CHAMPCAR/CART: Rahal, Patrick press conference, part I

CART FedEx Championship Series/ Toyota Atlantic Series Bobby Rahal, Danica Patrick 11 June 2002 Part 1 of 2: The CART ladder system, Team Rahal plans Merrill Cain: We welcome a racing legend and an up-and-coming open wheel star,. Bobby Rahal,...

CART FedEx Championship Series/ Toyota Atlantic Series Bobby Rahal, Danica Patrick 11 June 2002

Part 1 of 2: The CART ladder system, Team Rahal plans

Merrill Cain: We welcome a racing legend and an up-and-coming open wheel star,. Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Team Rahal, joins us today, along with his newest driving talent, Danica Patrick. Bobby, thanks for joining us, and, Danica, we appreciate you joining us as well.

Danica Patrick: My pleasure.

Merrill Cain: It was announced at Laguna Seca, this last weekend, that Team Rahal has signed Danica for the team in the CART ladder system for the remainder of the 2002 season and 2003 as well. Danica plans to race in three events this season in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry level of the CART ladder system, beginning with the race in Mid-Ohio in August. In 2003, Danica will compete in the Toyota Atlantic Championship for Team Rahal, as she plans to test the Atlantic car I believe in the next few weeks, coming up in Sebring. It's certainly a great opportunity for Danica and for Team Rahal as well, and it's also great news for the CART ladder system, bringing aboard a good, young female, open wheel driver, who has excelled as a road racer in Europe. One of the many highlights on Danica's resume is the second-place finish in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival in England 2000, which tied Danny Sullivan for the best-ever finish by an American. So she's certainly a talented young driver and somebody that we're anxious to welcome on board. That's a quick overview of the agreement between Team Rahal and Danica that was announced this past week. And with that, we will open it up with some questions both for Bobby and Danica.

Q Bobby, first for you. As far as this signing for the next couple of years is concerned, while it's good for Team Rahal, it's good for Bobby Rahal, is it also a look at the ladder series for you to say I'm committed to this?

Bobby Rahal: Well, first off, it's nice to speak with you, Ron. I think so. I think one of the best things about the CART series is there's finally a formal ladder. I think in years past, when you had Indy Lights and you had Atlantic and that there was confusion, and I think frankly both series suffered as a result because it wasn't clear as to which way was the particular way to go. Now I think there's a clear step from shifter carts, the highest levels of karting in this country which is growing rapidly, to Barber Dodge, to Atlantics and then to CART. I think it's what's been needed for many years and I'm pleased that it's there. And I do believe -- also I believe Atlantic is -- it's probably the best junior category I would say in this country. I would liken it to Formula Three perhaps in Europe, in terms of the champions that it's actually produced in the past and will in the future. So I think it's the right place for Team Rahal. I think it's the right place for Danica.

Q What did you see in Danica?

Bobby Rahal: Well I think Danica has -- she's impressed me from -- you know, I saw her name first in some of the karting magazines and of course she was successful in karting and that's a tough thing to do, believe me, watching it now with my son involved. But what impressed me more than anything was not only her finish in the Formula Ford Festival but just the fact that she has the determination and commitment to go as to England at a very young age, to live a long way from home and pursue her dream. And I have to tell you it's not easy for an American to live in that society, and it's particularly not easy for an American to compete in those categories irrespective of your gender, but certainly I think let's face it motor racing has not been the most open for the female gender and particularly in England. So all of those things just, in my mind, spoke volumes about her commitment and dedication to what she wanted to achieve. And as I said to her the other day, she's delivered -- you know, when she had opportunities to prove something to somebody, she did. Earlier this year she won the BMW ride with the factory drive here in the States, in the Tom Milner's team, and that came strictly from a test. And there were other young drivers. Joey Hand was there and Pat Long was there and BMW drivers; and when she had to go fast, not only did she go fast but generally I think she went faster than everybody there. She's earned it, in my mind, she's earned her place. And this is not -- you know, irrespective of gender, she's proven that she can go out and stand on the gas.

Q And, Danica, oddly enough, I was talking with Jimmie Johnson of NASCAR this morning and we were discussing the fact that he saw an opportunity, and he knew he had to make the best of that opportunity. Is that pretty much where you're standing now?

Danica Patrick: Well I think to be associated with somebody like Rahal, anybody would do it, and I couldn't have asked for a better person on my side, you know from the standpoint of not only was he a driver and can he offer that; but he's well-respected and knows how to operate a successful business.

Q And do you look at this as, okay, now I have really got to proven myself?

Danica Patrick: In a way yes, and in a way, no. From one point of view, yeah, there's going to be more eyes than ever on me and what I'm doing and everybody is going to waiting for me to fail, really, a lot of people are anyway. But from another standpoint, he's not committing to me because he's taking a gamble. He's committing to me because he believes in me and what I've done. And so from that I have to look at it and go, okay, well I don't have to be desperate and do silly things to prove myself because somebody like Bobby Rahal has seen what I can do, and that's a confidence just like I do.

Q Bob, when you see young drivers come up and there's all kinds of them with all kinds of potential, what is the main quicksand that they normally stand in? Where do they normally jump off the rails, where they seem to get derailed, to get to where they want to go, and what is that one area you will try to steer Danica away from so she doesn't get derailed on the way you think she should go?

Bobby Rahal: I think it's always one of the most difficult things in getting to the top is that you know having a -- consistently having the backing and the right team from which you can go off and perform is always very difficult, very rarely does somebody have the way, you know, waived for them, so to speak. The consistent support is the toughest thing I think for young drivers to have or to create. There's always -- and maybe in some respects, maybe that's the way it should be, maybe it should be a struggle because that definitely will sort out those who want to do it and those who just say they want to do it. But that, and I think probably If you don't have good advice, if you can't learn from somebody, you can make a lot of mistakes that, if -- that could contribute to the difficulty in making it or each contribute to that person not making it. So as I said, what I can particularly give Danica and this team can give Danica, I cannot drive the car for her, that's her job, but I can give her advice, I can teach her if she wants to be taught, I can sort of see -- I can see the forest from the trees just because I've been around so long, and I can give advice. And that's the most important thing. I remember when I was growing up at the time you don't think you need it, you think you have all the answers. But looking back, I wished I had somebody who had been an adviser of sorts or a coach, because I think there are a lot of things I would have done definitely. So those are the things I can provide and contribute to her career.

Q Danica, quick question for you. This is all pretty heavy stuff, getting your head spinning here. You're associated with one of the legendary names in the sport, and looks like the path is pretty good. It would be easy for you, regardless of your gender, to lose sight of the target and get off your game, with all this -- you're right, there's pressure and eyes on you too. What are you going to do to make sure you don't lose sight of the target?

Danica Patrick: I think when you want to do something bad enough you do what it takes to get there and you usually don't get distracted. But, you know, it is possible so you just have to stay focused and surround yourself with the right people and listen to people because I have a lot to learn. I'm sure of that, and I'm going to want to hear from people like Bobby and whoever else may be around me that has experience and just listen to them, and let them help guide you, because I have faith. I'm only 20 years old. So I think it's just to be sure I'm with the right people.

Q Bobby, you mentioned a little bit earlier about not having anybody there for you when you were coming up. Was there no mechanism, was there just no way for you to approach some of the people that were on top, to get the kind of support and advice that you needed then?

Bobby Rahal: I think -- I mean there were some people that certainly helped. It's not like I was -- Brian Redman was a big help to me when I came back from Europe, and I did have some advice here and there in Europe. But I guess I look back and wish it had been I guess more consistent. When I started racing it was definitely a one-man band. You went off with your mechanic. You learn on the job training, which is everybody does that at some point in time. But certainly I think when I look at drivers today, and I look at the people who actually made a business of advising drivers or representing drivers, that really didn't exist when I started racing. And so I think that's probably the biggest difference. I mean in the end, obviously I did a fair amount of right things, but I do look back and think geez, if only. And I think in this day and age, also, a young driver has to align themselves with somebody in the industry who has credibility because it's just not enough to do on the racetrack. That's very important to be sure, but you have to have someone who can help you insure that the funding is there or relationships can be created. That can, you know, keep you going because racing is a very fickle business, and sport. And just when everything looks good, something can happen and the next thing you know, whatever you did that was good doesn't matter anymore. It's a very tenuous time when you're a young driver, trying to make it. And so as I said earlier, that's what I can bring to this equation more than anything is to insure that Danica has all of the advice and sees the whole picture.

Q And this is a very fickle time for -- this is for both of you. One of the key names in a support series last year, couldn't find a ride and has now left of the CART series for a ride in another series. Is that -- do you look at that as maybe being frustrating, Danica, or Bobby? That's the realty of how fickle and tough it is right now?

Danica Patrick: Absolutely. It's about being at the right place at the right time, unfortunately in this business. And if you can have people around you to provide that right time and place and situation, then that helps. But it's an unpredictable sport, and you just have to be ready to jump on your feet and stay determined to do what you want to do and race in a Championship you want to race in, and that's all you can do.

Q But that determination can't be helped by watching what happened to (Daniel) Wheldon, having to leave the series that you're trying to get into, and he was one of the top Indy lights drivers last year.

Danica Patrick: Right. It is frustrating. But speaking for me, I came back from England last year, the middle of the season in 2001, and I basically haven't had a seat in a Championship since then. So I mean I've had to be determined for a year, pounding the streets as they say, looking for somebody to support me, because I didn't have the money. So sometimes it takes a while, but it looks like Wheldon is going to get a ride at the end of this year. So waiting and pounding the streets has paid off for him. Sometimes you can't guess how long it's going to take.

Bobby Rahal: Yeah. I mean I would just like to add I think, unfortunate, that's probably always -- you know, races have been that way. I think there's never been -- there's always been fewer rides available than people, you know, people available themselves. And you know, you take two steps forward or one step back, or -- a career is very rarely a nice smooth upward transition. There's usually a lot of starts and stops to it and side steps and what have you. So what's happened with Dan Wheldon, that's -- frankly I think he's not the first that's happened to. That's been some what historic in racing. You know, when you're young -- you know I remember, in 1981, I called Penske, Pat Patrick, wrote them letters, you know, don't call us, we'll call you. Of course Jim Trueman gave me my opportunity and then a year later, Roger and Pat were calling. But you've got -- so much of racing is being opportunistic and creating relationships as I did with Trueman, and Danica's tried to do with us here. So that's kind of the nature of the beast, unfortunately.

Q I know this is kind of overstepping my limit, but what did she say to you when she called, that got your attention and said this is somebody that I want to give some consideration to?

Bobby Rahal: Well, I think that -- I'm not sure if she called or if I -- you know, we ran into each other in England but I've always felt a strong obligation -- Jim Trueman, for me, was -- I mean if it wasn't for him, I never would have had the opportunity, and it wasn't just me. Jim Trueman helped a lot of people and ironically he sponsored several young women at a time when it was even perhaps rare to see a woman driver than it is today. You know, Patty Moise in stock car racing, and Cat Kaiser who was an FCC national racer but she's won a couple of Championships and Jim was a sponsor; Willy T. Ribbs -- I mean Jim gave a lot of people opportunities, not that I've had the opportunity to do as much as he did for people but certainly that example, and certainly kind of a sense I have of an obligation on my part to help someone, I think that spurred a lot of this on. So, you know, over the year, last year and a half, having met Danica and, you know, spent time with her and talked to her about racing, it was clear, her commitment to it. And as I said, when I recommended her to BMW, she went down there and did the job, and just as she did in the Toyota Pro Celebrity Race. Somebody would say that's not a competitive deal, but there's a lot of publicity and pressure, especially when you're trying to make your name, and she delivered there. So she's earned this, irrespective of what kinds of historic obligation I feel.

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Rahal, Patrick, part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Jimmie Johnson , Joey Hand , Dan Wheldon , Danny Sullivan , Willy T. Ribbs , Brian Redman , Danica Patrick