INDYCAR-USAC Scholarship Teleconference
October 20, 2010
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the INDYCAR-USAC teleconference today. We have a very exciting announcement.
INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, will award the winner of USAC's inaugural national driver championship with a scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights during the 2011 season. The scholarship will allow the 2010 USAC driver champion to run a regular schedule in Firestone Indy Lights kicking off at the Firestone Freedom 100 during the Indianapolis 500 during the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Joining us today to talk about this exciting news is IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, USAC president and CEO Kevin Miller, and USAC drivers Levi Jones and Bryan Clauson.
Q. Randy, I'm going to open it up with questions for you. Was there a moment or a time this year, maybe a visit, you've been so many different places, met so many different people in your first year here as INDYCAR CEO, was there a moment or time or someone you met who was really pivotal in making this alliance and relationship happen?
RANDY BERNARD: I wouldn't say one unique moment or person that was pivotal. I would say more of listening to what fans want. The one thing we kept hearing time and time again is we need more Americans. I think it's more important to say, and I've said it from day one, in order for IZOD IndyCar Series to have Americans, we need the very best Americans, we need the very best drivers.
Then when I went to some of the USAC events and I saw the crowds, I saw the talent, I saw how personable they were, how many of those folks love IndyCar but have just not been associated with it, I knew it was very important for us to reconnect with these folks.
I was able to spend time with Levi and Kevin, most recently Bryan. I'm a big believer in this.
I also want to say that I think it's important from the standpoint that Mr. (Tony) Hulman was the founder of USAC. I think it definitely takes us back to our traditions and our roots.
Q. Kevin, Randy just touched upon a point, and a question I was going to ask you. What does this announcement, this scholarship, mean to USAC, especially considering its historical ties to Tony Hulman and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
KEVIN MILLER: It's very meaningful. I've been here now three years and the connection to the Speedway and to IndyCar racing is really in the bloodlines of USAC throughout our 54 plus years of history. Having the connection back to the Speedway for our drivers, it's extremely important for our future.
We have a lot of young talent starting at age five with quarter midgets that are moving up through the ranks. They have aspirations. The Speedway is the highest aspiration. Bridging that gap that exists today is that missing link.
This new opportunity that Randy is presenting to USAC is kind of that last hurdle we need to really make USAC the premiere division again. That linkage to IndyCar and the Speedway is something we're very optimistic to look forward to.
MODERATOR: A little bit of background here on Levi and Bryan. Levi is the new USAC Silver Crown Series national champion. He won the championship for Tony Stewart Racing by two points over Bud Kaeding. That has to have a nice ring to it. He also leads the AMS Sprint national standings by 91 points over Bryan Clauson. Bryan and Levi are 1-2 in the national driver's championship standings this year. Bryan has 1099 points, Levi has 1077. It looks like it may come down to these two guys for that scholarship.
Q. Levi, what does it mean to you to have this carrot hanging in front of you to realize, Wow, if I can win this national drivers championship, I'm going to be that much closer to getting into an IndyCar?
LEVI JONES: It means a lot to me to be one of the first guys that has a shot at accomplishing that is huge. Not only for myself, but like Kevin mentioned, you know, our last dirt race at Eldora, there were over 200 kids in quarter midgets. If they can see me win at Eldora, have a shot to possibly drive an IndyCar, that only makes their dreams bigger and better.
It's just a start of something that we want to get bigger and better for everyone involved in our sport.
Q. Bryan, what kind of buzz do you anticipate this announcement will create in the USAC pits among the drivers, especially guys like yourself who are leading the national championship standings for the national drivers championship? You had a very strong year in your first year in Silver Crown for Tony Stewart Racing.
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think it's going to be huge for something like this to come out, for short track, open-wheel guys to have an opportunity now to move on to the next level in open-wheel racing, head towards the Speedway again is, you know, something that hasn't been there over the past five, ten years. To open that gate back up is something that we are all really excited about.
Hopefully if it's not me or Levi, whoever does get the opportunity does us proud, continues the success down that way and we can keep doing this.
Q. Randy, talk about the development of the Road to Indy program being very strong since it began. There's a very clear path. Talk about where this USAC scholarship fits into the Road to Indy along with Formula 2000 Star Mazda and Indy Lights?
RANDY BERNARD: We have a foundation for our ladder system. It still needs some work. Right now Mazda has provided some from the karting world to move into the F2000, and from the F2000 up to Star Mazda. We've had a break in our ladder system from there into the Firestone Indy Lights, then we had a break from the Firestone Indy Lights into the IZOD IndyCar Series. It's very important for us to finish out that ladder and make it successful.
We believe it's also very important to offer this facet to our ladder system because we think it's very important to the American culture of racing. We believe it's some of the best drivers in the world that have come this way. If you look at Mario (Andretti), A.J. (Foyt) Johnny (Rutherford), the Unsers, there's so many greats that we've had, we believe that this is going to give us some great American drivers in our series.
Q. Kevin, talk about what this announcement and this scholarship means not only for the development of existing USAC drivers and for their career path, but just for enhancing USAC as a career destination, a destination series for drivers throughout the country, especially in the Midwest. This has to be an attractive lure for drivers to come and race.
KEVIN MILLER: It's definitely a boost. The Speedway is the ultimate goal of the open-wheel racer. As a child growing up, the Speedway was my icon out there. It continues to be for racers around the world. Having the door through USAC is very meaningful to me running our series and it does create quite a carrot, especially if we can start moving some of our drivers through that door. You saw what happened in the last decade with NASCAR. Obviously, we would like that connection with IndyCar.
We really see it in the pits in the last two years, the discussion about IndyCar racing has increased quite a bit. The desire to be at the Speedway has increased. I talked to a lot of younger drivers. You can see that. Having this linkage is definitely a strengthening spot for USAC for the next few years.
Q. Randy or Kevin, how exactly will this work? How will the money be distributed? Who will pay the money? How about the decision of what team will field these cars?
RANDY BERNARD: Well, the money will come from IndyCar. We will have say on the team because we want to make sure that one of these drivers has the ability to showcase his ability and make sure that he's in a car that is able to win. That's very important to us.
We are going to provide $300,000 to the winning driver. We also believe this is going to be a big help to USAC. This is a co-promotion because some of the elements that are going to be involved is you're going to see IndyCar at some of the USAC events and you're going to see USAC logos at some of the IndyCar events.
I think it's important we work together. I'm a big believer that all boats rise on a high tide. That's what we're trying to do here is helping racing world and IndyCar, as USAC.
KEVIN MILLER: We want to position our token driver in the series to set him up to be very successful. So we're going to work with IndyCar and ensure that the scholarship that they're providing is well-utilized to position the USAC driver in a very strong position for winning because winning will be the ultimate success of this scholarship program.
We're also working with IndyCar on our scheduling as far as this is intended for the oval races. We're looking for where the ovals are for IndyCar, trying to make sure USAC is in a close proximity so our driver champion that wins this ride can continue with USAC. I think that's important to our drivers, while they go after the ovals as IndyCar with the Indy Lights program.
We're going to work hand-in-hand. Like Randy said, co-promotion, I know that we're in discussions right now with one of the tracks with their ovals about getting USAC on the track. The week before it's midget week where we'll be in Indiana at five races. We talked to the promotor about promoting that race, the IndyCar race, at the five grassroot races within a two-hour drive of the track. I think that's an opportunity to bring a new core fan base back to the bigger ovals with IndyCar.
Q. No secret that your boss, Tony Stewart, if you look at the last 15 years, the guy has had the greatest success jumping from USAC to IndyCar, winning the 1996/'97 IZOD IndyCar Series championship. Have either of you talked with Smoke about the transition from a USAC car to an Indy-style car at all, what to anticipate, the excitement about it?
LEVI JONES: I think we've touched on it a little bit already. Randy said they obviously want to put a great driver with a good team. That's what Tony was able to do. He's obviously one of the best racecar drivers ever that won the '97 IRL championship with a good team.
That formula has already been put in place. I think myself or Bryan both, given good equipment, would have a shot at the oval championship in the first year.
BRYAN CLAUSON: I've gotten to talk a little bit about it. It was much of the same. Just making sure it's the right opportunity and the right people are put in place to give you the best chance to succeed and adapt quickly.
I think that's really the biggest factor in this whole deal, is we learn to adapt to these new cars. We got to have people around to help us along, teach us, get us pointed in the right direction.
Q. Bryan and Levi, the appeal of moving up one step closer to Indy obviously is a huge attraction to this new scholarship. What technically about the thought of jumping into an Firestone Indy Lights car appeals to you most? As a race driver, you look at that, you say, That's cool, I want to drive that thing? Why? What's the most attractive thing about it?
LEVI JONES: Me personally, it's a new challenge. That's something you look forward to as a racecar driver. Bryan and I both have obviously won races and won championships. I would like to prove that I can drive something else besides a USAC car, and the chance to do it in front of a lot of people, on the greatest tracks is something that I look forward to.
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think the new challenge is a big draw. There's something to be said about a car with a lot of horsepower, a lot of downforce. I got to spend a lot of time with Dario Franchitti a couple years ago. I got to hear all about how awesome the IndyCar Series cars were to drive, how fun they were, how close the racing is.
It's just something that stuck with me and something that's always appealed to me as a kid growing up in Indiana. So I think between all the hype he gave it and being able to grow up watching it, it's something that I've always been really interested in and really excited about.
Q. Levi, at this point in your career, is this type of thing you'd given up hope would happen?
LEVI JONES: Well, I definitely will say that in the past five years, driving past the Speedway, whether picking up parts, taking a car to get painted or whatever, I've kind of looked at the Speedway as, Man, it would have been cool to get a shot to race there.
Since talking with Randy early in this year, kind of going over his thoughts, where we need to be, we just kind of clicked. We both had the same thoughts and the way we thought we could make this work.
It's just great that we've been able to put things together and come up with a plan.
MODERATOR: With that then I will thank our participants today, Randy Bernard, Kevin Miller, Levi Jones and Bryan Clauson for participating in the conference call. This is big news, we're all excited to see it happen next year. Thank you, gentlemen.