IRL: Sam Hornish Jr press conference, part I

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript August 19, 2003 Sam Hornish Jr. Part 1 of 2 K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing Conference call for this week, Tuesday, August 19. Today we are going to visit with IRL ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
August 19, 2003

Sam Hornish Jr.

Part 1 of 2

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing Conference call for this week, Tuesday, August 19.

Today we are going to visit with IRL IndyCarTM Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish drives the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, and this past Sunday, he earned his ninth career IndyCar Series victory and his first win of the 2003 season at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. In doing so, the two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion led 181 of the 200 laps and established a new IndyCar Series average race speed record of 197.897 miles per hour, breaking the previous mark of 180.917 set by Alex Barron in July 2003 at Michigan International Speedway. Sam, good morning and thanks for joining us today.

S. Hornish Jr: Thank you.

K. Johnson: Let's start by looking back on your dominating performance this past weekend at Kentucky. You start by qualifying on pole position, then lead all but 19 laps of the race. Give us your perspective on your weekend.

Hornish: Well, we had a really good weekend. We went into it and we had not tested there this year. We have had some good race cars at Kentucky, with a third and a second in my two years at Panther Racing. The Kentucky track is something that seems to change every time we go there. It's pretty smooth, it's bumpy, whatever is next. We had a good setup from 2001 where the track was a little bit bumpy, put that on the car and had a good baseline to start with. We moved some things around, did a lot of race setup in practice and really did not do any qualifying stuff because we were more worried about that race setup trying to get out there to collect the 50 points instead of just the $10,000 for the pole. But when we trimmed everything out for qualifying, it just so happened that we had a car that was fast enough to go out there and to be on pole. It was a good place to start, to be in front of the field and go out and get another good race under our belts. The guys in the pits did an awesome job. The first two pit stops of the race were under a green flag, and I think we extended our lead each time that we came in, so that was good. The guys worked really hard this year on making sure that they are as fast in the pits as they can be so that we do not have to really make up a lot of time on the track. They help pick me up some spots in the pits by doing what they do, and they have been doing a great job of it.

K. Johnson: Going back to Pikes Peak in mid-June, you and the Panther team have recorded four top-five finishes over seven races. You have done that with a change of crew chiefs, going from Kevin Blanch to Simon Morley. The team really does not appear to have missed a beat.

Hornish: No, they sure haven't. We all hated to see Kevin leave. But, like anything else, things change. We have had quite a few guys that, considering our three-year run together, that have been there, that have left and went on to do different things, and that is part of our life and part of racing. People move on, people have to put themselves in a different position to see how they do in those positions. It was time for Kevin to do that. Simon is a very good mechanic and really stepped into that just as well, as we all knew he would. He has done a great job so far, and only three or four races into it, he's getting a victory. So that really shows that he knows what is going on. Panther Racing has enough phases in them to know that they are not going to put somebody in that job that is not going to do it right. So every time I go out on the track, I know that Simon and the rest of the guys got the car up to par and where it needs to be.

K. Johnson: Now this week the IndyCar Series moves over to Nazareth Speedway, another track where the emphasis is on handling. Based on your past performance in this type of situation, you have to feel positive about your outlook for this weekend.

Hornish: I really feel positive about it. We have done well on the short handling tracks this year, as we were suffering with a little bit less horsepower. Now that we have the horsepower, we feel that we can go out there and really try to focus on the handling of the race car, get a good qualifying run. We would like to win another race. That is just -- that is how it is. We want to win as many as we can towards the end of this year. We are mathematically not out of the point championship. While it is kind of a big monster to try to tackle, we are going to go for it. We are going to give it our all and see if we can kind of pull ourselves back up there.

Q: If you could, let's talk about your change in leaving Panther Racing at the end of the season. What was the deciding factor for you?

Hornish: The deciding factor was that, like I said, about 'Rocket' (Kevin Blanch) leaving. People come to a point in their life where, even though things are good, you want to step outside and try something new. That is what I am doing. I have had a lot of opportunities. Even though Panther Racing is a wonderful organization, trust me, it would be a lot easier, the decision I had to make, if there was some kind of conflict. But everybody there I consider my friend, some of them better than that. It is time to try something. We have won two championships together, nine races, and we are still in the hunt for our third one. Even though sometimes things are going great, you want to do something and give somebody else an opportunity to stand up and do their thing, also.

Q: Will you remain in IndyCar?

Hornish: I have not come out with a formal release of what I am going to be doing next year, therefore I am not going--I can't answer that. I do not have anything totally wrapped up yet.

Q: It is kind of hard to keep that in, though, I bet?

Hornish: Any kind of decision that I made, knowing what you are going to do next year or even the fact that I was going to leave Panther Racing, was harder than anything else. I was, like, sick about it for about the past week and still am today. It is a tough decision to have to make, but sometimes you just have to know what you want, and you have to go for it.

Q: That had to make not only the fact that you guys had struggled this season without the win, and now you come out and you know you are about to make the release that you are leaving Panther Racing and you get the big win at Kentucky. That had to be one of the happiest moments of your life standing on that podium and kind of almost bittersweet? Just an opinion of mine.

Hornish: The decision was already made. I never let the beginning of this year or the win last week affect what my decision was going to be. I knew I had to make it no matter what was going on, on or off the track. It had to be a decision that I wanted to do, even if we are winning everything or if we were losing everything, it did not matter. I did not feel at all upset up there on the podium. I felt great, because all the guys that worked so hard this year, that have struggled through putting the cars together, and then while we are running basically two cars with one team doing everything for the (Chevrolet) Gen IV, and those guys have worked so hard this year that I just felt good about it. It was a day for them to celebrate and for them to come up there and have a good time and to get what they deserved.

Q: Sam, after you had such a dominating performance on Sunday and you had to go tell the team yesterday that you were leaving, you are still in the championship race. You can still, basically, end up winning this thing if you are as dominant as you were on Sunday. Is there any fear that with the team and with yourself, that things just might not really form together now that they know that you are going to leave at the end of the year?

Hornish: I do not know. You know, basically, the way I look at it when we walked in there yesterday and we had that meeting, I just do not necessarily know that it was a surprise to them or anything like that. I think that that is what they were prepared for. I think that all the things that we had talked about up until that point of time, and where we were at with our discussions, I think that it was kind of something that we all kind of knew was going to go in that direction. I think that we are all still committed to winning the championship. I do not think for one minute that they are going to let off. They want this championship as bad or more than I do.

Q: In a way, can this kind of almost inspire or motivate you and the team and the fact that this will be the last four races that you have together? It is kind of, 'You go out there, let's win one for the team,' and they go out there with the attitude, 'Let's win this for Sam.'

Hornish: Hey, we do not need any more inspiration other than just going out there and winning. That is all we care about, whatever day it is. When we are at the track, we are focused on winning the race. It is not about egos or personalities or anything, or who is doing what next year. It is about the day and winning races.

Q: Is there any trepidation in your mind that you are 100 percent sure that you are doing the right thing?

Hornish: Hey, you never know if you have done the right thing until you have done it. Right now, I am still not sure, but we are going to find out.

Q: Sam, you have always expressed interest, and you always wanted to win the '500'. Even if you make a change and you go to, maybe, something different, will you have an opportunity to come back and run the '500'?

Hornish: I think no matter what I do, I am going to make sure that I have the opportunity to run the Indianapolis 500. It is the place that I grew up going to and watching races and dreaming about winning. I think, no matter what I do from now until the time that I retire from racing, I am going to make sure that I have an opportunity to go there and run and win that race.

Q: Did your experience in IROC factor at all into your decision? Was the learning curve, in terms of drafting, a little more humbling at times than you might have expected?

Hornish: We did pretty good on the big tracks. It was more of the ones that you had to conserve tires and stay out of trouble and all those things that bit me. I know that those guys that I was out there racing against in that series do that full-time. I am not doing it full-time. I don't know necessarily if I will be 100 percent competitive with them just because it is a hard thing to do. It is just like coming over and running Indy cars. If you are not used to doing it every day, it is not going to be something where you can have a dominating race, or whatever, just by coming over.

Q: What kind of, without giving away any information that you do not want to, what kind of appeal does stock car racing hold for you?

Hornish: Every form of racing out there holds some kind of appeal to me, whether it be Formula 1, stock car, even the drag racing. They all have their certain things. NASCAR has the Brickyard 400, which is about the closest thing you can do to winning the Indianapolis 500, other than winning the Indy 500. They have the Daytona 500. Each kind of racing, you can run a dragster, and you can go over 300 miles an hour. Hey, that is a pretty rewarding thing, too. There are not a whole lot of people in the world that can say they have done that. Formula 1, I'd love competing against those guys. The IRL, winning the Indy 500, you know, winning more races than anybody. No matter what kind of racing I look at, I always look at from the fact that if I was going to do that kind of racing, how can I go and do it and set myself apart from the other drivers that have been there before?

Q: Well, Tony asked my question about as politically correct as you can ask it, but I guess what I am really trying to get from you is if Winston Cup is in your future what tells you that you are prepared for the things-- I mean, we know you are an IndyCar (Series) driver. We know that very loud and clear. But, why do you think that you could be successful at the Winston Cup level?

Hornish: You don't know. Like I said, you go to different tracks. You do different things. You go to short tracks. You go to big tracks. You go to drafting tracks. You go to road courses. Who knows if you can be successful at any of those things? If that is what I were to do, it is like I said before, there is only one way to find out and that is to go out there and to put yourself in the seat and to see what you can do. Just like when I came to IndyCar (Series) racing from Toyota Atlantic, how did I know that I could do it? I did not know if I could do it or not. I just got in the seat and tried my best, and it happened to work out.

Q: What does this say about your association with Chevrolet, General Motors? You have had, and I cannot see a situation currently, maybe I am blind to it, but I can't see a situation where you're with General Motors in the Indy Racing League. What does this say about your future with them?

Hornish: Well my future, being 24-years-old, I have a good 20 years of racing, so with my experience, the same as with Pennzoil and Panther and GM, if you want to put to that point, or even to the Indy Racing League, you do not burn bridges. You go about it. You do the best you can. When you have to do something different, you go through all the steps of calling the people that you have association with, and you let them know out of your mouth. You do not let them read about it in the paper, which are all the things that I tried to do yesterday. As far as GM and Chevy go, they just really astounded me this year with what they could do. I am really proud of the way that they handled themselves, and I am proud of the opportunity that they have given me. I have won two championships running GM engines. They will have a possibility to win a third one, even though it would be a long shot. That is life. All the people that I talk to, they have wished me the best, the same as I wish them the best. They are a great organization. It is one of the toughest things to say, as far as to talk to people that are involved with Indy Racing League. No matter what, they are a great bunch of people. I enjoy working with them.

Q: I do not know if you saw the quote from J.J. Yeley, who said you had such an unbelievable year and erased some pretty amazing names from the record book. But he made the comment that it was almost inevitable that an open-wheel guy is going to end up going to NASCAR. And the perception, should you end up with a roof over your head next year, is that it is inevitable that American open-wheel drivers seek their destiny. They end up going to that side of racing. Just curious, your thoughts about that, because you certainly are the ranking of the young American open-wheel driver at this point, and certainly with the things you have done in IROC to demonstrate you could race anything, but just kind of curious your thoughts about that perception that this is an inevitable trend?

Hornish: I wouldn't say it is inevitable, but there are a lot of opportunities over there. You do not see very many drivers over there that aren't American. It has been proved time and time again that a driver that is good in one series is not always as good in every series that they run in. But a great driver can pretty much do good in any series. I think that there is a little bit of truth to that. I already said that there might be some more opportunities over there. I don't know exactly how to put it. No matter what you are driving, whether you start off driving in ASA or like a Busch North thing, whatever, it is going to be hard. It continually gets harder and harder to find good rides because there are a lot of good drivers out there. Even to get in NASCAR, there are people that have struggled and do not get in there. I don't know what that tells you, but no matter where you are at you are always going to have people that--

Q: I know each person is up to make his own individual decision. Just one other thing, in talking about the significance of the Indy 500, obviously it may affect Tony Stewart, maybe change his team because he could go someplace, be it Ganassi or someplace where they could do that double again. I even get the feeling from Kevin Harvick talking about Rick Mears. I know he went up to watch Robby Gordon with Richard Childress on Carburetion Day, so maybe he might-- What is it about the way-- I know the Firestone commercial, 'The Brickyard calls to you.' But what is it about that that makes it such a thing that Sam Hornish wants that on his resume before you hang it up in 20 years?

Hornish: I can't really think of one thing that makes me want to win that race. There are so many. If you look back at the names, Al Unser and Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and all those people. If you can put your name in the record books beside any of those guys, that is a great feeling. That is the first race that I can remember going to. My mom and dad went when my mom was pregnant with me to the Indianapolis 500. It is a race to win if you are an open-wheel driver. It used to be the race to win no matter what kind of driver you are and I think that still there is held a little bit of truth to that.

Q: I am not sure really how fair this question is, but hypothetically speaking, if you were to go to NASCAR, end up with a roof over your head, which team appeals to you the most?

Hornish: There are a lot of different teams. There is nothing, really, that appeals to me more than anything else as far as what I can say right now. There are a lot of good teams over there. I have talked to quite a few car owners. It is kind of tough if you think about it, because it is a tough decision, especially with how many teams that I have talked to and the resumes that they have. I just really appreciated all those people that have talked to me, because it is not only good for possible future jobs, but it is also good for your self-esteem knowing people that want you and how many good teams do.

Q: As a racing fan in general, what draws you to NASCAR?

Hornish: You never want to be the big fish in a small pond. The IRL continues to grow which is a great thing. But sometimes you need to try something different. I am not saying that that is the thing that I am going to try different, but, it definitely has been a possibility for quite a while now and I keep looking at it as 'Do I really want to do that?' I get about 50/50 from the fans. About 50 percent tell me that they cannot wait to see me over there and about 50 percent tell me to stay. It's kind of hard because you want to run where the fans are going to come and watch you. When they are half and half it is kind of hard to make a decision, too.

Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Alex Barron , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , J.J. Yeley , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Al Unser , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing