IPS: Butch Meyer press conference

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript June 24, 2003 Butch Meyer K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 24. Today, we visit with Indy Racing League Infiniti Pro Series ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
June 24, 2003

Butch Meyer

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, June 24. Today, we visit with Indy Racing League Infiniti Pro Series Technical Director, Butch Meyer. Butch Meyer, is the grandson of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Louie Meyer, as well as, being the son of legendary engine builder, Louie 'Sonny' Meyer, Jr. Butch has been involved with engine development and team management for more than 35 years, working with many of the famous teams and drivers in our sport. Butch, welcome, and thanks for joining us this morning.

B. Meyer: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

K. Johnson: Let's start with your background. You have raced and competed from a team level with some of the great names in open-wheel racing. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in our sport and progressed through the ranks.

B. Meyer: Well, I got started in Indy-style racing basically through my family with my grandfather's involvement, you know, in Indy-style racing. Then, when he retired as a driver, he bought the Offenhouser plant and named it Meyer & Drake Engineering, which built the Offy engine, which you know, dominated Indy car, sprint car and midget racing for a long time. So it's really a family affair from my grandfather to my father to me. And, when I was about 8 years old, I used to go to the Meyer & Drake plant. And, I raced quarter-midgets at that time. My father showed me how to run the lathes in the mill and the equipment in there so that I could work on my own cars. And when I got to be about 10 years old, I decided I wanted to build engines. So, my dad had a good friend, Don Horvath, who used to run midgets in California. Don would bring the engine by and dad would put it on the engine stand. While dad was gone to work, I'd come home from school and tear it apart and get the parts washed up and get it ready for him to come home, so we could put it back together again. So, that's basically where I got started on engine work.

K. Johnson: Take a look back at what you've talked about, building and rebuilding engines, this and that. As an engine tuner as well as a mechanic working for a team, you're always looking for that little edge. But now, as the technical director for the IRL's Infiniti Pro Series, you're involved in what is basically a spec series, where you have one chassis and one engine. What is your focus coming to the Indy Racing League in this avenue?

B. Meyer: Well, my focus is to make sure that all the cars and all the engines are the same and make sure that everybody is on a level playing field, so that these races can be won by driver ability and by chassis setting. And, like in any form of racing, even a spec series, the competitors are going to push the rules as much as they can. I think over the years, the expertise that I've gotten being on the other side of the fence pushing the rules will help me in this job to kind of make sure that even though they do push the rules, everybody's on a level playing field.

K. Johnson: And, from a personal standpoint, what was it that made you take the jump from the team side to the Indy Racing League side of the fence?

B. Meyer: Well, I tell you, like John Menard, he and I were together almost 10 years. I managed his teach for him, his engine shop. And I was looking for something different. I wanted to do something a little different. And, when this job came about after talking to Brian Barnhart on everything, it really excited me that I could be a part of a growing program like the Infiniti Pro Series.

Q: Were you and Phil Casey involved ever together or friends? Are you working together now? What was your relationship with him?

B. Meyer: Well, I tell you what, I've known Phil for many years, you know, being around racing. I mean, Phil was one of the great mechanics, you know, in Indy-car racing. And, then also, being with Team Menard on the engine department, I called on Phil quite a bit to come over and clarify rules for me and make sure what we were doing was OK. And Phil and I get along great. And I tell you, it's nice having him here in the office. Because if I have something that I'm thinking about that we need to do, I can go sit and talk to Phil and draw from his expertise. He's a very smart man.

Q: Well, what were your thoughts last year when they started this Infiniti series? And what do you see on the future of it?

B. Meyer: Well, when they started the Pro Series, I thought it was a great idea. They need a training ground for these young drivers to come in from midgets and sprint cars. I drove sprint cars myself for a few years, and to jump from a sprint car or a midget car right into an Indy-style car, that's a big step. But, with the Pro Series, it gets you acclimated to a rear-engine car. You get to run the tracks that the IndyCar Series runs. So you'll know the track. And I think that the Pro Series, it's just going to grow and grow. I mean, we've had a lot of interest shown into it. And I think that the series is going to take off and be very big.

Q: During your career, the idea was to get the maximum horsepower out of engines. Now you kind of work with a not quite as powerful an engine. Do you still see the guys trying to get a little more horsepower than the other guy?

B. Meyer: Well, I tell you what, the engines are controlled basically by MCT/TWR. They do the engine program. I'm involved very heavily with them on making sure that these engines are reliable and making sure that they're all the same. We don't want somebody to have 10 or 20 more horsepower. We want everybody to be on a level playing field, so that these races can be decided by driver ability and by how they set their chassis.

Q: One other question, what is the difference now for you when you go out there? Before, you were in the pits and the excitement of the race and whether your driver could beat the other driver, whereas now, you're the custodian of all the drivers.

B. Meyer: I tell you what, it's just as good. My bottom line is I love racing. And especially Indy-style racing, open-wheel racing is what I really love. And to be out there and to be involved with the IRL, to have this opportunity, I mean, I couldn't be happier. I think it's great.

Q: If you could talk a little bit about the direction of this series and, I guess, what the ultimate vision is in terms of tech specs, upgrades and engines and maybe where you all would like the series to go in the next three to five years?

B. Meyer: Well, as far as upgrades on engines and everything, the present rules will be in effect until 2005. And then we will make changes in the chassis, make changes in the engines, and keep upgrading them. You know, this series -- we want it to be training ground for these young drivers. Yet we want it to be safe, too. So we'll have to decide exactly how much power we really want and exactly what we want in the chassis.

Q: Talk about where you might see these series in the next five years?

B. Meyer: I see this series growing. I mean, we've had so much interest. I think that next year you're going to see a lot more cars. You know, at Indianapolis this year I think they had 20 or 21 cars compete. And I'm sure that the economy right now has a lot of affect on what's going on. I think things are going to get better. And, with all the interest that we've seen in the series and people calling, it's just going to grow. And my vision some day is to see 30 or 40 cars in an event.

K. Johnson: Butch, you've touched on your vision and the league's vision of the Infiniti Pro Series growing. It's really just in its second year now. And it was an abbreviated schedule last year, so it's still in its infancy. What are the keys to enticing car owners and drivers in other avenues of the sport to come onboard and say, 'Hey, this rear-engine oval track series is the way to go?'

B. Meyer: Well, I think you have to make it attractive to them. Number one, they have to come into the series knowing that, like I say, everyone is equal, because it is a spec series, that we don't put up with any nonsense, and that the rules will be followed. And everybody will be treated the same. I also think that as the race schedule gets bigger, that we can attract more sponsors, maybe pay more money and just make it attractive to come into this series.

Q: Your family and grandfather go to back to when they were driving Indy-style cars at 130 miles per hour or 125 and all the way up to when Arie went almost 240. These Infiniti cars are going, on the big tracks, approximately 180 to 185, somewhere around there. Do you foresee them going faster as time goes along just like the other cars have advanced?

B. Meyer: Well, just from my aspect, I don't think we want these cars to go over probably 200 miles an hour. Because it is a training ground for these drivers, and we don't want to get them out there and get them going too quick. Two hundred miles an hour is a pretty good clip. So, for right now, less than 200 miles an hour would be good. But as the series goes on and technology evolves and the cars get safer and better and everything, that's a hard question to answer. But, yes, maybe they will go faster later, later on down the road.

Q: Right. You're looking forward to your first -- will this be your first race coming up in this position or --?

B. Meyer: No, my first race was at Pikes Peak.

Q: Oh, well how did things go there then?

B. Meyer: It was great. I started here on June 2, and the first race was Pikes Peak. And I'll tell you, working at the IRL is great. Everybody here is so nice and supportive, and I don't think I could have got a better job, a better position.

Q: OK, congratulations.

K. Johnson: Butch, you talk about wanting to make sure that everybody is on a level playing field, you know, one chassis, one engine.

B. Meyer: Right.

K. Johnson: And that it's the driver that makes the difference. Obviously, as a team member you're trying to find that little edge. As the technical director and working with the Infiniti Pro Series technical staff, a car comes through maybe just a little bit out of spec. Is this the type of ballgame where you put your arm around the crew chief and go around the corner and say, 'Look, you know, go back to the trailer, get it right, and come back through?' Or is everything black and white, and you have your penalties and you have rules you have to uphold?

B. Meyer: Well, I tell you what, when we do our pre-tech before we ever run, if he comes through with a car that's out of spec, you point out to him what is out of spec and send him back to the garage and make him fix it. After qualifying is over and or the race is over, that car needs to be within the rules. We provide tolerances as we tech cars. We can see if we have a little problem here and there, if something changes on the car. We adjust our tolerances for that, so everybody can meet those tolerances. But once your qualify and once you race that car, if you come through tech and you're not legal, then you know, we're going to have to figure out exactly what and how we need to handle that.

Q: My question is concerning MCT/TWR. There's been an awful lot of volatility there. And I'm wondering how the league and the Infiniti Pro Series are dealing with that?

B. Meyer: We're working very closely with MCT/TWR. They have brought the engines here to the United States. The engines are being worked on out of MCT here in Indianapolis. And I don't foresee any problems. Everybody knew, going in, that we needed engines and what needed to be done. And, John Menard and Chris Sumner at MCT and the IRL, we're all working together. And I think everything's going to be fine.

Q: I sure hope so. Because it's no fun, especially with the problems that TWR has had in the last year and a half, you know, you need the engines to be the same. You need all the specs to be the same and just hoping that all the financial problems don't affect you.

B. Meyer: Well, I tell you what, that's why I work. In fact, I go to MCT probably three days a week. And they're dynoing engines, and we're working very closely. They've got a great crew over here of guys from TWR here in this country. And I don't foresee any problems whatsoever. Everything's going smoothly. And I don't foresee any problems.

Q: Terrific, I'll knock on wood for that.

B. Meyer: OK.

K. Johnson: Well, Butch, that appears to be our last question from the media.

B. Meyer: OK.

K. Johnson: Again, we want to thank you for taking time this morning to join us and good luck in your new endeavor.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Brian Barnhart