An Interview with Bobby Rahal, Scott Sharp, Jeff Simmons, Ed Brown and Tom Slunecka Thursday, November 9, 2006 MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a number of ...
An Interview with Bobby Rahal, Scott Sharp, Jeff Simmons, Ed Brown and Tom
Thursday, November 9, 2006
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a number of guests today set to discuss the driver and sponsor lineup for Rahal Letterman Racing in the IndyCar Series in 2007. Rahal Letterman racing has participated in the IndyCar series full-time since 2003, recording 33 top five finishes and three race victories including the 2004 Indianapolis 500.
We'll talk to the driver and sponsor representatives in a few more minutes. First to make the announcement for 2007 is team co-owner Bobby Rahal. Bobby?
BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you, Tim. I'd like to say hello and welcome to everybody, and thanks for calling in and being part of this announcement today. Obviously, we're very honored to announce our lineup, our two-car lineup, for 2007. A little bit of a change for us going back to two cars, but we think it's the right move for us, and we're looking forward to that.
The first entry that I'm very pleased to announce, especially the driver, this almost came to pass about 10 years ago, I think, but our No. 8 car will be driven by Scott Sharp this year and sponsored by Patron Spirits.
Of course Scott, it's hard to believe, he's pretty young, but it's hard to believe he's a veteran driver, nine-time winner in IndyCar Series. I think we've already seen the kind of leadership that he can bring to our team in the test that was done in Iowa, and we're very excited. The buzz in the race shop is great after that, and we're very, very pleased to have Scott join us.
Of course Patron Spirits Company has established itself as the premium brand of tequila, and having tasted it, I've been impressed with their attention to detail and dedication in establishing this program. We are anxious and excited to be working with the Patron Spirits people over the course of this year, ensuring that they achieve their marketing objectives.
Our second entry, the No. 17 Team Ethanol car will again be driven by Jeff Simmons. Jeff really I thought came on very well towards the end of the year. Obviously, he had a rough start with us, but it was a difficult -- some difficult shoes to fill -- and he came in and really, as I say, with each race just gained more and more confidence. I think Chicago in particular, the last race of the year, I was very impressed with the job he did there. So we're pleased to have Jeff back.
Obviously he's young and doesn't have quite as much experience as Scott, but I think the two of them are really going to work well together as a team and really produce the kind of results that we're working hard to create.
Then of course with Jeff. How fortunate we were and are to have the relationship with EPIC (Ethanol Promotion and Information Council) and the ethanol industry for this last year. The commitment to our team and to the sport is obvious and well-known, and it's just getting stronger and stronger, and we're very proud and pleased to have them back with us and of course continue to believe very strongly in the whole program of what ethanol means for not just racing but to this country and its fuel dependencies.
Certainly the tests so far on the 100 percent (fuel-grade) ethanol have gone very, very well, and so I think, once again, it's just going to prove that this is not going to have -- any of the myths that were associated with the lack of performance pretty much were shattered during this testing, during these last few tests that the IRL has put on. So we're real pleased.
I guess in the end, and I don't want to take up all the time, but in the end we feel very fortunate to be working with two world-class partners in ethanol and in Patron Spirits. There is no question that they're giving us a foundation for success for this season and beyond.
We've made a lot of changes internally at Rahal Letterman to ensure our success for this coming year, and I think having both Scott and Jeff leading the charge for us, while it's never easy, I think we're going to have a much more successful year in 2007 than we have the last several.
I guess with that I'll turn it back over to Tim.
MODERATOR: I should say congratulations to you on this very exciting announcement.
We'd like to first introduce the IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp and Patron Spirits president Ed Brown, and then a few minutes later in the call we'll also talk to Jeff Simmons and Tom Slunecka.
Scott, Ed, congratulations and good afternoon to you. Scott, of course Bobby alluded to this, you're kind of the ironman of the IndyCar Series, one of the original competitors back in 1996, and shared that inaugural Series Championship. Overall, 129 career starts, including the last 121 consecutive races, and as he mentioned also nine career victories and also 72 top-10 finishes.
Scott, tell us a little bit about your partnership with Patron. I know if I understand correctly that actually came about last year, and now your new relationship with Rahal Letterman.
SCOTT SHARP: I couldn't be any more excited right now, Tim. First off, just the last year to see a relationship that started off as a small sort of beginning entry level for Patron to get a taste of IndyCar (Series) last year and for me, the relationship that grew throughout last season, it's just a dynamic organization, just growing by leaps and bounds. Everything that they do is at the highest level. I'm just really proud and excited to represent that.
It's been great. Every person that's come from Patron to the track, starts off at the top with Ed, and his people have just been tremendous to work with, and I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity with those guys. I think we're going to have a lot of fun both on and off the track together. And I enjoy the product, so that's always good, too.
Don't worry, Bobby, that will be away from the racetrack.
And then about 10 years ago I was just coming out of Trans Am, and we had some pretty serious conversations about possibly driving for Bobby at the time when he was the factory team with Honda, and that didn't end up panning out there.
I'm not saying this because he's on the phone at all, he's always been one of the guys that I aspired to growing up. Obviously his record speaks for itself what he did in the car, but you always knew that he was just a different kind of driver beyond that. He really seemed to control his career, eventually winning a team ownership, had a very successful team, and at the same time, simultaneously built a tremendous business.
So sort of growing up in a real entrepreneurial racing family, that was someone I always aspired to. Back 10 years ago to start to have some of those discussions and the chance to maybe work with somebody like Bobby was very exciting, and we've kept the good relationship up over the years.
I think as this opportunity rolled around, a big thing for me, I think that really got me excited was Bobby's commitment level, when he just said, 'Hey, this is a team' -- and certainly I think as I've gotten to know them, this is a team that has for the last decade run at the front -- or even longer than a decade, run at the front of open-wheel racing. They've won races with six or seven different drivers, they've won it with different chassis, different engines and even different series. This is a team that's used to running at the front.
What Bobby said about the guys at Patron, I'm 100 percent committed. We will get this team back to the front, and you sensed his hunger, and as I've gotten to know the guys on the team, you sense their hunger, and that's exciting for a driver. They're as hungry as I am after coming off the kind of season we did in '06 and really wanting to do more and get the race wins. It's wonderful to be associated with a team that has that same hunger.
MODERATOR: Ed, IndyCar Series was glad to welcome you last year when you partnered with Scott. Tell us about that relationship from your perspective and why you're proud to participate in the IndyCar Series.
ED BROWN: We've been kind of messing around with racing the last few years. We looked at NASCAR a couple years ago and really probably realized that wasn't the consumer we were going after. So when Scott and I met -- I'm basically a speed freak myself, so I was kind of really wanting to get into racing and start to expose the brand to the consumer that way.
But we're just thrilled to be involved with really what I think is the best of the best; with Rahal Letterman and Scott driving the car, I think we've put ourselves in a position to be very competitive this year, and not only in racing but I think that we're going to offer the fans and the consumers a whole different way to go about it at the racetrack when you see our whole plan for '07 and in the future.
Like I said, I told Scott and Bobby about a month ago that the only reason that we really want to get involved is that we only do things the best that we can do, and I wanted to put ourselves in a position to win, and that's what we're about.
Our commitment level is to be able to put the team in a position to be very competitive in the future, and we're really thrilled to be a part of it.
MODERATOR: We're all looking forward to seeing what comes together for 2007.
Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Bobby, Scott and Ed.
Q: This is for Bobby. Bobby, was there a requirement that your two drivers be college graduates from Connecticut, or what was the deal there?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think being a college graduate is a plus as a driver. We certainly probably have the two smartest guys out there. But no, that wasn't a prerequisite. I mean, as I say, I do think it's a plus.
What I like about both of them, they're very professional, very business-like, they obviously can drive the cars very well. I can't overstate I think the value of leadership that comes with these two guys for this team. You know, I can only do so much.
I think the drivers can really motivate and lead a team. I mean, I think I always did it as a driver, and I think the drivers really play a role that goes way beyond just driving the car, and I think with Scott and Jeff, we've got two guys now that can provide that leadership
I'm real pleased. I think there's a lot there -- there's a big buzz going through this place with these two guys coming on and Jay O'Connell coming in to run our technical department. I feel good things in our future.
Q: Bobby, change happens for one reason or another. Obviously Danica (Patrick) didn't choose to re-up and Buddy (Rice) was released. Did you feel like your team needed sort of a change or whatever you want to call it? Did you sense that at the end of the year?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think it was somehow said or it was somehow voiced that I had lost interest. That's about the farthest thing from the truth, and I think what we needed is we needed -- Scott Roembke's back being healthy, which he's been the last six months thankfully, but we've got two great sponsors here where we have real partners. I think that and bringing these two young guys in that are real leaders, it just starts to all add up.
I don't want to say anything about what happened in the past, but I don't think there's any question that we have the ingredients both internally, the changes we've made, and many of them are not necessarily obvious, but we've made a lot of changes internally and brought some new people in with new views, new perspectives, and I think that all those things are going to contribute to taking us back up to the top where we belong.
Q: Scott, one quickie: Were you and Patron a partner or did you go looking for this, or how did you hook up with Bobby in this situation?
SCOTT SHARP: Basically, Ed and I and a few members of Patron, we all discussed our aspirations and our goals, and I think we've pretty much talked about all those things. We want to do the best we possibly can do. We want to win races. Where do we want to go and what's the best way to achieve that. Certainly I think it gets back to just the type of organization that Rahal Letterman has been and what their goals are, and I think those goals align quite well with ours.
Q: Thank you for coming on today, and congratulations to everybody. This is to Bobby and Scott: How long did this whole courtship take place? Did this happen after Buddy's announcement or has it been going on for some time? What's been the timeline here?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think to be honest with you, I can't remember precisely. It wasn't that long a courtship. I think we met with Scott, and as I say, we went a fair way down this road before. Just the timing was right, we met, we talked, we came very comfortable with what each of us wanted to do. I mean, Scott made it very clear to me that he wanted to win.
I think I made the same thing clear to him. I don't think as a result there was a long courtship. What was going on with Buddy and everything else, of course that was sponsor-related. Ultimately that sponsor decided to go somewhere else, and so unfortunately we were not able to continue.
Scott would have been here no matter what anyway. As I say, I think we sat down and discussed and really felt like we were in sync as to what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go.
Q: Scott, did you consider any other teams, or was this your first choice?
SCOTT SHARP: Certainly. I mean, like I said, I spent a lot of time consulting with Ed and looked at a lot of different options. For a while there we even looked at the potential of maybe trying to do my own team.
But really, it's all about performance now. I didn't want to like try to build a new team from scratch and deal with the growing pains like that. I don't think Ed from a Patron perspective did, either. Certainly he can jump in here with his opinion.
But we all want to succeed and we want to succeed now, and I think the overall turn here, we just aligned perfectly for everybody.
Q: Scott, last year in this moving around, I think one of the first times I ever heard you use the expression "old" in regards to yourself, and you seem to be feeling as though you're running out of time to accomplish some of the things that you'd like to do before you get out of the driver's seat. What makes you think that you're going to be able to do that with Rahal Letterman?
SCOTT SHARP: I don't ever recall saying "old" to you. I don't use those words (laughter).
Well, let's be honest and frank about it. When the close of the season came in '06, there was the top two teams and everybody else trying to chase them and trying to do the best moves in the off-season to get themselves on an equal level with those two teams.
I think when you look at that, it starts with a lot of things we've been talking about here today. It starts with the desire and that commitment level and that leadership level, and then from there all the necessary things that need to be done from that. Once that's established and that's set and that's made, this is what we're going to do, the other things are almost like dominos and they start to fall into place.
I think Bobby and I were pretty quickly on the same page there, naturally what came next, and you start talking about the technical side of the package and you start talking about what we need to do to make the right moves to advance up the field a little bit more and what areas can everybody, including myself -- everyone -- you have to look in such a competitive environment like this, you've got to look at what are all the potential things we can do to make ourselves better.
And I think certainly Bobby was quite willing to do whatever it takes, and I think I feel like I'm willing to do whatever it takes, and I think Jeff -- I don't want to speak for him, but he's real hungry and I'm sure he'll do whatever it takes. I think it's that kind of attitude is what's going to move everything forward.
Continued in part 2