J.Andretti, Fritz teleconfernce 2008-06-25, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Doug, could you explain why IndyCar racing has been able to gather such a good fan following at Richmond? In the early years of IRL they tried races in the south and Atlanta and in Charlotte and other venues, but for...

Continued from part 1

Q: Doug, could you explain why IndyCar racing has been able to gather such a good fan following at Richmond? In the early years of IRL they tried races in the south and Atlanta and in Charlotte and other venues, but for whatever reason it didn't work out. But you've seemed to be able to capitalize and continue to draw in a fairly decent sized crowd for an IndyCar race?

DOUG FRITZ: Yeah, we've been real pleased with it. This will be the eighth time we've run the SunTrust Indy Challenge. Seems like it's gotten bigger. The event's gotten better each and every year. It obviously starts with the product on the racetrack. The racing is very, very exciting for the fans. And it's unique.

It stands out in the NASCAR circuit because we're the only three-quarter mile track on the circuit. They have shorter ones. And with the IndyCar Series it's actually the shortest track that they run.

So it stands out as being unique and the drivers really test their skills. And I think it shows that they enjoy running here and racing here and that's where it starts with a great product on the racetrack.

This market is good for racing in general. I think the fan base we built here at Richmond just like to see good racing. And that's why it's taken off. If the product wasn't good on the racetrack it wouldn't have done well. And it has been very, very good for the fans. They've enjoyed the races each year.

Like I said, they've asked for additional laps and the IRL was kind enough to grant those additional laps. Great opportunity for the sponsors of the teams and the Indy Racing League to reach the Mid-Atlantic market that they don't have prior to Richmond. I think it seemed like a great fit. SunTrust has been with us from day one. So we've got a committed sponsor that really plugs into this community, into the Mid-Atlantic area that works well for them.

So you have a lot of things working for you. And it's a very, very entertaining product. And it starts with that and ends with that. And I think the fans look forward to it. It only comes once a year. And this is, like I said, this year seems to be even more exciting than it has been in the past.

I think with the additional benefits of additional teams, the unification series, additional laps, the qualifying, just right now, again, back to the unification that's a huge thing for the industry and for open wheel racing.

And, again, our fans are paying close attention to it. We're excited about this being our biggest and best race ever here at Richmond International Raceway.

And adding names like John Andretti is a tremendous opportunity. He's got a great following here. He's done very well with several top-10 races and just all those things add up to an excitement level that here it hasn't been before. And that's what makes us successful in my eyes.

Q: And also if you could maybe project percentage-wise what the level of interest has been in ticket sales upward and also if you get an awful lot of support from ticket buyers looking toward going more toward the north to the cities like Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore and even Philadelphia?

DOUG FRITZ: We do well from those markets. We do well from the Virginia Beach, Norfolk area, but north does very well for us. The crowds, with the economy as we're finding at our NASCAR events as well, people seem to be buying tickets later than they have in the past. So we rely on a lot of walk-up ticket sales.

Our expectation is it's going to be ahead of last year, which would make it our largest crowd ever for the Indy Racing League event here for the SunTrust Indy Challenge. So we're excited the crowd is going to be very solid. The weather looks really good. It is going to be warm.

But summer at Richmond, I think people expect that. I know the drivers have been here before and it does get warm. But again with an 8:00 start time, it's going to cool down pretty quickly for the fans. So our expectation is this is going to be the biggest and best race that we've ever had here at Richmond International Raceway for the SunTrust Indy Challenge.

Q: John, can you talk, having been a CART driver, can you talk about what the unification has meant and how you see, has this improved the circuit? What was CART racing like 15 years ago as opposed to now? And open wheel racing? And my second question is, can you talk a little bit about Danica Patrick and what she does for the circuit?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Sure, first unification, I think the real thing is it really takes out the lack or the confusion element in open-wheel racing, who is bigger, who is better.

It certainly was a matter of opinion. Now, there is no opinion involved. It is the IRL, because everybody is there. All the best open-wheel teams, all the best open-wheel drivers are there.

And you see it on the on-track product. It's always been exciting. Now it's exciting and it's deeper. You see new faces popping up. You see the old guys having to stand up, I don't mean the old guys, I mean the IRL, the ones that have the most experience in the IRL, you see them really getting challenged harder from the new group of people.

And it's the rookies that are coming along. Of course, Marco (Andretti) and Graham Rahal and what a great rivalry their fathers had and that's there.

So there's so many, I think, great stories with it that it's not just one story or one thing or even just riding along and saying OK, Danica is here and talking about her. I think that there's so many more things to it.

When you get on the racetrack, I mean you're fighting for every position. And, you know, I really expected -- and I've seen it before -- the IRL, when it was first getting started, I think it was a little bit scary because guys were taking chances that I didn't think were necessary.

When I came I was a little bit concerned about that, thinking last thing I want to do is hang one of these on a fence because somebody just lost their mind. And that's not the case at all.

They're really fun to race with. I mean people race side-by-side. They give you room. It's been a lot of fun. And that's why -- I agreed to two races and then I agreed to the next one. And now I've agreed to this one.

And I just see the series just becoming so much fun to not only follow but to be a part of. And there's no, well, you didn't beat this guy because this guy is there now. And I think that's great.

As far as Danica, what can you say? She's accomplished a lot of things in a sport that a lot of other people haven't. And even if you take out the fact that they want to dwell on the fact that she's a female, take that out, she's still accomplished a lot.

A lot is expected of her, too, because she's such a popular driver. She has a huge following. And she's in competitive equipment, and she's extremely talented.

So the pressure is always going to be on her. But, again, when we talked about pressure, I don't think the pressure ever gets any harder than what you put on yourself. And obviously she puts a lot of pressure on herself because she wants to do well.

She's a great competitor. She's fun to be around. And I've got to know her a little bit better because I got to talk to her before the start of the Texas race and she's just like the rest of us. She wants to go out there and do well and she's going to fight hard to do it when she puts on the helmet. (Audio difficulties).

Q: Are you still there? That broke up.

MODERATOR: John, we've lost just the last sentence there of what you commented on, maybe you can just repeat that last sentence for us.

JOHN ANDRETTI: I'm going through the hills of North Carolina here. Sorry about that. Mainly is that when she knows that she's going to compete just like the rest of us. Whether you're 100 pounds or 200 pounds or male or female, when you get in the car you're going to have to fight for everything you get. And she's willing to do that and she does it well.

Q: Is there any sense that the IRL needs her to bring fans to the races, or is the IRL strong enough on its own without her and all the glamour, for lack of a better word, that she brings in?

JOHN ANDRETTI: I guess the same question would be does Formula One need Michael Shumacher; does NASCAR need Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? These people have huge fan bases and certainly they bring a lot to the sport.

But I think that all of those sports, Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, there's such a strong base underneath there, too, of quality drivers that have maybe not a single as large a following as Danica, but if Danica wasn't there, their alliance might switch to somebody else.

So I think that it's good for the series. I think it's certainly at one point probably gave notoriety and people would certainly talk about her in that vein be talking about the IRL. But I think all these series are capable of standing on their own without any one particular individual. But those are the powerhouses. And Formula One seems to be doing fine without Michael Shumacher. But it's always better to have him. Would it be better to have Dale Jr. in the IRL for the IRL? Probably so.

So there are certain people that carry a big crowd, and Danica is certainly one of them.

Q: John, I know you've been asked about Danica all day. But I was wondering, she fell under some scrutiny at Iowa, Scott Dixon had harsh words about her driving after the race. Did you have any problems with her at Iowa?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Actually, I didn't have any at all with her. I had a few issues with especially with one driver at Texas. I thought that he drove a little bit out of bounds in the way he was driving. No, at Iowa I ran side-by-side with Danica and never once did I feel like she was squeezing me or not giving me room.

There were a couple of other people that did it to me. And I did it unintentionally to Dan Wheldon. I didn't know he was on the outside of me and inadvertently I ran up and squeezed him up against -- I don't know how he fit as much as I squeezed him. But I didn't know he was there. All of a sudden I got a glimpse of red and I moved down.

And so sometimes things happen, too, and I don't know the situation between them. But I know I had no problems with her at all.

Q: Have you had any hiccups with her driving in the past?

JOHN ANDRETTI: No I've only raced with her a few times, raced with her side-by-side at Texas, didn't have any problems. And I raced with her side-by-side at Iowa. As far as at Indianapolis -- I raced with her there and didn't have any problem.

So I don't know. I mean I haven't -- I guess if we go racing for the lead, then I probably will have a problem. But you know what, I probably should have a problem because everybody wants to win. You do what you gotta do to win. But I haven't had any problems at all.

Q: John, going back to the whole unification thing. Talked a little bit about fans, excitement, yada yada, but I'm curious, from just a purely driver's perspective, from someone who is in the cockpit, how is this going to change racing on such a small track with so many more cars out there this year, how does this affect what you're actually doing when the flag is raised?

JOHN ANDRETTI: Obviously, last week at Iowa it was a similar short track and qualifying got rained out and had to start in the last row. And I was really disappointed because I thought it's so hard, and yet we got racing up through and I think we had a really strong race. Passed a lot of people.

I think the talent and the drivers and the quality and the depth of the teams has increased and not only from the people that came, but from the people that are there, you know, realized that they already have their game stepped up as far as they can step it up. But they also realize we have more coming and you get even more aggressive at it.

So I think that the quality at the front has just come a long way. The cars, the tires, the engines, the fuel, it's all the same. So it's up to the people to get each one working differently and the driver to do the same. And sounds like, OK, that's not a huge challenge but it is. Because when you're talking about it, you're only talking about just a very, very small amount. When you look at the lap times at Iowa and they have to go to -- they've got four numbers behind the decimal point and the last one is the only one that's different, that's quality racing. And it's deep.

It goes from the beginning to the back. I mean, we're in practice and we're a tenth-and-a-half (of a second) off the fast time and we're 15th. And I'm like if I could have just got a tow I could have been quickest. Because it's just a small amount. And you're looking for those small amounts. When you're looking for those small amounts, that means you're in a tough series with some great competitors. And that small amount has grown over a larger amount of cars.

So you just gotta qualify really well and then you've got to keep that track position.

When NASCAR guys talk about aero push, they have no idea what aero push is. Going 180 miles an hour around Iowa and getting behind somebody and you pick up a push and you're heading for that wall at 180, that's an aero push that will take your breath.

And it just doesn't cost you the position sometimes, but it scares the heck out of you, too. So there's different challenges, but in a way it's all the same kind of racing. I see it the same as in stock cars and I see it the same as here. It's very quality, very deep and it's all about doing all the right things. And you have to do a perfect day now to win that race. You can't just luck into it at all.

MODERATOR: All right, John, Doug, thanks so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon.

-credit: irl

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Scott Dixon , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon