Past Champions press conference April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Eddie Cheever, Jr Buddy Lazier Arie Luyendyk Part 1 of 3 - The Indy 500 and 2002 season Mike King: OK. If we could take our seats and get ready to begin here. We're...
Past Champions press conference
April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Eddie Cheever, Jr
Part 1 of 3 - The Indy 500 and 2002 season
Mike King: OK. If we could take our seats and get ready to begin here. We're pretty close to being on time. A couple of quick things that I need to clear up. First off, we misspoke when we said that we were registering you for the media Pace Car rides. That will be covered by the Corvette reps at lunch. So there is no registration going on at the Corvette table out front. Secondly, if you do not have your Indy Racing League hard card, you're planning on covering the ROP this weekend, you can obtain credentials. You need to fill out your requests at the IMS media table here in the lobby, and then you will be able to pick up your credentials at the Safety Office at 5th and Hulman. I want to make sure we didn't mislead anyone in thinking if you didn't already have credentials you couldn't get them. Our second press conference of the morning as we bring in three distinguished drivers.
Audience: With beards.
King: I personally regard Indianapolis 500 champions as distinguished. But with you, Eddie, it could be a different story. Arie Luyendyk in the middle, the senior member of our staff this morning, if you will. The winner of the 1990 and 1997 Indianapolis 500 Mile Races. He is flanked by Buddy Lazier, the winningest driver in Indy Racing League's history, who took the checkers here in 1996, despite the fact he was driving with a broken back that he had suffered, what was it, about five weeks, six weeks earlier at Phoenix?
Buddy Lazier: Eight weeks.
King: Eight weeks earlier at Phoenix. On the other side of Arie is Eddie Cheever, the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion, who is also distinguishable in the fact that he has been a driver/owner in the series now for seven years. So, Eddie Cheever's team has taken on quite a number of transformations over the years, right now the two-car team with Eddie and Tomas Scheckter as the drivers obviously with the Infiniti power. Arie and Buddy will both powdered by Chevrolet this month of May. So we have a diverse conversation that we will hear this morning. Let's start with opening comments, first, with Arie. You came back last year after a self-imposed one-year retirement. What was it like to be back, and what's it like to be back again?
Arie Luyendyk: I didn't realize that I would miss driving at the Indy 500 as much as I did. That's why I really came back last year. That's pretty much the whole story. I enjoyed it a lot. I think we were competitive up until race day. Had some problems in the pits, which put us back, so we were out of contention and just kind of drove around to the finish at the end. But we intend to do better, of course, this year. That's why we are here. And Treadway Racing basically has been my home since 1996, since the beginning of the IRL, that's when Treadway Racing was formed. And I've been a part of the team, and it's like -- it's very easy for me to go back there. It's like, you know, family. So not really a lot of adjusting going on. And we are running the G Force this year. Most of the teams are using Dallaras, but we still think we can be competitive with the G Force, with Chevy power. Menards Engines are building our engines. And we're going to start -- we'll test here in a couple weeks, 23rd and 24th, for two days, then come back for the month of May. Meijer's and Coca-Cola are our sponsors this year, besides a bunch of associate sponsors that we have. That's pretty much our program.
King: Buddy, Hemelgarn Racing always considered a contender. Not off to the start this season, I don't think, that you, Ron or really any of us expected, but tell us a little bit about your hopes, obviously, going in Nazareth next week, then coming here for the month of May.
Luyendyk:: We haven't really had a bad year, we just haven't had a great year. We're hoping that that's coming. But started off the season at Miami, and had a did-not-finish for mechanical reasons. And that really put us back in the points. I think we were 22nd in the points. Had a reasonable race at Phoenix, moved up to 13th. Had a reasonable race in California. California warm-up session, the last three minutes of the last 30-minute session, got sideways, broke the car in half, had to start the backup car, so had to start last. And yet, we're still working our way up to points. Now we're up to ninth in points. Haven't really had -- haven't had as good a season as the two teams that have won races, but other than that, have had a pretty decent season. And hopefully we are able to continue to march our way forward and be in contention at the end of the year for the points. I mean, the big -- for us, of course, the big trophy, the victory to have all year is the Indy 500. And having so many races before the Indy 500 this year, I think it has been really good for a lot of teams. Certainly been good for us to get things sorted out. So when we come here, we have is pretty good idea where our issues are, so we can solve them and be as good as we can about.
King: Eddie, the 2002 season has already been an interesting ride for you. We look at what happened at California. You were right there, looked like poised to challenge for a win, and you lose the engine with 10 laps to go, or at least I'm assuming it was a engine you lost or obviously a part.
Eddie Cheever, Jr.: Nine laps to go. That's two miles.
King: Excuse me. But bottom line is, this has been a roller-coaster for you in 2002. Is it a good ride or bad ride getting set for Nazareth in the month of May?
Cheever: We've totally changed our team. We now run two cars on a consistent basis. The Nissan engine is getting stronger and stronger by the day. We did not, obviously, expect to break an engine in California, but we were pushing the limits of the compromise between horsepower and reliability, and we missed it by a small amount, by 18 miles. We're growing. Red Bull has given us the ability now to focus on qualifying and on the race and on the Indianapolis 500. I have a Tasmanian Devil as a teammate that keeps me very busy. And we could be selling tickets to our debriefing and probably double our budget. But it's great. It's a very exciting season. I am very happy to see that Arie is back. I have always considered Arie to be one of the best drivers I have driven against at the Speedway. Every time you race against him and you beat him, it's a great accomplishment. Buddy is always a fierce competitor. It is an honor to be sitting at this table with them.
King: Just before we open it up for questions, to let you know, this represents half -- these guys represent half of the former 500 champions that are entered in the race. In addition to Arie, to Buddy and to Eddie, the defending champion Helio Castroneves, is entered, Kenny Brack, who won the race, obviously, in 1999, driving for A.J. Foyt, and Al Unser Jr., who won the race in 1992 and 1994, also on the entry list. So six former winners entered in this year's race. Questions? Joe, right back here.
Q Eddie was so complimentary of the other two. This is for all three of you. Which of the three of you is the best?
Luyendyk:: I know who wins the competition for the brightest shirt this morning. That's as far as I can go.
Cheever: That's why we're here, to prove that point on the 26th.
Luyendyk:: May 27th we'll find out more.
King: Arie, that's Monday. May 26th is race day this year.
Cheever: Does it take you that long to recover after the race? Are you still dizzy for a day? That's when you open up the newspaper in the morning and you read all about it.
King: That's exactly right. You are exactly right. Questions for our three former champions.
Q Eddie, you mentioned your Tasmanian Devil there. Can you expound a little bit on that and talk about his progress so far this year?
Cheever: We had a pretty wide search when we were looking for racing drivers. There were a lot of different things we were looking for in every driver. And Tom Walkinshaw, who we are working with the Arrows team to develop our car, said, "I have a young driver from Europe. Would you like to try him?" So I said, "Yeah, why not." Kind of shrugged my shoulders and went down. And within 10 laps, he was very quick. He has done very well at all of the races. He has the attitude of what you'd expect of a 21-year-old who, you know, thinks he should be the fastest in every session. It's difficult. It was a difficult relationship in the beginning. I was not at all happy in Homestead, when the second lap or third lap trying to get by me he bumped into me. But he has proven to be a great teammate. He works very, very hard. He pushes the team every day. I can't do anything with him. We play pool, we get in an argument. We play squash, we get an argument. We play ping-pong, we get in an argument.
Luyendyk:: Maybe it's you.
Cheever: Good point.
King: In case the transcriptionist missed that, Arie said, "Maybe it's you." To Eddie. It's on the record.
Luyendyk:: He is known to be so easy to work with.
Cheever: Be he's great. He is learning. I have no idea what his limitations are. I would not be shocked if he won the 500. I wouldn't be shocked if he won in Nazareth. I will be very angry if he has any more silly accidents. But he has an enormous amount of talent. We have very fast cars. And he works 24 hours a day. He calls me in the middle of the morning with some idea of how we're going to change something. We're having dinner, he will talk about a change in the car. So he is very enthusiastic.
Q To follow that up, you came from a background of road racing, where suddenly you were doing some ovals. He comes from a total road racing background into a total oval series. Can you discuss a little bit what he is going through in that strategy?
Cheever: In road racing, especially in Formula 3 and Formula 3000 now in Europe, you have to do all of your passing at the beginning of the race. Even like a Formula One race, you've got to get it at the start, you can pass cars the first lap or two. That's exactly the opposite what do you on and oval. In an oval you work, if it's a 200-lap race, you want your car to be the best it's going to be the last 40 laps. It's very hard to stop that enthusiasm for a driver. What you don't want to do with a new driver is to put limitations on them. You want to find a way they can development themselves. Everybody keeps asking me what am I teaching him. There's nothing I can teach them. You can't teach a driver, they have to teach themselves. You just have to make sure you put them in a playpen so they can't hurt themselves. That is the hardest thing with somebody like Tomas, is that he always wants to push and push and push. So that accident that happened in Homestead could have been avoided, and we had a very awkward day and a half talking through it. But if you look at his race in Phoenix, it was impeccable. He fell back, passed them one at a time. And then in Fontana, he was great in Fontana. I was behind him a few times the Fontana and he got boxed in, and it's very hard on a mile-and-a-half oval when you get boxed in, to make sure you just sit and wait for a hole. Because if you go to the left, there's a car. Go to the right, there's a car. If you slow down, there's a guy behind you. Somebody in front of you. So you've got to take the time and the patience. So the biggest thing that he has had to learn is patience. I had the same problem when I came here from Formula One, and I had already raced for 15 years before I came here.
Q This question is for Eddie and Buddy, since you guys have been involved in the first three races of the series. So far it's been sort of a Panther and Penske showdown so far. What's it going to take some for somebody else or your teams, specifically, to crack into that party?
Lazier: Well, I would have to say they have had a great season, and hats off to them. But there are -- it's such an even playing field. The equipment if the Indy Racing League is so equal. So there'll be teams that will get on a run and have a real good span. We had a pretty good span through the middle of last summer. I think it's all about having the gross average for the season. Those two teams have had, for sure, the best season, it's obvious. But there will be other teams, I think, that will start really getting it together. And, you know, through a 15-race period, you've got to kind of count on one or two bad races eventually, as well. The gross mean average will be, you know, the fighting it out for the championship at the end. But, yeah, hats off to them. They have both done a great job.
Cheever: I agree with you that they have capitalized on the opportunities they've had. I don't have the time nor I am sure neither of these other two gentlemen do to analyze everybody else's race. It's easier to analyze what you have and what you have done. I think we could have finished in the top three in Homestead if we wouldn't have had the problems that we had. And we've had some mechanical problems that have put us out of the races. But we could have won two of three races we were competing in. You have to execute everything all the way through. But what Buddy says is exactly right. You have to look at the whole season. Actually, you look at it in two ways, you look at the Indianapolis 500 as being the event that everybody wants to win, and the you look at the race season as a long, drawn out series of races where you have to accumulate as many points as you can.
Q Arie, racing just the one race, I know you did this last year, are you that much farther behind the other guys, do you think, going in the month of May, or not really?
Luyendyk:: In a way we are, but on the other hand, the Treadway Racing is competing in the series. So they'll always on top of the latest developments of these cars. So engine-wise and cars, as well. So I don't think so. Probably for me, it would be better to do a couple of races before the Indy. But Indy 500 is the race that I want to do, and I'll just stick to that plan. And the nice thing about Indy is you get to spend two weeks here and a lot of miles you can do on the track before you actually start the race. So if it would be just a one-weekend deal, like let's say Fontana, coming in on a Friday, then it wouldn't be possible for me to just do one race a year. But Indy you can. Opening qDay on Sunday, and you go the whole week. Then the following week, you have more days and you have a lot of miles under your belt to get myself ready and back into the swing of things.
Part II - Engines, history and wining the Indy 500: Part II