Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com Indianapolis, IN, May 25, 2001 - Sam Schmidt racing had a month that builds - and shows - character. After battling problems, including wall contact, the team qualified for the 85th running of the Indianapolis ...
Ken Plotkin - Motorsport.com
Indianapolis, IN, May 25, 2001 - Sam Schmidt racing had a month that builds - and shows - character. After battling problems, including wall contact, the team qualified for the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 with a speed of 221.696 mph on the second day of qualifying. When the smoke cleared after bubble day, they were 30th fastest and in the field. Nothing left to do, it might seem, but catch up on their sleep and do some final tweaking on Carburetion Day. Things even looked serene in the garage yesterday morning, as the team methodically applied new decals before the final test session.
So had they caught up on their sleep? "Unfortunately, not," said team manager Larry Nash, chuckling at the concept. "I'll just leave it at that." But counting what he has, not what he doesn't, that's OK with him. "We're here. A lot of others should be, and unfortunately they're not. But we are. Everybody's worked real hard at this thing, trying to get in here and make this happen. Everybody's stuck to their guns, took some bullets in the process - and here we are. My hat's off to all of them"
Driver Davey Hamilton faced the test session with the same feelings. "We're definitely not caught up," he commented as he stood on pit road waiting for the green. "But, on the other side of the coin, this is the toughest race to get into, and we're in it. You never know what it takes to win this thing, and we're going to give it all we've got."
The team was facing more than the usual Carb Day leak checks and functional tests. This was their race car, but all of the full fuel load runs had been done on the team's other car. Full load runs were on the slate to establish ride height and balance.
The realistic attitude - and slight edge - that the team took into the final practice paid off with a smooth, uneventful session. "It was great," Davey said. "We always want it to be uneventful. The car was really comfortable."
"We had a little more understeer, probably from a little too much downforce for the conditions. The car felt good. The power felt good. Everything was there. We just lost a couple of miles an hour, mostly because of the understeer. I think we'll get it on the scale pad and I think we'll be good.
"We don't have a lot of time in this car, but I think we'll be all right. I feel pretty confident going in."
Larry was also pleased with the session. The loss in speed from the other car was not a problem. "We weren't trying to push the window on this one, he explained. "We took a rather conservative approach and tried to work on comfort level. We made a gear change, looked at some options. That'll give us something to study over the next day or two. We'll watch the weather and we'll see what we'll end up with next Sunday. I think there are a few little things we can do to enhance things, but we're fine."
Owner Sam Schmidt was equally satisfied. "Today went just according to plan. We ran the car out of fuel to know where we're at. We made sure she wasn't bottoming and took a conservative approach. I think everything came out OK."
Sam even sees a possibility for the team to catch up on its sleep before race day.
One area where Sam may not be able to catch up on his sleep is the hunt for sponsorship. Perhaps no team owner can these days, no matter what the progress.
The car has more decals now than it did when the season began. BG Products is on the car. BG, a maker of specialty lubricants, has been with Sam Schmidt since his Formula Ford 2000 days in 1995, and has grown up to Indy cars with him.
The car also sports decals from VH1's "Save the Music" program. "Save the Music" provides funds to schools that might otherwise cancel music programs due to budget cuts. In association with the IRL, VH1 will feature Sam Schmidt Racing through the season in a series of spots promoting the IRL and raising money for "Save the Music."
But there is still no primary sponsor, so the hunt continues. Sam spends his time burning up the phone lines, talking to businesses and individuals that might be interested in the motorsports program, and also in the paralysis foundation. "We feel like we've got a really great economic platform that people will want to do things, depending on their objectives. It could be entertainment based, or just a sticker on the car." Sam is looking for a good finish in the 500 to help generate interest.
IRL teams like Sam Schmidt Racing are not alone when developing sponsors. Teams still have to beat the bushes, but once they have something the IRL helps present the benefits of sponsorship, and can leverage arrangements with things the IRL has to offer.
And the IRL is very active in developing and leveraging things. Two years ago they brought in Bob Reif as Chief Marketing Officer. Bob came to the IRL after successful sports marketing stints with International Marketing Group and the Miami Dolphins. Bob and his staff seek opportunities to develop partnerships with mutual benefit - he's fond of saying that he looks for "one plus one equals three." The VH1 arrangement with Sam Schmidt is typical. There is synergy, with Indy racing helping raise awareness of VH1's "Save the Music" program, and IRL gaining exposure among VH1's viewers.
Bob speaks enthusiastically about the details of developing partners - seeking opportunities, fitting demographics, developing mutual interests. He's even enthusiastic about technical details such as making cold calls, general capabilities presentations, advancing from meeting to meeting. He is, however, most enthusiastic when he talks of customer service, and he is clear who his customers are: Sponsors. Drivers. Teams. Tracks. Fans.
"Indy Racing League exists for our stakeholders." Reif emphasizes. "We're not out there knocking down deals that are 'Official XYZ Indy Racing League' where we collect huge rights fees. We want to see our teams on the track funded. We want to see our promoters have their races titled. We want to see our drivers' purses increase. We want to see awards funds continue to rise.
"We want our stakeholders to do well. We want ABC and ESPN to get all the television spots sold. If our partners are happy, then we're going to turn them into raving fans and that's going to just keep growing our business. Success breeds success, and we want that to happen. We want to continue to have partners that are happy."