IRL: Chitwood, Barnhart IMS Media Tour transcript, part 1

2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT Wednesday, April 6, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Joie Chitwood, Brian Barnhart MIKE KING: We're going to roll right into our second press conference since we are trying to make...

Wednesday, April 6, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Joie Chitwood, Brian Barnhart

MIKE KING: We're going to roll right into our second press conference since we are trying to make up a little bit of time here. I want to let you know that we will entertain questions in just a couple of minutes. After we get a couple of questions out of the way and opening statements. Joie Chitwood, the president and COO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The president and chief operating officer of the Indy Racing League, Brian Barnhart. Our second press conference of the morning here. How's it fit, Brian? Brian is a watch guy, by the way. He loves watches.

BRIAN BARNHART: It fits great.

KING: Well, let's start, Joie, with you. Your first year as the president of this track in terms of overseeing the facility as the boss, if you will. Racing has been a part of your life from the go. You've built racetracks, you've run racetracks, you've been a part of leagues. Just give me an indication of what it's like to go into your first Indy 500 as the president of the Speedway.

JOIE CHITWOOD: I'm not sure if pressure is the right word for it, but obviously there are things that we want to do to make sure that the competitors, the fans, the sponsors all have a great time and that responsibility falls solely on my shoulders. I would be remiss if I didn't take a chance, though, to welcome everyone here for the media tour. I know that with all of our busy schedules to take three days out of your schedule to come here to be entertained by our announcements can be quite a challenge. So I want to thank everyone for showing up. Hopefully we're providing you enough content and access that it's useful for you. I'm excited, Mike, I think in terms of being around motorsports a long time, I have one luxury, I guess if you would call it anything, and that is my grandfather raced here in the '40s, so I feel like I have a special connection to this place. And I hope that that passion for the Speedway shines through in all of our efforts in terms of how we present the Speedway to all who are involved. For those who don't, I'd like to hear about that. It's our job to make sure that we listen to all the participants' needs and understand what it is they expect from us. We're all about being first class and being the international leader in motorsports entertainment. Hopefully you see what we do with the facility in terms of the investment and improvements, we try and do that. Some days we don't get it all right; we like to think we do, but we want to make sure that's our goal, and we're attempting to do that.

KING: We'll get back with Joie momentarily to talk about the schedule for the month of May 2005. Brian Barnhart was named the president of the Indy Racing League, the first of the year. He, of course, has overseen operations for many years in the Indy Racing League and now is the boss, if you will. Brian, before we talk about the 500 and month of May 2005, we come off of what was a unique weekend for the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series in St. Petersburg. From my perspective, having never worked or attended a street event, I was thrilled, thought it was a great event. Give us your take on St. Petersburg as a whole and the first time ever that the IndyCar Series cars turned both right and left.

BARNHART: Thanks, Mike. I would echo your comments. I think it was an outstanding weekend for the IndyCar Series, Indy Racing League's first non-oval event. There was an awful lot of work that went into making that event happen on all fronts, not the least of which was out of our technical staff, Les McTaggart, Phil Casey and the help of our partners in the manufacturing side with our Panoz chassis, our Dallara chassis and our Xtrac gearboxes. The difficult thing that was presented to us when we made the decision to go non-oval racing and road and street racing, we had a car that had been designed and optimized to perform on ovals. To make the switch to road course and street course racing was a bit of a technical challenge, and we chose to make that process take place over two years balancing the economic impact to the teams, to our update kits. It's a more difficult challenge to take an oval car road racing than it is to take a road racing car and make it an oval race. Our guys did an outstanding job. As a product you saw that was put on the racetrack this past weekend at St. Petersburg is a testimony to the technical staff and what they put together. We had virtually no mechanical failures. I think we had one gearbox glitch over the weekend and one engine failure over the course of three days and several thousand miles run over the weekend. So hats off to our technical staff and their ability to put on and maintain that close competitive product that the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series has become known for. We put on a great show and a street race. The drivers were complimentary of the cars, they're fun to drive and we put on a great show. Another aspect of that from the preparation of the facility, Barry Green and Andretti Green Promotions just did a yeoman's job putting on the first street race for us. They not only set the standards from a facility standpoint if we ever go street racing and/or future road racing, but they raised the bar for all promoters in the series and created an atmosphere th at was absolutely a street party atmosphere from day one. The first of the week we got there, I flew down Wednesday, and it was just a great atmosphere and the ambience, they had the marina down to the back of the left of the back stretch with the yachts, and just the overall excitement and enthusiasm and how the community welcomed us was very refreshing and exciting. So our first non-oval event was very successful; we are pleased with it and looking forward to many more in the future.

KING: Brian, we fully expected to be fighting with cars on the track, they'd be able to hear you and Joie during this press conference. There were cars on the track yesterday, but it's my understanding that Firestone has canceled the remainder of the test. If you could address that, please.

BARNHART: Joie and I will be talking with Al Speyer and the Firestone people later this afternoon. As you all know, the surface was repaved here last fall. Yesterday was the first time we had cars on track on the full oval portion of the repaved track. And Firestone came back with several of our teams to do a Firestone tire test for a first run on the new surface. That's standard procedure, very methodical how we do it. They have since canceled and postponed the test. They're going to return later this month. They don't have anything finalized yet, but the look and hope is to come back in the next couple weeks. I think they want to go re-evaluate some things they have seen right away from the cars on track and I think they might have experienced some unexpected results from what they had seen. That's pretty standard, like I say, with the procedures which you go through. Once a track has been repaved, you're going to run, do a methodical process, re-evaluate that data, take a look and we'll come back and take another look at it, like I say, in the next couple weeks.

KING: Brian, anything specific at this point that can be addressed or until you sit down with Firestone and the drivers that were on track, is this kind of an ambiguous sort of situation?

BARNHART: I think it's -- we don't have anything that's jumping out at us. I think everybody was being a little extra cautious. I think they experienced something they had never seen before and unexpected. At that point in time it's better to go evaluate it than it is to try to run through something that you don't know what's going on. They took some of the tires back and they're going to re-evaluate them, get back with us what they see. Our obligation from the Speedway and from the IRL standpoint is we're going to provide a safe and competitive racetrack for them, and we've got the feedback and data from the drivers that were on track yesterday. Firestone will evaluate what their tires are doing, and I'm sure we'll be having a continued dialogue with them. And if anything needs to be addressed after we get more feedback from them, we'll do so, keeping in mind, like I say, our obligation just to present the best racetrack possible for all of our competitors in May.

KING: Brian, we'll get back to you in a just minute as you address the new qualifying procedures for the 89th 500, which really should make the month of May very interesting. Joie, as far as the schedule from Opening Day through Race Day on May the 29th, if you could preview I guess the schedule as a whole and perhaps some of the changes. I know Carb Day is perhaps one of the biggest changes.

CHITWOOD: Absolutely. I think there were probably four main things that occurred in terms of our month of May schedule changing from last year to this year. ROP now opens up the month in terms of our first on-track activity. That will be the first couple days. We'll then phase into our veteran program and the typical running on the track. We've added that other qualifying day on the second weekend. Traditionally we've been now down to three days; first, second and a Bump Day. We'll have four days in terms of qualifying. Brian will address the specifics of that nature. Carb Day moving to Friday. I will be honest, I actually had that in my mind for a couple years now. I was very interested in how people enjoy the weekend here in Indianapolis and how you bring in customers and guests and how your typical process works. I really felt Friday was a prime day to enjoy the experience a little bit better. Heard a lot of good comments, not only from the normal customer out there, the fan that's taking Thursday off and enjoying himself and having to go back to work on Friday before a holiday weekend. Also the sponsors that fly in. For them to bring their guests in now on a Thursday evening to experience Friday, Saturday and Sunday the race. Really pleased with that experience and what it can do. I was happy working with Miller Lite that we could add a band such as Black Crowes to the event schedule. We have had some good conversations about that, I guess they're kind of the rage right now in terms of getting back together and sold out a number of New York City shows. I think we'll have a great buzz for that day. We've added the Pro Series race to that day, our Freedom 100, and I think in terms of a day when you're going to get a lot of activity between IndyCar practice, Pro Series race, pit stop competition and the concert, I think I'd put that day up against most any in terms of activity and experience and what you can do when you're here at the Speedway. Of course, we also changed the start time of our race, moved it an hour later. We have some TV considerations there in terms of the East Coast and the West Coast. I'm glad that if daylight savings were to pass, that we'll worry about that on June 5th and not any time sooner than that. Obviously, that will be something that we deal with in the future in terms of start times. But in terms of the major accomplishments or changes that occurred, those were the ones that we actually announced. I'm very pleased with them. In terms of that announcement, Brian and I sat up here I want to say sometime in the winter and talked about that and was pleased to talk about it then. In terms of response, you're also interested in how people respond to those changes, both positive and negative. So far we're really pleased with the response. Fans, sponsors alike felt that we made some good changes. I'm sure Brian will talk about the unique qualifying procedure now and the responses we've received for that, as well.

KING: Brian, rookie orientation now becomes a part of the month of May proper as opposed to a separate event, if you will. If you could talk about that and the new four-day qualifying procedures for the 500.

BARNHART: As Joie mentioned, the IRL is very pleased to be working in conjunction with the Speedway with the changes because we think it's going to enhance the month of May and the Indianapolis 500 from all aspects. As he mentioned, there's four or five major changes. We're balancing all terms of that with the fans, the entertainment of what we're looking for and with our teams and our participants from a cost standpoint instead of making a separate trip here a couple of weeks before the month of May to do our ROP. We're going to start the month off on Sunday and Monday with ROP, and those drivers will go through that aspect. The track will be opened to all competitors then on Tuesday. So the veterans will get Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday to practice. The rookies will get two days in front of that before the veterans are turned loose. That will give them ample time to get accustomed to the unique aspect of the facility and the speeds associated with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about. So we're pleased to be able to -- USAC started that program probably 20, 25 years ago and has had such an impact and been very valuable to drivers when you first come to the Speedway. It is so unique and so different from everywhere else you run. It is sure nice to get out there before you have 30 other drivers out there with you, and you get some guy who's been here for 25 years and he goes busting down into Turn 1 at 220 his third time by and you're still trying to find your way around, it's a little intimidating. So the Rookie Orientation Program is very valuable, and we're happy to have that to start the month off on Sunday and Monday and then move into the veterans Tuesday through Friday. That again balances. And from a cost aspect, all on-track activity on most days is going to take place from noon to six, trimming an hour off of the schedule as well. A couple of days of practice off for the veterans, like I say, that's balancing the cost aspect to our teams. We think it's also going to increase and enh ance from the Speedway standpoint because you have shorter period of time and shorter hours during the practice day, I think you're going to see a lot more on-track activity. I think you saw that last year with the rule changes we made, engine change and chassis change beginning in May. Our second week of practice during the month of May was probably the most active second week of practice I can remember in the history of the Speedway. Guys were getting so accustomed to the full tank runs with the aerodynamic and mechanical changes that we had made, and we practiced in a fashion that I have never seen them practice around the Speedway before, as well. We ran in clusters of cars, groups of cars getting traffic experience. Guys running in six, packs of six and eight, and I don't think we've ever seen that. I think all of that led to what I think on Race Day was one of, if not the best Indianapolis 500 from an on-track product that I have ever seen. I think we raced last May on Race Day better than I've ever seen us, with two- and three-wide and just the depth of field and competition. All of that has been factored into our decision-making processes and balancing with the fans. I think they're going to see a lot of activity, especially when the veterans start running Tuesday through Friday. We've got a great new qualifying format that is going to introduce a ton of strategy to the teams. The teams are still allowed 35 sets of tires throughout the course of the month. Now the qualifying format is considerably different. We are only going to qualify 11 cars on each of the first three days. You will have the potential and most likely will have bumping on each of the first three days of qualifying, as well as the traditional Bump Day, which is the fourth day. You will take positions one through 11 and once you have 11 cars that have accepted times, the slowest car from Pole Day is on the bubble for that day. You will start bumping on day one. If you're not in the top 11 at the end of the day, you have to come back and qualify on day two. Day two you'll do positions 12 through 22, day three you'll do positions 23 through 33. Each day you will be bumping after those eleven cars have accepted times, you will be bumping amongst the slowest cars only from that day. The fourth day you will bump the slowest car in the field regardless the day it qualified. Also changing from that format and again trying to increase economic impact and the fan standpoint, in the old days you used to be allowed three qualifying attempts per car for the entire month of May, provided none of those attempts are run to completion. We now have three qualifying attempts per car per day even if that attempt gets run to completion. So if you run, you're the first car off the line, you accept your time and you end up getting bumped on Pole Day and you're 12th fastest, you can come back with that same engine and chassis combination and make a second and third attempt on day one. You can bring that car back on days two, three and four. So you have ultimately the potential of 12 qualification attempts with the same piece of equipment, same motors, engines can now qualify more than one chassis at a time. If you have a teammate deal, you can take a motor out of one car and put it in another car to qualify it. So we have tried to make more equipment available. Obviously, making it more exciting for the fans, allowing for bumping. The drama of Pole Day is unlike virtually anything else I have ever seen. That will remain, the runs going for the pole, but now in addition to Pole Day drama you are going to have some drama with regard to bumping on day one, day two, day three instead of just day four. You have potential for bumping every day and the drama of Pole Day. We are excited about the qualifying format for Indy.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Barry Green , Brian Barnhart
Teams HART