Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript July 27, 2004 Paul Dana MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Joining us to open the call is the winner of the Milwaukee 100 on July 25 at The Milwaukee...
Indy Racing League
July 27, 2004
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Joining us to open the call is the winner of the Milwaukee 100 on July 25 at The Milwaukee Mile, Paul Dana.
Paul, actually you're coming off your first Menards Infiniti Pro Series victory. Thank you for joining us today.
PAUL DANA: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
Q: Tell us and overall give us your accounts of what happened over the weekend in Milwaukee.
PAUL DANA: Well, it was a bizarre race, as anyone who watched it saw. It seemed like nobody else wanted to finish and we did. So, it kind of fell to us. Thiago (Medeiros) was a little bit quicker than everybody all weekend, and we qualified third, and early in the race we were running in second. We were happy to be in second, just trying to see if we could run them down.
Over the early run, it was apparent we weren't going to. After about 20 laps, our lap times actually stabilized, and we were doing the same lap time. He had built up such a big gap early, we were cruising along in second. He eventually fell out with mechanical failure, so I inherited the lead, and everybody else crashed behind me, so we kind of cruised home for the win.
It wasn't quite an epic last-lap battle like the IRL has.
Q: After the race, you talked about how you had some tough luck earlier in the year at Homestead. Roles reversed a little bit and you'll take them however you can. Did you ever feel like you were going to catch the guy after he won four straight? You pulled alongside of him in Kansas City.
PAUL DANA: Kansas and Nashville.
Q: Did you ever feel like "I'm going to catch this guy, eventually?"
PAUL DANA: Yeah, I know we are. We have six more races and we look forward to having some good fights. We had some side-by-side stuff in both the last two races and came up short both times, but were right there in second. We led easily at Homestead, really thought that that race was taken away from us.
As I said, the points gap that he's built up isn't quite as big as the performance gap, I don't believe. We qualified on the front row at Indy and had a real quick race car all during the weekend at Indy. We ended up having a shock absorber issue during the race and we fell backwards in a hurry because of a mechanical issue. We've had our run of bad luck.
But we've been right there with him more often than not. I think you're going to see that throughout the rest of the year.
Q: Qualifying is so important, especially in this series. He's been on the pole, just been tough to catch. How important is it to start up front in your races?
PAUL DANA: It's hugely important, especially like you saw a big wreck in the first corner at Milwaukee that took out some of the mid-pack guys. It's good to be ahead of that. I kind of thought it at Homestead and Nashville, we'd be able to race with him a little bit more. I'm sorry, at Kansas. I was surprised at the aero push we had behind him because there was some good side-by-side racing all through the race at Kansas last year. I'm not sure if it was the grip level of the track or the fact we have a little more horsepower from the Infiniti motors this year, so everybody is going quicker. The Kansas race strung out a little bit more and we weren't able to get a good solid run at him.
We've had our one pole and two or three front-row starts, so we're doing what we need to do. I think if we keep doing it, we'll get our share of poles here eventually.
Q: Did you see what happened to Thiago? Before the call started we talked about how we're going to watch it at 2 p.m. CDT on ESPN 2. Did you see it happen in front of you? When did you know you inherited the lead in Milwaukee?
PAUL DANA: My brother told me, he's my spotter, saw him pit. I don't think he knew what was going on. He said, "Thiago is in the pits, you're P1." I think that was Lap 70-something. We still had quite a ways to go. I did not see it. He was around the corner. He was far enough ahead on that tight little place that I was somewhere on the backstraight as he exited Turn 4 and was into pit lane. I didn't see him pit.
I found out later it was a wheel bearing failure or whatever, he spun in pit lane. It's good nobody got hurt. Made the highlight reel, but whatever, it's good for us.
Q: Any chance you could tell us what went on inside your helmet when you heard your brother say, "You're P1?"
PAUL DANA: Well, I was shocked actually. But at that point you're like, "OK, don't change a thing." You're running a good pace. We knew what the gap was back to second place. We knew it was pretty comfortable and it was steady. Honestly, Turns 3 and 4 were so unbelievably slick, I think like everybody I was trying to keep the car underneath me. I was just trying to be real smooth, real patient, not pitch the thing into the fence. No sudden movements, no loud noises, just keep doing what you're doing.
At that point, the 20 or 30 laps left, it seems like a long time. You're going, "Come on, throw the checkered."
Q: You turn your attention to a different racetrack, Michigan International Speedway. Can you talk about Michigan, what you're expecting this weekend?
PAUL DANA: The Hemelgarn Johnson guys have given me a great car for the big tracks all year, so we expect to be up front. That track is weird. It's one of the biggest tracks we go to. Seems like it would be easy flat out for our cars. But last year at least after the Craftsman Trucks ran, we had kind of hot and windy conditions during the race, it was real slick during the race, it ends up a driver's track and handling track.
It will be interesting to see what the track does this year. It's not as easy as it seems given how big a place it is. You got to have everything working to do well.
Q: You have been racing against Thiago this entire year. Phenomenal drives that he's put on. What are they doing different? It's supposed to be basically a spec series. Does it come down to driver or is it just getting the cars set up properly?
PAUL DANA: Well, it's both. Certainly in an all-oval series, the engineering and technical package on the car is maybe perhaps a little bit more important than if it were a road course series. The old saying: Racing is doing well means testing early. The Sam Schmidt guys signed Thiago early and they went ahead and tested a lot in December and January ahead of the testing. Our testing limit, I think you get seven days. It actually starts on February 1. The secret is to do a lot of testing before that. And they did. They found a lot of stuff particularly on the short ovals. Our program came together a little bit later and we just weren't able to do quite as much of that as we wanted.
Secondly, they hired a lot of the people from the Panther organization. The crew chief Chris Griffis was the guy that helped Mark Taylor win the championship last year, so there's a lot of knowledge that with him from the Panther program over to the Schmidt guys. The Schmidt guys ran real well last year, too, so they had a good starting point. You put all that together, get started early, there's a lot of chemistry there and it makes it a hard program to crack.
Having said all that, we're right there and we're starting to show we can crack it. We've got a lot of energy and a lot of talent on our team on the Ethanol side, with the Hemelgarn Johnson guys. I'm real proud to be driving for my race team and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the paddock. We're going to keep taking the fight to them.
Q: With the upcoming next season, we're looking at road courses for the IndyCar Series. Would you like to see that as part of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series or would you rather stick on just the ovals?
PAUL DANA: Oh, no, absolutely I came up through the road racing ranks. So last year when I came into the (Menards) Infiniti Pro Series was my first year doing all ovals. Prior to last year, I had only done one. I miss turning right. I still try to get over to pits where my old F 2000 team is based and run with them once every couple months to knock the rust off, stay sharp.
I'm really looking forward to that. I'm hoping the league is able to add several events.
Q: Do you think it would take much change in the cars?
PAUL DANA: Oh, yeah. It's a comprehensive switch-over. You need certainly different cooling on the oil side, which currently on our cars is sealed off. You need a different differential because we run a spool. You need an open disc. The suspension needs to square up. Probably some brake cooling issues, some downforce packages. It ends up being a pretty big switch-over.
Q: Your Ethanol sponsorship, you should be commended on being one of those guys hustling a sponsorship and getting it done virtually on your own. Can you talk about your partnership with Ethanol?
PAUL DANA: I'm the luckiest guy in North America to hook up with a growing industry that's resourceful and hungry and eager to get out on a national stage.
There's a lot of family money in this sport. A lot of drivers are able to run on family money through most of their career. I just don't come from that background. Every step of the way I've had to beg, borrow or steal a ride, find a way to get myself in a seat or, more recently, convince other people to pay for it. I've kind of always had to do that.
Just a few years ago, I was sitting out after my F 2000 program, I didn't have an opportunity. I was sitting out. Still real hungry to drive. I just sort of met some people in the Ethanol industry and just kind of was thinking about the issue of energy security, trying to grow our own fuel, the environmental aspects and whatnot.
It just seemed like here we have a great American home-grown fuel. Isn't it time for that to start promoting itself through motorsports in the traditional way that the engine manufacturers, tire manufacturers, all the technology people in the auto industry have always used racing.
We just hit it. It's the right program at the right time. We have more than 25 individual companies from the Ethanol industry that contribute funding to the program, so it's very, very broad based. All my sponsors are extremely dedicated and extremely committed, are thinking long term. It's a phenomenal program to be able to represent.
Q: I'm wondering how the size of the field affects the safety factor. Obviously you'd like to have more cars. With the speed involved, there's no margin of error when people start touching wheels. Does that kind of factor into making it a bit safer, perhaps?
PAUL DANA: I'm not sure the size of the field matters from the safety standpoint. It's the quality of the field. I'd rather have 10 solid programs with 10 solid drivers than 20 cars out there and the back 10 shouldn't be there.
We have a lot of competitive teams and drivers in our series and they know what they're doing. Usually, even if you're in a 30-car field, usually you're only racing the one or two cars around you. Usually the top two or three drivers and teams rise to the top anyway.
It's still a new series and all forms of motorsports are down a bit with sponsorships and stuff. It's not the grid sizes that everybody would like to see. I kind of think that you'd still see the same four or five cars running at the front if you do regardless of who all is in the back like we were last year. That's just part of it. You just keep looking for that No. 1 spot and worry about what's ahead of you and not what's behind you.
Q: With the history that The Milwaukee Mile has, the Packers used to play NFL championship games, there were chariot races, all the things that have gone on, you how special is it that your name is on the winner's list?
PAUL DANA: It's unbelievable. Not just because it's one of the oldest tracks; it's also the flattest track we go to. It's the hardest track from a driver's standpoint. Our cars don't nearly have the downforce the IndyCars Series cars do. I think the top IndyCar (Series cars) this weekend were flat out in qualifying, and we were sliding around and out of the throttle at both ends. We're really working there. To get it at a place like that is huge.
I grew up in St. Louis. I started going to Indy(-style) races at Elkhart Lake and Milwaukee when I was a kid and in high school and stuff. Both the Wisconsin tracks were my first taste of Indy-(style) racing. For me to get it there, it's just awesome.
Q: As an open-wheel devotee, what did it mean to you to see Buddy Rice and his car at the south lawn of the White House, the Indy 500 champion? It's been a while since a President hosted a champ. What do you think that meant for the sport as a whole?
PAUL DANA: Oh, it's great. It's great to have an American driver that came up through F2000 and some of the same types of racing I did win it. I think that hopefully blazes a path for a lot of us. You know, the IRL has a phenomenal product. Anyone who goes to the race is blown away by what they see. They hardly ever sit down for the whole two hours. It's just a question of getting the word out to a wider and wider audience. Certainly having the car at the White House, that's about as wide an audience as you can get, so that's great.
Q: What are your aspirations even for next year? Do you have an IndyCar Series car lined up? Are you working on the 500?
PAUL DANA: It's no accident that Ron Hemelgarn and I sought each other out at the beginning of this year and put the program together. With Ron's experience winning the 500 and the championship, it's a real natural step to move up hopefully within the same team, same mechanics, people I'm working with this year. That's our first priority. We've been talking about it. We're trying real hard to make it happen, not just for the 500 but for the whole season. The win certainly helps and the consistent finishes up front. Hopefully, if we keep doing all that, we'll get a shot at it.
Q: I don't think you have been in an IndyCar Series car, have you?
PAUL DANA: No. I drove a CART car around an airport tarmac parking lot a few years ago as part of a promotional event I mooched onto.
Q: It's interesting talking to Mark and Ed. Have you talked to those guys about the added horsepower, even though they're similar, how much different they really are?
PAUL DANA: Ed and I bump into each other around the go-kart tracks around town. He and I compare notes. It depends on who you talk to. A lot of people have said, "If you can do well in the Pro Series, you can do well in the IndyCars." They have more power, but they have a tremendous amount more downforce. The grip-to-power ratio isn't all that different.
But Ed was actually talking this year, with the aero changes, the undertray modifications and stuff, how the cars are a little bit more unstable than they were in years past. I guess it's gotten a little more difficult. We've certainly seen some of the Pro Series guys struggle in the early part of their runs in the bigger series. I'm going to hopefully be talking to them a lot and try to learn as much as I can and avoid some of the same mistakes.
MODERATOR: Paul, thank you very much for joining us today. We will see you this weekend at Michigan.
PAUL DANA: Thank you.
See also: Alex Barron