IRL: Indy500: Arie Luyendyk press conference transcript

HOST: Mike King GUEST: Arie Luyendyk Mike King: Good morning. Welcome to the trackside Media Center, the WorldComplex. We know we're going to have people coming in, there's a couple of driver sessions going on in the garage area right now that...

HOST: Mike King
GUEST: Arie Luyendyk

Mike King: Good morning. Welcome to the trackside Media Center, the WorldComplex. We know we're going to have people coming in, there's a couple of driver sessions going on in the garage area right now that will be ending in a few minutes. But Arie's time is obviously at a premium, so we're going to go ahead and start.

Arie Luyendyk, getting set to make his 16th start here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The last time we saw him, he was leading this race, then took a year's hiatus and comes back this season. He holds so many records here: The single lap record as far as qualifying at 37.895 seconds. That was on May 12th of '96. That was a speed of 237.498. The four-lap record he also owns, 236.986. When he won the race in 1990 for the first time, he set the race record at 185.981 miles an hour. Won here from the pole in 1997. Arie, welcome back. What's it like to be back? I've heard you say some things about being in the booth last year. Did you realize immediately when the green flag fell last year that you had made a mistake retiring?

<B>Arie Luyendyk: Well, I actually came to that conclusion a little bit sooner than that. I was thinking here when I was racing in 1999, you know, doing what we're doing now, getting ready for qualifying and practicing and everything that goes on in the month of May. I said to Fred, you know, I think I might have made this final 500 announcement a little bit too premature. So I was already having second thoughts then. So last year when I was in the booth looking down on the track and guys are racing and I was kind of feeling left out and was in a bad mood that day just because I wasn't racing; and I was thinking really hard about coming back then. Finally, in December I -- I mean, I had been thinking about it a lot and we had been talking about it a lot with Fred and the guys on the team; and they're always joking around like, "Yeah, you always say you want to come back, but are you going to come back," this and that. So then I finally made the phone call with Scott Cronk, the general manager of the team. Is that your title by the way? He's up there, he's up there. So I called Scott and said let's go ahead and do it and then Scott started working on putting the pieces together for this year's 500. You know, we have a lot of support from the sponsors that were with us in 1999. We have Sprint PCS back and Meijer as a sponsor, main sponsor with Coca-Cola. So it's nice to be able to come back in a pretty smooth manner which we did because the team was, the boys and us, have always been kind of ready for it and the sponsors as well. So that was really nice.

King: Was it a relief to be back in the race car?

Luyendyk I wouldn't say it's a relief. You might know how I am, I don't get too excited about stuff. But inside I'm really at ease with myself that I'm driving again. I'm really happy to be out there being competitive and being charged up and thinking about what we need to do to go faster and just being part of it, the whole thing again. The whole thing about Indy is it's great to be here as a driver, which is what I wanted, but I also wanted to be here as a competitive driver and to be able to mix it up with the fast guys.

King: Once again, this press conference is being transcribed, so we would like to get your questions on mike so our transcriptionist can get your questions in the context of the press conference.

Arie, if you will, just go back in history and take us through the thought process when you did walk away. What prompted you to do that? And then what kept you from coming back for this race or even more before now?

Luyendyk Well, I was having a pretty rough year in 1998, with a lot of setbacks with the equipment; and then also I got into a bunch of accidents that were really -- you know, I kind of fell into the accident because somebody would spin in front of me and I got collected, and went upside down in Phoenix, and had a big crash in the IROC, which I couldn't really help. I got knocked into the wall there. And I had a big crash in Fontana in '97 with Chip's car when someone spun in front of me with nowhere to go. Of course, I almost had the same thing happen here two days ago when I'm coming into turn one on a real flier and Casey Mears spun and hit the wall; and I had to slow down immediately and turn a little bit to the middle of the track and try to avoid all the rubble on the outside of the track. Ended up spinning and got really lucky that I didn't hit anything. So that was a great day for me. But that just goes to show you that an accident is just around the corner and it can happen that fast. But I realize those risks now that I'm exposing myself to them again. You know, you can't deny those. They're always going to be there. But I think the passion to drive here and the love that I have for this track and this event and this race, you know, is greater than, for me, outweighs the risks -- the passion outweighs the risks. So I know that's always going to be there. Last year I was close to racing here, I mean I was thinking about it. After Sam had his accident, it really hit home hard. It hit the team really hard and myself and also my wife. I didn't really want to kind of push it, let's put it that way, push my luck at home last year by running last year after what happened to Sam. I really could understand that my wife would have gone totally nuts if I would have done that. So this time around she only went half nuts. (Laughter) It just shows you that, you know, whatever happens in racing -- I mean, you always hope and think that it could happen to you. Bad stuff can happen to you and you just hope it doesn't. Those are the risks that you take. But I say to myself, you know, racing since 1972 in all forms of racing and I've raced Indy cars since 1985, and I'm still here, I'm still in one piece and pretty healthy. So we're just going to keep it that way.

Arie, could you mention some of your thoughts in relation to the Texas cancellation, most particularly in the realm of human endurance and where we're going? You've been 236 around here and the push is always for faster; and what are your thoughts in relation to Texas?

Luyendyk Well, the Texas racetrack is a lot different racetrack than Indy. Running 236 around here or running 235 around Texas is a whole different deal. You have a 24-degree bank turn which generates a lot of loads on the car and on the driver. I think if we look at, you know, when you look at what IRL has done in the past in Texas, lap times are -- they're not impossible to compare, but I can't really compare them now because at one point the IRL used the 1.5-mile configuration and then it was a 1.44 something; and I'm not sure what CART used, I think it was a 1.48 something. But just generally speaking, I think they were marked between eight and ten miles an hour quicker on the lap. But when you're already pulling close to 4 Gs like the IRL cars were doing, an extra 10 miles an hour quicker through the lap is just going to be, you know, I think you kind of see a peak in G loads and all that on the driver. So I firmly believe what they say is true. I mean, I can't see them lying about it. You know, when you drive around any track for a long period of time and you stop in the pits and you get up right away, you always have a little bit of that, you've got to find your footing briefly. I always have to do that at most of the tracks. But I also understand they were experiencing a lot of problems. So that's my take on what they were saying as far as the drivers, what they were saying. I believe what they were saying is true. I can imagine it was true having them run almost 10 miles an hour quicker on the lap.

Arie, relate back to when you went 239 here in practice and qualified -- you've always been a great qualifier -- and what it was like that day and how it compares with now, you're going like 10, 12 miles an hour slower.

Luyendyk '96, I could run 238 on my own in practice. And then in '97, I would run 218 on my own with the different cars. And at the time for me, I felt it was more difficult to run the 218 with that particular chassis we had than it was to run the 238 with the Reynard we ran in '96. So speed is all relative. So I think it was a great thing that the IRL did is to say, okay, we've got to change the rules here. We have to slow them down because we don't want to be going into the 240-mile-an-hour zone and maybe beyond. I think if we would have kept those cars and worked and tweaked on them, we would be doing 250 plus; and that's not really necessary to have a race, running guys at those speeds next to each other. So I think the right thing was done by changing the rules to bring the speeds down. Since then, actually, things have been done every year to keep those speeds in check. My pole speed I think in '99 was quicker than last year's pole speed; and so far I haven't been able to run 225 on my own here. So they've still been able to keep the speeds in check.

What about the pole day, though, going out there with that kind of a -- you know, driving 237, put four laps like that together?

Luyendyk For me it was pretty comfortable to do those laps back then. In fact, I was trying different lines during my run to see if I could just pick up a little bit of speed here and there. The car that I had in 1996, was probably the best car I've ever had around the Speedway as far as how it handled through the turns. We could dial so much downforce out of the car that we were just flying down the straights and being able to carry that speed through the turns. So I had a phenomenal car that weekend. My car right now that I have doesn't feel quite as good as that car then. So hopefully we can still tweak it a few more days here and get it to work as good as that car. So that's what I am looking for on Saturday, to have a -- I don't necessarily want to be completely comfortable on pole day. I want to be a little bit uncomfortable, because that's usually the fast way around. If you're too comfortable around here, you're missing a few miles an hour. But that car in '96 was very fast and comfortable and that's obviously the ideal situation.

Arie, you could real easily be a four-time winner here. I mean, I can remember races that very easily could have been won. What is it about this track and you that you have such an affinity for the place?

Luyendyk I don't really know how to say what it is. But having grown up and raced on road courses in Europe, I always had a knack for fast turns even on the road courses. I always seemed to be able to pull away a little bit in fast, fast corners. So I guess that's what it is around this place. It's a fast place and -- I don't really know what it is. I don't really think I'm doing anything much different than the other guys. Obviously, I can only be as good as my car and as the team that helps me out to get the car working for me. In that respect, Tim Wardrop has been kind of my aide throughout the years. I think this is the sixth or seventh year that we'll be together at the Speedway. So he kind of knows what I like, and he kind of knows by just, you know, looking into my eyes if I'm comfortable or not. We have a good feel for each other, and we don't make any big, big changes; it's all small stuff but well thought over. I don't know what it is. I mean, I like to run around here. I think it's important to like the place and to not be afraid of it. That's two ingredients that you want to have. In the beginning when I came here, I was certainly approaching this track very -- how shall I say -- safe, in a safe way, because I knew that it doesn't take much for it to go wrong here and you can be in big trouble. And that's still the case.

Arie, you touched on it a little bit in regards to Tim. Can you just talk a little bit about Tim and Skip (Faul) and how important that is to your confidence and how that allows you to do what you do out on the track?

Luyendyk I think it's such a major part of any driver to be able to walk into the garage and be comfortable with his surroundings. They have a great responsibility towards you as far as putting the car together right and as far as making the car work right. So for me it was such an easy adjustment to come back out of retirement knowing that I'm going to be with guys that I trust a hundred percent. So for any driver that's really, really important.

Arie, you've raced in every Indy 500 here since the IRL came into creation with the exception of last year. How much stronger and deeper do you see the competitive level being now as it's progressed over the years?

Luyendyk Well, if you look at the IRL when it started out in 1996, or you look at it now, there's a major difference. The depth of the teams is greater and greater every year. The competitiveness of the series is greater. The fields in the IRL races are so close, you know. From first to last on the grid, there's not much difference. It's really a tight field. This year, I believe, with all these strong IRL teams and then the addition of the CART teams, two of the best CART teams are here, Penske and Ganassi with their drivers, and Michael is here, it just added more competitiveness to the field. If you look at the rules that the IRL has, that's what really is making these races all so competitive. Because every team can basically go out and get an Oldsmobile engine, buy a G Force or buy a Dallara; and the rules don't allow you to go into a wind tunnel and just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and come up with something that nobody else has. The rules are kind of restrictive that way. So it does two things: It brings the field closer together, it keeps the budgets down and you get close and tight racing. Right now, the IRL is just going forward in a, you know, in a very positive way because of all these rules that have been implemented.

Arie, you've talked about the importance of your team a couple of times already. Would you have considered coming out of retirement with another team?

Luyendyk Well, you know, my team is a great team but there's a lot of good teams out there. So if my team wouldn't have been able to do it for me, then, of course, I still would have looked at something else because the passion for me to drive at Indy is and was great. But it wasn't really a matter. It wasn't a point of discussion because the door was always open at Treadway Racing. You know, knowing that in the back of my mind surely made it a lot easier on me.

Arie, is this passion going to go beyond this year?

Luyendyk Well, I don't have -- right now it's not like I'm just going to race here and then that's it. So I'm thinking about racing here for a couple more years.

King: Arie, will you race at any other venues or will Indianapolis be pretty much it?

Luyendyk The nice thing about Indianapolis is that you can be here for several weeks and actually get a lot of running in. I think yesterday somebody said, 'You've run an awful lot for what you normally do.' We normally don't run as much as we've done. And I don't even know why that is. We haven't really had any troubles, but we've been trying different things here and there. But the nice thing, if you say, OK, I'm going to run one race a year, which is what I'm going to do, the nice thing about this race is that you can run a lot of laps, put a lot of miles in, get back into the swing of things. If it were just a weekend deal, it would be a lot different for me to come in and do what I'm doing now.

Arie, what is it about this place, though, that drives that passion? Is it the joy of going fast and being smooth or can you define what it is that really is the lure?

Luyendyk Well, the lure is that it's a big race. I mean, this is the Super Bowl of races. It's the open-wheel race of the country. You know, with all respect to other events, there's no event that comes close to the Indianapolis 500. The prestige, the following of the fans, the support from the community, it just all adds up. You have an audience watching you on race day that is enormous. People that don't follow racing at all, don't know much about it, they do know about the 500. And for a driver, you know, this is the race to race and the race to win. Obviously, you know, I made the decision to come back, but I wanted to kind of make sure that I was competitive at least; because, you know, if I'm running around here 30th and kind of just struggling around, that's not the way for me to compete. I still want to be -- although I want to be in the race, I want to be competitive in this race and be able to be in a position to win. The competition, you know, of racing, walking out -- to me the greatest time at Indy is two times. It's actually getting ready for qualifying, that whole qualifying day where you could either run at 11 or you could run at, you know, quarter to six and then in between a lot of stuff happens, you know, looking at everybody else, what they're doing and when are you going to go out or are you going to go out? That whole qualifying thing is a big thrill to me. It's like a seven-hour adrenaline rush basically. Then the race is pretty much the same, going out on race day, race morning, getting ready to get in the car with hundreds of thousands of people there looking on. That's the excitement of Indianapolis. The electricity in the air at Indy isn't really found anywhere else.

Arie, at your announced retirement a couple of years ago, your competitors presented you, I believe, a case with the racing gloves and I think in part because they were happy they weren't going to have to compete against you again. Have any of them asked you for those gloves back?

Luyendyk No, they haven't asked me for those back, but I did receive something else. I received a signed helmet from Bill Marvel who used to work at -- he might still work at USAC, I'm not sure, and had all the drivers autograph it and had a nice plaque with a thing about me on the bottom. I figured, you know, that doesn't really count as a farewell gift anymore because I'm back. So what I did, I took that and we auctioned it off at the Sam Schmidt Foundation event and it raised I think $1,900, which was great. So I have to thank Bill for that. But I have to talk to Scott Goodyear about the gloves because I don't really want to keep them because I'm now back again. But we have to find a way to now make the most out of it and raise some money for various charities. So that's my idea with that. That's my plan with that.

King: Arie, if you could, the life that you've led as a champion driver over the last three decades, how do you replace that -- you talk about the adrenaline rush that you get on qualifying day, here on pole day, how do you replace the adrenaline rush the other 11 months out of the year when you're not in a race car now? What do you do that can even come close to matching the way you used to occupy your entire year?

Luyendyk Yeah, well, that's really impossible to do. I mean if you're not driving a race car, there's really nothing out there, you know. Like, for instance, I don't compete or participate in any other sports. I don't play golf or stuff like that. So I don't really get any kind of competitive, you know, juices flowing by doing something else. So for me it just comes from racing and that's about it. But I have a lot of stuff going on in my life. My son, Arie Jr., he's racing in the Formula Ford 2000 Pro Series. I don't go to all of his races because I get too nervous watching him. So I'd rather just wait at home and wait for the phone call. So I'm doing that and I'll probably go to quite a few IRL races with the team. Felipe Giaffone has done a really good job this year. He's been really steady and fast and he's been fast when it counts. He doesn't rush into things. He's really a good driver and I think we're going to hear a lot from him this year in the IRL. So I haven't really told him much and given him much advice because he pretty much figures it out on his own. The first two races he's done really well. But I'll be involved with the team a little bit on that front.

Arie, of the ones that have gotten away from you here, do you recall any that really still grates on you? I can think of a couple circumstances.

Luyendyk 1999 was really -- I think I could have won the race in 1999; but we'll forget about that and try and repeat this year. And the other year in '96, I had a good chance of winning it but got eliminated leaving the pits. Of course, I think that year my car was just superior than anybody's car out there and I was basically just taking it easy in the beginning of the race waiting for the time. But I never got there. But, you know, I'm not the only one that has stories like that. Mario Andretti has maybe three or four of those stories as well and Michael Andretti as well. So there's many drivers that have chased the dream of winning it once and never done it. So I've won it twice; and if that's the way it's going to be for the rest of my life, it's still going to be great. But obviously we're chasing number three here.

Is it easier today -- you fought politics so much in part of your career, they took your ride away and all that kind of stuff. Is it easier now?

Luyendyk I think as a race car driver you have to be ready for that part of it. You can never expect to always keep your seat in a race team. You can always expect to be knocked out of it and be replaced by somebody that has a bigger name and more attractive for sponsors. That's just the way it is with racing. It's like saying, okay, I'm leading with ten laps to go and my engine blows up. Well, that's racing; and that goes for the other stuff as well. I think it's really hard for young drivers to come up through the ranks and actually get a ride without having to bring money. There's still a lot of that where you have to bring the support of a sponsor to a team to be able to drive because not all teams are able to support themselves. So it's getting really hard. It's always been hard but it's hard to find sponsors for racing, especially with the popularity of NASCAR; it's hurting open-wheel racing a little bit and making it harder for us to find sponsors. A lot of sponsors we talk to say, "Well, we're involved in NASCAR and that's it." So it makes it hard.

I think Lee Kunzman said it's like $600 a mile to run around this place. When you think of numbers like that and what these team owners spend just to be here during the month, does that kind of end any thoughts you may have of ever going into team ownership?

Luyendyk I'm not sure I want all the headaches that go with a team. I just leave that up to Scott Cronk and Fred Treadway to deal with. It's so -- how shall I say it -- tempting to say that you want to do that. But it takes a lot more than, you know, than the desire to have a team. It's a 12-hour job every day keeping -- you have to keep so many people happy, try and make people happy or chasing money and then getting the money and then spending it before you get it, then you've got to get it from somewhere else. It's a big job. Running a team is amazing; and I'm not sure I want to have all those -- it's stressful. I'm not sure I want that.

King: Arie, before we let you go here today, what do you think as far as Saturday? We heard some drivers say that it's going to take high 226 to get on pole. We've heard others, Eddie Cheever said no way, there's no way anyone is going to do four at that kind of speed. It's going to be a high 224. What do you think?

Luyendyk I think Eddie is right. I think 226 and above for four laps in a row, if anybody does that, then they've got something special that we don't know where they get it from. But, you know, maybe there's an engine builder out there that finds another 20-horsepower just for qualifying and then they might be able to do it. But realistically I would say high 24s on the average and maybe there's a 25 lap in that four-lap run. That's kind of what I'm thinking.

King: I think we've got one more.

Arie, any piece of you as you're steering around Casey's debris the other day that said, "What the hell am I doing here"? Luyendyk A little bit. It just reminded me that it can happen anytime. But it's not going to -- it's not going to change my mind. But there's always that risk around the corner, like I said before. So I don't think my heart rate ever went up because I didn't have time to let it go up. I was pretty thrilled when I came to a stop that I didn't hit anything.

You smiled when you walked across --

Luyendyk That's why I had a big smile, yes. (Laughter)

Yeah, I know that you and Eliseo had a rather celebrated incident in '96 and all that. But do you see that now that he's teamed up with A.J. that he's become kind of a legitimate threat to not only qualify well here but to win this race?

Luyendyk Salazar has been really running good the past couple of years. We all have incidents in our lives -- and I know why that incident happened with him. He was driving around with an injury that he really shouldn't have been in the car. You know, the way he had to work the throttle was with his whole leg rather than just his foot and it took away some feeling that you need. So he just accelerated way too hard leaving the pits. There was a big bump there and it threw the car sideways into mine and that was it. I know exactly why it happened. So I think Dr. Bock is really right in keeping drivers out of the car when they have certain injuries because that's just another example of a driver that is really not ready to race, but racing. I think they need to be able to run a mile around a one-mile oval and then say, okay, if you can't run that mile, you can't race. (Laughter) Keep a lot of guys out of a car, at least with broken, you know, with stuff in their legs and all that.

King: Arie, I know it's coming up on 25 of 11 and I know there's a few people that would like to get some quick one-on-ones. Thank you very much for spending time with us this morning. Great to have you back. Thank you.

Luyendyk Thanks.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Casey Mears , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Michael Andretti , Sam Schmidt , Mario Andretti