TrueSpeed Communications Media Conference
Topics: TrueSpeed Communications, Prelude to the Dream
June 1, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Mike Arning with True Speed Communication, and on behalf of everyone affiliated with the Prelude to the Dream, I want to welcome you all here and say thank you for coming out today. I know it's a busy time of year, especially with Charlotte Speed Week coming up, but we certainly appreciate everyone being here.
First and foremost, let me introduce the people in front of you. There's obviously some familiar faces, but we have Tony Stewart, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ, owner of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio; Rick Hendrick, ten-time NASCAR championship team owner; Tammy Ross, vice president HBO Pay-Per-View and Sports; Michael Rose, president of Carolinas Healthcare Foundation, part of Levine Children's Hospital; and Beverly Losman, director of Safe Kids Georgia, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Tony, I'll toss it right back to you. This is the seventh annual Prelude to the Dream, and for those who might be unfamiliar with what the Prelude to the Dream is, can you give us a little insight into what the event is and how it's grown over the years?
TONY STEWART: Bought Eldora Speedway seven years ago from the Baltes family, and one of the things that we wanted to do is try to figure out -- I'd learned from Kenny Schrader, who's a mentor of mine and owned some short tracks, and he had done events where he'd had NASCAR drivers come in and helps bring attention to the speedway obviously, but we wanted to do something a little different and that was to try to find an event where we could invite our friends and our buddies from NASCAR and other series and have them come in for a night and let us do what we love to do and that's drive race cars, but at the same time do something really positive and create an event where we could raise a lot of money for charity. And over the last six years we've been able to raise $3 million for different charities across the country.
Basically it's a really neat event. This just started out as -- I think the first year we had 17 drivers that came, and now we're up to 25 a year, and there's a waiting list of drivers that want to actually come to the event, which is very -- I'm very honored to have, and these drivers are what make it happen. But we're basically driving Super DIRT late models, which is the same division that runs Friday and Saturday after the Prelude, and it gives the fans an opportunity to come see their favorite drivers, no matter what discipline it is.
We've got drivers from the NHRA, from -- we actually are finishing up a deal to have an IZOD IndyCar Series driver come again this year, guys from extreme sports and drivers from the different NASCAR national divisions that come and run this event.
But it's a really neat opportunity for us, like I said, to go have a good time, race with each other, have fun for an evening and raise a lot of money for charity.
THE MODERATOR: And Tony, to that point, just as important as the driver component is, the charitable component to the Prelude to the Dream has always been a keystone element. What's the charitable angle this year?
TONY STEWART: We went ahead and came back this year with the four children's charities like we did last year, and obviously Levine's Children's Hospital, this is their second year being with us, the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Children's Medical Center in Dallas, and the St. Louis Children's Hospital are the four children's charities.
And the great thing about it is the concept we came up with last year with the event is kind of the team concept, and that's something that we hadn't done the first five years. But last year we started the team side of it where the entire field will be split up between the four children's hospitals, and it's a team concept. There's a race within a race, and the top 5 drivers, top 5 highest finishing drivers from each team will get points depending on their finishing position in the race. So you're going to have a race winner just like you would normally have, but then you have a team winner, and the highest finishing team gets 30 percent of the proceeds, the second place team gets 25 percent, and third and fourth place get 20 percent.
So it's a neat angle. It's a neat perspective that if you're a driver that's running 10th in the race and you don't feel like you have a shot to win, a lot of times you don't try as hard. But now with the new team concept, it's really made everybody's finishing position that much more critical, and they know that there's a children's hospital that is relying on their finishing position.
They have fun in the race, but they take it very, very seriously. There's guys that have went from just showing up and driving the race cars to a couple years ago drivers started testing for the race, and now guys are actually building their own cars to come to the race. So it's really fun for me as a promoter and track owner to watch how serious these guys that are taking a night off, and it's supposed to be a fun night where everybody just has a good time, but it's fun to see how serious these guys have taken this event and how much time and effort that they really put into being good at this.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, you've known Tony Stewart a long time, and your own driver Jimmie Johnson won the Prelude last year. As a matter of fact, that helped Levine Children's Hospital being the winning hospital last year. Can you talk about this event and what it does for charity considering your ties to Levine?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, Tony said it. The drivers are -- first of all, Tony is one of the givingest guys that I know. He gives so much of his time and money to charity, and this is a huge event, and I think he's figured out a way to ignite the competitiveness of the drivers because now we have to build cars for this event. It wasn't this -- like it used to be, you could go borrow somebody's car and race in it.
But it's a tremendous gift back to the community, and it's a lot of hard work to promote a race like this. But Tony has just done a phenomenal job not only with this event but with Victory Junction and everything else he's been involved with.
So this has turned out to be something that fans all over the country wait for each year, so I'm sure it's going to be a good show. And since he's not in the Levine car, we need to give him a stomach virus that night so he's not driving. But I don't think a promoter ought to be able to race, but seriously, he's just done a super job of putting this together.
THE MODERATOR: And Rick, being here at Levine Children's Hospital you have a vested interest in the Prelude, a vested interest in the hospital. Your family has been very involved in the hospital. Can you talk about Levine's impact in the Charlotte community and honestly throughout America?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I have three grandchildren, and when one of my grandchildren was born with a problem, we had to go to Houston for medical help. It's tough when you are going through a child that's having a problem, but it's even more difficult when you don't have the family support there with you.
When they talked about building this -- number one, the Carolinas Healthcare System is one of the best in the world, and we didn't have a children's hospital here. So when it was put on the drawing board, I was extremely excited because I had often wondered why we didn't have it with the quality of care that's here.
And then with the accident and I lost my son, we wanted to do something to honor him, so the sixth floor here is the Ricky Hendrick Center for Pediatric Intensive Care, which is kind of the heart and soul for the hospital for the most critically ill children.
And to see where this hospital has come from and just world-class and have the best of the best doctors in the world that are here and the love and the attention they give the children, it's just such a special place. I'm very thankful for this region and this hospital touches folks in an area from South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia. It just means so much to the people. It's not just this community, but the region.
So to have a world-class, best-in-class hospital here in Charlotte, we're very proud to be associated, and we want to -- and it just keeps growing every day. It's hard to believe it's only been open a couple of years.
THE MODERATOR: And it's the HBO Pay-Per-View element that really makes the Prelude to the Dream work, and I'd like to introduce Tammy Ross, vice president, HBO Pay-Per-View and Sports. This is the fifth year of the telecast. You guys have launched events for marquee boxing matches, concerts. What makes the Prelude so special for you?
TAMMY ROSS: I've been sitting here for five years and I think I'm finally speechless. Looking around at this amazing facility, I think that answers your question. When I first was introduced to all of these drivers, especially Tony, what came across was their giving, their ability to give, just the selflessness attached to the sport of racing, the drivers of racing. And we knew immediately at HBO and all of HBO Sports that it was something that we had to be involved with, we had to use our resources, we had to use our brand to help.
We've changed the charities a number of years to spread it around, and last year I still have four holiday cards sitting on my desk from four amazing children's facilities, and to come here and see this facility is just so moving and see the faces of these kids and their parents, it's a time where we all can set aside what we really do and what we focus on, what gives us stress in life and focus on what's important, which is hope, faith and charity.
So thank you for letting us be part of this.
THE MODERATOR: Well said, Tammy.
And I'd like to reintroduce Michael Rose from Levine's Children's Hospital. Michael, Levine was the winning hospital last year. What did that mean for Levine Children's Hospital?
MICHAEL ROSE: Well, it means a great deal. We got great exposure as Mr. Hendrick already said, that people get to know who you are through this race and we were selected among four others to be a participant in the race. So much happens for you when you get that kind of visibility, so many things that people come back to you and say, Oh, I saw you on television or I saw your program and our recruiting of physicians and our recruiting of key staff, people recognize the name of the hospital. And we're one of the fastest growing children's hospital in the country and we're very excited about what that means for us.
To be part of HBO's opportunity and to be part of Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream, it's an amazing opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: You made the trip up from Atlanta, but first you filled out an application to be a part of this year's Prelude, earned a spot in the field, after listening to what the others seated at the table have said about the Prelude, what are your thoughts, expectations being involved in this year's event?
BEVERLY LOSMAN: First that we win because that's what we want to do. But secondly, on a serious note, for those of you who do not know, the No. 1 cause of death for children 14 and under is accidental injury, in particular vehicular accidents. To be with drivers and them be proponents of child passenger safety, which is what Children's Healthcare of Atlanta does all year long through Safe Kids is just a fantastic alignment, and we're just so grateful for the opportunity. But we do want to win.
Q. Tony, when you first presented this event, you really had to throw a lot into it just to get it underway physically. You were out on the tractor and stuff. Have you learned to do it better now or are you still going to have to apply that? And when you started getting into NASCAR, you are such a giving person, did you think one day I'll be famous and I can do things like this or did it just sort of happen?
TONY STEWART: I think from day one, I didn't come from a wealthy family that could afford to help me try to pursue my dream of racing at the level I wanted to pursue it obviously, but it didn't take long in my career to realize that there were a lot of people that were always willing to help, and whether it was somebody that had a kid off to college that had a spare bed that met us at the racetrack and really didn't know us but offered us a place to stay because we couldn't afford a hotel room, to people that literally at times gave us $10 for gas money to get to the next race, it was things like that that made you realize that we all need a little help here and there and that one day I wanted to be able to figure out how I could pay it back.
You know, it was a great situation when we started our foundation and realized that we were finally in a position to where we could make a difference and really give back to the communities. You know, being a part of an event like this where we can do so much in one day, really it's been because of the drivers. It's not because of us. I've got a great staff at Eldora, I've got a great staff in my office personally. Jared Frood is one that absolutely loses so much sleep, him and his brother Brett that work for us, really lose a lot of sleep over this event, and it absolutely amazes you how much time it takes to put on a one-evening event and how much preparation and how many months ahead of time go into making it happen.
But having those guys, having Tammy and HBO on board have really helped bring this to the next level. There's always things that we're looking to do, and you learn every year of things that you can do to make it better for the fans, to make it better for the drivers and to make it better for the charities. So there's always things that we're learning and trying to figure out how to make it bigger and better.
That's the fun part. It's fun to try to figure out what we can do to make this thing keep growing each year. The fun part is a lot of the drivers have had really good ideas that we've implemented into the program. You know, like I said, it's not me. I'm the one that gets to sit up here and everybody gives me the credit, but it's really the drivers that come to the event. They really are the ones that sacrifice a lot of their time to also come. That's what makes it so special.
TAMMY ROSS: A couple things that are new that Tony talks about that we learn every year. This year we've made -- the event is actually going to start an hour later than it has in the past. It's going to start at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. We understand that Wednesday night is a big family night, and it's very important, and this is a family event, and we want people to be able to get home and get settled and spend time with their family, so we're starting at 8:00.
Our producers extraordinaire have promised us racing action from beginning to end. So stay tuned. The length of the show is not going to change, so you figure you're going to get racing action from beginning to end. So these are things we listened to fans and we're trying to make the event bigger and better so more people buy the events and more money can actually go to charities.
Q. Tony, how did you choose who was on what team, and did you stack it at all in favor of yourself?
TONY STEWART: I did not, actually. Jared Frood actually is the one that puts the time, and he's come up with a pretty good formula of taking drivers' past finishes and figuring out a way to kind of handicap it and try to make the teams as even as possible. Last year was the first time that we had the team aspect of it, and it worked out really well. It was a pretty close finish on the points side.
Those equations obviously change every year, but it's hard. I'm not sure I could do as good a job at picking the sides probably because I would want to stack my team as much as I could. But the great thing is it's really fun to watch these guys, and it's hard to handicap and figure out where to place these guys on each team because a lot of them it's the first time they've ever been on dirt tracks. Some of them it's the first time they've ever been in a dirt late model, and it's hard to know what to really expect out of them.
But that's part of the fun of watching this event or coming to the event is the fact that you get a chance to see your favorite NASCAR drivers in an element that they're not used to. For some of these guys it's out of their comfort zone, and I think that's really what impressed me from day one is watching guys that aren't used to doing this. It shows you why they made it to the Sprint Cup level or the IndyCar level or dragsters in NHRA. It shows you why they've got to the top of their field in whatever motor sports they're a part of.
Q. For Michael, Charlotte community is home to a lot of sporting, NFL, NBA. Do you have a lot of NASCAR fans here at the hospital?
MICHAEL ROSE: We do. Tony and Mr. Hendrick have been in the hospital earlier today, and the fans sort of just come out of everywhere to see them. You can kind of look up, and Rick and I were just talking a minute ago, there were people up on the second and third level who don't come down here but are wanting to see Tony and getting autographs, and Rick. This is a huge NASCAR area, and we're very in tune with many of the NASCAR drivers and families. Actually, many of the families are treated here, so it's a privilege for us to have the opportunity to work with them in a different way.
Q. This is for Rick. Jimmie Johnson last year won wire to wire. Did it surprise you he was able to beat guys like Tony and Bowyer and guys with experience in that sort of racing and did you notice it sort of elevated his stature among his fellow teammates and drivers to win that race?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I was surprised. Jimmie is good on off road and he's done stadium trucks a long time ago, but usually when you go to that race you've got to beat Tony. It did elevate his stature among the other drivers.
It's almost like if you took the guys to a golf course. They want to beat each other in a really bad way.
TONY STEWART: Not literally with the clubs or anything.
RICK HENDRICK: I think you could fight, though. You probably wouldn't get fined, would you? Are you going to fine the guys if they fight?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, we thought about talking to Tammy and seeing if we could get a ring for in between heat races. We could have the Pay-Per-View boxing/racing for charity.
TAMMY ROSS: I think there's room for a ring in the pits.
TONY STEWART: We'll have to look at that for next year.
RICK HENDRICK: But I think these guys are so competitive, but I think it was something he wanted to do, and it meant a lot to him, and I had Tony and several people say they were surprised at how well he did.
Q. For Tony, can you give us a hint as to who this IndyCar driver is, and are there any other surprises outside the NASCAR contingent from other series that might be racing this year?
TONY STEWART: We're adding Austin Dillon and Ron Hornaday are the most recent, and we don't have it 100 percent, but we are really close to having an IndyCar driver that's committed to coming. It's in the process right now, so we're going to wait until we get a 100 percent confirmation before we announce who it is. We had Tony Kanaan last year.
Q. Tony or Rick, any personal stories you can share about children that have been touched by the charities you've raised here?
TONY STEWART: I think the story you told me about that little girl last year that came to your shop.
RICK HENDRICK: There's so many. I've had calls from a lot of crew members that have children that have been here, I mean, critically ill. One from the Roush organization, and people up in Welcome.
Last year -- we have our golf tournament every year, and we had a little girl that had a heart transplant here, and her mom and dad came to the event, and she was doing well.
I think when you see -- and Tony and I saw so many today, it's amazing that you can have a child that's just a few months old, and years ago they were doomed, and through a miracle of a heart transplant here in this hospital, they're doing well.
When you see it in the flesh, it makes a big impact, and it makes a big impact on everyone that can see it. And the more of those kind of stories that come out of this place, the more people want to help, the more people begin to understand that you don't think about it until you need it, and when you need it, you've got to be the best that there is.
So there's so many of them, but that's the one that really touched me a year ago.
Q. Tony, have you always had a soft spot for kids and kids that faced these kind of challenges, and when do you think you'll follow in the footsteps of your fellow drivers, get married and have kids?
TONY STEWART: As soon as I find somebody crazy enough to be with me long enough to have kids is the easiest answer on that side. The thing about children is there's no hidden agenda with kids. Whatever emotion you see with them is an honest emotion. You know, they just -- I think I've seen kids that have had -- that have been terminally ill that have probably the best attitude of anybody that I've ever met and are tougher than we are as adults. I mean, these kids on their best day is what we would consider a terrible day, but they're smiling, they're upbeat, they're happy, and they know they're struggling, but they have the mental toughness to deal with it and to move forward and not let it drag them down.
The thing about these kids is children don't realize how much of an inspiration they are to adults, and a lot of times you hear everybody talk about it the other way around, but these kids inspire us every day, and when you see these kids that are fighting for their life and you realize how hard they're fighting, it really has a way of putting our lives in perspective and makes what we do and the things that we think are bad each day just not really seem that bad after all.
You know, it's been an honor to come here today, and obviously we're very excited about the four charities that we have. But I wanted to -- this man beside me has been a big mentor in my racing career, and a lot of people don't realize that before my NASCAR career really took off, I had an opportunity to work with Rick and just felt like I wasn't ready for that kind of an opportunity. This man and I, over a long period of time, have been friends, and I really appreciate everything that he does for Stewart-Haas Racing and respect what he's accomplished with his teams and obviously what he's done in honor of Ricky here at Levine, it's impressive.
What you see with this hospital and with this children's unit is the same approach that you see with Rick's organization with his race teams. Aside from what we're doing with the Prelude, I want to donate $50,000 to Levine in Rick's name and in Rick's honor. I want to do that personally from me. I just appreciate you.
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