Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Tom Wood K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing conference call for this week, Tuesday, July 22. Today we visit with Indy Racing League Infiniti Pro Series driver Tom Wood, as well as IndyCar...
Indy Racing League
K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing conference call for this week, Tuesday, July 22. Today we visit with Indy Racing League Infiniti Pro Series driver Tom Wood, as well as IndyCar Series driver and two-time champion Sam Hornish, Jr. Our first guest is Tom Wood. He drives the No. 9 Trailblazer Drilling/Savanna Energy Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and he is coming off a career-best second-place finish at the Cleanevent 100, which took place July 18 at Nashville Superspeedway. That marked his second top-five finish of the season, and his third top-10 performance of the year. Tom, good morning, welcome, and thanks for joining us today.
T. Wood: Good morning, Kent. How are you doing?
K. Johnson: I'm doing very good, thank you. To start tell us about your run this past Friday evening. It was a great race. Obviously, Mark Taylor won, but you certainly stuck your nose in there a few times toward the end.
Wood: Yeah. Actually, we had a pretty good day all day, other than qualifying. We tested at Nashville a week earlier, and a lot of other teams test early in the year, but I think the opportunity to be there 10 days before the race was, it helped us quite a bit because the track temperatures were a little closer to what it was actually going to be like during the race. In the practice sessions, we were the quickest car every session. The one mistake that we did make was that we didn't really work on a qualifying trim. We concentrated more on a race setup. So, starting fourth was a little bit of a handicap on that track, because it is fairly difficult to pass. But, we had the fastest car for the race. Getting in behind Mark a couple of times, my car was really good in traffic. I could see his wasn't all that great, and unfortunately, when we started to get into the traffic, that would have made some difference to us. My teammate ended up spinning out, and kind of put us, well, it put Mark back into clear air again on the restart lap.
K. Johnson: This is your second season with the Infiniti Pro Series. It's your first full season. You competed in three races with Sam Schmidt's team last year. Tell us, as a competitor, how you have seen the series develop from its inception last year to what you're competing in this year.
Wood: Well, I think it's made quite a change, as far as the caliber of drivers and the caliber of teams are concerned. From last year to this year, I think, being a new series, it was kind of searching. Everybody was trying out different things. There were some really large discrepancies in the performances of the teams. I think last year, you saw Foyt dominating mostly on the bigger tracks, and then on the smaller tracks other people were stepping in, because there was, I guess, there was a little difference in setups, things like that. This year, if you look at Mark Taylor, he's been able to perform at a really high level on tracks like Phoenix, on tracks like Kansas, and on tracks like Nashville. And these are tracks where you're going from the superspeedways where you end up with more of a situation where the setup can, it doesn't need to be nearly as good as it does for a track, for example, like Nashville. And you can get around that track and do fairly well. But, to be able to perform well at both kinds of tracks, take teams like the Panther team, they step the whole thing up a notch. And there's drivers like Simmons, the Western Union team. We've got the Hemelgarn team. Everybody's just stepping it up a couple of steps every time we go out. And you'll see the times are much faster this year, although the rule packages are allowing for the times to go up a little bit on each track because of the wing configurations. But, just about everybody seems to be squeaking that much more out, and it's more of a refinement process everywhere you go. I think every track you see from now on, the track records, everything's going to be falling quite dramatically.
K. Johnson: Now, looking at your season this year through six events, you opened the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a strong performance. You finished sixth. Then you kind of dropped off a little bit. You went 15, 13, and 10 over the next three events. But now in the last two, at Kansas Speedway and at Nashville Superspeedway, you finished in the top three. You finished third at Kansas and second at Nashville. Was the performance something that you could put a finger on, or how do you account for the turnabout?
Wood: Well, there's two things that have happened. In the last couple of races, Mark Moore has joined us as my engineer. Gilbert Lage is still my chief mechanic. They are working very well together. It's like they've got a lot of chemistry. We all have a lot of chemistry. We're getting things done, and everything is starting to really gel. Earlier in the season, we were quite fast in the first two races, well, at the first two tracks. At Phoenix, we had the fastest practice session there before qualifying. We qualified fairly well. Unfortunately, I crashed in that race while I was in, at the start, in third place. We just got a little aggressive with the setup there. Same thing at Homestead. I was the second-quickest car in practice there, and we crashed in qualifying trying to go for the pole. It's just one of those deals. The next two races after that, we were suffering some mechanical problems, and I can't blame my crew for that. It was just some issues that we had with engines and a gearbox problem. And like at Indianapolis, I really didn't have much performance there, because we didn't have the top two gears in the race. I lost the gearbox, there was just a small thing that broke on the gearbox, and it wouldn't allow me to get my fifth and sixth gears, so we were just kind of running around there. And when we got to Colorado, we were having a relatively good run. We would have had a top-five finish there. Just an oil line broke, and I lost the oil pressure, and the engine shut down. So, you know, things happen to you in racing. I think Gil de Ferran made the comment that you can expect two or three bad races a year in a series, and he hopes he's gotten his out of the way, and I hope we've gotten ours out of the way, too.
K. Johnson: Well Tom, at this time, I'd like to open our conference call to the media.
Q: You go to Michigan for the next race, now. It's a 2-mile high bank. Have you ever driven on a track like that, or have you driven there before, and what are you expecting?
Wood: No, I have not driven on a 2-mile high bank. We've raced at Texas last year, and I finished sixth there. I think this is going to be a totally different race from what we've seen all year. I'm assuming that this is going to be more of a Texas-style race, where you're going to end up with two, three lines going all through, all the time. You're going to need drafting partners here. And this is going to be just basically trimming the car out and working the draft, and it's not going to be anything like we've had previously this year, where it's been, you know, there's been a lot of setup going into the cars.
Q: Right. Tell me a little bit about, you didn't get into racing until you were almost 40. What directed you in that to decide to try that out?
Wood: Well, actually it was 37. I've always followed racing, and I ski raced when I was younger. I've always been into fast sports, and a friend of mine invited me to go to a racing school down at Bob Bondurant's back in, I think it was 1995 or so. And I went down there and had a lot of fun. We had Johnny O'Connell as a driving instructor, and from that point, I just decided to, you know, we bought a Legends Car and started at that level. Started just oval-track racing, and the first year I ran in that, I led the season just about the whole year, and I ended up finishing third, because I had crashed a car toward the end of it. But, I caught on fairly quickly to that so, from that point forward, it just kind of gets in your blood, and it's a passion of mine. I really love doing it.
Q: While you're out there with all these younger guys, what kind of aspirations do you have? They're all trying to get to the IndyCar Series. What are your goals?
Wood: I have the same goal. I mean, I realize it's later in life for me. I'm very careful about conditioning, things like that. I work out six days a week. I understand these guys are younger, but I think, like talking with Arie Luyendyk he made the comment, one thing about oval-track racing you can race it later in life. And I have every ambition to get into the Indy 500.
Q: Good. Well, one other question. It seems that like the Lazier's were skiers, and it seems several people, drivers, started out skiing. Is there something about the speed of it and the thrill of it that kind of transforms into the auto racing end of it?
Wood: Well, yes, at some level there is. Downhill racing, I'm talking like true downhills, it's very similar to oval-track racing when you come down to it. You're traveling at high rates of speed. Like on skis, we were traveling 70 or 75 miles per hour. And you've got an entry and an apex, same thing. I guess. In some instances it's like driving high-speed road courses. But in other ways, I guess it's the rush, the sensation that you get. It's very similar. And tracking out, just being able to, like edging too much, or edging too little, it's the same thing as getting into understeer, oversteer, things like that. There are a lot of similarities, but I think it's the pure speed and being able to execute the corners at the fastest speed possible. Those are some of the similarities anyway.
Q: Yeah, and one other question. You're from Calgary. Did you ever participate in the Calgary Stampede or anything?
Wood: Well, I have never been into the rodeo stuff, but actually, last week, the Calgary Stampede was on here, and Sam Schmidt, we brought him up to see the chuck-wagon races and the rodeo, and it was quite interesting how involved he got in the chuck-wagon races. Because believe it or not, it seems a little crude, but when you watch the things they do in that, racing's racing. And Sam was quite amazed at how fast they travel and the strategy that's involved in chuck-wagon racing. I guess racing is the same just about everywhere. As long as you've got another guy that you're going to beat, it's always fun.
Q: Tom, what's it like driving for Sam?
Wood: It's just a wonderful opportunity. Sam is such an inspirational individual. We were going through a little stretch there where I was having some problems mechanically. And you sit down and you talk with Sam, and you kind of forget about all the little problems that you're having when you see how he can, with the tremendous injury that he had in racing, and the passion that he still has for the sport, it's absolutely amazing. Like, if you ever think that you have problems, and he'll tell you this, there are people who are out there complaining about, you know, there might be somebody who is paralyzed from their waist down, and Sam just made the comment that there aren't a lot of people living that have a worse injury than what he has. And, you know, he'll tell kids that are paralyzed from their waist down like, 'I would kill to have the use of my hands.' And coming back to us as racers, if you think you're having a bad day, just look to Sam. He's an inspirational guy, and he really understands racing, and he has helped me tremendously. He will mentor you, he will coach you on the track, and he inspires you while you're racing. He was on the radio at Nashville with me for, oh, probably 10, 15 laps. He wouldn't interfere with the spotter, but when we were trying to work on Taylor, he was giving me a lot of great ideas on how to set them up. It's just, unfortunately, Taylor had Pancho Carter there, and they're a great team, and they're hard to beat. They really are. I mean, Brandon and I both worked on them a lot, and even with all the help we were getting, they kept us behind them.
K. Johnson: As you have now passed the midpoint of the Infiniti Pro Series season, Mark Taylor has an advantage on everybody else in the points race. But, what is your goal for the remainder of the season, and how, as a driver and a team, do you chase down Mark Taylor and Panther Racing?
Wood: Well, as a goal, we would still love to win the championship. We're sixth in points right now. We've made a tremendous leap in the last two weeks. I believe we were about 12th about two weeks ago. If we can just keep getting podium finishes, pick off a few wins here, we can make a run at them. I think, though, to be realistic, most of the field is going to be fighting for second place. Not to say that Mark can't have some problems like everybody else does, but he's going to have to have an awful lot of problems with the lead he's gotten on the field right now. I believe he's, you know, 260 points or something like that compared to 175. He's really pulled it out. But, I still think we're only 20 points or so out of the second-place position. We'll aim at that first, and if we get there, then we'll honestly take, or definitely try, to take a shot at the top place. But you never want to give up, he's just got a tremendous advantage right. There's no question about it.
K. Johnson: Well, Tom again we appreciate you taking the time to join us today, and best of luck this week up at Michigan.
Wood: Well, thank you.