Indy 500: ESPN on ABC teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Eddie, you watched this series pretty closely now. Graham Rahal, compare where he is right now, so to speak, maturity-wise, everything else, to maybe where he was a year ago, and have you seen progress in him? Have you...

Continued from part 1

Q: Eddie, you watched this series pretty closely now. Graham Rahal, compare where he is right now, so to speak, maturity-wise, everything else, to maybe where he was a year ago, and have you seen progress in him? Have you seen things you like about his progress and do you think it gives him a shot, legitimate shot on Sunday?

EDDIE CHEEVER: I think he was disappointed last year. Obviously he was disappointed when he had the problem as early as he did in the race. And he made probably a rookie mistake. And he got over that very quickly. When I look at a driver like Rahal whose father has done as much as he has winning Indy and other things, you have to assume he's heard all the stories at the dinner table and his learning curve is probably faster than the driver that just comes on to the racing scene.

I think Graham has enormous potential to win not only the Indy 500, but championships. And it's just difficult to sit down and quantify how much somebody learns from one season to the other. But I would not be shocked if at the start of the race he gets into his own rhythm quickly. He gets behind a driver that's got a lot of miles here like Helio Castroneves. So he will just immediately make that jump forward during the race, not even until after the race is over with. I think he has great potential. I would not be shocked at all if at some point he led.

Q: You were a guy that made your own way. His dad prefers for him to at this point at least drive for somebody else's team, not his own and the better the team, the better. Do you think that's good for Graham also from the standpoint of kind of making his own name for himself as opposed to just riding the coattails of his dad?

EDDIE CHEEVER: I've been around racing since I was 15 years old, and I'm now 51, so that's a long time. I would have to say that I've not met as many drivers who think through the problem of racing as well as his dad does. So if they have come to their conclusion, I know it was not done instinctively. It's something they both mulled through. Speaking for me, I would hate to have my son drive for me. Racing is a very difficult sport and sometimes that father/son relationship would get in the way of a good judgment. And the team that he's driving with is very successful. And they've embraced him as a race car driver and now they're trying to build up their race team around him. So I think it's ultimately the right decision. And we'll see it. You'll see results coming out of that.

Q: I'm wondering, the fact that all the qualifying this month has been on another network, has that presented an awkward situation for you guys? Have you been doing mock broadcasts? How have you guys been getting the rust off for this month?

MARTY REID: Eddie and I have been doing SportsCenter hits. We're going to do a rehearsal on Friday during Carb Day. We won't be on the air, but we'll use to it get everybody back in the flow. But the truth of the matter is it's impossible for the company to spend to set up a crew and a truck and everything to another race that we aren't televising.

If it would have been my first year and Eddie's first year and Jack Arute's first year, I think everybody might have reason for concern. But we've done this race. We know what to expect. And the one thing that is different that may not make a lot of sense to everybody out there at home is this is the first year we will have control of the world feed. In the past, we could be talking about something and because someone else had control of the world feed, they might jump and the viewer's going what are those guys talking about? And you have to transition quickly. Now the world is going to basically follow us, and that's going to help our broadcast immensely.

JED DRAKE: I have no concern whatsoever about this group doing this race as the first race of the open wheel season for them this year. Zero.

Q: For our former drivers, do they have a sense this year that the merger really is complete and the cross-over teams are definitely up to speed with everybody else?

EDDIE CHEEVER: Yes, I think last year was a strange year because many teams were racing there for the first time. Now they've got a 500 under their belt. All these cars have so much telemetry on them and they accumulate so much data they probably spent the whole winter mulling over questions. They come here a lot better prepared than they did in the past.

You cannot learn the Indianapolis 500 by watching it on television. Although watching it on the DVD, you've got to participate in it to feel all of the emotion that comes with the event. So I think the merger is complete. There will always be stronger teams. There will always be teams that have more money, and there will always be some dark horse that will come out of nowhere in the race for either a short period of time, and if they're lucky to do it on the last 20 laps of the race, they may have a chance of winning it. But I think you'll see pretty much a repeat of what you saw last year with certain teams going to the front right from the beginning. And then as the race develops, only God knows.

SCOTT GOODYEAR: And I would agree with Eddie, because I think you brought up a very important point is that the Indy 500, with the emotion, you can go off to all the other events that are involved in this the series, and it's almost like the same events that they were attending. They were attending Champ Car races at different various places and they come along and join us in this series and you're going to IRL races and various different places. A lot of tracks which they attended at before. But then when you get a chance to come to the Indianapolis 500, it is a huge difference from anything you've ever done anywhere at any track in your life. And that is the key thing. So for a lot of them as I mentioned before, my own experience driving underneath the tunnel and going, wow, I mean, I remember asking all those guys arriving last year, for instance, like Justin Wilson, he goes I've been here before in Formula 1, but this is a completely different place when you're going around a two-and-a-half-mile oval. Those are the sorts of things that you can't, as Eddie says, get from telemetry or see on a DVD. You have to experience it.

And there will be a calmer Graham Rahal this year because he's now got one year underneath his belt and Eddie talked about dinner table conversations. You can hear all the stories. You can have all the advice from your dad who has won the Indianapolis 500, but until you live it yourself, you will never really understand it.

And just the start itself three-wide going into Turn 1 is something you can't experience anywhere else. And that's the key thing here. And I think for the teams and the drivers to have a year underneath your belt is a huge step forward.

And we have to remember that those guys didn't plan to be involved in the series last year. It wasn't like they did a business plan a year out and we're now going to join the series. That series was just going down and ended up merging and they basically had a few weeks' notice to scramble looking for cars getting things changed over.

Not only cars, but accessory parts and tools to fit the new cars. All those sorts of things. They were way behind the eight ball all year. And there was no way even a Newman/Haas would ever be able to catch up. We're going to see that change this year.

Q: As Jed said earlier eloquently about the fact that this is such a storied race, did you get a lot of casual viewers and people who were not normally followers of this series? So as you get ready for broadcasting this event, do you look at it as knowing that you're going to have a lot of casual race fans who are not hip to exactly what's going on and how do you handle that situation?

JED DRAKE: You're right. There are multiple responsibilities that we have that fall onto the entire production and announce team. And we recognize that there are casual viewers. And we will work to make sure that they are brought into the line of discussion, if you will, because inevitably we want to make sure that they can get to a level of understanding where they truly enjoy the race for what it is and not just the spectacle.

But that said, you know, one of the fascinating things about racing particularly on an oval course, I suspect, is that it's like soccer. And I know that may sound like a very obtuse analogy, but soccer is a very complex game that looks remarkably simple, and it is at various levels remarkably simple to understand.

And racing is a remarkably complex sport that can also look remarkably simple and easy to understand. And so I think, yes, it is a spectacle and that's why people are drawn to it. They're drawn to it because of the extreme danger. They're drawn to it because we've televised it for 45 years and it happens on the same day and it happens to be a three-day holiday. You have all those things working for you in a very positive direction.

I think if we're truly successful with this, we'll televise it on a variety of different levels and do so, if not simultaneously, at various times during the race. Where there will be time to explain things to those that are less than expert to draw them in. But at the same time to not talk under, if you will, the experts.

It's a fine line. It's a fascinating line to draw. And in my former life as an event producer, we had that same dilemma with a different event known as the America's Cup. Again, yachting looks pretty simple. They're going to try to get from here to here and go around these marks and somebody is going to cross the line in front and somebody's not.

So all of those events have sort of a certain commonality that they are simple events to understand but yet can be as complex as you can make them, and the balance is to find that groove in both areas and to satisfy a number of people. It can be done and I think we do a damn good job at it.

Q: You mentioned this is the second longest broadcast. What's the longest?

JED DRAKE: CBS has had the Masters for 54 years.

Q: Eddie and Scott, Eddie can you expound, Scott talked about Helio, what do you think it took for him, the roller coaster he's been on, to Dancing With the Stars and knowing about it and going through that and then all of a sudden now he's back on the pole? Could you talk about the focus and just how he could do this? I don't know how many people could?

EDDIE CHEEVER: That really is a good question. And I probably had that question from 50 different angles during the month of May. I couldn't come up with the answer because I wasn't living in his skin.

When the Indianapolis 500 would come up on my schedule, I would clear everything two months before the race even began to make sure I had no pending issues that would take away any of my attention. Then I put myself in his shoes thinking a few weeks before practice starts I'm sitting in a courtroom with a bunch of jurors that are going to decide my fate. He very easily could have been making license plates for the next four years. I know that sounds trite, but that's something that could have actually been a possibility. To be able to come out of all of that, put that behind himself and put himself in a race car and conform to the level that he did, I think, is incredible. I think it will go down as one of the greatest achievements, greatest poles whatsoever, not for the speed but just for the fact of what he had to deal with.

Then, of course, you have to play into part the fact that he's the integral maybe the leading member other than Roger Penske of the racing organization, and it's a team that came together and stood behind their driver and they had great results. Penske did not win I think in his 14 Indianapolis 500s just by chance. So I think a due diligence and a lot of preparation that that organization is known for has found its way into Helio's way of life over the years. And to come out of that like he did I think is incredible.

Continued in part 3

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Graham Rahal , Roger Penske