IRL: John Barnes press conference

Indy Racing League weekly teleconference Nov. 4, 2003 John Barnes Kent Johnson: Good afternoon. We would like to welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week of Tuesday November 4. Today we'll visit with two members of the...

Indy Racing League weekly teleconference Nov. 4, 2003

John Barnes

Kent Johnson: Good afternoon. We would like to welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week of Tuesday November 4. Today we'll visit with two members of the Panther Racing team, John Barnes as well as Mark Taylor. John Barnes is co-owner of Panther Racing, which recently announced that it will field two cars in the IRL IndyCar Series in 2004, the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone to be driven by Tomas Scheckter and the recent addition of the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone that will be driven by Mark Taylor, who is the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series champion. Right now we are joined by John Barnes. Good morning and thanks for joining us.

John Barnes: Good morning. You guys doing all right?

K. Johnson: Doing very good. You have alluded over the past few months to the possibility of a second Panther entry for next season. Now that that has come about, tell us what you can, and if you will, about the timeline of how this second car came into reality.

J. Barnes: Well, as I've said a couple of times, we had about three or four different options for sponsorship and funding and all for the second car operation of Panther. In fact, we even looked at three cars at one point in time. John Menard approached us about three weeks ago, four weeks ago, in fact, at the California race when he were waiting to leave and he said to me, 'Are you going to be in the office tomorrow? I have something I want to talk to you about.' And I said 'sure.' So, he called me the next day about noon and said, 'Hey, we want to close our operation down. I would still like to stay involved with the IRL and I would like to move the sponsorship over to you guys. You did a great job and would like to continue the winning ways of the Johns Manville/Menard entry.' And I said, 'Yeah, let's talk about it.' Three days later, Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles and I flew up to Eau Clair, Wisconsin, and basically, within about 20 minutes, had a handshake deal and came back and we finalized everything at Texas during the Texas race.

K. Johnson: Often times, the reality of it a second car is predicated on finding sponsorship, but in this case, this sounds like it was part of the package deal.

J. Barnes: It was, yeah. John (Menard) has a great group of sponsors that have followed him throughout the years, and those people want to say in the IRL and they are really enthusiastic about being part of Panther, so they came on board.

K. Johnson: Now, you have the car in place; time to find a driver. I know Panther Racing looked at many, many possible candidates to fill that seat, but how many decisions did you have knowing you had Taylor standing on your doorstep, basically, already within the team's organization, and, based on what he showed in winning the Menards Infiniti Pro Series this past season?

J. Barnes: It's kind of funny, in the first meeting at Eau Clair, we are having lunch after the meeting and John says, 'You know, do you have any ideas how we can solidify the Pro Series program that I'm sponsoring now?' And I said, 'Yeah, I do.' He said, 'What's that?' I said, 'We have a kid that drives for us that's won about every race in the Infiniti Pro Series that I felt would be a really good fit for your car.' We talked about it for a little bit and decided at that point in time that we ought to start looking, and he did a little due diligence on Mark and came back and said, 'Yeah, I think he'd be the guy.' And then we agreed upon it at Texas on Saturday.

K. Johnson: You mentioned John Menard and the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, which Menards started sponsoring midway through the season and will continue to do so next year. And, in Mark Taylor, we now have seen after two seasons, both of the series champions over the past two years graduate to the IndyCar series. As an owner, how do you see the product that the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is producing?

J. Barnes: I think we felt that there were two really good drivers in the Infiniti Pro Series that were ready for the IRL Series. That was Ed Carpenter, and, of course, Mark. Obviously, Ed has done just a tremendous job in the PDM car, and I look for great things from him. We focused that way about Mark. Mark really came on strong and he won a lot of races before, but I think the Kansas race was really what made him, when he started last and went up through the pack and won the race in a shootout over Ed Carpenter. I think those two guys are really ready to make the next step, and I think that Roger Bailey has done just a tremendous job at with the Infiniti Pro Series, and in adding Butch Meyer, a technical guy, I think that's another huge step that the IRL and the Infiniti Pro Series has made.

K. Johnson: Any time we talk to a driver who has driven for Panther Racing, they are always giving accolades and patting the spotter, Pancho Carter, on the back for the outstanding job he's done. We visited with Tomas Scheckter a couple of weeks ago, and he talked about his first opportunity to work with Pancho during the test at Milwaukee, and I know Pancho was Mark's spotter in the Infiniti Pro Series, as well. Has anybody sat down and talked about who gets to use Pancho Carter's services next year?

J. Barnes: Pancho is going to be the spotter for the No. 4 car, and we are actually talking to three different people to assume the role of the same situation with Mark. Our spotters are much more involved than just the guy that goes up there and talks on the radio. They are heavily involved in driver development. They sit down with the engineers after the runs and talk about things that they have seen the car do, and the driver do, and the engineers sit down with the drivers. So, I mean, they are a lot more important to us than just somebody up there that says 'clear.'

Q: How does this relationship now with Menard affect the Menard engine program in building engines for the Pro Series? Does that go under the Panther roof, also, or is the program still there?

J. Barnes: Menard Engine Development falls under the Menard Engineering Ltd. Program, and that is a totally separate entity, the same as MCT in the United Kingdom. In fact, we have a very large program planned with MCT UK, as far as development and engineering help. I think you'll find that the engine program here in Indianapolis will really come straight on the Infiniti Pro Series program. I think you'll see the Menard Engine group heavily involved with both the Infiniti Pro Series, and also with NASCAR engine development, both with General Motors and for some customers that they have. They have some very exciting things happening over there.

Q: You said Panther had some plans for the engine. That would not be working with Jack Ford, though?

J. Barnes: No, no, no. We are actually going to do a program with them for our Silver Crown engine program, which is also tied to GM with the short track engine development program.

Q: What are you doing for personnel to run two teams? Are you splitting your team up, your No. 4 team, or how do you work that?

J. Barnes: Well, actually, we're not taking anyone off the No. 4 car. We have had these plans in place for quite a while and then tracking resumes. We have got, I would say, 95 percent of the people in place at this point in time and hope to fill the rest of the voids by, I would say, no later than Monday of next week.

Q: A follow-up question, I wasn't too clear, are you using the same engine supplier that you've been using or are you changing?

J. Barnes: Speedway Engines will continue to build the Chevrolet engines for Panther Racing.

Q: That is the people you have used?

J. Barnes: Yes.

Q: You have a couple of English engineers and a mechanic from England, has that helped in bringing Taylor along, that he has some countrymen to be around?

J. Barnes: To tell you, quite frankly, we moved him to Greenwood as soon as he got in and he's got enough Hoosier in him now that he's not been a problem, whatsoever.

Q: You said in Kansas City that starting from last and winning, what did you see in him that that was different from his winning from the front?

J. Barnes: All of the races he had won up through Kansas, he started first or second and took the lead on the first lap and nobody ever got close enough to him to race with him. He proved to us, at that point in time, what a great racer he was. Also, at Colorado Springs, it was the same situation. We did a test there and went there, basically, just to see how he would do under those circumstances because we knew the testing IRL next year is going to be a lot tighter. He performed, again, very well under those circumstances. He's been a work-in-progress, but with Pancho and Woody (Brent Harvey), and even Andy Brown involved, he's done really a hell of a job the last part of the season.

Q: At his age, what is he, 25 or 26? Is he more mature than some of the younger guys that have come along?

J. Barnes: Well, yeah, I think so. I think, also, his upbringing. He's a very solid guy. He thinks very methodically about what he does and how he does things, and, I mean, the only emotion I ever see out of him is in Victory Circle, and that has not happened, really, until lately.

Q: Will you continue your Infiniti Pro team?

J. Barnes: No. We just don't really have the space or the manpower to take care of that this year, and we are fully committed to the Silver Crown program. So, we're taking a couple of people off the Pro Series program and putting them on the Silver Crown program, and rest of the people got put on the IRL team. At this point in time, we are going to back off of that. But, I think in the near future we'll be back in it, because it's done what we wanted it to do. We wanted to use the Infiniti Pro Series program to build mechanics, engineers and drivers for our IRL team, kind of homegrown. It just worked fabulous. Brent Harvey, Woody, our engineer, will be Mark's engineer next year in the IRL, has just done a fabulous job. He was Billy Boat's engineer at Indianapolis, and Andy Brown has just, I sing high praises for him every day and Chris Griffis, chief mechanic for the Infiniti Pro Series program, will be Mark's crew chief, also. The Infiniti Pro Series program did what Panther Racing wanted it to do. We'll take a year or so off of it, and when we get the right opportunity and the right guy to build it again, to move somebody up to the IRL, we'll do it again.

Q: How do you believe your relationship with Menard differs from what he had with Cheever?

J. Barnes: I really didn't know what his situation was with Cheever. I never really asked any questions about that and don't have any interest in it. We look forward to our association with John. We have learned a lot, actually, in things that they have done over the years, so far, that I think will help our racing operation.

Q: About the test at Miami-Homestead, Brian had expressed some, I don't want to stay skepticism, but some concerns about the variable geometry and banking stuff, how did it go yesterday?

J. Barnes: You would have to talk to Brian Barnhart about that. I'm at the airport ready to go to Vegas. I left there this morning and really wasn't around much yesterday.

Q: The comment you made at the beginning, are you now saying that there's no possibilities of a third car for Panther?

J. Barnes: I would say at this point in time we have got one other deal we are talking about. I don't hold out much hope for finalizing it and getting it where we want to be, but you never can tell.

Q: Did you receive all of the equipment and everything from Menard's operation, or how does this work?

J. Barnes: We are in a process, right now, of purchasing all of that. We have got a couple people in our shop that have been there a week, going through the inventory and seeing what's applicable that would work within our organization. We'll purchase that stuff and I think we'll have a sale after that.

Q: Your building is pretty big, but is it big enough? Is there anything different you have to do with two primary cars now?

J. Barnes: No. I think we've got space to do that. If we expand to a third car, we're going to have to look at some other alternatives. You know, so far, I think we've got everything we need.

Q: Menard has always had an association with a lot of pole positions. Do you think they bring something to you that may help you in that position?

J. Barnes: Well, when I started Panther Racing, we emphasized one thing, that we were there to lead the last lap, not the first one, and that's the one that pays all the money. And we will continue that program. I'm sure, like I said before, there are some things we've learned just from our association so far with Menard' that I think will help us possibly in qualifying. But, our emphasis will never change from that standpoint. The praise and accolades that you get for winning a pole are very short. The ones you get for winning races are a lot longer.

Q: I always wondered about this, how does the mechanics of a sponsorship work in terms of the payment schedule? Do they give you a lump some at the start or how does that work?

J. Barnes: They are all different. We've got probably 25 sponsorship programs at Panther Racing, and all of them are different. Some pay up front, 100 percent, some pay monthly, quarterly, they are all different. It just depends on how you want to write it up.

Q: With this transitional phase you guys are in now with the Menard coming on board, you guys are kind of a pretty good bell weather of the economy, if people are optimistic and willing to get involved. Are you sensing a difference from a year ago or 18 months ago?

J. Barnes: Like I said a month ago on a teleconference, I think that our racing is the best that there is in the world anywhere. I think as long as we don't change a bunch of things in the rulings, and continue to keep the cars where they can race side by side, I think it's going to continue to grow. And the fan base is going to continue to grow, and if we can get our television partners to get on board and start promoting us, you know, I think we'll surpass NASCAR in a couple of years.

K. Johnson: John, I know you have an airplane to catch down there. Thank you for taking time to be with us this morning. Panther Racing has certainly had a busy and exciting off-season, and we wish you the best of luck in your venture next year.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Billy Boat , Roger Bailey , Pancho Carter , John Barnes , Brian Barnhart , Ed Carpenter
Teams Panther Racing