Ashleigh Higgins (IRL): We are joined
today by three guests from the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. First off,
we have four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and recently named
Infiniti Pro Series driver coach and consultant, Rick Mears. We
are also joined by two drivers who have to be considered
front-runners for the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series title: Arie
Luyendyk Jr. and Ed Carpenter. Arie finished second in last year’s
Pro Series point standings with four second-place finishes and one
pole, while Ed finished third overall and was arguably the most
consistent driver in the series completing the most laps and
finishing in the top five in six of seven of the races.
Now Rick, let us begin with you. You had an opportunity to work with some of the Pro Series drivers at the Open Test at California Speedway and at Phoenix International Raceway just a couple of weeks ago. Can you talk to us a bit about what it is like working with these young drivers and your outlook on the 2003 season?
Rick Mears: Yes. Thank you. I really enjoy working with them and it was a lot of fun at the test. I am just starting out and getting my feet wet, so to speak, and getting to know the guys. Obviously, I watched them some last year but paying a little closer attention this year. I appreciated the help that I got when I started, and I have always enjoyed helping somebody else along if I can. So this is really a good opportunity for me to work with these guys in Infiniti Pro Series. It is fun for me, and I enjoy just trying to help, be there for whatever. Doors are always open to any questions – or if I see something that I can be of help with I want to do that. So we are really looking forward to the season, and I think it is going to be exciting.
A. Higgins: Thanks, Rick. Now for both Arie and Ed, obviously you have had insight from Al Unser Sr. and also Johnny Rutherford in the past, since they are also driver coaches and consultants for the IndyCar Series as well as the Infiniti Pro Series. What is like having someone like Rick as a dedicated coach for the Infiniti Pro Series? How is that for you to draw on his experience? Let’s start with Arie.
Arie Luyendyk Jr.: Obviously, it is great help for us because we are just starting out. As for me, I just started out oval racing last year, so having Al and people like Rick – really coming to them and asking them just little advice here and there really helps us develop our skills as drivers. It is a huge help for us, and I really appreciate them being around to help us.
A. Higgins: Ed, your thoughts?
Ed Carpenter: Last year I really enjoyed working with Al and Johnny, but they were more devoted to IRL drivers and the rookies in IRL, so I am really looking forward to being able to work with Rick because I think he is going to be able to devote more time to just the Pro Series drivers. I picked those guys brains last year a lot just on racing and the draft and what I can do to make my car do things I want to do. So I am sure I will be able to get a lot of the same from Rick this season. I am looking forward to it.
Q: First question is for Rick. When you are looking at young drivers what are some things that, some of the early things that as a coach you would look at and try to correct?
R. Mears: Well I think as far as trying to correct … What I like to not see is erratic movement. That is kind of the first thing. For several reasons: Erratic movement can sneak up on other drivers, catch people out much easier, and it just sneaks up on people. And also, smoothness is quick. The smoother you are, the freer you can run a car because you can run closer to the limit without stepping over it as easily. So any erratic behavior, odd patterns, that kind of thing – that is kind of the first thing. You just look for smoothness and consistency. That is some of the things I try to look for most, first off.
Q: This is for both drivers. What will be the agenda for you in addition to the Infiniti Pro Series for either of you guys this season?
E. Carpenter: I will also be racing some USAC Silver Crown races just on the pavement tracks that do not conflict with the Infiniti Pro Series. I will be running the No. 69 Hoffman Kroger-sponsored entry. That only ends up being five extra races, so I am just mainly focusing on the Pro Series with a couple of USAC races.
A. Luyendyk Jr.: Well, my main focus is obviously Infiniti Pro Series, but we are trying to put together a deal right now to where my first IRL race will come in Michigan. So I will do my IndyCar (Series) debut in Michigan if all goes well this season.
Q: Rick, when you broke into the scene in the late ‘70s in Indy, did you come there basically … Were the veteran drivers there helpful to you to learn Indy in the races in that series back then, or did you just wing it, basically?
R. Mears: No, I had quite a bit of help. I kind of took a different route getting there through off-road racing and that kind of thing. But I met Parnelli Jones in the earlier years through off-road, so I had known him for a while, and I met Bobby Unser when I ran Pikes Peak, the hill climb there. So I bumped into the guys a little bit from time to time and got to know them a little bit before I got there. So I did have quite a bit of help from different drivers and it was, like I said earlier, very much appreciated. It was a big plus. Any time you can steepen your learning curve and somebody can help point out the things not to do, mainly more so than the things to do, even. But it was a very big help. Like I said, if you can steepen the learning curve, there is no substitute for seat time, but every little bit helps. I did get quite a bit of help.
Q: Is it your opinion, Rick, that the guys coming in now are so much farther ahead of where your generation of drivers were?
R. Mears: I do not know. Everything is kind of relative, the basics. As far as my help, it is mostly on the basics and then it is the actual seat time to do the fine-tuning. Everybody is different. It depends on what experience they have had beforehand, what types of cars they run, how much running they have done. Some guys may come into the series that have had five or six years of other forms of racing and then some that may only have a year. So it really depends on the individual and what route they took to get there as to how advanced they are. So it is really kind of hard to put a line on it.
Q: Arie, you have changed from Treadway to Sinden, and there is Ed gone from Sinden to A.J. Arie, do you feel a lot of pressure to take the series this year? And Ed, do you feel a lot of pressure working for A.J. in the car that won the series last year?
A. Luyendyk Jr.: I will start, I guess. I do not really feel that much pressure. We had a really great season last year. It was actually Luyendyk-Schmidt Racing, and we did not win any races, so I think the pressure is on me this year to win some races, because we definitely did not capitalize on that last year. As far as moving to Sinden, the transition has been very easy because I have my same chief mechanic and my same engineer. So it is basically we just moved shop, and we have all the same people working for me. So I think that it will just keep the ball rolling, and hopefully we can turn our speed that we have had lately into some wins. As far as pressure, I really have not felt any yet.
Ed Carpenter: As far as I go up, I think there is a little more pressure there just because as you said, the car I am in now won the championship last year and won quite a few races in poles, and that is one thing I did not do last year was win races and poles. But with the pressure I also gained a lot of confidence going with A.J. because of all the wins and everything they did accomplish last year. So what pressure is added, I think I gained in confidence, so I am just looking forward to the opportunity to working with the new team and working with A.J. and gaining all that I can from him.
Q: You know you are going to be teaching young guys, you were out on the racing tour when your sons were, particularly one of them was trying. How different is this going to be working with young guys who you are related to and how much would you have liked to spend more time with your sons?
R. Mears: It is hard to say. As far as difference, obviously being family and your sons, son and nephew, your heart is in your throat a little bit more from time to time. As far as working with them, it will be very similar. Because I tried to keep it, working with our boys, I tried to keep as much as a father-son relationship out of it as I could because you have to be careful. It is very easy with your son to crack down or be a little harder or maybe a little harsh at times when you should not, and when you should actually give a little more support. And so there is a line there that you have to learn to walk. That equation will not be there with working with the drivers in the Pro Series this year, so that will be kind of the major difference. But still, as far as the enthusiasm, the level of help or the type of help that I will try to do and try to help with will be pretty much the same.
Q: Ed, I wanted to ask you a question.
You have always kind of looked on A.J. as a hero. Are you a little
bit in awe of him, and have you become accustomed to him?
E. Carpenter: Well, I have spent a lot of time with A.J. over the years. He has been a close family friend for a long time, and I have looked up to him just the way he ran his career. (Inaudible) the cars that I have raced coming up through my career is kind of the same stuff A.J. did, so we relate in a lot of ways. I have known him for a long time, so I am not necessarily in awe of him. Surprised, I mean, every time I am around him I seem to learn something else for him, whether it be with the car or just something else. So I am just really looking forward to working with him this whole season.
Q: Will you be down at his shops a lot?
E. Carpenter: I have already been down a couple times this winter, and I will be there occasionally throughout the year. I do not know. I am still going to school full time in Indianapolis so I have to balance everything with that. But I go down there whenever I need to go down.
Q: Rick, this is for you again. In your role as coach there, are you going to be monitoring every practice, every qualifying, every race so you can get a notebook on these guys and kind of have something to fall back on race after race after race?
R. Mears: Yes, pretty much so. And again, it is all really kind in the works right now and the first two tests that we had in Fontana, Phoenix, it is kind of… We are being very flexible, and I am just kind of trying… I am going to be trying different things as we go here and see what works best for everybody. But yes, I will be in the mix of pretty much everything that goes on with them, whether it be practice, qualifying and race. So I will pretty much be keeping a record of what is taking place, and I am going to need to do that to be able to be of help.
Q: So is this going to impact your situation with Marlboro Team Penske?
R. Mears: No. No, it will not. I will be doing pretty much the same thing that I have always done with them, working with Michelle (Inaudible) and the guys and the engineers and … We did not really take anything off the plate, we just added a little more to it.
Q: Rick, expanding a bit on what John was talking about; can you talk a bit about your coaching style, so to speak? Do you approach the drivers with comments or do they come to you with questions, or is it a bit of both?
R. Mears: Both. Whatever works for everybody. If I see something that I feel needs to be addressed, then I will approach. I mainly stand back and watch. Again, like I said, unless I see something that stands out that I think needs to be addressed. But my main thing is I want to be the door wide open and that the guys feel comfortable and be able to be free to come to me any time they want to with anything they have on their mind. I want to be accessible as much as possible. I am just going to be floating up and down pit lane during practice sessions. Do not know for the race yet, but I am going to be probably up top watching and then radio communications. We are playing a lot of that by ear right now.
A. Higgins: Sounds good. Now from your observations last season and also at the recent test at California and Phoenix, how would you assess the talent pool for the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series season?
R. Mears: Oh, I think it is very good. I think it is very good. Everybody seemed to do a very good job. Again, it is early to tell much yet. Fontana being pretty much a wide-open track, it is hard to get much of a feel for driving styles, patterns and lines and that kind of thing. But Phoenix, when we went over there, it is more of a handling track. You can kind of start distinguishing more of a difference between the guys. But I think everybody did a very good job. We were all very pleased with what we saw, and I think it is going to make for some exciting races this year.
Q: And this one is for Ed right now. Ed, you come up through the ranks like you said, kind of like A.J. did. So you have been Midget, Sprint, Sliver Crown and now the Infiniti Pro Series under your belt. Which is the most fun or the most difficult?
E. Carpenter: I do not know. They are all fun when you are winning. I have had fun racing all the series. It is hard to put my finger on one. The Pro Series has probably been my biggest challenge just because it is a complete different style than the other three. The Midget, Sprint cars and Silver Crown are all very similar, so things carried over. I have had to learn a lot more about this type of car as far as the Pro Series, so it has been my biggest challenge, and it has been a lot of fun. Hopefully, it will get more fun with winning races this season.
Q: And my last one is for Rick. When is the last time you sat in one of the race cars? Do you get the itch once in a while?
R. Mears: No, I do not get the itch. The itch was going away, and that is why I got out. The desire was just kind of on its way out. So I knew if the desire went out, I would be going out with it, either physically getting out or not be competitive, one or the other. So it was time to go, and I have not run a car at speed since my last race, when I got out of my last race. I have been in a couple of the cars just on exhibition. I did not even attempt to go fast. To me, the fun was running on the limit. To run the limit, what I feel the true limit is, you have to stay current, and you have to be current to be able to even reach that limit. And to just go out and do it once in a while, you cannot really run that limit, and that was always part of the fun for me, being competitive. And if you cannot be competitive, then where is the fun? So I just have not had the desire to.
Q: Well being that Roger Penske drove at one time, I can just see the two of you on a rented track with nobody around, the two of you running against each other.
R. Mears: No, if we did something like that nobody would know about it because I am sure our insurance companies would not appreciate it.
Q: Thank you. Rick, you were talking about running on the limit; is it difficult to teach young drivers coming into a series like this exactly how to know what that limit is and to keep them off the wall?
R. Mears: Yes, you cannot really teach somebody that. It is something that has to be felt. And it is, like I said earlier, there is no substitute for track time and the seat-of-the-pants experience. You have to get there and do it yourself. Like my son and my nephew when they were running, because of being related, people tend to think that they should know right off the bat what to do, and that is not the case. And in some respects, they are not afforded the opportunity and the time that is actually necessary to learn like anybody else does, which is what they have to do. We try to help speed that up a little bit as much as we can to steepen the learning curve a little bit. But still they have to do it on their own. Now like I said, the erratic driving, that kind of thing, sudden movements that can shake a car loose if it is borderline anyway, whatever, anything that you can kind of help curb before it happens stop it, then that is a plus.
Q: When you see yourself at the first
race, and I am sure at the drivers’ meeting, you will talk to the
drivers before they go out. I am just assuming that.
R. Mears: More than likely, yes.
Q: What will be the main thing that you will try to get over to that group of drivers?
R. Mears: Oh boy, I do not know. I have not even really gotten to that stage yet. I am sure I am going to write that down as practice goes on before the race and before the drivers’ meeting. Whatever I would come up with now, I am sure the scenario will change completely by then. To me, the main thing is take care of each other, because if you take care of the other guy you are actually taking care of yourself because it is easy to take yourself out. Like I said, the erratic movements, the quick movements, make everything progressive. It gives any move you make, if it is progressive, it gives the guys around you a warning and plenty of time to react. Because if you make erratic moves you can do something like that and catch somebody else off guard and take yourself out. So when you are protecting the other guys, you are actually protecting yourself. You cannot win a race unless you finish the race.
Q: A couple of quick questions for
Arie and Ed before they have to…
A. Luyendyk: Actually, Arie Jr. had to leave.
A. Higgins: Oh, Arie Sr. We have an unexpected guest.
A. Luyendyk: This is Arie Sr., so I guess you recognize my voice.
R. Mears: You woke up, huh?
A. Luyendyk: Hey.
A. Higgins: Ed, are you still with us?
E. Carpenter: Yes.
A. Higgins: All right, well maybe you can field this question then. You obviously had a very successful season last year but a win eluded you. Are you ready to take the next step and get that first win in the Pro Series?
E. Carpenter: Yes, I have been ready to take that next step for a while. It just did not come my way. We had a couple good opportunities and some good runs last year. Just seemed like I never get by that 14 car, so now that I am sitting in the 14 car in ways it will become a lot easier.
A. Higgins: And also, comment a bit about the camaraderie in the series. It seems like there is a lot of interaction between the drivers, and now that you are into your second year, you can almost be considered a veteran. Do you, as well as Rick, in his role as driver coach, are you able to offer some advice to the rookies coming in this season?
E. Carpenter: To be honest with you, I have not really gotten to know many of the rookies. The only chance I have had was at Phoenix, and I was just really focused on getting to know my new team and everything, so I am sure they will come points where I will help someone out. Last year, we all kind of talked and shared all of our information and helped each other out, and I am sure it will be the same way this year.
A. Higgins: Thank you. Actually, Ed, I think we should probably let you go, as well, since you have to go back to class at Butler.
Q: Yes, first Ed. Ed, when you get out there in that 14 car, what did you learn about what it takes to win in this league? Now you have the car that everybody will be chasing besides.
E. Carpenter: Well at Phoenix, the one chance I got in the car, we really were not going for speed. We were just kind of getting to know everyone. I think the test tomorrow in Miami is going to say a lot more for what we are going to be able to accomplish this season. We have set goals to win races and win poles, and until we achieve those goals, I do not know, but I think we are going to have a good shot at it.
Q: Rick, in sports often they say that the superstars of the sports do not make good coaches because their skill level was so much higher than many of the others. How do you look at that as yourself as a four-time Indy winner and so forth becoming a coach?
R. Mears: Then that means I should be a good coach because I am not a superstar. I am not a teacher, so to speak, and never will be. But I am just there to try to pass on what I have been fortunate enough to experience. And to be a real teacher, there are ways of teaching that you learn to do. I am starting out to help out and just be an open door, a sounding board and just let things happen and see what works best for everybody and how we can help the best we can.
Q: This is for Arie. Arie, I am just curious, what role are you playing in the development of your son’s involvement?
A. Luyendyk: Quite a major role, actually. I take care of a lot of the business side of it, trying to hook up Junior with companies that could sponsor him and things like that, commercial side of it and the PR side of it, basically every aspect. I think that when I got spotted it was a long, long road, and I am trying to shorten it up for him, just make it easier because I know that every driver, each driver and him, as well, would like just to drive and focus and tighter on that, and I am trying to give him the opportunity to focus just on that and develop his skills in this series. And I think he is a good example as is Aaron Fike. These guys went to Kentucky last year to do their rookie test, or at least Arie did, in the G Force that I drove last year, and the ease of which he was able to do that says a lot for this series.
Q: Yes, this is for Arie. Arie, how do
you feel about Rick Mears coaching your son?
A. Luyendyk: Oh, I have no problem with that. When I read that Rick was going to do that, I looked at myself, well, that is only better for this series in general and for Arie Jr. I mean, of course Junior comes up to me sometimes for advice, which actually is not a lot. He does not really pick my brain a lot. But what I tend to do is, and I think Rick does the same thing, you just stand back and you look and you listen, and then if there is something that really sticks out you say, “OK, listen, do you realize what you are doing in Turn 1?” Or, “Do you realize what you are doing in Turn 4 coming out of a corner?” And then they go, “No.” “OK, well this is what you are doing, and this is what that does to the car. So if you do it differently, then you will make everything a lot easier.” And sometimes you have to come out with these little jabs of advice to get the guy to do it different and make things easier for him.
Q: This is for Rick. You mentioned
earlier that at Fontana that you really could not get a lot of
feel for these cars for the Infiniti Pro cars. Do you think that
there is a lot value in running at the shorter tracks? I think you
are going to run (Indianapolis) Raceway Park and things like that,
give a little experience to these guys at the lower speeds?
R. Mears: Oh, yes, I think it is good both of them. I say that about Fontana, but that is mainly as say watching a car go around, a driver go around pretty much on his own. Now as far as the racing at Fontana, then there is a lot more involved. That is where you really study and learn and get very good lessons on drafting the aerodynamics, drag of cars, positioning around other cars and that sort of thing, more so than just pattern. Now you get to your shorter tracks, now your pattern becomes more important, it becomes more of a handling, you have to think more about chassis and setup and aero too, but it throws a lot more of the chassis and setup of the car into the equation and also the driving pattern and style where you pick and choose and place the car on the track. Both of them are very good. It is just two different scenarios.
Q: Does that mean you would be in favor of more of these events being held at sub-mile tracks?
R. Mears: I am in favor more events, all of them, any of them, period. I have never seen a track that I really disliked for any reason. Like I said, any of them are fine. I think they are all good. Obviously, the main thing you look at the safety concerns of certain tracks or whatever, but I do not think there is anything on the schedule or even being looked at that would be a problem. No, I have always liked short … And again, it is two different kind of, two different theories or mindsets, however you want to say it. I enjoyed the speedways because of the draft, because of the turbulence, because of the working with the aero package and everything. But I always really enjoyed a short track, a mile track, where you can get in there and hustle the car a little bit more and think a little bit more about your setup of the car, the chassis and your pattern that you take around the track. So it is just two different things, and they all have their own characteristics, which makes them good.
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