Boomtown 500 Press Conference Jeff Ward, Mitch Davis Moderator: Let's get some statistics, for Jeff Ward the first Indy Racing League victory, the previous career had 20 Supercross victories, 54 AMA Motocross national-event victories. He's had...
Boomtown 500 Press Conference Jeff Ward, Mitch Davis
Moderator: Let's get some statistics, for Jeff Ward the first Indy Racing League victory, the previous career had 20 Supercross victories, 54 AMA Motocross national-event victories. He's had four second-place finishes in the IRL, his 51st start, first victory. And a little bit about Texas Motor Speedway. Six of the 10 races have been won here by less than a second, and the last four green-flag finishes a combined margin of victories is .2289. And unofficially this was the closest one-two-three finish again in Indy-car history. .011. They're still checking that out. Jeff and also when we get to the question phase, let me answer the questions. I'm going to restate the questions so they can get that and then you can go. Jeff, just talk about the last lap and that run off of fourth corner. What a finish.
Jeff Ward: Well, we need to back that up a little bit before the last pit stop. We knew we had to come in and get out as quickly as possible because we weren't quite running with the leaders. We were a little bit behind the times, so we knew the in and out was going to be pretty crucial. So I picked up a vibration and I asked if we could make it, and he said it was going to be splash and go. A lot quicker than changing tires. And that was the call that kept us in the lead pack. But when I pulled out I had no idea that I come up, and Little Al pulled out in front of me and Dare, I think it was, and we were in the lead pack. I was for sure I thought there was one or two guys up ahead still going or were ahead of us before we pitted. And we came across the line with two to go, and they said two laps and I still wasn't sure if that meant still two laps or I was in second or -- Anyway, we were coming up to the white flag, and they said I was P2, and I knew we were in the lead pack. I hadn't made a pass around the outside all night. I had some passes on some guys but never on somebody that was as fast as Little Al was. So I just got a perfect line off of (Turn) 2 and got in behind him a little bit down the back straight away and then just kept my wing and halfway behind his back wheel just to give a little bit of draft and instead of getting may car way out, and I just floated off the corner. And halfway around the corner, it just came around the outside, and I got to give credit for Little Al for giving me the room because his father at any time could have said -- Still while he was still a little bit behind him, he could have easily drifted up the track on me, and I wouldn't have been here. So he ran a clean race, and I was just amazed that the car just kept pulling. I talked about it, I was going to be on the outside there in Little Al's shoes. If I was there, I would have had to have gone to the bottom, as well, because that's the only place you can go when you're leading the race. But the guy coming up on the outside has an advantage. Finally the monkey is off our back. So I thank Chip Ganassi for the opportunity and --
Moderator: Mitch, you've been along for the ride, and it's been a long ride, a lot of fast times, a lot of races led, but how is this for you, just being part of putting Jeff in Victory Lane, what's it feel like?
Mitch Davis: Well, to start, Jeff Ward, you know, we took him to Indy in 1997, rookie of the year and saw the talent that he has. Just trying to say, let's get with a team, let's get a good deal going. I talked to Chip and Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing, two or three years now saying, 'Come on, let's go IRL racing. Finally Chip said, 'What do you need?' I said we need Jeff Ward, Chevy engines. They have done a great job for us. Chip kept saying, 'What do you need?' We need a sponsor. So here's Target. We got whatever it needs to win races. Chip gives us everything. And Chevrolet has got a new manifold, and they won't give it to us. Chip says, 'What do you need?' We build our own parts. We sit on the pole at the Indy 500, and today we won the race without that motor. There was a lot of guys with a lot of horsepower out there, and they're strong. Chip says, 'What do you need, what do you need?' We're not going to give up. We're going to win races this year. We kept saying that Jeff wants to win this race. We're going to keep doing it, and we got better stuff for next week, so look out.
Moderator: Jeff, over the winter sitting at home, and I know you were working on rides, but things just weren't materializing. Was there a down period where you really got down and started wondering if anything was ever going to happen over there.
Ward: Yeah, there's been a down period every year. Every end of the season, Mitch and I would try to say where are we going to go, and there was only one season where I wasn't with Mitch, and Mitch said, 'You got to take that ride because we don't have anything,' and after that we got together with another team. And two years we're -- two years before we were wondering the same thing, and I and Mitch knew Chip really well, and he was talking about a team. And I known Chip for about 15 years, and we were doing something the next day, and I drove from 11 until 5 in the morning to be the first one to talk to him up there and showed up at the track. And he said, 'You didn't come here to see me -- couldn't you have given me a phone call?' And I said, 'I figured I would drive up.' And I talked to him yet, and he said, 'If we get this thing put together, you're the guy,' and it took awhile, but I can't thank him enough. The resources and the people behind us that helped us, everybody put their hand in this deal. And it's amazing how this thing worked out. I'm just glad to give this team a win and get one under my belt, and I can focus now. Just go forward.
Q: Mitch, the opportunities in the past that you probably passed up may have had more money, more prestige, just to hang and stay with Jeff. Talk about it?
Davis: Yeah, at the end of '98 we led so many laps and couldn't win a race. Couldn't land a sponsor. And A.J. (Foyt) was saying, you know, come down, let's go racing, and I said you know Jeff it's got to be a good deal for you. At the end of '99, it's got to be a good deal, just go do that for a year. I'll go off and find another deal. I'm just going to keep the fire alive. Let's keep going. Because 2000, we started a team for Dennis (Reinbold), got Infiniti motors. Led some races with Robbie (Buhl), kept talking to Chip, kept talking about G Force cars. I've been doing that since 1997. Talked to Chip in 2000, he won with one. 2001, I basically started my own team last year. They were great support serves, we just couldn't get a sponsor. John Menard built us engines, and at the end of the year it was like what can we do. I was telling John, let's get Jeff Ward together. I'm telling Chip let's get this deal done so we can go racing in the next year. And I'm persistent. I know Chip Ganassi Racing. Mike Hull and I been friends, and I been pushing, and once he said, 'Let's do it,' we went to Indy and sit on the pole. We thought, 'Man, we got the race won.' We got three cars, they're staggered through the field. We're going to dominate with one; we're going to sit back with the other two guys and won the race if problems happen. And we just had a bad day. We had a rev limiter problem. We couldn't get our motor to run over 10-6 (10,600 rpm), and Jeff and Bruno still finished. We had a good finish there. We said we're going to win the next race. We got everything -- we're going to go win the next race, and here we are.
Ward: I haven't won anything in 10 years since my last motocross race in '92. I never raised a go-kart in my life so I got off bikes and got on Indy Lights, and that's a big curve. And I always believed in myself because I wasn't always a winner in motorcycles, but I came from mini-bikes, and I, I believed if I worked hard. I could get there. And I thank Mitch for hooking up in '97, and this guy knows more than anybody I've ever seen. And gives me confidence and just to win this with Mitch and the guys, you know, that supported me in this race, but, yeah I, I forgot what this feeling was all about. This is what you work for, and you go so long without getting it, and you wake up, you wonder when you don't win, you wonder, 'Why am I doing this. What's going on? Am I ever going to win?' And these guys just never give up on me. I have really been training real hard and getting back to my old style of back when I raised motorcycles, and it's paying off in all aspects.
Q: Talk about the opportunities the IRL has given to you?
Ward: Well, I wouldn't be driving race cars, I don't think, if without the IRL. I ran four years (in Indy Lights), I was really competitive, ran with a top team and raced against all the top guys and won poles and was close to winning races, and that's about it. And then in '96, I was ready to move up, but I don't have a sponsor. And meanwhile, they were going with Indy cars on their side, and I wasn't getting any help, and I wanted a shot at Indy, and I almost won. And from there, the doors open opened, and I was right where I wanted to be and as well as in my career and the IRL. And Tony (George) has done a fantastic job with the opportunity, and to be out here tonight. Every time we come back here. We had our teething pains here at first, but we never been on high banks. We didn't know how to act and what to do and whatnot to do, and these walls hurt out here. And we have all got now the respect of the track. We all want to win, but we all know that safety comes first. You can't win the race fairly, then you'll have to do it next time. And this race and this series is going where it's going, and it's getting bigger and better.
Q: Talk about the last few feet. Did you know you had it won at the line?
Ward: Just down the back straight, I just came off (Turn) 2 better than I had come off all night long and was able to -- He tried to stay down low, which I think hurt him because he scrubbed off some speed because he didn't want me to get on inside. He had a little push. I could tell that gave me a little run, and I caught up and I pulled out, and I was in on the outside going, 'Come on, come on,' and hoping he wasn't going to move up. And I did get alongside of him where he couldn't move up, and I don't know where the draft come from, but it seems that everybody who wins this thing is comes up from the outside even though it's longer. Everybody has got a little push when you hold your car down. It winds it down, and the motor bogs, and the outside just frees you up. And I didn't know I had it. I just shook my fist anyway, and I said, 'Hey. Maybe.' I remember somebody did that at Portland, and somebody else won, but it looked good, and I couldn't tell, so I just shook it anyway because it was fun.
Ward: I have not talked to Chip. I talked to him yesterday and he was always patient. You'll win one soon. And I'm sure he's extremely happy and now he has an opportunity to win three major events this weekend with the Laguna Seca and the Poconos, that would be quite a feat if all three of us won. So I'm sure he's happy, and we're ecstatic. All three drivers are up for wins tomorrow. That just shows you what Chip does, what he can do with his team. And like Mitch said, it's like every time you talk to Chip it's like, 'What do you need?' He you just tell him, and he's going to work on it. If it's possible for him to do it, he's going to do it. And that's why he's where he's at today. I'm so happy to win a race for him, and he believed in me to give me this opportunity. To win one for him is just great.
Ward: I can't see the front of my car from where I sit. So I can see 200 yards down the road but I cannot see -- I can see his wheel or his nose or the finish line. So I just shook my fist, and the guys come out screaming so I figured that I had the momentum, I was creeping by, creeping by, but I was just hoping that I wasn't going to come up to that finish line. The line came up a lot slower than it normally does. So it felt like I had more time to get there. But it was great to be able to have that momentum on the outside.
Q: Do you own a cowboy hat?
Ward: Yeah, I have couple of them, actually. I got one that says winner underneath it from the Boomtown.
Q: Are you going to wear this one?
Ward: Yeah, I'll wear this one.
Q: Or does it go on the mantle?
Ward: Yeah, I'll start over again. This race is done, and we are all on even ground again.
Q: Mitch as far as when the team got put together how much input did you have picking the crew?
Davis: Chip Ganassi has got a staff of over 100 employees. He's got tremendous resources. When I talked to Chip over the winter, I tried to keep my team together over the winter. After the last race. Basically we didn't get paid. I kept the team together, kept the car, kept the shop, kept the transporter. All my guys kept coming saying, 'What are we going to do? What are we going to do?' December, my engineer went to Cheever, my chief mechanic went somewhere. Everybody left. Except for myself and one other person. I kept talking to Chip, saying: 'Let's do this, let's do this.' Chip has these tremendous resources, and they basically had a team inhouse that was sitting there ready to go that was basically a test team in CART last year. And he just draws on his resources, and they put that team together, and this team that we have here in the I recall, Rob Hill, is a team manager. He's won I don't know how many of those, all those championships are on the side of that transporter, Rob was with them for that. They have won a lot of races together, these guys. We got some new guys this year to come onboard. And we hired a couple of my guys but just to be part of the team and start at the bottom like basically I had to start at the bottom many, and that's basically how it all happened.
Q: How does this validate as far as your driving ability?
Ward: I just think that everybody always, you always know what driver, you're bound to win one. Every time I run well, it's, 'You'll get the next one.' It's ... a lot of drivers out there the same way. Some of them won more than just one, but there's other drivers out this that are capable of winning, but I just keep my focus and work on what I got to work on, know my abilities, I it's got a lot to do with the team. When you know you have everything, and Mitch and I are working, we never got to test. We always just go. We always were very competitive with little resources. So we always knew when we had all the everything put together, that once it started flowing and clicking then we would win races. And I was just thinking, actually, it kind of reminded me that my first national motocross win was here in Texas at Lake Whitney. It's kind of ironic to win my first car race here. I was -- it's out in Waco about an hour and a half from here, I believe.
Ward: That's pretty cool. But knowing IRL, I don't know how close it was. I know it was close, but knowing the IRL we're probably going to have a few more pretty soon. It's going to be a photo finish -- might be two guys up here taking the first place because we can't determine it, if we keep coming across the line like that. It's exciting for the fans and the spectators and the IRL to have another good, clean race where nobody was touched or moved up. It's extremely difficult out there when you're dropping down in the bottom like that that with somebody in front of the you and you got somebody on the outside and your car floats up. I mean you got a full lock on the wheel. Normally you're here, and you got your arm locked like this, and you're moving up the track, and you got somebody on the outside, and you got to lift. And there's a lot of holding your breath, and I was hoping that the guy realizes I'm coming up, and he moves up because that's what happens around here. Probably what happened with Hornish and Cheever and a lot of movement there. (cont.)
Ward: But that's, the fans are, you know, what the race is about, and we're happy to put on a good show so.
Moderator: So you were good enough by.011 seconds.
Ward: That's amazing. I can't wait to see the race, the pictures, the photos how close it really is because I have no idea how close that is.
Moderator: We're going to take you up in our Speedway Club to go up and celebrate and have a good time. Take your Texas hat with you. Congratulations. Tremendous race.
Ward: Thank you.
Davis: Thank you.
Moderator: For winning the Boomtown 500.
Ward: Thank you.