Q and A with Tony George
Q. There seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding the Month of May this year. Is it what you expected?
A. It's been a good month. I think there's been a lot going on the last couple of months. I certainly envisioned things possibly not going this well, and remarkably they've been going quite well. I was talking to one of the team owners (May 10), and I noticed that he only drew two pills last night, but that's because we've all been working hard to ensure that everybody's got equipment to do what we need to do. So far, it's been a great month and great couple of months trying to put things together. There's a great spirit of co-operation in the paddock. I think, for sure, that it will carry on into the race, but for the rest of the season and for next year. It's going well and I expect it to continue to go well.
Q. You talked about difficulties. What kind of difficulties did you expect?
A. We could have had a lot more accidents than we had. We have teams that haven't done oval racing in a while or drivers who have never raced on ovals coming in an acclimating themselves to ovals and that style of racing. They've done a really good job. I'm proud that the help and support of the teams that were in the IndyCar Series and that whole esprit de corps. I'm proud to be part of that. It's not just select teams doing that. It's all of them showing that kind of cooperation.
Q. I know you don't want to talk about this, but why did the split happen?
A. We've tried, and try as we might sometimes it's not possible to always look forward. That's what we'd prefer to do. The beauty of unification is we should be looking forward instead of looking back. I don't know what that serves. That's been pretty well hashed out over the last 10 years. Am I somehow remorseful over starting the Indy Racing League? No. I think a lot things have come out of it that are very good. We set a new standard for competition. We've done a lot to improve safety. Those are things to be proud of. It became a challenge for us and Champ Car or us and CART to start every conversation with trying to explain the split. Well, we don't have to do that anymore. That's one of the bi-products and one of the things to get excited about going forward is to talk about the positive things and not always looking back. The fans are excited. I don't there's a lot you can do to dampen that excitement. Writing negative stories about things that happen 10 years ago is not going to dampen their excitement.
Q. Unification has brought some excitement and you have some young American stars as well. What do you think of the talent in the series, especially drivers such as Graham Rahal, A.J. Foyt and Marco Andretti?
A. I think they're great drivers. Most of them are all very young and haven't had a chance to establish their name. They are either referred to as the "son of" or "grandson of" somebody. It should be obvious how talented they are and what the potential of building their own name is. I think Marco (Andretti), A.J. (Foyt IV), Graham (Rahal), it's obvious to me, and I think I'm a good judge of talent, those guys have talent. I think Danica (Patrick) has talent. To go along with that, some of the veterans like Helio (Castroneves), Tony (Kanaan), Dan (Wheldon), and some of those I'm not so familiar with but I understand that they're really good race drivers like (Justin) Wilson. There's a lot of quality guys. We're not living in the '80s or '90s. We're living in today and those are the guys and gals that are going to be part of the future. They are going to build their names. This is about looking forward and about the future. All of those guys are part of the future, and being able to build with them is exciting.
Q. How have Graham Rahal's and Danica Patrick's victories affected the series?
A. I think that's fairly obvious. It was big and newsworthy not only for those who follow our sport. It was newsworthy on a global basis and in mainstream media, not just on sports pages. Sometimes you can't plan for those things. You can't plan for Helio to become so well known for his dancing prowess, but you know what? It happened and brought a good, positive light on our series as we're trying to build it. Those are fun things to be involved with. It all started out here on Race Day. The reigning champion (Apolo Anton Ohno) said, 'Hey, why don't you do this?' It wasn't anything that our cracker jack PR staff or marketing staff did. It just took on a life of its own. You can't buy that positive publicity. You can't buy the chance to make the average consumer aware of your product when they may not know about it. We'll see what the benefits of all that's going on right now in about 12 or 18 months. Then we'll see what progress we've made.
Q. Does that make it more important to market Danica Patrick?
A. We'll continue to market her as well as other drivers. How much? How much we allocate to one driver? I don't know. I don't do that stuff. The teams market their own drivers themselves and they are businesses that market themselves. We work with them to market themselves and the sport we all are involved in. I don't expect to see anyone let up on Danica. At the same time, that can't be our sole focus.
Q. Do you think we can get to the point where we see teams renewing old rivalries?
A. It will take a year. It will take this season. But next year, it will heat up again. It's going to be very competitive, not only here, but week in and week out. To an extent, it's still there. It's maybe just under the surface. One of the great teams and strategists in motorsports were just here in the room and associated with the Hole in the Wall Camps. They're pretty tough. They are a contender. They have to be considered a threat to win this race. We're all of two months into it. Their experience, their strategy. It's a long race and they have good drivers.
Q. What do you think IndyCar racing should do to re-gain its rightful place?
A. Just keep doing what we're doing. We have great young stars we can develop. We've got a very diverse group of stars. We can race in a very diverse fashion on ovals or street and road circuits. We can race domestically. We can race internationally. We have to look for and try to capitalize on the best opportunities that are presented for the future. As a platform, we're very nimble. We have very bight people involved in this sport. There's a tremendous opportunity to engage and set a leadership example as far a future technology and fuel conservation and alternative fuels and all those things we can do as a stake we can put in the ground. I think we can react better and quicker than Formula 1 can. We can react better and quicker than NASCAR can. I think those are things that can set us apart.
Q. How important is it to keep those stars?
A. We want to keep this as a destination, not as a stop off to somewhere else. I think as long as we can attract and grow our sponsor base and our fan base, there will be opportunities for drivers who want compete in this diverse championship. I suspect that if we could have put this together two or three years ago, you wouldn't see (Juan Pablo) Montoya, or (Dario) Franchitti or (Sam) Hornish going to NASCAR. It is what it is. We have to look forward and not look back and try to do our best to create a series with a great cornerstone event like the Indianapolis 500 that where drivers want to be.
Q. Are there guys you missed having in the 500?
A. No. There have been a lot of race drivers. It would have been interesting or neat to see a Jeff Gordon, but the split had nothing to do with that. It didn't happen and we're no worse for wear because Jeff didn't run here. He's certainly been here in a stock car and that's the direction he chose. Drivers have always had the opportunity to come here. It's not like they were banned from coming and competing here. I think those who really want to be here find their way, one way or another.
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