IRL: Indy 500: Winning team press conference transcript, part 2

88th Indianapolis 500 Winner's Press Conference Buddy Rice, Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, Scott Roembke Sunday, May 30, 2004 Part 2 of 2 MODERATOR Well, what do you say, there he is, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Champion, Buddy Rice.

88th Indianapolis 500 Winner's Press Conference
Buddy Rice, Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, Scott Roembke
Sunday, May 30, 2004

Part 2 of 2

MODERATOR Well, what do you say, there he is, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Champion, Buddy Rice. (Applause).

BUDDY RICE Thank you. I don't know what to say right now. First of all, I would like to thank all of the guys that are sitting up here. I had to fill in for Kenny Brack and it was not the -- not the best way you want to come in is filling in for somebody like that for what happened to him. He legitimately held a spot with such a top-rated team. So for me to come in and get his support and all of the help he's given, not only for the first part of the season and starting when he showed up in Phoenix and some of the testing, we had talked; and to come here this month and be a big support of the team for most of the month, was pretty cool, and to help the other drivers, as well. I don't know, for Scott and Bob and Dave up here, I know Scott and Dave and I have been talking since -- or Scott and Bob and I have been talking since '98, '99 when I started racing Atlantics there to try to put something together -- sorry, Dave, I didn't talk to you about it. But these guys were on the track. (Laughter). We were trying to sort something out, and things never quite worked out. They always said when the timing is right, things will come together, and we'll make something happen. I guess this was the right time. We started off the season excellent. We had a good chance at winning at Homestead; we had a puncture, just circumstantial, just the way it is. We've had two good other runs at other facilities, and Honda finally got their first win at Motegi, and for us to come here, the long history Bob has with Honda and for to us get the pole for them for the first time and the first win is huge at the biggest race in the world. I don't know, I'm on equal footing with Bob to a certain degree, because I've won the Indianapolis 500 now, but he still has got championships and a lot more wins under his belt. So, keep trying to chase that.

Q David, you talked earlier about what it was like to grow up in Indiana and to follow the Indianapolis 500, and we look at the variety of drivers and names and legends that have been born here, can you imagine in a better story, than the guy that's sitting next to you right now and Buddy Rice? Here is a guy who was out of work, he's kind of an all-American kid who has worked very hard; there's very few stories like this in real life.

LETTERMAN Well, like I said, there are many facets to this tremendous victory, and I think Buddy alluded to this as well, the relationship with he and Kenny, I think, is extra special. I think there's probably nobody happier in this facility today than Kenny is for Buddy. Kenny is a tremendous man. He's proven everything he needs to ever prove in his life. And I think it's a great victory for Buddy, and the two of them have been very gracious about the situation.

Q What did you see in this guy, Bobby?

RAHAL Well, I mean, I just -- I saw a lot of things. (Laughter). This is what happens when you wear your hat the right way around, Buddy. (Laughter). No, that's all right. I might even let him wear it backwards one of these days.

RICE Dave said it's OK.

RAHAL Going to a lot of the same races, watching Buddy in the Atlantic series, you don't win the Atlantic championship and not have talent. You don't win as many races as he did in other categories and not have talent. And it's just like anything for a driver, you want to be in the right environment, the right team. If you're in the right environment, you can really grow and blossom and achieve, and you can fulfill your destiny and the capabilities that you have. I just felt that -- and Scott, obviously, was very proactive about Buddy, as well. I think we both felt that we would do a great job for us, we would be a leader. We didn't know the full picture with Kenny, like how long he would be out or what have you. We need a guy who is going to lead this team and be a team player. I've got to tell you, I can't imagine a better -- a better guy for that than Buddy. We have been very, very pleased with how he has come into this team and really become the leader that we needed.

Q After you got shuffled back to 16 on the pit stop, if you could go over your charge back to the front, what you had to do, if you had any close calls in traffic, because traffic really seemed to be incredible out there today.

RICE Yeah, traffic was -- we knew it was going to be a problem. But there was no reason to panic. We were only halfway through the race. The skies were still clear. There was nothing at that time threatening, and we knew we had at least two more stops before anything was going to remotely happen with weather at that time. So, I wasn't concerned. There was no reason to panic. Maybe if there was 20 or so laps to go, 30 laps to go, last stint, you start getting a little worried. Scott Roembke made all of the right calls today on fuel strategy and what we needed to do. That played a major factor on that last stop with what we had to do, because obviously some other cars came in when we did. We stayed out longer and it seemed to be quite pivotal. Another thing that I think that happened, we got a couple of breaks in traffic late in the run. I know Tony was close. I got by, I forget who it was, going into Turn 1; it was kind of a late pass, but I needed to make it to give myself that barrier. And Tony got bottled up so bad, that I couldn't even see him anymore. I think that was also another cushion that we needed and it just helped. It helped to go back to conserving fuel like we did, and that was the whole thing. We knew it was going to be a lot of fuel strategy. Pit stops were going to be crucial and whoever made the least amount of mistakes. There were a couple close calls with some lap guys, and just the way it is. With the way the packages are right now, it's so close from top to bottom, you knew that was coming.

Q You led a race-high 91 laps. In that last stint, that last pit stop, how did you feel when you had to come in with the dark sky, and then were you relieved when you saw the Andretti Green cars then having to do the same thing a few laps later?

RICE Well, actually they pitted before I did. The Andretti Green cars pitted before me, yeah. That was the whole thing. Scott had made the right call on fuel, and what we were doing on that last stint, it looked like it was going to be green. The we knew the skies were coming, but the whole thing was as long as we charged and stayed out front, like they said, we needed to do we were going to be fine. We had the barrier, those guys had to come in and pit, we were still doing what we needed to on fuel strategy. When Tony came out of the pits, I knew he had to be at least a lap down at that point. So if the rains would have opened up -- or the skies would have opened up with rains, then he's at least a lap down. He almost went down a lap earlier, too, but we had everything fall into place today, just it all kind of worked out.

Q I know you changed your hat around. Have we seen the end of the soul patch, too?

RICE That's been like a big thing, too, between that and Under the Radar Program all month. (Laughter). Amazing. First off, I don't know how you can be underneath the radar when you are in the top eight, top five. Every day, we had the pole. We've been in contention for wins throughout the whole month. The patch was a cosmetic change we needed to make for several of our sponsors in situations, but that's things that you have to do. It's not an issue. Nothing changed. I mean, it doesn't change my attitude. It doesn't change my approach to anything. It doesn't change my lifestyle, nothing. It's just a little bit of a cosmetic change. But I'm totally cool with it. Doesn't change my -- I guess my persona or anything. It might come back. We'll see. Bob's already talking about letting the hat come back, so we'll see what we can work on next. (Laughter).

ROEMBKE Buddy is very gracious, but Todd and Steve Dickson were the guys that called the fuel and strategy in the pits. Todd is the team engineer. We thought the car was pretty good. Buddy was flat on his second last, never lifted didn't lift again till the first round of pit stops. Steve was the guy on the radio with Buddy keeping him clean. Certainly those two were the guys steering the ship down there, and I was just making sure we were all in the same place. They deserve an ample amount of credit on that and they did a great job today for us.

Q Earlier in the week, you've been so calm about your approach to the race, and you said you don't necessarily see it being as life-altering, you would take the win if it came. Now that you've just visited victory circle and you're sitting up here, how excited do you find this particular race in particular, to be where you are?

RICE I guess we're going to have to wait and see. I don't know right now. This is pretty crazy. Like everybody said, this is everything you work for, it's the biggest race in the world, and to be able to come here and not only sit on the pole, but to be able to win it -- obviously, now I know I led the most amount laps. I don't know, I think it's pretty cool.

Q Just talk about the American race driver and how he's been kind of forgotten, especially at this place in the last five, six, seven years, and what this means to young American drivers.

RICE Hopefully it gives people a little bit of a shot in the arm right now. Because there's a company, as you guys all know, Red Bull is trying to put an American driver search together. A lot of kids that are over there in that program are kids I've raced against and grew up with over on the West Coast. I wouldn't say that -- I mean, there's a ton of talent in this country. Obviously, Bob is one of them that's been pulling up from that, and there's some other people that have been doing it, but the whole thing is timing, I think. Being given a chance, you know, there was a situation back in 2000 that I was in, and I think some people are quite aware of what happened on that deal, and they posed what they call the top Europeans versus the top Americans at the time. I sure didn't go in there and get spanked by any means of the situation at all. Things didn't happen for whatever reason; it was just not the right time. So hopefully this shows to some of the other kids and some from go-karts to circle track to whatever they are doing, that they can make it here and they can come here and win. You know, obviously the European training ground is different than the American training ground. But there's so much influx right now back and forth with the Europeans coming here, and the Americans going over there and back and forth and now. There's enough intermeshing that I think the talent level has jumped up once again. When I go to the go-kart track to run with some of those kids and I haven't driven in a while, there's no way I can compete at that level now without training quite heavily to get ready for a go-kart. I think that there is a place for the Americans. I don't think they are overpowered by the Europeans, and I think that you'll see more young Americans coming up, but I think there's more than talented drivers -- more than enough talented drivers out there. Some just need to be given a shot, and hopefully timing will work out for them and they will be able to make it.

Q When you were growing up, did you ever dream of this moment being able to do something like this or did you just think of that as a whacky kids's dream? And also, what does this guy, does he remind you of any of the drivers that you used to call your heroes when you were a kid?

LETTERMAN When I was a kid growing up in -- no, the answer -- do you dream about it? Sure. Do you ever think it's possible? No. When I was 16, I couldn't make a fist. So, there was not much I could do. As far as I think the first guy I saw drive this track was a fellow named Bud Tinglestad. Does Buddy remind me of Bud Tinglestad? I don't know. (Laughter) I don't know.

RICE Bud Tinglestad never wore his hat backward. (Laughter).

MODERATOR For all of us that remember Bud Tinglestad, it was a great run. To all of you, a hearty congratulations on a job well done.

Part 1

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice