IRL: Panther Racing/Chevrolet press conference, Part II

Indianapolis 500 Pennzoil Panther Racing/Chevrolet April 11, 2002 Panther Racing, Indianapolis Part 2 of 3 John Barnes: I didn't think anybody wanted to hear about Barnes. I figured nobody wanted to hear about my name. Panther fit really ...

Indianapolis 500
Pennzoil Panther Racing/Chevrolet
April 11, 2002
Panther Racing, Indianapolis

Part 2 of 3

John Barnes: I didn't think anybody wanted to hear about Barnes. I figured nobody wanted to hear about my name. Panther fit really well with Pennzoil, and that's why we're here.

King: You've been able to realize a dream. I mean every team owner expects nothing, I guess, other than the best for their team. But what's it like to be able to see essentially a dream come to fruition here in a relatively short amount of time?

Barnes: We don't really feel that way, it's a dream. I grew up in this business. I have been doing it since 1968, and have done just about every facet of it. But been blessed to have these people here. I mean, this is a people sport. We've been able to put people together and have a winning tradition so far. Is it a dream? Every day is a dream, you know, and we feel that, you know, it's just a blessing from God that we're able to be here.

King: KB, you've been a guy that we've been able to spend some time with, and, obviously, our pit guys with the radio network and on television have talked with you an awful lot during the course of the race. And your excitement and enthusiasm for the sport we've seen it, heard it. What's it like handling the day-to-day operations, as far as running this shop and orchestrating the method of operation here? Tell us about a typical day at Panther Racing?

Kevin Blanch: It's actually pretty simple nowadays because most of the guys have been here for quite a while. Everybody understands what their responsibilities are. We normally come in the morning, have a short get-together around the work benches over there. Kind of figure out where we're at for the day. Where we need to be by the end of the day. I coordinate with the motor guys, make sure we're getting motors on time. Transmission guys getting the transmissions to us on time. Xtrac, they do a great job for us. Really pretty smooth nowadays. Five years ago it was a little tough, a little harder than what it is now. Most of the guys have been here some five, some three years. Always getting a new guy. Just hired another new guy. So other than that, most guys have been here for at least two years so it's not too bad nowadays.

King: Is continuity the key to success with any racing operation, as far as people go?

Blanch: Yeah, you know everybody has to know -- like John always says, you need to know what the guy on your left is doing, what the guy on your right is doing without even asking him. Has a lot to do with our system. I believe, too, the way we do things and we've done things the same from day one, you know, improving as we go along. But the basic idea remains the same. The car has to be safe. You know, Andy likes to make the thing as light as he can. He is real understandable that sometimes you have to put something a little bit heavier on there to make the car last all day long. As our record shows, you said we've finished 16 races in a row with Sam. We've ran 22 in a row as a team, and the last race we fell out of we were leading at Vegas and broke an oil fitting. So if it wouldn't have been for that, we would be up 20-some races. We put together really good solid cars, hand them over the Andy. He puts the numbers on them. Sam drives. The whole thing works really good right now.

King: Andy, we always hear a lot of drivers talk about their relationship with their engineers, and it seems that the most successful combination you always hear the driver say the same thing, "he knows what I'm thinking. We know what we need and we rarely have to talk about it." Is that the sort of relationship that you have with Sam? And did it click right from the very beginning?

Andy Brown: Yeah pretty much so. Sam's got some very basic requirements which makes my job a lot easier. He just wants to go fast. Whatever we can do to free the car up to make it go as fast as possible, that's his main requirement. So it's --

King: Can you compare him to anyone that you've worked with in the past, or is he set apart from other drivers that you've dealt with?

Brown: They're all different. They're all individuals. All have different likes and dislikes. So it's very, very difficult, I find, to compare one driver to another.

King: Sam you, didn't have an opportunity yesterday to hear Arie Luyendyk's assessment of the reason for your success. We will let someone else tell you about that a little bit later. But Arie quite succinctly summed up why you are able to do what you do. But why don't you tell us about your relationship with this team and how it's grown over the course of now, what, 16 races and 5 victories and a championship. Talk about from day one to where we are right now getting set for Nazareth, your relationship with Panther Racing.

Sam Hornish Jr: I think it's pretty much the same as day one. Go out there with a good attitude. Have fun, try to win races. They told me they want to do one thing, win races and be up front. I try to put the car toward the front as much as we can. We like to run up front, least amount of traffic is up there. Tend not to get caught up in people's accidents. That's where I want to be because that's where everybody talks about you. The more you're -- it really -- in this league it pays to be out front and up toward the front because, yeah, you can kind of run around and slack all day and just wait until the last 20 laps to race, but you might not get that last yellow flag and you might not end up being back on the lead, might not have things going your way or having good pit stop towards the end of the race. So, you know, if you're out front, it affords you to be able to have a mistake or two during the race and be able to make up for it because you're up toward the front instead of going a lap down. I have had more fun here -- more fun in one year than probably about the four ones before that, because it's no pressure. And I think there was a little bit more pressure at the beginning of this year than there was even the first year. John came up to me, "I don't want you to put any more pressure on yourself than what you did last year because you went out and did fine." There's something said about being a defending champion and coming back wanting to do good, especially when a lot of people expect that from you. But I just put myself in the mindset I'm going to go out there and do the best I can. And the guys work so hard -- they work hard for themselves, but they work hard for me, too. We all want to do good, and they do 95% of the work and I go out there and I steer it around the track, and just a great tribute to them to be able to finish 22 races in a row, just having that kind of record is unbelievable. I was in -- ran Formula 2000. One year I didn't finish like five out of six races, I had have a team that works as hard as they do to make sure that the car finishes the races. King: Let's open it up to questions. Just raise your hand, I'll get to you as soon as we can.

Q: Andy, how much more productive for the month of May you think you can have engineering now that you can concentrate on Sam's effort, where last year you were helping out with Team Green?

Brown: I think it's going to be a lot easier for us to actually focus just on the one car. It's actually going to be a big help, as well in that this is probably the first year we've gone into Indy with basically the same package as we had the year before. And I think that's probably going to be a bigger help to us just concentrating on the one car. With two cars you do get twice the information. In hopes that the drivers are compatible I think this year we're going to concentrate on Sam and doing the best we possibly can.

King: Questions?

Q: Andy, I think this is for you. When you come into the 500 it's a different race from what the rest of the season is. Do you do special things or build things different? How do you look at that?

Brown: I think the most difficult thing is keeping everybody calm. It's such a long event, I think when I was working with Al Unser, Jr. at Galles, he put it best, "it's endurance racing with a difference." It's a month-long event. You will start off the month as friends, but then the pressure builds and builds and you can end up getting at each other's throat. So the most important thing that we do, stay calm, and that's why we're such a tight-knit group, as Rocket said, we have known each other now for many years. Know each other's likes, dislikes. Know what makes us tick. I think that will be one of our strengths through the month of May, continuity.

Q: Question for John. Indianapolis is often described as two races. First the race for the pole, then the race race. Is your focus here on the team going to be principally from the outset more on doing well in the race, or is the pole just as important to Panther as it might be to Kelley or one of the other teams?

Barnes: Where you qualify at Indianapolis definitely does help you. We will definitely commit a lot of time and effort doing well on the first day of qualifying at Indianapolis. Where we end up with that, I mean, who knows. But we go into -- there are two races at Indy. One is to make the race, the other one is to do the race. With the two-week (qualifying) format now, you do have time the second week, if you're lucky enough to qualify well the first week, to concentrate a lot on race setups and those things, and with your backup car, you know. And so we will be doing that. But Andy pretty much makes the format of how we're going to attack the month and stuff, and he hasn't let me know yet how we're going to do that.

Q: Have you ruled out a second car now at Indy? And do you think that a second car might help win the championship -- IRL championship against someone like Penske, where they've got the team car to test the rest of the year?

Barnes: We've got three cars in here, and that one over there on your right (pointing to the No. 14 Bardahl Eagle from 1966, on display) over there is ineligible.

Q: Andy when you look at a 15-race schedule based on the United States, how much more attractive -- you worked for Pack West, had to kind of go all over the globe. How much more attractive of a work schedule is that for somebody like yourself or other mechanics who may consider coming to an IRL team?

Brown: I mean, for a family guy, it's very attractive. If you're a single guy, you want to see Rio and Mexico, then I guess that would appeal to a CART guys. But for someone like myself with three children, my support staff will tell you how much homework we have to get through because they get (inaudible) in when I get questions to American history wrong. Also, their education level, I this is higher than mine. I think I went from being a hero to an idiot with my older daughter in a space of a week when I could do this math homework and then I couldn't (help hers). Just being able to be at home a greater degree of the time for a family man is a huge attraction to being in the IRL.

King: Questions?

Q: Sam, when you were looking to get to this point, where you were running around with the PDM team, did you expect to get in a situation like this? Did you hope or just kind of only dream of being in a situation that's this good?

Hornish: When I start started off, my first year -- well, I guess to go back to my Toyota Atlantic season I ran in '99 was lot of fun. It was -- my parents were helping me out. They were putting forth most of the sponsorship money. And to come back to do -- at the end of that year, finish 7th in the points, won one race, got rookie of the year, thought we did pretty good. Come back and do it again. Oh, it's going to be more money next year. For a support series when they're asking 1.6 million dollars or something like that, that they want to almost double what they did the year before, it's that -- or you can go run the IRL. We're telling you we don't have that much money. We can't find that much sponsorship money. We can't do that. I go talk to PDM, they say we can put you through your rookie test run. They tell me, "You can do the first four races for a quarter of that." And I said, I am looking at like that's a good deal. You get to run the Indy 500. So I went through that and went through the -- got through the rookie test, decided to go through, found some sponsorship money. Started off with the goal that we could run four races, end up being able to run eight of the nine that season. And that was pretty much it. At the end of that, there was pretty much no more sponsorship money. Really not a whole lot happening as far as what could happen in the year after that. So kind of sitting around trying to figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life because I didn't at that point in time I didn't think there was anything as far as a future in IRL, and didn't really want to start trying to run ASA or something like that after I already ran the Indianapolis 500 once. So got a call from John Barnes, and he said he wanted to test me. Went down there and tested for Panther Racing in Kentucky. Didn't really think I had a shot at it. Just wanted to go down there, try to do my best, be calm, show them that -- didn't want to act too excited. Didn't want to get overanxious because I thou didn't get the job then I would --

Brown: No excuse for falling asleep in the car (at the test).

Hornish: But I still do that. I fell asleep in the car. They had to wake me up. Fell asleep outside the car. So I was pretty relaxed that weekend. Then, you know, I actually ran two more races for PDM after that, and one of them was the Kentucky race. And the week after that, John gave me a call, told me that he wanted me to come down, we were going to go down and see Pennzoil, see what they thought of me. The Kentucky race was the turning point as far as my career goes. At the end of the race, I got out the car, finished 9th, actually leading at bit of that race. Kind of a disappointment. John came, got me, told me he wanted to give me a ride over to the trailer. It ended up being a pretty good day. Most happy I have ever been with finishing 9th place.


Part III

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers John Barnes , Al Unser , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing