IPS: Aaron Fike press conference 2003-06-17

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript June 17, 2003 Aaron Fike K. Johnson: We certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 17th. Today we will look back on this past weekend's IRL ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
June 17, 2003

Aaron Fike

K. Johnson: We certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 17th. Today we will look back on this past weekend's IRL Infiniti Pro Series Pikes Peak 100 event at Pikes Peak International Raceway with driver guest, Aaron Fike.

Fike, driver of the No. 91 RFMS/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone for Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports, led 82 of 87 laps enroute to a rain-shortened victory at the Pikes Peak 100 this past June 14th at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The 2001 USAC Silver Crown Series Rookie of the Year, it was his first Pro Series victory of the 2003 season and the second of his Infiniti Pro Series career. In addition to the Infiniti Pro Series, Aaron also competes in USAC Silver Crown sprint cars and various midget series. Aaron, welcome, and thanks for joining us today.

A. Fike: Thanks, Kent. I'm glad to be here.

K. Johnson: You had a very strong performance this past weekend in winning your second career Pro Series event. Tell us how everything fell together for you and the team this weekend.

A. Fike: Well, you know, Ron Hemelgarn and Roger Johnson, my car owners -- they gave me a great crew this year. We've had some switch-up with our engineering staff. Chuck Buckman, we hired on before this race, he gave me a great car, and I mean everything just kind of fell together this week. We were fast as soon as we unloaded, and we were fast all week.

K. Johnson: This is your second season with the Hemelgarn team. You mentioned Lee Kunzman and a new engineer. Tell us about the working with that team.

A. Fike: Well, Lee has been a tremendous help to me, coming from the open-wheel stuff like I have. He's helped me quite a bit in the midget stuff. He helped me test at IRP, we won the Night Before The 500 out there, and he's been a tremendous help in the Pro Series cars, too. Things have been just kind of clicking for us, finally. It's about time, I think, but you know, we finally got the ball rolling here. Hopefully, we'll get the guys motivated and we can go to Kansas and get a win there.

K. Johnson: Since Saturday's event, you've been kind of busy with a seven-day stretch of either Pro Series testing or racing on the Midget circuit. I'll try and run it down here for our listeners. You competed in a USAC Midget event June 15th at Kokomo, finishing eighth. On June 16th and the morning of June 17th you tested your Infiniti Pro Series car at Kansas Speedway. You're competing in a USAC Midget event in Attica, Ohio, tonight.

A. Fike: Yeah.

K. Johnson: You run the USAC Midget events on June 18, 19, and 20 at Fremont and Lima, Ohio, as well as Rossburg, Ohio. And then you compete in a Badger Midget event June 21 at Sun Prairie, Wis. I'll just add that you won the Badger Midget Series title in 2002. Tell us about your activities this week, and how you know where you're going.

A. Fike: Well, most of the time I don't even know really where I'm going. I know about a week in advance of where I'm going and try to get everything scheduled out. You know, the key is to have fun. If you're not having fun, then why do it? You're going to get burned out if you're not having fun when you're racing so much. I think that's what happened to me last year. We weren't having the results that I really wanted, and especially in the Pro Series, you kind of get burnt out on stuff. But this year, everything is going pretty good so far. You know, we try to keep everybody motivated. It's not only me running. There's a lot of other effort by the guys working on the cars, and it's a total team effort no matter what I'm running, whether it's Pro Series or the USAC stuff. And you know, it's tough to keep everybody going all year long, all year strong. So you know, we try to do that as best as we can and hopefully we'll get the results we want.

K. Johnson: You're one of the original Pro Series competitors, dating back to its inauguration last year. Tell us about what type of learning curve you've had coming from a short-track background to these Infiniti Pro Series cars.

A. Fike: There's always a learning curve no matter what kind of car you jump in, but I believe if you can --if you're a talented driver, you can adapt to any kind of car pretty quickly, and I seemed to have adapted to these cars pretty quickly. That's why I try to run as many different types of cars as possible, to get the experience on different types of tracks and different types of cars. It makes you a better driver in the long run, and that's what we've been trying to do the last couple years.

K. Johnson: Well, Aaron, at this time, let's go ahead and open our forum to the media. Just a reminder, we do a complete transcript of the call and it will be sent to your email and fax machines. Now at this time, let's open the forum for questions.

Q: Talk about racing for Hemelgarn and that team, because over the years they've come to be known as almost like a blue-collar team. They're just elbow grease and everything it takes to win. Does that fit your style?

A. Fike: Definitely. I mean that's what it takes to win in any kind of series, and you know, obviously they're starting with the big car team right now because of the situation with motors and stuff, and hopefully that turns around. But you know, Ron Hemelgarn and Roger Johnson, they've put a lot of effort into this Pro Series and so did Lee Kunzman. You know, it's just kind of their basis to go fast this year, and that definitely fits my profile.

Q: It seems as though you must have read the racing book by Winston Cup driver, Ken Schrader, trying to race every night of the week and twice on Sunday.

A. Fike: Yeah, and you know, Tony Stewart has a lot to do with that, too, coming back and racing with us. You see how good he does. I mean, obviously you get to experience as many types of cars as you can and you're going to better. You're going to be able to adapt faster to whether it's the track or the car.

Q: Do you find yourself looking at the car that you're in sometimes and going, 'OK, now am I USAC racing or am I sprint-car racing?'

A. Fike: Everything is a little bit related. You know, obviously the speeds are a little bit faster, but these cars are actually a little bit easier to drive than the USAC stuff. So I'm pretty comfortable out there running.

Q: It seems like over the last couple of years we've lost some of the short-track heroes, if you will, to NASCAR racing. I was just wondering, is your goal to get to the IndyCar Series, or are there any NASCAR thoughts at all in your head?

A. Fike: Well, the direction I'm pointed right now, I love open-road stuff, and that's what I've been mostly running the last three or four years, and that's what I was planning on going to. But, obviously the opportunities are far more if you go south. But right now my goal is to run in the IRL, just like any other driver in the Infiniti Pro Series.

Q: What is your goal for next year? Would you like to move up in the IndyCar Series next year?

A. Fike: I'd love to move up in the IndyCar Series. Obviously, you have to address sponsorship money, and the opportunity to get in one of those cars is quite slim.

Q: Sometimes there's a rap that short-track drivers get that there's really no experience in a Silver Crown, or a Midget, or a Sprint car moving up into a rear-engine, open-wheel car. Are there similarities in your Silver Crown car when you're, let's say, at Raceway Park or somewhere like that? Do you feel similarities even though the cars are a little different?

A. Fike: I think you get the basis. I mean, if you can pass in a Silver Crown car or a Midget, I mean, obviously you get to learn how to run through traffic. Obviously, the cars aren't going to be the same, but I mean if you can adapt to any kind of car, obviously, you're going to be able to adapt to an IndyCar Series car. I mean, if you look at Tony Stewart and some of the other drivers that came from -- I mean, Tony was pretty much the only one that has tried to run in the IRL, and he's done quite well.

Q: All right. Finally, Aaron, are you having fun? Are you making a good living? Are you having fun?

A. Fike: Oh, I'm having fun. I wouldn't be doing it if I wasn't having fun. I'd be selling hot dogs at a concession stand if I wasn't having fun.

Q: I know you didn't go the full distance in this race at Pikes Peak, but how important was it to you to come out with a win there, considering, you know, the things that happened earlier in the season and so forth?

A. Fike: Well, we've struggled for a few races, especially at the Speedway. I mean, we haven't really struggled, but we've been fast everywhere and we seem to dial ourselves out somewhere along the day or during the weekend, and that was definitely a motivator for the guys and for me, to know that we've been fast but not get the results we wanted to. So it's finally great to get the results we needed.

Q: Last year you raced with A.J. IV, and he's moved up to the IndyCar Series with his grandfather, but he's a little younger than you and he really seems to be struggling right now. Do you feel it's good that you're getting little more experience before you make that jump?

A. Fike: That's why I've been running as much as possible, not only in the Pro Series but in the other stuff. You know, I didn't think A.J. was ready to go up in the big cars, but you know, his Gramps thought he was, and obviously it's kind of showing. Obviously, there's a learning curve to learn to jump into one of those cars, but it's being able to adapt to them as quickly as possible.

Q: Yeah, and like Lee Kunzman, does he talk to you regularly about what you need to do to prepare yourself while you're running these cars to make that next step?

A. Fike: Yeah, he's kind of my mentor over there at Hemelgarn. He keeps me focused and teaching me what I need to do, not only in the Pro Series car, but when I'm pulling in the pits, what I'm going to be doing hopefully with the big car, and he's been a lot of help through the last couple years.

Q: Do you get to talk much with Buddy Lazier?

A. Fike: Not too much. We've talked a few times, but you know, Buddy kind of keeps to himself, you know, doesn't come around the Pro Series field very much.

Q: I'm just wondering if you guys in the Infiniti Pro Series garage talk about Anthony's problems, because he ran so well with you a year ago and then it seems like it's just a quantum leap to the next level.

A. Fike: Well, the thing that I saw from him, the only kind of experience he had was in go-karts, then he jumped in the Pro Series and he had a tremendous year in the Pro Series. I'm not knocking him at all, but I mean most of the races he won, he started up front, and I think you get the experience from running in traffic and being back in the field a little bit more, and he was just kind of out front and was gone. I mean, he never got to really run with anybody, and maybe that's some of the experience he was lacking.

Q: One other thing, the series has grown this year, Aaron. Just the more times you're in the car handling situations in Sunday or Saturday traffic. How much has that made the series better and a more enriching and developmental experience for the young men that are in the cars?

A. Fike: It's definitely, you know, the field has gotten a lot more deep. I mean, we had our biggest field at the Speedway, and obviously the car count kind of fell off when we went to Pikes Peak. But you know, we had some carnage at the Speedway. But obviously the field has gotten a lot more deep and the drivers have definitely gotten a lot better from last year, and that definitely makes it tougher to win in the series.

Q: I'm just looking forward to the next race here in Kansas. I guess that wasn't a good experience for you last year. Can you talk a little bit about Kansas and what you have to do to be successful here? Who are some of the people to contend with here?

A. Fike: Obviously, the front-runners that have been running up front all year are going to be pretty tough, like Mark Taylor and Jeff Simmons and my team and Cory Witherill will probably be pretty tough. Arie Luyendyk should be, you know, Arie Luyendyk Jr., he should be pretty good there. There will probably be five or six guys that are pretty tough there, I would imagine. We tested there the other day, and we had a really good test, and I think we ended up qualifying third or fourth there last year.

Q: Yeah, you were fourth last year.

A. Fike: Fourth last year. We had a little bit of trouble. Somebody made some contact in front of us and collected us, but you know, the key to being in that track, like Foyt showed last year, if you start up front, it's going to be hard for anybody to get around you unless you get a good run on them or someone is pushing you.

Q: I mean, you won in Chicago. It's a similar track, does that give you a little--

A. Fike: Yeah, it's similar to Chicago. It's not as wide as Chicago and both corners are unique in there own way. You know, it's an interesting track. It's a fun track. It's a fast track, and we should be good down there when we go down there.

Q: Can you talk about the Infiniti Pro Series? Would it bother you if some of the IRL drivers came down and raced on that series ala the Winston Cup guys going down to the Busch Series?

A. Fike: Not at all. I mean, if you don't run against the best, you're never going to beat the best. If you run against the best, they're going to teach you what you're doing wrong, and you know, where to go faster, and that would definitely help us. It would teach us a few things.

Q: Can you talk about the health of the series right now? Is it helping you out?

A. Fike: Oh, that's a good question. I don't know. It's definitely helping me out, I mean, gaining experience in a rear-engine car, and we're running the same tracks that the IndyCar Series runs on. It's a little slower speeds than the IndyCar Series cars, but I've gained a lot of experience running in traffic with those kind of cars, and I definitely think it's helped me progress to hopefully run in the big car.

Q: With the grueling schedule that you have, what kind of a fitness and/or nutrition program do you have?

A. Fike: Well, they've got me on a fitness program, so I try to stay more physically fit, running and stuff, trying to run three or four times a week. Obviously, that's hard, but there's no kind of workout like being in the race car. Obviously, you get a workout every time you're in a race car, and I don't think there's any other kind of workout like just being in one and driving it.

Q: Where do you find the time?

A. Fike: What's that? To work out?

Q: To do any kind of running or anything like that, since you're on the road so much.

A. Fike: Oh, I still have time to have some fun, you know. I'm still pretty young, so--

Q: Lucky you.

A. Fike: Yeah.

Q: Do you feel that you're further advanced at this point in your career because of the Infiniti Pro Series, even though you're doing all the, you know, the Midget racing and all that? Does this put you a little bit closer than you might have been, and also getting the publicity and attention more nation-wide than you would have?

A. Fike: Well, you know, the publicity is one of the biggest things, definitely, by far. You get your name out there, you know. There's a lot of open-wheel guys from Silver Crown and Midget stuff that, you know, a lot of people don't know who they are, and this definitely gets my name out there a lot better than it would have if I wasn't running the Pro Series. But as far as the experience, I can't talk enough about the experience. It's been tremendous, and I'm definitely learning from it. I can definitely bring some of the Pro Series stuff back to the Midget stuff, from what I've learned on working on, well, not only working on the cars, but setting up the cars.

K. Johnson: Well, Aaron, we'd like to thank you for joining us today on our conference call. Congratulations on your victory this past weekend at Pikes Peak and good luck in all your activities you're running this week.

A. Fike: Thank you. I'll need all the luck we can get.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Mark Taylor , Buddy Lazier , Cory Witherill , Aaron Fike , Jeff Simmons , Arie Luyendyk Jr.