88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Morgan Freeman Friday, May 28, 2004 Part 1 of 2 MIKE KING: Good afternoon. We're going to start a couple minutes early because I believe just be about everybody has arrived. It's great to have you here...
88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Friday, May 28, 2004
Part 1 of 2
MIKE KING: Good afternoon. We're going to start a couple minutes early because I believe just be about everybody has arrived. It's great to have you here this afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My name is Mike King, and I anchor the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, for those of you who might be new here or just arriving to cover the month of May. We appreciate you being here and look forward to this Sunday's 88th running of the Indianapolis 500. Certainly it's a pleasure to introduce the Pace Car driver who will be strapping in and leading the world's fastest oval racers to the start of this race on Sunday morning. Ladies and gentlemen, one of the great actors of this era, please welcome, if you will, Mr. Morgan Freeman. (Applause)
MORGAN FREEMAN: Dignity at all times. Dignity at all times.
KING: It's great to have you here, first off.
FREEMAN: Thank you, Mike.
KING: I have to admit, I understand that when it comes to developing yourself in a role, you have to take a little time to understand the mechanics of that part. It didn't take you very long to understand the mechanics of driving a race car, you and Johnny Rutherford, you got it sorted out pretty quick. Tell us about some of those laps.
FREEMAN: Well, I'm normally a fast driver, so it's sort of like a duck for me, you know. The problem I had this morning with Johnny is you get in a race car, what you think is a race car -- a Corvette is a 200 mile an hour car, it's a race car -- you want to drive the racing line. He said: 'You can't drive the racing line. You have to stay in the middle of the track because you're leading the parade.' So if you drive the line then you'll be down here, then you'll be up there, we want you to stay right in the middle of the track. And of course, I had a lot of trouble doing that. I kept wanting to push the throttle down and get down on the line. So we're going to do it some more tomorrow. He is going to have me by the throat, saying, 'No, I told you.'
KING: I'm curious, we talked a little bit before the Pace Car luncheon, you say you are a race fan, primarily you've been to several I guess stock car events. Is this the first time --
FREEMAN: No, don't let me lie about going to the events.
KING: Oh, you watch it on television.
FREEMAN: I watch them diligently.
KING: That's right, because you actually said you did not attend a lot of sporting events.
KING: To be here, first off, let's talk about what got you here; then secondly, the motivation behind getting in this car and bringing these guys to the start.
FREEMAN: I don't even know what got me here. (Laughter) It's true. Last year the raceway invited me to come and drive the Pace Car. As luck, good fortune would have it, I was working so I couldn't make the time. It was just a matter of scheduling, and we couldn't make it happen. So I thought it was a wash. And then Donna called me -- Donna is my very lovely sister-in-law and publicist -- called me up and said, 'They want you to come and drive the Pace Car.' I said: 'So tell them yes. I'll make the time this year. If they're going to be that adamant, if they keep coming back, sure.' (Laughter) And it's such a thrill. It's hard to explain to you if you haven't had the good fortune to have someone ask you to do what you want to do, and it's so much fun because everybody is so cooperative. I don't like to brag, bragging is not part of what I do around myself, but they are impressed. (Laughter)
KING: But that's simply an honest summation of what we saw this afternoon. That wouldn't necessarily be bragging.
FREEMAN: I guess, Mike.
KING: Is there anything similar to this, learning to drive this car around the track, is there anything similar to that and preparing for a role?
FREEMAN: When I prepare for a role, preparing for a role is sort of like trying to get into someone else's skin, and there are a lot of things to help you do that; there is costume, makeup possibilities and of course the script. So the script, your helpmate is the writer, costume your helpmate is costume designer, makeup is makeup designer, and then there's you and your life experiences. That's a character. Getting into a race car, I think the first thing you have to do is speed up. If you're not used to driving at high speed, it's really hard to make yourself get up there and think that you can hold it, I think. So like anything else, it all becomes easier with practice. So today when they said, 'Well, you'll have a chance, if you desire, if you choose to, to take passengers around the track.' And I thought, 'Perfect practice, I'll do it.' They said, 'Well, you don't have to do it now if you don't want.' No, no, no, this gets me ahead of the game. Am I answering the question or just rambling?
KING: You're doing a great job. What top speed today, what did you hit today?
FREEMAN: 140 on the front stretch.
Q: What have they told you they'd like to see you do in terms of pacing that lap before you pull off before the start?
KING: That's a 115 average around the track, you want to sustain 115?
FREEMAN: No, no, you're going to go out at about 90 and probably make a pass around at about 90, then you're going to speed up to about 100, and you'll be coming out of Turn 3 about 115, and then off.
KING: He's ready to go. Morgan Freeman is the Pace Car driver for the 2004 Indianapolis 500. He'll be in the 2004 Corvette. We have questions.
FREEMAN: And he is thrilled to pieces.
KING: Let's start with you, Mike.
Q: Looking ahead to Sunday, there's going to be about 300 some thousand people out there, lots of color, lots of balloons and noise and everything else. Are you at all nervous about being out there in front of that mass with all the excitement going on?
FREEMAN: Mike, that's your name, right? I'm a major internationally famous motion picture star. (Laughter) How many? 350,000? Is that all?(Laughter) No, I hope, I really hope that doesn't affect what I do. But the question is well put, though. There is a tendency to think, 'Oh, my God.'
Q: Have you had the opportunity to meet any drivers and, if so, do you have any favorite?
FREEMAN: Well, one of my favorite people is Ashley Judd, as I think the world knows, and her husband, Dario, is driving. So what am I going to say?
KING: So we're assuming you're pulling then for Dario Franchitti come Sunday?
FREEMAN: Yeah, and I have met about four of the drivers who are with the Chevrolet team. So, yeah -- but I'll be watching Dario.
KING: Let's go to the other side. Right over here.
Q: Your passengers today weren't just anybody, but they were motorsports journalists who know more about everything than anybody else. Did you get any good coaching from your passengers today?
FREEMAN: No, I didn't. What I got from the passengers today were quotes like, 'You should sign up to drive for the race.' (Laughter). And, 'Oh, that was fantastic, that was just fantastic.' So what I got was not coaching but encouragement.
KING: OK, question.
Q: Morgan, a fellow actor Paul Newman started a racing career late in life and even finished sixth at 75. Are you attempted?
FREEMAN: No. (Laughter)
Q: Morgan, I can't resist. Is this anything like driving Miss Daisy?
FREEMAN: You should have resisted. (Laughter) I drove four different cars in that movie. One was a 1949 Hudson. Everything about it just incredibly well kept except the transmission. It wouldn't back up. And then we had a 1951 or '52 -- everything after that was a Cadillac I think, all the way up to about a 1960 Cadillac. Just to get us both off the hook, it's very, very, very, very little comparison.
Q: Morgan, can you talk a little bit about your interest in racing, how long you've been interested and what you follow?
FREEMAN: Well, I don't even know how I got interested in racing. I think it's just kind of like a condition of being an American, you know. Everybody races. You've got the overland races, the baja races, the African races, the European road races, the rally races, NASCAR, open wheel, Formula One, CART. And my favorite discipline in all of this is NASCAR and, after that, road rallies. How I got into it, I just don't know. It just got to where I needed to be watching it. Then of course I wanted to drive it.
Q: Morgan, when you're out there going about 110, and you look in the rearview mirror and see 33 cars behind you that want to go 100 miles faster, what will your feeling be?
FREEMAN: Get the hell out of the way. (Laughter) When I come off of Turn 3, that's when my blood pressure is going to be a little high because, you know, you know they're going to be squatting down. If you're going too slow, you might not make it. The guy that's on your left may be coming up that way. So, oh God, you know. So you really do have to be on it coming off of there.
Q: Morgan, there's a drive for diversity in motorsports today, and I was wondering, do you think your presence here will bring more African-American fans into racing?
FREEMAN: I don't know if we need to bring more African-American fans into racing. Hell, African-Americans -- that term, ugh, has -- have always been racing fans. What would be interesting if we get more participation, but racing costs, really costs, so it's difficult -- mostly you have to have corporate sponsorship to do it in this art. But I think fans are there. Don't you? OK.
Q: Morgan, you said a while ago that speed comes to you like a duck, or you do drive fast. What kind of cars do you own and what's the fastest you have driven competition-wise or anything else?
FREEMAN: OK. I have a Toyota Tundra six-cylinder truck, I have a GMC Denali eight-cylinder SUV, I have a duallie Chevrolet Silverado, and I have a BMW 745 that will actually do 160. Ask me how I know. (Laughter)
Q: How do you know?
FREEMAN: Been there. (Laughter)
Q: What's your favorite racing movie, and do you think your view of racing movies will change after being at a real race and being part of it?
FREEMAN: I think your view of any part of life changes once you have taken part in it, once you've done it you know so much more about it that every little thing that they do that's not quite kosher, you say, huh-uh. Favorite racing movie? I don't know, it might have been 'Days of Thunder.' The reason I say that is because that's the only really NASCAR and to get a hint, just a hint of actually what happens on the track at 170 or 180 miles per hour an hour, you know. You remember The Intimidator? You know why they called him the Intimidator? Drive-throughs. (Laughter) You're all racing journalists, so you know what a drive-through is. Who doesn't know? You're kidding. All right, you're going into a turn, right. You're all up on the wall, you're coming down, you're into the turn, you're coming out of the turn, you just hit the bumper and keep going. He's going like that while you go around him.
KING: You have never been to the Indianapolis 500. Have you watched this race on television?
FREEMAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
KING: Do you remember the first one that you saw?
FREEMAN: No. That was way back. I have even seen them run in the rain. No?
Q: Morgan, I was one of those people who was fortunate to ride around with you on the track today?
FREEMAN: You were?
Q: I was.
FREEMAN: Put your hand up so I can see where you're talking. There you are.
Q: And when I saw the needle hit 140 my entire life flashed before my eyes. (Laughter) I have two questions. Number one, did my life flash before your eyes? And is that something you were doing on purpose, I mean, you were going to show the media that I can do this, I can handle it?
FREEMAN: I was showing me. In that open Corvette, the wind is telling you something different than what's really happening. And when I started out when I first got in the car and we went into Turn 1 we were only doing 90, and I was like, you know. Then as I'd drive and drive and drive to get more feel for the car -- and I'm one of those people, you know, how was can I do it -- so I was eventually looking to see if I couldn't really handle that turn at 140.
Q: You did a good job.
FREEMAN: Thank you.