Q&A with Tony George, Paul Tracy & Derrick Walker
I want to introduce those who have joined us here today on the dais. First off, Tony George. Tony is the team owner of Vision Racing, is also the CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the founder of the Indy Racing League.
Next to him is Paul Tracy. Paul, certainly no stranger to any of us, has competed obviously in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar Series events during the course of his outstanding open wheel career. 262 career starts for Paul and he's currently the winningest active open wheel driver with 31 career wins.
Next to Paul is our good friend Derrick Walker. Derrick, who is the owner of Walker Racing, also great to have him here this morning.
And on the far end, next to Tony, we'd like to welcome Mark Bamford. Mark is with the Rexall Edmonton Indy. He's the Northlands Vice President of Finance.
Gentlemen, it's great to have you all.
Tony, if you could, start us off and let everyone know why we're here today.
TONY GEORGE: Good morning. And thank you for joining us today to confirm what has already been announced by some of you in the media, and that is our intention to field a third Vision entry at Edmonton for Paul Tracy.
And we're very excited about that opportunity. I want to thank all those who helped make this possible, starting with the Indy Racing League, but Derrick Walker Racing, who has been really great to work with.
And Paul, who is excited, I believe, about this opportunity. Lastly, but very importantly, the promoters up in Edmonton, Northlands, represented here by Mark. It's through everyone's effort that we were able to pull this together on short notice.
Derrick first approached me about his desire to put something together several weeks ago. And that was a great idea. I wanted to lend whatever support I could to that effort. As time started slipping away, it became more challenging and I wanted to still try and do what I could to help make that possible. And so we were able to come up with a different scenario that really brings us here today. And Vision is very happy to be part of it. It goes without saying that this year is all about looking forward.
And from the very beginning of the season we've been presented with a great opportunity fraught with great challenge. And so we've all been putting in the extra hours, doing whatever it takes, whatever way possible to take the opportunity that's been presented with the unification and really make the most of it in 2008. So while this is not a perfect scenario by any means, it is a great opportunity to get Walker Racing and Paul Tracy a part of the 2008 season, in an initial way, and hopefully it will grow into something more.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Tony. Paul we talked about your record ‑‑
TONY GEORGE: One more thing. I forgot. This would not be possible without a really great sponsor that has come on board. But I think I'll hold off on that for just a minute. So never mind.
MODERATOR: That's a nice little tease. So stay tuned for the sponsor announcement.
A lot of uncertainty at the time. I knew you were kind of disappointed about the fact you weren't going to be in a car. Could you talk a little bit about the fact, after sitting and watching for a few weeks, you now get the chance to race again.
PAUL TRACY: Well, for sure it's been a frustrating year, but it's also given me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family, which has been something that's been difficult to do over the last 20 years of my racing career, as my whole focus of my everyday life was always around what we had to do with the race car.
But you know we went to Long Beach. It was my final race for Champ Car and my final race for Gerry Forsythe. And at that point really all the options for me to do something with an IRL team or a transitional team to the IRL, there was nothing on the table at that point.
So I really just had to sit and wait for the right opportunity and had conversations with Derrick throughout that time since April until now. We've been working. He's been working diligently trying to put together a program for this year and possibly moving on towards next year.
This deal has really come about with the help of Tony and a great new sponsor on board. And Derrick and I want to be competitive. And that was one of the most important things to me was I just don't want to be another car in a 27‑car field. I want to have an opportunity to compete well, to be where I'm accustomed to running.
And I think the opportunity to run with Tony's equipment, I've seen his shop now and his equipment there, and how his cars have been running this year.
And with Derrick's preparation, he's fielded championship contending cars the last two or three years with Will Power, and the opportunity to work with this new sponsor and bring a sponsor into the sport I think is a great opportunity. So for me it's all kind of just really happened, we've been working on this for quite a long time but it all seemed to go into fast forward in the last about 60 hours or so. So it's been a bit of a rush.
I was in Europe over the weekend, in England, and flew back on Sunday and jumped straight on a plane to Indianapolis. I arrived here Monday afternoon from England. We were able to get the car prepared and a seat made and finished it up this morning, and the driver's physicals and eye exams and blood tests and all that stuff.
And here we are now. So we're hopefully getting through all the hard work, and once we get to the track next week that will be the easy part.
MODERATOR: Month's worth of work in two days' time?
PAUL TRACY: Yes.
MODERATOR: Derrick, I know how frustrating this season has been for you. When we talked at Homestead, I know it was every intention, you and Walker Racing, to be part of the IndyCar Series full time this year but circumstances at the last minute prevented that.
Could you talk a little bit about your role in working with Paul for this event and perhaps down the road?
I'd like to start, if I may, with some thank yous to Tony and Vision Racing and to Paul coming on board here. I think without all their support it wouldn't have happened.
The original idea came from Canada, from some folks I know up there who had some sponsorship, who maybe were interested in supporting an entry for Paul. And we've been working on it for several weeks. But it wasn't getting enough traction. So without Tony and Vision Racing and Paul buying into it, it wouldn't have happened. So thanks to all of them for making it happened. And we're looking forward to it.
With respect to working with Paul, we've obviously raced against him for many years and we've seen all sides of Paul. I like the fact that he's bald, because that's the first driver, just like me, has got no hair.
But, seriously, we've raced against him. And obviously this time last year we had a car on the pole with Will Power in Edmonton. So we just hope, and we'll be really interested to see, how it translates, what we learn at Edmonton. There's no doubt that Paul knows his way around Edmonton.
He's one of those drivers who I think gets everything out of a car. So I don't think, knowing what we've got, is going to come late in the day. We're going to know real early where we are. And hopefully, as I say, some of the information that we've learned in the past is going to translate to the Dallara, but there's a lot of very competitive teams in the IRL.
When we were racing in Champ Car, there was really one mega team that seemed to get most of the results. But if you look at the IRL, there's several mega teams and several really strong road racing teams.
So there's a lot of competition. So I don't think we're going into this with any illusions. But as Paul said, we're going there to get the best result we can. So we know it's there. If we can execute in the short time that we have I think we can have a good result.
The last point I'd like to make is, certainly, if you look at the big picture and you look at Canada, it's been one of those great markets for open wheel racing. And I think for one reason or another over the years it sort of ‑‑ it's depleted a little bit.
So I think IndyCar going there now and particularly with Paul being in the field, I think it's a great opportunity to kick start it back, and I know IRL is looking for more events next year in Canada.
I think it's a good opportunity, and hopefully this effort can help make, get Canada back on the map in open wheel and get the fans back. Because we know there's a lot of great racing fans up in Canada.
MODERATOR: Mark Bamford, as we mentioned, is the Vice President of Finance for Northlands. Northlands is the operator of the Rexall Edmonton Indy.
Mark, if you could, just comment on what it means to see Paul Tracy as an addition to the field for the race that would take place a week from this Saturday.
MARK BAMFORD: Good morning. And thank you. And on behalf of Northlands, the operator of the Rexall Edmonton Indy, it's my pleasure to be certainly joining Mr. Walker, Mr. Tracy and Mr. George for this announcement this morning.
We are just absolutely thrilled to have Paul Tracy joining this event. We think from a Canadian perspective the fans are going to be thrilled to see Paul taking part in this event.
I would echo Mr. Walker's comments with respect to the Canadian fans and it will help reinvigorate a lot of fan support up there.
We are just thrilled that he will be able to be there and join us at this event.
TONY GEORGE: I just want to thank Subway Restaurants and Jared for being here. This is certainly a historic day in the 2008 season, and one that has taken a lot of effort. But it would not have been possible without those I mentioned earlier. But specifically Subway Restaurants, who, through our relationship with Just Marketing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League, this opportunity was really brought about.
So I want to extend my sincere thanks to the folks associated with those organizations for really stepping up and making this possible.
Q: Paul, have you been in a car much this year with the situation?
PAUL TRACY: No. I mean this last weekend, the day before yesterday I was driving a '97 Penske and actually a 1966 Lola that ran here at Indianapolis.
So really no competitive driving on track in an open wheel car. I've done some NASCAR tests in a Craftsman truck for Germain Motorsports in Chicagoland, which is where the last (Sprint) Cup race was last weekend.
But I've been out of action in open wheel cars. But with my experience level and the amount of time that I've had in these types of cars, I don't think that will be a problem getting back in and getting up to speed.
Q: Paul, if you could, for those of us with the IndyCar Series who have never been to the Edmonton course, could you tell us about the facility and layout because it is an airport layout?
PAUL TRACY: Really the only comparison I can make to the people, a lot of the guys here in this room have been there before. But it's very, very similar to the Cleveland Airport track. It's one of the fan favorites on the circuit.
It's one of the drivers' favorites on the circuit, because it's really fast. And it rewards you for being aggressive and driving the car hard. A lot of the street courses that you would typically run at with an IndyCar you've got to kind of tip toe, and if you try to be too aggressive it's easy to end up in the wall by just making a small mistake.
And the Edmonton circuit really rewards you for driving the car at the limit. And that's what makes it exciting for the fans, is because you can see the whole track from the pit lane.
The crowd has been huge there for the last, from the inaugural race last year. I remember the first year we ran. We were rained out during practice. We couldn't even go on the track it was raining so hard. And there was 50,000 people sitting in the stands waiting for us to run in the pouring rain.
So definitely a great crowd and a great venue to run at.
Q: Paul and Tony, if you think back to Paul's last appearance in Indy 500 and kind of subsequently Paul your role as sort of the villain in Champ Car, do you guys find it at all surprising or surreal that you're coming together to work together?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think the last time I set foot in the Speedway was the day I was told I had no Indy 500 trophy, and that was the last time I've actually been to the track.
So a lot of water has passed under that bridge for me. And moving on. I was over it the next week, winning at Milwaukee and a lot of time has passed since then. I've been able to win a championship and do a lot of other great things in my career. And now the series is one.
And with that merger, there's been some people that have been left to the side. But I think it's ‑‑ I don't want to speak for Tony, but I think it's his intention that he wants to have the best of both sides competing and just had to wait for the opportunity for that to happen.
TONY GEORGE: Well, I think there's little question that last time Paul left here he left feeling great disappointment. And that was many years ago. It had been many years since he was here. It's been many years since he's been back. We welcome him back and are happy he's here and happy to be a part of giving him the opportunity to participate this year.
My sincere belief is that it will ‑‑ this whole year has been about looking forward. We spent a great deal of time over the past 10 or 12 years looking backward. And this whole season has been about looking forward.
And this hopefully will create an opportunity for Derrick and Paul to reestablish themselves in IndyCar racing, in open wheel racing for the future. And I think that as has been touched on, more than any time in recent memory, this sport is as competitive as it's ever been.
And Paul's credentials and his accomplishments certainly speak for themselves. But I think while we've all tried to temper everyone's expectations, I think it's everyone's expectation that they're going to go out and give everyone a run for their money next week.
And we won't really know how good a job we've all been able to do until we sit down and do the post-race debriefings and press conferences.
By then we will all have gotten a feel for what we've been able to do with this opportunity. But more than anything my hope is that it can maybe lead to something else later this year. And if not, next season.
Q: Tony and maybe Derrick, is there a back‑up car for Paul, which by the way is no statement on Paul's driving ability, just a question. Also for Paul, how much would you like to maybe keep this going for maybe one or two more races this year, but certainly 2009?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know if there's a back‑up car. And I don't think a lot of the transitional teams this year have had back‑ups readily available.
So for me, I mean sure I would love to keep going this year. The more seat time I can get, the better, if something was to develop for 2009. I've kind of left my options open from that standpoint. And I've been kind of planning towards '09.
But this deal has kind of kick-started that into motion a little bit sooner. Again, this has all been put together such in the last 60 hours, really, this deal all came together.
So, sure, I would love to continue on with Derrick's team and with the sponsorship from Subway. I think it's a great new sponsor for a team and for the series.
So I'm excited about it. And hopefully it will develop into something bigger.
TONY GEORGE: We don't have a dedicated back‑up, per se, but we'll be there with all of Vision's available resources and parts truck. So, fortunately, it's one of those wide-open airport circuits with not a lot of things to hit. If we can just keep the other cars from running into each other, which has been a problem from time to time this year, we should be all right. (Laughter).
Q: Derrick, if you could talk a little bit about your role on race day. I'm assuming you'll be calling strategy for Paul?
DERRICK WALKER: Yes, that will be the function, yes.
We've got a complete team made up of the employees of Walker Racing, and we've added some to supplement, because obviously we're racing there, with the Atlantic Series, at the same time.
So we've got all of our employees there and they've been working over at the Vision race shop for about a week now. So they're all getting on very well together. It's great collaboration between all levels of the team. So I think we're all focused on trying to get the best out of this opportunity. And so looking forward to it?
Q: Paul, could you comment a little bit ‑‑ there was a lot of talk prior to the first race at Homestead about the teams that were being integrated into the series from the former Champ Car World Series and their competitive nature and Graham goes out and wins the first non‑oval event at St. Pete. You've been able to sit back and be a bit of an observer here the last few months. Have you been surprised at all at seemingly how quickly some of those teams have gotten competitive in the new equipment?
PAUL TRACY: I think, obviously, the road courses and street courses are an easier transition because that's what the Champ Car teams specialize in doing. The mile‑and‑a‑half stuff, the Champ Car teams are at a five‑year disadvantage to Andretti Green and Ganassi and Penske and Vision where they have experience with the car, knowledge with the car. They have hundreds of hours of wind tunnel time and just fine-tuning the machine for that type of venue, which is a venue that Champ Car had gotten away from in the last three years.
So from that standpoint I think St. Pete was a good race for transitional teams. It was a track that we had competed at before. And now going back a couple of the teams did well at Watkins Glen on an unfamiliar circuit to Champ Car transition teams.
But now, you know, this coming weekend, a lot of the Champ Car teams ‑‑ we've raced at Mid‑Ohio, we've raced at Edmonton. I think you'll see a pretty good surge in competitiveness from a lot of the top teams. KV and Newman/Haas and HVM. I think they'll be pretty competitive at Mid‑Ohio and Edmonton.
Q: Tony, you talked a few weeks ago, maybe you'd like to try to do three or four races with PT. Is his contingent on how he's doing this weekend and would Subway be with him for more than one race?
TONY GEORGE: Right now what's been contemplated is a one‑race program. Obviously we can expand on that as time and resources permit. We did push this awfully close to being able to get done in time for Edmonton.
But Edmonton was the focus for all the obvious reasons that Mark and Derrick and Mike and others alluded to. But we'll see. I think we would be open to continuing to support that effort if the opportunity presents itself. Everything's just a one‑race commitment at this point.
Q: Was there any thought to that for next year for Subway?
TONY GEORGE: This really came about as a result of some ongoing discussions that have been taking place. But nothing firm, nothing committed in any sense.
Q: Derrick, Paul said this has been a 60‑hour event. You're kind of used to that thing, going clear back to Willie T. Ribbs, and how does it feel to get back into the big league of racing?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, it's good. About a couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Paul and I said to him the IndyCar train had left the station and we weren't on it. So Edmonton represents a chance to get back on the train. So we're looking forward to it because obviously we are, I think, open wheel guys and it's a natural to want to migrate into the motor series.
There's a lot of benefits that have obviously been reaped from one series now. And as Tony says, we're all looking forward. We're not looking back, as we always were, talking about what used to be.
We're now looking at what can be. So we'd like to be part of it. And Edmonton gives us an opportunity to tell everybody a couple of old renegades still here looking to get back on the train, right?
MODERATOR: Mark, before we sign off here, how are ticket sales looking for your event, IndyCar Series first stop there. Obviously this is going to provide a bit of a bump for you but you guys have to be pretty excited.
MARK BAMFORD: We're pretty excited. Ticket sales have been very good to date. We're doing very well on all fronts. This can do nothing but help us. I'm sure a lot of fans, they're excited about seeing Danica (Patrick), Scott Dixon, et cetera, coming to town. So the addition with Paul just makes it that much better.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to our forums to discuss this article