Interview with Foyt, Patrick, Andretti, and Wheldon
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to Homestead-Miami Speedway as we get set for the 2007 IndyCar Series season opener. In addition to the IndyCar Series opening up Saturday night under the lights, the Indy Pro Series cars will race Saturday afternoon, the Grand-Am Series will race Saturday after that, and Friday we will see the USAC Silver Crown series race.
We're fortunate to be joined by A.J. Foyt, legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 race winner as a driver. He won for the fifth time at Indianapolis in 1999 with Kenny Brack driving. He will have two cars in tomorrow night's Silver Crown event.
A.J., your 50th year in racing. I'm wondering if you can take a couple minutes, I'm assuming that the Silver Crown cars are still the closest thing to the big cars that you drove in your early days as an Indy car driver. Much comparison at all?
A.J. FOYT: They've changed quite a bit, same as all racing has. It's still fun to have the Silver Crown cars running, especially on the mile-and-a-halfs, because the biggest we run before was on a mile racetrack. Quite a bit different, but yet it's still a good type of racing.
THE MODERATOR: A.J., I'm looking back at your career. We're going to talk about Sam Hornish Jr. here in just a couple minutes. In your first 100 starts in Indy car racing, you won 29 of those first 100 races, and four championships. An amazing record that puts you at the top of the heap. When you look at a guy like Sam, won 18 of his first 99 races, does he compare at all to a younger A.J. Foyt?
A.J. FOYT: Records are made to be broken. I'm quite sure there are a lot of young drivers that break 'em. I just had great years, great mechanics, great cars, and had a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take a couple of questions for A.J. Foyt before we bring our four IndyCar Series drivers up.
Q. You started in a very dangerous era. Did you think 50 years was possible for a career?
A.J. FOYT: I'm probably very lucky to still be talking to y'all. But 50 years makes me sound awful old, which I'm pretty damned old, you're right. No, I had a lot of friends I lost through the years. I got to say one thing. I think the biggest thing in racing today is the safety of the cars. They're probably a thousand percent safer today than they were when I started, including Mario, his-self, he had some shaky years with all of them.
Parnelli Jones, Jim Hurtubise, a lot of us went through some pretty rough years. Today's cars, they're still dangerous. Don't get me wrong, any type of racing is dangerous. To me they're a lot safer today than they were back then.
Q. What do you think about the emphasis today on physical fitness among drivers, nutrition? Was there any discussion of that back in the '60s and '50s?
A.J. FOYT: Yes. Don't look at me today because I'm about 50 or 60 pounds heavier than I was when I was racing. We used to work out every day. They got a lot more modern equipment to work with than we did. We used to have a shock absorber sit on the steering wheel, try to turn it all day long. I used to do a couple hundred sit-ups, probably 150 push-ups when I woke up every morning. Can't see that today, as fat as I got. I figured all the years I raced, the hell with it now. I'm on a downhill run. Like George Snyder says, A.J. that yardstick we got, it's getting shorter. So I got to agree with him.
Q. You spent a lot of time with a lot of different drivers throughout those decades. A driver's mindset, has that changed a lot?
A.J. FOYT: I don't think it's changed. You know, I look back even before me, look at some of them great race drivers. I take my hat off to them. You know, I think if you're a race driver, you're a race driver. I don't care what year it's in, it's going to be different kind of equipment, different rules, everything else. But I think if you're a great race driver, regardless of when it was, you was up there winning races, you was pretty damn good in your day.
Time passes on. Like I said, a race driver's a race driver. One thing I can say through the years, if I wasn't here today, I was still doing things I love to do. A lot of people I know got jobs, they hate to go to work every day. I tell them, 'Why the hell do you do it?' I couldn't wait to get in a race car when I was driving. It was something I loved and something I enjoyed doing.
THE MODERATOR: A.J., we appreciate you taking a few minutes with us here today. I know there's going to be plenty of questions for you throughout not just this weekend but this your 50th season in Indy car racing. We appreciate you being here.
A.J. FOYT: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Let's welcome to the podium Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick. We'll also be joined by Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr.
This Saturday night's race will mark the first for Danica and Marco as teammates at Andretti Green Racing. It will also mark their second starts at this track. You might remember that Danica's car was withdrawn here a year ago, so she has one start at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Marco started in his first IndyCar Series event here one year ago. Unfortunately broke a half shaft early on. How many laps did you complete, do you remember?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No. I'm going to try to complete a lot more this year, though.
THE MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon in the middle, the 2005 IndyCar Series champ, in 2006 came oh-so-close to pulling off the double. Lost in the tiebreaker to Sam Hornish Jr. by virtue of Sam's four wins to Dan's two. Dan, you were looking to do something that no other driver in IndyCar Series has done, that's win three consecutive races at the same track. You were fastest here during testing. How confident are you you'll be in Victory Lane Saturday night?
DAN WHELDON: I think obviously everybody over the winter at Target Chip Ganassi Racing has been working very hard. But by the outcome of the test, I think it shows that it's going to be a very, very competitive season. Little Marco next to me seems to be real hungry. I think he's going to be very good this year. Obviously, Danica I think is going to be strong. There's going to be a fair few more cars I think contending for the win.
I definitely feel good about this race in particular. I hate to say it, but I think a lot of the races that lead into the Indianapolis 500 I use as preparation for that one particular race. That's the be all and end all for me. If you win any others leading into that, that's a bonus.
THE MODERATOR: Of course, Dan, as we mentioned, won to open his championship season here in 2005, beat Helio Castroneves here last year in a great finish, 14 thousandths of a second.
Danica, we mentioned the fact this will be your second start here. Your car was withdrawn a year ago because of the tragedy involving the team you did driver for, Rahal Letterman Racing, Paul Dana. The year prior you were running strong here. You wound up in the wall between one and two.
DANICA PATRICK: That's right. I've never finished here. It's disappointing. It's bad to start the season that way actually.
I think the main goal really is you want to come out of the box very strong in your first race. It shows a lot how the season's going to go. You really want to finish. It really makes a difference at the end. As Dan would know, when it comes down to those last couple of points, it comes from one single incident, especially when it starts the season, it's always tough. Every point matters.
We're going to come here and we're going to run as strong as we can and definitely want to come away with a good result, but a result.
THE MODERATOR: Marco, you turned 20 years old nine days ago. Many people have mentioned you as a championship contender in your second year in the IndyCar Series. Do you see yourself that way?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I definitely think it's possible. I don't want to speak too soon, but so far we seem to get better where we were lacking last year. So hopefully Andretti Green can be quick across the board rather than just the short ovals and the road courses. I think if that happens, yeah, it's definitely possible. I mean, we're going to have to win more races, we're going to have to be consistent, we're going to have to not break drive shafts the first two races of the season.
I think it's definitely going to be possible.
THE MODERATOR: By the way, we mentioned Marco's birthday. Danica will be celebrating her golden birthday on Sunday.
DANICA PATRICK: Some people pretend they don't know what golden is, but it's extra special this weekend. Mostly my husband doesn't know what the golden birthday is. I think he's mad because he had it when he was four.
THE MODERATOR: Do you want to tell everybody what it is?
DANICA PATRICK: My birthday is March 25th, so I'm 25 on the 25th. Great excuse.
THE MODERATOR: Interestingly enough, you add those together and it comes up to seven. You may have some numerology working in your favor.
DANICA PATRICK: It's in the stars.
DAN WHELDON: We need to be around for Marco's 21st. I think that's going to be a golden birthday. Let me tell you, we'll make it a golden birthday.
THE MODERATOR: Next March 13th I guess it will be. We'll take a couple questions.
Q. Marco, for lack of a better word, how much more mature do you feel coming into this year than you did last year? Not only your ability in your race craft, but also your confidence level.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I don't know, I mean, I have a year under my belt basically is how I feel about it. Every track I go to, I've raced an IndyCar at. That just helps so much more. The whole month of May last year, just the seat time for me, you just bring a little bit more of that quiet confidence back. Hopefully we keep that confidence.
DAN WHELDON: He's a lot more confident off the track as well. You should see him with the ladies. It's impressive.
Q. Danica, you had a rough start when you got in the AGR car. Are you comfortable now with the team, with everything?
DANICA PATRICK: I wish I had more time before the season started. I wish I had more time from the standpoint of we could work harder and do more things. But also just getting more comfortable. It's going to be hopefully smooth. It could present problems when it comes to the race just because we've never gone through a race together. I have all different people on the radio. I have my routine of how I do things, and so do they.
They're going to blend together eventually. Hopefully it comes together as quick as the first race. We'll definitely be working in the pits here to try to make sure that we understand what each other is going to say and the communication so that it's clear.
But, again, I wish I had more time. But there isn't. We'll make it work. That's our job.
Q. Dan, you seem to be a record-oriented sort of guy. Winning three in a row at the same track, do you look at that as cycle you would like to put your name in the book first?
DAN WHELDON: Definitely you want to be a driver that doesn't just win races. You want to try and be as dominant as you possibly can. If you can be remembered for records, I mean, it's a very nice thing to have. But you really don't want to talk to them till you actually have them. I think you can jinx yourself.
I'm looking forward to the race. The IndyCar Series this year is going to be very, very strong. It seems to keep growing. The fan base I think is improving. Is it as improving as quickly as we would perhaps like? Probably not. But, if everything came easy, it would be no fun.
THE MODERATOR: During the test, you were quickest, 214.8, the fast lap. You already made pretty hard contact up in turn two when the cars swapped ends on you. Were you surprised looking at the car afterwards that you popped out of the car and walked away from that one as you did?
DAN WHELDON: I was pretty thankful. Perhaps just a little bit overconfident. The car switched ends on me real fast. Normally I like a very loose race car, but I couldn't catch that one.
It's a shame. When you're pre-season testing, you really shouldn't be damaging cars. That's the first one I've had since 2003, so hopefully I don't have another one like that. Body was definitely a bit sore the next day.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by three-time defending IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 race winner Sam Hornish Jr. Sam, this will be your 100th start in the IndyCar Series Saturday night. As you rank on the list among drivers in their first 100 starts in an Indy-type car, AJ Foyt in his first 100 races won 29 times, Mario Andretti won 27, Rick Mears won 20, you have the chance to win 19 of your first 100. Reflect back, if you will, on what success at this track has been like and those 99 races.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's hard for me to believe it's going to be my hundredth race. To have the opportunity to even win 18 races is pretty special. Looking forward to coming back here again. Three wins here. Been in the top three the last three years. I feel like if there's any track that I'd like to go, to be able to try to win my hundredth race, this would be it.
Definitely going to be tough competition, as usual. I think, of course, not only fighting off Helio, but also Andretti Green, Ganassi. Everything I think has closed up a little bit this year.
Really excited just to get the season started. It's been so long since we've actually raced these cars, almost six months. I've only been in the car three times since then. It's been a long off-season.
THE MODERATOR: What is it like to have your name listed among those guys, Foyt, Mario, Rick and you? That's the top four in their first hundred starts in terms of wins.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It seems like it shouldn't be in there. I feel like we should have been able to win a couple more races. I'm sure all those guys could say the same thing.
It's definitely an honor. At any point in time, I said a long time ago, everybody started comparing me and Rick Mears, I said, I don't know how Rick would feel about that (laughter). He definitely was the guy to beat in his day. Any time you think you've got the handle on things, getting in the right groove, looking good, all you have to do is go look in the record books, see how many races he won and how many 500s he won, all the things he was able to do.
It's a very neat feeling any time you can be compared to those three guys. It's definitely an honor.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck this weekend. Thanks so much for being here. Everybody have a great weekend here at Miami Homestead Speedway.