IRL: Indy500: Greg Ray and John Menard PPG Pole Winner press conference

Q: Your first 500 pole for Team Menard, and your seventh Indy Racing Northern Lights Series Pole for Team Menard. Let's talk about your effort today. RAY: Well, you know, the other poles are all great, but...

Q: Your first 500 pole for Team Menard, and your seventh Indy Racing Northern Lights Series Pole for Team Menard. Let's talk about your effort today. RAY: Well, you know, the other poles are all great, but the pole here at Indianapolis 500 is the granddaddy of all poles. I mean, this is like winning two other races. So the emotions were running pretty high. It was a lot of ups and downs today. We had (inaudible). All week long for that matter. But we wound up, kind of on the pole the first time. We knew we could do better. You know, we had a decision to make. We made it. And it paid off. We were fortunate.

Q: Greg, this is your first Indianapolis 500 pole but your third time to start from the front row. What's it mean to start from the front row of the Indianapolis 500?

RAY: It's really hard to put into words. I know that 1998 when we qualified on the front row, my wife and kids and mom and dad were here. And I said, "Well, you've got to be here for the front row photos tomorrow at 8:00." So they said, "That's fine." So we all got up and had breakfast and I said, "No, you guys just stay here. It's no big deal; it's just a couple of pictures." And I showed up and there were like 700 photographers here. And of course, that's what you always remember as a child is seeing the pictures of the pole sitters on the front page of the newspapers come Monday. It's actually a very neat experience. To qualify second, I felt very honored and blessed to have done that two years in a row. But I'd be lying to you if I told you I wasn't a big, big focus for me. I mean, you really have two events here. You have the race, which is... That is the granddaddy of them all. You want to drink milk and that's something I've dreamed about for as long as I can remember. But qualifying is a completely different thing. It's like you said. Winning the pole here is as big as any race anywhere else. And it's a speed issue. So not only is it a big accolade for the team, but you could really take the downforce off the car here. You really get to hang it out and go for it. So it's very rewarding for the team and certainly very rewarding for me.

Q: Thomas (Knapp) isn't here, but Thomas had a lot on his shoulders this week juggling his schedule of those two cars. Talk about his effort this week.

RAY: Oh, Tom certainly just worked himself to death this week. And it is a huge organization to start running to begin with, if we only run one effort for the pole. But then we doubled the whole situation by including Robby in our efforts. And the problems were probably increased by three times or four times, not just double. Can't say enough good things about Thomas Knapp. He's a very organized individual. He's a great engineer. He's extremely focused. I mean, he gets up early in the morning and thinks only of racing. And goes to bed late thinking about racing. And it's ... it's ... the total focus that he has, I think makes us all work harder and excel better because he expects nothing but the best from us, too. And I think that's a very ... kind of inspirational to me.

Q: John, your three poles have all kind of come with unique circumstances. I mean, there were times when you actually pulled a car out that was already qualified on the front row and went out and won the pole with it. You know, today it wasn't like you won the pole on a first attempt 'cause you had to take it back in and go out a little bit later. Just describe what made all three of these different and how when it comes to the pole here, you always ... you know, you like to be a bit of a gambler.

MENARD: Well, I don't think you're going to get the full view. I mean, to get it in a simple way, is great. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you can do it. But when you know you have a car that can go about so fast and you know that the competition can go about so fast, and you know you're out there running and you're not going that fast ... Well then, it's just not a very difficult situation to say, "Hey, let's take another run at this." I think a lot of guys who having been here a lot tend to forget that you have three attempts. And then you have to read the date. Today was the day that was probably ideal for, for not taking your first attempt in that the weather was kind of uniform. If it didn't appear as though the weather was going to get a lot better, then pure luck was going to get a lot worse. We weren't really under the threat of a big rain. The sun wasn't out, where the Indiana sun beats down and the track temperature goes up a couple of degrees in five minutes, and you know, the track keeps getting slower and slower. I mean, it was a fairly straightforward decision to make a second attempt.

RAY: It was very straightforward for me because I would have left my foot on the gas and gone straight into the wall. And so like I said before, I'd just as soon qualify 33 as second again. And that's what I told them. They all kind of had a smirk on their face. But the car was just capable of running 221s but it wasn't capable of running 223s or 224s. And so we made a change.

Q: We saw some activity after you made your run that ... we had a report that you guys had a car on the line waiting, just in case something happened. Let's talk about what goes into that kind of decision.

RAY: Well, yeah. We had the 1T car going through tech. That car was a car eligible to go out. And you have to stay in line to keep the line unbroken. So we didn't feel ... and this was the luck of the draw. I mean, what we drew, I drew last night ... I drew everything all right together. And I'm going to send somebody else down to draw next time.

MENARD:         You can blame me for that next time.
RAY:            You can blame him. 

MENARD: I'll take the responsibility. And ... but anyway, we drew all our numbers right together and as luck would have it, it was Greg's car, Greg's back-up car and Robby's car all within the pits, nose to tail practically. But we had to run the car through tech, come around and go in the back of the line. So it really wasn't practical for us to take Greg out of the one car and go because there just wasn't enough time. And not enough ... it wasn't enough time.

Q: Greg, after two-straight second place starts from the middle of the front row, going into today were you going to accept anything less than pole? And would you have thought today successful if you hadn't gotten on the pole?

RAY: That's a very interesting question. Having ... there's no question that I wanted to put the car on the pole all week long. We didn't really ... we really, you know, didn't demonstrate that we were capable of doing that. So we really didn't get it right to where I thought the car was in a setup where I felt like I could leave my foot on the throttle until last night, which was pretty good. But the competition was so tough. I was preparing myself for dealing with it, to be quite honest. Because last year, we had everything covered and we thought we should have been on the pole and then we didn't qualify the right car because of a technical thing. And then, so we got the bad luck of the weather. The sun came in, the wind came up and so I'd prepared myself for possibly not getting the pole. And I prepared myself for being as far back as on the third row because it is very competitive. But when you see the difference between putting in one lap and putting in four, that's a whole different thing. And I think I just said a lot about Team Menard. We have a lot of good mechanics and engineers in the motor department, and we worked very well together. So even though things weren't perfect all week long, we stayed on our game plan and push came to shove ... I mean, when it's put up or shut up time, I guess we put up.

Q: John, you've got the inside of the first two rows. It's got to be just a great day for Menards, is that how you look at it? And how would you assess the two rides today?

MENARD: Oh, it was ... yeah, I mean there was no doubt it was a great day for Team Menard. To have the two cars nose to tail at the start of the race is really interesting. And really a good position to start in. I mean, I think the inside is a good place to start. I think both Greg and Robby gave all they possibly could to those drives. I mean, if you watch them on TV, the little bit I saw, from standing in my position in turn four ... anyway, when those guys both, when they came out and down that straightaway ... I mean, there was a couple of times I was ready to duck. I mean, they were giving it all they had. And you know, we've got a good bunch of mechanics. We've got an excellent motor department. And Tom Knapp, I think we've got the greatest engineer in business. And we just all brought it together today and it came out very well. We'd love to be one and two, but under the circumstances with the time we had and everything going on, I think we're very, very, very fortunate people.

Q: Greg, earlier when you were in here, you said you learned how to hold your breath 160 seconds. In your career, have you ever driven four harder, on-the-edge laps?

RAY: Yeah, I did I in '97. I did in '98 and I did in '99. You have to commit to this place. And it was ... I guess I maybe felt more pressure this time. In '97 was my first time, so nobody was paying attention. And we ran pretty good until we ran out of gas. And in '98, we were quick, but there was still no pressure. It was David versus Goliath. And last year, I was just so confident that it was never going to be a problem, I had to qualify the car that I didn't want to. But I mean, I think that whether it's qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or qualifying at Orlando, or Texas or practicing or testing the Firestone tires or racing, I mean, the one thing that I've tried to learn how to do is to give all of myself. You know, to focus on the moment and to give it absolutely as much as you can. There's no doubt that when you're qualifying, you have to go push that last little bit and really get close to the edge. And manhandle the car. But Matt, I drive the same all the time. I have a lot of honor. I feel like I have a lot of honor to come to that.

Q: You have the situation of starting in the first row three times now. Just talk about the advantage that gives you come race day. And secondly, if you could also talk about the competition you'll see from the other driver (Juan Montoya) in the first row.

RAY: Well, the advantage that gives you is that you have a $100,000 check. We got a van and a toy lawnmower. And some beautiful trophies. That's the extent of the advantage because you can win from 33rd place or you can win from 3rd place. And over the course of 500 miles, you're going to have a minimum, regardless of what happens, of at least five pitstops and maybe as many as nine. And so over that course of 500 miles, things happen. I've seen them personally, first-hand happen, like they did last year to us. And it's just going to be the driver, the team and the car ... the situation, the people who work with diversity best on race day ... 500 miles is a very, very long way. And so it's an accolade. It's great for the team. It's a big momentum builder. And I think this is a dividend for the team for working so hard. But there's absolutely no advantage on race day other than maybe the first couple of laps, just in case something happens on the start where you have three cars wide. I think we've seen it both here and at other racing. When you put three cars wide, things tend to happen on starts. And I can't think of a better place to be than up front and on the inside.

Q: Greg, can you say anything about Robby's day or anything thing like that?

RAY: I'm sure there are no team orders. I think that the biggest thing is that, you know, the team's done a great job. We've got great cars. And we're going to go out there and give it our best effort. I think as the race progresses, we'll just see who has the upper hand. I think whoever has the upper hand can then utilize his teammate. And I think that's where it'll start to pay off.

MENARD: Yeah, once the green flag drops and the race starts, we'll certainly try to be cooperative, but you know, Robby wants to win the race. Greg wants to win the race. My nightmare is that Greg and Robby crash into each other some way and then ... I think that's every team owner's nightmare.

RAY: That damn Robby Gordon, he crashed into me... (laughing)

MENARD: But they're good drivers, and I'm not at all worried about that. But you know, the race starts, it's a race. Right?

Q: Greg, John alluded to the impact that Tom (Knapp) has had on this team. Could you maybe reflect how far both of you have come together since '98, and maybe even before that?

RAY: Yeah, even before that. He and I started working together back in '93. And there were many times that he had opportunities or I had opportunities as individuals and we really found a way to make it work together. And so our years in Atlantics when we had no sponsorship and here in the Indy Racing League, and we felt the best compromise, even if we didn't have the right amount of money was at least he could be an engineer. He could believe in the driver. And we had a lot of chemistry and a lot of that chemistry and the time that we spent together gave us a really good rapport. It gives us a good understanding of one another's personalities. And he understands what I mean when we talk about the cars. And because we've had so many years of experience, I may talk about Turn 4 at Milwaukee in 1994 in an Atlantic car. I may talk about something in 1997 or 1993 and look back at your notes and think about what you did. And that type of background gives you a big advantage. We're able to sort through the car pretty quickly and make the car go fast very quickly. And Robby's a great driver, but he's definitely getting the benefit of our long-term relationship.

Q: John, in '93 you went and bailed out Eddie Cheever on bump day. Are you going to be open for business tomorrow or are you going to put out a sign, "Gone on vacation?"

MENARD: Well, you know, we've got a race two weeks after the race here in Texas. I know Greg is from Texas, so he wants to win that race, too. So we're going to have to be real careful with our equipment and things. The chance of emerging from a 500 mile race with your equipment, with all the wheels on, much less worn out, is pretty great. We're really, probably not as able to do that as we used to be when we just ran the Indy 500 and you had nothing else to do with the car. You're much more tempted. It would have to be extremely unusual circumstance tomorrow to qualify the third.

Q: Did you say no?

MENARD: Well, it's mostly no.

RAY: You get much more out of the bump (inaudible).

MENARD: Absolutely. And you know, I wish I would have had four cars this year instead of just three. Because if we had four cars, then I would feel differently about it. But you know, we just... I don't think we'll be able to do it. I'm saying mostly no.

RAY: But you know, we weren't going to run Robby Gordon till May 3.

Q: Greg, can you share how satisfying this day has been for you? Can you compare it to how you imagine it might feel to win the race?

RAY: Oh, no. No, I can't even begin to fathom. I mean, I think in my mind, in my sleep, in my daydreaming, pondering time ... I mean, I've seen myself win it. You know, but I think that's what it brings us. It brings up dreams. It brings us fantasies. And that's why we love this sport so much.

MENARD: I bet I have a dream of Greg winning it.

RAY: Can we renegotiate our contract after that?

MENARD: That has something to do with dreaming...

RAY: Yeah, a lot of it. No, this is ... this is, like I said, personally very rewarding for the team. But this is a small ... it doesn't compare with the race at all. People forget about any pole sitter, you know. But I think Eddie Cheever put it best. He was talking to somebody, and he is forever known as an Indy 500 winner. He's not just Eddie Cheever anymore. And that's the same thing with Kenny Brack. He's not just Kenny Brack, he's Kenny Brack, 1999 Indy 500 winner. And that's a tag line you take with you. And I don't think you look at any guy that's in sports. They don't do it for those tag lines that go with it. But it does mean more. And I just think it means more. And I think it's just more personally satisfying and it's all about fulfilling dreams. And for me, this is a boyhood dream. That's... I can't think of a better gift to give yourself. But that's... at this point, it just a very big dream.

Q: John, Greg said earlier that he ran that qualification run despite tire vibration that developed during the warm up lap. How much more amazing is that, that he was going through that process, kind of with blurry vision, the way he described it?

MENARD: Maybe that was why he got so close to the wall. He couldn't see it. No, I think that's a testament to Greg's stamina and concentration and ability to go through the external things that are happening and get the job done that had to be done. That was a great drive and a great run and I can't remember a more awesome one than Greg did this afternoon.

Q: Anymore questions for Greg or John? Gentlemen, congratulations. Thank you for making for an exciting day.

MENARD:         Thank you. 


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Kenny Brack