Indy 500: IMS Media Tour - Chitwood press conference, part 1

Joie Chitwood Press Conference Transcript 2008 Indy 500 Media Tour Tuesday, April 8, 2008 BOB JENKINS: It seems like that often when you're talking to someone who has been around here for years, the topic always comes up, well, how many ...

Joie Chitwood Press Conference Transcript
2008 Indy 500 Media Tour
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

BOB JENKINS: It seems like that often when you're talking to someone who has been around here for years, the topic always comes up, well, how many races will this be for you? This will be the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, of course we're entering a period in which many celebrations will occur for the building of the track and the first "500." So to give us sort of a preview of the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, we have the president and COO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mr. Joie Chitwood with us.

Joie, it's not going to be long 'till we open the doors once again. How are preparations going for the month of May this year?

JOIE CHITWOOD: They're going pretty well. You know, it's always a challenge bringing the facility back to life after being dormant for so long. It's nice to see things green up and get everything cleaned up. For most of you when you came in this morning, you saw some of the improvements we've made that will actually affect our motorcycle or the F1 track for motorcycle racing. There's some challenges with that. That affects a lot of parking that we have for the infield. So we're struggling through those plans to accommodate our customers and our fans. There's so many things that are exciting to talk about the "500." I actually had to write a couple down because it's so amazing when you think about what we do, how we do it, the "500" has been around for so long but there's still opportunities to improve and make some changes.

One of the things that we did here after unification was work with Roger Penske and Paul Newman to send a letter out to our customers. We reach back into our database for 10 years. Every customer who no longer purchases a ticket to the "500," they receive a letter from Paul Newman and Roger Penske inviting them back. I actually had a customer call me and tell me if I had gotten either one of them to call them, he would have bought a suite, as well. (Laughter)

It seemed like it hit the right note. When you look at those individuals and the credentials behind them, what a great way to invite a customer back to the Indy 500, Roger Penske and his history here and Paul Newman being such a great strong representative for CART. So we're really pleased with that.

We've got a couple other things we're focused on this year. For those of you who have been around when Miller Lite Carb Day was on Thursday versus Friday, that change we made a couple years, we're excited about that. We have a lot more folks come out on Friday and enjoy the kickoff to the weekend. We announced a couple weeks back Stone Temple Pilots will be the band. They're really setting up a reunion tour. We think that might be our strongest talent to date so far. We had Kid Rock last year, Black Crowes a couple years ago, so those things are great. One of the things I wanted to make sure to share today is Jim Nabors will be here and will be singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." A lot of discussion about Jim and why he wasn't here last year. Jim had gone to the doctor and had a heart ailment, nothing serious, but living in Hawaii the doctor did not want him to be on a plane for 12 hours where no one could get to him.

I don't know if you know this, but Jim's listed occupation now is a macadamia nut farmer in Hawaii. So imagine leaving Hawaii every year to come to Indiana. But we've spoken to him, he is planning to be here. So there were no serious health issues that will preclude him and, goodness, with our Centennial approaching, there is only one person I would want to be up there singing "Back Home Again in Indiana."

A couple other things I had written down that I wanted to make sure I share with everybody was the beautiful Pace Cars over there. We will have the ethanol Pace Car here tomorrow. But what you see over there is the rendition 30 years later from '78 to 2008 of the Indy 500 Pace Car. I remember that '78 as clear as a bell. My dad had one. I can remember the silver seats and the interior and the fact that 30 years later we can do that replica of the 2008 Indy 500 Pace Car and that a customer can actually buy, there will be 500 limited edition Corvettes that you can buy as a normal person. There are so many Corvette aficionados out there, and the chance to buy that replica is pretty special. Maybe I need to talk to Tony, maybe I can work on a salary deal, maybe I can get one, too. And I think Brian and Terry would probably want one, as well.

When you think about things that resonate with our customers, bringing a vehicle from 30 years ago and make it relevant today.

A couple things I wanted to share, qualifying in general. Brian talked about it, and we had weather the last couple years affecting Pole Day, and last year it worked. It worked how we wanted it to work. We got to see a great shootout for those top 11 positions. I think, more importantly, when you look at what we're going into this year with the competitive nature of the IndyCar Series and the car count, I think day two will be as exciting as day one. Day two will be positions 12 through 22; I think there will be as much competition for that 22nd spot on Sunday as there will be for the 11th spot on Saturday or even the pole. Same thing I think with second weekend of qualifications. I know that we have a partner who jumped in with Peak Motor Oil for not only the Pole Award this year but our front row. I think qualifying, in general, will continue to be very competitive and, knock on wood, with weather being good we'll have another great show. I think we're starting to see that. That's what we want, we want fans to be entertained and have a good time.

Usually when I get up and talk about this, I want to take the first question away from everybody as it relates to asking about the Indy 500. I go and speak a lot about it, and no, Helio is not dating Julianne. That's all anybody wants to ask me about the Indy 500. But I do want to share that Julianne will be here for the Indy 500, and she will be singing the national anthem for the 92nd running of the Indy 500. I think Helio wanted to join her up there, but he will be getting strapped into the car, so it will be solo for her and she will be singing the anthem this year. So we're pretty excited about that. Overall this is a great time of year, start thinking about May and the race, and there are so many wonderful things. I guess that was a long-winded answer to things that are going on and what we're preparing for this month of May.

JENKINS: Two great pieces of news, Julianne and Jim Nabors, you can't get much better than that. (Laughter)

You talked about Centennial celebrations, coming up 2009 will be the 100th anniversary of the building of the track and then 2011, the first "500." What are you planning? Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of what is going to be happening?

CHITWOOD: I will try and give you a little taste of it. We're going to have a fairly significant event in May to really unveil all sorts of things, logos, activities and do some serious things about it. When you think about 2009 representing the 100th anniversary of the property itself, it's pretty special. I was so worried in planning for adding a motorcycle race and our Centennial that when Tony unified the series, it just added something else to that mix and created a lot more stress, very good stress, but a lot of things on our plate. One of the things I wanted to do was add a couple props to my talks. So I asked them to bring over two vehicles as it related to the Centennial and whether they really relate to the track or not, it's up for you to decide. But one of the things I think is special about the Centennial, it's not just about the Speedway, it's about the fans that have such a reaction to the property. I was at a dinner with Andy Granatelli about 12 years ago, and Andy, for those of you who know Andy, Mr. Indy 500, Mr. STP, very gregarious, outgoing individual, he went around the table that night at dinner and asked us in 10 words or less, "Why is the Speedway special to you?" We're all fumbling for an answer, no one can do it. Tony (George) was there, and Tony said, I'll never forget this, "Its spirit touches all who enter." I think when you drive through those gates, whether you remember the first time you came to the property with your family, maybe you remember when A.J. Foyt won the race in '61 -- you were there, Rich? Were you in college then? (Laughter)

But it does create an emotional response. We are the only sports property, I think, that's elevated the name of its community to international recognition. This Centennial celebration is about the fans who have so much passion about what we do.

We all have a personal story, so I wanted to talk about this 1941 winner, the Noc-Out Hose Clamp special. Yes, it won the race in '41, but does anybody know who drove it in '46? Trick question. My grandfather. My grandfather drove this car in 1946 and finished fifth place. He finished fifth three times in his career here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Back in the early 2000s, I was invited down from Chicago and given the opportunity to drive this car around the track in pre-race for the Indianapolis 500. Here I am driving my grandfather's race car 50 years later around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Do you think I have a story to tell? Absolutely. This place means so much to me. As it relates to the Centennial, I've got a story, but I bet if I asked any one of you, you could tell me your story, and you remember it as crystal clear as the day when you showed up and experienced it.

So just wanted to share with you my own personal story, just a little bit about why the '41 winner is more special to me in '46 than '41. Anybody know what that car is? It's from the basement. You know, the basement where nobody is allowed to go in to see the cars where that we have. Right, the basement doesn't exist. Anyone want to take a guess at what year this is? 1905 and it's the 1905 Sears and Roebuck car. You know what was interesting about the 1905 Sears and Roebuck car? You ordered it through the mail. It showed up in a box. (Laughter) You put it together yourself. OK? So this is a mail-order car.

Now, the reason why I like this, because I think it tells a little bit of the story about the dawn of the automobile in America and how the Speedway played a role in that. Think about if you're selling automobiles back then. Sears and Roebuck sold it through a mail-order catalog, but Joie Chitwood might have been selling three cars out of his garage. What did you do to sell a car back then? Did you buy Internet, buy some TV? No, what you needed to do was show them it could actually run, that it actually had -- whether it was 10 miles per hour it could drive or whatever. So the Speedway being built in 1909 wasn't about racing at all. It was about differentiating Indianapolis from Detroit as to the dawn of the automobile. And I think this car, this mail-order car in our basement, just tells a little bit of that story what that era was like and why the Speedway was built overall. Luckily, in 1911 they decided to host the Indy 500, and that's why we stand here today. But to think about why it was built in the first place, what automobile technology was like back then, I think this is an interesting component and something people don't think about. I mean, did anybody ever know that, that you could order a car via mail order and you had to put it together yourself? Who would ever think something like that because we're so used to technology and how cars are built today? So that's my gimmicks for today, Bob, in terms of my props.

JENKINS: Good stuff. OK, let's open it up for questions now for Joie.

Q: I have a personal question to you. You mentioned that your grandfather drove this car. Have you ever raced yourself?

CHITWOOD: No, I never did race myself. My family is known for having an automobile stunt show and so from 1943 to 1998, we had the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show that traveled around the United States. So I spent 20 years as a stuntman. As it relates to this car, I do want to share something funny. For those of you who haven't had a chance to look closely at it, I recommend you do. So in that car you have a clutch and a gas pedal, and the gear shift is between your legs and then the steering wheel. What's missing? The brake, which is outside and which is the lever. So there's nothing more exciting than getting to drive this car around the track pre-race at the Indy 500 or nerve racking in the fact you don't want to do anything wrong with it and be blamed for something. As we're going around the track taking a lap, I get to pit lane and there are people everywhere, they're all over the place. So what do you do, you want to slow down. You go to hit the brake. Oh, that's right, reach out but I've got to downshift. OK, so downshift, brake, steering wheel, don't have three hands. So I think I ended up stalling it right there in pit lane. I'd much rather do that than having anything bad happen to it. So my connection is really through that way. He raced in the '40s and then created the stunt show back then.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Newman , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt