IRL: Indy 500: Chitwood, Barnhart Media Tour, part 1

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE Joie Chitwood, Brian Barnhart BOB JENKINS: Well, two races have already been held, of course, in the 2006 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, one at Homestead Miami Speedway, the other in St.

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE
Joie Chitwood, Brian Barnhart

BOB JENKINS: Well, two races have already been held, of course, in the 2006 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, one at Homestead Miami Speedway, the other in St. Petersburg, Florida. Two very exciting races, especially on the oval at Homestead, Miami. Was interested to hear Rusty Wallace's telecast last week concerning the Homestead, Miami race. He was like: "Wow, that was exciting. I had no idea that these guys raced that way." I realized that he has been very busy the past few years racing on Sunday but I wanted to tell him, "Well, that's the way these guys race on ovals all the time." So we look forward to one more race before the Indianapolis 500.

And to preview the month of May and the 90th running of the "500," first of all, we have the president and COO of the IRL, Brian Barnhart on the far end, and the COO and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Joie Chitwood. Joie has some opening remarks. Please get your questions ready and we'll take them in just a moment.

JOIE CHITWOOD: Thanks, Bob. I'm not sure if I had opening remarks, but I can make some. You know, Brian and I sat up here last year about the same time, and we announced a number of changes to the schedule. Most specifically, we actually moved Carburetion Day to Friday. We changed the qualification procedure, changed the start time, changed some practice times, and I think that we're very pleased with the results. One of the things that Brian and I struggle with a lot was the law of unintended consequences and trying to determine what, if anything, these changes would do that we hadn't planned for. Obviously, we always have to worry about weather, and we had some weather on Pole Day last year, but watching what occurred on the second day of qualifications made us feel very good about the thought, the planning, everything that we put forward. We're looking forward to seeing how those changes continue to affect this month of May. I think if any of you were here on Carburetion Day, you would notice that was a well-received day in terms of moving to Friday. So all in all, I think the key for this year at least in terms of what we're planning to do, is to continue to look at those changes and how positively they're received, if there's anything that we need to continue to tweak to make the experience a little bit better for those fans who support the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One of the things, two things I also want to mention that I think are pretty special. We have a traveling fan experience that goes around the state of Indiana. You'll notice it out here in the Plaza area; it's set up with the car and the trailer. We actually have 90 events scheduled for that this spring as it makes visits around the state to make sure that Hoosiers are connected to the magic of the Indy 500. So we're pleased with that traveling around.

Also, I want to mention our fourth-grade history program through the 500 Festival, in its third year now in which fourth graders have an opportunity to take a history lesson on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We actually have 22,000 students in the state of Indiana, 22,000 fourth graders that will participate in that program. That's 25 percent of all of the fourth graders in the state of Indiana will take that program. 11,000 of those will actually visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April and in May as part of their field trip. So we're all about making sure that those Hoosiers of tomorrow know about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it represents. So those are a couple things that I'm proud to talk about. Thank you, Bob.

JENKINS: All right. One thing I would like to ask if those of you who are going through the line would understand that it may be difficult to hear, so if you could please watch the noise level, we would certainly appreciate it.

Do we have questions from anyone for either Joie or Brian? Do you have something?

Q</I>: Brian, where are we on San Antonio for next year?

BRIAN BARNHART: The San Antonio is something that's clearly on the IndyCar Series schedule as far as on our radar to be added to our schedule for 2007. We've got a lot of interest. We've been down, looked at the facility, met with the potential promoters of the event, and that is something that is intriguing, to say the least, to us and is certainly in the mix for a possibility for 2007. But no announcements are ready to be made at this point in time.

Q</I>: Brian, the question you always love to get, so might as well ask it up front and get it out of the way. When it's all said and done, do you think you'll have 33 cars on Race Day?

BARNHART: Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind. I think we're better off from a car-count standpoint from where we've been the last two or three years, and I think that's due to the availability of equipment. The carryover of the chassis and the reduction in price from Honda and the availability of equipment, meaning everyone will have access to the same Honda engines. So everyone has a much better chance of being competitive. I'm very confident we'll have a full field, at a bare minimum we'll have at least 33.

Q</I>: After what happened at Homestead, are you a little concerned about the people with lack of experience getting into the cars just to fill the field?

BARNHART: Well, I don't think that had anything to do with experience. I think that's, as I pointed out in an earlier article, I think you've seen lapses out of people with enormous experience, and it's not the first time you've had an accident where the second car involved in the accident was several seconds behind the primary car that initiated the accident or was involved in the accident. I've seen that happen to some of the most respected and greatest race drivers in our history. As I pointed out, Jacques Villeneuve had a similar situation at Phoenix, and Mario Andretti had that happen to him a couple of times at Toronto and Detroit. It doesn't have anything to do with -- I don't think it's even anything anybody can question Paul's qualifications. He had met all the restrictions. He had won a Pro Series race; he finished second in the Indy Pro Series championship; he had thousands of miles of testing in our cars. It's not even an issue.

Q</I>: Joie, typically throughout the years over the winter months we've seen improvements to the facilities here at the Speedway. Any improvements this year that we should look forward to?

CHITWOOD: Part of what a lot of spectators never see or yourself, the things that we do behind the scenes in terms of the continual renovation and improvements. Obviously five, six, seven years ago we made just amazing changes with Gasoline Alley, suites, our Pagoda, things like that. We've had some renovations on the north side of the property to the Northwest Vista. The top of the grandstand we have taken down and regalvanized and put up. But we as a private company, we take pride in the fact that we can spend the right kind of capital investment on the property and maintain, oh, I'd almost call it a Disney-esque environment, one we're proud of. So you may not see huge new buildings, but we continue to make the investments to make the property fan-friendly and one that is representative of the stature of the Speedway.

Q</I>: There's been a lot of emphasis the last couple weeks on driver experience. But is maybe the real issue is when these crashes happen as they always have, how you keep the race cars on the ground rather than into the air and possibly into the grandstands at some point?

BARNHART: I guess I don't see the connection to the accident that happened at Homestead. That was, you know, obviously one car made impact with another car that was involved in a previous accident. So I don't think there's any airborne aspect related to it at all. I guess I don't quite follow your conversation or question.

Q</I>: Well, the thought is at one point he was 6 foot into the air. He did not get into the grandstands, but we had an incident a couple years ago during a practice session where Mario did a 360, landed back on his wheels. The incident with Tony Renna up at the north end of the track. There's also an issue, maybe an issue out there you've got the driver safety issue and that competitiveness there, but on the fan safety issue, if they get up, are there things that we can do to keep them down?

BARNHART: Well, I think the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have always prided themselves on being leaders in technology and safety. Just as reminders that the SAFER Barrier was developed by the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and first installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an indicator of our leadership in the safety area. Again, I don't see -- there's really no correlation between any previous accidents and what transpired at Homestead a couple of weeks ago. They're not the same types of accidents. All of our systems that we have, no one has more early indications of an unsafe condition on the racetrack than the IndyCar Series does. We have four early-warning systems between the flag stand, the track lights, the dash lights and the race control frequency, and that's not to mention the drivers' own visual recognition of what's happened in front of him on the racetrack. So all those systems were operating properly and efficiently, and indications had been given of an unsafe condition on the racetrack. I don't think there's much more that the league can do at that standpoint. Things happen very quickly on a racetrack when you're traveling at the speeds that race cars travel. That's whether you're in an IndyCar or any other form of motorsports out there.

Q</I>: Brian, we didn't get a chance last year to see how the new qualifying format might work; weather didn't cooperate. Have you talked about any other way to deal with that if the situation should arise again this year? Is there a way to try to preserve the format or would you end up probably having to double it up again like you did last year?

BARNHART: I think the best thing about that is Joie and I talked about it when we were making the decision to make those changes, that we would kind of respond to it on an individual basis based on the circumstances surrounding. And I think that's the best way of approaching that is good communication between the organizing body, which is the IndyCar Series and the promoter being the Speedway. Good communication, good cooperation between the two of us, and I think we made the right call last year. And based on the circumstances, you know, surrounding any future events, the key to it will be communication because we have really got to keep the fans in mind of what we're doing.

As much as we would have loved to have seen and I think hopefully weather-permitting this year, I think the format playing out for 11 cars on Pole Day is just going to have all kinds of excitement. We were actually talking down at Homestead, and Kyle Moyer of Andretti Green racing was relating to me that with Michael (Andretti) returning to the cockpit, Michael being now driver and owner said to Kyle, "Do you think we can get all five in on Pole Day?" And, you know, I can just see where Kyle's thinking, you know, 11 cars and you only want five of them in there? So I think it's going to be neat to see -- last year was the first time the teams had to deal with it, as well. And as with anything, they're going to learn a lot, and I think it will be interesting to see how their strategies change because all the things are still in play. You only get 35 sets of Firestone Firehawks for the month, your three attempts. If the weather cooperates with us, I think the drama and excitement of 11 on Pole Day, 11 on the second day, 11 on the third day and then any bumping on the fourth day, I think it has potential to play out as the years come forward of being one of the most exciting changes to the format in the history of the Speedway.

Q</I>: To whomever wants to respond to this. Do you not think it would be helpful in improving car counts and improving spectator interest if you were to invite cordially relatively low-budget people to bring their stock-block engines out and their own cars out and give them the necessary inches they need to race out here, and that that might solve more problems than even those two?

BARNHART: Well, it can also create problems. I mean, it's a lot different competitive environment than what it's been in the past. Rules stability is one of the best things that an organizing body can provide in terms of controlling cost. The fact that we're using our same cars now for the fourth year in a row, everyone has accessibility to the same engines reduces costs. If you introduce something new, whether it's new chassis or new engines, competition drives cost up. And in terms of being able to sell that, it's difficult for a team to come in with just a stock block motor off in his own creation to compete against the Hondas of the world. He's most likely not going to be in a competitive environment. That's a difficult sell from a sponsorship standpoint.

We feel our current environment of everyone having accessibility to the same engines and the competitiveness of our chassis is the most competitive environment. I think last year's Indianapolis 500, I've been a fan and participant of the Indy 500, having been born and raised here for a long time, and I think the 89th running was one of, if not the most, competitive Indianapolis 500s I've ever seen. You know, we always talk to them in the drivers' meeting, guys, it's an endurance race, it's 500 miles, position yourself. Use the Rick Mears model to be competitive. We dropped the green flag and had three lead changes in the first five laps last year. That's the first time in the 89-year history that's ever happened. They ran it as a 500-mile sprint race. And the competition, I think, my point is the competition has changed from what you've seen in the '60s and the '70s that would allow guys to bring -- I think back to Roger Rager bringing a school-bus engine and a stock block, I think those days are gone because the competitiveness of the field is so much deeper now than it has ever been historically. It prevents that from happening.

CHITWOOD: I would like to add, in speaking of last year's race, there were actually 27 lead changes in last year's race, that's the second-most in Indy 500 history. Twenty-two of those lead changes occurred on track. I think from that standpoint, that echoes Brian's comments about competitiveness and what fans want to see. It's about competition. When you have an Indy 500 in which there are 22 lead changes on track, so not occurring in pit lane, I think that's what fans really come to see and want to enjoy.

Q</I>: Brian, if I could ask, I realize it's very early in the season still, but with the chassis specification changing next year, can you give us some insight as to preliminary discussions with chassis manufacturers and what potentially may occur as those chassis specifications change?

BARNHART: We don't have any announced chassis specification changes for next year. In fact, it's most likely again, going to my earlier comments, rules continuity and stability is the best thing we can do in terms of controlling cost. So our early indications are that we're going to run these same chassis again next year.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Tony Renna , Brian Barnhart
Teams HART