July 18, 2003 Cleanevent 100 Nashville Superspeedway An interview with: MARK TAYLOR TOM WOOD ROSS FONFERKO THE MODERATOR: All right, if we could have your attention here in the media center, we'll get started with our top three press ...
July 18, 2003
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: All right, if we could have your attention here in the media center, we'll get started with our top three press conference for the Cleanevent 100 tonight at Nashville Superspeedway. We'll get started with our second- and third-place finisher, second place being Tom Wood, and third place being Ross Fonferko.
Wood got his second Top 5 in the last two races, and Ross Fonferko, kind of an interesting story, he tested this year, I believe test in the west, but this was your maiden voyage in the Infiniti Pro Series.
Tom, give your impressions of the race. I know Mark led flag to flag, but you gave him a heck of a run late.
TOM WOOD: We had a lot of car for him. He made his car pretty wide at the end, which is okay, that's racing. I think we had a quicker car. If we could have got by him, I think we would have cleared. We were fastest just about every session today. Sam Schmidt Motorsports gave me an awesome car, it was really good.
THE MODERATOR: I believe you led both practice sessions earlier today.
TOM WOOD: We led all three of them (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Probably thought you had a good shot at starting on the front row.
TOM WOOD: Yeah. We just missed the setup in qualifying a little bit, I get it hurt us. Taylor got out front and he stayed there. I was surprised he did that. He did a great job really.
THE MODERATOR: Looking at tonight's performance, as well as what you did in our most recent race out at Kansas Speedway, looks like the team is really starting to gel together, good results are happening.
TOM WOOD: Yeah. We got Mark Moore engineering for me now, and Gilbert is my chief mechanic. They're doing a great job. They're really working well together. They've just given me great cars both races.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Tom.
Let's move on to Ross. Obviously, you have to be elated with your performance. Tell us how this all came together.
ROSS FONFERKO: It was great. This actually came together real quick. We got a call from Sam and he asked us if we wanted to test here last week. We came out, did the test. We actually finalized funding for the race within about three days of the race, came out here.
We ran real strong in practice. You know, I was happy with where we were towards the front of the pack. We didn't quite have enough in qualifying. We just had a little bit too much downforce, couldn't free up the car enough to get it to run fast enough.
Then we thought we'd have a really good race setup, which we did. It's just with traffic and everything, just couldn't hang on with the draft, the front end would just wash away, push a little too much. Had to kind of sit back, comfortable, a couple car lengths back, see what I could do on restarts. Had a couple runs on some guys, gained a couple positions on the first restart. Almost had Tom going in one there. But teammates, no, I don't want to make a mistake. Made sure I pulled back.
THE MODERATOR: For Sam Schmidt Motorsports, second and third tonight, a great result. Let's start first with you, Ross. Tell us about the team, coming into it, short notice, but things really working.
ROSS FONFERKO: It was great. You know, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, everybody on the team really made me feel welcome, comfortable. It was nice. They all work real hard all the time, you know, setting up the car. They put in a lot of hours trying to fit the schedule in with this race, how quick it's come together.
I have to thank Albert, Scott, Blair, the mechanics and crew chief, engineer. They all did a great job making sure we were prepared for today. The result was obviously very great.
THE MODERATOR: Tom, from your standpoint, you've been with them all season.
TOM WOOD: We had mechanical problems kind of after the second race. We just kind of got it together. Sam is a great guy. Sam was on the radio to me at the end there. I know he can't drive now, but he was there with me the whole time. You know, I'm kind of sad we didn't win this one for him, but we were close.
The team is great. Like they're really do doing a good job. I think we'll be running up front for the rest of the season.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions from our journalist here.
Q: Tom, on those last three laps, was there a point where you thought you might be able to catch Mark?
TOM WOOD: Yeah. Actually, the second to the last lap, I had a real good run on him going down into two. I was waiting for him to pick which way he was going. My teammate and I found out we could run the high line through there. I was hoping he would commit low, because I was going to go high. But he was smart enough to kind of take the middle of the track. I didn't have a shot either side of him. So, you know, smart driving on his part.
Q: Tom, I believe you have two third places and now a second.
TOM WOOD: Well, yeah. I got a third place last year. Last race I got third. This race I'm second.
Q: Do you feel strongly you have a good shot to win the next one?
TOM WOOD: Yeah, I honestly do. We kind of have the right chemistry working right now. I'm sure we'll be up there.
Q: Odd question. Do you feel like you're carrying the flag for the older guys in the series?
TOM WOOD: Yeah. I'm kinda sorry Gary Peterson isn't here. I have about 15 years on everybody else, so (laughter).
ROSS FONFERKO: Well, you know, it's real hard when you're chasing somebody - especially when you're having a hard time catching, that's the hardest part (laughter). You always want to be up front. You always want to run strong next to the guys that are running in front.
I think we could have caught him. We would lose the draft with the push, being in the wind and everything. It upsets the wind flow over the car. You lose a lot of aerodynamics under the front end of the car, just washes outside. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to lift or put in more steering input. It slows you down.
It would have been great to run up with those guys and catch them. They have been running great all weekend, running strong all year. The fact I was even up there with them this weekend, I'm just happy about that.
Q: Tom, once Brandon dropped out, did it change your perspective at all? Were you trying more to hold him off? How was it working? What was your thought process?
TOM WOOD: Yeah, I was kind of surprised. Brandon was really running strong. He had a really good race car. You know, I was hoping both of us could go up to the front there, finish 1, 2. I don't know, something broke on it at the end.
On the last restart, after he was gone, yeah, I was just focused on Mark because like I knew he and I had the two fastest cars out there. That was about all I had to really worry about.
Q: You're in the Infiniti Pro Series, a development series. Is the goal to get into the IndyCar Series? What lies ahead in the perfect world?
TOM WOOD: My goal is I want to run the Indy 500. I'm getting up there, so I better get going pretty quickly here. That's what I want to do.
THE MODERATOR: Drivers have raced into their 50s.
TOM WOOD: I have pretty good longevity in my family. Really, for most people, I'm not even halfway there yet for the age that they get to in my family. I'm not even peaking yet.
THE MODERATOR: Ross?
ROSS FONFERKO: Definitely, I aspire to be in the IRL. I obviously would love to race in the Indianapolis 500. It's a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I think most race car drivers have all thought about being in that race. It is "the" race to be in.
Also, there's other places that people like to go, Formula 1. I think that's the epitome of road course racing. I think the IRL is the epitome of oval racing.
My background has been road courses, so this is a changeup for me. But I love them both. I just like being in the race car, I like being able to go fast. Those cars are faster. The faster you go, the more fun it is.
THE MODERATOR: For some of the members of our media, they may not be familiar with what you've done just recently. Obviously, you haven't been in the Indy Racing League's Infiniti Pro Series lately. How did you stay sharp to where you could hop in this car and get a podium finish?
ROSS FONFERKO: You know, it's actually kind of a funny story. I haven't been doing a whole lot of car racing. I've been doing some go-kart stuff. The go-karting is a cheap way to keep you sharp.
I have two go-karts. I race 100 cc karts. I also race shifter karts. The shifter karts is for endurance. Puts your body through a toll, really kind of abuses it, gets you used to the endurance you're going to need. The 100 cc karts get you used to maintaining momentum. They're underpowered, so you have to keep the car flowing. It's a good way of practicing, make sure you stay sharp and smooth.
THE MODERATOR: How do you acclimate yourself to the speed?
ROSS FONFERKO: The acclimation to speed usually comes in about 10 laps. You start off kind of fast, just pick it up each lap.
THE MODERATOR: We'll bring in Johnny Guitar, otherwise known as Mark Taylor. Have you learned how to play that yet? This is Mark's fourth victory of the season. You're taking them in clumps. You won the first two races, and now you've won our last two outings. Tell us about your night. You went flag to flag.
MARK TAYLOR: Yeah, the car was very good. We started off today, the car wasn't great, and we've been struggling with a lot of push through the day. We were able to pull that out for qualifying, put it on the pole, changed quite a lot of stuff for the warm-up and for the race. We were able to run flat out all the way through the race.
Had a little bit too much scrub, which is probably the reason why these two were all over my tail. But it was a good car. That's the important thing, to be able to keep it out front.
If it was a sprint, I think this guy next to me would have won. I felt he had a better car. He fully agrees with me. But we crossed the finish line first, and that's what counts.
THE MODERATOR: Flag to flag, it looked easy, but you did allude to the job that Tom did. He had a good run on you about 12 laps to go.
MARK TAYLOR: He had several good runs on me. It was tough to keep him back. I felt I was fair. I don't know how he felt about it. Just trying to keep on the inside, make him go around the outside. That's what I was trying to do.
It worked out for me. Just one of those things, he has to get past me; I didn't have to get past him. If it had been the other way around, I think he would have won.
THE MODERATOR: Tonight's race represents the midpoint of the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. Not an overly sizable lead. What's the mindset now?
MARK TAYLOR: To keep on winning races. That's what I'm here for. I think we've got a car good enough to keep winning. We won't win them all from now on, but the important thing is to get good results. We've had good finishes in the past, and we'll have good finishs in the future.
We have a decent points lead now. That's something to look at and just make sure that we pick up points when the car maybe isn't working as well or we've had a problem in testing. Anything could happen.
THE MODERATOR: Let's field questions from our journalists for Mark.
Q: Mark, last year AJ IV dominated, won four out of seven. Do you feel your season is mirroring what he was able to do last year?
MARK TAYLOR: It was the start of the Infiniti Pro Series last year, and I feel that it stepped up this year. Nothing against AJ, of course, I think he's a very good driver. I feel the class of the field has stepped up. We have more consistent Top 5, Top 10 people. Anyone can win a race in the Top 10. I mean, someone from the back of the field. Luyendyk would be able to win the race. He's been struggling recently. He moved up through the field and finished third.
Q: What does that say about what you've accomplished thus far?
MARK TAYLOR: The whole thing is, we're just getting used to the series, we're getting to learn the tracks. The main aim for anybody in this series is to get into Indy cars.
If dominating this series means I have a better chance to get into Indy cars, I'm grateful for it. I'm just trying to do the best I can every single race, every single time I get in the car. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. We'll have to look at that when it comes.
Q: How much does your confidence kind of snowball after the wins keep coming and coming?
MARK TAYLOR: My confidence is high when I get in a car that is so good like this. Every time I get in the car, it just feels perfect. That's where the confidence comes from. It's not the wins, necessarily; it's just knowing you can go around that track as quick as anybody can on that day. That's down to the Panther guys. Haven't had a problem all year - touch wood. Hopefully it will finish.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, Tom, Ross, congratulations on a job well done tonight.