IRL: Panther Racing press conference transcript 2001-04-13

HOST: Mike King GUESTS: Sam Hornish Jr., John Barnes, Kevin Blanch MIKE KING: Welcome back to the Trackside Media Center for our third press conference of the day featuring driver Sam Hornish Jr., the co-owner and team manager of the Pennzoil...

HOST: Mike King
GUESTS: Sam Hornish Jr., John Barnes, Kevin Blanch

MIKE KING: Welcome back to the Trackside Media Center for our third press conference of the day featuring driver Sam Hornish Jr., the co-owner and team manager of the Pennzoil Panther Racing Team, John Barnes, and the crew chief Kevin "Rocket Man" Blanch. "Rocket" is the way that most of us refer to him in the booth. If you've seen him work, you know why. We'll get a quick statement from the three of them. Then we'll open the floor up to questions. John, let's start with you. Your team has now, in the last four events in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series won three races and finished second. Could you just talk a little bit about how things are going up to this point? I know you've got to be happy.

JOHN BARNES: What do you mean how things are going? You've got to pinch yourself every morning when you wake up just to make sure it isn't a dream. We had a great group of guys and they're going about their business. You know, with Andy Brown as our chief technical engineer and Kevin and his crew, and, of course, Speedway Engines have been just doing a great job. So have Firestone tires. The car has been really good every place we go. Sam has done a great job. Most of you read that Pancho Carter has been with us for quite a while, actually since Indianapolis. So I mean it's a good group of people and it's gelling; but we also know that down ain't far. So we have to keep our concentration level up and keep focused on what's at hand.

M.K.: The Harbaugh rule remains intact. Is that still good for this year as well?

J.B.: Most definitely. Forty-eight hours, good or bad, we're on to the next thing.

M.K.: Kevin, let's move to you. Can you give us some idea of how the team, particularly the over-the-wall guys and the shop guys interact with Sam as a new driver and this is a - John told us when Sam tried out for the team, did his test, that had he not hired Sam, you guys would have come after him. Kind of take us back to that and bring us to where we are now two races into the season with two wins under your belt?

KEVIN BLANCH: When we ran Sam, we ran also a lot of guys with experience. I know I talked to John about it and, you know, the sport is heading towards young guys. I think you read that in the paper the other day where some drivers were talking about the young kids and young women shouldn't really be here. But this sport is all about young people anymore. You're going so much faster, working so much harder, doing so much PR stuff, traveling around the country every day. So the sport is leading itself more towards young people. So we've seen a lot in Sam and he had a lot of talent and did really good in the car he was in. We knew if we could put him in our car, we could make a winner out of him. So that part all worked out. Just adding to what John says, most of the guys have been on the team now for, you know, we've got a couple of new guys this year but other than that, everybody has been with us. Some guys have been here since we started. Just a few guys have changed throughout the four years that we've been together. So everybody knows what everybody's doing all the time. Andy is real easy, our engineer, to work with and understand some things aren't possible, some things are possible. We try to do everything that he asks us to do to make the car better. The cars are getting - and I think you'll see now the cars are getting tougher to make good and it's going to make the racing separate itself just a little bit because the cars are getting better than they were the first four years. Because of the experience we have on our team, you know, that we've been able to put together, I think you're seeing that come to the top a little bit where we've got so much experience, you can pull from everybody and make the car so much better. Sam being young, he's easy to work with. He understands what our team is all about. He understands what we were looking for in a driver. He doesn't have any bad habits, let's say -- I mean, it's always hard to speed a guy up, but it's a lot easier to slow a guy down which is what we have to do with Sam. Like I said, he would race 465 if they would put a track up out there. It makes it real enjoyable. He's fun to be around, we have a good time. We work really hard, get our job done and go home. We're just really going good right now.

M.K.: To give you some sort of idea of this team and Sam's dominance in the first two races this season, we've run 400 laps, 200 lapper at Phoenix, 200 lapper at Homestead; the Pennzoil Panther car has led 282 of 400 laps this season. Sam has obviously been the first driver to the checkers in both of those races. He's 21 years old and from Defiance, Ohio. Sam, anyway in your wildest dreams had you thought you would be sitting here three weeks before the Speedway opens with two wins under your belt this season?

SAM HORNISH JR.: It's kind of hard to believe yet. A lot of things came together really quick. We came into the year, and everybody that asks me what I expected out of the team and myself this year, I said if we win a race or two we'll be really happy because that's what we're coming out here to do, win a couple races. As luck had it, we won the first two of the year and we're really excited about that. I think I'll slow down on 465 now that I know it's not a racetrack. But we had an awesome car at the first two races of the year. Phoenix and Homestead were both really handling tracks. That was one of the biggest things, patience and handling. We're working on the patience part and we had a lot of really good handling cars. That's why we did so well. The guys were awesome in the pits. Now we go into Atlanta where it's more of a fuel strategy and drafting. So we're pretty pumped up going into there but we know we're not going to have that little bit of advantage. But the thing that makes me feeling really good about coming to Indianapolis, we know that Indianapolis is very much a handling track. We've been to two tracks that are fairly similar to Indianapolis, not in size but in the fact that there's not very much banking and they're fast tracks. So we're really excited about that. The only thing that I'm a little bit disappointed about so far this year would have to be the fact that I stalled the car in the pits at Homestead. There are two types of banners that Pennzoil Racing puts up in their shop. One of them is for race wins and one is for pit performance awards and cost the guys one of those. Hopefully I'll make up for it when we come back here in May.

M.K.: Questions for the Pennzoil Panther team.

Sam, last late summer you gave me an opportunity to take a lap around the Formula One course and at that point you were still struggling with PDM, the Air Force sponsorship thing was on the wire and didn't wind up coming through. Can you tell me a little bit about the different Sam Hornish this year from last year, confidence levels or just how much fun you're having?

S.H.: I'm having a lot more fun this year, that's obvious. But the confidence level, the confidence in my ability and the confidence in the team is greatly up from last year. Just being able to know that you're coming to each race and that you get to run in each one is a great feeling. So basically it's just myself trying to keep myself healthy by not trying to knock the wall down and also going out and doing the best I can do. I know when I have the car there at the end of the race, that we're probably going to be up towards the front.

Talk about the added competition you're going to have in the 500 because there are going to be a couple really good teams coming over from CART. One driver working with your team a little bit. Just talk about the added level of competition you're going to have to deal with here.

S.H.: There are a lot of big names coming back into the Speedway this year. It's going to do nothing but raise the bar for everybody else to come out here and doing what myself and Pennzoil Panther Racing has done this year. That's going to put the pressure on us all the more because our team is going to be expected to succeed or to be one of the favorites because of what we've done so far this year. If we don't perform, then that could look bad on the IRL. But any more competition that we can bring to the series is definitely going to help it out and it's going to bring that much more attention back to the series and make our jobs a little bit easier as far as trying to gain recognition. We're growing each year and that's what we need. We need some big names to come back into the series to make it even more of a valid effort.

M.K.: John, if you could talk a little bit about the fact that you maxed out points-wise at the first two events, you've already got 104 points this season. As both a team owner and a team manager, does the championship - does championship talk start any time early in the season or do you have to get to a point before you even begin talking the championship with the team?

J.B.: We don't speak of it at our place. We go to the next race, we compete in it; we go to the next race after that, we compete in it. We don't really look at the championship. I think you guys remember in 1999, at one point we had a 90-point lead and we ended up seventh or eighth or something like that because of some bad breaks at the last four or five races. We don't look at it that way. We strictly concentrate on the task at hand and that is go to every race. If you win every one of them, I think they'll still give you that trophy at the end of the season.

John, you've been in the IRL since day one. Admittedly, when you look at where the series was in '96 and the quality of competition that you've got with your team today, just talk about the dramatic rise in growth and quality.

J.B.: I think everybody here, unless you've been under a rock for the last three years, have seen the great growth that the IRL has had and the announcement here of Toyota the other day is just another banner to hang here. I think our league is doing really, really well. I think we'll probably be 16 or 17 races next year. You'll see a lot more people from the other side coming here and racing here as you've seen here with Team Green and us here for the month of May and Michael coming here. I know Mike is really - well, most of you know we negotiated with him for quite a while during the middle of summer to come and drive for us this year. Talking to him at Homestead, he says you guys are really doing the right thing here in the IRL; and I think he said that here in his press conference, too. I guess we'll just see what the good Lord has in store for us and we'll keep doing the job that we're doing.

Is there any time, though, in the last six years that you sit back and look at it and go, "Man, I don't know how we got through that." It would have been easy for a lot of teams to have folded up.

J.B.: I don't know about most people in the league but we have had our head down and fanny up and don't pay much attention to that.

Kevin, one thing that Panther's made top priority has been pit performance for the last several years. In the process of putting the team together, could you talk a little bit about what it is you guys do that might be different than the other teams to try to get there? And kind of as a follow-up adjacent to that is how has working with Sam under those situations been different from working with Scott who the team had really been built around?

K.B.: We try to practice two or three times a week for about an hour every day. We have one new guy going over the wall for us this year. He actually - we came out the very first year and won the Coors pit stop contest here at the Speedway which almost set the precedence that that's who we were going to be. We knew we couldn't drive the car, we knew we could build the car; and we decided once the race started, what's the best thing we could do? And that was get him in and get him out as quickly as we could. So the guys work really hard. I've told all the guys, and it's something I've seen on TV a while back years ago. You don't necessarily have to practice changing a tire physically. If you practice changing it in your head, it's almost as good as doing the real thing. I live an hour away, I practice changing tires 50 times a day driving home, you know. All the guys in the shop, we just work really hard to make sure that we don't hurt the effort on the track. Last year like in - I didn't even realize it but John reminded me that we gained positions every time we came in the pits. There was very few times we didn't gain at least one spot. We went to Vegas and gained 17 spots in one stop. It's kind of the pride of our team to not only win races but also to win the pit stop contest. The second part with Sam - with Scott having all the experience he had and everything, it was just almost second nature. With Sam only running a short amount of races last year, and I don't know how many he finished but not a lot of them where you've got to do a lot of stops throughout the race and make changes on the car when he comes in, John does a good job talking him in and making sure he's keeping it under speed and hitting his marks. We work, almost every track we go to, we work on getting him in, getting him out, make sure he gets in the box square, make sure he understands what he needs to do. Our car has all the latest greatest electronics on it we can have. So there are a lot of things we can do to talk him through and help him out and make sure he's going the right speed and turning in at the right place. We went out to IRP before we went to Phoenix and done some live pit stop practice there to help him out a little bit. If he stalls it, that's okay, we know he can make it up. It didn't hurt us that bad at Homestead. We lost a couple spots, but we knew he would go back to the front because the car was so good. So we really just work on getting it in and getting it out. I made a mistake in Phoenix and waved him out in front of a car. Could have took us out there. So we haven't been the greatest in the pits this year, but because of the other stops we make, I think, make up for it when we do make a little bit of a mistake. Even here in the pit stop contest, we made a mistake in the finals but we were the guys that made the least amount of mistakes in four stops. So we were able to win. So it's just minimizing the amount of mistakes you make just like with Sam minimizing the amount of mistakes he makes on the racetrack.

M.K.: Kevin, in talking to some of the members of the crew, the only criticism I hear of Sam is his inability to uncork a champagne bottle. Is that something you guys are working on with him?

K.B.: We was going to buy some champagne and figured that was too expensive. So we bought some of the apple wine stuff, it does the same stuff. But when he was biting the cork, I think 20 guys said, "Please don't come off." That wouldn't have been very pretty if he had got a mouthful of that champagne, so we're going to work on that a little bit.

M.K.: No more biting the cork?

K.B.: No, we've told him hold the cork, turn the bottle.

M.K.: Is that your job to work with him on uncorking the bottle?

K.B.: We'll work on that every now and then.

M.K.: Just wanted to make sure.

Sam, let's talk a little bit about the restart. The restart last week you said to your spotter, "Hey, I kind of messed up on this one." The second one you said, "Watch me now." What do you have to do to get yourself better? The last restart you kicked everybody. You were coming from behind and you went past two guys before anybody knew what was going on. What do you have to do to get the restarts down in your head so that you know you can dominate right from there?

S.H.: The biggest thing about this year in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series is they came up with a new rule. They have cones through the fence in the back stretch where when the leader gets to where it's got one cone, the leader is supposed to accelerate. So in essence makes the leader a sitting duck. But it eliminates having the stop-and-go and having people run into each other. So it's a good thing for half the field but might be a little rough for the leader. So the leader is trying to figure out a speed he can go so he can get a good acceleration point and maybe in order to keep the gap he's got already, he's not really looking for a big jump on everybody else because everybody knows exactly when he's going to accelerate. The first time I slowed down the pace too much and the engine bogged a little bit because I had it down and everybody else knew where I was going to leave from. So they already had their speed up a little bit more. So it's basically one of those things where you have to use your best judgment and be able to time it just right so that nobody can get a jump on you. Kind of wish I wouldn't have said "watch this," but I think I was asking Pancho what I did wrong and it was somehow interpreted as another thing.

M.K.: Sam, I'm curious, was there ever a time when you were a kid that you could have ever imagined that you would be racing Sarah Fisher at 200 miles an hour for a win in an Indy car event?

S.H.: Probably not because when I was racing her in go-karts, she put a wheel on me quite a few times. I was hoping I was never in that position because I figured it would be pretty bad. But she's an awesome racer, she does a great job for her team. It's great to see another young driver come up here and do what I've been doing and what many other people have done because that's what the Indy Racing League was started for was to make us young American drivers have a shot at driving open-wheel cars at the Indianapolis 500 and major open-wheel events. That's the big thing about it, it doesn't matter who's up there racing beside me. I know that no matter who I'm racing against out there on the track, they're going to give me my fair share of room and I'm going to give them theirs. I race with a bunch of fierce competitors on the track but some of the greatest people off the track.

Have they had Sam Hornish Day up in Defiance yet?

S.H.: Not yet, I'm trying to keep that pretty much low key. I like to be able to go around and do my own thing and not have to worry about some of that stuff yet. I figure we'll save that until after Indy.

John, what sort of qualities did you see in Sam as a young driver that attracted you to him?

J.B.: Well, he had incredibly quick hands. We could look at that telemetry. He had a burning desire to go faster than his previous lap. His car control is incredible. I think all those things, plus he stands for a lot of the things we do at Panther. He's got a good Christian belief which means a lot to us. We were walking - I don't know if anybody read the article, but Gary and I had been beating ourselves over the head about who we were going to hire. It was down to three people. We walked into chapel service at Atlanta and we sat down there and, of course, Sam was on the top of the list anyway, but we sit down at chapel and here he stands up and gives the opening prayer. We looked at each other and said, "God, you don't have to beat us up anymore."

M.K.: Questions?

John, since you're going to be fielding the car for Team Green, are you using any of your own people or is your Pennzoil Panther team going to remain intact and it will be a separate total operation?

J.B.: Michael's team is a separate total operation. I mean it will be - I shouldn't say it that way. We have one two-car team. But Kevin and his group will remain the same. We've hired new people to run Mike's car here. They really, they're very good, all the guys are. We're very happy to have everybody.

M.K.: Your shop guys are preparing Michael's car; is that correct?

J.B.: No, no. The people that work for Panther Racing are preparing Michael's car. They're going to come here and run Michael's car. For race day, Barry and I haven't made a decision yet on how we're going to handle that yet, whether we're going to use their existing pit crew supported by all the mechanics and engineers that we have presently on staff or not.

M.K.: To let you know, the Panther team was one of about a half a dozen, I think, that left Miami and went to Atlanta and tested for a couple of days. The next race on the Indy Racing Northern Light Series is the Atlanta Classic and that's two weeks from Saturday - two weeks from tomorrow, I should say. With that in mind, Sam, how did the car feel at Atlanta?

S.H.: The car felt great at Atlanta. Basically we're just looking for a little bit more speed right now. We didn't get as much time as we thought we were going to. That's part of racing and how things go sometimes. You don't always - things don't always end up like you expect they should. No fault of the team's. We just have a good feeling going back. We think that as long as we play it safe all day long, we're there for the end and, you know, getting in and out of the pits good, shouldn't have too much of a problem being towards the front. It's just really a big drafting show down there. It's going to be really competitive and just have to wait and see how things turn out.

M.K.: Kevin, do your guys have a feeling of invincibility? Do they feel like they're bulletproof or can you afford to have a feeling like that in motorsports?

K.B.: No. I mean, it's kind of tough. It's just like John said, you've got to keep waking up and realizing, you know, what you've accomplished so far. Like John also said, you know, that's history. Them three races we've won in a row, the two we've won with Sam, that's history. That don't mean nothing when we get to Atlanta. The other guys in the other cars don't care. They're out there to win. We just - a race at a time. We're going to Atlanta and we're going there to win. We're going to go do the best we can do and give it all we got. Like John said on the championship, if you're meant to win the championship, you're going to win the championship; if you're not, you're not. We just go race to race. We get through Atlanta, we'll start thinking about Indy. We get through Indy, we'll start thinking about Texas. We just go step by step. We know we have got a really good car on the mile-and-a-half. We have been for the last two years, so we're sure what we got will still work. We didn't get near as much time down there as we needed to, but I think we'll be okay. The engineer, Andy, understands enough about the big tracks that we'll be okay. The motor guys are working really hard to make sure our motors are competitive with everybody. We'll go down and do the best we can do. We never dreamed we would win the first two races. We were just hoping to go finish the first one, maybe get in the top five; go to the next one and maybe get in the top three. Just keep building throughout the year. So we've pretty much forgot about them. We'll think about them again when we hang our banners up on the wall for a day. Then we'll keep going race by race. If we can keep doing what we're doing and running up front, then everything will work out for us.

Kevin and Sam, is one of the reasons you guys are kind of taking this success relatively low key is a lot of times you come to the 500 and this place can have a real humbling effect on people? People can come in here riding a wave of success and reality can come out and bite them.

K.B.: Yeah, I've been to the Speedway for ten years. I've never had a car finish out of the top-10 here except when we've crashed. Every car I've had here has finished. I've been on the pole three times, won the race twice. So then, again, I've been 33rd and almost missed the show. So this place can change overnight. You can think you're the best in the world and you can be the worst in the world. You've seen with big teams that's come here and gone home because they couldn't get it right. You just have to look at this race like another race. Sure, it pays a million and 200,000 bucks to win and it sure is nice to have the ring on your finger. But it's another race in our series. If you let it become more than that - once you get here, that's the way you have to look at it. I mean it is the Indianapolis 500, they didn't build all these bleachers for no reason. So you still, this is what you do Indy car racing for. You don't grow up wanting to go race Milwaukee, you don't grow up wanting to race Phoenix. You grow up wanting to come to Indianapolis. To come here, it's a big honor to come here. So you just want to make sure you do the best you can do. I mean we at Panther haven't been the luckiest team in the world here. We've been pretty good on some aspects but not too good on other aspects. So if we can just keep stepping our program up here, and we've got better the three years we've been here. So we keep stepping our program up. We're going to be okay. We've got a guy that can shoe the car, so we'll be okay.

S.H.: I'm really excited coming into the month of May. Done more than we expected to this year and just really hyped up about it. I know that they'll put me in a good car. That's one of the things I emphasized earlier, is what a great car we've had through traffic and handling so far this year. I think we'll be able to do the same thing this year. Having Michael Andretti is definitely going to be an asset to the team. Supposedly all information is going to be shared. If that's how it happens, we should be pretty good off. Somebody doesn't become the all-time leader in CART wins by not knowing what they're doing. Hopefully it will be me and Michael going for the win at the end of the race.

M.K.: Sam, there's no denying you're going to be prepared obviously for what's going to happen in the car. Has John talked to you much about how much different your month of May is going to be outside of the car in terms of your obligations both to the media, to sponsors, to -- I mean, a lot of your time is going to be spoken for as opposed to the last May when you had a lot of time to yourself?

S.H.: It could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing having more stuff to do. As I see it right now, so far this year I've just made a lot more work for myself. I mean, last year, boy, there's not much to this. You show up on Sunday, you know, for the weekend, you race the car, you go home, do whatever you've got to do for a week or two, come back and race again. This time it's more like if you're home for a couple days, you're really pumped about that and then you're on to the next thing. I'm sure they're going to keep me busy, but that's worked out real well so far this year. Keeping me busy has kept my mind off the other things until I get in the race car. Once I'm in the race car, I'm just so happy to be there that I want to stay in it all day long.

Kevin, you look at one race at a time. But when you come to Indianapolis, do you have maybe little special things that you do?

K.B.: I don't think you do anything more special here. I mean, you just - it's like any other race, it's just a lot longer and it's a lot harder. I mean, these cars aren't really made to go 500 miles, they're made to go about 450. So you've got to work a little bit harder and you put a lot of new parts on the car for here just because it's so hard on the car. We've already actually started running a lot of stuff at other tracks for a half a day or a day that are now put on a shelf that are just race parts for Indianapolis just because it's so hard on the car and, like I said, it's not made to go that far. So you do some things different as far as preparing for the race, you know, plus you have seven days to get ready to qualify and another three days to get ready to race. So you maybe don't hit it quite as hard as you do on a regular weekend. You may slow down a little bit and one day run a hundred miles and next day you might run two or 300 and the next day you might take off. You do change your approach just because of the length of time that you're here and because of the length of the race. But other than that, I mean we all prepare ourselves about the same way. You've got to keep telling yourself, you know, it's just another race. We just have to go do what we've been doing. The team works really good right now. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better group of guys that know exactly what they're doing, exactly what to do. I mean I don't have to hardly even say anything anymore. Everybody knows what we're doing. So we'll come here and run for a couple of days with Michael and we're going to not come with Sam because we have the seven days to get ready for the qualifying and we'll take a couple of them and do probably some full-tank running and get ready for the race maybe a little earlier than we would have in the previous years where you had only five days and you didn't have the extra three or four days. But other than that, it's not too much different than a normal race.

Kevin, preparing Sam for the racetrack is one thing but have you taken him out bass fishing to teach him how to work?

K.B.: I'm not sure he likes to. Actually, I haven't even been bass fishing yet. We'll get him out some day and teach him how to do it. That's something I can teach him is how to fish, I'm sure.

M.K.: For those of you that don't know, Kevin is an aspiring professional bass fisherman.

K.B.: If we keep winning, it may come sooner than I thought.

M.K.: What was the goal, to turn pro by when?

K.B.: Five years. You've got to set a goal for everything. I've been at five years for about three years now.

When Gil de Ferran won the CART title last year, he talked about all the great drivers who have worn the Marlboro uniform and the long list of heritage, Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr., driver upon driver. You've got the same situation with the Pennzoil uniform. You've even got one guy out here working for the IRL, Johnny Rutherford, that kind of helped make that famous. Just talk about the feeling you get, the level of responsibility you get, because that is probably one of the most famous uniforms in this form of racing.

S.H.: I'm super pumped about being in that. We've got two guys out here, big Al and Johnny, and then you've got to look back at "Mr. Oval," Rick Mears, a lot of guys who did a lot of great things. Those are guys who not only wore the suit but they won Indianapolis 500s while they were wearing it. So I'm really pumped up about going out there and seeing how everything goes this month. It's just almost like a dream come true. Up until about six months ago, I couldn't ever honestly have said I ever thought that I would be in this situation. Always been a dream and I'm glad that it's with Pennzoil. They've done super by me so far this year. Anything I need as far as building my confidence and the guys on the team are great, keep me in my place, make sure I don't start getting a big head and stuff like that, as long as we do that we should be fine.

M.K.: Kevin, is the pit stop competition a must win for you guys? It's the only time of the year in this series where the crews become the stars for the day; and you guys are pretty stout as you've talked about. But is it, as far as you're concerned, is it a must win?

K.B.: It's not a must win. We just have to do the best we can do. I mean we won it in '98 and Galles won it in '99. When Galles won it, they brought me down a can of "Whoop Ass" they wanted to call it, which was a spray can of paint they all had autographed and brought it down and said, "We thought we would give this to you since you finished second. So when we won it last year, they got the can back. So it's not a must win. It's nice. I mean probably the nicest thing I could say about winning the pit stop contest was it was the first thing that we as a team ever won for John. I mean we won and made us as happy to win for John as it did for the guys. So it's almost become one of our goals at the start of the season is to get ready for Indy, come here, do the pit stop contest. We've won two out of three years. So three out of four would be a little better than two out of three. So we'll start working really hard on it. Once we get here, we'll practice every day to make sure that we're ready. It's just all in knowing you can do it and believing you can do it. So we all believe we can do it, it's just now going out and proving we can.

M.K.: John, it's a constant tweaking process with the team. When you started the process of putting your own team together, is this what you envisioned, the guys that you have now, the driver that you have now? Is it about where you wanted it to be?

J.B.: Oh, I think so, yeah. We have a great crew. We've had a great crew. We've had a great team really since day one. We've made a few adjustments, maybe three since we've been in business. Scott did a great job for us, too. I want to make sure that everybody knows how much we think of Scott and that he helped us to get where we're at. It's just a new day, a new page in our history. Sam happens to be writing the text.

John, with Michael coming to the race this year, with the Ganassi team coming last year and this, do you think that's a signal that the two racing series have found a way to coexist with each other?

J.B.: I think we've done extremely well in IRL. People on the other side have decided that this race still goes on. There's still 450 or 500,000 people here and it makes sense to come here and run for the money.

M.K.: We have time for one more.

Sam, will you go into your background as far as following the Indianapolis 500 is concerned, when you first came, how you followed it as a kid and so forth?

S.H.: Actually, the first time I came was about a month and four days before I was born. If you've ever seen the Mark Martin commercial where they have the baby in the womb driving the race car, my mom said I was doing that all day long. I would imagine I probably -- I'm not sure on the count but I was probably to the race 10 to 12 times before I ever competed in it. Always sat in the same spot up in turn one. Always have been really excited by the race itself. You know, a bunch of different things. The first time I ever came to the time trials is the year that Pancho went upside down. I remember that. I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it, exactly how it happened but I'm sure he's got a good answer for me. But I think my most memorable experience would be the year that Danny Sullivan won in 1985 when he spun and won. I was sitting in turn one getting to see that. I think that's the day that I knew that I really, above anything else, wanted to be a race car driver because of the fact that anybody that can sit there and spin around at almost 200 miles an hour or a little over, get it straightened out and keep going and go on to win the race and not be scared to death after doing that, you've got to admire that. You know, it beats any other job in the world. You get to go out there and drive a race car. It's just really special for me to come back here for my second year. There's a lot of people, not a lot of people that can say they've raced in the Indianapolis 500 and there's even less that can say they've raced in it twice; and hopefully we'll keep moving that bar up a little bit more.

M.K.: Doing some quick math in my head, you would have been five when Danny did the spin-and-win. You've known for a long time that you wanted to do this?

S.H.: Yeah. It was either that or a trash man.

M.K.: You're one honest dude.

S.H.: Those guys were cool, picking up barrels and throwing stuff all over the place. Looked like fun to me.

M.K.: John, Kevin, Sam, thanks very much. Good luck in Atlanta, good luck this month of May. Thanks very much for being here with us today.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan , Ayrton Senna , Emerson Fittipaldi , Pancho Carter , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mark Martin , Johnny Rutherford , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing