PJ JONES (No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Just looking back over the years thinking about how many years we wasted not being here for what ever reason was. Then, career-wise going more toward NASCAR racing and racing a bit down...
PJ JONES (No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Just looking back over the years thinking about how many years we wasted not being here for what ever reason was. Then, career-wise going more toward NASCAR racing and racing a bit down there. Then having the accident two years ago (here at Indianapolis) with having a great car, and everything was going good. We were quick and then not having a chance last year. If you spend too much time out of these cars, it's like everyone will forget about you. Having this deal put together at the last minute last week, coming here without a ride and it all falling together is pretty awesome. Then think, 'OK, we're going to have plenty of time.' Wednesday goes by, Thursday goes by, Friday goes by, The pacing, and finally we got out a little bit yesterday and today trying to knock the rust off."
Father's reaction to making the field?: I think he had a few tears. You know it's pretty special, Page (Jones) called me. He was all excited, that's pretty cool."
Your father was in tears. What were your emotions?: "For me, it was more of a relief just to finally get in the race. I hadn't really even thought about it, just all the time I hadn't been in the race, just getting in the race this week. There's so much pressure, even though everyone can say, 'Oh, well, you know the field may not be filled or they're going to be right at 33 cars. There is still a lot of pressure. Greg Beck did a great job at giving me a great car. I ran around here yesterday thinking, 'Man, if I'd made one mistake or something happens.' We had a little problem yesterday right from the beginning. I was on my 10th lap going into Turn 1, and the throttle stuck wide open. I had to get out of the car, I was so nervous. Because that kind of got me a little scared for a moment. Anybody going into a corner at 200 mph, and the throttle sticks -- So that kind of shook me up a little bit. I'm thinking, 'Wow, I stuck that in the fence right there (in 2002).' I wasn't worried about getting hurt.; I was more worried about the consequences of not making the race. Then coming out this morning and running some more. Just trying to get more comfortable without putting the car in jeopardy. It's a huge commitment driving these cars. You're pushing the envelope and push the envelope. Until you step over the envelope, just sometimes you don't know that you're there. So you just got to kind of creep up on it, creep up on it. That's the hardest thing that, especially being out of practice and sync with these other race cars. I just want to make sure that I don't step over the limit and skip the thing into the fence and we're going home again."
Reflect on the second-generation aspect of the team you're driving. One of the team owners being the son of the man that your dad won his races for.): "This is a pretty cool opportunity. Not very many second-generation drivers could say that I'm driving for the same man that my dad drove for, for the same family. Also Greg Beck, his father involved in racing during the 60s era. Being kind of another second generation there involved in the team. Having the opportunity to paint the car the way my dad's was and the opportunity to have the same number doesn't all fall into sync very often for somebody. So this is just a great opportunity. It's pretty cool."
One day to warm up, only one day of qualification, and one shot to do it. How much pressure is there to get it all exactly right the first time?: "A lot. If I was seasoned and running the cars the last couple of races, you could say it's no big deal, and if the car had been running all month like Jaques' car, Buddy's car or Richie's car, you could say, 'Well, hey, he went out and did 215 mph, and you know it's good. But when I got in it Wednesday, I didn't know it was good. They had just put it together. I have a lot of great guys and trust them, but sometimes things don't work out right, and the car has a problem or the balance isn't there. So there's a lot of issues to work out, and you have to slowly get it up to speed. Making sure that you don't have any issues."
"Getting it right the first time, I wasn't real confident going out to qualifying not being that I had a lot of time on it. I didn't want to be way at the back of the field. I knew the job; we just need to put it in the race. I kept telling myself that. But went out to do the best that I can, run it wide open and take what we get. Those were the four best and the most comfortable, easy laps since I've been here. So it felt really good."
About driving for your dad in the past: "Thank god that it's not A.J. Foyt that I've got to drive for all the time. I did drive for A.J. once, and he was great and I don't say that, but my dad's one notch below A.J., he has his moments. He's been really great throughout my career. I was talking to Brian Stewart, he runs the Infiniti Pro Series and as a team owner, and I drove for him in Indy Lights. He came up and talked to us yesterday, I was with a group of people, he said, 'You know, I tell all my fathers he had some young kids in his cars, the best father I've had is Parnelli Jones.' He never interfered. He was there for support. He never got in the middle of it. When the car was going slow, he didn't come up to me and say, 'What are you going to do about it?' I know he's always looked after my best interests, and he's taught me everything I know about racing."
MARTY ROTH (No. 25 Roth Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "It's been a long wait to get to the 500, and I'm sure it hasn't sunk in yet. It's been a great month, and it's been a huge learning curve as a driver, and a team owner and just about everything. We put this team together this year and jumped into the Infiniti Pro Series, and from developing that team, we saw it as a great opportunity to move right into the IRL game. We got the car out there, and put it in the 500."
About his return to racing after a long hiatus: "Like you said, the Infiniti Pro Series definitely helped open the door to getting into the Indy Racing League. The guys running that sanctioning body are basically the Indy Lights crew that I used to run with back in 1990, with Roger Bailey at the helm. It's a fabulous series, and I couldn't imagine making this jump without going through a couple of seasons in the Infiniti Pro."
Did you learn anything in the Futaba Freedom 100 Saturday that can help you in the Indianapolis 500?: "The Infiniti Pro car, we were pretty quick with it. In the first two practices we were the fastest car out there. It was a car that liked to run by itself. We started in sixth spot, so the first few laps there was quite a pack. The car was a real handful because it couldn't handle the heavy traffic as well as some of the other cars. As the race progressed and everybody came into a single file, my car came alive. I would say the biggest thing I learned in that race to take to the 500 is that when the green flag drops and it's a pack going into corner 1, I don't think anyone's car is going to handle. But as that line starts to thin out, and if you're just patient and keep your nose clean, the downforce will come in, the speeds will come up, and the car will be working a lot better."
About his courage after two spins earlier in the month: "They didn't phase me. The toughest part about the last two weeks was just bringing the car up to speed. The team we've put together, Mark Moore, the team manager, myself included, we really know how to set cars up, and I think this was a humbling experience for us. We thought we could do a better job of it. But it's better sooner than later, and it's better later than never, and that's sort of where we're at right now. It didn't happen as quick as we would have liked, but we're quick studying, and we're getting a handle on this package. It's a brand-new team, a brand-new car, and a brand-new driver in the program, and we've just got to make it all work. The guys that are out here that we're competing against are the best in the world, and the teams are the best in the world, and we see where they're really at, and we've just got to rise to that level."
BUDDY LAZIER (No. 91 LifeFitness DRR/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "It felt great. I'm certain I've never qualified with so much downforce. I've really enjoyed working with the Dreyer & Reinbold team -- Owen Snyder, my teammate Giaffone, Dennis Reinbold, Robbie Buhl. It's just been a magnificent time working with them, even though I've only had two half-days in the car. Every day we'd get done, Owen would look at me and say, 'Hey, you're not thinking about chasing speed, are you?' He didn't want me, of course, to start looking at trimming the car way out and going for a qualifying speed. Obviously, they've had a difficult month. They've had to put back together two race cars. So, I just wanted to have an uneventful run. It really was qualifying with our race package, our race level downforce. This morning when I was able to get a draft, I could actually get to some speed and get up in the 17-18 range. The car is really good. That is definitely our race car. Because we've had the two days and it was such a limited amount of running, we really only ran race stuff, full tanks, focusing on next Sunday. I have a remarkably good race car. I've been very pleasantly surprised and shocked with how little time how good that race car is. We never really did focus on qualifying at all. That was just a very solid run. The team has worked hard. It's incredible what they've done. I haven't seen anybody put in more hours. We're in pretty good shape. It's not like we've got to go out right now with the cold day and wind. We've been out in the hot of the day, cold days, full tanks most of the time. I'm in pretty good shape; I think Felipe feels that way too. We're in really good shape with our race setups, so I'm not sure that it's going to be required to do much running. However, every time I'm in the car -- because I've only had two half-days -- I'm getting more comfortable and getting more feedback."
About working with Owen Snyder: "We've really clicked well. We communicate well. I can tell he's a magnificent tuner. The way he works on the car is neat. We've raced against each other so many times. I've never worked with him. I told him right away, 'I'd much rather race with you than against you.' We get along great. The racer in me feels like it would have been fun and neat to see what we could go do because I believe there's a lot in that car if you wanted to go get some big numbers, but what's the point? I think they would have wrung my neck if I would have pushed too hard to take a bunch of downforce out. I do have an amazingly good race car. I am shocked at how good it is. We ran in the hot weather yesterday when it was very hot and slippery. We were still able to run hard wide open, good numbers. So regardless of what the conditions are, I think we're going to be right on pace and we were able to accomplish that in two half-days. Believe me, I think come race day we're going to have what we need to make a really strong run."
About the 500: "I think this is my 11th or 12th start. I was actually here as a teen-ager for two years with cars like from the Machinist Union that were show cars that they ran two years before. It had been a show car for two years, and they gave that car to my dad and I. So we took the engines. I passed my rookie test and I almost made the race. Because I've been here so long, I think people think I'm older than I am and maybe wiser -- I don't know. I'm in my mid-30s. I guess it's because I just came here when I was so young. The Indy 500 has always been so special. The first year I remember that I qualified for this race was such remarkable feeling of accomplishment, and I feel that exact way today. It was a very uneventful qualifying run. I feel like I could be a contender for the first couple rows. It's just so special to be in the race. This was not the best of what will be our program this year. The best of what we're going to do, what we're all about is going to be Race Day.
"Even though I'm starting toward the back, it's a long race, and anything can happen here. It may be a long shot with as little practice as we've had, but Owen I are really clicking. He knows what I want. I know what he's thinking I should get and we're working well together. There's a chemistry that could do some pretty neat things come the end of the race. We could be tough.
JEFF SIMMONS (No. 12T Nunn Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "It was a whirlwind 24 hours, really. I haven't had a moment to stop yet. I was joking with the guys out there (that) I didn't have a moment to clean my helmet before I qualified, so my picture is going to have a lot of bugs. Yesterday I hadcommitments before the Menards Infiniti Pro Series race and then had the race and right after that came in here (Trackside Conference Room) and did the media press conference. When I walked out the door from that, Brian (Barnhart) was there to tell me that what we had been talking about for a while with Mo Nunn, and Mo Nunn Racing was a go. From that moment until the time I was on the track was in a couple hours, so it happened really fast, and we had a lot to do to get ready for today, even. Then we went out this morning, and I was much more comfortable in the car. We got some of the seating issues I had yesterday sorted out. It's just been tremendous, getting the car in the show solidly, and now we're ready to focus on next weekend. Judging by what others were running yesterday I knew we'd have to be in the 214 range. I was hoping we could be a little faster than that, in the 215s. I think we had one lap in the 215 (range). But we were between a race setup and a qualifying setup. There was a lot more we could have done to trim the car out. We could have gone a lot quicker, and we know that. But that wasn't the purpose. We decided to go a little conservative. It's pretty windy out there. We just wanted to get it in the 500, and now we can concentrate on working on pit-stop stuff. I need to make sure I can get in and out of the pits quickly and also hit the marks every time very well, because that helps the pit crew."
RICHIE HEARN (No. 33 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "If I only did one race a year, this would be it, and I would be happy. I appreciate what Sam and the people from Lucas Oils have been able to do to give me a chance to get my fifth '500' here. It came together very late, and I still held out hope and then here we are."
Overall, you've had some success here: "I've run very well here. I just enjoy, it's just one of the few tracks I enjoy driving. I respect the place but it doesn't scare me to where it keeps me from focusing on what I need to do, so every time I come here I feel I know I can do a good job, I just need to have the full month. The last time I had the full month I finished third, so I'd like to be able to get that chance again to be a part of it, and we'll see what we can do next week."
ROBBY McGEHEE (No. 18 PDM Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "When I woke up this morning, the first thing I said is: 'I can't wait for this day to be over, with good results. Just get me through it.' I think the only thing that could have been better is if we got more track time, we could have gotten the car a little faster and not been on the bottom of the pole. But that's what happened; the rain kind of forced our hand. It took me a while to get up to speed in the car. It took me 30 or 40 laps just to get comfortable and trust the car since it has been such a long while since I've driven previously. Once I started getting comfortable in the car and started running flat around the track, they said, 'Rain in Terre Haute,' and Paul
Diatlovich) said, 'Let's put this thing n qualifying line.' We thought we made a very last-minute change in the car that was going to help. We had a little bit of a push in Turn 3, and unfortunately the change didn't really help. I went out there and on Lap 2, Turn 3. I went in flat and just went into a huge push. I always say I'm not lifting in qualifying, but if it prevents me from hitting the wall, I'm going to lift, so that's what happened."
About qualifying on Bump Day: "This Bump Day thing, this is the second time for me and hopefully the last time. I'd really like to start on Opening Day and work on the car. I'm not really sure how many laps we got, but last year it was probably 25 or 30 laps, and this year it was probably a few more than that, but not many."
About if we've seen all car and driver combinations, or if there could be more qualifiers): "I hope we've seen all the combinations (laughter), but this is the Indy 500, and anything can happen. I've heard from a few people that this is it, but I know there are other combinations out there. It's just a matter of if they get on track or not."
About what this means for your career: "I think it's pretty important. I don't want to say-- I mean, the only way this could help my career is if it forges a relationship with PDM, which I'd really like to do. Realistically, we came in here one day, 50 laps, you know, these other cars have run thousands of miles since the beginning of May. So as a realist, I don't really think we're going to win the race, but we always have the opportunity to. We're going to go for a top 10 and try to build a relationship with PDM. I really enjoy working with those guys, as well as try to forge a relationship with the new sponsor Natoli Engineering that's on the car."
What does your performance here mean for the possibility of a ride for the next race?): "That's a good question. I'm not really sure at this point. We're here now, the Indy 500, this is the crown, this is it."
GREG RAY (No. 13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "Nerves were certainly part of our program. We've been working pretty hard on the business side, and we've really been focusing all our efforts on long term, not short term. That may really baffle people when you're on the stage of the world's greatest race here at the Indianapolis 500, which is our Super Bowl. The series is based on racing the full year and having a team and relationships and staff and buildings and cars, and so we've really been focusing on the long term and not the short term. And that really cost us. There were probably some things we could have done that would have gotten on the track sooner. I'm not so sure we've even accomplished our long-term goals yet, but that's been our main focus. It was nerve-wracking. It's been nerve-wracking the last two weeks. I've been working from sunup to sundown to create a better future for our team. We carried a fair amount of stress the last couple weeks getting ready for this, and it wasn't the optimal situation to just jump in the car. It's not the kind of thing I like to do."
About the business side and racing side of the 500: "I've ran the gamut -- small team back in 1997 and 1998 to mega-team with Team Menard in 1999 through 2001 and driven for a legend in A.J. Foyt, so I definitely ran the gamut of situations. The Indy Racing League, the Indy 500 and open-wheel racing and all these things are very much a moving target, and things are changing. We're having to really focus on what's happening today and what's going to happen a year, two and three years from now. That's what we're focusing on."
If you had been able to prepare more, do you think you could have run 220 or more?: "You can never say 'never.' The field is full of competitive cars and teams, but I think with the great Honda power and the G Force package -- which we sort of pioneered last year -- I really believe in the right situation that we could have been a pole contender. We barely missed it in Japan. I think we could have clearly been a contender. That doesn't even matter. Again, we're focusing long term, and where we start is where we start."
About the future?: "We don't have a primary sponsor. There's a sequence of events that could make our program fly like a 747 or a sequence that could send it in a completely opposite direction."
About qualifying run: "There was a lot of frustration. We had race motor, race gearbox, race downforce. You know, you have to do the smart thing. We were all chomping our bits going, "OK, let's just unleash this thing, peel the downforce off of it and go for it,' but it really doesn't prove a point. Yes, you could go out and stand the world on fire, but we wouldn't have qualified any higher up, and every time you push the boundaries, you take on additional risks. At Access Motorsports, we've proven ourselves to make smart decisions this far in our team's history, and we want to continue to do that. There's frustration, knowing we could be so much faster. We just didn't have time to get the car sorted out. It 's not anything reflective of what we really could do. We just needed to get it safely in the show. It was a very conservative approach."