IRL: Chitwood, Barnhart IMS Media Tour transcript, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: There was a report within the last year that TV would like to see this as a night race. Any possibility down the road that would even be considered? CHITWOOD: I'll address that. (Laughter) I love comments like...

Continued from part 2

Q: There was a report within the last year that TV would like to see this as a night race. Any possibility down the road that would even be considered?

CHITWOOD: I'll address that. (Laughter) I love comments like that from the standpoint of people who don't understand the process we go through. In terms of our community and what we do and what it takes to get people in and off property, and I would shudder to think what it would take to do that in the middle of the night. I'm not sure that would be a pleasurable experience for the fan or the officials out there. It is something people talk about. There seems to be a continual effort to push TV later, and I think you see that with a lot of sports properties. We are unique in the fact we are a racetrack out in the middle of nowhere and a town kind of grew up around it. So we always have to take that into consideration in terms of the neighborhoods across the street, the jurisdictions and manpower it would take to do that. That would be a monumental task. So I think that it's easy to say that; however, there's a lot of things that we would have to do to even come close to thinking that were a possibility.

BARNHART: A lot of our drivers would like to sleep in.

Q: Joie, as you are now president and chief operating officer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I doubt as a young lad coming through that you ever assumed that could happen. Having said that and you are now, what's the biggest thrill you have and what's your biggest challenge as the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, obviously the biggest racetrack and sporting event in the world?

CHITWOOD: That's a good question. Obviously, you know, we are a racetrack. We've been here since 1909 when the track was originally built. We have a lot of grandstands out there; the key for us is to put on quality events. In terms of a challenge, I think that we all have to understand that in this day and age we're in a competitive environment, not just in terms of racers out on the track but in terms of the entertainment dollar out there. Are we providing enough relevant entertainment to meet the changing needs of that contemporary customer? So for me, it's always thinking about can we do something better, are we offering the right types of things for our fans? And I think in terms of the culture of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we probably have not thought like that. I think recently with the addition of the Brickyard 400, the USGP, we understand fans like to attend events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So for me it's about what's next, where are we going, can we improve the events we have, can we do things a little differently and what else are we not doing out there that might be a benefit if we were to put on track. That's not an easy question; there are not events out there that you can say, "Hey, let's just have it here at Indy." The question is where can we go, what's the next step. If you don't spend every day thinking about what tomorrow could be, you never do. You deal with the typical problems and issues of any business, be it budget, staffing, personnel. So for me it's about spending some time each day thinking about where we're going to be next year, five years, 10 years. I think that's the important part, that's the big challenge.

Q: Brian, as street racing often does, it kind of brings out a different element of driving or aggression even. How much of the stuff did you see from Sunday that kind of concerned you a little bit? Because the format as close as it is with these cars, sometimes the best way to get by somebody is to knock them out of the way.

BARNHART: Well, it clearly does bring that element to it. As long as that doesn't transcend into the oval track portion of what we do, I think that's first and foremost. Even still, I think if you go back to the St. Pete event, that's going to be a part of it because of the design of the track and the nature of the event and the aggressiveness that comes through on that and the difficulty in passing on the nature of that track versus an oval, it does bring some of that out. It's clearly something that's part of the show, but as an official you always need to use discretion as to what's acceptable and what's not. There were certainly aspects of the show on Sunday that added to the value of the entertainment aspect of it and there were certainly aspects of it that were a little concerning to me from our standpoint and the first time officiating a street course event, we're going to spend a lot of time revisiting those and dealing with the people on an individual basis as we move forward. The next time we're on a road course is at Infineon in August. But that is a part of it that is a little different. The aggression and the efforts to get past a car in front of you are a lot different in that type of environment than it is when we oval track race. It's something we have to adjust to and it's my job to make sure the drivers understand what is acceptable and what is not and they all perform within those parameters that are set for them.

Q: Joie, you were talking about what's next. That's one of your next big challenges. There were some rumors about motorcycles running out here sometime back. Is there anything to that? Have you all considered that?

CHITWOOD: I think I would tell you that I am really open to a lot of things, and I think that we did test them a couple years ago to find out what kind of requirements they might need if we were to engage in that thought. But I will tell you that that could be an interesting thing to look at. I wouldn't say no to you at this point. I think that there might be a lot of fans out there who might be interested to see what a motorcycle does around here. I have no immediate plans to start adding three, four, five, six races to our calendar. We have three pretty good ones now. But I do want to understand what might be next, and that's definitely a possibility.

Q: Joie, not only as a media person but as a fan, I've been very impressed with the ABC/ESPN coverage of the IRL events this year, particularly the side-by side action they have. For this year's 500, do you know, did -- I know it's been announced Brent Musburger is going to be the chief announcer, do you know are they going to continue that style of coverage and will it be broadcast in high definition?

CHITWOOD: The first part of your question and at this point I am, last time I've heard, the plan is to do the side-by-side broadcast during the 500. Now, I might have to check with Ron (Green) to make sure that was the latest thing I saw. But my knowledge is yes, I believe that's the case. For your second question, I am not sure on the high def; I think there's been discussion. I'm not sure it's been resolved or not. So I can't tell you if it's for sure going to be high def. But so far on side by side, I believe it is going to be side by side.

KING: One real small correction. Brent Musburger will be the host and Todd Harris will be the chief announcer. He will be handling play by play right here.

Q: Has there been some thought about running road course out here for IndyCar?

CHITWOOD: I kind of like the Indy 500 for the Indy cars. (Laughter) I tend to think the Formula One cars do a nice job on the road course. So at least my thought process would be I'm not sure that having the Indy cars on the road course would really -- I don't think that would be the right thing to do. I like the Indy 500 a little bit.

Q: Brian, as has been stated, there was a street race, and there's a great difference between a street race and a road course. The obvious one is they're narrower, they're shorter, they're not as fast, the driver who is aggressive -- and you certainly don't want to take that away being aggressive -- will tend to do things where they wouldn't where you go to Infineon where speeds are a lot higher and results can be a lot worse. Do you anticipate any problems? I saw some bumping, but when you've got a narrow course and you're a faster car, and albeit a driver may try to move over but didn't get over as far as he should have been or something, do you have a different mindset when you go to high-speed road course as opposed to a street race? I think street race is great, and I'm not a road racing fan, but I thought they put on a tremendous show. And there was passing. A lot of people that I heard talking about, well, it's not an oval, the passing, the series will not continue, but it did and it was close, and I thought it was a tremendous show. What are your thoughts on that one?

BARNHART: Well, I agree with you. Some of that takes care of itself depending on the nature of the track, whether it's oval or road course or street course. I think a lot of what you saw at St. Pete this weekend, you can see the same thing if you go back and look at our history the last couple years at Richmond. There's a lot of bumping that goes on at Richmond, as well. And it's not unique to Indy cars, either. Any series that runs a more bullring -- a street course is a more of a bullring type of atmosphere. And you will get guys kind of rooting there way in to try to get around. Because of the dynamics and design of the racetrack, you kind of need that. At a place like Indianapolis where you're at super speeds and you've got a five-eighths mile straight-away, it's a finesse, it's timing of your passes and you don't go in and root your way around like that because the consequences are more severe. I think the drivers' mentality is that they're aware of that as much as anybody else. So on a street circuit or a short three-quarter mile track like Richmond, you get that bullring and kind of rooting your way in there type of attitude mentality. As you go faster and as tracks get wider, the drivers take that into consideration, and they respond accordingly. It's almost like a second nature to them, and you don't see near as much of that at places like Texas, Indianapolis, Kansas, that type of deal. So I don't anticipate any problems. The drivers are pretty much aware of it on their own. It's obviously their butts that are on the line, and they're the ones most aware of what their surroundings are and their environment and what the repercussions will be.

Q: Brian, last year there was a lot of effort to slow the cars down. Already, like yesterday Buddy (Rice) was talking about 226 for a pole this year. Are you kind of amazed how fast the engine cops are starting to pick back up the speeds and the chassis manufacturers are making up all the efforts you've made to slow them down? Do you have an estimate for pole speed this year or what would you think would be the right pole speed?

BARNHART: Well, you're right, Matt. It's part of the difficulties of our job and from a sanctioning body standpoint, we're clearly outnumbered. We have thousands of people working against what we're trying to do, whether they're in the tire development for Firestone or whether they're in the engine development for Honda and Toyota and Chevrolet, down to the teams themselves with all of their engineers. Their entire job description entails going faster. You know, we are clearly outnumbered in the chassis, in the engine, in the tire, in the team development standpoint. Everything that we try and do to control speeds, there's a lot of people working against us. That's the nature of the sport. I was very comfortable and happy with the changes that we made in 2004. You know, I think the teams have done a nice job responding, and the fact that we were able to make those changes without adversely affecting the on-track product we put out there, that's going to continue. We were successful at St. Pete. You're going to see a slight increase in the performance of the cars this year, that was anticipated. I think you'll see us from a league standpoint, our goal is we like to keep the speeds at Indianapolis, we have target speeds at every racetrack we run, and for Indianapolis we like to keep the speeds in the 220s. I think you'll see us run kind of a three-year cycle. I'd like to run like we did in '04 at about 222 and come back the next year at 225, the next year at 227 or 228, then back them back down to 222. I think the drivers are very comfortable with the stability of the cars and the ability to race the cars at that speed. If you go back to our entire month's performance in 2004, like I said earlier, I think it produced as good a month of May, and I think the best on-track product on Race Day that I have ever seen for an Indianapolis 500. So our targeted goal, I guess we would like to see them in the 25 or 26 range. As always at Indianapolis, so much of that is dictated by the atmospheric conditions on Pole Day, as w ell. You can get an ideal day or you can get a really difficult day performance-wise and that can affect performance by 4 or 5 miles an hour in itself, just the weather conditions, humidity, heat, sunshine, that type of deal.

Q: This is for Joie. I understand that Kevin Forbes put a great deal of thought and design work into a drainage system during the repaving period. A, is that true; and B, does that eliminate the term weepers that we've used around here?

CHITWOOD: One of the interesting things about the race course itself, we continue to pay homage to our heritage and that is we have a lot of bricks underneath that racecourse. We're not going to be taking those bricks out anytime soon. Conversely, there's a challenge as it relates to the drainage under the track. I'm confident that Kevin is working hard to make sure that that's something that we deal with. As the asphalt got older last year in terms of its 10-year cycle, we saw a little bit more of that and had to deal with that. It is something we talk about and try and make sure doesn't affect the competition side. But one of those things of having 3.2 million bricks under the track is that that's what's under there. So it is something we discuss and try and come up with the right ways to resolve.

Q: Brian, with your promotion, you now have some business responsibilities that maybe you didn't have before. Do you look at a possible reevaluation of some of the ISC venues? The crowd at Phoenix wasn't very good, for whatever reason, and some of the other ones don't seem to put the same type of promotional effort into the IRL race that they do their other events, which has to concern you a little bit. Do you see that as an issue that you're going to address here through this year and maybe next year as far as maybe getting some of those ISC venues off in favor of some other ones?

BARNHART: Well, I don't know that we would look at it that specific as much as we look at each individual event and its value and merit and what it contributes to the series. I think the best thing that can happen to us in the short term is what we were able to do this past weekend at St. Pete has added an awful lot of flexibility to us. In the past as an all-oval schedule and at facilities that run a lot of events and multiple events, we didn't always get the pick of the date of when you needed to get into that event. Oval track racing, obviously, runs in dry weather only, so the ability to road course race and to street race gives the IndyCar Series and the Indy Racing League much more flexibility than it ever had in the past. You can certainly get into different weather circumstances. And planning a schedule now with the ability to add road and street venues to what we're doing clearly gives us more flexibility in creating a schedule in 2006 and beyond that includes events that are clearly in the best interest of the series and moving forward instead of just creating an event to make sure we try and get to 16 or 18 events to stay on the calendars. They've all got to be kept on the schedule through their own merits, not necessarily because they've been on there traditionally. We're going to do what's in the best interest of the series, and the ability to road race gives us a lot more flexibility from a scheduling standpoint, date equity-wise, we just have a lot more ability to make change, and we'll take a look at that on an individual basis.

KING: Joie, you have the unique perspective of being able to look at that question as a guy who both oversaw the construction and ran another racetrack, Chicagoland Speedway. Can you talk about the mechanics of what Bruce is saying, how a general president or manager of another track will look at the promotion of an event coming into his or her track?

CHITWOOD: Absolutely. Having spent three and a half years with the Indy Racing League before moving on to Chicago and building a racetrack in Chicago, it gives you a different perspective. But in terms of a marketplace, it's a little bit similar to the marketplace we're in, in which you're not just competing with motorsports in general; you're competing with other sports properties. I will tell you that going into the Chicago market and not being inside the loop, there's a lot of a buy-in component that you have to get. You have to get customers to feel comfortable that you're part of the sports market. I think that you do need a concerted effort. I will tell you that whatever event you have, you want to have people in the seats. It's not as easy as you might think in terms of just building it and having people show up. You have to make sure you have a competitively priced product, that you're transferring the excitement of the racing to the fans so that he understands what he's purchasing. In terms of the other markets out there, I know what they've been through, it's what every track promoter goes through regardless of what type of racing you have. That is who you're competing with, are you priced appropriately and is the competition or the excitement that you provide on track adequate enough to make a purchase sale? I will tell you there's no right or wrong answer to that. You're dealing with some intrinsic things, it's that trigger inside someone who says, "OK, you have hit the right button for me, I will purchase that ticket." I can tell you the person that finds the exact answer to that will do very well for themselves because every sports property out there deals with the same thing.

KING: This is our last one, and we'll break for a few minutes for one-on-ones.

Q: Brian, I would like to follow up on what Bruce was talking about. You enter into a situation with adding races, street and road course races that allow you some greater schedule flexibility, but how does that keep the series from falling potentially into the same business pitfalls in the big picture that CART encountered that ran them out of business? Having said that and following up in a different direction, do you have any kind of a plane ticket thing set up for Long Beach to go out there and tape measure or anything to make any plans?

BARNHART: No, I would hope in answering your second one first, I would hope that the people from Long Beach and any other similar facility like that had an eyeball on what we did at St. Pete last weekend. I think we passed with flying colors, and certainly we've proven our capability of performing on venues like that. And if the right opportunity -- again in going to the first part of your question -- where we're going to be successful is going to be making sure we pick events that are in our best interest and strong venues for us. You know, that again is a change a little bit from what we've done because we've been all ovals, now in the flexibility what we have, it's a matter of picking the right ones that are the best for our fans, best for our sponsors, best for our teams, our drivers in the league and ones that we have good relationship with the promoters who can do something similar to what Barry and his group did this past weekend at St. Pete, create that buzz and excitement around the event, make that purchase sale to the fans like Joie was talking about and put on an event that not only shows a good racetrack product with the racing that's going on. But the other aspect of it is you have to make that fan feel like there's more to it than just the race. And we've found out over the course of the last several years it's not just about the product you put on the racetrack, it's the entire event. It's got to be the party atmosphere and the event itself, not just counting on the fact that you feel and we feel we have the best racing product in the world. It's much more than that.

KING: OK, guys, both Brian and Joie, thanks so much. We're going to break for about 10 minutes for one-on-ones, and then we'll reconvene with a brand new team that will be part of the 89th 500.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Todd Harris
Teams HART