q. One more quick question to look beyond a little bit. But what does a successful event like this that comes off successfully as it is hoped to be? Certainly, about things down the road, like a possible truck race, Busch race, things like that?
RUSTY WALLACE: I think those are definitely a possibility. We're talking to NASCAR as we speak about adding a couple of events next year. And we hope that that will happen. We don't have any answer from them yet. But they hear us loud and clear. They know what we want, and that's the case.
You know, we can't, it's too much for us to hope to ever get a NASCAR Nextel Cup event there. And a NASCAR Truck Series race or NASCAR Busch Series race, that is something that could happen. So we've talked to them. It's in their hands right now.
But they do love everything they see about Iowa. All of the drivers. In fact, I was listening to an interview this morning from Kevin Harvick, and Kevin Harvick†said that is one of the nicest tracks I've ever drove on in my entire life. He highly recommends that NASCAR gives us a Busch or truck race. We'll see what happens. We've got our fingers crossed, but I think it could be a possibility.

Q. With the passing of Bill France, Jr., a lot of people in the NASCAR world are reflecting on the impact he made on that sport, bringing it to a larger audience. What do you think that the Indy Series could do now to gain in mainstream popularity?
RUSTY WALLACE: The Indy Series, right now, somehow has to squelch the perception that there are two open wheel series out there. That the Champ Car Series and, the IRL Series. I mean, once we get this thing back to one big open-wheel series, it's going to be more popular.
We all know that the cars are fantastic the way they are. We know they put on side-by-side racing. And we know that IRL's got most of the greatest drivers in the world behind the wheels. And you saw one of the most exciting Indianapolis 500's ever this year and in the previous years.
So as you can tell, I'm a big IRL fan, but I wish they could finally get together and work out something. Not because Tony George is not trying, I can tell you that. I've been to a lot of those meetings, talking to Brian Barnhart and him giving his opinion. That's what needs to happen. They need to get to one open-wheel series to get it all back together and get the popularity back up where it was.
But I think tracks like Iowa, and some of the great races they've been putting on are really going to send worldwide, you know, popularity for IRL around the country. When they hear the races they're putting on, it's just going to be something.
Getting back to Iowa a little bit, we hope to gosh we can put on a race that has no rain. We hope we can put on a safe race, because they're going to be flat flying around this place.

Q. Jack Nicklaus and some other golfers who have designed hundreds of courses, this the first of many racetracks for you to design?
RUSTY WALLACE: I hope it is. Everybody knows we made an announcement two months ago that I'm going to be working on the new racetrack out in California, just south of Sacramento, north of Fresno. And right now they're trying to put the moneys together and all that. I've been signed up on board to come on with other people. The guys that helped design, Iowa, as a matter of fact, Paxton Waters and his group, to start working on that track.
Right now, it is several months away. This is something I really enjoy doing. I will tell you though, my baby is Iowa Speedway. Every time I get to come out there, it's so enjoyable, and to watch, you know, all of the landscaping coming up and how everybody says all positive things. You just couldn't hope for anything more as a designer.
I really think the partners with the whole thing, having Andy there, he put together the Kentucky Speedway and watched that thing happen. He was just very integral. And the determination, the determination of Stan Clement just every single day, trying to make things happen. And Brad Manatt, without him, the track wouldn't be there.
Brad is really big into construction in the state of Iowa. Building roads and stuff. And they were really knowledgeable. So I hope it's something I can continue on doing. But this project here was one where a whole team of people come together and made it look pretty easy.

Q. We've seen with other tracks in recent years where they build the track, and other growth comes with that. Do you expect that kind of thing to happen here in Newton?
RUSTY WALLACE: Absolutely. I think with the track being built, there's going to be a lot of different things that can happen. You can see more hotels. I think you're going to see more restaurants. I think you're going to see a lot of things really come to Newton. I think it's just a fantastic thing for the community. And I've been watching some of the ideas coming across our table there at the speedway about companies wanting to come in.
The racetracks really bring a lot of people around. Take a look at what happened in Kansas City, there was nothing there, And now that whole entire intersection is packed full of people. It is definitely going to be the anchor for a lot of new things to come.

Q. Follow up to that, you mentioned the support around Newton, and when you go around town in Newton, you see all kinds of race banners and Welcome Race Fan signs and all of that. You talk about how good it feels when you go through Newton to see all of the support for the track.
RUSTY WALLACE: I'm sorry, say that one more time.

Q. You talk about the support you see when you go around Newton. You see the race banners, the Welcome Race Fan signs everywhere. Can you talk about how good that feels to see that around town?
RUSTY WALLACE: Oh, it feels fantastic. When you go through Newton, and you see the Iowa Speedway, welcome to Iowa Speedway signs and all of the things they're building. You walk in all the retail places and you see Iowa everywhere. And the only thing that makes me feel good when I come to town or go to my breakfast places around town and people notice me, and they are always talking about the speedway.
So it's definitely given Newton a good shot in the arm. And it needed it after Whirlpool pulled out. And now I think you're going to see more industry coming into Newton. And I believe the racetrack is going to be an anchor for all of that. It is a fantastic facility, with fantastic people running it.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Rusty, thank you for taking the time to join us. We appreciate that, and lot of luck and best wishes for the opening of the track with the IndyCar Series next weekend.
RUSTY WALLACE: Good deal. We'll see you guys there, we should have a great race, and I look forward to getting out there.

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