Pre-Daytona test teleconference transcript (part 2)

Continued from part 1 ADAM SAAL: You talked about other drivers from other series, and the entry list is out, and some of the NEXTEL Cup drivers will be Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson. I want to stress this is for Test Days only. Tony ...

Continued from part 1

ADAM SAAL: You talked about other drivers from other series, and the entry list is out, and some of the NEXTEL Cup drivers will be Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson. I want to stress this is for Test Days only. Tony Stewart has entered but will be racing in the Chili Bowl this weekend, so he won't be able to test but he is likely to be confirmed for the Rolex 24, and Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle were previously announced. Terry and Bobby Labonte as well as Jan Magnussen and the No. 27 car will be here for test days as well.

From the open-wheel side, the entry list calls for Darren Manning and Scott Dixon, they will be joined by Casey Mears in testing in that car and then Paul Tracy was previously announced to join Terry Borcheller and Christian Fittipaldi, and they are confirmed for the 24, as well. And that's just a part of it. I encourage everyone to take a look at it.

Q: Max, now that you're going to be running in the Speed World Challenge, will we be seeing you in a Daytona Prototype outside of Daytona this year, or is this going to be just the one-off for you?

MAX PAPIS: First of all, my plan is being in as many Grand-Am races as I definitely can. You know, my heart and my passion is to try to defend my championship and win as many races as I can. That's definitely what you're going to see me do. You know, if you're worried about me disappearing from Grand-Am, I can assure you I'm not.

Q: Scott, the list of drivers that was run off there just a minute ago, the list of drivers indicates a number of guys that have been, I don't want so say they are old or over the hill, but some drivers that have been very experienced, shall we say. Is this something that sports car racing is going to offer some of the Cup drivers that have been around awhile? Will this be a chance to transition into something that's not as arduous and a schedule that's not as demanding as a Cup schedule?

SCOTT PRUETT: On that list, you have Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, I would have to consider those the young guns and Kurt Busch -- all of those guys are young. I think if you talked to most of the NASCAR guys--I'm in a shop here in Indy, and we had Casey and Jamie both in here. They are looking at it as a chance to go have some fun and turn right and left. When you go out and you do 35, 33 races, and you're not doing road courses 20 weeks in a row and have that last stretch and it's all ovals, they get pretty burned out on doing that same thing. They see this as an opportunity to come in and hone their skills being a road car driver, as well as do something fun. Not that what they are doing isn't fun, it certainly is, but I don't see it as a place where all drivers go to die.

You know, when you look at the level of competition and the quality of the drivers, the young to older, I think when we look at road racing, and what we are doing with Grand-Am, I think it's a perfect place to balance things out. You can get some younger drivers with some older, experienced drivers and get them up to speed very quickly. We are seeing some new drivers we have never heard of before. We are seeing some drivers through whatever reason haven't really got the opportunity.

You look at Memo Gidley, he's coming into the sport full-time this year with a great opportunity to really shine. My teammate this year, Luis Diaz, is a young guy, wants to make it, but he wants to make it here. He is not talking about going and racing in IRL, and he is not talking about going and racing CART or NASCAR. He says, I want to be a champion here, and the following this series has in Mexico, it's perfect for him.

So, you know the biggest question mark as we look forward is the fact that if you look at road racing in general and where the growth is, I don't see it in CART and I don't see it in IRL and I don't see it in ALMS. We are seeing huge amount of growth here with our series and that is going to attract the very best that there are.

Q: So Scott, with the growth of Daytona Prototype cars, I talked to Roger last year and he said there might be some interest in separating the cars on some of the smaller tracks like at Phoenix. Would you like to see that happen? Do you think that some of the slower GT cars might get in the way of a larger Daytona Prototype field?

SCOTT PRUETT: I've put a lot of thought to that because that's one thing as a purist race car driver, obviously it's nice to be out there just with your fellow Prototype cars. But in the bigger picture, we also have to realize--I was at Phoenix last year and I had some friends of mine come down. I've told this story to a few people, and they are not race fans. They are Scott Pruett fans that have followed my racing career, but don't really follow racing. They enjoy watching a good race. And they came in the stands there and watched the race and absolutely came away thinking how great this series was because of all the action. Not that they knew everything that was going on all the time but they saw a lot of passing.

They saw the fact that the GT class actually changed things up a little bit for the Prototype class, and so for them, for the fans, they absolutely loved it. So I think it's a fine line between how we balance the two. Now that we are going to have I think 25-ish full-time cars, when we get to really tight circuits like a Phoenix, we may look to -- or the governing body may look to run them by themselves.

But in the bigger picture, we are a new series and we are on a pretty steep growth pattern right now from an entrant side and we have to attract the fans. If we can get the fans week-in and week-out, this sport will go somewhere. The money will get better, the competition is already on the way to getting better and one thing leads to another.

So just as NASCAR has been very successful in paying close attention to their fans, I think that goes part and parcel to what we are focused on and if it makes sense to split them and we can still be positively sure we can put on a great show, then we will.

Q: Roger, I'll asked you like I asked you last year, what's been up with the people in the seats, so the TV cameras don't see all of the empty grandstands when they pan by the racing?

ROGER EDMONDSON: I think the very thing we are talking about racing, star drivers that people follow and care about. It was real telling what Scott just said about people who were coming who were not necessarily died-in-the-wool race fans, but were Scott Pruett fans.

It's going to be much easier to build that fan base if we have personalities like Max and Scott and Terry that people care about -- people who can go on the Jay Leno program and entertain and people who can do interviews and newspaper articles and so forth and become personalities and entities that people want to follow. I think that it's a little harder to identify with a Riley or with a Crawford than it is with a Ford or a Chevy.

So for us, I believe that personalities and promoting personalities is going to be the key. Now, as far as those empty seats in the grandstands, I think that as long as we continue to run at the major league facilities in this country that have seating for 100,000 to 125,000 people, at least within my career, I doubt that we're ever going to reach the point where we don't see some of those seats. But that's the price we pay for going to major league facilities, and that's where the public wants to go. When a guy takes his family to the races these days, he wants to know there's going to be a clean restroom for his wife and good food and all of those other things. We are racing on what America has for racetracks, and for the time being let's just be glad we have great cars on track and great drivers for the cameras to cover and let's not worry too much about those seats. That will come.

Bill France told me years ago when I was doing the motorcycle thing, if we could figure out how to fill the paddock sooner or later we'll fill the grandstands. I think we have the paddock part of it working pretty good, so the next challenge is the spectator crowd. We'll work closely with our promoters and our teams to make this as much as of a mainstream sport as we can.

SCOTT PRUETT: I have a plane to catch, but look forward to catching up with everybody. This is going to be great season and I'm proud to be a champion representing this sport and to be able to participate and see what we can do this year.

Q: Max, you mentioned some interest that's growing in Europe. What's going to get some of those Europeans into American seats, do we need to take the racing to Europe or can something be done to bring them here?

MAX PAPIS: First of all, to answer some of the questions you say, a few of my race fans over there in Europe are actually planning a trip to come over to Daytona for the 24 hour. These things didn't happen in the last couple of years, and that's just to tell you the amount of interest that is generating everywhere around, everywhere around the world and in Europe, as well.

There are going to be a couple of Italian guys racing for Doran, people that raced in the FIA-GT Championship and the last competitive team running Ferraris to come over to us and run in Grand-Am.

To answer your question, the important thing is we are already doing it. Grand-Am is, you know, the Grand American Rolex Series is putting up a great show. We have some TV exposure over in Europe and I hope that we can get even more during this year.

Overall, I feel that you need to walk before you run and this is exactly what Grand-Am is doing. It's in a fast-growing situation where there are very, very few other race organizations that are growing, and some going in the other direction and getting smaller. One thing that I can tell you that's getting noticed, not just by me because I live in motor racing, but it's noticed by everyone. And I think that those people that used to come over and fill the crowd and fill the stands in Daytona, they are going to come back because people love racing and they love competition and they love personalities. They know that coming to a Daytona Prototype race, to a Grand-Am race that's what they are going to see, and as well talking about what you say before about different classes running at the same time.

I think that that's part of the endurance side of racing, of our kind of racing. It's not just about you know running flat-out between Daytona Prototypes only. Of course on some tracks, if you like to see maybe more space and separation, very, very small track like Phoenix we could do it. But the essence of racing of our kind of racing is timing the other car, using the GT car to make a pass.

These things, as Scott was mentioning before, it makes our racing super exciting. I'm truly enthusiastic about our races. I actually had the opportunity to watch four or five of them on DVD when I was back home in Europe, and I had a hard time to tell my friends to go and grab me a Coke because they wanted to watch the race all the time.

Q: You've talked about the growth, what do you think have been the major contributing factors to the success of the Grand-Am racing?

ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think that the first thing is that the people we are in business with here. When we first announced Grand-Am back in September of 1999, we made it clear that our role was not to come in and destroy anything or split anything, but that we were going to try to approach this from a completely different standpoint. That was going to be as Max pointed out, slow growth, and taking things one step at a time with a view towards eliminating the peaks and valleys that had been plaguing this sport for 45, 50 years, and that is what we have done.

When we announced at the first part of 2002 that we were going to have new cars for '03, it was only natural that people were suspicious. But as time went by and they found out it wasn't just (Grand American competition director) Mark Raffauf and myself but actually the France family and all of the weight of the Daytona history and background committed to this thing, it made it safer for people to get involved, to get involved and to make the investment.

I think once a few stepped out and did it, and when we went through 2003 with only four cars on a regular basis, but did not waver in any shape or form, I think that told a story that this was something that people could rely on. So many dollars have been wasted in this sport in the past by having to have a whole new car or a car being made obsolete in 18 months to 24 months, that the idea that people could buy a car and with minimal modification still be racing it up to a decade later really hit home.

So if anything else, I think it's a reputation for consistency and a rules package that is easy to understand and affordable, and more importantly that everything that you can race is made available to everybody else that wants to go race. There's no secret double-trick parts that nobody else can get their hands on.

So we think all of those things contribute to it. Of course, once things get started and you start attracting name brand people, like the Ganassi team and Bell Motorsports and G&W, that leads to more and more. I think we are a ground floor opportunity still. There are still many more stories to be told and many more teams to come aboard.

Q: Roger the entry list up on the web site shows 57 cars for the test. Do you have any idea how many there will be for the actual race?

ROGER EDMONDSON: I have been idea but we are not releasing the race entries yet because there are some sensitive announcements in there about sponsorships and team personnel. But I would anticipate an entry that will come in between 60 and 70. That would not surprise me at all.

Q: There was a comment made about arduous racing, more arduous or less arduous. So this is for any of the drivers still remaining, who considered the 24-hour race a less arduous race than a NASCAR race for example? I would think it would be more difficult and more arduous, that long time driving and the driver changes and all of that?

MAX PAPIS: I don't think you can compare a series to another series. You know, one of the great things about Grand-Am and the 24-hour of Daytona is that it's going to give an opportunity to many drivers that they want to prove their point and to prove their abilities to compete against proven people, and the same things for teams. The same things that we are doing here at Krohn/TRG Racing, we know that we are going to face hard challenge and we're going to have to compete against people that have a great history in racing like Ganassi, and all I can think about, CART champions, Indy champions, Indy 500 champions and all of this motivation is just adding to the excitement to the racing.

And as Roger said, this can be accomplished because you can actually buy a car that, with some tuning and with some work from the crew, it's basically the same that anybody else has. And of course, there is always work to be done from a team to make the difference. But at the end of the game, you know that it's within your power, within your ability to be able to compete and I think that would make racing fantastic.

And to answer your question, definitely 24-hour racing is very demanding, but at the same time it's super exciting, and I would not compare it with anything else than 24-hour racing itself.

ADAM SAAL: Terry, as the most recent winner of that race I'd love to hear your take on that. You guys had quite a challenge race last year but you ended up in victory lane.

TERRY BORCHELLER: Everything seems harder than it looks. I'm sure there are NEXTEL Cup drivers that think that the 24-hour race is easy and there's 24-hour drivers that think that NEXTEL Cup racing is easy, but in reality they have all got their obstacles.

And the 24-hour race, I've been around racing for a long time starting in the go-karts, and going up through open-wheel ranks and got into sports car racing in the early 90s, but I don't know of any race that has the elements that you face at the 24-hour. You've got the traffic of the other class. You've got your own competition, you've got the night, you've got the rain, typically. There are just so many things that a lot of guys in NASCAR have never dealt with.

I mean, you can look at the races throughout the years when you see the NASCAR guys, they typically do pretty well. They don't usually get up to the speed of the regulars, which is a surprise to a lot of people I think, but to us in sports car racing, it's no surprise. And then also when you throw some elements at them like last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. did a great job but he was around a bunch, too, if you know what I mean. It wasn't easy for him. In NASCAR, I enjoy watching him, he's a hero and he got out there on a wet track and he did okay, but he struggled. I think you'll see that with a lot of NASCAR guys. There's a lot of things that are thrown at them that they are not used to dealing with.

It would be the same if Max or Scott or I were put in a NEXTEL Cup car. There are things that we don't deal with every day, so it becomes an obstacle. So I think it's going to be a tremendous race and I think it's going to be -- I think this upcoming year is going to be best one yet, I really do.

ADAM SAAL: We look forward to this year and good luck in defending your championship.

Q: Terry, there's been a lot of people that put a lot of stress on the NASCAR drivers and the IRL drivers coming to the series, but let's not forget you've been around the Daytona Prototype concept since the beginning. Which team heading into 2005 do you view to be the toughest? Do you view to be the team that's going to be team to go after and have to beat race in and race out?

TERRY BORCHELLER: I think it carries over from 2004. You've got probably five or six cars that are capable of winning at any given weekend. And I think that's going to hold true going into 2005. I think whereas last year you had five or six, I think for 2005 and in particular for the 24-hour you are going to have maybe 10 teams that are going to be in a position to win.

I think that's what's going to make the racing so spectacular. You are just going to increase that base number of cars and teams that are going to be able to win every weekend, and that's really what makes it so exciting. But I think there are a lot of strong lineups out there. I'm hoping obviously that our team does very well, and I know that there are a lot of other teams that are stacked in regards to drivers and anything can happen. I would not predict a winner, but I know it's going to be a great race.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much, Roger, Max, Terry, we appreciate the time today, and Scott, as well.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Darren Manning , Jan Magnussen , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Casey Mears , Memo Gidley , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Scott Pruett , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Terry Borcheller , Jay Leno