Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
September 19, 2006
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests today are Brian Barnhart, president and chief operating officer for the Indy Racing League; Jeff Boerger, president of the Kansas Speedway; and Craig Rust, president of Watkins Glen International. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Earlier today the Indy Racing League announced 2007 race dates at both of the facilities. The IndyCar Series will compete at Kansas Speedway on April 29th, while the IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series will compete at Watkins Glen on July 8. The scheduling representing a new weekend for each track.
Brian, I know the Indy Racing League is excited about the new dates at each of these venues. Can you tell us a little bit about the reasons behind the changes.
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, there's a lot of them, Tim. You're right, the IndyCar Series, the IRL in general, is very happy with the changes for both venues. It's taken a little while to make this happen, you know, from Watkins Glen standpoint. We've run two very successful races there. The first one was in September of '05, and then this one in June of '06.
I think all along Craig and everybody at Watkins Glen had been hoping for the 4th of July weekend. But, you know, we started running here at Kansas in July of '01 on the 4th of July weekend. It was difficult to take into consideration trying to make everybody happy and work the schedule around when you include support series events and were successful running here at Kansas with the Truck Series, so we wanted them to be able to join us.
Kansas has always kind of wanted to get to a cooler climate standpoint. It took a little while, a couple of years, to get these things worked out, clear all the hurdles and obstacles to make it happen. But from that standpoint, I think it's going to be great for both of them.
I think the Watkins Glen race on the 4th of July weekend, then Kansas here the last race before the Indianapolis 500, I think it's a good move. It's one of those situations you always hope for. Everyone seems to have finally gotten what they wanted, where you hear about win-win. This is the type of situation that everyone will benefit from the moves and they'll be productive for all.
TIM HARMS: Tell us a little bit more about the fact that Kansas will be that weekend right before the Indianapolis 500 versus in the past couple years we've been coming right back from Japan. How important is it from a league standpoint to have a race in the United States before the Indianapolis 500?
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, I think that's very important. The last two years we've been at St. Petersburg for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the first week of April. That's been our last domestic race before the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend.
You go through about a 50-day phase where you are racing, but it's only one time, and it's in Japan. While the race at Twin Ring Motegi is also an important event for us and very successful event because of our partners at Honda and Firestone, it is difficult to get the mainstream media to follow you when you're on the other side of the planet. We kind of disappear off the radar screen for the 10 or 12 days we're over on the other side. Like I say, we don't race domestically for about 50 days.
The move of Kansas to April 29th is great because it listens to what the Kansas fans were telling Jeff and everybody here at the Kansas Speedway they wanted. It puts it into a cooler climate, a more comfortable atmosphere for the fans. But it certainly gets us back into the mainstream media and the public eye the week before practice opens for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. I think that's very important to have a race the week before we start practice for Indy.
TIM HARMS: Jeff, as Brian mentioned, you guys have kind of been working for a couple years on trying to move the date, mostly out of the heat and into a cooler time of the year for you. Tell us what it means to you guys, the move, from your standpoint.
JEFF BOERGER: It's for the fans. Kansas Speedway, that's what we stand for, fans come first. The IRL, they've been great partners from day one. They put on the most exciting racing out here at Kansas Speedway. With their close finishes year after year, this sport is all about sustainability, making sure the fans remain happy and continue to buy those race tickets.
70% of our fans were telling us from the survey we conducted over the past that we want to move -- we want this date to be moved to late April or sometime in May. We've listened to the fans. We were able to work with the IRL and all of our partners to make sure that that happens.
At the end of the day, this prestigious event, we're now the second -- we've been the second home to the IRL. Going into the Indy Racing League's event with the Indianapolis 500, that just solidifies our second home. We're happy to have them back. We're very excited for next year's race to happen.
TIM HARMS: Craig, Brian also mentioned you guys will be looking at your third different race weekend in as many years. Again, it's something you guys wanted right there near the 4th of July holiday. What does the change mean for you?
CRAIG RUST: Well, as Brian pointed out, this is something, the 4th of July race, we've been trying to do for a number of years. I appreciate working with Brian and Jeff to be able to put it together.
It's pretty simple. The weather is more consistent up here. It's a beautiful part of the country in the summertime, in July and August. Tourism with the wineries up here, the lakes, the mountains, just the natural resources that Upstate New York offers, it's just a great time of year to host this world-class event.
Pretty soon Jeff is going to have to go to the third home because it's our goal to be the second largest event on their calendar. With the history and heritage of Watkins Glen, a good summer date, kids are out of school, families are traveling, we believe we're poised to do that.
TIM HARMS: Let's open it up to some questions for all three of our guests.
Q. Brian, do any of these announcements today make it easier, harder, or about the same for LA to get another race?
BRIAN BARNHART: It really doesn't have much effect on LA. I think that's still a very important market for us. We're going to work as hard as we can to have a presence in the Southern California area.
I think everything we've been pointing to has been more of a March date. I think that's where that would stay. So I don't think the Watkins Glen or Kansas date moves would have much of an effect one way or the other.
If we can overcome the other challenges that are out there, I would hopefully see us back in the LA market in the 2008 season. Our preference would be to do something in the March time frame.
Q. The rumors have been flying around Montréal. Any piggybacking for the expected Busch date up there?
BRIAN BARNHART: We certainly would have interest up there. As far as I know, I don't think anything's been announced from a Busch standpoint at Montréal either.
Nothing has changed from our position or our stance with regards to Montréal. We've told the promoter we would have interest in running there. If he has interest in running us, he can contact us when he has the capability of running us. That hasn't changed. We still have interest in running, whether it's a stand-alone event or if Busch happens to go up there. That would certainly make it a little more complicated in terms of logistics and the details, that type of deal.
At this point in time, nothing has changed. We just have interest in there, but there's no announcements or impending announcements regarding Montréal.
Q. Pending announcements with Detroit?
BRIAN BARNHART: Probably the same thing. We've seen and heard the same interest that everybody else has had in Roger Penske's comments regarding Belle Isle. We definitely would have interest in there, if that event looks like it could get put back together and on the schedule, we would have interest in doing so.
Q. Can you talk about Daytona a little bit. You have that here in a few days. I suppose you would never say never to a race. How important is this? It's really a historical trip you're about to make.
BRIAN BARNHART: We're really excited about the Daytona test. We're going down there, running next Tuesday and Wednesday. I think we have four cars going down. We have a Penske car, Ganassi, Andretti, and a Panther car going down. It is an important test for us. We're going to do it mainly just to test the compatibility and feasibility of that facility hosting us in an open test atmosphere in the spring of 2007.
But you're right. I mean, ultimately I don't think we want to be looking at a facility just for a test facility. If things go well in the first year of testing, then I would hope the league and the facility would have an eye towards racing there in the future. I think if it can benefit all parties involved, then I think that should be the ultimate goal.
But I think we've got to take steps first to go down there, see if we can test down there. If we test well, it goes well in the spring of '07, maybe both parties can sit down and talk about the future at that point in time.
But I think you're right, ultimate goal should be to race down there at some time in the future.
Q. Craig, with the IRL coming, would there be any other companion events at Watkins Glen that weekend?
CRAIG RUST: Yes. Right now we have the Indy Pro Series, Grand-Am Cup will be running on that weekend, and we will also be bringing back the historic Grand Prix, which are obviously the old F1 cars.
We feel anchored by the IndyCar Series. We've got a great weekend that not only celebrates the history of Watkins Glen, but will showcase where our future is going with open-wheel racing up here.
Q. Brian, why was the decision made to do the schedule piecemeal rather than throw it all out in one piece?
BRIAN BARNHART: To be honest with you, I think it's to try and keep more stories out there instead of just dropping one thing out there. I think it's to give each respective facility their due and the proper amount of recognition for their support of what we're doing.
Because we are making some significant changes. You know, I didn't want to just lay out the schedule and say, Here's all the changes: Watkins Glen is moving. Kansas is moving. You start looking at that type of deal.
I think they're newsworthy enough stories that we ought to give them the respect that each significant change makes with the addition of the Iowa racetrack. I didn't want to include that in a schedule announcement. So I think we've got some really newsworthy announcements and stories coming.
We hope to have the entire schedule done probably within seven to ten days. I think it can be a schedule we all can be proud of with some significant changes and additions that I this will bode well for our future.
Q. How many more pieces to this puzzle will there be? How many more races?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think this brings us to nine that have been announced right now. I think you'll see a couple more announcements before the end of this week. When it's all said and done in the next week to 10 days, I would look for either a 16- or 17-race schedule.
Q. Brian, previously with the Iowa date going into the last weekend of June, now the announcement with Watkins Glen the week of the 4th of July, are negotiations still going on with Richmond?
BRIAN BARNHART: I don't think there will be any negotiations. I think we're set with Richmond. I think you should be looking for information by the end of this week when our Richmond race will be.
Q. Brian, you talked about the schedules, how long it takes to change these things. How would you assess what happened in Chicago competing with the NFL's situation? I know you'd really like to be completely out of the NFL head-to-head competition, but that's pretty difficult to do anyway, let alone in any short period of time. Where do you stand with moving everything out of the NFL season?
BRIAN BARNHART: I couldn't agree more. I mean, I would love to be completely done before it begins, but that means we would have to be done on Labor Day weekend. As I think everybody is going to find out in the next week to 10 days when we get our finalized deal out there, there just aren't enough weeks available for us in the time frame that we're trying to run, the number of events that we're trying to run, to be concluded by what I believe next year will be September 2nd.
Unfortunately, our season finale has to be into the NFL season. Right now this year we concluded it on opening weekend of the NFL season. We've kind of kicked around, would it be better -- since you're going to have to go into the NFL season -- would the second week be a better week with some of the hoopla surrounding opening weekend subsiding a little bit the second week, or should we stay where we're at?
Unfortunately, I just don't think there's any way we'll get the thing wrapped up before football begins. I think even when it's all said and done, our season-ending race next year will probably go one or two weeks into the NFL season again.
Q. Do you think you're going to have a race that first weekend in August? Because if not, you're going to go from Michigan to Kentucky and have a three-week break.
BRIAN BARNHART: Yeah, we're going to do everything we can to avoid that. I feel confident we will have an event somewhere in the first week of August.
TIM HARMS: All right, gentlemen. Thanks for your time this afternoon. Appreciate that. We definitely are looking forward to our visits to both Kansas Speedway and Watkins Glen International in 2007.
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