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Latest IRL News and Commentary

Interview with Robby Gordon

May 4, 2003

This is a transcript of a recent teleconference with Robby Gordon, who will attempt the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 "daily double" on May 25, racing during the day at Indy and in the evening at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Charlotte, N.C.

K. Johnson: We certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, April 29th. Today we will take a look toward the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 with veteran Indianapolis 500 driver Robby Gordon. Gordon competes full time in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, but next month he will the drive No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing in Indianapolis 500. He was named April 25th as a replacement driver for the injured Dario Franchitti. Robby has eight career Indianapolis 500 starts and has attempted the Indianapolis-Charlotte “double” three previous times, that being in 1997, 2000 and in last year’s 2002 event. He will attempt to compete in the 500 as well as the Coca-Cola 600 Winston Cup event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, again this year. Last year, he finished eighth in the Indianapolis 500 and placed 16th in the Coca-Cola 600. His previous best Indianapolis 500 finish was a fourth-place effort back in 19
R. Gordon: Good morning, everybody. How are you today?

K. Johnson: Doing good. Drivers talk about wanting or sometimes not wanting to pull an Indianapolis-Charlotte ‘double’. You are in the process of doing it for the fourth time over the last seven years. What is your thought process about all that?

R. Gordon: One, I am thankful because for a while here I did not think I was going to get a real strong effort. There were some opportunities to do it, but nothing with a team like a Michael Andretti, Barry Green or … sorry, excuse me now. … Kim Green, wrong team. So Andretti Green, they have a good history there at the Speedway. Paul Tracy almost won the race there last year for them, and I feel that Michael and those guys have given me a good opportunity to show up at the Speedway and be real competitive. Over the last few years, you know I have got, what, five top-10 finishes there now?

K. Johnson: Right.

R. Gordon: We have always been at the right place, and it has not been the right time for some reason. We have lead the race and run out of fuel in 1995, could have won the race and thought I had a flat tire, still finished fifth, but been through some disappointing finishes. One thing that I do understand is what it takes to be around at end to have a shot at winning the thing.

K. Johnson: Now you mentioned your success, five top-10 finishes in seven starts. You also mentioned being around at the end. Is there one item you can put your finger on that has kind of helped you get in that position?

R. Gordon: I think just starting at a young age, watching how Rick Mears has won that race before and the guy is always around at the finish and that was something that I did not learn the first year. And actually my two DNFs were not because of crashes, but because of blown engines. And you know, its unfortunate, but what I have learned is you have to be around at the finish to be able to race at the finish for the win. And I have seen Rick fall down a lot before, come back and win the race and work on his car all day long. So, I have tried to do that and got a good feel for the Speedway. I have always run good there and always qualify well there. I think with this effort we have a good shot at possibly winning the race, and that is what everybody goes to the ‘500’ for is to win, and that is our goal.

K. Johnson: Now something that race fans and journalists alike tend to do as they get close to May is take all the various racing series’ calendars, lay them side-by-side and see how they match up as far as the schedule is concerned. What kind of juggling do you have to do with your schedule to be able to get track time both at Indianapolis as well as Richmond or Charlotte or wherever you are running this month?

R. Gordon: Yes, it is funny you say that. That is actually two questions, and I have two answers for you on that one. One, for myself, the Indy 500 falls on good time with the Winston Cup schedule. Basically, now they have moved Richmond to a Saturday night race so I will not even miss Opening Day at the Speedway. We do not have a lot going on that week and the following weekend, Pole weekend is an ‘off’ weekend so I can stay in Indianapolis all week and test there and then qualify on the weekend. The following week is the Winston weekend, but those are all night events at Charlotte, so I can still participate, even during practice are night events. So I can participate during the day practice at the Speedway, fly over to Charlotte and participate in the night practices and not miss out or dilute either effort because of track time. The most important thing is going to be getting good night sleeps and being alert and as good physical shape as I can be possibly in.

K. Johnson: You mentioned ‘we’. Is this something that you and Richard Childress Racing have put together?

R. Gordon: It is actually something we do through … I have a marketing group internally at Team Gordon, and it is something that we have done over the last couple of years, and it is already in place this year. I think we have 30 of them signed up as of today, and we have only put it on the site on Friday, so I am sure we will reach our number. But it is something unique for the race fans is to get to both races. And it is posted on our Web site to be able to do that so they could register and sign up.

Q: Hi Robby. Tony Stewart made it pretty clear that Joe Gibbs was not all that supportive about him trying to do the “double.” What is the reaction with Richard Childress, the owner, and the rest of the team?

R. Gordon: Well, the last two years Richard has been part of my Indy 500 effort, not this year but in 2001 and 2002. Richard is a fan of open-wheel racing and does not have a problem with me doing both events.

Q: Robby, this is pretty hard effort on your part to do. What do you consider, even though you have done it four times, what do you consider the hardest part for you?

R. Gordon: I think the hardest part last year, I will be honest, I did get a cramp in my stomach. I did not expect to get a cramp under my left rib section in my stomach. And I am sure that was because of the g-force and dehydration. Last year, I did not take the IV between the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600. I felt so good after Indy and had that adrenaline running. I felt I was fine and I refused it. This year I will take that. But since I had those cramps in Charlotte, I have also gone on to rehydration, I guess like a salt solution drink that I drink before the race, and that helps keep water in my body, and I have not had cramps ever since I started doing that, as well. But I still will take the IV. Eleven-hundred miles is a long ways. I have done the Baja 1000 by myself many times. I do not ever have time for a two-hour break or three-hour break.

Q: Do you feel it’s more of a physical thing than a mental thing?

R. Gordon: Mentally, I was completely all there. Physically, like I said, I had cramps in my stomach.

Q: I am wondering, which is more important to you, doing the “double” and going for the double win or just making sure you are racing at Indy for the win and getting the win at Indy?

R. Gordon: Man that is a really, really tough question. You know, obviously we want to go for the win at Indy, at the same time we fell two positions in points last weekend to 16th in Winston Cup points. And I thought we would have a good run at Fontana and get ourselves up higher in the points, possibly into the top-10 before we did the “double”. And we fell a couple of positions, so it is going to be important for us to perform real well at the Winston Cup race because of the championship points.

Q: Given your history at Indy it is almost ironic that your history and the history of the Andretti’s are almost identical, just so close but not able to pull it off. Do you see the irony in that?

R. Gordon: Yes I do a bit. In one sentence, it is very nice to be driving for Michael because he understands like I understand how close … he has been close many times to winning the race. I look at myself and say, ‘God, if we had done this or done this the last couple years we could have probably won that race.’ And for both of us to be teaming up with a team like Andretti Green now, since Michael is an owner in that organization, those guys know how to win that race, also. And I think they are going to help us, hopefully one of us win this race. And the most important thing is that at the end of the day one of our two cars come home in Victory Lane.

Q: And I was interested in your opening statement about being there at the end because I have heard over the last three weeks talking to three drivers that are going to be in the Indy 500 and it is interesting that they say, ‘This is a 500 mile sprint’, yet hearing you talk about it, it almost sounds like an endurance race, a marathon race, you just pace it and make sure that you are there for a sprint at the end.

R. Gordon: Well, what I do is I make sure the car is comfortable for most of the race. You can only hang on to a loose car for so long, and you need to know what those adjustments are to make the car very free and fast at the end. But there is no reason to be hanging on to a loose car 10 laps into the race, and I think that is where a lot of people go wrong, and that is something I have caught on to over the years, how to trim the car out for the end of the race and not so much for the beginning.

Q: Yes, look for that flag, right?

R. Gordon: For sure. What do they say, ‘You must first finish to finish first?’

Q: You are going to drive with Michael in his last race, and how do you feel about that? And also, about your memories 10 years ago when you were with Foyt when he called it quits.

R. Gordon: Yes. I have been very fortunate over the years to drive with some of the great names in automobile racing, and I have never driven with Andretti on a team before or for him. Now I am on the same team and driving for him, so that is an honor to be driving for Andretti, and I am ecstatic that Michael actually, and Kim and everybody, picked me to drive the car. That was a complete honor to be driving a car with him. And like I said, over the last couple of years I understand what it takes to be a race team. You must support the whole team. And if I cannot win that race, I am going to do everything I can to help Michael win that race.

Q: Do you still look back at that 1999 race and running out of fuel and when you looked like you had a win?

R. Gordon: I look back at that race. I look back at … last year we were extremely strong, probably stronger than a lot of people remember, but we had that fuel fire. I think we started 13th (11th) and by the time the first pit stop came, we were leading. I’m sorry, not leading, we were inside the top five, and that was a good weekend for us. Unfortunately we had the fuel fire in pit lane where the fuel hose got stuck in the car and I ended up having to use fuel from one of Foyt’s pits to finish the race. So, you know, I have had so many opportunities to be competitive, and I have let them slip away time and time again.

Q: Have you ever had any second thoughts about becoming a NASCAR driver full time instead of an IndyCarTM Series driver where you seem to excel pretty well?

R. Gordon: I really have not had second thoughts on it. I mean I enjoy it now. And I want to make this clear: I enjoy racing, and it is not that I enjoy one more than the other. I just chose Winston Cup racing in 1997, and it was something that I have not figured out, and I think that is probably the thing that is more intriguing than anything is I have not, I would not say dominated, but I have not got it where we are competitive week in and week out. And that is a goal for me is to prove that I can be competitive in Winston Cup racing.

Q: Robby, it appears that there will only be something like 34, 36 race cars with motors in them at the Speedway. Isn’t it true that you could just as well as show up at the Speedway and work immediately on your race setup and pretty much put qualifications out of your mind knowing that you are going to start anyway and knowing, I assume, that a really good race setup is better than an advantageous starting position? Do you feel that way?

R. Gordon: It is a good point made, but I am sure more cars will come out of the woodwork, more engines, more drivers. They always do at the Speedway. There is also that first-turn survival thing, and it seems like … I know Scott Sharp a couple years ago crashed at the front. But that does not happen very often. It seems to happen back in row five, you have incidents at the start of the race. So I think qualifying is still very important because it puts you up with faster cars, faster guys, etc. So I do not know if I would completely just say ‘rule out qualifying, start working on race setup’. I think they still reward you pretty big for qualifying on the pole there, and I know it is important. I understand what you are saying about just working on race setup, but with the amount of time that you have at the Brickyard to run, I have always had good race setups by the time we have gone racing.

Q: About the starting position, if you look at photographs at the start for the last 50 years you will see that almost nobody is in position. There is no 11th row. There is no sixth row. There is no first row. At the moment the race flag waves, whereas you may start at the front end everybody is out of position.

R. Gordon: Actually, they do a pretty good job for the first four or five rows. I know they push us really hard. What happens is the air gets very turbulent back there. And I have had to start toward the back one time and I think, maybe not toward the back, I do not know what my worse start was. I think it was when I drove for Foyt. But I mean I could barely breath back there with all the alcohol coming out of the engines and stuff. That fuel burns, it is kind of foggy and hazy. Like I said, it is important to be inside the top three rows. I know that for sure.

Q: I just want to ask you a quick question. Even if you win this, which we all think you are very capable of doing, wouldn’t you have to come back and want to run it again when Tony Stewart is running with you? Wouldn’t you want to beat him?

R. Gordon: Well, Tony has run it with me before, and I am pretty sure I have beaten him every time. So you know, I don’t know if that is actual fact but I am pretty sure of it. It would be nice for him to be there, but I do not know the reason why he is not there, so I really do not want to elaborate on that. Indy is still Indy, and the best guys always show up there. I do not think by any means that Tony has dominated the Indianapolis 500.

Q: And as far as your schedule, is it all set now? Are you prepared, schedule-wise, or is it going to take the next couple of weeks to pull it together? I mean is it all set in stone for you?

R. Gordon: Yes, the schedule is pretty much intact. We have a good baseline to work off last year. The Winston Cup schedule has not changed much. It is actually accommodated me a little bit more. I know they did not do that on purpose, but with the Richmond race being a night race it now lets me be there for Opening Day at the Brickyard.

Q: Robby, I know you have been at the Indianapolis quite a bit, and I suppose you are going to tell me you still get butterflies when you go out on the grid?

R. Gordon: I love the Speedway. I said at the Brickyard that I wake up for this place. And you know, we finished eighth at the Brickyard 400 last year, and we finished at eighth at last year’s Indy 500, so we are closing in on to figuring out how to set up the Winston Cup cars as good as I have the Indy cars figured out. But the Brickyard is a very special place to me.

Q: You seem like you like it.

R. Gordon: I love that place, and every opportunity I get to go there I am going. I am going to race.

Q: Yes, Robby, how close was it getting to the point you did not think you were going to have a ride here?

R. Gordon: I had a couple others, fairly close. I was kind of, how do I say it in a nice way? I was holding out for the best opportunity, and I feel this was an opportunity that I could win at. You know, the team still has a lot to do with the whole program. It is not just about the driver. I have a lot of respect for Kim Green and Kevin Savoree and obviously Michael Andretti as a race car driver. Now I am the driver for him as a team. But I know how Kim and Barry have run that team. I am sure it has not changed very much, and Michael has some great people onboard there to help him.

Q: Robby, did they call you or did you call them?

R. Gordon: Actually, Kevin called me, and I called him back before I even got his message, so it was all about the same time.

Q: And was this one of these things that when you got the call and when you realized they were interested?

R. Gordon: It took about, to be honest with you, it took about 10 days to get the thing done.

Q: Is that right?

R. Gordon: Yes. So from last Friday, well actually we got it done Thursday night. It was 10 days prior to that we were talking about the program.

Q: But I have been in situations where someone has called me with a deal. and I knew the negotiations would have to go on, but there is that initial thing that says, ‘I am going to make this work; one way or the other I am going to make this work’. This is what I need. Did that pop in your head?

R. Gordon: That was me. I definitely wanted to make the program work right from the get-go.

Q: I wanted to ask you this Friday when you announced this whole deal, but I did not get a chance. A lot of people were making kind of a lot about your and Michael’s kind of relationship there from what happened at Cleveland in ’95. Were they over-blowing that or have you guys all ready buried the hatchet on that thing and moved on?

R. Gordon: You know, that is the one thing that I think a lot of people probably misunderstand about race car drivers. We race cars for the moment, OK? And when you get out of the car, your heat is for that moment. So when it is all over, it is over. You know, you cannot dwell on it forever. Michael actually told Kevin this, it is coming to you third-hand. But one of his partners, I believe he is a partner or he is a business manager for him over there at Andretti Green, he said: ‘This is going to prove that I am a pretty good team owner because I am willing to hire a guy that I have had feuds with in the past, but I know the guy is competitive.’ And I give him a lot of credit for that.

Q: Now because there are also some people out there in the garage after that, saying that, you know, Michael is saying he is not even going to talk to you on this team, that that was one of the conditions that he would bring you on the team is he does not have to talk to you if he does not want to.

R. Gordon: No. Just so you know, we have had numerous telephone conversations over the last 10 days. My wife had conversations with Michael directly, and I see zero problem whatsoever with Michael Andretti and myself.

Q: And how about John Andretti? Have you talked to him since then?

R. Gordon: I saw what John said, OK? And I am sure you guys have seen what John said. And all I want to say to that is I would never wish for one of my fellow competitors to get hurt so I could get the ride.

Q: It started with Michael where, at Cleveland when he gave you a flat tire and you ran him into a wall or something?

R. Gordon: No, we bumped tires after the race was over, OK? And he did give me a flat tire during the race. And you know what? People do this all time in Winston Cup.

Q: But when it is Michael Andretti or Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Robby Gordon it seems to get a lot more blown out of proportion. Does that make sense?

R. Gordon: It does. You see it happen week in and week out. I mean, guys get mad, and they go yell at each other in the garage. It is not really that big of a deal. And this is the point I was trying to make is I think that Michael obviously is a very good businessman, has done very well over the years, and I am proud that he could hire me as a driver even after us having feuds in the past.

Q: I just wanted to ask, did you happen to get to see Mario’s slide in testing last week on television and what your impressions were?

R. Gordon: Unfortunately, I have not seen it. And I do not know why I have not seen it. I have not been watching TV at the time it has been on. But I am very happy that he got out of the thing OK. And from what everybody tells me, sometimes you hear from one person and it gets exaggerated, but it sounded like a big, big flip. Mario is very fortunate to get out of there safe. And that does concern me a little bit going in there. I mean if just a little piece of debris like that will catch enough air and send that car over like that.

Q: Yes, Robby, you have the first day of practice on Sunday. I know you have not had a chance probably to even be anywhere near a Dallara/Honda, but what are you thoughts about that package and trying out that at the Speedway?

R. Gordon: Very excited. One, Honda goes racing with the right attitude, in everything they have ever competed in. And they have not won the Indianapolis 500. They have come close. With Scott Goodyear, I mean they came very, very close, but they have not won the Indianapolis 500. So I know the effort that they are going to put behind this package, and I am honored to be driving for one of their teams.

Q: Do you think it will take you long to get your feet wet, you know, get your feet wet again and get used to the whole package of an open-wheel car?

R. Gordon: Well, I think the biggest thing is that I do have all week. And I have learned from mistakes in the past. My very first time I showed up at the Indianapolis 500, I wanted to be quick right out of the box, and I crashed A.J.’s car. And I have not, knock on wood, I am going to knock on some wood under the table here, have not crashed a car at the Speedway since. And I give that to the lessons that A.J. taught me back then about the Speedway. And you do have to respect that place. If the car gets loose a little bit, you have to come in and work on it and make the car handle. You cannot manhandle a car around the Speedway. You can for a couple laps, but when it bites you, it bites you hard because of the speeds that you are traveling. And so I am going to back to the Speedway this year in the same way I have gone ever since that very first year with A.J. We do not have to be the fastest car the first day. We do not have to be the fastest car the third day. We need to be very quick on qualifying day, bu
Q: I am doing fine. Let’s go back to the comment that you made after Mario’s thing you that were just a little concerned that a little piece of debris might put enough air under that thing to send you over. What do you do to push that into the background? What do you have to do?

R. Gordon: Well, I do not know what Mario’s car was feeling like at that point. Mario did not crash. That is the first thing. This was not Mario’s fault. If you have a piece of debris there, I do not know if the car was trimmed out in qualifying mode, I think he was all ready up to 225.9 or maybe even 226, but I am not quite sure of those numbers. And I think what happened, I have not seen the car, from what people tell me he hit the fence and was 20 feet off the ground and all this stuff. I have not seen a car that high off the ground at the Speedway as long as I have been going there. And I have been going there since ’93. So 10 years. It does concern me, but I will give you my opinion why I think that, all it is is an opinion, it is no other reason. Back in ’93, ’94 we were making 850 horsepower, 900 horsepower. Now we are going there with less horsepower and almost running the same speeds, and what is happening is we have trimmed all the downforce off these cars to get back up to speed again. So now they
Q: How much of a difference is there from when you are driving that heavy stock car all the time and you get down into that little 1,500-pound IndyCar Series car, how long does your seat get to really feel good about that?

R. Gordon: Well, last year when I showed up in 2002, I was comfortable by the second day. I mean, even though I was comfortable the first day, man, it is just a different a feel, and it takes a little while. Once I caught on and then went back and forth I was able to switch back and forth very quick, fortunate enough that I could start and have five days of good IndyCar Series running.

Q: You mentioned just a while ago that you are going to make sure you get the extra sleep and try to be as fresh as possible for those two races. What else do you try to do, physically, to prepare yourself and mentally to prepare yourself for such a long day? Will you do extra roadwork in the next few weeks and stuff like that?

R. Gordon: Yes, I have, and I will continue to. One thing I will say is it has taken me a while to get back to a good fitness level, and I feel I am almost to a good level right now. There is more to go before being 100 percent ready for the ‘500.’ I broke my ankle last year in September, I believe, and it took me, I missed out on four months of real exercise because I broke both ankles, not just one of them. But now I am back to the point where I can run and exercise. I do not feel fatigued at all even after like last week at Fontana, my car did not handle that well and I was hustling it all day long, got out of the car and still felt pretty good.

Q: You know, you drive 500-mile races all the time in NASCAR. Why do they talk about Indy being so grueling?

R. Gordon: Indy is grueling because the g-forces are higher, the side-load g-forces. And the other thing is it is still a survival race. These Indy cars are like they are more than half the weight of a Winston Cup car. The IRL has done a very good job with the engine specs. We have more cars finishing now than we used to. We have less transmission problems because we are not making the horsepower. You see a lot less mechanical failures, so it has become a little bit of a sprint race, but you could not race the Indianapolis 500 like a sprint race or you will end up in the wall. It is that simple. I mean, I can name guys, actually, I do not want to even name guys. You can go back and look at guys that have led the first part of the races and end up hitting the wall. I think it happened again last year. So the deal is you have to pace yourself, and that is something I think that my NASCAR side can even help me more on the IndyCar Series side.

Q: Are you more tired after Indy than you would be after a NASCAR race?

R. Gordon: I will tell you, after last year’s Indy 500 I was like normal, like I did not do anything all day long. You do have to be in the best physical shape, it is endurance. It is mental. It is recovery time. There are a lot of things that you have to be able to do quickly, that your body has to be able to do. And I got out of the IndyCar Series car last year, and I felt great. But I got in the Cup car and got a cramp in my stomach. So those are the things I am going to learn from mistakes and try to be better this year and work on my stomach muscles because it is a different, it is a different g-load than you get loaded in that IndyCar Series car then a Cup car. We pull similar g’s, but some of our courses are banked a lot higher than Indianapolis. Bristol and places like that. We have big banking so we get lateral g’s or we do not get as much lateral g’s, we get vertical g’s pushing down into the bottom of the seat. It is different than an IndyCar Series car where you run on a flat racetrack and it pull
Q: The first time I saw you race was at Mid-Ohio in 1989 with Jack Roush Racing. The hood blew off of your Mercury XR7, and you still finished second. I guess my question is, you kind of cut your teeth on endurance racing in sports car. Do you think that helps you mentality when you approach these 500-mile races?

R. Gordon: I think it does, for sure. It definitely helps because even my off-road was endurance racing. In my younger years, I always thought I could overdrive the car and make up a difference, which I can make up a little difference, but the key is working on the car to get the car to better. And that is something I have learned the last few years, probably the last five years. And I think that is made me a better race car driver, maybe a better race driver for the Indianapolis 500 as well, because I said earlier, you cannot manhandle the car at the Speedway because it will bite you, and when it bites you, it bites you big.

K. Johnson: Robby, you addressed a little earlier the amount of time it takes to adjust from your Winston Cup car to the IndyCar Series car, and you mentioned that you cannot really carry an IndyCar Series for too many laps. But come Race Day you get out of your car here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you jet back to Charlotte, change driver’s uniforms, and you hop in your Winston Cup car. Is there an adjustment period before you get a good seat-of-the-pants feel for getting back in the car that is pretty familiar to you?

R. Gordon: Actually, there is, but you catch on real quick. I have to go to the back of the pack because I miss the driver’s meeting at the NASCAR race. So when I fall to the back, I get a couple of laps by myself to get the feel. I can only use last year as an example. I was 43rd, and by the time the first pit stop came I was fifth at the Winston Cup race. So I was able to move through the pack that good after getting straight out of the IndyCar Series car and into the Winston Cup car. And I think you just have to understand what the capabilities are of each car.

K. Johnson: Well Robby, we certainly appreciate you taking time to join us today and wish you the best of luck in all your racing endeavors coming up during the month of May.

R. Gordon: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

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