Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript August 11,2009 An interview with Travis Geisler, Crew-Chief, No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Q: SAM (HORNISH JR.) TOOK A PRETTY BIG HIT YESTERDAY DURING THE RACE AT WATKINS GLEN. CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON...
Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript
An interview with
Travis Geisler, Crew-Chief, No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge
Q: SAM (HORNISH JR.) TOOK A PRETTY BIG HIT YESTERDAY DURING THE RACE AT WATKINS GLEN. CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON HOW HE IS FEELING?
A: He's doing really well. I actually had a chance to talk to him this morning. He gave me a call pretty early to make sure that I went around thanking all the guys that work on the interiors (of the car) and all the welding on the chassis. He's in good shape. He was going to take it easy today and get a little rest. It's something that we're real proud of here at Penske Racing as far as the safety of our cars. Certainly with the carbon fiber seats and everything that we've done over the last couple of years, it's pretty obvious that we have a really safe car. This COT has done a really good job protecting the drivers. Sitting there watching a friend and co-worker take a hit like that isn't the most comforting thing. Knowing that you've done everything that you can do and when you see him sitting there playing with his baby girl, it makes you feel like you're doing a pretty good job."
Q: ANY CONCERNS ABOUT SAM NOT BEING IN THE CAR THIS WEEKEND?
A: None at all. He's ready to go. He just wants to get back to Michigan because it's sort of a home race for him. It's about the closest (track) to home that we race for him. Our car owner (Roger Penske), Dodge, myself being from Pennsylvania, it's kind of a home race for us. So we're excited to get up there. He's ready to get back up there and we're gearing up for another good weekend.
Q: WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE TEAM AFTER HAVING BACK-TO-BACK RACES TAKE PLACE ON A MONDAY?
A: It certainly shortens up your week. The amount of days that we have in the shop here (in North Carolina) is cut down. The little bit of time that you have off to spend with your family and home are cut out. It's a little bit tough for the road guys. Our shop guys do a great job here preparing the cars. All our road guys do is come in and kind of re-stock the truck with the truck drivers, go through the primary car, kind of a once-over and make sure everything is the way that they need it. They kind of re-stock stuff that they go through in the tool box and things like that. So, all that stuff gets packed in a shorter amount of time, but hey, we all do this for a living and everybody knows that it can rain out at any time and that's what we're all prepared for.
Without testing weekly now, this season, compared to years past, it almost feels like things are moving at a slower pace than we're use to. Weeks when you have rain outs and you have an extra day at the track, it almost feels like it used to be where you just worked at a faster clip. Everybody's use to it and are up for the extra workload.
Q: THOUGHTS ON MICHIGAN THIS WEEKEND?
A: We've had some really good cars at Michigan. I think if people look over the second-half of this season (as compared to the start); we've been pretty darn good. We haven't gotten a lot of good finishes out of them; some things have come up that have taken us out of contention when we were running in the top five pretty much each time. Certainly, we're able to finish in the top 15. I think that's what we expect to be able to go do.
Michigan is a track where Sam has run well at. He has a lot of experience there in both stock cars and open wheel cars and he's pretty comfortable there. We did struggle a bit for the first race, so we've done some things that should pick us up a bit. We've done our homework. Hopefully, when the test comes out there on Sunday, we'll be able to have some of the right answers in place.
Q: WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING THAT RAN THROUGH YOUR MIND AS CREW CHIEF WHEN YOU SAW SAM'S WRECK?
A: Your first instinct is to wait to try and hear and see if it's you (your driver). At a place like Watkins Glen, it's tough. We have three spotters and they still don't see every spot on the track. We really didn't see what was going on until it came up on the Jumbotron and saw the aftermath of it. It certainly is concerning.
As I said earlier, Sam's not just a driver and an employee here; he's a friend of ours. He spends a lot of time with us. We spend a lot of time with his family... his wife Crystal, his daughter Addison.
You live together pretty much all year long, so you develop pretty close ties. Fortunately, we were able to see on the Jumbotron he was reaching up to get the window net down so I just told him (on the radio), "Hey, go ahead and get out. We see ya moving, you have a little bit of fire on the back (of the car)", and just try to keep him calm. He did what he needed to get out of there. It certainly is concerning, but we know that we've done everything that we can do on the safety side and certainly he does everything that he can do inside there to keep himself safe. From there, you just have to hope the good Lord is on his side. Watching the replay, Jeff Gordon took a pretty darn good hit too.
We were kind of a little bit more spectacular with how our car spun around, but actually it was a solid hit. The 24 took a little bit more of a hit there when he hit the inside barrier. That's kind of the initial reaction. You want to make sure that your driver is OK and obviously we knew that we weren't going to get back on track. The rear clip was probably 50 yards down the race track. I guess my only other secondary reaction to what went on there was looking at that section of the race track at Watkins Glen, I really feel like we need to do some improvements (to the track). We saw the 38 car have the exact same thing happen. Luckily, (Jeff) Burton, who was behind him in the Nationwide practice, had enough time to get the car slowed down because in practice you're not that close. Unfortunately in the race, you have a whole lot more cars in a tight area and there wasn't any room (for Sam) to get kicked back out into the middle of the race track and not get hit by another car.
I would really ask that Watkins Glen take a look at what they have there. I believe it's a pretty fast high-speed section without a lot of runoff. They do a great job with traps in a lot of corners and I think that they could probably push the wall back a little bit, maybe put up some SAFER barriers that we have at all the other race tracks that we go to and put a little gravel runoff in there so that you trap a car when it goes off. Then it's the 77 car wreck instead of the 77, 24 and 31. That's kind of my only response to it looking at it today. The tire barriers seemed like a trampoline to me and everybody who watched last year's race remembers kind of the highlight reel of Sam getting pretty much involved in someone else's wreck there. If the wall would have absorbed the car or kept it at least close to it, it probably would have been a single or maybe two or three-car incident. Instead, the whole track was blocked because (he) got bounced back into the race track and people couldn't avoid him.
Q: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT SAM ON AND OFF THE TRACK IN THE YEAR THAT YOU'VE BEEN HIS CREW CHIEF?
A: I think the most important thing I've learned that Sam is pretty different as far as how he takes on a race weekend. I've had the opportunity to work with some other guys like Ryan Newman, people like that, who are really analytical, really wanted every detail of what was going on and they were really involved in those kinds of things. Sam really wants to see a bigger picture of what's going on. He doesn't necessarily want to see every detail of what you're doing. He has a lot of trust in what we do with our team and a lot of trust in the changes that we make. As long as you can kind of keep things in perspective and going in the right direction, he keeps that trust in you and then you're in good shape because he likes to focus on what he's doing. He'll be the first person to criticize himself and you really don't have to say much to him about, "You really need to move this line around a little bit. I see somebody else doing this."
He'll pretty much come on the radio and say, "Hey, I see where these guys are arcing it in more than I am. I can't do it because I feel like our car is going to get a little bit too loose on entry here. That's what I'm feeling." From there, he'll leave it in our hands to try and figure out what to do to make the car better. From that aspect, I really like that fact that he is involved in what we're doing, but doesn't try and drive the boat on everything.
He certainly has his opinion. There are times that you have to go with his opinion because it's really all that you have. I think that he has some training how to run cars with telemetry and data acquisition on them throughout the race as where sometimes the guys sitting on a pit box or working in the garage area have some more information than you do.
They have more time to focus on what the car is doing and how everything's interacting and what we've done on a seven post test and we're the guys who are supposed to understand it and he lets us go with that. It's a privileged position to be in. You just have to be sure that you do things right and when he's making a comment that you can fix what he's fighting.
Q: AS A FORMER RACER, CAN YOU UNDERSTAND SOME OF THE CROSSROADS THAT SAM IS GOING THROUGH IN NASCAR?
A: It's certainly an interesting question that I've asked myself a couple of times. At some point early on he may have asked himself, I don't know. Again, I just think that it shows his tenacity for racing. He wanted to race more. He wanted to be in the highest level of motorsports in the country and he felt like coming over here was going to be a new, big challenge for him. Growing up, he kind of liked the stock car thing. He's talked about the fact that he wishes that he could have gone down that path, but some opportunities and doors opened on the open-wheel side and that's where he and his dad we're really able to make a mark for him running the different Formula Atlantic series and Formula Fords. That is where he got his opportunities and that's where he got his seat time. To make that decision certainly took a lot of bravery. He and his wife jumped into this thing with both feet and they're digging through it. It's really rewarding for me to be a part of having that decision maybe start to come to fruition here. I think we're all starting to see this isn't going to be a guy that turns his tail between his legs and goes back. He's going to deal with whatever comes up here and he's going to take it head on and take it on himself to make things better. We were talking last night on the plane ride home about Michigan and he was asking me a lot more questions about the car, asking me more detailed stuff and you can just tell that he's getting more comfortable with what he's doing and now he wants to take it to the next step. I think that sums up the way that he is with everything he does. He wants to take everything to the next step and I think this was the next step in his career.
Q: DO YOU THINK SAM BECOMING A PARENT HAS HELPED HIM THROUGH SOME OF THESE THINGS?
A: I became a father last year at the end of May and I'm pretty much in the same situation as he was. I made the move (to crew chief) and pretty much got put in a different career. He and I are similar with some of the changes in our lives and I think that it has made him a stronger person. I think that he has more to work for now. Anytime that anyone has a family, has relationships with people that they feel they have to be there for and provide for, you're going to work a little harder for it. I think it keeps the fuel and fire turned up a bit more.
Fortunately, he's able to travel with Crystal and Addison to all the races. They're a part of our team. They come to team dinners with us. They hang out whenever they can with us and fly with us most of the places that they go. They're a little bit different than your typical driver who's on a separate travel plan and really only sees the guy a little bit on race weekend when he comes to get in the car.
They're a part of our team, part of our family. Sam is able to travel with his family and spend time with them while they're on the road doing what he does for a living. It's a pretty nice bonus for him and I really think that he enjoys that.
-credit: dodge motorsports