An interview with AJ Allmendinger Merrill Cain: We now welcome in AJ Allmendinger, newly crowned champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry level in CART's Ladder System of driver development. We appreciate you joining us ...
An interview with AJ Allmendinger
Merrill Cain: We now welcome in AJ Allmendinger, newly crowned champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry level in CART's Ladder System of driver development. We appreciate you joining us on today's call.
AJ Allmendinger: Thank you. I'm actually in a pay phone in a hotel in Chicago, so sorry if it gets a little noisy.
Merrill Cain: There you go, that's dedication for you. After producing five wins, three pole positions and seven podium finishes in eight races, AJ sewed up the Barber Dodge crown in Mid0x2027Ohio by finishing third in Sunday's race. This season has been such a whirlwind for you. I know it's been kind of a rollercoaster of emotions for you. How did you celebrate winning the championship?
AJ Allmendinger: The year's been great. It really actually hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe that this early in the season I was able to get it done. And last night I just went out with couple of friends that I'm traveling with and we had some fun and just relaxed. I kind of basically thought about the whole year. But I know now it's going to make the last races fun because I can relax and just solely go on for victories.
Merrill Cain: Good deal. With that we will open it up for questions for A J.
Q: What do you have plans for, for next year? Are you looking at 0x2027 obviously you'll be looking for Atlantics but are you looking working on another Barber deal in case you can't go Atlantics or will the sponsorship be enough to make it through Atlantics?
AJ Allmendinger: I'm actually working hard on the Atlantic stuff. I feel that especially with the way the year's gone with the five victories that if I come back, it can almost only go down from there after the year I had already this year. But I'm concentrating on trying to get a deal done. I've talked to a lot of teams and sponsors about possibilities. So it's really looking good for a chance to run it. It's just a matter of finding the right sponsor and finding the right team that I'm going to jell with for next season.
Q: Well at least you've got two more races you can show yourself and do that with. Is Elkhart Lake one your favorite tracks?
AJ Allmendinger: Yeah, I had a great time last year there. It's an exciting track 0x2022 long and fast. There are a couple of great corners that are made for passing. But yeah, I like the track. Last year I kind of struggled with some of the practice. We had some problems. So I'm really looking forward to getting back there and practicing on Thursday and then going from there and trying to do what I've done all year.
Q: What are your two favorite corners there?
AJ Allmendinger: I would actually have to say the corner at Turn 1 and then I guess it would be Turn 4 after the back straightaway. You go through Turns 1, 2 and 3 and the hard braking and that's a first gear corner for us which makes for great passing. And then the kink is just amazing trying to go through there flat.
Q: Obviously there's a lot higher profile in Barber Dodge now over the last two years since it's been apart part of the CART system. I would expect from that there's a lot higher degree of media attention, and obviously the fans get exposed to it a whole lot more. Now I know you were karting before you got into Barber Dodge and you may not be able to answer completely, but I guess talking with the team people, have you noticed a larger increase in the fan appeal and the press activity?
AJ Allmendinger: Definitely. I think it's great that the series gets to run at most of the Champ Car races and because of that we got a lot of press. I know we get a lot of the Atlantic people look at the drivers in the Barber Dodge Pro Series now. A lot of the Champ Car teams are looking. And because of that the fans get exposed to it. The series this year I think, just from the couple of races I saw last year, has drawn so much of a fan base. It's amazing. People are keeping up on their favorite drivers and looking toward them to the future of CART. And because of that it makes it exciting to race in front of the huge crowds that we have had. It makes it fun to go out there and win races and have the fans look at you. And especially it makes it a lot easier to talk to an Atlantic team because they already know how you are because they have been watching the series.
Q: I understand that Paul Tracy has played quite a pivotal role in your career. I just wanted to talk about your history with Paul and also what your ongoing relationship is.
AJ Allmendinger: Well I met him midway through the 2000 season. And since then our relationship's just been growing. I'm now getting to basically be at every race that he's at that we're running and he's watching me during the weekend. I can go to him for advice and then just career advice too. In talking to the right teams, talking to sponsors, he plays a big part in that as well. And I definitely can say without him I don't think I would be where I'm at right now. He's been a big influence in my racing career. I thank him so much for it. I just look forward to continuing that through the Atlantics and having him watch me and then hopefully it would be awesome to have a chance to race against him hopefully in 2004.
Q: So you drove for a season and a half on his karting team?
AJ Allmendinger: Actually I still run with him. I ran a few races this year and will go to the Super Nationals. And I still race on his karting team. I love doing it because karting is so much fun and it keeps you in such great shape. So I think that's a big part of the relationship that's growing. I am still doing it and I know he's very pleased with how that's going and it's fun.
Q: When you look back over everything that has occurred this year, is there any one thing that's stood out that you said, okay, here's what I've learned this year in the Barber Dodge Series that will help me.
AJ Allmendinger: I mean it's just not one thing, it's a bunch of things. It's started off with on the technical aspect of being able to work. I said it before and I'll say again, I thank [Barber Dodge Pro Series Lead Driver Coach] Barry [Waddell], and I give him so much credit for being able to work with him this year in the series, just learning what the car technically had and learning the difference between when the car's good and when the car can be perfect. I struggled with that coming into the season. I could drive the wheels off a car no matter if it was good or bad. But I never knew when it was perfect. So I learned this year when it's not perfect I can come in and make a change in order to make it to where I want it to be. So that's been probably the biggest learning curve that I had this year. And basically just the way I carried myself, the media exposure that I get and then how to take that and use it to my advantage. I feel every race I grow a little bit in my driving, just learning more and more. I feel since I got back from New Zealand I'm almost about 10 times further ahead on the learning curve because of all the stuff that goes into the Barber Dodge Pro Series. And I look forward to trying to take that to the Atlantics next season.
Q: It's interesting you touched on something I want to go a little bit deeper with it. You said perfect. Is it almost like having a car to a point that you just can't make it better, but in years past if you screw the car up because you try to make it better. But just knowing where that fine line is of, okay, that's it, let's leave it alone, let's drive it.
AJ Allmendinger: Exactly. My biggest problem was I got to the point where my times were quick and I thought, okay, right there. The car's good. Let's not touch it. But now I know by some of the set up stuff that we have done when the car is perfect, so that if it's not and I'm still playing, but if it's not I can make the car just a little bit better and take me to the top of the time sheets. And at the same time, like you said, when knowing it's perfect not to touch it and just leave it for the rest of the weekend. And I have been able to do that a couple times this year. Where early I had the set up and Friday morning I really don't touch the car for the rest of the weekend on and it's worked.
Q: I know that you participated in the CART Mentor Program this year. You spent some time with the Toyota Atlantic Team and Hilton Motorsports. I know you got to experience a lot of that, including working with the team, working with the drivers, debriefings, team meetings and all those things. But you're also doing a little bit of coaching as I understand it for one of the drivers in the Formula Dodge National Championship. Have you got to see things from the other side of the coin and how does that help your driving?
AJ Allmendinger: First the CART Mentor Program is great because I got a chance to be with a great team right there and learn the aspects of what they go through on a daily routine and during the race weekend and what the drivers have to go through. And the learning curve that I got there, it helped a lot because now I have an opportunity, when I get to run the series next year, I'm that little bit ahead knowing what the driver goes through and what the crew goes through and just everything that they do. And at the same time I've always liked taking drivers from karting where I feel that I can help them and I see talent. So, I've been doing a little bit of coaching for [Formula Dodge National Championship driver] Bert [Frisselle] and actually Brian, his brother in the regional series. I go to their races and I just got done with their last national race. And Bert actually ran the race in Mid0x2027Ohio in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. So I've been trying to help them out as much as possible too. And it's fun for me and it really actually gives me pleasure when I see that I can help improve them just a little bit more.
Q: Certainly giving something back that probably Paul Tracy gave to you?
AJ Allmendinger: Exactly.
Merrill Cain: That's great. AJ, I want to thank you for joining us today. Again congratulations on another strong performance and a great run for the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship. It has to feel great for you and I know your season is not done yet, you have a few more goals you want to accomplish. We appreciate you joining us this afternoon.
AJ Allmendinger: Well thank you for having me. Anytime.