IRL: John Barnes IndyCar press conference

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Oct. 7, 2003 John Barnes K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, October 7. Today we will visit with two IRL IndyCar Series owners whose...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Oct. 7, 2003

John Barnes

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, October 7. Today we will visit with two IRL IndyCar Series owners whose teams are involved in the IndyCar Series points chase, they being Chip Ganassi and John Barnes.

At this time, we would like to welcome John Barnes. John is co-owner of Panther Racing, which won the 2001 and 2002 IndyCar Series Championship and fields the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Sam Hornish, Jr. Hornish is currently fourth in the IndyCar Series standings entering this weekend's season ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The event will also mark Hornish's final race with the team. John, welcome and thanks for joining us this morning.

J. Barnes: Thanks for having me as part of it.

K. Johnson: Looking back on the past two-and-a-half, almost three years, it has been quite a run for the Panther Racing Team, winning consecutive IndyCar Series Championships. But, two months ago, did you really think the team still had a realistic shot at winning this year's championship?

J. Barnes: Well, we never give up around here. We knew what was in the pipeline, and we felt if we could get our hands on it we still could make it happen.

K. Johnson: You are obviously referring to the Chevrolet Gen IV motor. A lot of people point fingers at the motor as being the reason for the success. But, Panther Racing is one of, maybe, two teams that have been able to capitalize on that.

J. Barnes: Well, like you said before, we have had a lot of success here at Panther. The last two years being champion. Before that, we made quite a run at the championship also, with Scott (Goodyear). So, we felt that once we had equal power to the other people, that we would be back in contention, again. In fact, we ran quite well, I thought, with the Gen III engine. There were a couple of races at Pikes Peak, Richmond and Kansas City that the team did very well.

K. Johnson: Now, looking back at your run this year, it has come despite, or in spite of, changing crew chiefs midway through the year. You really didn't miss a step.

J. Barnes: Well, that's just a testament to the people that are here. These guys here are great, and we have really a building full of crew chiefs, because I've got four guys here that can step up and do the program without any trouble.

K. Johnson: Now, having fielded a car for Sam Hornish the past three seasons, obviously, he's moving on to a different team next year. What will it be like around Panther Racing having someone else behind the wheel of your car for a change?

J. Barnes: I think it will fit right in. I think the next driver, or drivers, we expect the same out of them that we've had for the last three years.

Q: You've been in this situation before, championship morning. What is it like? What does it feel like when you wake up and it's race day, and the championship is at hand or you have a chance to win the championship?

J. Barnes: I'll tell you what, I really don't focus on that. Our team and staff here are focused on only one thing and what we believe in, that we go there to win. That's the only thing that we can dictate, and we have to see what happens to everyone else.

Q: When you're working through the race and you're watching the things that Sam can do with the race car, are you as amazed as the rest of us? Even after knowing him so well and working with him so long?

J. Barnes: Sam is incredibly talented. He will be sorely missed at Panther Racing, both as a race driver and as a leader here. He's been a fabulous individual to be around. We hope to continue our friendship that we've fostered over the last three years. But, also, on the other side of that, though, like I said to someone a couple days ago, there's no 'Fred Flintstones'. Nobody picks these things up. There's no hole in the bottom, they don't lift the car up and make it do something it doesn't want to do. And, I think it's just really a lot of what Sam does, because of the cars that Andy and Seth and David and those guys give you when they drive. He is extremely talented. He's 10-tenths every lap, but he can only do what's given to him. You can see that at the first of the year when we were down on power. He didn't make up for being down 70 horsepower, but he did a great job with what he had. It's a team effort here, and I believe that the team will continue its winning ways.

Q: When you look at picking his replacement, do you have to fight off the urge to look for a duplicate of Sam, or do you look for some of Sam's traits in the new driver?

J. Barnes: Both. When we brought Sam on board here, we tested, probably, 12 guys. Sam was incredibly talented, he showed incredibly quick hand speed. A lot of determination, but the Sam that he was in the fall of 2000 is not the same Sam that's in the fall of 2003. He's matured tremendously, and again, a lot of testament to Pancho Carter. And Pancho looks ahead of him and drives him to things, instead of behind him and criticizes what he's done. So, our next driver, I think, has a lot of the same attributes that our current driver does. Hopefully, we can put our arms around that person and foster him into being a winner and champion that we have now.

Q: Your next driver sounds like it's picked and ready to be announced. Do you have a schedule for that yet?

J. Barnes: I think it's 1:30 Saturday.

Q: Still 1:30 Saturday? You know, I guess you go to the last lap, you want Sam on the outside lane if he's got a chance to win the race?

J. Barnes: You know, Sam, I think he's bought all the real estate from the first 15 feet up on the white line at all the racetracks we've run on. That's his groove.

Q: What's your biggest concern going into the weekend? Is it that something stupid will happen that has nothing to do with Sam or the race or the contenders? That a mechanical failure gets you early?

J. Barnes: You know, we've done all, I mean, three months ago or four months ago, we were an also-ran in most people's eyes. And once the CART guys got here, they were going to tear down the Panther empire like it was last year when Penske arrived. But we're just preparing. All the guys here have prepared very hard for next Sunday, this coming Sunday. And whatever happens, happens. We can't, we don't even think about that. I mean, the good Lord has put us in a position where we're at. He's got a plan for us. The guys here, hopefully, have used the talents He's given them to do the right thing and, hopefully, we can showcase our talents. If we can't, you know, hey, there's another race next March.

Q: The only thing about listening to you, and this has been over the last few months, is that you are really eager to give a lot of credit to your team and that's fine, I understand why that happens. And, not saying that Sam is miracle man, because you're right, he can't do everything himself. But, from this day forward, really, the package of the two of you -- you've almost defined who Sam is and Sam has defined who you are, despite the good year winning races for you and despite the fact Sam will win more races with Penske, I'm sure. But, the two of you are almost interlocked forever. Isn't that a fair assessment and don't you think that Sam will always be Panther? And Panther in some respects will always be Sam?

J. Barnes: Well, I think that's true. But a lot of people didn't think that the New York Yankees would ever win once Casey Stengel died. I mean, they still are, and we will continue to do our thing. I can't stress the importance that Sam has been to our team, but I also can't stress enough the importance that Panther has been to Sam. It's just another chapter. I don't have a crystal ball. We will put the same effort and emphasis on winning and doing the things that we do around here that we do presently with whoever drives for us. And, I can tell you this, I hope Sam comes back some day. It's kind of like Luke Skywalker going to Darth Vader. We think that someday, he'll come back. We hope he does. He'll always have a spot here. But, until he does, his main competition on the racetrack is going to be a yellow No. 4 car.

Q: I just wanted to ask you, I'm doing a story kind of comparing the big CART teams that have come in the IRL to the original IRL teams. Kelley Racing has done fairly well, but you're really the only team that has consistently been able to compete with the Penske's and the Ganassi's and the Andretti Green teams, and basically just why is that? Is it just a financial thing? What are you doing that the other original IRL teams are not doing that enables you to compete with the big CART teams that have come to the IRL?

J. Barnes: Boy, I'll tell you what, I have no idea. It certainly isn't money. You can't say it's because of lack of work from the other people because they work very hard, too. It could be, though, what I always say is "Life's a people sport." We've got great people here who believe in this company and who work very, very hard to be winners. And, I guess, really, that's the biggest thing. We continue to expand the amount of people that work here, and they all have to have the same ambitions. It's like Chip said earlier, you want to hire people who are not interested in the parties and the pomp and presents. You want to hire people who know how to work hard and can showcase their talent.

Q: Do you think with the Chevrolet being down at the beginning of the year that had some of the significance with Sam leaving?

J. Barnes: No, I don't think so. I think Sam has had a lot of admiration for Penske Racing since he was a little kid, and this is a great opportunity for him. He thinks he can go there and expand on his winning ways and continue to do what he's done. I don't really think it has anything to do with the engine program, because he knew in May what he was going to have, and he knows what he has now. I think it's shown in the last six races that what he has now is better than what the other people have.

Q: There's the rumor you guys are possibly going to a full schedule next year with two cars instead of one?

J. Barnes: We may go to three.

Q: Oh, OK. How about four?

J. Barnes: No. We have a lot of offers and opportunities ahead of us right now. Doug Boles and Gary Pedigo handle all the business aspects of Panther Racing. They are looking at expansion and how the best possible way to do that is. So, we have just been inundated with offers lately to just try to figure out what the best way to do that is.

Q: You've been around racing for many years. Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine a race that averaged 207 miles an hour, and can that happen again this week?

J. Barnes: Well, you know I did. I can remember back in Michigan. I can't remember what year it was that they averaged, like, 180 miles an hour. At that point in time, I think we were only running 195 or 200 miles an hour to begin with. I really feel like it should have happened a lot sooner than that. But, it's a testament, really, to the teams, drivers and the rules that the IRL has. You can race close together, we don't have a lot of attrition, you don't have a lot of engine problems or mechanical problems, and the drivers can run side by side at 225 miles an hour. So, it just tells you that this is the greatest form of racing in the country at this point in time.

Q: You see people come and go with coaches, are you kind of like that what with Sam leaving? That part is gone, but like at IU they go on to NBA or something. He's gone on somewhere else and you are the recruiter and bring in the next team.

J. Barnes: Well, we have a great group of people, like I said before, here at Panther. And, Pancho is the head of our driver development program, and he comes to me with ideas. Andy Brown comes to me with ideas. Buddy Lindblom, my team manager does, Doug Boles does, Gary Pedigo does, and we try to take all their advice and stuff and just build the best package we can. So, as far as being a coach or whatever, I guess that probably fits. But, it's not going to be easy replacing Sam, to continue to have the championships and wins as we have. The sport is much tougher today than it was in 2001. For us to win four races this year, as I hope, no matter what the engine program was, it's really going to take a lot of effort, and a lot of luck, or God's will, or whatever anyone said, so it's not getting easier.

Q: With Sam leaving and all the success you have had, if you had one regret, would it be that you didn't do too well in Indy in the time he was here?

J. Barnes: Yes. I mean, of the three years he raced for us, I thought we had the car to beat twice. This year here, to be down as much as we were in power and to be able to see the leaders in the last 10 laps was just a huge accomplishment for our engineering group. There were a lot of people who monitored the radio, but you could hear (Tony) Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon and a lot of people. All they wanted to know during the Indy 500 this year is 'Where's Hornish? Where's Hornish?' because they knew he was able to pass people on the outside where they weren't. So, Indianapolis is my home. It's my favorite racetrack in the whole world, it's run by my favorite people, and I want to win here. And, I think, with the package we put together for 2004, the emphasis on who we hired was around the ability to win Indianapolis.

Q: When you look back to the beginning, the early days of the Indy Racing League, to what is now the IndyCar Series, are you happy and satisfied with the growth? What do you think about where the series is today?

J. Barnes: I think it is the best racing there is in the world. As someone said, it's the best-kept secret in sports. The fan base is growing, the awareness of Panther Racing is growing, the teams are growing. The only problem, I think, that we have at this point in time is really our broadcast partner. I think they really need to do a better job in promoting the IRL. You look at a NASCAR race or you look at any Fox or NBC broadcast, every hour or two hours there's a plug in there about the NASCAR race that's on that weekend. And, I think we need partners who are willing to build us like these other people built NASCAR.

Q: On Saturday, with the announcements of your new driver, are you going to be able to tell us that you're going to have both drivers, or three, or how much of an announcement can we look forward to?

J. Barnes: It will be just announcing the driver for the No. 4 car for 2004. It also will be an announcement about associate sponsors that we've signed for the No. 4 car for 2004 and 2005. The other announcement on the second car, we'll probably have it in mid-November.

Q: Are you very serious about the third car, or did you just throw that out there to keep us guessing?

J. Barnes: No. I think you asked if we were going to run two cars? I mean, we may run three, I don't know. We're just looking at our options, and Gary and Doug are bringing those to me, and we have a great group of people at CSS Stellar that represents us in all our sponsor negotiations, and we've had a lot of interest. So, we have to see from an engineering standpoint, a people standpoint, a facilities standpoint what are limits are.

Q: One more, if I might. How big of an emotional day will Sunday be for you and the whole team as Sam makes his last start and gets out of that car and that's it for now, anyway, as you say?

J. Barnes: I think, after the race, we'll have time to reminisce about what we've accomplished and what our future holds. Before the race and during the race it's all about winning.

Q: John, talk about Mark Taylor and what he's done this year.

J. Barnes: He's been pretty remarkable. Michigan of 2002, I talked to Roger Bailey that morning about the possibility of us looking at running an Infiniti Pro Series car for 2003. About an hour later, he introduced me to Mark and to his father, Mike. We talked for about an hour about the possibility of him driving for us. We had something else in mind that we were thinking about, and they gave me a brochure about his successes in the past season. I looked at it for awhile and I was blown away. I thought, 'God, this kid's really a nice kid. He's very pleasant to be around, very quiet, but it looks like he's a demon when he flips his face shield down.' So, we talked, again, a couple of times in the next 30 days and decided to move forward. He's just been incredible. But again, a lot of his success is due to the engineering of the car. We hired Brent Harvey, who was the engineer for Scheckter in 2002 and Cheever. We brought in Chris Griffis, who was crew chief at PacWest; Kevin Conley, who is a great mechanic and a friend of mine, and Lawrence Burch, and we built a team around him that was, again, like we usually try to do, that had no room for failure. And then surround him with Pancho Carter to again teach him how to run ovals, and he's doing a great job. I mean, we really look forward to the possibilities of him driving for us in the IRL.

K. Johnson: Well, John, I don't show any more questions. So, with that, we appreciate you taking time to join us this morning and, again, we wish you and the entire Panther Racing team the best of luck this weekend in Texas.

J. Barnes: Thank you very much.

Chip Ganassi IndyCar press conference

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Buddy Lazier , Chip Ganassi , Roger Bailey , Pancho Carter , John Barnes , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske