IRL: Grey Ray teleconference transcript

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Alex Barron and Greg Ray June 15, 2004 MODERATOR: We're joined now by Greg Ray who started 15th at Texas and had an impressive run to finish 7th. Greg, thank you very much for joining us ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Alex Barron and Greg Ray
June 15, 2004

MODERATOR: We're joined now by Greg Ray who started 15th at Texas and had an impressive run to finish 7th. Greg, thank you very much for joining us today.

GREG RAY: Thank you for having me.

Q: In the press box at Texas, we all had our eyeballs peeled on you. Absolutely an amazing run to see what you did with that car that day. Can you just talk about Saturday's run at Texas.

GREG RAY: I haven't got to see it on video, but I tell you, from my seat, it was a pretty exciting race. I think we had a great car. (Engineer) Mike Colliver did a great job with our setup. We made some instinct calls for what to do on the race. We really got qualifying kind of wrong with the gears, and that was just -- it's like cutting hairs. You have to be so precise to get it right as the temperatures change on a track like Texas for qualifying. We missed there. We had a great car in warm-up, had a great car in the race. You know, I think I passed everybody on the race track several times with the exception of Tony Kanaan. Everybody that finished in front of us, I think we passed multiple times. It was unfortunate, we just got hung out in traffic a couple times, especially there late in the race, we got hung behind the car and really couldn't fight for the win.

There was one controversial call which I have yet to hear anybody address, and that was when there was an accident on the racetrack, and the cars did not come through pit lane immediately. We had to drive through kind of some of the debris. When they got some of the debris cleaned up, we started coming through pit lane. After we cycled through pit lane at 40 mph a couple of times, they opened it for cars to actually stop and make changes, fuel and tires. It was really disappointing because we had kind of planned ourselves to be out of sequence since we were starting so far back. We were trying to stay out, and everybody else in front of us had pitted, stopped, got fuel, tires, got back out in front of us. It was really a controversial situation. I'm not so sure that it was done intentionally. I think the rule book is going to have to be addressed so that doesn't happen again.

Q: You were clearly the fastest car on the racetrack for a majority of the race. Again, up in the press box, as the speeds came across, you were two or three miles an hour faster than anybody else on the track. Did it feel that way?

GREG RAY: Yeah the car felt good. Everybody had cars that were pretty good. It was a fight all night long. I mean, you saw six, eight, 10 cars together all night long, swapping positions. We were a little bit off on our restart gears. I would kind of grind my teeth and tell the guys I'd do the best I could on restarts. But once we got going, the car was really, really good. I think we were the quickest car on our own. I think we were one of the quickest cars in traffic. You know, it was an exciting race. I had a lot of fun. Our pit guys did a fantastic job. The spotter did a great job. But that's just kind of the rub of racing sometimes. You really can't run three-wide here at speed. Certainly I wasn't in the mood to risk that. But we could run really good low. We could run really good high. We could probably run even the second and a half groove up. We worked traffic pretty good. It was interesting listening to the last bit of Alex's comments there. He did a really nice job in traffic. To have the powerplant that he has, they did excellent. He stayed right in the draft all night long. I think we were, again, quicker than those guys. But when there's two cars wide in front of you, you just can't drive through the guy in front of you. There was a couple of times where we got clipped on the front straightaway, and I actually drove through the grass either two or three times. It was one of those situations where when somebody's coming at you from your right side, you have nowhere to go. Last thing I want to do is get in the grass, but I ended up there two or three times.

Q: You had a tough month of May in Indianapolis. How big is this finish in Texas for you, for the small team?

GREG RAY: It's fantastic. Like I said, it really was. I think we had a great race. Everybody performed really well. I'm very happy as a small team and a team owner, for all our supporters, very pleased with the performance we had Saturday night and pleased with the seventh place finish. But the racer inside of me on the same note is very, very disappointed. Like I said, I think we clearly had a car that could have won the race. If we would have qualified closer to the front or maybe not had that controversial yellow, pit lane situation, we would have had better track position, and we could have kind of cleared some of that. But that's the way it goes. That's part of the exciting part of it. If we just knew we had the best car, you didn't have to race, then that wouldn't be too exciting. We're getting there day to day, brick by brick, stone by stone. We're building our team and performing better. We're looking forward to going to this Milwaukee test and getting a feel for the place. I haven't raced there since I ran in Toyota Atlantics and Indy Lights. But we ran extremely well there, won there in Atlantics, finished second in Indy Lights. Then we go to Richmond. I'm looking forward to that. We ran third most of the race last year. We led several laps the year before that in 2002. You know, going to some tracks that I've had some past success in and hopefully we're able to take the rhythm from the Texas race and keep on building on that, on the performance side, while we keep on working on our sponsorship side.

Q: As a former champion, I'd be interested in your feelings, does the IRL need a charismatic, hip American, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tiger Woods, to gain the popularity that the IRL needs?

GREG RAY: That's a hard question for me to answer from my position. I mean, certainly I think the personalities certainly add to the sport. But a lot of the other sports figures are promoted pretty well not only within their sport but through the outside promotions and advertising agencies, sponsorships, things like that. The demeanor and the character of the drivers, I think everybody has big personalities, but we're just not always put in positions to show it. I don't know really how to display that. While I have my own opinions to some degree, I'm focusing on the race team and those things first. I'm trying not to do the job of what the Indy Racing League should be doing.

Q: Who do you think are some of the candidates to step into the spotlight? Buddy (Rice) by winning the 500, who would you think might be some people who create that buzz?

GREG RAY: You know, like I said, I'm trying to worry about first things first on my side. While I have my opinions, I'm trying not to do my job and have to do the IRL's job, too. Clearly, I think we have the best racing on the planet. I think it's the most exciting racing on the planet. But, yeah, there definitely has to be, you know, some sort of focal point that brings the average fan, the person that is not educated, to give the sport a chance. Generally once you get somebody to the grandstand, you get them to see the race, you get them to taste the product, it's really not a problem getting them to come back. It's getting all the new players that haven't been exposed, all the new people exposed to it, how to get them to the grandstand for the first time is the big key.

Q: Do you think the IRL has not done as good a job in doing this as they can?

GREG RAY: I think there's room for improvement on everybody's sake. But I did say it many, many years ago when the Indy Racing League first started, it seemed to be all about the teams. I think everybody will tell you categorically, NASCAR is about the teams, but they really focus on promoting the drivers. We just haven't found that medium yet on how to do that.

Q: Talk about the difficulties of being an owner and a driver, of trying to balance both sides, not taking away from either side?

GREG RAY: It is a challenge, trying to be a father and a husband and a business person on one hand, then trying to grow a race team and the business of the racing on one side, to try to stay in physical shape and stay on the technical edge. It is a lot of hats to wear. I do get a little down on myself sometimes because, you know, something has to pay the price all the time. It's difficult to be the best at any one thing without something else paying the price. You know, wearing so many hats is very difficult. But I believe in all the tasks that I'm trying. I think trying to do it in a slow, methodical way is certainly much better than trying to, you know, bite off too much at one time. Like I said, I think we're getting there. Since we started this team in Japan last year, we've had some extremely competitive runs, some very incredible runs, great qualifying, great racing. We haven't made really any mechanical mistakes as a team, really haven't made any tactical errors on the racetrack. We've definitely been in that wrong place, wrong time scenario. We did have one part failure last year. But considering the size of our team, the scope of what we're fighting, you know, with the other teams, I think we're the constant overachiever in pit lane, if you look at pound for pound, what we're getting out of it.

Q: Has it gotten easier as you've done it longer, to figure out where the balance is, figure out where the lines are, to be able to focus as a driver when you get finished with the business and personal side of it?

GREG RAY: It's easy to separate it. It's difficult to have enough time in the day to really get all the jobs done to move it forward. I think the biggest thing is that we've learned what the most important facts are and what the most important focal points are day to day on getting shore to shore each and every weekend without sinking our ship, so to speak. And we've learned the most important things to focus on while we're trying to grow. We try not to waste our time on lot of things that aren't going to be productive for the program short-term, and really we spend most of our time on building the program long-term. We're definitely spending more time on building a two-, three-, four-year program with multiple companies than we do on a race to race basis.

Q: What are your goals for this season? When it's all said and done in October, what do you hope this team has accomplished this year?

GREG RAY: I don't think we're at a clear point where we can really spell out those goals on what the next race holds, what the end of the year holds. We know we have the team, we know we have the expertise. I feel like I have the ability behind the wheel. But we have to get it right day in and day out on a race weekend to go win. We know we can win some poles, we know we can lead races, we know we can win races. Ultimately, that is the goal to do that. Fighting the teams we're fighting, we have to get it absolutely, positively, 100 percent dead on to do that because the bigger teams just have so many sort of backup plans and countermeasures built into their program. Would we like to be on pole once before the race season ends? Absolutely. Would we like to win a race before the season's over? Absolutely. Really we take it race by race on keeping our goals realistic because it's really about the resources. We know it's unrealistic for us to have unrealistic expectations based on having 10 percent or 15 percent of the budget of what some of these big teams are spending. So we're trying to do the best we can while we're trying to put ourselves in position to have equal resources. That's the number one goal. We're racers. We want to race, we want to win. At the end of the day, we want to look in the mirror and know that we gave it our best shot instead of looking in the mirror going, "If we could have, if we would have, if we had this, if we had that." That type of scenario gets really old. You get tired of hearing it yourself. We're working hard to make sure we have the resources to go toe to toe with these guys.

Q: Honda has won the last four races, including both races with the 3.0 liter engine. How has Honda been able to keep that advantage, despite a significant downsizing?

GREG RAY: I think there's no doubt that I think Honda put a lot of emphasis on their 3.5 liter program when it was going to Japan. A lot of teams I think or manufacturers had already shifted thinking on the Indy. You know, Honda is just synonymous -- when you think of Honda, whether it's a motorcycle, whether it's a car, whether it's a generator, whether it's a lawn mower, when you think of that name, you just think of something that's always the top of its field. When we picked them as a partner, motor partner, last year, their commitment has always been to win, irregardless of the cost. If they can't win, if they can't be the best, then they almost don't want to do it. We knew their commitment was going to be there. They almost ran these two completely separate full-bore development programs, one to keep on developing the 3.5-liter engine to make sure they won at their home track in Motegi, while they were developing this new 3-liter engine. They have just done a fabulous job. We have yet to have really any mechanical failure on any engine since we started our relationship with them back in April of last year. How are they doing it? I don't know. All I know is they're committed and they burn the midnight oil seven days a week. They want to win. I think the fact that they are winning right now is only going to motivate them to continue to stay focused. And I hope so. It's a competitive world. This is a very competitive rules package. I'm sure the other manufacturers, there's going to be days where positions change. But I'm very pleased with their effort and their commitment, you know, very pleased to have a Honda motor behind my seat.

Q: They had a test year at Richmond a couple weeks ago, they repaved the track. Lap times were actually quicker than the pole speed last year. Could you give us some insight what you think the effect of having speeds that fast might have on the race here?

GREG RAY: How fast did they go there in the testing?

Q: Sub 16-second laps, 15.6 is what I heard.

GREG RAY: I think back in 2001 when we tested there, we had gone as fast as like 168 mph, average speed.

Q: I think that would be about 16.1, 16.2.

GREG RAY: Obviously, that's pretty quick. The biggest challenging part about Richmond last year was getting through Turn 1, Turn 2, the compromise of the car from one end of the racetrack to the other. One end the racetrack was kind of pushy, one end the racetrack was kind of loose. I don't think the speeds are too high. But with it being smooth, it makes it that much easier for all the cars to be fast. I think it's going to make it a little bit more difficult to pass. But Richmond, I'll tell you what, that's a fun, fun racetrack. It's always been hard to pass, but I think with it being smoother, all the cars are going to be faster, it's going to be a little harder to pass. You may work 20 laps, 25 laps right behind somebody's rear wing hoping they make a mistake so you can get around them, or it's going to be a whole different pit strategy. I think from what I heard, it also may be a little bit of a tire wear issue with cars being so fast, there being so much grip, that's really abrasive on the tires. There's going to be a couple different strategies there. But I think we'll see how it plays out next weekend.

Q: No apprehension on your part of racing at those speeds?

GREG RAY: Not really. I did have a crash there preparing for qualifying in 2001. You know, it was probably the slowest crash I've ever had. Because the track is so small, the walls are so close, it hurt pretty bad. You have to respect all these racetracks. But, yeah, really no apprehension. We go fast at every track. We try to be cautious and smart everywhere we go.

Q: You say you don't want to wear two hats. Have you considered talking to IRL officials about the way it promotes drivers?

GREG RAY: No, I haven't. I've got my basketful of tasks to do right now. The last thing I really need to do is telling them how to do their business. I think in the years to come, whenever I decide driving is not the same fun factor for me and transition more to maybe ownership full-time and not driving, I think at that point in time I'll be a little more comfortable in giving ideas or my personal opinions. It's a little difficult now I think being a driver and owner. I think you have to be a little bit guarded with what you say, who you say it to, how you say it, because of the politics of the sport. The driver can't blame the owner, the owner can't blame the driver. In this circumstance, it's the same one. But, like I said, the product is good. The racing is great. It's very exciting. Tony George is very committed. Brian Barnhart has done a great job with keeping up with the rules package and the safety program. We're on the right track. But I think they definitely need, you know, some additional support and research. I think they need to try some different things on getting the first-time fan to the grandstands. Because, like I said, once you get them there, they're hooked.

Q: Is that almost a common sentiment among other drivers? Do you talk about that kind of thing?

GREG RAY: You know, I think if you talked to all the other drivers, all the other drivers are not really too focused on what the success of the league is. They're worried about their careers and their team. I don't think they really reflect too much on how to make the series better compared to NASCAR. That's kind of the incumbent. They've been around for 50 years. It's just a whole different approach. Our cars are faster. I think the racing is a lot more exciting. But they seem to have a little bit better circus. I think if you ask an NBA player what they're going to have to do to compete with NFL, the guy is going to look at you like, "What do you mean? I play basketball."

I don't think most of the drivers are too concerned about it. But I think they're all willing to participate as much as possible. I mean, if you look at the autograph sessions that the drivers do or the public events that they do, that the league and the track promoters ask of everybody, the whole mentality is just so different. All these guys are very, very approachable. I think they're willing to do whatever anybody asks of them.

Q: From the booth, it looked like you clearly had a fast race car, but it also looked like you had a pretty clean race after the race in the garage area. I heard more than one driver say, I thought there were a lot of guys on the track using a stock car mentality. What was your take? How aggressive was it out there Saturday night?

GREG RAY: You know, I didn't really feel from my position, and I was kind of in the back of the pack working my way through the pack all the time. So, I mean, I drove wheel-to-wheel, side-by- side with just about everybody out there. I don't want to point out anybody specific, but there's a lot of guys that are very hypocritical because they talk out of one side of their mouth and then they go out there and do something else. I had a problem with some cars that would run wide, run the high line, they'd run two-by-two. I just couldn't get around them, even though we're faster. Then I had a problem with one car in particular that, you know, if I got checked up in traffic and he got a run around me, he'd come around me, then he'd come straight across my bow. It's a driver that I have a lot of respect for, but this night he drove uncharacteristically than what I've seen from him in the past. Like I said, I'm not going to point fingers and I'm not going to be a hypocrite, because that racing out there, to be successful at those types of speedways, you have to be aggressive, but you also have to have some sense of what your action is going to do to the driver behind you. Really, I had no problem. I don't think anybody did anything intentional. I got ran off the track a couple times, but I don't think that was intentional. I got run in the grass a couple times, I don't think that was intentional either. I think it's just kind of the nature of the race. It's very serious on the one hand because if something goes wrong, you're going at speeds and running wheel to wheel, and that can definitely be a bad situation. But the other token, it's a lot of fun. I mean, it's a very fun, fast, aggressive racing. For the most part, I think everybody did a pretty good job. But sometimes you get six, eight cars together, taking each other's air away, cars just move around, and sometimes they end up on the same piece of real estate.

Q: When you were going to the front, it was amazing to watch as you cut off the corner there in that first dogleg, it looked like you had the left side tire down on the grass. It was reminiscent of that chase that you and Billy (Boat) had in '98.

GREG RAY: Yeah, I remember in '98, I was tucked up under his gearbox, trying to go around him. I didn't realize the track was there so quickly, ended up clipping the grass there. But, no, there was twice I think where literally the nose of my car, I was looking at the grass, the whole left side was in the grass. That's generally not good because there's not a lot of grip on grass. But, you know, I had two options: it was either to be hit by the car that was encroaching on me on the right side or to go in the grass. Really you learn just kind of to flank the cars around you, so when a car is moving, you have no option but to move as well to try to avoid it. Literally, yeah, I got in the grass I know three times, and twice pretty big. Luckily for me I had the car straight enough and knew where I was, could hang on to it. But it's pretty easy to spin the car in those types of situations. When you're running wheel to wheel, that can lead to a bad situation.

Q: Access Motorsports, are you going to Milwaukee for the test?

GREG RAY: Yeah, we are. The guys are there now. I'm in Texas hammering away at my desk on the business side. I fly out late tonight. We do tests Wednesday and Thursday.

Q: Earlier you pointed out that right now this business is being built brick by brick. The run that you had at Texas, how big a brick was that?

GREG RAY: Like I said, and I don't want to sound unappreciative or be taken the wrong way, because I think it was a fantastic event for us. I think we had a good result. But it's not representative of technically and physically what we're capable of. We had a car that I believe could have won the race and could have won the race pretty handily. We just never had the opportunity to get through traffic. Like I said, you can't really run three-wide safely there. You can't drive the car in front of you. So qualifying so far back, kind of getting the rub of the rules, that yellow pit stop through pit lane, you know, we worked our way up through traffic several times. I mean, we passed more cars that night than anybody because we went to the back a couple times and charged right back up to the front. But, you know, it was a big brick for us. It was a big brick. I think it continues to show the spirit of this team, that we are committed, that we are capable of the business side and the racing side and the performance side. But like I said, we didn't take any stupid chances, didn't put anybody else in jeopardy, you know, had a good, solid finish. We could have won the race, but seventh is a good, solid finish. We got four wheels on it and we're going to the test in Milwaukee.

Q: When you look at everything that Access Motorsports is against, it's almost David and Goliath.

GREG RAY: It's bigger than that. You can't even imagine. When I tell you that you're looking at your competitors with Andretti Greens, Bobby Rahals, Ganassis, Penskes, these teams have just been around for a very long time. They have a very big financial foundation, a lot of technical partners, expertise, they're very solid with their manufacturer relations. You know, like I said, when you're fighting somebody with literally 10% or 15% of their budget, and certainly when you're talking about having five, six, seven full-time people versus 100 or 120 on these big two-, three-, four-car teams, that's an enormous difference. It's even bigger than David versus Goliath. But we know we can do it. But we don't expect to do it overnight.

Q: Is it lonely sometimes?

GREG RAY: You know, that's a damn good word. There's days where we feel everybody sees what we see. They see our vision, they feel our spirit. But, you know, there's a lot of dog days that go on. It does feel pretty lonely. It does feel like people really don't expect or believe that we're going to succeed. But, you know, that's the same in any business that you go in. Anytime you're the new guy on the block and you're fighting the incumbents, that's a pretty natural thing. Any successful person in business that has any entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever, they're going to tell you about their trials and tribulations, their stories of when they first started out, trying to rub two pennies together to get that done or staying up all night to get that done, some of the unique ways in which people get the job done. Like I said, we're up for the fight and we're going to succeed. It's like a good chess game. A lot of people just don't see 20 or 30 moves down the road. We think we do. We think we're going to win.

MODERATOR: Greg, thanks very much for joining us today. We appreciate you calling in from Texas.

GREG RAY: Thank you.

-irl-

Alex Barron teleconference

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Greg Ray , Bobby Rahal , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Tony George , Brian Barnhart