IRL: 2005 Schedule teleconference (part 2)

Continued from part 1 Q: Ideally, if you add more road courses, are you looking to kind of space them out when you talk about climate, maybe try to have a couple in the spring, a couple in the summer, a couple in the fall? KEN UNGAR: Well, I...

Continued from part 1

Q: Ideally, if you add more road courses, are you looking to kind of space them out when you talk about climate, maybe try to have a couple in the spring, a couple in the summer, a couple in the fall?

KEN UNGAR: Well, I think Brian would probably be good to address that from a competition perspective.

But a business perspective, it is good to the extent you can to group them as close together as possible to build some promotional activities round the fact that there is a road racing portion of our schedule. So there is from a business perspective and promotional perspective, there is some energy around doing that.

I think I'd let Brian address that from a competition perspective.

BRIAN BARNHART: One thing you'd be careful about on doing that is turnover on the cars. And depending on how the schedule plays out, when the dates are, it could get a little tricky turning the cars from oval track configuration to road track configuration, then back to oval again.

You'd kind of like to provide some consistency for the teams there if you're running back-to-back or back-to-back-to-back weekends. We are trying, like I said earlier, to limit as many options as we can to the teams. We have very resourceful teams, and they will respond whichever way we need to do it.

There's a lot that plays into that, as Ken talked about, the complications in creating a schedule with available dates, climates, television opportunities. So we'd certainly respond to whatever would work for our teams and we'd be there (inaudible).

Q: Tony, could you speak to the month of May schedule, where you think it is at this point? Have you had any change of heart since we talked about this in May?

TONY GEORGE: I don't recall a conversation in May, but I don't think that the month of May schedule is ready to be announced. I know that my team here, both at the League and the Speedway, have had some meetings and dialogue about that. You know, everyone's had a chance to weigh in with some creative thinking. I've offered some of my own.

I think we'll be having some follow-up meetings probably in the next few weeks once everyone's schedule has settled down again. I would think that we'll probably address that sometime early fall. I don't know when we normally announce our month of May activities. It's only become necessary I think in the last 10 years that it's changed all that much. But I think whatever we do, hopefully, will make as much sense to everyone else as it does to us.

Q: Can you give us an inclination if we're looking at more likely to stay the same or more likely to change?

TONY GEORGE: I don't think I can give you any sense for that right now.

Q: Ken, it's my understanding that the people at Kansas Speedway kind of pushed for a different date because of the heat. Can you tell me the factors involved in your decision to keep it where it is?

KEN UNGAR: We worked really hard with (Kansas Speedway President) Jeff (Boerger) and his staff at the Kansas Speedway to look at every possible combination of dates to determine if there was an alternative to the July 4th weekend where we've been at.

Certainly, we like to be on a holiday weekend in Kansas. That's been very successful. But we decided jointly with the track to address it because of the abnormal heat we've had, not as much this year, but certainly the past few years have been pretty hot in terms of the ability of fans to enjoy the event.

So we looked at dates in the fall and we looked at dates in the spring. Unfortunately, due to television availability, proximity to other events on their calendar, proximity to events on our calendar, we just couldn't find a date that worked for all of us.

Q: Do you remain pretty firmly in favor of keeping it on the Sunday rather than moving it to a Saturday night race?

KEN UNGAR: Well, certainly Saturday night racing is something that we have done for many years. The first Saturday night race, I believe, was in '97 at Texas. It's something that our fans have enjoyed. It is not something, though, that we have looked to expanding in terms of additional night races.

As time goes on, I'm sure we will have that conversation with the folks at Kansas. It remains one of our best events. We love going to the market. We think everything kind of works for us in that market. We're going to look at every combination possible to try to create the best event and environment for our fans.

Q: 16 races on the schedule right now. Could that go up before next year?

KEN UNGAR: This is the schedule as it stands now. We've had instances in the past where we've added races after the original schedule was released. As Tony mentioned, in the case of St. Petersburg or any other possible opportunity, we'll just have to wait and see what other opportunities are presented to us.

Q: Ken, I spoke to you about six weeks ago. It sounded like you were pretty eager to try to make Portland a part of the schedule and get up into the Northwest market, which is relatively untapped by major racing. I'm curious how close Portland actually came to being on the schedule. Does the league see any urgency in getting out to a market that is pretty under-served?

KEN UNGAR: Well, we had very good conversations with both people at the City of Portland, the people at Portland International Raceway, as well as the promoter that we had been engaged in dialogue with, PJP, Peter Jacobsen Productions. We worked long and hard to try to create all the factors that needed to come together in order to make an event. As it turned out, really it was our schedule that could not accommodate a race at Portland.

The Pacific Northwest continues to be a priority for us. Just the other night, meeting at a social event in our paddock at Michigan, a number of competitors, teams and sponsors expressed interest and possible excitement about being at Portland in the future.

Even though it's not on our 2005 schedule, it's not something where the doors have closed. It's just we were not able to make all the stars align in 2005.

Q: With ISC announcing plans to build a track out there at the end of the decade, to have some big-time NASCAR racing, do you see it as an opportunity to get out there maybe before even NASCAR does and tap into things?

KEN UNGAR: Well, ISC has expressed an interest in building a track in the state of Washington. They have made us aware of their plans. Certainly if they do, that's one opportunity that may present itself. That may be the way that we choose to serve our fans in the Pacific Northwest.

But until something like that happens, it's really too early to say in what way we would move our schedule.

Q: Ken, how difficult was it to make the decision to move the finale from Texas Motor Speedway to California? Was it a case of just you couldn't get that worked out because of the logistics?

KEN UNGAR: It was a very difficult decision in the sense that we've had phenomenal response from the fans in Texas ever since we started racing down there. But at the same time, we feel confident in the plans put forward by (California Speedway President) Bill Miller and his staff at the California Speedway, and their title sponsor Toyota.

You know, the sign in the garage at Texas Motor Speedway says, "Welcome to the second home of the IRL." (Texas Motor Speedway President) Eddie Gossage and his staff have worked tirelessly to make Texas Motor Speedway our second home.

But, you know, at the same time we gave Texas Motor Speedway an opportunity to showcase its facility with our great racing, so we can both take credit for helping each other grow.

But, you know, while we are sad to see the second Texas event go, we're very optimistic about moving the finale to the California Speedway in 2005.

Q: Did he just give you one choice, finale or none at all, you couldn't move it up?

KEN UNGAR: The interest of the track was to retain the finale and move it earlier in the schedule to give it sufficient distance for the fans to have breathing room before the second NEXTEL Cup event. That just wasn't possible in light of all the other scheduling issues that we had.

Eddie and we worked very diligently trying to see if we could move all the jigsaw puzzle pieces to make it happen, but in the end we just couldn't.

Q: Tony, what persuaded the IRL to come to Watkins Glen? Did Nazareth's demise influence that decision at all?

TONY GEORGE: Well, ISC's decision to change direction with Nazareth certainly influenced our decision to go to (Watkins Glen). It was offered to us as an option which was, quite frankly, attractive. I think with Watkins Glen's history and tradition, the fact that it's a natural terrain road circuit, in a geographic area of the country that we really weren't in, it all made sense.

I think there's a willing partner up there that we're familiar with that has certainly rallied a lot of support and encouragement from its fan base and its local population.

All those factors entered into what was really a pretty easy decision for us. It was a great opportunity.

Q: How instrumental was (ISC Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer) John (Saunders) in putting this deal together?

TONY GEORGE: Well, John is really a part of the overall conversation we have at a higher level. I'd say Craig Rust really worked hard as being the manager at both the facilities, was the guy on the ground. But John certainly has a history at Watkins Glen, as well, and certainly communicates with myself and Ken on a regular basis on the global picture of the ISC/IRL relationship. So he was important.

Q: Tony, what kind of changes to the racetrack will be required to accommodate the IndyCars?

TONY GEORGE: Well, we've gone and made a site visit. We've looked at the facility. By and large, I've seen a number of improvements over the years, not only at Watkins Glen, but at Infineon since I've been going out there for the last 15, 20 years to each place. I've competed in some fashion on both the circuits. I think both organizations have done a good job of updating their facilities.

We have a specific list of things we'd like to see done, all of which I'm not familiar with at this point. But there's some typical things you might expect with runoff areas and whatnot. But it's not a very extensive list. I think we were pretty exhaustive in our critiquing the facility.

Again, I think they'll continue to make improvements to the facility that will benefit all the events that run there as time goes on.

Q: I was wondering if these deals to race at the road courses next year, do they extend into sort of an open-ended agreement or are the schedules made on a yearly basis? I guess what I'm asking is, how many years can fans anticipate the IRL coming to the Glen?

KEN UNGAR: Typically, as other racing series do, we make our arrangements from a contractual basis on a year-to-year timetable. However, we don't come to any venue without the expectation that we will be there long-term.

So we hope when the fans turn out and when the sponsors come and everything happens next year at Watkins Glen that it will be the first of many years at the Glen.

Q: Two road courses on the schedule for next year, but still only one short track. Does the IRL ever see adding another short track to the schedule or are you pretty happy with Richmond filling that niche?

BRIAN BARNHART: I guess you consider Richmond as our only short track, but I would look at Phoenix and Pikes Peak also being one-mile ovals. We run short track configuration there. Milwaukee, as well, was added this year.

I guess if you go away and look at our aero packages, we have multiple short tracks on the schedule.

Q: Tony, attendance has been steady at Richmond, but maybe sort of flattened out a little bit. Seems like it's been 40 to 50 for each of the four races. Are you guys happy with the attendance being at that spot or would you like to see it gain a little bit for Richmond to stay secure in the schedule or would you be happy with that kind of crowd year after year?

TONY GEORGE: Well, we've been happy with the turnout that we've seen at Richmond in the last few years. It's certainly encouraging. I think we put on great racing. In fact, I've gone on record as saying it's one of my favorite venues that we race at now.

I think there's always potential for it to continue to grow as there's a better awareness and understanding of what the Indy Racing League is.

But having said that, it continues to be a challenge for us to really perform as well as everyone would like to see us perform attendance-wise at a lot of venues, it has so many races, including two NEXTEL Cup races, not to mention Busch races, truck races, modified races, USAC races, a lot of racing on the annual calendar.

But, again, I think while you could say it's leveled off, I still think there's a great show that we put on at Richmond and a potential to grow the audience over time.

TOM SAVAGE: Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us on today's call. We'd like to thank the media that participated in the call.

-irl-

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