An Interview with Derrick Walker, Mark Miles
MODERATOR: I want to thank everyone for taking the time to join us for today's announcement. I'm Amy Konrath, vice president for public relations for INDYCAR. We are very pleased to be joined today by Mark Miles, the chief executive officer for Hulman & Company, the parent company of INDYCAR; and longtime motorsports executive Derrick Walker. Derrick Walker will join INDYCAR as its president of competition and operations beginning on May 27th. In his new role, Derrick will be responsible for all technical and competition-related elements for the sanctioning body.
We'll start here with Mark Miles, if you can, give us some insight on the decision to bring Derrick on board to oversee the racing and competition side for INDYCAR.
MARK MILES: I can and I will, but let me first say I'm looking forward to when we have Derrick back and we have the official shirt-changing ceremony as he transitions from his Ed Carpenter Racing role to INDYCAR, which is a day we're really looking forward to just after the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
So we made the decision that we really want to strengthen this organization. It's a good organization, but we've got a lot to do, and we decided to bring on the strongest horse we can find to help us with our technical and operations and racing, our product, really, and then separately to find additional leadership to help us with our commercial activities for INDYCAR.
And we sort of focused on the product first and talked to lots and lots of people. We had a number of great candidates who are interested in the job. And Derrick was one of the first I spoke to. You can't read his résumé and talk to folks about his lifetime of experience without immediately having great respect for his journey in open-wheel racing from being a mechanic to owning a team and having enormous success all along the way.
So his experience is the first thing that strikes, struck me as I got to know Derrick. But then there's a lot about this person that I really like. He's straightforward; he's got great common sense. He's got the conviction of his principles and his -- we know that he'll help make clear, firm decisions and have the strength of character to stick by them. And we've talked to a lot of people in the paddock. I know that Derrick's experience is well regarded as broadly as anybody's could be in the paddock. So we think there's a lot to do, and Derrick is the right man to lead us through it.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much.
And, Derrick, congratulations on this new exciting role with INDYCAR. Can you talk about the decision to join the sanctioning body?
DERRICK WALKER: Certainly. First of all, good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I wasn't actually thinking about working for INDYCAR at first until I was invited to go to a meeting with Mark and we were talking about INDYCAR and what it represented and what over the years had happened to it. And so I shared with him some of my thoughts. Little did I know that I was actually being interviewed for a job. (Laughter) But a couple of meetings later, he finally showed his cards and he said, yes, would I be interested. And it was a resounding yes.
I've obviously come from and am in the team mode. I'm from the team background. Never have crossed over to the official side. So this is for me not only an opportunity, but a real challenge that I'm looking forward to.
Obviously I've been around enough to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of the competition sports, but that doesn't deter me. I think I've had probably a good 20-odd, maybe more, 25 years of Indy car, which has really helped me a great deal, and I feel if I can give something back to the sport in whatever way that is, then I'd love that opportunity.
So long story short, that, that's what brought me here, and I'm anxious to get started.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, Derrick.
We'll go ahead and open the floor for questions. Just a reminder, we do have a wireless mike, so please wait until you have a microphone before asking your question.
We'll start taking questions for Derrick and Mark. Start with Rich and then Robin.
Q: Derrick, Rich Nye from Channel 13. Having been on the team side all these years, do you feel at all like you're going to the dark side?
WALKER: Funny you should say that. That is a favorite quote of mine. I am going to the dark side and happily so. It is a lot to learn. Fortunately there is a lot of good people at INDYCAR that have been around a heck of a lot longer on this side of the fence than me. So I expect to be on a very steep learning curve and find my place in how to influence or how to help steer the governing body.
I think when you look at the quality of the field of INDYCAR, it demands a strong governing body that has a vision and the leadership that is required to match the quality of our teams.
So we have a responsibility and obligation to be as good as we can as a governing body. So hopefully I can fit into that matrix somewhere there.
MODERATOR: Robin, then Annie.
Q: Derrick, do you think it's important that you go out and immediately seek more manufacturers, engines, chassis? Do we need more, do you want more? Will that be one of your first assignments?
WALKER: Well, I don't know if it will be my first job. My first job will be to understand what we've currently got and how it functions from a day-to-day, and get into the long-term stuff if and when it comes up.
Certainly as far as I'm concerned, but my personal opinion is INDYCAR is about competition. So unless there's a very good reason not to have more manufacturers or more of everything that helps make competition happen, I think that would be missing the point. That's the history of Indy car, and the sooner we can get more guys in battling it out there, the sooner the fans are going to be interested in what we're doing. The fans come, the companies come, and everybody hopefully enjoys what we do and makes money doing it.
Q: First of all, congratulations, condolences, however you want to take it. To whom do you answer, and is there more than one person?
WALKER: Well, I report directly to Mark (Miles). And so far that's all he's told me I need to worry about, is keep an eye on him. (Laughter) No, my direct superior is Mark and that's more than enough, I'm sure.
MODERATOR: Other questions?
Q: Derrick, you've had a black driver and a female driver, and so you've covered the whole length of what can take place in racing. What is it you visualize is most needed now?
WALKER: Good question, Dick. I mean, I think there's a lot -- we tend to, from my perspective being on the other side, we tend to really hit hard on almost everything in our sport. We're our worst enemy in some respects. We're very, very critical about everything we do. We tend to pull it down probably further than it needs to be. I think there's a lot of good things that are in INDYCAR. There's the competition arguably, you could say, when you look at what's happening on the racetrack, it couldn't be better. So it's not a major change, it's like everything in racing, it's an evolution. We've got to continue to strive to be better and in every way, our decision-making, our planning, our safety concerns and how we address those.
There's a whole number of things that, as I said earlier, is the responsibility and the obligation of people in the front office who's steering the ship. But I don't think there's anything more than that really, just be as good as we can.
MODERATOR: Other questions for today's participants? Yes, Robin.
Q: Derrick, a couple fans had pretty good questions the last couple weeks to me and said, "Look, the competition has never been better and everybody is clamoring, we've got to have more innovations, we've got to go back to the old days of breaking the speed record." It's a fine line and delicate balance. Where do you stand on innovation and how far it can be taken? You really probably have to lean on Will Phillips as far as aerodynamics and things like that.
WALKER: Well, as I said earlier, Indianapolis and the Indy cars was and should be about innovation. The thing that's happened over the years, if you look at the evolution of racing, we got very smart, we got very good at doing the things, and we made cars better and better and we went faster and faster.
One day, you know, there was less people in the stands for whatever reasons, and the cost of racing became a major talking point. A major concern is survival and the cost. So it's a delicate balance between innovation, the speed, the cost of racing. Any number of factors that you've got to take into account.
But I think if you look at what our goal has to be or should be, is to open up that door just enough to allow it to grow and improve and innovate, but yet keep it in a measurable amount, not only the teams but the manufacturers, every supplier that is involved in our business. It doesn't price them out of the market -- we can't have in the U.S., maybe in other parts of the world it works -- but we can't have such a super-expensive series that the fans can't afford to come along and buy a ticket. And we're racing in front of, you know, lots and lots of people that don't turn up.
So getting that balance I think is going to be key.
MODERATOR: Mike, and then Larry.
Q: Mark, can you talk a little bit about what, if anything, is going to change for Beaux (Barfield) and Brian (Barnhart) and Will (Phillips) with this?
MILES: Well, we don't anticipate changes in that team. They are committed to us and we to them. They will continue to add value, but they will report to Derrick. And I have no doubt that they can be more stitched together as a team. I think one of the things our organization can improve on across the board is the extent to which we work closely together and communicate better and break down silos and plan a little farther ahead. Without any way meaning to be critical of those folks who we will count on going forward, I think Derrick brings a practical approach that's so well grounded in the technical aspects of it, that they will be a higher-performing team under his leadership.
Q: Derrick, after what was arguably the best street race in the history of street races at Brazil, there's a lot of comments about the push-to-pass being a gimmick, you know, the limited numbers and all that. What's your feeling about that and what direction would you like to see it go in the future, with, without?
WALKER: Well, push-pass is maybe perceived as a gimmick, but in actual fact it's a response to today's world and reality that race cars become incredibly close because the technology and the know-how that migrates from team to team or the way teams structure their racing, that the cars become very even.
And we go to some tracks where it's not always possible to have the perfect racetrack that allows places for overtaking to happen. So we use a modern, relatively modern gadget in the push-to-pass that allows us to artificially give the opportunity for overtaking.
I think it's a reasonable solution. There's more ways to do it and over time, you know, those ideas become relevant to where we are. But right now I think it's a positive and it's a very efficient way to do it.
Q: Mark, do you foresee you and Derrick working together collaborating on some of the things you've mentioned in the press, your desires to see not just technology but speed become more of INDYCAR's future, and is it more of a collaborative process you're looking at for 2014 and beyond, or do you think that's something you can jump start right away?
MILES: Our relationship, in general, will be collaborative. Derrick is a good communicator; he's an early riser, as am I. So there will be lots of contact on a daily basis, I'm sure, and I'm looking forward to that.
On the particular question of speed, I would have said -- I would reframe the question, if I could, to talk about speed and safety, which to me have to go hand in hand. I'm sure that's a widely held view. It's something that we've talked about; it's something that I believe is part of INDYCAR. We're the fastest series, and it's part of our brand, it's part of what we're about. But we're not quite as fast as we used to be, so if we can work through Derrick and through the paddock to think of ways to make incremental improvements in that, I think that's a good thing. We'll be talking more about that perhaps before long.
But, yeah, I think it will be a team effort. But we're going to count on Derrick to help shepherd us through that process.
MODERATOR: We'll take our final question from Don Kay.
Q: I guess, Mark, Brian (Barnhart) has been director or president of competition. Will he still be that and work with Derrick on that, or will Derrick be at the racetrack and director of competition? Is that the on-track product as opposed to putting it to the track?
MILES: So Brian -- it will be a team, but Brian's primary job will be what we think of as operations. Beaux (Barfield) is the guy at race control and Will (Phillips) is the guy at engineering and Jon (Koskey) is the guy in scoring and timing, et cetera, et cetera. They'll each have their specific responsibilities reporting to Derrick, and they'll operate as a team so that I think they'll have the ability to contribute to the broader challenges that they face.
But Brian's primary responsibility will be with respect to operations.
Q: And Derrick, you had mentioned the push-to-pass, you were talking about that and using it to pass in areas where cars can't. Well, I'm sure you've been observant enough to realize even though the drivers say in Brazil there's no place to pass, sure as hell they found it. At Birmingham, they found it.
It seems that this new car races extremely well, and where in the past, the older car, they had one line through a corner, they've got now two and sometimes three. The racing, it seems to me, is wide open; if you're a good enough driver you get by. You don't need the push-to-pass, maybe.
WALKER: You could definitely make that case. We've come a long way, and the cars are easier at overtaking at certain tracks, but I think the combination of those improvements in the cars and the teams with a push-to-pass is probably the best mix. But push-to-pass isn't the panacea of everything. It's an aid that you use a few times during a race. So you've got to choose your time wisely and use it in the right ways, but it doesn't necessarily out -- you know, decide the finishing position of a race. It is if you use push-to-pass, and the other guy's got it, he'll probably get you at the end if you're that close. But it's just another tool for the teams to use. I don't think it's any negative at all.
Q: I think both of them, one push-to-pass and (inaudible). The driver outbroke the other.
WALKER: No, there was other technical reasons that went with that, which was good. And that's what racing is all about and should be about. But like I say, I don't think it's, you know, necessary that you use it every time, either.
MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and conclude today's press conference.
Mark, Derrick, thank you for your time today. Thank you to everyone who joined us in the audience and online. There will be a copy of the transcript of today's announcement available. Also press releases will be available as well.
Again, thank you to everyone for joining us.