Continued from part 1 GREEN: Next question in the back. Q: This is for Sam. Sam, as an owner, what do you look for as far as characteristics in the drivers? SCHMIDT: Hmm. (Laughter) I must say it's a little different in the IPS series ...
Continued from part 1
GREEN: Next question in the back.
Q: This is for Sam. Sam, as an owner, what do you look for as far as characteristics in the drivers?
SCHMIDT: Hmm. (Laughter) I must say it's a little different in the IPS series versus the IRL. Obviously we've got a lot riding on this IndyCar effort with the Meijer and Coca-Cola deal being sort of a perpetual deal. It's been around the last four or five years. It's been a great one-off program for a number of teams. In the past it's been, you know, you look at Treadway, you look at Morris Nunn, you look at last year Robby Gordon and we feel extremely honored to be chosen to get the program this year, you know. So if we do a good job, I mean there's no reason the program couldn't come back to us next year. And we'd already have the cars, we'd already have the groundwork in place that we're laying this year. It would be a very attractive thing for to us do. But obviously they're interested in performance. So our goals are to qualify the first weekend and run in the top 10 all day, and everything seems to shake out after that last pit stop, so that's kind of what we need to do to influence them and have a good start. So with all those things considered, I think Richie was a good choice for us because we have worked with him on and off for the last four years. He has a great relationship with the engineering staff and he knows when he gets in the car, I mean he can go on down in there in Turn 1 and leave it flat. Last year, I think he was flat the sixth time by and we only had a hundred miles on the car before he started the race. This year we'll obviously have a lot more time than that. But he gets the job done and doesn't complain. I think you also have to look at the fact that it's the Speedway, too, and there's clearly some drivers that we couldn't take a chance on a rookie situation because you either like racing at the Speedway or you can be intimidated by it. Clearly he isn't, and we just need somebody that's going to go out and stand on the gas. So that's what we were looking for there this year. The Infiniti Pro Series side, Travis obviously jumped in last year at Kentucky first race ever in the car and g ot a pole. So from that point on we were obviously looking to try and make a deal for him this year; and the results so far have been exactly what we expect. So it's just two different situations. I mean, unfortunately if we do a really good job in the Infiniti Pro Series, we have to kind of reinvent that wheel every year, which is a bit of a challenge, but that's the nature of a support series.
Q: Sam, in the past when Arie was part of the Meijer/Coca-Cola deal, they wanted him to run at Michigan, he ran at Michigan a time or two. Is that under discussion for you to run this year in the Michigan race?
SCHMIDT: I don't know, Brett Holiday is back in the back with Coca-Cola. If we won the Indy 500, they would probably love for us to go to Michigan. Chevrolet certainly wants to make a big impact at Michigan. We really haven't talked about it in-depthly, but we obviously aren't racing there in the IPS series. But depending on the outcome of Indy, anything can happen.
Q: Are you open to that?
Q: Sam, as a team owner and not having Andretti Green kind of budgets, do you think the new qualification rules play to your advantage giving you more of an opportunity or less of an opportunity, what's your thought?
SCHMIDT: I haven't really given it a whole lot of what I would call strategic thought on the pros and cons. But obviously there's no limitations as to how many times you can try a chassis anymore and there's no limitations on how many times you can qualify an engine. So it certainly would make it easier if somebody got in a little bit of a panic or little bit of a trouble the second weekend, maybe they had a problem the first weekend, had to go to the second weekend, it would give you more flexibility as far as utilizing chassis and engine combination. Our goal is to qualify in the first weekend and not be involved in any of that stuff. It certainly does open up things as far as flexibility and number of cars and people that can jump in at the last minute. For the guys that are running all month, I don't think it makes that much of a difference.
GREEN: Let's throw that question to Richie. What about as a driver, what do you think about the new rules for qualifying?
HEARN: I think it definitely would be better for TV and better for the public. As far as for me, I think it takes a little bit of pressure off because the limitations, once you go out, you can re-qualify. I think there will be a little bit of strategy depending on the weather if the weather changes from day-to-day, from Saturday to Sunday. Saturday is not so good and Sunday's really good, what do you do to get a better pit spot, things like that. But really, I don't think the goals change too much. I think what will change a little bit is that the shortened practice schedule for the first day makes it more of a premium to be out there right at the beginning. But your priorities have always been to try to qualify on that first day so you can work on your race setup and not worry about qualifying. I don't think it changes so much but it does take a little bit of pressure off knowing that you can get your car back out there, that car is not, once it qualifies, it's not done type of thing. That was always very stressful because you had to get two cars ready all the time and be prepared because you never know what could happen.
Q: Travis, you came in at Kentucky last year, now about nine months later you're sitting here and you're talking about going to the Indy, the Speedway, you're going to be driving in the other race but still you're suddenly in the picture that involves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What does that mean to you as a young driver?
GREGG: It certainly means a lot. As a young driver growing up, dreaming about running the Indy 500 is every racer's dream. Now I got a chance to race on that track. So even though it's not the Indianapolis 500, I still get a chance to race the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So it's really special, and I'm looking forward to it. The whole month of May is just exciting, and there will be a lot of things going on other than racing. So that makes it kind of neat, too.
GREEN: Sam, talk about staffing, you have a pretty big crew to maintain the three cars for the full Menards Infiniti Pro Series. What have you had to do staffing-wise to prepare now a fourth car which is for the Indianapolis 500?
SCHMIDT: I mean, yeah, luckily we're very fortunate to basically -- obviously this isn't -- some other places you're going to be stopping are going to have upwards of 60 to a hundred people but we run this pretty much three-car effort on 12 full-time people. We're very fortunate to have guys that are overqualified for the Infiniti Pro Series, I think. We counted up the other day, between Champ Car, IRL and IPS, there's guys with, I think we have 14 championships in this building amongst our employees. So we certainly have qualified people there. We're probably going to bring in a couple more people to be able to help facilitate the cars for the next month and then also at the Speedway. Then we're obviously trying to run both of them on Carburetion Day. So there will be a couple additions. But for the most part we've got really talented crew chiefs on each of these IPS cars. We've got plenty of engineers now. So it's a really good program. I'm really excited about the caliber of the personnel to work on the IRL program.
Q: Travis, what was your background prior to the IPS?
GREGG: Started out in karting, and I did a couple years of SCCA Formula Atlantics, racing at Mid-Ohio and IRP, and basically the past five years raced non-wing sprint cars on dirt, mainly quarter-mile tracks with USAC and local tracks like Lawrenceburg, Indiana, too.
Q: Sam, what do you see can be done to really make the Infiniti Pro Series be a legitimate feeder series into the IndyCar Series? Because other than A.J. IV, Mark Taylor had an opportunity, but your driver from last year, Thiago, is walking around without a ride. What do you think is missing to make it truly a feeder Series?
SCHMIDT: Well, that's a good question. I think, unfortunately, I think Thiago is a bit of an anomaly because everybody in the IRL series knows he's got the talent, knows he's extremely talented. But it just happened to be one of those situations so far at the end of last year, which was very unlike previous seasons where nobody really retired, nobody got hurt, there wasn't a huge amount of shuffles of seats, et cetera, and there just didn't get to be an opportunity for him I think because of that. But clearly he is on the top of a lot of people's lists if somebody does have a problem this year to get in a seat. Everybody I talked to knows he has a tremendous amount of talent. I think it's only a matter of time before he'll get an opportunity over there. That would speak highly of the Infiniti Pro Series. I think we could easily get to a situation where we could do a couple more races without adding a ton to the budget to do it. It would be really good for that series I think if they had a couple more road courses, either that or possibly doubled up the race weekends on road courses that we already have. But it does need a couple -- it needs a little larger car count. There are some series things that have to be dealt with to accomplish that, but I think the owners in the IRL can understand who's doing what over there and can recognize talent when they see it. So it's kind of like a double-edged sword. There needs to be enough fundings in the IRL to bring these drivers on, too, and not require them to have to bring funding.
Q: Richie, going back to 1996, you're one of three drivers, I think, that are still here from that race. Talk a little bit just about it was the third race of the IRL and everybody was scrambling, everything was new. Reminisce a little bit about what went on that year.
HEARN: You're dating me a little bit because that was a long time ago. But it was new for a lot of people, including us. Our team came directly out of Toyota Atlantics into that. Fortunately the equipment we were running was proven, it was the previous year's champ car stuff, the '95 Reynard and stuff. But those years, that year the speeds were pretty incredible. I think Arie had the fastest lap of qualifying at over 240, and even I did in the warm-up on the Carburetion Day, I did a 235 lap. So now we go around here like 225, and it was just a totally different animal. But it was a lot of fun. I rate it, even though I won Las Vegas that same year, I still rate that as my biggest race of my life because I went a lap down early in the race, just because I stalled it in the pits and we were able to pass the leader at the time, I think it was -- I think it was Buddy (Lazier) at the time and actually catch back up to the back of the pack. And honestly, I think Scott Sharp spun out at the end. If he wouldn't have spun out, we were on a different fuel strategy than Davy Jones, and he would have run out of gas and we had a chance at second and maybe catch Buddy. After that race, you felt like you won it. Obviously we didn't, but third place was pretty awesome. I'll never forget it. It was quite an experience because it was new for the crowd and new for the league, and there was so many new drivers there. I think there was -- man, I don't know how many rookie drivers there were that year, I think probably 15? 19, yeah. And there were some questionable drivers out there, but they did pretty good, you know, overall the race went pretty well. I'll never forget it, that's for sure. You never forget your first Indy 500.
GREEN: Any more questions? We do want to allow ample time for one-on-ones with not only Sam, Travis and Richie and Ida, as well. What we'll probably do is keep Sam right here and maybe have Richie and Travis go to that end of the transporters to spread things out a little bit. But we have plenty of time for one-on-ones. So take your time and make sure you talk to each one of them. Sam, once again we appreciate you opening your doors for us and good luck in May.
SCHMIDT: No problem. I'll tell you there is plenty of Coca-Cola product over here if anybody would like anything to drink. If you guys haven't got a CD or cassette, don't miss that opportunity. On your way out we've got these Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation kits, and make sure you grab one of those on the way out, too.