2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE Tuesday, April 5, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Buddy Rice MIKE KING: It is my pleasure and, of course, most of you saw he was here chatting with Buddy for a couple of minutes, and I want to...
2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE
Tuesday, April 5, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
MIKE KING: It is my pleasure and, of course, most of you saw he was here chatting with Buddy for a couple of minutes, and I want to recognize him before he leaves, the legendary Tom Carnegie, the voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway getting set for his 60th year. (Applause) This May will mark his 60th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as the voice of this great facility and just what a pleasure it is to be able to know Tom and to be able to listen to him. It wouldn't be May without him welcoming race fans the start of each day. Also I want to let you know that Scott Roembke is here. Scott is the chief operating officer and the general manager of Rahal Letterman Racing. Scott is back here chatting with the legendary Don Kay and will be there for a few minutes. If you would like to speak with him at the conclusion of Buddy's comments you'll be able to grab Scott back there, some one-on-one time. It is my pleasure now to welcome the 2004 Indy 500 winner. He is a truly a unique American original when it comes to motorsports. From Phoenix, Arizona, it is a great pleasure to introduce Buddy Rice. Buddy, good to see you.
BUDDY RICE: Thanks for having me back.
KING: Most certainly. Buddy, we just wrapped up in St. Petersburg over the weekend, that was historic event for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers, turning right and left for the first time. Before we talk about the 500, real quick about that, what did you think? The cars certainly looked great on that temporary street course.
RICE: Yeah, St. Pete was awesome. I think what Barry Green and his group did to get that track ready and all the promotions they did, to have all those people, it was awesome. It was great to be back on a road course. I've never driven an Indy car on a road course in race trim like that. It was exciting and being able to get back to your roots. For me, it was extremely exciting, and it was for everybody. I think the cars showed very well. There was a lot of passing for that track for it being a street course; and everything worked out well. We had to work our way from the back. If we didn't have one little error, I think we could have been third or fourth. I think it was an excellent, it was an excellent day for everybody at Rahal Letterman and with my teammate finishing right in front of me. It was extremely exciting to be back there running.
KING: Vitor was fifth, and you were sixth?
KING: And Danica Patrick also fared very well. She ran second behind Ryan Briscoe and Thomas Enge, I believe, for quite a while and it was a good day for Rahal Letterman Racing. It's almost hard to look back on the last year and think of what maybe you have done since winning the Indy 500. You've met with the president, you've driven tanks, you've thrown out pitches at Yankee Stadium. What has it been like, Buddy, the year following driving into Victory Lane here at the Speedway?
RICE: It's been just a dream come true. I mean, to be able to do, one, just to even come and race at this facility and be someone that can take part in is one thing and then to be one of the elites that wins it. I still don't think it's settled and it will be another few years probably before I completely understand the full effect of winning the 500. But it's been so busy and with what we had to focus on the rest of the year with Rahal Letterman chasing the championship and throughout the whole winter we had so much other stuff going on, there wasn't a whole lot of downtime and time to reflect. But I think in a couple years I'll have time to do that. Right now my main focus is to keep running up front and come back here and try to do the double-up. It's definitely possible. I'm with the right team and the right package to do that. So that would be great to come back here in 2005 and win again and go from there.
KING: Terry just wheeled the Borg-Warner Trophy into place there, and you were here a couple months ago to see your likeness unveiled. What was that like?
RICE: I don't know; it's weird to think you're permanently stuck on that trophy with so many awesome drivers and so many great people and what they're able to do. So I think one of the neatest things is when we accepted the Baby Borgs up in Detroit with both Bob (Rahal) and Dave (Letterman) and all three of us together to get ours, that was one of the most exciting moments after the 500 win to be able to go with both those guys and accept those awards. So it's just been an awesome year since I left here and I hope I can come back, like I said, and do it again because this is just a dream come true.
KING: You got your champion's ring from Herff Jones, and it was a little tight, I remember. Have they resized it for you yet?
RICE: No, no resizing, I'm not letting anybody have that right now. It sits in its case just right next to the Baby Borg.
KING: When are you going to wear it?
RICE: I don't know if I'm going to wear it right now. It will take a little bit for me to wear it. I don't know; I'm just not ready to wear it yet.
KING: What 2004 also did for you, Buddy, was I guess underline your place in this series as not just a competitor but as a driver that should be viewed as a contender each and every time out. You've signed a long-term extension with Rahal Letterman Racing; we'll see you in the No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer car for many years to come. In many ways, 2004 was a life-changing year for you.
RICE: In many ways. First off, I had to come in and fill in for a former points winner and 500 winner with Kenny (Brack), and those were big shoes to fill. That guy, he's done a lot in his lifetime and to step into that kind of position, I think, and have to work with that team that fast on all the new adjustments they made, but also they had to overcome that crash that he had. And to go from there, obviously you knew fairly on in the season I was in for the full season but still we had a lot of makeup to do and things to take care of. Finally by the 500, everything had come together for us and that got the ball rolling for us, and that helped us chase to third in the championship. Obviously, we had some unfortunate incidents throughout the year, but some were self-inflicted on our own, and some we couldn't control. But we had an excellent '04 season, and I come back for my second full year, not only with Rahal Letterman, but for my second full year in the IRL, and we're hoping for big things. Obviously, we haven't started off exactly how we wanted to, but I think there's plenty of time right now to make up the ground and do what we have to do this year.
KING: We mentioned the fact that Buddy is a great American motorsports success story, and I think he underlined that when he was asked by the CEOs of Argent and Pioneer. They wanted to give him a gift after the race. Tell the story.
RICE: Well, I'm still not sure Wayne Lee completely understands my decision. But basically what it came down to, after the 500 they gave me the option to pick any car in the world that I wanted, anything, and the exact words that came out of his mouth after he said that was "your dream car." So I knew right then and there what it was, but I didn't want to tell him at the time. We went and started looking around, and I kind of found a car and told him what I was looking at. At first he was all excited, but once he saw the picture he wasn't overly impressed after that. He basically gave me the phone number to the controller and said do whatever you want. He wasn't involved that much anymore. But I got the car I wanted, and right after that, thanks to Pioneer, I got the '49 Merc. I had it two days and went straight from there and went to LA, and Pioneer had it for seven months and completely did the interior as well and that's what showed up at Phoenix three days before the race. It showed up, it's not completely done, but it's the car I wanted. It's everything I wanted, and it's me. So I don't want to drive a Ferrari, I don't want to drive a Porsche, I don't desire to own any of that stuff; that's just not me. So I got the car I wanted.
KING: A '49 Mercury, a big piece of American metal.
RICE: It's very heavy, and it doesn't stop very good, either.
KING: Does it go very fast or is it intended to?
RICE: It's intended to go faster than it does right now. Once I tune on it, it will be a lot better. But I better upgrade the brakes before I do that. It's still got the same brakes from 1949 on it. And it's got a slight pull to the right, too.
KING: You were checking out the new Corvette pace car, that's a pretty sweet ride.
RICE: I like it. It's got more color on it than mine. So I think I need to do an addition to the --
KING: That's right, because you got the Vette from last year, the pace car from last year, right?
RICE: It's kind of plain compared to this. Mine is mostly white. It's got the cool American flag down the side but this one has definitely more color.
KING: We're going to open it up for questions. I want to remind you that your conversation is being transcribed so I will need to repeat the question to Buddy. When do you go back out, when does testing resume?
RICE: We've got plenty of time.
KING: Questions for our defending Indy 500 winner.
Q: I'm curious what you think of the new qualifying procedure for this year's race?
KING: Question is, Buddy, what do you think of the new qualifying procedure for this year's 500?
RICE: Actually, I'm just getting over the qualifying procedure from St. Pete, so I'm not completely up on the new one for the Speedway. But I think with 11 cars each day of qualifying, I think it's going to make it more exciting. I think, also, from what I understand, the different aspect of not having just three runs on one car, you can keep making repeat runs I think is also good for what we're trying to do right now with where the IRL is going.
KING: Those of you that aren't aware, the new qualifying format calls for the first three days of qualifying, Saturday, Sunday and then the following Saturday, 11 positions to be locked in each day, once the 11th position is filled, for example on Pole Day, Saturday, bumping will begin. Only the fastest 11 drivers on that day will be qualified and locked into positions. The next day, next 11, the same the next. Each day a single car, for example, Buddy probably won't need it, but each day the No. 15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage car will be allowed three qualifying runs. So as opposed to three total, theoretically you could have 12 runs on the same car if you go to the fourth and final day. So that's the way the qualifying rules have been amended for this year's 500. Questions for Buddy Rice.
Q: Buddy, talk about your experience meeting the president. Not everybody gets that opportunity.
RICE: Not everybody gets to do that. I was fortunate enough, I mean I think I was about 11 or 12 years old, I was with my parents on a vacation back when the White House actually had tours openly. This is the first time I was back there since then. We had our own private tour. But for the president to take that kind of time out of his busy day and world affairs to take the time to spend with us was extremely special for myself and everybody on that team. Like you said, it's not every time you get to do that. But not only that, we were able to have the trophy there and the car there on the South Lawn. So that will definitely be a photo and moment I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. It's also part of winning the 500, it all ties together. And we were only supposed to have about 15 minutes with him, and it turned into probably closer to about a half-hour. We were also able to take the whole team in the Oval Office when it was supposed to be about two or three of us. It was quite an impressive day for all of us.
KING: Was it a little surreal when the president comes out and shakes your hand, you're thinking to yourself, 'My God, I'm shaking hands with the president of the United States?'
RICE: You got a warning when he was coming because you saw guys in suits popping up out of the bushes and stuff; you knew what was happening. You could almost feel him coming up. It was pretty weird. But to shake that guy's hand and think that guy makes decisions that not only affects our country but affects the whole world, and then to step into that same office that all that goes down in, just to think if you're a speck on the wall to hear half of what goes down, it would be crazy.
KING: So you knew at that moment when the suits started moving not to make any quick moves?
RICE: There was a lot of guys already standing around with guns and stuff, but you could tell he was getting ready to show up, it actually doubled or tripled.
Q: Have you been out on the track today and how much do you think the change in the track has made --
KING: The question is, Buddy, have you been out on the track today? This is the first test for the IndyCar Series cars with the new pavement. What do you think and how's it going so far?
RICE: No, I have not been out today. The only one that's gone out and ran at speed was Hornish. It's hard to say what the track's exactly going to do. It definitely looks a lot different because of how dark it is in color compared to what it has been in the past. Obviously, there's some light grinding they've done down on the bottom groove of all four turns. That will be a little bit different than what we've had in the past. We'll have to wait and see. Obviously, we know the development of the Panoz G Force is obviously a lot better. We've honed in on it a lot last year and refined it. Obviously, the Honda 3-liter engine is going to be more powerful than what we've had when we've raced here. So the speeds are going to be up regardless just because of those two facts. But if the track is obviously smoother, we can run the cars lower and be able to trim out more, so the speeds will also come up as well from that. I definitely feel the speeds will be a lot quicker than what you saw last year. The 222 is not going to be enough for pole. I think you're going to have to be around probably close to 226 range for pole.
Continued in part 2