2002 Barber CART Scholarship Team press conference June 8, 2002 An Interview With: Chris Pook Skip Barber Townsend Bell Ryan Hunter-Reay Barber Cart Scholarship Winners Part 2 of 2: The drivers, questions from the media Adam Saal: Well, ...
2002 Barber CART Scholarship Team press conference
June 8, 2002
An Interview With:
Barber Cart Scholarship Winners
Part 2 of 2: The drivers, questions from the media
Adam Saal: Well, again I think we've got an outstanding format and, two drivers who have come through, both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell.
We'll start with Ryan because the scholarship program has been incredible for you as far as helping with you your career. Talk about where you would be without the scholarship funding.
Ryan Hunter-Reay: I would probably be looking towards something other than racing. I would not be race being at all if it were not for Skip Barber and his program who tries bringing young drivers along.
It all started right after my Formula Dodge days. My dad helped me out in Formula Dodge and everything like that, but that's about all you can go. The Pro Series is a whole different deal. I went through the big scholarship run-off and won that, and that just started the whole thing for me.
From there, it was a ride in the 2000 Pro Series and I did great there and the next year I did great. That opened the doors for me and proved that I could actually drive, and now I'm in the Atlantic Series and everything is just going wonderful. It's been everything.
Adam Saal: A job well done. You've been on formula this weekend, too. The Toyota Atlantic Championship is the top rung in the CART ladder system and we look forward to seeing the race at three o'clock this afternoon.
Townsend, you had a championship in Indy Lights which ended at the end of this past season, and it still played a big part in the ladder system before we merged in with Atlantics. Talk about the importance of the system you came through, and as a guy who basically woke up every morning and said, "I'm not going to let anybody tell me I can't achieve my dream," does it have as much to do with brains, ability? Do you just put it into your head and say, "I'm not going to let anybody tell me I can't do this"?
Townsend Bell: Well, I think if you look at the challenge that each one of these guys up here faces in making it, the most intelligent people would have probably stopped a long time ago because it's so damn hard to actually make it happen. While I think every one of us up here shares is an intense desire to succeed and sometimes I think that supersedes what might be the rational thing to do, the realistic thing to do. That's not what racing is about.
Everybody in this room, whether you are a media person or a sponsor, your work in racing is for that reason, because we are all passionate about motor sports. And the drivers are perhaps the most extreme example of having that desire. The fuel for my efforts was a strong will to try to succeed and make it happen.
But I also want to thank to the media for coming out. I've been in Indy Lights the last few years and sometimes we would have a press conference and only one of you show up. It's very important that you guys come out and learn about who the next drivers are and what they have accomplished, and also take notice in the sessions that go out on the track. I know the limit I drive in CART right now to succeed and what you have to do on the track to run in the sharp half of the grid, but I'll tell you, there are times in the lower levels where I took a whole lot more chances to be in the sharp half of that grid because there are such few opportunities to move up. There are eight or nine guys sitting up here right now, and in all likelihood there might be just a couple that make it to the next level. And that makes for some fantastic on-track action in Barber Dodge and in Atlantics. Just because I am a Champ Car driver doesn't mean that I hang it out any more than these guys do in the lower levels, but I really thank you guys for coming out.
And I'm also real impressed with CART and Skip Barber for continuing to improve the exposure these guys get. When I was doing it, they were just starting to put in place a really clearly-defined ladder system. That was a big benefit for me because I have a strong desire to succeed, but I needed a platform and a foundation to guide my efforts. The Barber Dodge program, the Skip Barber School, the Formula Dodge Championship that I ran, they were an excellent platform and really the only place to look when I was trying to make this happen. Barber Dodge is televised, it's well marketed, and it's extremely professional. I worked hard to get some corporate sponsorships early on that grew with me as I came up through the ranks. Now that's changed where the team has the sponsors and they just picked me because the car has good potential to do well at the next level after showing well at Indy Lights.
I'm really happy to speak on behalf of Skip Barber and the program because it was really effective for me, and I'm really happy to see the direction that things are headed in, in making an even more clearly-defined ladder for the drivers of the next generation.
Adam Saal: We have here (in the press conference) drivers racing in every category this weekend, except our friends in the Mazda Miata Championship, and Townsend, we wish you well in the feature show tomorrow, the Bridgestone Grand Prix Featuring the Shell 300.
I would like to get a few questions from our scholarship drivers. We'd like to ask Leo Maia, Leo, explain what it meant to your career to win the Barber CART Scholarship Shootout and then advanced from the National Championship into the Pro Series, you seem to be taking the steps needed. What has it meant to your career and how do you feel about where you're going?
Leo Maia: It's obviously meant a lot to my career in that I do have one. Other than that, I would have run in the Pro Series. I think I would be trying to find money to run the Pro Series.
I really have to applaud CART and Skip Barber's system for putting something like this together. It really does help the young drivers make it in their career and it really helped mine out and I can't thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to be sitting here talking to you guys racing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series today.
Adam Saal: Again, we wish you and your colleagues well in your races this weekend, as well as your races in the future.
How has winning the scholarship helped you make the transition from go-karts to race cars?
Colin Fleming: I think it gives me a good basis for learning how the transition goes and learning different setups on cars. Just in general, learning the ranks and how things work, marketing seminars and everything else, it's all been really helpful. Every race I go to I learn more and it's training me for the rest of my career.
Q How does public relations play into a young driver's career and is it the driver's responsibility or the sanctioning body's responsibility to provide it?
Chris Pook: Obviously, today's professional athlete, and particularly the motor racing driver, does need to be skilled in public relations. He clearly needs to be skilled in marketing because he is raising dollars for his own career to get to the top - where Townsend is right now as a professional athlete, he has to be sensitive to the sponsorship relationships in his team, and he has to be understanding of those sponsorship relationships and he has to have the ability to talk to the CEO of the company that's involved and conduct himself in a manner, with a dialogue that that CEO will understand and recognize that he is representing that company.
So, I'm not sure whether it is the responsibility of the sanctioning body to put these young men through marketing and public relations schools. I suspect that the ones that are really determined to succeed are going to recognize that this is part of the skill set that they need, apart from the athletic skill set to drive a racing car. They need the personal discipline skill set in how they handle themselves PR-wise and marketing-wise, and I would hope that they would look to their own personal careers to get themselves into a program, be it in a junior college or a regular college, to learn and understand how the business world works in this area of marketing and public relations.
Skip Barber: Just to add to that, we ran a seminar two days ago for all of the Pro Series drivers and we are making that a regular part of this program. As Adam said, this is practice.
Adam Saal: Just to add to what Skip said I've been asked in my previous role at Indy Lights when I had the same job I had a few years ago to participate in Skip's organization seminar about public relations and marketing and setting the example there. And Chris maybe we can learn from that and need to do a couple on our own.
Q A question for Skip. Your racing has a hard time getting media coverage. Is it inconceivable that a go-kart series couldn't be started at the high school or college level and become a collegiate sport, a team sport for these drivers and let the media get involved and interested at the go-kart level? Or is it just too expensive to do that?
Skip Barber: I think that would be difficult to get the attention, but I don't think we have to go that route. I think if you took the fans that are here this weekend and made them aware as best we could of the people in Atlantic series and the people in our series and those fans come back next year and see those guys moving, I think they will pick favorites or pick people to root for much earlier, hoping they get into a Champ Car. I think that's the way to make it happen.
Q When you're going to help people get sponsorships, which is the direction you're going to look at, get sponsorship for a team or get sponsorship for a driver?
Chris Pook: I would suggest it depends on where they are in their career. As Townsend pointed out, when he was starting his process, he was seeking sponsorship for himself because he has to find funds to pay for his motor racing education.
When they come out of go-carts - usually in go-carts, the dad tends to be the sponsor, right? He tends to write the checks. When they move up to Formula Dodge, dad is probably still there. But once they move to the next level up in Skip's program, I think that's where a young driver needs to understand he has to go out and market himself and bring outside funds to the table.
And as Townsend said, you know, you grow that sponsor as you come up. The driver has to grow that relationship with that company accordingly so he can stay racing. And then, of course, I think that invariably what happens here is when the driver gets placed into a team, his personal relationships with those sponsors probably continue and he becomes a spokesman for that company, and whether or not that company decides to take the next step up to a sponsor role for the race car he's in today, that's something that he and that sponsor will discuss between themselves.
But the bottom line answer to your and question, I think it has to start with the driver seeking sponsorship for himself when he first starts, and he must be dedicated as he goes through the process and growing that sponsor up to a point where he achieves - where Townsend has achieved today.
And Hunter, also. You heard Hunter say that he went into Hylton Motor Sports because he was taken into Hylton Motor Sports. I'm sure he had to find funding to get himself up to that level where he could say, okay, Ryan, I'm going to put you in my race car and see if you can push the button or not. Obviously, he pushed the button because you would not be sitting here today if he had not pushed the button.
Adam Saal: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Barber CART press conference, part I