Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Sam Schmidt and Tony Kanaan September 21, 2004 Sam Schmidt MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. As the season winds down, the championship stories begin to...
Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference
Sam Schmidt and Tony Kanaan
September 21, 2004
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. As the season winds down, the championship stories begin to take shape, we have two guests on today's call that are extremely close to securing Indy Racing League titles.
Joining us to open the call is Menards Infiniti Pro Series owner Sam Schmidt. Sam is the owner of a two-car team, one of which is a sure bet to claim the Menards Infiniti Pro Series title. Sam's driver, Thiago Medeiros, needs only to start the race at California Speedway next weekend to claim the championship.
2004 will mark Sam's first championship and will also cap an incredible year for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The team entered the season without a single victory in 38 starts, but entering the race next weekend at California, it has recorded five victories and seven pole positions. Sam, thanks for joining us today.
SAM SCHMIDT: No problem.
Q: You've had a very memorable year. Can you give us your thoughts as you're on the verge of winning a Pro Series championship?
SAM SCHMIDT: Well, sure. It's just been an absolutely fantastic ride. As many owners will tell you in motorsports - and drivers for that matter - it's kind of all about the people. This year, obviously it's something we would have liked to have accomplished a couple years ago, possibly in the (IndyCar Series) in 2001, 2002. It's extremely competitive out there. I guess I've been learning slowly as an owner.
We made a few personnel changes over the winter, and kind of just laid it all on the line, so to speak. It does take a lot of energy for me to travel and to manage the team and everything else. I just kind of came to the decision that if we weren't winning races, competing for the championship, it almost wasn't worth doing.
We made some good changes. Of course, Thiago is a heck of a driver. To me, the program has finally been what it needs to be, with the proper level of testing, just the right people in place. Everything's gone remarkably smooth.
Q: You had a lot of success with a lot of drivers this season. Can you talk about the success of the team with every driver you've had in the car this year?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah. I think to some extent it's this formula. It's basically a spec car, it's clearly a spec tire and a spec engine. We don't deal with different engine manufacturers like you do in the (IndyCar Series). It does kind of highlight what the team's able to develop before you even get to the track as far as performance.
There's no replacing seat time, as well. If you have a little bit of time preseason to test with your driver, get the communication going, it really helps your program. We were able to do that early on and got a pretty good head start on everybody.
Q: Can you give us your thoughts on the recent success Travis Gregg has shown in the No. 5 car?
SAM SCHMIDT: Travis is a clear example of what the series was created for. He grew up in go-karts. The last couple years he's been racing non-wing Sprint cars. Prior to that, he has some Formula Atlantic experience. He's got a variety of experience in different types of cars.
I think that's what I really enjoy about being an owner in this series is that when these drivers come in, as far as ovals at 190 mph, they've basically got a clean sheet of paper. I can work with them about the transition from what they were doing before to this type of racing.
I think that's one thing that was lacking when I was in the (IndyCar Series) because in theory, if somebody's driving there, they should be fairly well-advanced in their oval experience, etc.
I enjoy getting the drivers from Formula Ford, from Formula 2000, from go-karts, from Sprint cars. I just enjoy that whole process of bringing them up.
We obviously had a quick car with Thiago. We basically put the same setup on the car for Travis. He drove it. It worked out pretty good.
Q: With all the success that you've had this year and in past years in the Infiniti Pro Series, other than the Indy 500, you haven't really stepped back into the IndyCar Series. Can we see something like that in the future?
SAM SCHMIDT: Well, quite frankly, now that we've got what I would consider a really good program in the Infiniti Pro Series, you wouldn't want to go back to the (IndyCar Series) on a full-time basis unless you could duplicate that type of program there. And that's really difficult right now.
We continue to look for sponsorship, whether it's for the Infiniti Pro Series or whether it be for the (IndyCar Series) or just the 500. It's just really tough out there. You've got to be tied to a manufacturer. That helps a lot. It's kind of like, 'Do you want to be really good at this, or just marginally existing over there?' That's kind of what it comes down to. Now that we've been winning races, it makes it a lot easier to get up and do it in the morning. And, frankly, I've begun to focus a lot more on the foundation, kind of how the team ties to the foundation. As far as the foundation, we just got a really good CEO that's just come on board. We're really looking to take that to the next level and make it more of a national organization. There's kind of a lot going on there which of course ties in with racing.
This year alone, even with just the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, I was on the road 140 days this year. The (IndyCar Series) would probably add another 40 to 50 days on the schedule. It just gets a little crazy.
Certainly there is a passion and a place in my heart for the Indy 500. I really think, you know, from a sponsor standpoint as far as return, etc., that's still just running the month of May is a pretty attractive thing.
Q: What about your drivers for next year? Will you see Travis full-time next year and what about Thiago? Seems to be the history of Menards Infiniti Pro Series that when they win the championship, they move on to the IndyCar Series.
SAM SCHMIDT: That's a good question. I mean, clearly the only negative I've been able to find about being an owner in the Infiniti Pro Series is that if you do a really, really good job, you have to do it all over again next year, kind of start from scratch. There's no continuity as far as the driver.
Since we've been involved with that series from the very start, I think we've got a really good book of information to where really when somebody comes in, the only variable is the driver. We've got a lot of data we can compare to from this year to last year. That's really why Travis was able to get in and just go, just be able to match Thiago's data and go.
We're working with Travis right now, trying to find a budget, which is no different than anybody else. It's clearly our goal as a team to find the sponsorship and be able to just be a driver search or whatever, put whatever driver we want in the car and not have to have them bring any money whatsoever, whether it be from a sponsorship or whatever. We're working towards that. We're not there yet. But certainly Travis is definitely high on the list of somebody we'd really like to run next year.
Q: How does it affect the sponsorship process and search when you have a championship to sell them?
SAM SCHMIDT: As long as I've been in racing, it's phenomenal the difference that it makes when you're winning races and you're running at the front, getting poles. I mean, the last race at Chicago, it was the fourth time in our existence as a team that we had the entire front row. It's one of those weird things that I think is synonymous with racing, where when you do well, a lot of things go your way. People want to give you things. People want to let you try their products, whereas the guys in the back are working just as hard, if not harder, but they're struggling to find the money and struggling to find the stuff.
This is definitely the position we wanted to be in ever since we started a team. I'm just hoping that we're able to attract some team sponsorship and some driver sponsorship and really bring some more cars to the series and make it what it should be.
Q: Can you give us a sense of how that works? Do you make a series of cold calls? Do you think about who might have an interest in auto racing, related products, people you seek out to pitch to become sponsors?
SAM SCHMIDT: I will say that it's probably the toughest thing I've ever done in my life, trying to find dollars for motorsports. But we really find we have kind of the best success getting in the door and talking to people that have never been involved in motorsports before. There are so many companies out there in our economy that are kind of emerging and trying to put out new products. Maybe it's an entirely new company with a new idea. We try to look to those. Let's face it, the Pennzoils of the world have been doing motorsports for 30, 40, 50 years. You're not going to tell them what advantage you have or whatever. If you're fortunate enough to attract them, it helps having the championship. But you really just got to work your Rolodex, you got to work contacts that you have.
We actually have never had any luck whatsoever from cold calls. It's really just somebody knows the president or CEO of this company, somebody is excited about racing. You look at the Centrix situation. Their CEO appreciated racing and cars. I think through his lead, Centrix has gotten heavily involved in motorsports now. But I think it really is related to his passion. I'm sure he's now figured out a way to justify it.
But you have to have something there that ties somebody in.
Q: Have you thought about the impact you have as a role model to other Americans dealing with disabilities to see somebody winning one of the elite auto racing series in the U.S., and maybe what that could do for your foundation?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I guess I don't really think about it that way. I mean, yes, I get a lot of e-mails. We have a Day at the Races program where we bring out people from local rehab centers to the track after they've been injured to show them they don't have to go home and be a couch potato or be a burden on society for the rest of their life. Unless you're on a ventilator, you're not any worse off than me. It can be done.
I get a lot of e-mails in response to that how it motivates people and gives them an incentive to learn a trade or go out and do something after they've been paralyzed. But really that wasn't the start of it. The start of it was I feel like if we go 10 years down the road, they create a procedure or something that would fix my situation, I wouldn't want to be laying around and not be able to take advantage of it. I think race car drivers generally are pretty motivated people, are the type that get out there and keep themselves in shape, etc.
So my brain hasn't changed. I've still got to keep busy and keep focused and have something to do. I just couldn't just check out after this happened. I mean, I had to find a way to fix it. That's really what we're trying to do. If we can take several hundred thousand people with us, that's great.
Q: You always seem to have a good competitive team with any driver. Will you be doing road courses the same as (the IndyCar Series) next year?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yes. We've been guaranteed the same three races that the IRL has on their schedule, which is Watkins Glen, Sears Point and the St. Pete road course, which is awesome, because I personally raced at all those tracks when I was a driver myself in road racing. I'm looking forward to that. There are even some rumors about a fourth race, but I guess we'll find out when they announce the schedule.
Q: Are your cars changeable to the road course pretty easy?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I think they're a little easier than the (IndyCar Series) cars because our cars started life as a Dallara F-3 car. They made some changes for very specific oval racing. To go back is not that difficult. They are testing the cars with a road course package I think tomorrow or the next day at Homestead.
Really, it's just the internals of the gearbox, some suspension pieces, the axle shaft. It's a pretty minimal changeover compared to the (IndyCar Series) anyway.
Q: What was it that you saw in Travis Gregg before all of us saw him qualify and race so well in his two appearances to date? The guy hasn't really done any kind of pavement racing to speak of.
SAM SCHMIDT: Well, frankly, I don't want to pat ourselves too far on the back. But we have a program where three times a year we bring out drivers and give them kind of an orientation at Kentucky. I think now that we've done that for well over 35 drivers, you can kind of see pretty quick who the guys are that kind of take to it like a fish to water and who the ones are that struggle a little more.
Travis is one of probably a handful of drivers that just took to it, had a really good feel for the car, good feedback, just kind of gelled with everybody. From that point he decided to take it to the next level.
He's a good kid. He's good looking. Perfect image of what the IRL would like to have involved in the series. Just kind of take it from there.
Q: This race coming up next weekend in California is a bit of a homecoming from you, as you're a graduate of Pepperdine. Do you have many friends in the area you're expecting to come out?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yes. Unfortunately, my phone is burning for tickets, so I've got to scrounge up a bunch of passes when I get there.
I was actually born in Nebraska, but moved to California when I was two. I spent basically my whole life in the San Fernando Valley. As you said, went to Pepperdine. Got a ton of friends down there. Got to go down probably Tuesday or Wednesday and start seeing people all week.
MODERATOR: Sam, thank you so much for joining us today and good luck next weekend.
SAM SCHMIDT: Not a problem. Hopefully we can keep our fingers crossed and everybody makes it out there safe on their flights, clinch the championship on Friday. That would be nice.