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Latest IRL News and Commentary

Weekly IRL press conference
with Greg Ray
May 29, 2003

K. Johnson: We certainly thank and welcome everyone to the Indy Racing Teleconference for this week, Tuesday, May 27th. Today we will look back on the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 with 1999 IRL IndyCarTM Series Champion Greg Ray. Ray is involved in the ownership as well as driving the No. 13 TrimSpa Special/Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone for Access Motorsports. This past weekend he recorded his best finish in seven Indy 500 starts by completing the event on the lead lap with an eighth-place finish. Greg, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Ray: Yes, thank you for having me, very happy to be here.

K. Johnson: To start, Greg, the Access Motorsports team came together really kind of late and made its first appearance at the Indy Japan 300. So for quite a few people the past few weeks at Indianapolis have been their first exposure to the team. Tell us a little bit about how the team came together and your involvement with them.

Ray: Well, we had started speaking about it, all the parties involved were speaking about it back in November, but we really did not have any fuel to go forward. So really it was just kind of idle talk, but we kept on talking and kept on talking and kept on finding ways to kind of make it come together. The principles of the team are myself and Ted Bitting, who is our team manager; Jamie Nanny, our crew chief and Jeff Britton, the team engineer and we also have involvement with Lee Mroszak, who is better known as “Crazy Cabbie” out in New York and is a radio disc jockey, and New York businessman by the name of Brent Townsend. It is kind of difficult to really put into words all the stages we went through to get this point. We had a lot of exciting things happen and we had a lot of setbacks. It was just very difficult this year. I mean, first of all, all the teams have raised the bars as far as competition and what it takes to be competitive in the Indy Racing League, not to mention this is a new year for chassis and gearbox and bell housings and motors. So running a racing team, anytime, is very difficult and a very expensive proposition, not to be coupled along with having capital expenditures of a new car and basically new everything plus acquiring shop space and all the equipment associated with that – trucks and transporters. So we kind of got the ball rolling more in January and made some solid gains in February. Again, had some good days and bad days, lots of setbacks. And that is one of the reasons why I think we choose the No. 13. We had so much bad luck at first that we all kind of stayed unified. We all stayed in unison and all stayed working very hard, very focused, and we were able to push the thing forward and did debut the team at the IndyCar Series race in Japan. We have one car and a very small team. We basically only put 50 miles on the car at Kentucky before we went over there to test, before we went over to race. And I think as a young, fragile, upstart team, with really at that point with no major sponsorship, we were very, very conservative. We were pleased to come away with a top-10 finish at ninth. And during the month of May I think we performed very well. We got more comfortable working with one another. It is the first time I have run a Panoz G Force and the first time I have worked with Jeff Britton. And the cars are dramatically different than the Dallara that I have ran in the past, and the setups are quite a bit different. But, I think as a team we are all coming together very much. We are jelling and the chemistry is really, really good. And even though we are still struggling in some capacities and trying to get caught up financially and still have only one car, we were still fragile even after signing on TrimSpa as the primary there at Indy. Hopefully, we can perform well and keep them on for the rest of the year and for years to come and try to grow that sponsorship and add more to it. I think we were pleased. We had some mistakes we made at qualifying. I think we really were capable of being a top-two row qualifying team. And on Race Day, I was very pleased. I think we were a little bit light on downforce. Clearly, I think lap in-lap out when we had clean air we were the quickest car on the racetrack, bar none. And we had a difficult time passing, and in fact I gave up probably two, at least two if not three positions to the cars in front of me trying to lap somebody else, and had a hard time getting around them and allowed those cars to catch back up and get around us. All in all for us, I think it is a marvelous result to have something come from nothing to something so quickly and to be gaining momentum and be gaining performance. We are very proud. We are having a lot of fun, and I think that shows in our performance.

K. Johnson: Now you kind of alluded to last Sunday’s performance at the Indy 500. Years past, you may have made a bigger splash heading into the event, you sat on the front row numerous times, but you kind of commented after the race that you had to exercise a little more patience than what you might have in the past. Talk a little bit about how that played into your finish.

Ray: In the events years previously, in ’97 I had a water-pump failure, a little bitty twenty-cent Allen bolt broke, and I think we were definitely a dark horse and could have won the first year. In ’98 we clearly were the fastest car on Race Day. We ended up having, we were such a small team then, too, we basically started the race and we let something slip by. We didn’t have any oil in the gearbox and so we fried the gearbox and fixed the gearbox, came back as quick as the lap leaders, but unfortunately we were still 18 laps down so it didn’t matter. In ’99, off the start on the front row again, and basically had the whole field lapped after Arie crashed and ended up having a pit lane incident. That was the year we had the very, very high headrests and we had very little lateral vision in our mirrors. We were having radio problems, and it was just Murphy’s Law that that happened. I mean, we were definitely the class car in the field and just did not get the result and that was very devastating because we were so far and so clearly superior. That one definitely slipped away from us. In 2000, we had a quick car and set on pole. But that month was hard. We just, for some reason we just weren’t hitting on all cylinders. I think we weren’t communicating well, and there were definitely some differences of opinion, and we missed the setup on Race Day. We were way too wide on downforce and had too big of gears, and the race pace wasn’t quite what we thought it would be. And I definitely made a mistake. I got out in the gray in Turn 2. That Turn 2 ate a lot of people’s lunch yesterday. It definitely cost me a potential run for the victory, trying so hard I just got out there high turning in and lost the car and got in the turn too hot. 2001, and I can go on and on. We were leading the race at halfway point, basically had led the whole first half of the race pretty easily, and everybody thought it was going to rain. I think we all just got too anxious and there was way too much excitement on the radio, and we were pushing very hard and going very fast and the car was not handling properly. We had a weight jacker in the car that helps the car handle and basically kept on lowering and lowering and lowering the front of the car to handle better. And, unfortunately, I had lowered it right into the ground and allowed it to hit the bumps in Turn 3 and made us just skid up and touch the wall and that basically took our chance away. And of course last year with A.J., we had car problems and horsepower problems and ultimately had a crash very early on the race and basically our set up wore out the right rear tire. So in the years past, we have been competitive but have had our issues. We really did not put any pressure on ourselves to go out and win even though we knew we had the people, we had the car, the Honda motor, the experience. We had everything in place to win, but we were really focusing on the moment one lap at a time, one lap at a time to make sure that we get to the end without having a spare car. Right now we just cannot afford any setbacks and so we tried to be a little bit conservative. But clearly we had a great car, great crew and we had reasonable pit stops, in and out very quickly. And everybody worked extremely well together and very happy with a eighth-place finish, but I think if things could have been a little bit different - if, what, should, but, all those things - we were definitely the quickest car out there and we certainly were capable of winning.

K. Johnson: Now, following the race, you have had a pretty busy week yourself. Last night we had the Indianapolis Victory Celebration then you caught a plane to Washington, D.C. Tell us your involvement and reason for being in the capital.

Ray: Well, I am a spokesperson and affiliated with the program called Drive for Life. It has involvement from car manufacturers in the AAA and a lot of the attorney generals from different states around the country. It is a program to help educate the public about driving safety. Over 42,000 people a year die from automobile accidents. And, largely, most of those are made because of mistakes. Over 10,000 children die in those cars. And from all the data that we have studied and looked at, a very, very large percentage of those have happened because somebody wasn’t paying attention, either both drivers or at least one of the drivers. Speed is definitely a factor in a lot of the deaths where people were driving faster than they should have been on the posted speed limits and put themselves in a position with their car that they were unaware what they had done and lost control and had an accident. In this day and age of high-speed society and get it done and deadlines and family commitments, we are talking on the telephone, we are trying to make it to our son’s soccer game at 5 o’clock, we have a list of things to pick up for dinner that night. We are doing all these things which take your focus away from the task at hand, which is driving just a simple street car. A lot of these things happen. Life is so precious and so wonderful to have something so wonderful taken away from families or individuals over some simple mistake. If somebody was paying better attention, then I think that the key element of the program is just to bring more focal point to people, let them know that driving is a responsibility and you have to be more focused and not to make those types of mistakes.

K. Johnson: Greg, at this time I would like to go ahead and open our forum to the media for questions. Also, just a reminder, we do a complete transcript of this call and it will be sent to your email and fax machine. Now let’s open the forum for questions.

Q: Thank you very much. Good morning, Greg.

Ray: Good morning. How are you?

Q: Fine. In a sense, have you taken your destiny and put it in your own hands?

Ray: I don’t know that I believe in destiny. I think most of the time in this life you get back what you put in. In racing in the past years, I have been involved with some people in programs that have had their own agendas. A race team is such a fragile thing because you can put the world’s best people together but if they don’t have good chemistry and they don’t have good leadership, they don’t see things the same way, and they are not going to get the best performance from one another or as a group. It is pretty easy to all cheer and wave and smile on a good day. The difference between that and a championship-caliber team is how they handle adversity on the bad days. And with the Access Motorsports team, obviously I have a lot of input in the day-to-day operations and into the people and also the leadership of the team, the business program, the business model, the sponsorship, all the things that we go out there and put ourselves on the line for, we make sure that we are able to deliver. And we all have the same viewpoint, and we are all pulling the rope the same direction. And like I said, I really have a great deal of admiration for all the partners of the team. I am very happy with our progress up to this point, but I am very, very excited about our future. I think that we can definitely do good things. My philosophy has always been live by the sword, die by the sword, but unfortunately, in positions I was in before, the sword wasn’t in my hand. Like I said, different teams have different agendas. Sometimes drivers are the last ones to find out about that.

Q: Over the years you have always struck me as a person who is very methodical about what they do. I guess I go back to the adage of sometimes it is best to be slower in order to be quicker. Is that a pretty correct assessment of you? And is that the way you’re building the team?

Ray: I do not think that would be most people’s assessment from years past. I think my driving on the racetrack has always been fairly aggressive.

Q: Well, I do not guess I was saying on the racetrack, but I am talking about in your preparation for race and how you have handled your career.

Ray: I think just getting to the point where I am at today, after starting at age of 25, I have had to be pretty analytical and methodical just to have the opportunity. A lot of times, by the time drivers are 22, 23 years old, they have either made it and gone on to stardom or something, or they have been given the opportunity and they kind of fade away. So for me to kind of come out of left field with absolutely no experience or knowledge of the sport at such a late age to find my way into doing something I have dreamed about, I guess I had to be somewhat methodical, but lucky, and blessed to be with the right people. But certainly, on this team the thing that makes it different with my approach, I think, is that in the years past, obviously, winning was the number-one goal. And, I think I definitely made mistakes, both in driving and maybe what I wanted with the setup or the pressure. I even put blame on myself now because we are young and we are growing and we have such a close-knit group of people and we are trying to make something and we are trying to keep our operation, both financially and with risk-taking, on a track beyond the threshold. The key thing is not how much success we achieve quickly, but it is how many mistakes we avoid getting to where we are going right now. And, so far that approach for our team has paid dividends. I think it is spectacular to come right out of the box in this day and age in the Indy Racing League with the newest, youngest, least-budgeted team and have two top-10 finishes. And, I think from a team ownership standpoint, we are very, very proud of that. As a driver I am definitely chomping at the bit because I know we have so much more to offer.

Q: You mentioned starting at a late age. What a lot of people either forget or don’t know is this was not your initial career path.

Ray: I dreamed of this for many, many years, like I think all people who are racing fans. I dreamed about it as a kid and always wanted to do it but just really never had the avenue to do it. And my parents were very protective, very loving. They are still my best friends, but they just didn’t look at that as reality but didn’t want me to get hurt as a child with go-karts or mini-bikes and jet skis and those kinds of things. So I just really never had the availability or the place to do it as a child to even see if I was even any good at it. And it was only after business and some other successes allowed me to kind of reassess my life and kind of reflect that life is short, you should be doing exactly what you wanted to do, and I dreamed about doing it for so long that I just decided to go try it. And luckily for me, I jumped in and really took to it like a duck in the water. I won two Formula 2000 championships and one Atlantic championship and just kind of moved my way up one step at a time because, again, at that point I was trying to assess for myself if I had the desire and ability and/or just the combination of what it took to go to the next level. We have had good days and bad days, but I still very much love being involved with racing.

Q: It’s that methodical approach, right?

Ray: I think it probably is. I think it is the just consistency and I think, I almost hate to admit this, but one of the key things that I am focusing on right now is my involvement has brought a lot of intensity and a lot of focus. And Eddie Cheever walked up to me, I think it was either 2000 or 2001, and obviously he and I have had a few run-ins together, but he walked up to me one day and we were talking and he said: “It seems like your intensity isn’t there, your focus isn’t there. You guys you could just feel the intensity just coming out of your skin and looking in your eyes, it looks like you have lost that.” And I think he’s right. When it becomes just something you do, you are not going to be good at it. You have to live it, you have to breath it, you have to sleep it, you have to want it, you have to dream it and you have to prepare for it. You have to work harder than anybody else for it, and I have sort of readopted that right now, and I think it is going to pay dividends.

Q: We appreciate it, Greg. Thanks.

Q: You talked about putting a team together with your several principals and starting out in November, and given Penske, Ganassi, Menard and the like, is it still possible in 2003 to have a successful program without having that huge infrastructure behind you?

Ray: Well, there is no doubt that they have advantages in every. If you have 20 categories, they have an advantage in at least 19. I think with Jeff Britton as my engineer and Jamie Nanny as my crew chief and Ted Bitting and myself, we have a very unique chemistry, and we have a lot of desire and we have a lot of faith in each other. And that is intangible. It is hard to measure that. So, I would say in at least one category we have as much or more of that than anybody. But when it comes down to the financial part, obviously we signed on TrimSpa, which is a fantastic sponsor for us. We were working on that becoming a larger and more long-term program. It is a great company that has a patented diet pill out there that is growing by leaps and bounds in public acceptance. They are a very high-profile company. I would have to say that the TrimSpa girls made a huge impact at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May. I think there are a lot of things that just brought a lot of attention to our program, and it is very exciting. But yes, we still only have one car. We do have Honda motors, which I think are the absolute best motors out there. But that is a clear choice that we made and are very happy and honored to be running their motors. But from a financial standpoint, from the amount of people we have, from a platform in many capacities, yes, we are at a big deficit. We are at deficit because we haven’t had the testing time these other teams have had. We do not have much racing experience this year with these new cars. And we just don’t have the depth. We don’t have the counter-measures and insurance and the financial ability to build those if, what, but scenarios into our program. Yes, I mean, its a long answer to your question, we have the ability to have a very successful season. We have the ability to win races this year but we have to get it right and we have to get it right the first time. More so than getting it right, we have to avoid making mistakes.

Q: Terrific. Thank you and best wishes.

Ray: Thank you.

Q: I was just wondering, Greg, how the whole sponsorship with TrimSpa actually came about?

Ray: It is pretty unique. Obviously, Crazy Cabbie is part of our team. He actually lost 100 pounds using TrimSpa, and he was a pretty energetic. He became an unofficial spokesperson for them because he believed in the product so much. Obviously, we signed on EDS, which I have had as a sponsorship for many, many years. They have been a very loyal supporter. And we signed on Panasonic Toughbook Computers, but compared to the big teams, we are still very, very tiny. But we had discussions with TrimSpa, and we knew they were involved in motorsports, and they are a very high-profile company. But we believed in our program and we believed in their product and how perfect those marriages would be together that we actually ran them on the car at Japan and we had no deal, we hadn’t signed anything. And they were happy and excited about our program. They didn’t commit to us, but we still thought they would be such a perfect partner. We believed in their product so much that we took a gamble and rolled the dice on putting them on the car. We had garnered more support and enthusiasm among the company and the corporate crowd and certainly how it is going, and we are still kind of on a ‘Let’s take it and see how it goes” type of situation. But again, I think if we dot our I’s and cross our T’s and perform well, I think we can have a big impact with their company, and I think in return they can have a huge impact with our race team.

Q: Thank you, Greg. Good luck with the rest of your season.

Ray: Thank you.

K. Johnson: Greg, our next event takes place at Texas Motor Speedway. You grew up and live about 30 miles from there. Tell us a bit, if you will, about what that facility has brought to the Dallas/Fort Worth market and North Texas in general.

Ray: Certainly. I think whether it is open-wheel racing or NASCAR racing, I think people always say that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the world’s capital of motor sports. And from a historic standpoint that is absolutely true. But the Texas Motor Speedway is just a mile-and-a-half racetrack that holds 200,000 people. It is the finest state-of-the-art facility anywhere in the country, because it is a high-banked oval and because the way the grandstands are shaped, in a very much surrounding-theater style, every seat in the house can see the whole racetrack. Between the Speedway Club and all the suites and the Turn 2 Penthouses and the Texas hospitality, I mean it definitely rates as … I mean, I have to put it this way - everybody wants to win the Indy 500 because of what it means historically. But from a fun perspective and from a fan fun perspective and a driver fun perspective, everybody wants to go to the Texas Motor Speedway. It is just a great facility to race at. It is a great facility to spectate from. And again, with the warm Texas hospitality, it has just meant a great deal to Indy-style racing and racing in general in the entire Texas area.

K. Johnson: Well, Greg, we certainly appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Congratulations on your performance this weekend and best of luck throughout the remainder of the IndyCar Series schedule.

Ray: Yes, thank you for having me on and very much appreciate being part of the Indy Racing League. And once again, I want to congratulate Gil de Ferran and Team Penske for doing a wonderful job, as they do always. Again, I cannot think of a better ambassador for our sport and the Indy 500 champion as Gil de Ferran has done. He is a great family man. He is very honorable and he is a great race car driver. And, on another note, obviously the Indy 500 was the last race for Michael Andretti, and he and his father have meant so much to the sport of racing. His name is known the world over, and we will all miss him from the cockpit, but still very happy to be able to call him a competitor in pit lane.

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