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IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Joie Chitwood III
A.J. Foyt
May 9, 2006


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Today on this first day of practice for all cars for the 90th running of the Indy 500, we're honored to have two special guests with us. Four-time Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt is with us and also Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Joie Chitwood. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you for taking the time to join us.
I'll point out we've had 16 cars over 220 miles an hour, so off to a fast start for the month.
AJ, couple questions for you. You made 35 consecutive starts in the race as a driver from 1958 to '92, winning it in 1961, '64, '67 and '77, and also as the owner in 1999. You have three cars entered this month, the 14 car with Felipe Giaffone, the 41 with Larry Foyt and also the 48. Talk about Felipe. Last year you made a last minute phone call to him on bump day, he qualified the car. This year you have him for the full year. Tell us a little bit about what having Felipe around has meant to the team.
AJ FOYT: It's meant a lot. You know, we struggled here for the last three years. It's meant an awful lot having him around.
The first two races we really got to know him real well. Of course, you know, we had a bad day at Japan, but you're going to have that in racing regardless who you are. That's a big thing, we kind of know each other. We have the new car ready to go out probably within an hour, trying to make sure everything is right before we go out.
THE MODERATOR: You have Larry coming back for his third run at Indianapolis. Obviously, his first two races didn't end up so well for him. What does he need to do this month to get a better result in the race?
AJ FOYT: Well, I run him yesterday, just giving him experience. There was a mistake made in last year's race, he got in trouble. Year before last year in traffic I told him to stay out of everybody's way, he was a rookie, just give them the racetrack. He kind of loosed up and kind of slid up. Last year it was a mistake made on a pit stop that they just adjusted something backwards, it jumped loose on him, broke his vertebrae in his back.
He's doing real good. He's real smooth. I just felt like he needs to have a fair chance here. I know he's not going to, say, be a No. 1 driver at the present time with no more experience, but I think he can still run good, run all day, it will do him real good.
THE MODERATOR: Just wanted to get your take. There's three guys this year that are essentially coming out of retirement to come back and run the 500 again. Michael Andretti, Al Jr. and Eddie Cheever. What is your take on those guys coming back and taking another run?
AJ FOYT: I drove my last laps here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The way I felt when I got out, it's not that I don't have the urge to get back in, but I know better. To me for them to come back, been gone, I think they're kidding theirselves. I hope they do good. But, you know, to do good, I don't care what it's in, playing golf, riding horses, riding bicycles, you got to do it all the time. It's hard to just come back in and think you're going to be very competitive against people that run every day because you're not.
THE MODERATOR: Let me ask Joie a couple questions. I know you're looking forward to a great month. One thing that changed last year was the bumping format that we put into place for every qualification day. We didn't get to see the full effect of that last year due to the rain. I know we're watching the forecast this weekend hoping for sunshine Saturday and Sunday. What should fans expect with that Saturday format of 11 cars making the field?
JOIE CHITWOOD: Well, I think it's going to be pretty exciting. Of course, weather is always something we deal with here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Taking that into account last year, we did have a pretty fun day with 22 spots up for qualification, so we actually rolled pole day into the second day of qualifications.
It's an opportunity to see the gamesmanship, to see how the teams think, who wants to withdraw a speed, pull the car out of line, run later in the day. With so many cars running so tight together, I mean, when I look at a time sheet, I just look at spots really about 7 through 15 to figure out that top 10.
I think on Saturday, with weather permitting, we're going to see kind of who is going to make the run, who has what it takes, and really it's about gamesmanship. You know, you never know what's going to happen here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's probably part of the fun. You never really know. But it seems like there's always great stories and there's great activity. This place can surprise you.
So looking forward to it. If weather helps us out, it might be the first good pole day in about three or four years.
THE MODERATOR: Looking at the rest of the month, what are some of the other big events we can look forward to?
JOIE CHITWOOD: We made some changes last year that I think we're going to continue to see the positive effects from. One of the things I'm still proud about is the moving of Miller Lite Carburetion Day to Friday. In years past it was on Thursday. Last year was the first year we ever moved it to a Friday. It really seemed to kickstart the weekend. We had a great crowd out here. It really carried over through the weekend. I expect much of the same. We'll be announcing some bands here shortly for that day.
But all in all, it's really about making sure that people know they can have a good time here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, whether it's watching cars on the track, being able to participate in Q&As with drivers, former drivers, autograph sessions, listening to some music, touring the museum. You name it, we try and offer something for everybody. Hopefully people realize that you can come out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and have a good time.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for some questions for AJ and Joie.
Q. AJ, when you were talking about them kidding themselves, first of all, how long did it take for the urge to really leave you to get back in the car? What do you think is the hardest part about getting back in the car?
AJ FOYT: Well, you know, I've always felt like it's just like flying an airplane, if you don't do it every day and stay up on it, you just get behind. All you're doing is kidding yourself. It's not that you don't have the ability to do it, it's just that you've let things kind of slow down and slide by. It's very easy for you to make a mistake.
It's not that one time you probably wasn't better than 90% of these boys, but you've been out of it for a while. Very seldom do you ever see somebody come back with younger boys and can go where they was at one time. It just don't happen.
Q. How long did it take for the urge to leave you?
AJ FOYT: It never leaves you. It hasn't left me yet. I see a lot of them guys running in NASCAR and everywhere else, and I know when they come along that I could probably play with them today. But there's no sense me kidding myself. I'd have to get out there and prove that. I feel like I could run with 90% of them, yes.
But it's no sense kidding yourself. I had great days. Them days are over with. You just got to realize time passes you by. I don't care what you're in, you hate to admit it, but they're over.
Q. AJ, by my counting, this will be the 48th year you've arrived at Indianapolis. How has your sort of drive or attitude changed at all in all these years? Do you still come to Indy with the same intensity from the very beginning?
AJ FOYT: I think I do because to me this is the greatest race in the world. It's like the Kentucky Derby, there's only one of them, comes once a year. I've won a lot of major races all over the world. Let's face it, this is Indianapolis. I felt like with my team, we've struggled the last couple years. Before that, '99, we won the championship.
A lot of times when you get down, you want to fight harder to get back. That's what we're working at with Giaffone. I think that's one thing that's given me the drive coming back here. About the time you think you got it figured out, you don't.
Yeah, I still got the same drive. It just hurts knowing what you used to do, and you're not driving, you got to depend on other people. But that's putting the team together. That's really hard sometimes. Sometimes it falls in place; sometimes it don't.
I don't think I've ever given up my drive here of wanting to come back here, driver or owner, wanting to win. When that happens, you won't see AJ back here again.
Q. AJ, how have you seen the game change since the time you were driving to now being an owner? Do you think there's an awful lot of concerns with trying to get sponsor money, that being a major concern for drivers instead of focusing on being in the car?
AJ FOYT: I think that's the biggest thing. I think money is ruining a lot of sports, I don't care if it's racing or what. Fortunate enough through the years, I've been able to have good sponsor money. Maybe not as much as a couple of the other teams. But we've had enough to have good equipment and good people. I don't live out of my racing operation. It's stuff that I've made before. So that's a plus to AJ Foyt Racing because the sponsor money I have is just enough to really run the team, pay the drivers, pay the crew.
I think money is the necessary thing you have to have, but at the same time I think it's tore down a lot of the sports. I'm not only talking about racing, I'm talking about football, basketball, everything. It's something you have to have. I don't know. It's just that it's a shame because it's ruining a lot of the sports.
Q. Because there's so much emphasis on money and sponsors, do you think there's a case where sometimes somebody might buy their way into a car that shouldn't necessarily be driving out there?
AJ FOYT: I would say today, in today's market, 75% of them's bought their way in. You got a lot of great drivers. Let's put it like this. You never would have heard of AJ Foyt if I had to buy my way in because I didn't have two pennies to rub together. I had to do it on my ability. If it would have come on me having to go out and get sponsors and that, I'd still be standing outside looking in.
Q. AJ, the IRL rules are designed to create a level playing field for everybody with the engine, chassis, all that. For most of the season you're a single-car team. Do you feel you're equipped to compete with Penske, Ganassi, Andretti Green? Are you on a level playing field with those guys?
AJ FOYT: We are this year. We weren't until this year. When IRL first started, I beat them as much as they beat us. Now it's a level playing field. They got mega bucks from bigger sponsors. That don't necessarily mean you win. They got the testing and all that, you know, that you can only do so much. First two races, we're in the top 10. We run real well with a new driver.
Oh, I think they got a little advantage over you. But the biggest thing is that they got a lot more money to throw away. But as far as the competition, and they all hire the great race drivers, they got good race drivers. So that's one thing you got to take into factor.
I think as the days come and go, we're not that far behind them.
Q. Do you think at Indy where you've had such great success maybe you can make a difference there more than anyplace else?
AJ FOYT: Well, I think just anywhere, you know, that I can. I've got a great sponsor, ABC, that's on board. We're working just as hard as Penske or Ganassi. I know a lot of the boys that's over there. Like I said, they do have some great race drivers, and we got one, too, I think that's a dark horse. We're just going to have to wait till the season's over with.
Q. AJ, what do you like best about the month of May? Is it the thought and preparation or is it race day?
AJ FOYT: Well, I think building up to the race really is a lot here in Indianapolis. I think race day, approximately 400,000 people, probably one of the biggest single crowd events in the world. That's awful nice to be there and watch that many people still love the open-wheel racing. I think that's the big thing.
Q. When you look back the four decades you have been at Indy, is there any one moment or is it that first race that you raced in the one that you remember the most?
AJ FOYT: I would say the one that I remember the most was being able to qualify for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Secondly, to be the first man to ever win it four times, which I never dreamed of winning it one time, but to be fortunate enough to win it four times. I'd have to say them were my highlights in my whole racing career.
Q. AJ, you've seen this from the days of USAC, then it divided off, CART got going, then Tony started his own series. There's been talk about what the split has done. What is your opinion, do you think we're getting close this time or is this hot air?
AJ FOYT: I think it's a lot of hot air myself. The reason I say that, all your big teams, all your big drivers are over here at the present time. I can't see where IRL would benefit by them coming together. The only thing that everybody would benefit is it would just be one series because, let's face it, we got pretty safe cars. The cars like they're running is the reason I'm crippled today when it was named CART. But at the same time all I can say is that they got a good deal going. They did get in a deal a couple years ago when the field got all way uneven. But now that they've pulled it back together, I think you're going to see IRL do nothing but grow, grow, grow.
Like I say, all your major teams are over here, Penske, Ganassi. I don't see where you'd gain that much, you know, by changing all the rules again. If they wanted to come over and run the same conditions that we're running with our type of cars, it would be good to see Champ Car because we've got great races, places that we're having them in. As far as the street course, I say St. Pete is probably to me a greater race than the Long Beach. The only other races I see that they probably have that we don't have is they got one in Canada and one in Mexico, which when it was USAC I did win a road race over in Canada.
I cannot see where IRL would benefit at all, except like you say, it's just one series of racing.
Q. AJ, is there any chance Anthony is going to wind up at the speedway? I know his NASCAR career has faltered. Any insight on that?
AJ FOYT: Well, no, he definitely won't drive for me. He wanted to go down there and kind of go on his own, which I give him my blessing. If that's what he wants to do, I'll never hold nobody back.
Some of the people that he signed with and some of the other things he's got going on, there's no way I'd work with him. He definitely will not drive for us at the Indy 500.
Q. You guys are on the outs right now, is that fair to say?
AJ FOYT: No, no, no, no. I love him like my own son. I love him to death. He's the one that wanted to go do the things he is. I'm putting a team together. I'm just worried about my own team right now with Giaffone. That's my main driver. That's who I have to worry about. Last two and a half years, we've kind of had our ass kicked pretty well. I don't like that. I'm working hard to get us back on top.
Q. Joie, what is your opinion about the way things are now with the whole month of May? Do you feel like it should get back to the way it was when you had a lot of people in the stands for qualification, just about every round of qualifying?
JOIE CHITWOOD: Well, I think one of the things that's important is to make sure that we're trying to do the right things for our fans. You have to think back to what was going on in some of those days. AJ probably can talk to this even better. There's that allure of breaking speed marks, whether it's 150 miles per hour, 200 miles per hour, setting records. In this day and age with some of the safety concerns, the competition, there needs to be restrictions and limits.
I think that the IRL has worked real hard to come up with the right kind of program. But you're not going to see anybody running 250 miles per hour, 300 miles per hour. I think without that allure, it changes a little bit.
I still think some of the things we're putting in place, whether it's changing the qualifying procedure to have more bumping or more activity, whether it's moving carburetion day, I'll be honest, I don't think that we were listening to our fans very closely as to what is of interest to them. The ability to get an autograph, stand in front of the stage and actually ask a question to the race car drivers, those are things we need to continue to do more of.
Today right now, we've got hundreds and hundreds of fourth graders here who are part of the Indy 500 history lesson program taught in fourth grade classes in the state of Indiana. It's followed up with a field trip. We have hundreds of kids here experiencing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Luckily enough, they're getting a great day of activity with all the cars running around the track.
For us, our challenge is to continue to provide a great experience for the fans who continually come here, meaning let's make sure the heritage and the tradition continues, but we have to introduce those younger people to the speedway and why our traditions are so important, why it's so special, hopefully attract them to the race for years to come as well.
Q. Are you at liberty to kind of outline some other things in mind to help really promote qualification as an event beyond the concerts?
JOIE CHITWOOD: You know, I think for us there's a number of things that we'll do. We're going -- we have invited on rookie orientation former rookies of the year to be here for autograph sessions. We have former pole winners planned for Saturday. The key for us is making sure we draw on that heritage, the people who created names for themselves by accomplishing tasks here at the speedway.
Like any marketing organization, we have to make sure we tell people what it is that's special about us. I think most industries, entertainment more than any, everyone is after that younger fan. How can you kind of create an experience for a younger fan that's different than everyone else, whether it's football, basketball, extreme sports, you name it. There's a lot of competition out there. We have to do our best to make sure we're relevant, that the history means something. It's all about putting a plan out there and making sure people want to try it the first time. If they like it, they continue to come back.
Q. AJ, what is a realistic outlook for your team this month at Indy?
AJ FOYT: I'd like to see Giaffone win and Larry run in the top 10. I think a lot of people got the same idea. I think Giaffone will be up there at the end of the day.
Q. I believe they're going to be racing Champ Cars in your hometown this weekend.
AJ FOYT: I understand that. They've run them there before. Where they're running is about the worst place you can ever go see a race. I never even drove down the street to see them when Mike and all of them was running CART. I'm not going to miss nothing.
I hate to leave you people, but we're trying to get out on the racetrack. I'm going to have to go out there. I appreciate talking to all y'all. If you need to know anything else, get ahold of our marketing people or Joie.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, AJ. Thank you, too, Joie, for joining us this afternoon. We appreciate you taking the time. Wish you guys both the best of luck for this month.

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