INDY RACING LEAGUE PRESS CONFERENCE
Ron Hemelgarn, P.J. Chesson, Carmelo Anthony, Gene Simmons
Wednesday, March 15, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
BOB JENKINS: Everyone is here, and we shall proceed with the conference with the introduction. Because already we have requests for live shots a little bit later on, so we need to get this wrapped up as quickly as possible. I'm Bob Jenkins, thank you for attending. Because it is such a nice day, let's go over the format. The one-on-ones and the photo ops will be available after we get done here outside, and we'll take questions from you after we introduce the group and hear from them briefly.
A very significant and delightful announcement today as we once again match up a car owner, a driver, a very well-known person in the music industry and now marketing, and a very well-known person from another form of sports.
Let me introduce, first of all, the members of the panel, beginning with someone whose face is probably most familiar to us to those of us who have been around here for a long time. Ron Hemelgarn, who won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Lazier and the 2000 IndyCar Series championship with Buddy, has a total of eight IndyCar Series wins and finished second in IRL points in 2001. Ron Hemelgarn. (Applause)
Next, the gentleman who conducted a live interview just a few moments ago with ESPN, we're just delighted to have him connected with IndyCar racing, first of all to see him here today and to welcome him to the Conseco Fieldhouse tonight as his team, the Denver Nuggets, play the Indiana Pacers. Going back to his college days, he was a second-team all-American at Syracuse, was named the outstanding player in the 2003 Final Four, was the third draft choice of the Denver Nuggets. He has had an incredible career in the NBA, and in the month of March he has been averaging 29 points a game and has an incredible shooting percentage of 59 percent. Carmelo Anthony. (Applause)
Next is the gentleman here on my far or my near left who will be the driver of the car here at the Indianapolis 500 in the 90th running of the 500. He's a native of New Jersey, a veteran of Sprint car racing. As a matter of fact, as I recall, when he won his first race in what was it, North Dakota, I believe, it was a preliminary race, but after taking the checkered flag he climbed the fence just like Helio Castroneves has.
P.J. CHESSON: But I fell off of it, though. (Laughter)
JENKINS: Anyway, this individual has most recent experience in the Indy Pro Series, in fact won three races, consecutive races in the Indy Pro Series last year. From Far Hills, New Jersey, P.J. Chesson. (Applause)
JENKINS: On my far left, the individual who needs no introduction at all, he is a legend in the music industry. He is involved in so many projects, but we're glad that he has taken on the project of partnering with the Indy Racing League in promoting this series. He is also, of course, written the "I Am Indy," which is so prominently displayed around the room today. A delight to have him associated with the Indy Racing League and the Indy 500, Gene Simmons. (Applause)
Ron, tell us about your plans for 2006.
RON HEMELGARN: Well, it's a very exciting what we have going on. Obviously, this came together sort of late in the season, have been working on it very hard. Got to thank Gene Simmons, Rich Abramson for working with us so closely to put this together. But I think it's probably one of the most unique opportunities ever to bring a star of the NBA, not a past star but the real star of the NBA, a sprint car driver which stands on the gas, you don't have to tell him to stand on it, you might have to tell him to slow it down. So we've got a guy that wants to win. You've got a guy that is winning and then Hemelgarn Racing, we've been around a long time at the Speedway and IndyCar racing, and we're just delighted to be involved. I really think that as the year goes on, we're going to have some great success and Hemelgarn Racing will be back on top with this combination.
JENKINS: Carmelo, tell us about your interest in cars, in racing and the partnership that we're announcing here today.
CARMELO ANTHONY: Well, for the record, I'm not getting in the car. I want to let that be known. I'm not getting in that seat, it's too small anyway. The opportunity came to me, and the story is too long for me to be here and try to get into all the details how we met and how it came about. I'm just excited about the project, about this venture right here with Ron and Gene and my driver over there, P.J. So I'm excited right now. I think that we are going to have a lot of fun to come.
JENKINS: You moved from the Indy Pro Series to the Indy Racing League. Tell us about your thoughts on making the transition.
CHESSON: Well, you know, there's so many people that have really stood by my side the whole time. I had a little bit of a trip in the barrel, and there's a lot of people that stepped up for me. Gene, Rich, a lot of people at the league, Ron Hemelgarn and now Carmelo has come on board. Scare the hell out of him this year a little bit. (Laughter)
And we're just, you know, I think with Ron and Carmelo and Gene and Rich and the support that we have from everybody around the series, I think that this is going to be a good year. I'm really looking forward to it. We're going to definitely cause some trouble. (Laughter)
JENKINS: Gene, as somebody who is a huge music fan, I know I join a lot of other people in welcoming you to this partnership. Tell us how you were able to bring all of these people together into one unit.
GENE SIMMONS: Well, this is much ado about nothing actually. I get all the credit and Rich Abramson, my powerful and attractive partner who is sitting in the corner over there, is really the guy with the horns on his head. Because if the devil is in the details, he's got to go and do all the stuff.
I'm perhaps the public persona of a really simple message. You should all be blessed because you're standing on hallowed ground. This is the Indy, baby. Ninety years of defying the critics, the odds. These are the fastest cars on four wheels. We have rock stars in rockets. These cars will drive on the ceiling. You think I'm kidding? Do your due diligence, find it all out. This is the best damn thing out there, and it deserves to get the attention that somebody of a legendary status of Carmelo is giving it. We intend on carrying this message around the world because it deserves it. Indy? I am Indy, baby. (Laughter)
JENKINS: Thank you. Since we're on the subject of making introductions, let's go ahead and do that before P.J. has a presentation to make. First of all, Tony George, the founder and CEO of the IndyCar Series and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is here. Tony. Brian Barnhart, the president and COO of the IndyCar Series. (Applause)
Lee Kunzman, who is the general manager of Hemelgarn Racing, over there on the side. (Applause)
Bill Sanders, the vice president of marketing for BDA Sports Management, which is the agency that represents Carmelo right over there. (Applause)
And as Gene pointed out, Rich Abramson, the partner in Simmons/Abramson Marketing. (Applause)
P.J. has a special presentation at this time.
CHESSON: I was thinking there couldn't be a better time but to have a little present for Señor Carmelo. I'm a loyal boy, and I take care of people. There's not a better way to take care of my man here than to keep him safe on the court. So my man, you've got to wear this thing tonight. (Laughter)
(Presentation of racing helmet).
ANTHONY: Appreciate it, baby. (Applause)
JENKINS: So you want him to wear this tonight at the Pacers' game on the court?
CHESSON: I'm trying to get him to get down and dirty tonight. I want to see elbows and things flying.
ANTHONY: I might need this. Thank you. I appreciate it.
JENKINS: Let's take questions from you people out there. Again, one-on-ones will be available outside when we finish up inside.
Who has a question?
Q: Gene, you and Rich have gotten into this thing and seems to have gotten in full bore. I have heard comments you made around the country when somebody said, "Can I get a word out of you?" And you said, "Yeah, IndyCar.com."
SIMMONS: Ask me what time is it.
Q: What time is it?
SIMMONS: I'm glad you asked me that question. Log on to IndyCar.com.
Q: Now that I played your straight man, what is it that attracted you and Rich to get involved?
SIMMONS: That's a fair question. I have to tell you that everybody is aware of Indy, specifically the Indy 500. I was always aware of it, everybody knows it's huge. I didn't know it was this huge, that it's the single largest live event on planet Earth. And I have to admit, I was the grand marshal at more than one NASCAR events, and we have three KISS NASCARs and three NHRAs and stuff like that.
I want to tell you my life was changed. We were invited down strictly socially to go see the Indy race in Texas, and I've said this before to people and they think it's a sound bite, but if you look into my eyes, you'll know what I mean. I saw families, I saw reverence for a flag that went up that made all our lives possible. I saw some real cornball things that I think are missing from America. I saw athletes, one of perhaps, you know, a few perhaps out of a hundred who can drive these cars. The more I found out about it, the more I fell in love with it. So everything for me and for Rich is a tug of the heart. If your heart strings get plucked, you love it, you're into it.
Money? Yeah, we all like making money. Look, Carmelo makes millions of dollars, and so do I and stuff like that. The God's honest truth is KISS is going to Japan Mount Fuji; I'll make more in one night than the entire year here.
ANTHONY: With the tongue?
SIMMONS: I would stick it out, but you see the floor is dirty, it's not clean. (Laughter)
But the God's honest truth is it's something bigger here happening. The more I have found out, the more I realize this really is the pre-eminent American sport on four wheels. There's nothing that touches it. This is the coolest thing, and we're here because we want to be there at the finish line, because Indy was No. 1, it can be No. 1 again. It may not be tomorrow, we're going to see it through to the -- we're here for the long haul. We had dinner last night; we talked about it; we're here for the long haul. This is not a press conference; this is the beginning of a relationship.
JENKINS: Anyone else?
Q: Carmelo, you played before 30-some-thousand people in the Carrier Dome and so forth. What was your thought when you came in here and saw the seating capacity?
ANTHONY: I only seen half of it. (Laughter)
And that was amazing just seeing how many possible people could just sit in there and watch, you know, P.J. go around a track at 230 miles per hour. I was amazed. I play in front of 30, 33,000 people every night. The most I ever played in front of was 70, I think in the national championship game in New Orleans. So to be in front of 400,000 people is, I can't even understand or feel, you know, the adrenaline rush that I'm going to have. So I can imagine how much adrenaline he's going to have.
JENKINS: P.J., when people talk like that, does it send a rush of adrenaline through you in anticipation?
CHESSON: Yeah, my problem is I wake up in the morning with that kind of adrenaline, something is wrong with me bad. (Laughter) But they get talking like that, and I get shaky and all weird and hard to like be around.
No, it's pretty cool to hear the guys that are in my corner talking like that. It definitely gives me a boost of confidence and makes me feel real good about what we're about to do here.
SIMMONS: And ladies, they're all single.
ANTHONY: I'm not single.
HEMELGARN: I'm not single. (Laughter) They're televising that. Don't start that.
SIMMONS: You're not single?
CHESSON: Well, I'm single. (Laughter)
Q: Carmelo, I thought the car would be No. 15; it's No. 91. What's wrong with the No. 15?
ANTHONY: Somebody already have 15. We need to get that No. 15.
Q: 91 mean anything or what's the number?
HEMELGARN: It's a number we've used for years since 1987.
ANTHONY: It's tradition. We can't change it now. (Laughter)
CHESSON: Fight's off.
Q: If maybe somebody other than Ron could address this. You're moving into a team that hasn't raced at the top for a couple years now. This is going to be a building process. You say you're in for the long haul, but there's going to be some difficult moments. In this sport, difficult moments are painful either for the car or the driver. This is not the Bobcats losing the first so-many games of the season. You talk about your patience or do you have any perception of what this is going to be like?
CHESSON: Who are we talking to here?
Q: Anybody but Ron. We know how Ron feels about it.
SIMMONS: OK, everybody is shy here; I've got a big mouth. Here is how it works. Any champion will tell you that the hard work begins on day one when you start training. If you're going to start looking for the knockout before you start training, you're going to lose. Real champions don't worry about anything; they run their own race and never look over their shoulders to see who's coming up behind you. Real champions are only in competition with themselves. If this team does the best it can, it will be a winner. Watch us burn rubber, baby.
CHESSON: My God, you're good. (Laughter)
Q: This one is for Ron. Ron, I recall for a lot of years, the first year you came into racing, you're kind of a quiet guy, and people don't realize what you have accomplished in your life. The guy sitting to your right is anything but quiet. The guy on your far left is anything but quiet. Carmelo seems to be kind of quiet.
Your entire situation to me is kind of new to you. These guys are going to be in front of everybody, and you're going to be pounding. Here we are, get out of our way, and we're here to race, and we're here to win. How are you going to handle that?
HEMELGARN: First of all, I think it's fantastic to be involved in a group like this. Everything I've done in my life I've done as a team. I have a lot of employees that work for me, and there are a lot of people who work for me who has a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and so on. I don't worry about that. I know who I am and what I am, and I think this kind of promotion that we have going on is not just about Ron Hemelgarn or Hemelgarn Racing, this is about the Indy Racing League, what it's going to do for the league, which I'm real excited about. This kid here, who's really, really hung it out, tried to show what he is made of. He comes from what I like as sprint cars and so on. I'm happy about that. Gene, that guy is motivated all the time, but the whole group. Rich is so motivated. When the opportunity came about, I thought it was great. Never once did I wiggle on the thing because I think it's what you need to win and to build a first-class team and so on. I've been at the top, and I've been at the bottom. No matter where I'm at, I'm always digging and trying to get back to the top. So I think we're going to do it. I think P.J. has a lot to learn, but the one thing he has, he's a wild stallion, and I would rather that a stallion and tone him down a little bit than take an old nag and try to get him to stand on the gas. P.J., we won't have to worry about that. Gene, he's motivated all the time.
This guy is a champion, 22 years old. And what he's accomplished in this life, just to rub next to him I already know success will be with us.
I just think it's a unique opportunity. I think we're going to do well with it. I don't care what has happened to me in the past because I don't worry about that. I worry about the present. I'm just blessed to have had this opportunity come our way. It took a lot of work and so on and a lot of handshakes. We've pulled it off, and it's great.
SIMMONS: By the way, the lawyers are way in the back. We didn't wait for anybody on this one. We just said, you know what? We love each other, we belong together, let's go raise some hell. The lawyers are going, 'Yeah, but wait a minute, the paperwork.' Shut up. (Laughter) Am I right?
HEMELGARN: This is true.
Q: Ron, it was 10 years ago that you won the 500. What does it feel like to be building yourself back to that opportunity again?
HEMELGARN: Well, I think probably when we win it again, it will make the win that much more better. You know, winning it there in '96 was a dream come true, and there was no way of expressing what the emotions were involved. You know, we had a good run there, just basically a championship team right on through. We got caught in some changes in engines and so on and we went a little backwards. Now we're just rebuilding. But the way I see it is build this into a winning team, especially with this kid right here, with his attitude. He's going to have fun doing it. And it's exciting. To me, I don't worry about anybody but the team itself, and that's how I've always run our team. Good, bad or indifferent, but we walk away every year with our heads high. Some years are better than others, but 10 years ago I'll never forget that moment, and I hope that we get to experience it together.
I don't know what it's like to win an NBA championship, but I'm sure he'll experience it. If I'm rubbing next to him, I'm going to experience with him.
But anyway, the emotions are high at this place. There's no place better to ever win a championship than this race here, and we did it. So exciting. It's just like yesterday.
JENKINS: One last question.
Q: This is for Carmelo. I know your NBA schedule is pretty hectic and so forth. What can the race fans expect in terms of your involvement in racing?
ANTHONY: Well, if I'm not there, I'm sure P.J. is going to hear from me, good or bad. And if you do bad, I might give him some pointers of how to drive through the lane. (Laughter) But I'm going to try to make it to some races. The most important one is the Indy 500 race here in Indianapolis, and I'm going to try to be here. We might be playing, hope to be playing but worst case, if not, I'll be here on the 28th.
JENKINS: All right, one-on-ones available. Carmelo, any prediction on the Pacers game tonight? Be careful. (Laughter)
ANTHONY: I'll tell you guys after the game. (Laughter)
JENKINS: Thank you for being here, all four of you. Congratulations. One-on-ones available and the photo op out side. The photo opportunity will be first outside. Thank you for attending.