2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE Thursday, April 7, 2005, Vision Racing, Indianapolis Vision Racing: Tony George, Ed Carpenter, Jay Drake, Jeff Ward, Larry Curry MIKE KING: Thank you, Ron. I know most of you came in on the...
2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE
Thursday, April 7, 2005, Vision Racing, Indianapolis
Vision Racing: Tony George, Ed Carpenter, Jay Drake, Jeff Ward, Larry Curry
MIKE KING: Thank you, Ron. I know most of you came in on the bus. I hate that you didn't get to experience the drive in on 465 from the airport exit the way I did. It was certainly pleasant out there this morning between the combination of rain and traffic. Good to see you all here today. I hope you have a great Day 3 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Tour. Real quick, of course most of you that are here this morning have covered the 500 and/or the series for probably since its inception. For those of you who perhaps haven't, might be new to us, just a real quick story if you don't mind. I can't imagine what it's like to be in that select group where you're regarded as one of the highest-profile people in the world in your field, which Tony is. It was interesting, of course, when the announcement was made of, I guess, the vision of the Indy Racing League in 1994. I had an opportunity, be it all so brief, to kind of catch a quick glimpse of that and to understand how far ahead Tony works when it comes to formulating plans for the future. Ed, I remember, was just 10 or 11, and we were at the time Clabber Girl, which is a Hulman company product, Clabber Girl Baking Powder was sponsoring the stock car that was driven in the Busch Grand National Series by Stevie Reeves. I had the opportunity to go with Tony and Laura (wife) and Ed along with Bob Hipplehauser, who was the general manager of Clabber Girl at the time, to Richmond to watch Stevie race. It was a practice session, and I believe it was 1993. Ed was 10 or 11. I just remember that Ed was a little dude. Tony and I were standing -- well, he was. He was racing quarter-midgets at the time. Tony and I were standing on top of the Clabber Girl transporter there at Richmond looking out over the front straight as they were getting ready to roll the cars off of pit lane. He turned to me and he asked me, he goes, "What kind of show do you think Indy cars would put on here?" And you know, I didn't think much about it at the time. I looked at the track, I said, wel l, you know, it's big and wide; it would sure be tight, and it would sure be fun to watch. That was the end of it. That was the end of that conversation. And it wasn't until seven years later when we got ready to flip the switch on the Radio Network broadcast of our first IndyCar Series event from Richmond International Raceway that I realized that I had been a little bitty part of that vision, that I had seen just a little bit of it, just a bit in advance because we were there seven years later racing, and I was standing just a few hundred yards away from where we had been on top of that transporter in the infield. Bottom line is, Tony is a guy that I admire and respect a great deal for what he has done for open-wheel racing. The formula that we currently see that has produced some of the greatest racing in the history of motorsports, not just open-wheel racing but history of motorsports, has been a product of his vision. He has been maligned, he has been criticized, he has been called every name in the book over the last 10 or 11 years, by some of you, and yet he has maintained throughout the course of the last 10, 11 or 12 years this unbelievable concentration on the goal. When he felt like the time was right, the move was made to offer up street and road course races on the IndyCar Series schedule, and by golly, after the race Sunday I'm sitting there talking to Barry Green, who is another guy that I respect very much, and Barry says to me, "Mike, I've been in racing for a long time, that was the greatest street course race I've ever seen." So it is my pleasure now to introduce a man who has moved on to his next vision, if you will. He turned over the presidency of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Joie Chitwood earlier this year, the presidency of the Indy Racing League to Brian Barnhart, and now he has taken on the responsibility of owning a team along with Laura George, his wife, here in the Indy Racing League and Menards Infiniti Pro Series, the owner of Vision Racing, Tony George. Tony. (Applause)
TONY GEORGE: Thank you, Mike. First of all I would like to welcome everyone to the world headquarters of Vision Racing, formerly Kelley Racing. Some of you may have been here a couple years ago when Tom opened the shop. It may have been part of the media tour. But if you haven't been here, welcome. It's been a fun couple of months. Really, the first of the year I really wasn't contemplating being a team owner. I had been following the saga of Tom Kelley trying to, trying to develop a graceful exit strategy from IndyCar racing. He wasn't sure really if he was going to continue or not. He was trying to but wasn't sure if he would be back with the Delphi team this year. As the month of January rolled on, I started thinking about what a neat opportunity it would be to become involved with ownership of a team. I think I had set myself up last fall for maybe taking some time off, spending more time with my wife and daughter and do some other things, but this has sort of changed all that. But it's been with her support that we've taken on this project and exciting opportunity with Larry and Ed and Jay. We've been fortunate that we've been able to assemble a very good group of people in a very short period of time that have worked very hard to just not only prepare to get to the first race, but then stay focused and keep focused on using these first few races as a learning experience. I'm very proud of the hard work and dedication that they've all demonstrated and commitment to this team and seeing it progress and become successful as the season goes on. Today is an exciting time. We've from the outset said we wanted to run a second car at Indianapolis. We've made the commitment to do that and, also, at the same time try and improve our team along the way. So the decision was made after thinking about young drivers and veteran drivers and developing a short list of both. We quickly zeroed in on the gentleman to my right, Jeff Ward. Jeff has been a good friend and a good competitor in the Indy Racing League for the past several years. I think his record at Indianapolis speaks for itself. He has -- he's finished in the top 10, four times, I think, and been competitive every time. But even when some mechanicals resulted in a DNF, he certainly demonstrated his ability. Being a seven-time motocross and supercross champion and most recently winning the AMA super -- what is it, Super GT?
ED CARPENTER: Supermoto.
GEORGE: Supermoto, it certainly reflects what a competitor he is and a champion he is. I think he's going to bring some maturity to the team to help Ed develop as a driver. He'll be able to, I think, help Jay as a driver. We've got some other things, too, that we'll talk about later that we think we're doing for the benefit of the team to help, you know, hopefully hit a stride by the month of May, which has been my goal all along. I think we've had to use these first three races as test sessions and haven't always had the full complement of time allotted on those days to even, you know, do the things we want to do. But again, it's a credit to the team and everybody to stay focused and not get frustrated as we continue to develop. But, again, I want to welcome Jeff Ward on board. Looking forward to him driving the No. 22 Vision Racing entry at Indianapolis. (Applause)
KING: And we will hear from all the members of the team very quickly. Before we get Jeff's reaction, let's introduce the entire Vision Racing team. At the end, a man whose trials, tribulations and successes have been well documented, and he's a great story, it's great to have him back, Larry Curry, team manager for Vision Racing. In the middle, Ed Carpenter, who is beginning his second full season in the IndyCar Series, a former USAC Sprint Car rookie of the year, who is a graduate of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, as well, won the first-ever Menards Infiniti Pro Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Freedom 100. Sitting next to Ed on his left is Jay Drake. Jay drives the Menards Infiniti Pro Series entry for Vision Racing. He is the defending USAC national Sprint Car champion and is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, short-track driver in the country. Of course, we just heard the announcement regarding Jeff Ward, who is looking to make his seventh start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month of May. Jeff has done everything but win the 500. He was the rookie of the year in 1997. He has finished second, he has finished third, he has finished fourth, and every time he's gone off in the 33-car field, he has been a car to watch, a driver to watch and has been a contender for the win. Jeff, let's get your reaction to today's announcement, if we could.
JEFF WARD: Well, I'm extremely excited. I mean, this is where you want to be as a race car driver, the Indy 500. Unfortunately, I haven't been here for the last couple years. It's a tough thing to come and not get in the race. Last year I didn't even come here, to stand around and just being a racer, it's probably one of the worst things to do, be at a racetrack and not race. When I got the call from Tony about the opportunity to come here and race for Vision Racing, I was ecstatic, and I'm happy to come here and be here and try to win the Indy 500 and work with Ed and put the best program we can together for this race.
KING: We'll, of course, open it up for questions for Jeff in a couple of minutes. Larry, let's get your comments both on the addition of Jeff and the progress of the team since it's only been, geez, seven or eight weeks, if that long, since the formation of this team was announced at Phoenix.
LARRY CURRY: First of all, I'll start off by saying we're excited for having Jeff on board for the second car at Indianapolis. Because of his experience, especially at the Speedway, and just in racing in general, I believe he will greatly help in the growth of our team and going forward. As far as how we're doing as the race team, as Mike said, Tony and I came to an agreement, I believe it was on January the 31st, and on February the 28th we had to send a truck off to Homestead, not only with the primary and backup car for the IRL, but a car for Jay Drake in the Pro Series. Someone had asked me, "Well, what's your expectations?" I said, "My expectations is for us to have the trucks there." (Laughter) Meaning, we went into this, we've talked about it, Tony and I, Ed, Jay and everybody, and you have to have realistic expectations. We have a great group of guys. The preparation of the race cars is absolutely as good as it gets. And certainly our performance isn't where we want it to be. But I was looking back in some of the stuff last night, and I don't think that our total track time, if you pull the races out, but practice, I don't think we have eight hours on the racetrack. We really need to get out and do some testing, and we're going to address that as, of course, the rules permit. But all in all, I think the guys have done a very good job. You know, everything we've seen, every look we get is, you know, you go to Homestead, and it's basically a superspeedway that's banked. You go to Phoenix, it's a short track, mile oval. Now we've went to a road course. So none of the three places that we've been, the information doesn't necessarily transfer over to the other one. So you get, OK, now we have two hours or three hours of practice on a road course, and we have this Phoenix. We probably got more out of the Phoenix event right now than we have anywhere because we went out and ran the whole day and got the testing in. But we will continue to strive very hard. Our goal, as Tony said, was to get through these first three or four races and try to have the team unified and our performance coming forward in time for Indianapolis. I think we will accomplish that. But, you know, now we've added the second car for Indy, so if you look at Vision Racing, it has just continued to grow. In other words, we haven't got to the point yet where we've said, OK, that's where we're at, and we'll take it from there for now. Indianapolis should help us catapult for the rest of the year.
KING: Larry, real quick, before we move on to Ed, have you staffed yet for Jeff's car or where do you stand as far as crew and I guess either engineer, or are you wearing all those hats right now?
CURRY: Right now I am wearing all those hats, but I am in the interviewing process. So we hopefully, I know tomorrow is the end of the week already, but hopefully by tomorrow we will have some people in the building that's working toward Jeff's project. And by the time we get back from Sonoma, from the Sonoma test, we will be staffed for that car.
KING: By the way, the team will head to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma over the weekend and will be on track there, I believe it's both Tuesday and Wednesday, right, Larry?
KING: Now let's move to Ed Carpenter. Ed is the full-time driver of the IndyCar Series entry for Vision Racing. Ed, of course, we saw him all last year driving for Red Bull Cheever Racing. He also made his debut in the series with PDM racing the year prior. Now the full-time driver for the No. 20 car. Ed, a steep learning curve for you this past weekend at St. Petersburg. And I know you're looking more forward to your next event on a road course than you were your first.
CARPENTER: Yeah, this test at Sonoma is really going to help me. We went to St. Pete, and I didn't really know what to expect. I had never taken a green flag on a road course. So it was a learning experience. I think the car was OK. I have a long ways to go with my road racing, but I'm going to work on that, and we're doing some things in-house to help with that. So I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed it. I wouldn't say I had a whole lot of fun in St. Pete, but you never have fun when you're running like we did. We'll get there. We have two more races to get better. Really looking forward to getting back on an oval in Japan and setting up for the month of May.
KING: Ed, when the team was introduced, it was made pretty clear that your role with this team would be more than just a driver, you are helping to run the team, you and Larry working together with the addition of staff and the day-to-day operation. How has that gone so far?
CARPENTER: I was really involved the first couple weeks when we were getting everybody in here working with Larry. But the quality of people we got, really everyone is kind of running it definitely now. Larry is doing a good job and our crew chief. I'm here every day, but if I walk away for a week, things are going to go smooth and everything else. So I don't think I'm holding the place up. I've shifted my focus to driving and what it's going to take to get better with that. So the first couple weeks I was really busy, but I'd say now the emphasis on that side of it has slowed down for me.
KING: Your reaction if we could get that, having Jeff now as a teammate, his experience at the Speedway and what that means for a young driver having to fall back on some of that.
CARPENTER: I think it's going to help a lot. Last year teaming up with Alex Barron, I learned a lot from Alex all last season, and Jeff has run really well at Indy. So I think it's going to work out really great. It's nice to have another American on the team, three American drivers, so that means a lot to me. I think Jeff is an awesome driver, too. So go out and put our best run forth and see what we can come out of May with.
KING: Let's move to Jay Drake and Jay, I remember how excited you were when all of this was announced at Phoenix. It came just the week after the Copper World Classic there. You had won one of the events at Phoenix, I think was it the midget race you won at Phoenix?
JAY DRAKE: Ran second.
KING: Ran second, excuse me. But now, you know, you talked about the learning curve for you. You've got a couple of ovals under your belt in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series car. You, like Ed, I don't think had ever taken a green flag in a road or street course event. You did that this past weekend. What's it been like getting up to speed?
DRAKE: Well, it's been good, like everyone else has said. It's kind of the results are not quite where we had hoped they would be. Obviously, we ran the race at the Speedway last year and did really well, ran fourth our first time in that type of race car and at that racetrack and was really hoping to come out this year with that sort of success and maybe even better, and we haven't achieved that yet. But like Larry said, every time we're on the track is, and Tony said, is like a test session for us. I think the learning curve is getting shorter and shorter. Each time we go out on the track, we run that much better, it seems, like every time. So I'm fairly confident that like these guys said, that the month of May we're really going to hit our stride and get going to where we need to be. I'm just excited, I had a great time down in St. Petersburg. As the say in golf, sometimes you get a mulligan; I would really like to have one down there. I would like to go back there today and try it one more time. By race time we were running where we needed to be, and I think if we had a chance to start over the weekend where we left off, we'd have been a contender there. So I'm real excited about that being my first road race, like you said, and to finally by the end of the weekend I started really catching on and getting to where we needed to be, and that's pretty exciting for me. You know, just getting to sit up here with these guys is exciting for me and to be at this type of event. It's just -- I'm just as thrilled about it now as when I was when they made the announcement and looking forward to the rest of the season.
Continued in part 2