An interview with Logan Gomez, Curtis Gray and Dan Wheldon
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We have several guests joining us today, starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Logan Gomez, and later in the call we'll be joined by Homestead-Miami Speedway president Curtis Gray and IndyCar Series driver, Dan Wheldon. Good afternoon, Logan.
LOGAN GOMEZ: Good afternoon, how are you.
THE MODERATOR: Doing well. Thanks for joining us. Logan is returning for his second season at Firestone Indy Lights. This year he'll be driving the No. 23 car for Guthrie Racing. Last year Logan finished seventh overall and was the second-highest finishing rookie. He recorded eight top-10 finishes and ended the season with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway. Recently the Guinness Book of World Records recognized that finish as the closest finish in car racing history.
Glad to have you back in the series in 2008. If you would, take a look back at us for the last race of the year and just tell us what it was like to close out your rookie season with a victory and also to do it in such a notable fashion.
LOGAN GOMEZ: Really, there's no better way to finish out the season. You know, with it being such a close race, it definitely drew more attention to it and like you said, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. It's great to go out like that and beat the champion of that year, Alex Lloyd, and also a teammate, it was a great feeling.
Looking after between then and now, it's carried on momentum through the off-season and we've got a good team, Guthrie Racing and we are looking to progress from where we finished last year.
THE MODERATOR: You touched on the momentum, that was my next question for you. You finished the season strong, really, after starting out with some struggles but victory and several top-10 finishes in the last few races, how do you carry that momentum forward?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Really it's just carrying on the progress and remembering what you learned. Obviously switching teams may be seen as a setback but as long as you remember the things you learned from teams you've been with in the past, it's always good to see the different types of ways of doing things.
The things that I've learned last year, I feel that I've learned at a relatively quick pace. With the knowledge I have now and to be winning races this young in my career, it's a benefit for me. Here on out, it's obvious that we're competitive and it going to be competing for race wins and hopefully the championship at the end of the season.
THE MODERATOR: Your teammate Sean Guthrie turns 20 in April. Between the two of you, you already have 38 starts in the Indy Pro Series. What's it like working with someone your same age and you both have a lot of experience going into the season?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Definitely there is a great wealth of experience between the team and the mechanics and the team members and the engineers. To have a teammate like him that's the same age and we both have the same goal, that's a benefit. If it comes to us both competing against each other to better ourselves, it's definitely a great thing to have good competition in the team. That only makes everybody work that much harder, and hopefully the results showed.
THE MODERATOR: Last year you had the car No. 23 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and you carried over the same car number. Is there a significance to you for the No. 23?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Not so much. Just trying to make it easier on fans and family and friends and people who know the number. I think it makes it a little easier and we are trying to build it in. That's one of the hardest things to do as a young driver is to be recognized and have people remember you and look forward to you for the next year. Not saying I would not change the number if I moved into an IndyCar ride, but I think every little thing helps.
THE MODERATOR: The big news today is the Firestone Indy Lights, the new name. What are your thoughts and feelings about the name change to Firestone Indy Lights?
LOGAN GOMEZ: I think it's a great move for Firestone to take on that. They obviously do so much for the sport and they do provide the best tire out there. For them to step up in the series -- in the past I would tell people what I race in and they would refer back to what they used to be called, so I think it's a step in the right diretion and the more recognizable the series is, the more people can remember the name, it's definitely an easier name to say. I think it's great.
Q: In your young career here, what do you think has been the steepest learning curve that you've faced and climbed
LOGAN GOMEZ: I would say probably adapting to ovals. It's something that's new to me the previous year and I feel obviously with the win at Chicago, I've adapted pretty well. We started off last year in the same place we are now in Homestead, and I'm looking forward to see how we start this year just to see the improvements and going to the same race track now, and seeing the difference is going to be the great thing.
Q: Being a fast learner, is that one of the best skills a young driver has?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Yeah, it's definitely key to be able to adapt quickly in the conditions and different cars, and enables you to learn at a faster pace. And from the point where I'm at now, the key is to learn more and just to become more and more educated on the way the car reacts and different things like that. You hate to get to a point where you can't improve any more and I don't see that coming any time soon.
Q: Do you learn a lot from the veterans you race against?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Definitely. Having the depth and experience in the league as it is right now, you're able to talk to the IndyCar (Series) drivers and as well as the more experienced Firestone Indy Lights series drivers, so it definitely helps to talk to other drivers. The series is like a big family so it definitely helps.
Q: Obviously you're on a new team this season. I just wanted to ask you, have you noticed differences in philosophy from Sam Schmidt to Guthrie Racing or other differences like that?
LOGAN GOMEZ: Philosophy is a pretty broad word. Big difference is they are both very professional teams, and if anything, I believe Guthrie Racing is a little more homey feeling. They make it more of a family. You can definitely tell the efforts they are putting forth. Sam Schmidt was run more like a business, and that's good, but I believe when you're a learning driver, it's really important to be very comfortable in your surroundings and Guthrie Racing definitely provides that.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks again for joining us.
We are joined by Curtis Gray, president of Homestead-Miami Speedway and IndyCar Series driver, Dan Wheldon. The IndyCar Series will open the season for the seventh consecutive season on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami, and this and marks the second consecutive season the race will take place under the lights. Dan has won the last three races at Homestead-Miami, starting the streak in 2005 when he also went on to win the IndyCar Series championship. Last year Dan finished fourth in points in his second season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Curtis, let's start with you, why don't you give us an update on preparations for this weekend's GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 and tell us about what we can expect.
CURTIS GRAY: Obviously we are very honored to host the inaugural event again this year, and it's a heck of an exciting way to start out the year. We announced the unification here with Tony (George) with his big announcement, and that just got a whole lot of interest here in South Florida going. The promotions have been great and the drivers have done a super job promoting the event. There have been a lot of things going on with a world-class golf tournament that ended this past weekend and tennis, and the obvious things that go on in South Florida during the springtime.
But this event has really taken shape and we are excited to host the event again this year. And what we have done is we have created Speed Jam to make it more than the racing activities on the track, it's become a whole festival. Besides the season-opening for the IndyCar Series and Gainsco coming on as our new sponsor, we have also got the Rolex Grand Am series here in the afternoon, and we have got a concert by Three Doors Down and other concerts during the day, car show, Memphis barbeque festival, karting and remote control cars and things for people to do all day long
That's what we have done is we have condensed it pretty much into one day of activities. Obviously we have the qualifying and practice on Friday but all of the racing and the big activities culminating with the race under the lights. It doesn't get much more exciting than that.
Looks like 26 cars will be starting, and we have not had a field like that in the season opener in a long time, and that makes everything a lot more exciting for this year's season opener.
THE MODERATOR: Did you have a question you wanted to ask Dan?
CURTIS GRAY: I wanted to know how he's figured this place out so well, like nobody else has figured it out, and it's a tricky track because we have got the variable banking, 18, 19 and 20 degrees, but either it's the track or the setup and how he gets away from all the distractions in South Beach and the parties and everything else going down here in Miami, how he's worked his way through all that to just dominate at this facility.
DAN WHELDON: Well, I'm a married man now, Curtis, but I think first and more most, Homestead-Miami Speedway has always been very special to a lot of drivers purely because it's always been such an integral part of not only Champ Car, when Champ Car was around, but the IndyCar Series.
I remember going back there, way back in 1999 when I was driving in the U.S. F2000 series, watching the Indy car guys at spring training. It's always been a great facility for the IndyCars. It's always been a track people have ran a lot because it's a great place for winter testing, but also the facilities, I think it's great from a fan perspective.
I think now with the variable banking, I think the fans really get a fantastic race that they love to see and, you know, with the races that we have had there, certainly in the last three or four years, they have always been incredibly competitive and the drivers love that.
In terms of how I have gone so well around that place, I have always been gifted with great race cars there. I think obviously as everybody knows, to win an IndyCar (Series) race is so hard these days because the championship is so competitive and you do need great equipment and I've always had that. I've always been associated with Honda, and I think everybody knows from back in the day when there was multiple engine manufacturers involved in the series, Honda were always the best. And now they provide engines for the whole series but they are very equal and I just love the place. I feel like Florida is my home now, so that makes it special to be able to drive to the racetrack.
I enjoy the racetrack, it's a challenge, and perhaps what we would call a Super Speedway-type track because it's flat-out and difficult, and one of those racetracks you race as little downforce as possible, you have to judge the amount; and it's at night and that makes it exciting and that changes how the car handles from the daytime and pre-race; we practice mostly in the daytime.
But for whatever reason, it just works for me and I'm not going to try and jinx that by saying anything different but I just love the place.
CURTIS GRAY: Thank you and we appreciate everything you've done and wish you all the luck in the world Saturday night.
THE MODERATOR: It's not only Homestead, but you've had a lot of success on 1.5-mile-ovals in general with eight of your 13 wins coming on 1.5-mile ovals; is there something beyond just the fact that you've enjoyed the success at Homestead? Is there something in particular about the mile-and-a-halves that play to your strengths?
DAN WHELDON: You know, I don't think so. I've obviously been good around places like Nazareth and Pike's Peak and Milwaukee and tracks like that, too. I would not say there's any rhyme or reason.
I love all of the tracks we race on and I do think that we being, and when I say we, the IndyCar Series in general, has a great talent and I look forward to that expanding. It just happens that that is the case. I certainly am not afraid to run wheel-to-wheel with anybody, and very close, and I think I have a good feel for what you need to be quick on that style of track, but again it sounds like I'm praising everybody that I'm involved with, but really you've got to have competitive equipment. I think everybody understands that in motor racing and I've always been gifted with good equipment, and you know, that's a big part of it, too.
So I think it's just overall the package, but that's not to say that we don't go well or enjoy the other tracks because that's certainly not the case. I love Milwaukee, that's a great track for me, and obviously I love Indianapolis and they are not one-and-a-half-mile and we have always done well there in the past. It's just a combination of everything but I certainly enjoy that style of racing.
THE MODERATOR: You touched on earlier the fact of the race being in your home state, and the following week we are in your hometown of St. Petersburg where you won in 2005 and all three races you have led laps. The two races in general starting off in the home state, how important is it for you to get off to a good start in those first two races?
DAN WHELDON: I think it doesn't matter where you're racing. Those first few races, and particularly the first one, it's all great to start off very well and it gets everyone in the right frame of mind and gives everyone in the team a lot of confidence and momentum to start the season.
I think in any series if you want to perform well and you want to put yourself in the championship hunt, you definitely can do that by scoring a lot of points early on and that doesn't necessarily mean wins. But if you can win the first five races and accumulate a lot of points, it gives you good momentum going into -- well, actually, the first three give you good momentum going into Indianapolis.
But the first five really give you good momentum to lead you into a tough stretch in the championship. If you can bank a lot of early points, it makes that mid-stretch not necessarily easier but puts you in a comfortable position, and that's important.
It just happens that the first few races are in the home state of Florida for me, and particularly St. Pete. I started off there fantastically in 2005 with a win, but it's also the last few years been one of the toughest races I've had for me. So I'm hoping to put that right this year.
THE MODERATOR: Earlier today we announced the development series will be called Firestone Indy Lights, and you built your resume in the original series, can you tell us about what that name, Indy Lights, means in racing?
DAN WHELDON: I think that's what everybody knows is the feeder series to Indy Car. When you talk about the junior series where people kind of are aspiring IndyCar drivers, they pretty much all started off in Indy Lights. Obviously myself, my teammate, Scott Dixon, Dario (Franchitti) -- actually I'm not sure that Dario was part of that, but Tony (Kanaan) I know was; Cristiano da Matta. There's a lot of big names that have gone through the Indy Lights series to become IndyCar drivers.
It's not going to change a great deal to a lot of people that are involved in motor racing. But I think from a fan perspective, it's much easier for them to understand the Indy Lights because that name has been so familiar to Indy Car racing in the past and that's important.
Continued in part 2