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Indy Racing League Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Buddy Rice
June 8, 2004

TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome you to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We are joined today by the winner of the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500. Buddy Rice joins us from Salt Lake City. Thank you for joining us today.

BUDDY RICE: Thanks for having me on, no problem.

TOM SAVAGE: You've had a whirlwind few days after Indianapolis. I was with you for a bunch of them. It was a rather intense media tour that we went on. I know you got to go home for a couple of days. Have things started to sink in a little bit for you here now that we're a week removed from the race

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I think a little bit. Still it's going to take a while just to understand everything that's really happened. And we're still -- I mean, I'm on the second leg right now of the media tour. I leave again tonight for some more stuff in New York, then off to the Texas race. It starts up again after that. But, no, it's been very enjoyable. I've enjoyed every bit of it. It's just -- it's definitely been a little hectic. I think it will still take a little bit for everything to kind of really come together and understand what's really happened.

TOM SAVAGE: We actually left Tuesday morning with you to New York City for that media tour. I know you were going full bore there all week. You finally got home over the weekend. When you got home, was that a time really to reflect when you finally got to sit down in your own house and thought you couldn't believe what finally happened?

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I mean, it's like I said really hard to believe. I finally got home and I'd seen some of the newspaper clippings, some of the stuff that had happened both at home and in other media stuff. So that was pretty cool. And just -- it was the first time I actually got to watch the telecast from ABC and stuff and be able to see that. So, yeah, it's going to take a little bit, I think, for it to really sink in, though.

Q. How were you received in Phoenix? Race night we were flooded with calls from Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio. When you got home, was it amazing to see everything? I know you had a bunch of voice mail messages.

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, it was pretty hectic. I laid pretty low. I didn't get home until late Friday. I was off again first thing yesterday morning for some of the stuff for Argent and Pioneer. But, yeah, I just laid real low, though, for the most part. But, you know, it seemed like everything was pretty well-received.

TOM SAVAGE: The icing on the cake for your media tour is a visit to The David Letterman Show tomorrow night. Are you excited about that, nervous about that? Give us your thoughts about being on Letterman.

BUDDY RICE: I'm actually pretty pumped to be going to Letterman's deal. I'm interested in seeing him. I haven't seen him since Victory Lane. So it's going to be nice. I think we're supposed to show up tomorrow, you know, get together before the show and stuff, and then obviously we'll do the show and then right after that I have to boogy out to get to Texas because we start running the following day in Texas.

TOM SAVAGE: That was my next question. Are you done with the media stuff, itching to get back in the race car?

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I'm looking forward to going back to Texas. I mean, there's -- we got the points championship. I like running at Texas. It's also a night race, which I really enjoy. I'm definitely looking forward to getting to Texas.

TOM SAVAGE: I know you have a ton going on this week, later today, especially with Argent. So let's open it up to the media.

Q. How much has winning Indy changed your approach or outlook on the season points title, if at all? Obviously you want to win the title, but how much has Indy really changed your strategy in terms of really going after it now that you're third in points?

BUDDY RICE: For me, it hasn't changed it at all. I'll be back to driving how I was driving and I'll take my approach going into the weekend and into the race identical. So I just -- we just need to keep our heads down as a team and keep focused because it is very hard, you know, to win the biggest race there is and then to try to come back, you know, two weeks later and run again and still make sure you're focused on the championship. But, you know, this team's been here before, they've won championships before, so they know what it takes. And for both myself and the team, I don't think we'll change anything at all.

Q. How much has Kenny helped in terms of giving you an idea of what to do after Indy, after winning Indy?

BUDDY RICE: Kenny and I, we've talked a couple of times, but nothing like that. I mean, everybody has to handle it their own certain way and deal with it in their own terms. So, you know, everybody being so different, I think you just got to handle it on your own.

Q. Can you tell us what may have motivated Eddie Cheever to dismiss you? Do you intend to remain with the IRL or move elsewhere?

BUDDY RICE: Well, for the first part of your question, I mean, no, I mean, Eddie is his own character, he does his own thing. It's his team and he can make whatever decisions he wants. He obviously felt he needed to make a change in his mind, and he thought it was better for the team. So, you know, Eddie can do what he wants with his team. There's no reason to sit there and for me to look back and wonder why. I'm in a lot better place right now. I'm in a lot better position. You know, I'm very happy with where I'm at. With that... With going somewhere else, no, I'm very happy to be in the IRL. I had opportunities to go somewhere else and race in other stuff for this year, and I chose to stay here, even though there was a strong possibility that it was going to be a limited-time deal. That's because this is where I wanted to be at and I wanted to keep driving open-wheel cars and I wanted to be in the IRL.

Q. When you saw the replay of the restart pass, what went through your mind? Did you gasp yourself, "How did I pull that off?"

BUDDY RICE: No. I mean, I knew it was close when I was going by. I knew that. But, you know, it's just one of those things. I mean, you have to take advantage of anytime you can attack. To get past both of those guys in one shot was something I needed to do, otherwise it was going to be very difficult to try and pass them. I saw the opportunity, and I took it. I knew, I mean, it was probably a little bit of a risky move, but it was something I felt that we needed to do. That's what I want -- that's what I think was going to be, you know, good for us later on. I wanted to get back out in front and get back to leading.

Q. What's the methodology for you to get ready for Texas? All this has been great, but like you said, you have to get back in the car and start focusing on what happens the rest of the season.

BUDDY RICE: Well, I mean, basically I have nothing going on Thursday morning until once I get to Texas. They've slowed down all the media stuff until later on, like on Friday when there's nothing going on, then again until after the race weekend for the most part, other than the standard stuff. With that, being with a top team, a team that knows how to handle these kind of things, that's what's great about it, they know how to schedule all these things so you have time with yourself and to get back to driving.

Q. Do you feel like there's going to be a target on Buddy Rice's back now? You're the Indy champion, third in points. Do you feel like you go out there and guys are looking at you a little differently now?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I really don't know. I mean, some of them might view me differently. But I think they're all going to be focused on the same thing: going for the points championship. I mean, it's fairly close right now, and we've only had four races. We got 12 more rounds to go. They're all going to be fought very hard. I think, you know, everybody will be pushing hard.

Q. Bobby Rahal has won championships. Have you had a chance to sit down with him and look him in the eye and let him tell you how you get back on track now and go the bigger prize, the IRL championship?

BUDDY RICE: You know, Bob and I talked a little bit over the weekend, because I was so busy with the media stuff... But, you know, basically the only thing he's really said is he just said, "Don't forget, you know, what we're here to do. We still have to finish the year off." That's been the big thing. But, no, other than that, that's really been it. I mean, Bob's been a huge supporter of mine, he's helped me out in the past. But, no, we haven't had a big long discussion, so...

Q. I wanted to see what it meant to Bobby, you know what he went through after he made the change to come over to the IRL, to see what this meant to him and to David Letterman, being a native Hoosier, what kind of thoughts came to mind.

BUDDY RICE: Well, I mean, I think it's a huge accomplishment for everybody. I mean, this is what we came to do. And like you said, I mean, you can always sit there and dream about it and do whatever. But until you can actually take part in it and do it and win it, you know, you never really know. It was just great to see how -- I mean, Bob's been there, he knows what it's like. But he hadn't done it as an owner. It had been a long time. With Dave, you know, he obviously had never been there, so he was super-excited. You know, with my family and all the people that have helped me from, you know, the lower formulas with DSGP and Lynx, to all the other people that have helped me, it was a very satisfying and an unbelievable deal just to see how many people were that excited. That's what makes Indy what it is.

Q. When you first met David Letterman, was it kind of intimidating, the celebrity of this guy? What was that like?

BUDDY RICE: No. Dave's a cool dude. It was really easy to talk to him. I'd talked to him a whole bunch on the phone prior to meeting him at the Speedway for the first time. So, no, it wasn't hard at all really.

Q. Has your status been clarified now for the remaining 12 races of the IRL season?

BUDDY RICE: You know, I think you'll -- we're going to have to wait and see. Kenny did his test. They'll send out what they think -- what's going to happen, what the driver lineup and sponsorship is going to be. That needs to be left up to the Rahal Letterman Group to make that announcement and what they're going to do.

Q. It seems to me like it sounds like you may be having a hard time getting your arms around what a big deal this is to everybody else. To you, you're a race car driver, you won a race. Although you know it's the Indy 500, does it strike you that maybe you haven't quite gotten your arms around what a big deal really this is yet?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, I know what a big deal the race is, what it is to win. It's just, like I said, everybody handles it differently. There's just a lot going on right now. It's a lot to take in. There's a lot to absorb. I mean, there's nothing that prepares you for this, so...

Q. Talk about Texas. That track has meant a lot to the Indy Racing League, helping it, in addition to Indianapolis, sort of endure all the years that have gone by. What is it about Texas that makes it such a great facility and venue for your style of racing?

BUDDY RICE: You know, I think there's a lot to it. I think the track length, the banking, layout and stuff, it's an awesome facility. I mean, Eddie Gossage and those guys have done a phenomenal job out there. I think a big part of it, too, is the night racing. I think the night races bring a different aspect to racing, and I wish they had more of those. It would be nice to see more of those. It's a combination of a bunch of little things that make the facility so nice. A lot of the mile-and-a-half tracks we have, we have really good racing on.

Q. Going back to 2000, the Toyota Atlantic Series, battling with Dan, have you kind of thought about that a little bit now looking at where you are in the points, with him leading it, thinking that this could be a repeat of 2000?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, yeah. I don't know what you mean by "a repeat of 2000."

Q. Just battling him.

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, no, yeah, that's definitely -- I mean, the thing is, we're definitely a lot more mature now. We're obviously doing different things in a different series. There's a different aspect to the way we have to race right now with being only on ovals. I think there's a little bit of a difference there. But it will be exciting. I mean, we had a lot of good battles in 2000. Some of the other guys in the series right now have a good battle in other forms of racing. I think it's going to be really exciting. With the respect that everybody has for each other right now, the way everything is going, I think you'll see a lot of real good, close, wheel-to-wheel racing with hopefully not too many incidents.

Q. Do you see the two of you kind of alike in terms of your temperament or approach to racing, maybe really going out there and being aggressive from the start? ?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, I guess, yeah, there is that. I'm not sure really how much we are alike or how much we are different. I mean, we obviously have two completely different backgrounds in the way we were brought up and stuff, because of different countries, things like that. But, no, I mean, I think -- I know he's an aggressive driver, and he's always on the attack, so you always have to be prepared. But he really works hard at his craft, as do a lot of the other guys there. You know, that's what makes those guys so good and that's what makes the Andretti Green Group so strong.

Q. You talked about wanting to stay in the IRL. A guy like yourself and Sam Hornish, Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Hunter-Reay, all of you have an allegiance to open-wheel that's pretty refreshing to people who love the sport. What is it about driving an open-wheel car that you find so exciting, notwithstanding the economic factors that tilt people toward driving the stock cars?

BUDDY RICE: Well, I think, you know, from growing up from go-karts and all the open-wheel stuff I've driven, I just really enjoy driving the open-wheel cars. That's what I like to race. I think -- I don't know how to really put it. With being able to bump and bang, you have to be so precise, I think, you know, it gives it a little bit different spin than maybe what some of the other people, some of the other series have. Risk factor is definitely up for us a little bit.

Q. You talked about the pass before on the front straight, the message board diving out of the way. That's the type of thing that's going to take a life of its own on. Forever frozen in time, isn't it, like ABC Sports with the ski-jumper?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I guess so. We'll have to see how people perceive it or if that's how they want to use it. At the time it's obviously something I felt I needed to do at that point to get by those guys. If they use it for the future because of that, that's cool. Whatever. I mean, just have to wait and see.

Q. Have you heard at all from DeDe Rogers?

BUDDY RICE: I know she's called my parents. I have not heard from her personally. My phone's been out of hand. I mean, I know she's been calling. I have yet to get in touch with her.

Q. Working with Vitor Meira again, are you looking forward to it? He could have been a tight competitor had he not gone over that air hose.

BUDDY RICE: Vitor has done a really good job since he came in at Japan and stuff. You know, the month went really well. He had a good race. Little mistake there towards the end. I think if that would have happened earlier on, obviously it wouldn't nearly have been as big of an issue. You know, it was just an unfortunate situation. But definitely, I mean, he's run well at Texas. With their sponsor, with the Centrix car there, I think it's good. I'm definitely looking forward to doing that again.

Q. What part of the race did you in your own mind say, "I've actually got this race in hand"?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I mean, the last set of pit stops that were all green flag, I was asking where I was at, and no one would tell me where I was at in position. So I didn't really know until more or less about a lap or so before I think the yellow came out. That's about the time I knew I was leading because I could look up at the pillar and I found where I was at. That's the only reason I knew where I was at. Then the yellow came out for the rain. At that point that's about the time I started thinking, "If this ends this way, then we've won this."

Q. With the way the IRL continually seems to grow each year, new venues, do you look forward to doing some road racing?

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I think it will add a new and little different spice. I think it will be good to add those, I think, because we have obviously the small ovals, we have Indy, we have the big ovals, we have everything in between. We don't need a lot of those, probably just a little bit. It would be good. I think that's what they're looking at doing.

Q. Before signing with Rahal, there was anticipation of doing something outside of the realm of open-wheel. Now with your success, has that been put on the shelf and maybe some of that anticipation has been satiated with some of the success you're having this season?

BUDDY RICE: My door's always open to anything. The ever-changing world of racing, you never know what's going to happen. I think you always need to keep your door open. But, I mean, I wanted to be here. Like, I mean, I had the possibility to go run full-time in some other stuff. This was going to be, you know, at the beginning was definitely just, you know, a part-time deal. We'd have to see where it went from there. So we'll have to wait and see. But this is where I wanted to be at. I think that's the only reason why anything else got pushed to the backside, because this is where I wanted to go. I also thought this was my best opportunity for me, as well

Q. Would you like to maybe have come along at a different time when drivers drove and you could be in any kind of car on any different weekend?

BUDDY RICE: It definitely would have been a lot different. I mean, this day and age, you know, you can't do that, I don't think, because of the fact that everybody works so hard at their craft that you have to specialize in whatever you're doing for the most part or give it the full attention. You can't bounce around anymore. Also I think the way technology is, people having to understand each other, all of telemetry to all the computers and everything, that's also what makes it where you have to just run in whatever you're going to do.

Q. You've gone from the Indy, flat rectangular shape course, to Texas with the banking, high speeds. You're going to be going to some super short tracks. Do you look forward to that? They're talking about lap times in the 15 seconds or less range. It's going to be insane, the speed.

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I definitely look forward to going to that. I think it's going to be really good. I think what the IRL's done with the rules package and stuff is good. I think it will be really exciting. I know that Richmond is going to be fast. I believe we go to Milwaukee after that, things like that. I mean, we tested during the month of May, we went and did a Firestone tire test down in Nashville. We were very pleased with the way things went down there. I mean, our car has been quite strong on all the tracks. We got the short track stuff sorted out already. We're definitely looking forward to it.

TOM SAVAGE: Buddy, thank you very much. We'll go ahead and let you go. Thanks for joining us today. We'll see you in Dallas.

BUDDY RICE: Thanks for everyone on.

TOM SAVAGE: Take care.

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