IRL: Hemelgarn/Speedway Engines press conference, Part I

Indianapolis 500 Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002 Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis Part 1 of 3 King: Welcome to Hemelgarn Racing. We want to say thanks to everyone here at Hemelgarn Racing for providing us with a great lunch ...

Indianapolis 500
Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002
Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis

Part 1 of 3

King: Welcome to Hemelgarn Racing. We want to say thanks to everyone here at Hemelgarn Racing for providing us with a great lunch and certainly with the perfect weather. It's been a super day and we hope you have all enjoyed yourself. If I am not mistaken, this is the final stop on the media tour. So it's been great having you all here. Look forward to seeing most of you, if not all of you, at rookie orientation and the Firestone Indy 225 that coming up at Nazareth April 21st, and comes back here for the month of May. It should be a very exciting month. We've got four gentleman that are going to be speaking with us during this final stop. Two representatives from Hemelgarn Racing, two representatives from Speedway Engine Development. Representing Hemelgarn Racing will be the veteran team manager, in fact, you've been -- what is this, you're approaching 20 years with Ron? What is this 18, '84 was your first year?

Lee Kunzman: 18 years ago.

King: It's one of the -- and maybe something we can talk about with the incredible thing about Hemelgarn Racing is the small percentage of turnover that this team has seemingly had over the last decade. So many of the guys are here year in and year out, and maybe it is the reason for the team success. Buddy Lazier right now is in the book as the winningest driver in Indy Racing League history. This team won the 1996 Indianapolis 500. This team won the 2000 Indy Racing League championship, set a league record last year with four wins in a single season, winning four times in five weeks -- or in five events. It was just an amazing roll that this team was on last year. But when you put it in perspective, since the creation of the Indy Racing League, Hemelgarn Racing has always seemingly been the team that has been out front. Buddy sat on pole, the only pole that Buddy Lazier has won in Indy Racing League competition was the very first race at Walt Disney World Speedway January '96. That came as a big surprise to me the other day just thinking about it, the fact that Buddy has not sat on pole since that first event, but kind of shows the versatility with this team with what they've been able to do. Buddy also became the first driver to start last and finish first in an event 2000 season. This team pulled out a car that had not turned a wheel at Phoenix. In fact, I believe it was a different chassis. They started the weekend I think with one car, went to the other because the car just simply wasn't working, and Buddy had to go to the back of the field, start dead last, and he winds up winning the race. And it was kind of what catapulted them that season to the championship. It was just an amazing start for Hemelgarn Racing. What we're going to do, since we are transcribing this press conference this afternoon, since we do not have a wireless mic for you, we will just ask you once the Q and A starts just yell out your questions. I'll repeat the question so our transcriptionist can get that on record, and we start, you wanted to say one thing, Lee, on record before we actually started, and that would be.

Kunzman: Nothing is the truth that I say, and I'm going on record saying that.

King: Nothing is the truth that Lee Kunzman will say today, and he wants that reflected on the record. So that will be reflected. Lee Kunzman is a man who has quite literally seen the very best of racing and the very worse of racing. He has been in the sport now for the better part of four decades, starting as a drag racer. And as we mentioned, he has experienced the highest highs, he has been in victory lane with this team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway most recently, and the lowest lows, spending a year on his back in the hospital after a couple of severe crashes during his racing career. He has, I think, 30 feature wins to his credit during the course of his career when he was a driver, as far as his open-wheel career goes. He was a drag racer. Raced modifieds, Indy cars, you name it. He has been the team manager now with Ron Hemelgarn now for these past 18 years, and is really one of the legendary names in racing. It's a pleasure to hand the microphone over the Lee Kunzman. Lee, how about telling us about this operation and how you guys have managed to remain as stable as you have in an otherwise instable or volatile sport when it comes to personnel?

Kunzman: Thank you, Mike. Thanks everyone for showing up here at Hemelgarn Racing today. It's a pleasure having you. Basically, our mode of business is to adjust to our finances, which we have had to do quite often when sponsorship wasn't exactly what we needed. So we've tried to tailor our racing budgets and goals to the finance situation where we have to break even here pretty much every year is where we are. So we have to do some adjustment there from year to year based on the sponsorship income, which sometimes makes it difficult. But since IRL was formed, we have been able to have a pretty level program. Previous to that, there are many years we had to cut back, not run all the CART races at that time and concentrate on the Speedway or two or three CART races. But since IRL has formed, we have been lucky enough to have pretty consistent sponsorship year after year. We have been also fortunate to have pretty much the same people year after year, and they're excellent quality people. Couldn't be more pleased with them. And we run pretty much our program with 12 people directly related to the racecars, one person is responsible for show cars and display cars around the country, then Amber, the secretary, she joined us about four months ago from Pac West, and very pleased with the people. We run a pretty simple program. Everybody is responsible for their own area. It works out well. They support me and carry me real well. Ron's a race fan, and he loves racing no matter how he talks or whatever, he loves it. He'll be here a long time. He has his days when he gets dejected, or whatever, and wants to go home. But I guess we all do. But you can always bet he will be here the next year. Our program basically is with Buddy. I think this year at Speedway we will most likely run Buddy, concentrate on Buddy only during the Speedway. There is a possibility we will run a second driver. Right now it's not on the front burner. We're starting the Infiniti Pro Series teams, which will actually -- I sh the two drivers. We're just planning them, starting to put it together right now, and we anticipate up and running and testing in early May, depending on equipment delivery. But that's our schedule right at the moment. Also, if Rick would come up here rather than hide back there, the president of Speedway Engines, they have been a very big influence on our ability to win now and then and run well. Herb Porter was originally the man with Speedway Engines, with Rick working with him. Then Herb passed away. Herb is absolutely a legend around racing. Horsepower Herb. One of my favorite people of all time. Rick now runs the whole ship there at Speedway. He does Panther's engines and our engines, and I think they're the people to beat right now, and have been for the last few years. Done an excellent job, and I'll let him kind of go from there on the engine development and where we are in that program.

Rick Long: Hello. Good to see everybody here. Great turn out. I am not much of a speaker so you'll have to bear with me on this. But, basically, I guess Speedway Engines started in August of 1996, and we started out with myself and two other employees and Herb. And we've grown to -- we have 13 full-time employees now. In fact, I wanted to apologize because one of the things we were trying to do is have the media tour go through our facility this year. And we went through an expansion of our facility this winter and, like everything, was supposed to be done by Christmas at the latest. And it's still not completely done. So everything is kind of in a mess down there. So that's part of the story behind that. But when we started out, we basically had two customers, we had PDM and Hemelgarn Racing. And we kind of focus now on running four or five teams. We maintain engines for four to five teams. That's about the capacity of our staff and our facility. We were always very glad to be associated with Hemelgarn Racing. We had a good relationship and enjoyed a lot of success over the years. And what can you say about Buddy Lazier? He is probably one of the most enjoyable people to watch during a race that there is in existence. I have always said if they really wanted to put on the best race on television, make Eddie Cheever and Buddy Lazier start last at every race and would probably be the show of the century. But, anyway, to get into the engine stuff a little bit, we basically will look after between 30 and 40 engines a year, and we roughly will do in the neighborhood of 150-175 overhauls during a racing season for four to five teams. The amount of overhauls goes up and down a little bit depending on like teams just running Indy or, for example, Hemelgarn may be running a second car at the 500 this year. That kind of varies a lot. We like our teams that are going to run a full season to own six engines, and that -- for like a schedule like this year, that's a pretty economical way to go. A new engine, a brand new Chevrolet out the door at our shop, ranges in the neighborhood of about $104,000, that's complete, ready to bolt in the car.

Kunzman: How come ours are $124,000?

Long: And a routine overhaul during the season runs in the neighborhood -- I mean, it will be up and down, but a good average number is $20,000 for 550-600 miles. Now, up to this year, we have never -- Speedway Engines has never built designated qualifying engines. All of our engines are built to go out and run 500-600 miles. With the competition level, especially with what Infiniti has done over the last year, I think we're going to be forced into the qualifying engine issues, which is fine. It just requires a fair amount more money from the race teams basically. That -- probably one of the hardest things for us is whether you guys run two cars or one car, and trying to keep up with all of that and the teams, you know, it's always -- it's a guessing game. But, anyway, we based our whole facility -- we do engines for the IRL only. We do not do any other type of engine work, whether it be Sprints, Midgets, Le Mans-style cars. We kind of like this niche and been reasonably successful at it, and so we kind of stay in this area. We have -- the last two years have really been good. We won the championship with Buddy, and then Panther Racing ran second in the points standings that year. And then, of course, we won the points standings with Hornish, and Buddy ran second in points standings. Kind of one of our biggest issues is we've never won Indianapolis 500. We have run second there three times, and we've always finished in the top three, but we've never won. So that's always -- that's always a big issue for us every year. And we've been working very hard on trying to sort that out for this year. That's about all I have got to say, Lee.

King: Rick Long, by the way, is the owner of Speedway Engine Development. Milt Wood is also here with us today. Milt is responsible for track support for the teams that run Speedway Engines, and also responsible for the electronics. In just a couple of minutes, we're going to have him tell us a few more specifics about what makes a Speedway Engine perhaps different from some of the other engines. While still Chevrolet engine are prepared by other engine developers. We will talk about that. We also want to bring up Ron Dawes. Ron is the chief engineer for Hemelgarn Racing, and we'd like to talk to him. You know, Ron, as you're taking your seat, I couldn't help but to be impressed yesterday with Buddy. I was fortunate enough to do a few laps with him in the pace car, and we were talking about it a few minutes ago, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 miles an hour on the back straight with Buddy, and I'm thinking to myself, you know, gee, you know, I really trust this guy. He's an Indy 500 champion. He obviously knows what he is doing. So I am not worried about the fact that I am doing 160 miles an hour in a passenger car without a helmet or full harness or anything. But at the same time, I thought it's unbelievable the amount of trust that is put in the team by the driver when you give him a racecar to go around the Speedway at an average speed somewhere in the neighborhood of 230 miles an hour. It's an awesome responsibility to assemble a car on the team, but could you talk a little bit about the team and cohesiveness of Hemelgarn Racing?

Ron Dawes: The team has been together for -- our team has been together, I guess most of the people, for about six years. So everybody knows everybody. Everybody trusts everybody. That goes along with Buddy. He knows that the car he is getting into is going to be safe and doesn't have to worry about any of those aspects of it. As far as setting the car up, it at times can be a compromise because you know that someone's life is on the line with what you're doing. So that's in the back of your mind all the time. But having worked with him so long, he's got trust in myself and the whole team.

Kunzman: We've been together like 16 or 17 years, whatever. Probably seems like a real long time for you.

King: So the two of you have been together since '87?

Kunzman: '86, '87, in there.

King: So long term. That might be the best theme here, when you guys get involved with each other, it seems to be a long-term relationship. Milt, if you could talk for a second. I know you're going to point out some aspects of the engines, we've got two of them here. Is this one ready to bolt? I notice you have the intakes and everything taped up. Tell us about this engine and what's different about an Aurora Indy V8 and Chevy V8. Rick Voegelin talked a little bit about it, but from the Speedway perspective.

Wood: Speedway was in business about one year when I joined the company, and I, by far, am the neophyte in the group to racing. My background is in science and technology. But racing is one of the finest business opportunities I have ever been in, and certainly probably wouldn't have that opportunity without the Indy Racing League. A lot of people have gotten into the business to take care of all aspects of racing. We work with engines. Most of what you see from the outside of the engine comes directly from GM Motor Sports. The cam covers, the heads, the block, these are all the basic engineering aspects of the engine that define its basic performance. And you can see some major changes that were made in the two engines from last year to this year. The entire profile of the cams and the profile of the heads has changed, as Rick pointed out in his presentation, to lighten the engine, lower the center of gravity. One of the unfortunate weekends that our friends here at Hemelgarn had last year was related to a failure of the coils. These engines have individual plug coils, and in the Aurora engine, the individual plug coils sat right on top of the plugs and they were on their own harness. Well, in one of the races, one of the wires that is exposed to some of the forces of the elements broke, and one of the 8 cylinders on the Hemelgarn engine wasn't firing. Buddy doesn't normally need all 8 cylinders, he can run with 7, but that day it was kind of embarrassing for us all. The GM engineers made a change in the engines this year to improve that one weakness. Now -- you want to pull that out, Rick, now all of the coils are mounted on a single coil bar and the coils, the vulnerable part of the coil on the top where the wires can be abraded by the track, dirt, so forth are now protected. This is just one of many improvements that were made in the engine based on the experience with the Aurora engine. As Rick has already pointed out, the Chevy engine is generating more horsepower. It is a lighter weight experience that GM had from their original Aurora design. So we're real happy to be working with it and certainly has been doing a great job for us. I know -- I think Mike wanted to get to questions and answers rather than having us talk on. We can talk more of what you're interested in, but any questions you might have we will certainly try and address them.


Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier
Teams Panther Racing