IRL: Cheever Jr, Arute teleconference transcript (part 1)

Indy Racing League Weekly Media Teleconference August 24, 2004 Jack Arute and Eddie Cheever, Jr. MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to thank you for joining us today. This week marks the 100th race in IRL IndyCar Series® ...

Indy Racing League Weekly Media Teleconference
August 24, 2004

Jack Arute and Eddie Cheever, Jr.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to thank you for joining us today. This week marks the 100th race in IRL IndyCar Series® history when the League makes its way to Nazareth Speedway in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. The first IndyCar Series race was held on Saturday, Jan. 27, 1996, at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla.

Joining us today are two gentlemen who have been around the league for all 100 of those events. Eddie Cheever, now owner of Red Bull Cheever Racing, finished 10th in the first race at Orlando and has driven in 70 of the league's first 100 races.

Jack Arute, a broadcaster on ABC and ESPN for all IndyCar Series races, hasn't missed a call for any of the previous 99 events, and interviewed inaugural race winner Buzz Calkins in Victory Lane in Orlando.

Jack, thanks for joining us today. We'll be joined by Eddie in just a minute.

Q: You're one of the few people that have seen all 99 races in league history. What's your most memorable moment?

JACK ARUTE: I think you've got to go back to that first race because it was a bold experiment on Tony George's part. There were more than an ample number of people that were predicting doom and gloom. When they got to a brand-new racetrack, surprisingly everybody adapted to the track. It was a great feeling because everybody, whether you were on the broadcast team or you were a crew member or driver, car owner, you knew that you were making an historic move forward for IndyCar (Series) racing.

And to see how well the guys did and to see that first race and the camaraderie that I think became the benchmark of the IndyCar Series right to this day. They would race hard out on the racetrack, but they also looked out for each other's welfare and they also were celebrating the fact that everybody made it to that first green flag.

Q: Obviously that Victory Lane, that first race was memorable. Is there a Victory Lane that sticks out?

JACK ARUTE: Oh, boy. You know, there are so many wonderful stories. But I think that what you've got to do is you've got to look at probably two that stick out in my mind. One was when Helio Castroneves won his first Indianapolis 500, only because he redefined the protocol that goes with winning at Indy. Long before he took the sip of the traditional milk, he wanted to pay tribute to the fans, so he carried over from CART his traditional salute by climbing the fence.

Then, I think probably that first Victory Lane because when Buzz Calkins won that race, there was a sense of relief. One of the stories that nobody knows is just a while before that race, Disney had completed their purchase of ABC and ESPN. Bob Goodrich was our coordinating producer and our line producer at the time. As is the way that Disney likes to do things, here is Mickey Mouse in Victory Lane. And all of a sudden, as is the old-fashioned way in racing, you know, crop to the winner only. Goodrich is in my ear saying, 'Get the mouse out of the picture, get the mouse out of the picture.' Finally somebody said over the IFB, 'Bob, that mouse is your boss now.' A pause, and then 'Widen out, widen out. Get the mouse in the picture. Get the mouse in the picture.' I got a chuckle out of that.

Q: Can you talk about that first race back in Orlando again, maybe even Indianapolis in '96, I'll ask Eddie this as well as a driver, but was there a feeling of maybe car reliability for a 500-mile event, especially in '97 when it went to the IRL package? The first few years, a bit of tiptoeing into this thing?

JACK ARUTE: It was not just the mechanical reliability. I mean, certainly '96, the '96 season, was using, I hate to use the term "used." I would say more so it was proven, a proven package. But what was on the horizon was a new package that was going to be built specifically for oval-track racing. There were an awful lot of people when we got to '97 that really the jury was out. Was it going to work? Was it going to produce what I thought was Tony George's vision, and that was to create the best oval-track racing in the world, not just in the United States.

It probably took a while. In fact, in my mind, probably the jury remained out until all of a sudden we ended up at Texas Motor Speedway, and we were treated when we went there the first time to what heretofore wasn't seen in IndyCar (Series) racing, and that was side-by-side-by-side-by-side racing. All of a sudden, those of us that were covering it, those 100,000-plus people that were in the stands that day, they looked and they saw a redefinition of what American oval-track IndyCar (Series) racing was going to be all about.

I think it also was the final affirmation, as you would say, the package and the design of the package was going to bode well and be very, very good for the sport.

Q: Jack, what do you think has changed the most over nine years?

JACK ARUTE: Oh, I think the pressure. I think the business side of it. I think when the IRL and the IndyCar Series first started, it was a wonderful opportunity for a lot of people that jumped on and thought this was going to be their one best chance to make the jump up from whether it was regional touring series events or Sprint cars or Formula Fords.

Now what's happened is because of the racing package, and because of the depth of competition, now what we see when we get to Nazareth is going to be a compilation of the 22 absolutely best oval-track open-wheel IndyCar drivers that are in the world. I honestly don't think you could say that back in 1996.

I think in '96, the Indy Racing League was more about opportunity, and it was more of an untested product. Like everything else in sport, it's evolved to a lofty position now where I think it goes without debate that it is the leader in what I would call IndyCar motorsports, open-wheel motorsports entertainment in the United States if not globally.

MODERATOR: Eddie Cheever has joined us now. Eddie, thanks for calling in. I know you're out of the country now.

EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: I'm in France.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much for calling in. Eddie, we were talking with Jack Arute about some of his memories over the first nine years, 100 races. That first race in Orlando, you started 20th and finished 10th. Give us your thoughts over the first 100 races.

EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: It's been exciting. It was a new concept. It was about opportunity. It was about getting all the drivers at the starting line with similar cars and similar chances. A lot of it went down to the crews and the drivers.

I think the whole concept has evolved now to where I always think the last race I see in the IRL is going to be the most competitive one possible. But then again, they better themselves the next race. They're all very talented, very brave. It's a very aggressive series. Again, it has evolved a lot. Technology has gotten better. But the concept has remained consistent.

Q: Eddie, what do you think the biggest change has been over the first 100 races?

EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: Well, I think the biggest one really has been the arrival of Honda and Toyota to join GM in the IRL. We evolved. Nissan stopped probably a little bit early. But it's now the engine manufacturers are playing a very important role in it.

I think the safety of the cars has evolved dramatically. I think the whole concept of developing a series around oval racing in the States has proved to be correct. Just everything has gotten better. I mean, the drivers are more prepared. The engineers are more prepared. The circuits are more prepared. We've had the SAFER barriers that started at the Indy 500 now being a part of a lot of series. We've made gains in a lot of sectors.

Q: As a driver and owner, is there a fondest moment you can pick out over the last 100 races?

EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: You're kidding, aren't you? In the last 100 races?

Q: How about one as a driver?

EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: I think there were so many battles that we had in the IRL throughout the whole period of its growth, it's very difficult for me to pick out one or another.

I think the first race we had down to the last race I came from right now as an owner, they've all been very exciting. It's very hard for me to pick a moment. There were a lot of victories along the way. They were not just victories on the racetrack.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Eddie Cheever , Helio Castroneves , Tony George