IRL: Buddy Lazier/Ron Hemelgarn Kentucky press conference

Guests: Buddy Lazier Ron Hemelgarn <B>TIM BRAY: Thanks for your patience. Buddy Lazier. First last year, first this year. Fourth win in a row, IRL record. Eighth career IRL win, IRL record. Of course, he won Indianapolis, Charlotte, ...

Buddy Lazier
Ron Hemelgarn

<B>TIM BRAY: Thanks for your patience. Buddy Lazier. First last year, first this year. Fourth win in a row, IRL record. Eighth career IRL win, IRL record. Of course, he won Indianapolis, Charlotte, Phoenix, Kentucky, Pike's Peak, Richmond, and Nashville. I'm going to let him make an opening statement. Have a couple team owners here as well. We will go from here. Also have questions from those upstairs, so they're in the press room upstairs. So I'll try to retrieve some of those questions. Go right ahead. You have the floor.

BUDDY LAZIER: I don't know what to tell you. I mean, what a great second half of the season we're having. Seems like we have just picked up so much momentum. Seems like we're just flat -- I mean just hot right now. I don't know what to tell you. Four wins in a season. And just watching the Pennzoil Panther team, Sam Hornish, they had a brilliant first half of the season. But we're coming hard. We're having a great second half. I think it's going to be real tight for points battle. It's going to be close there at the end of the year. Great, great, race. There were times we had a couple close calls. One was under the yellow. I didn't know the track was yellow, and luckily there was a hole for me to be able to get between Scott Sharp and Sam. Real close. And luckily I saw the hole as I was kind of in a four-wheel slide, heavy on the brakes, and I could see there was a hole. So I was able to release the brakes, able to go through the hole. If the hole wasn't there, I would try to get below them. If everybody stops, it is real tough to miss. So that was a close call. But overall, in my mind, just they did a great job preparing this racetrack. When we came here and tested compared to when we came back here and raced, it's clear to me that they did a super job, the track personnel, in preparing this racetrack to come here and race.

Buddy, how about that time where you punched it in where you got the leaders were coming up on Buzz up here in 3, you had to punch it in and that's when you got the lead?

BRAY: Where did you get the extra horsepower?

LAZIER: Three and four, a lot of times you catch the air just right, leap frog from one draft to the next. This racetrack had enough grip in it that you were able to really work the draft because the cars work really good in dirty air. So it was at that moment I was kind of leap-frogging from one draft to another. I had great momentum. You pick up 50, 25 to probably 75 RPM, depending on how good your draft is. That's a ton. And you pick up those drafts, and that just gives you that little pop. And I had -- fortunately there was a line my car was in that I could hold it low, real low and slipped underneath.

Was it that much easier to run the front today than it was to be the second guy?

BRAY: Was it that much easier to run up front than be the second?

LAZIER: It was different, for sure, because when you're running second or when you run behind somebody, the air does give you a little bit of push. So we were able to make big adjustments actually inside the car to make it perfect in dirty air. As perfect as you can ask, because I was in dirty air for a little more than first half of the race, plus where we were chasing there at the end, it just worked out to where I was able to get the lead and start working my way. I always want to lead if I can, rather than run second. But, of course, when you're up front, there is nobody cutting the air for you, and so you have an advantage when you're behind someone. Robbie Buhl, obviously, he got a run on me, was able to get by me on the closing stage of the race. Had a great draft. I did not make it easy on him. I certainly was not blocking, but I protected my line. I chose to low line to protect, but he still got the pass done. So really nice, good pass. Then I had the advantage of being able to -- he is cutting the air for me. I think my crew radioed, said he was having fuel problems. You could see it wanting to run out a little bit in the corners, so I was able to draft him, get back by. Anytime you can, you want to lead. That's where you want to be. When you're running second, you have got to make something happen.

After you got the lead back coming out of 4, it looked like you were trying to make sure he didn't get a wheel underneath you, you got low every time. Is that what you were trying to do?

BRAY: Said coming out of 4 you got the lead back. Were you trying to stay up front obviously?

LAZIER: There's no question. Because when you make -- if you make a run, if you get a run on somebody, it's just flat out dirty racing. If somebody gets a run on you, you cut down on them, it's dangerous. We don't do that. What you have got to do is you find a line you want when the guy goes you protect that line if you can. If a guy can get underneath you, he's got a run on you, he has the inside. That happened once or twice, I think, early on. Sam or somebody got underneath me. I don't remember exactly which car it was. Two cars went by me before I could move my way back low. Yes, at the end I did not want to give him the low side. I believe that's where he got me on the draft, but that was the one area I wanted to keep and run myself, so he had to pass on the outside, which was the long way around. So you try to protect it, but it's good, clean racing, and you protect yourself if you can. But if somebody is able to get a draft and wedge their way in, they've got it on you, it's their line.

Sharp said the reason you guys do so well is that your team has been together in the IRL since day one; whereas, the guys -- the other top guys out there have put their (unintelligible) together or not been together since. Talk about the advantage both on -- both of, to have been together that long?

BRAY: Talk about the advantage of being together since day one.

RON HEMELGARN: Well, obviously, anytime you can assemble a team and everybody continues to work, I think the big thing that we have is that nobody points fingers when something goes wrong. We pick up the pieces, go forward. Do whatever necessary to win races and work 24 hours a day if they have to, to make it right. They trust each other. Buddy can get in that car, and if they say it's right, Buddy knows it's right. If Buddy says something is wrong, the crew knows exactly what to do because, again, working a long time for me. Obviously, I'm proud as can be to have Buddy, the caliber driver he is, to have brought him into Indy-car racing way back in 1990, and to see him progress into a world-class driver. Lee Kunzman, to have him from 1984 being with me, today still with me. See the hard work finally paying off very, very proud. I can't say enough about Buddy.

Buddy, your thoughts.

LAZIER: I think it's -- it's a benefit. To me if you have been together -- you see race teams that have been together a long time. It's a great environment to where guys are constantly working. First off, you have respect. I have a lot of respect for the guys. I think they have a lot of respect for me. Secondly, we have a big friendship. It's so important to have all that. I see so many teams that have been together a long time, and it seems to me there's two kinds. There's the kind that keeps getting better each year and more and more excited about the future because the future doesn't equal the past. And we keep working on -- like Ron says, we identify weak points. Instead of making excuses about those weak points and using that, we do everything we can to improve those weak points together. We work as a team in the truest sense. You see the other type of race team that's been together a long time, that's the one that kind of starts to go stale. We don't have any of that. We really rely on one another and trust one another, and it's a super environment. It's a very special environment, and so it's a pleasure to -- it's just a pleasure to have won eight races with this race team. I can't believe eight, and I think four in one year. It's unreal. My mother -- my grandmother -- out on Victory Lane my wife came up, said, "Hey, Honey, you might want to think about dedicating this to your grandmother." My Grandmother Lazier is very sick with cancer. Doesn't have much time left. Went and visited her about a week ago, and so I dedicated this to my Grandmother Lazier. And, you know, just a super day. Real super day.

Ron, speaking of bringing Buddy aboard, he was struggling there for a while. What did you see thinking this could be the driver for you?

HEMELGARN: Early on what I admired about Buddy, no matter what he drove, he always drove the best that that car could be. He sort of competed against himself. He wouldn't get discouraged because somebody was running faster than him, as long as he was getting that car that he was driving doing better than the last time he drove it. He was content with that because he knew he was making progress and he was hungry. I mean, he would camp out there at the door on a regular basis, driving a racecar, and so on. He was persistent. I think the day that I realized that Buddy Lazier was a true champion was when he broke his back in 1996, and he wanted to go to Indy so bad because. He knew he was going to have a fast car, and to risk his life, to risk the chance of being paralyzed, and crawling in that car with a shattered back at that time, I realized that's a true race car driver. A lot of people want to be race car drivers, but few can lay on a sheet for a few weeks and get back to the car and stand on the gas and win. And at that time I really realized that Buddy was definitely, definitely an up and coming driver. And I didn't give up his driver spot. A lot of people wanted to get in that car. I believed in Buddy. If he wanted to drive, even though it was hard for him to get in and out of the car, the tears in his eyes getting out after the win in Indy showed that he was going to be a real world-class driver, and he is.

Buddy, four out of five. That's a streak that any sports man or team would envy. Are you starting to feel a little bit invincible?

LAZIER: Not at all. There's so much psychology, I think, like kind of what you're talking about. Always psychology. And sometimes when you have success, that really can -- that meets well with messing yourself up mentally. We don't have any of that. If anything, the more we win, the less we feel pressure. And ultimately, the better we perform. So, I mean, if anything, you know, we're excited. It's always nice on a championship battle, just like in the race, it's always nice to be up front and defending the lead, of course. That is the advantage you have, the advantage of your leading points wise. Obviously, we're chasing for the championship, and Sam Hornish, the Pennzoil Panther team, has the advantage, but we're coming hard. We're coming hard. So last year we kind of played the rabbit that we were out front towards the end. And winning right here last year made a big difference in points in terms of our championship last year. And all of a sudden, this year we're in reverse roles, in that we're chasing. But we are still having success because we're catching them quick, and the points, I think it's going to come down to Texas. It's going to be real tight for the championship. It's a beautiful thing.

Each time you win, you seem to say that the money will buy something for your family, like college education. What does this one buy?

LAZIER: To tell you the truth, my wife is three months pregnant, so, and I can't -- we kept it a secret. We can't hide it anymore. She is starting to show. Just when I got my first one covered, his education, we've got another one coming. I'm pretty motivated.

You've got to keep winning them.

LAZIER: Very motivated.

Buddy, last year we had nine races, this year 13, next year 14. How much more important is this? Also, it gives you a chance to come back this season.

BRAY: Schedule. How much -- how important is that? Talk a little bit about the schedule.

LAZIER: I mean, it's huge. No question. I mean, obviously last year's schedule, strategy to win a championship slightly different than this year. No question. I mean, obviously we have a handful of races yet to go to catch Sam and the Pennzoil team. The longer schedule is -- I mean, obviously undoable for us without that. I think that's allowed us -- I mean, this year at the beginning of the season, not that we had a bad year, not that we didn't do good, still finished podium we were running strong, but we didn't have that extra little bit that kept us -- you know, that kept us up front in the championship battle. And having the longer season has allowed us to recover. And, you know, if we're successful at the end of the year, it certainly will be in part due to the longer schedule.

Buddy, since you have been in this league, can you talk about the competition? It appears to be much tougher, much better, so what does it mean now for you to be as consistent as you are as you were four years ago, five years ago?

BRAY: Because of the competition, what does it mean to be as consistent as you are with that competition as it seems to be getting stronger and stronger?

LAZIER: It's an interesting point. I think a lot of times we have never in the history of Indy-car racing had such evenly matched cars. Not a spec series. Different manufacturing, different engine manufacturers, different car manufacturer, different teams. By no means spec series, but very equal in terms of their maximal potential, downforce, horsepower. So, therefore, when you're racing, you're all racing in equal equipment, or close to it. And when you do that, you all get better because you see what the other guy is doing, other guy sees what you're doing, and constantly improving. I think everybody in the Indy Racing League, due to the format, everyone every race gets better, and better, and better. It's a tough, tough, field.

Ron, Buddy, how do you feel about the Martians invading Indianapolis next year the way they did this year?

HEMELGARN: Are you talking about CART?

BRAY: That other series they're talking about.

HEMELGARN: To me, it really doesn't bother me. We raced against them for many, many years. I used to do that myself, invade the territory during the month of May, and I put three cars in back in '91 and '92, so on. I mean, I did exactly the same thing that they're doing. Indianapolis 500 is the greatest event in the world. When they come back, obviously, it takes spots away. That I think basically teams have to practice hard, try harder, and really focus on Indy. Indy has never been a gift. All the years 24 years I've been there, it's never been a gift to make the Indy 500. You have to earn your way in, and I think basically that's what we have done every year. So to me, come on.

LAZIER: I mean, I, like Ron, before the IRL was formed, I raced Indy cars, and that was the series. And I'm just -- I really appreciate the Indy Racing League because I did run and struggled so long with 2- and 3-year-old racecars. I saw -- in my mind, the longest time you knew who was going to win the race or win the season before the season started. Always one or two dominant teams. Just seems like Indy Racing League that anybody can win. So it's very -- from a contenders' point of view, really exciting times because it's good racing. I think the fans are catching on. That's why we keep having bigger and bigger crowds. The Indy race is picking up a huge amount of momentum. A lot of sponsors rolling in because it's a great show. The reason it's a great show, because the cars are so close. And to me, it's a wonderful thing.

Buddy, your grandmother's first name?

LAZIER: Maxine.

Where does she live and some childhood memories you have?

LAZIER: Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Questions about your grandmother and childhood memories if you have any?

LAZIER: Of my grandmother? She was a wonderful lady. And, you know, of course, my dad knows her a lot closer, but I guess my dad, who obviously was big on racing, that's where we caught the racing bug and learned our craft, the beginning parts of learning our crafts as race driver. She drives today. Last time she drove was a month ago, 95 years old. She loves racing and kept my dad in line. That's pretty impressive.

Just talk about, I mean, Sam another third today. You almost have to win out, I mean, maybe to win this championship. He could finish second the rest of way. Is that feasible?

BRAY: Is it feasible with the points the way they are now?

LAZIER: From my point of view, it is definitely feasible. It started off as a long shot, real long shot. All of a sudden, it isn't so long. Now, all of a sudden, it is pretty darn doable. We've got a ton of momentum. They've done a brilliant job. No doubt they've done a great job. Haven't dropped out any races. Seems like if they don't win, they take second or third. Always checking the points. They are doing what they need to do to win a championship. However, we're doing what we need to do to win a championship, too. I think it's going to be really, really close. Real tight at Texas.

You and Sam were running the same package with the same Speedway engines. What do you attribute your performing better than Sam?

BRAY: What do you attribute to performing better than Sam on the racing?

LAZIER: First off, I have the experience of winning this race last year. When you do it once, you feel like you can do it again. Confidence. Also, you know different things. Obviously, he works -- every driver, doesn't matter, even my brother and I have distinct differences. Even some guys have one style versus another style. Two drivers have the same style work on different things during practice and so on. On any given weekend, one guy might be working on the right things, the things that he needs to work on to win that race. And, you know, this race -- this racetrack we seemed to just click, really click. Speedway Motors, since you mentioned it, have done a spectacular job. They have won the most races than any engine builder has ever one in a season. They have led. You just start looking, they're first or second in the championship last year, first and second this year. They deserve a lot of credit and they're a great bunch of guys. They're obviously Indianapolis, Indiana, Gasoline Alley location, and Speedway Motors done a great job -- I'm sorry Speedway Engines.

The show at the end with Buhl, how exciting is it as a driver to drive in such a duel?

BRAY: Talk about the duel at the end from your perspectives.

HEMELGARN: You're driving.

LAZIER: Yeah, but it's your investment. I know I make him nervous. I can just feel him sweating in the pits when we're wheel-to-wheel dodging. And to me, it was tough because I'm watching in the mirror and he is reeling me in. I'm going as fast as I can go. I'm wide open, got the car trimmed to the point where the rear end is wiggling. I can't go anywhere. It's right there. They're reeling me in because the draft. Just hope that the laps -- I was actually hoping that we catch the tail end of the pack so I have somebody to draft off with. The one time I was able to sort of break away from the draft was because we had been running green long enough that the cars were spread out, so I could leap-frog from one to the other and have air cut for you. But that wasn't happening and he was reeling me in. And I felt it was going to be close, going to be a tough battle. When he caught me, I was just doing everything. It was tough, it was tough. At some point you realize, boy, this can go any way. I've got to make the right decisions here. You're sitting in the race car, I've got to make the right decisions. Sometimes as hard as you try, even if you play the percentages, what line you're going to go, occasionally you're going to choose wrong. When you do choose wrong, you hope you have enough time to fix it and to catch back up.

HEMELGARN: For me, being in the pits and watching it, again, when you have confidence in your driver, you know he is going to come back. There later on in the race when Buhl got by him, when Buddy gave him that bottom line, he got by, I said a few words that I don't want to repeat here. But anyway, Buddy came back and he took back the lead and went on to win the race. That rear wheel was pretty tight, but with Buddy, as you know, he holds his line. He holds its very, very tight. I think that race in Kansas City when he was locked in fourth gear, when he cut the bottom, nobody could get by him. Fantastic driver. With the ability that Buddy has, also the crew put together a car that Buddy can drive any way. It gets a willing nerve-wracking.

Along that same theme. What would it have been like the last lap and a half if he hadn't run out of fuel?

LAZIER: I would have been real surprised if he would have been able to get by me with one and a half to go. At that point you do everything you can. We have developed, I think over the years, and it is an important point, it really is, because it's a safety point, a driver code of ethics. I think all great race series have that, as closely matched as these race cars are. Bottom line is you have to have a code of ethics that you live by, and that doesn't mean that you're going to help this guy. Doesn't mean that you don't race hard. But the bottom line is when a guy gets a run on you, you do not come down on him. All it's going to do is tear up equipment and hurt somebody. He got a run on me and that's his racetrack, then I got a run on him. So it's all good racing. But I knew that with four or five laps to go you're not -- you know, the code of ethics still stands. But at the same time, I was going to be -- you know, I was going to be on it hard. Again, we're obviously locked in a points championship, and I was going to make it very difficult for him with one and a half laps to go. But I could see his car starting to sputter, as well.

BRAY: You've been gracious. Taken a lot of questions. Congratulations to you and Ron. Thank you very much. Good luck the rest of the way.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Sam Hornis