We'll go ahead and get started as Chip hands out a release here.
First of all, we want to thank Sam or for opening up his shop
here at Sam Schmidt Motorsports. As we've touched on it, a
couple of the other stops, these teams are very, very busy right
now. There's probably not a team in the Indy Racing League as
busy as Sam's team. Not only does he field three cars in the
Menards Infiniti Pro Series for the Indy Racing League, he's
also participating in the Indianapolis 500 with an entry. So he
has a full plate, and his team does. Certainly it takes some
time to, as you mentioned, clean up the shop and open the doors
for everybody. So Sam, first of all, thanks for doing that. We
really appreciate it. Joining Sam up here with me, we have
Travis Gregg, who is leading the points currently in the Menards
Infiniti Pro Series, winner of the first race, as well, and
we'll spend some time talking with Travis. And we're great to
welcome back -- it's great to welcome back Richie Hearn, who
will be driving Sam's entry in the Indianapolis 500 this year
and we'll spend some time talking with Richie as well. First of
all, Sam, let's touch on the three-car effort that is proving to
be very successful for you in the Pro Series, and I guess you
did something nice for the crew members recently.
SAM SCHMIDT: Thanks, everybody, for coming, we really appreciate
it. I was thinking about this the other day, I haven't done one
these tours since 1999 with Treadway when I was driving the
Sprint car; Sprint PCS car. I should get that sponsor right,
right? But it's great to be here and to be back in this shop and
to have everybody here. But, yeah, the three-car effort is
something that I think initially we underestimated what it would
take to do that in the IPS this year, and we really are taking
it seriously after winning the championship last year and
obviously want to go repeat that this year. We won the Freedom
100 last year, which is also extremely important this year for
us to try and repeat that, being at the Speedway. We've got a
great group of guys. Basically everybody that was here last year
for the championship effort has stayed on, and then we brought
in a couple more guys for the third car. But they're off to a
great start. Qualifying one-two and finishing one-two and
qualifying one-two-three at Phoenix. Frankly stumbling a little
bit at St. Pete with the road course effort. We'll come back and
evaluate the situation and hopefully be a lot better in time for
the USGP weekend, which is going to be very important, as well.
GREEN: Sam, tell us about the shop. The shop has history in
motorsports, and you know quite a bit of that history.
SCHMIDT: I'm not sure which year it was built, but Bill Simpson
owns the whole complex, which he is the safety guru in the
industry. I know you guys are going across the street to the
plant after this. My understanding is he built this whole
complex, he occupied quite a bit of it when he owned Simpson,
and then he sold Simpson and started leasing to teams and I know
for a fact that Greg Beck was in this shop and subsequent to
that Treadway was in this shop, as well. Then we were in this
shop back in 2001 and 2002, and then came back for this year. So
there's a little bit of history there and, you know, being an
IPS team, we came in, said 10,000 square feet, that's going to
be, we'll have all kinds of room, and now we don't have any
room. So it's just one of those things you tend to collect
stuff. But it's a good place to be, it's centrally located to
Gasoline Alley and everything else.
GREEN: Richie, hand the microphone to Travis, we'll start with
Travis. Travis, you're headed into one of the most important
months on the calendar in all of motorsports, month of May in
Indianapolis. You're leading the points in your series and
heading into probably the most prestigious race on that
calendar. Talk about heading into the month of May and what it
means to you.
TRAVIS GREGG: I'm happy to be back on top of the points
standings. Coming out of the street course at St. Pete, it was
different, kind of tough, my first street course race in any
car, actually. And you know, the Indianapolis race is going to
be very important. I think it's the most important race of the
year as far as prestige. There's a lot of history there, and it
will mean a lot to get a win there. And it would be great for
GREEN: We'll move to Richie before we open it up to some
questions. Richie, you've competed in the Indianapolis 500 for
several years now, but the last two years have been rather
challenging, that the programs have come together at the last
minute. This one was announced quite some time ago. Talk about
your mind-set going into the month of May knowing your program
is in place.
RICHIE HEARN: I feel very privileged to be able to be a part of
this media tour for the first time. Usually I'm not in part of
the event until after everybody's been on the track for a week.
So I have to thank Meijer and Coca-Cola and Sam for putting the
deal together early so that we can get the right preparation,
get the cars ready, the guys are mentally ready for the month
and, you know, hopefully we can be the first car on the track on
the 10th there and qualify on that first day and practice for
the race, because that's what matters.
GREEN: Quite often drivers show up and get in the cockpit and
don't have an appreciation really for what the owner is going
through. Richie, you somewhat have an appreciation knowing what
Sam goes through putting together four cars for the month of May
on the racetrack. Richie is a car owner in another series. Talk
about that effort.
HEARN: Last year I started in the Pro Mazda Series and so a lot
of people said I was stupid to be a car owner, and I said, ‘You
know, it's no big deal, right?’ After a year into it, I scratch
my head sometimes wondering what I'm doing. So I do have an idea
of what it takes to organize on a smaller scale but organize the
guys and organize the preparation and just every little thing
that goes into it to make sure it's a proper effort. I think
that helps me understand and not be impatient when things go
wrong or things like that. I understand how it all works, and
hopefully that makes me a better driver in the end and in the
same side, you know, makes me a better owner, too.
GREEN: Travis, when you found out Sam was bringing on a full
IndyCar effort for the month of May, did that give you a little
bit of peace of mind knowing that you would have a seasoned
veteran on the team that can help you? I know it's two separate
cars but somebody to bounce some ideas off of?
GREGG: Sure, it's going to be my first trip around the big
track, so I'll have him. He's the seasoned veteran at this, so
any questions I may have, I'll be able to bounce some ideas and
get some feedback. It will be great.
GREEN: Besides Sam's multi-car effort which keeps him busy
enough, he's also -- he started a foundation years ago, the Sam
Schmidt Foundation, takes also a great deal of his time. Joining
us today, Ida Cahill with the foundation, who's the day-to-day
director of the foundation. Just want to say hello to Ida, and
Sam has a couple comments he wants to make about the foundation.
He's worked hard on it the last couple years but with some
events that have happened within the last year, he's really
ramped up his efforts and he wanted to say a few things about
that, as well.
SCHMIDT: Well, for those that don't know, I actually do see a
lot of new faces, so I'm glad to see the regulars in and some
new folks here. But the foundation was started five years ago
from somewhat of a selfish origin that I want to eventually be
involved with finding a cure for this thing, and that's much
larger than me personally. I knew it was going to take a lot of
research dollars and a lot of awareness and a lot of momentum.
But more recently, with the passing of Christopher Reeve, our
board has decided to really kind of ramp up the effort with a
national PR program with just a lot more awareness and really
more or less trying to capitalize on the fan loyalty that is
involved in motorsports. There's no way that myself or Marc
Buoniconti or anyone out there can fill Christopher Reeve's
shoes on this issue, but hopefully together we can all keep the
momentum going. It's obviously a pretty hot topic in Washington.
Several states are passing initiatives for stem-cell research
and different forms of research. We're right in the mix of that
and obviously with the motorsports involvement and support, we
hope to grow the foundation considerably this year. Ida actually
was previously involved with Christopher Reeve's foundation, so
she has a lot of experience in the industry, and it's basically
her job to take it to the next level. So we're just really
excited about what's going on. We've already got a tremendous
amount of press this year and in some of our race markets. We're
hoping that the effort at the 500 and once again, Meijer and
Coca-Cola being involved, all of those exposure items from the
team standpoint are meant to support the foundation and meant to
support the awareness of the foundation.
GREEN: Ida will stick around the rest of the stop here at Sam
Schmidt Motorsports -- it was really difficult when you drove
for Treadway, I always struggled with that one, too -- but Ida
will be available for one-on-ones after our program here. We'll
turn it over to the media and start with some Q and A. We are
transcribing this, but I will repeat the question or have you
ask it in the microphone for all the people on the panel. First
Q: Sam, if you could, talk a little bit about what the future is
for this team. With having an effort like this, this is more or
less kind of a training ground -- I don't want to say training
ground but a starting point for eventual move up to full time in
the IndyCar Series?
SCHMIDT: Well, basically we had kind of like Richie said, I
jumped in with both feet in 2001 and didn't really know what the
heck I was doing from an owner standpoint, and we really didn't
have the resources to compete at that time with the Panther
Racings of the world. We found ourself doing really well but
doing really well for that effort was fifth, sixth or seventh.
When the Infiniti Pro Series started, I really felt like that
was a better opportunity for us to compete, at least with equal
budgets to the other teams in the series. And also, it's a
really good fit for me coming from Formula Fords, Formula 2000,
Atlantics to Indy cars to be able to work with drivers that were
coming from the same stuff I did, working their way through the
Infiniti Pro Series and hopefully going to IndyCar Series,
that's a real good environment for me to be able to work with
those drivers. Now we've got a situation in IndyCar Series where
there's a ton more resources, extremely competitive teams, so if
the opportunity arose with similar type of budgets those guys
are working with, sure, we'd take a look at it and we'd look at
it really seriously. But right now it's kind of like we're, you
know, hopefully the dominating team in the Infiniti Pro Series.
It's a much, it's much easier for me to get the motivation to go
to the track and face all the challenges that it does to go to
the track if you're winning races. Wouldn't want to go back to
the IRL and just run in the middle of the pack just to be there.
So I guess the answer to the question is if the right
opportunity comes along, we'll certainly take a hard look at it,
but right now we enjoy being in the position we're in in the
Infiniti Pro Series.
GREEN: Next question?
Q: Richie, you came here I think in '96, wasn't it? And finished
real well and then your car -- because of circumstances you went
away, you came back. How much more do you appreciate now that
you can drive again in the 500 from that first time?
HEARN: Well, when you're young you take things for granted a
lot, and that year we had a great finish, finished third and
honestly that's the first time -- that was the last time I had
had a proper effort where I started at the beginning of the
month and, you know, I never thought that it would be this hard
to get that type of program back into place. This year we have
that type of program, so I'm expecting the same results, if not
better. So I think as a driver, yeah, I appreciate it more now
and maybe focus more now on it because you never know when it
might not happen again. So I'm pretty happy about the situation.
Q: For both Sam and Richie, do you know at this point what cars
you're getting from Penske, or cars, and are you going to be
ready to go on the track when the track opens?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, that's over the last two days kind of been
working through the time line of things, but we're supposed to
go up to Nazareth -- I'm sorry, Reading, what am I saying? –
next Tuesday to pick up two Panoz chassis. We're physically
buying those from Roger. I believe one of them is a chassis we
ran last year, which was a previous Gil de Ferran backup car,
and then I believe the other chassis was the chassis that
Castroneves tried out in 2003 before he switched to the Dallara
for the rest of the month. So they're both obviously incredible
cars and extremely well prepared. So we'll bring them back,
we'll begin the 2005 update process and we've met with Panoz and
Chevrolet and everybody that's involved in the project. We fully
intend on being there May 10th ready to run at 12 o’clock.
GREEN: Next question in the back.
Q: This is for Sam. Sam, as an owner, what do you look for as
far as characteristics in the drivers?
SCHMIDT: Hmm. (Laughter) I must say it's a little different in
the IPS series versus the IRL. Obviously we've got a lot riding
on this IndyCar effort with the Meijer and Coca-Cola deal being
sort of a perpetual deal. It's been around the last four or five
years. It's been a great one-off program for a number of teams.
In the past it's been, you know, you look at Treadway, you look
at Morris Nunn, you look at last year Robby Gordon and we feel
extremely honored to be chosen to get the program this year, you
know. So if we do a good job, I mean there's no reason the
program couldn't come back to us next year. And we'd already
have the cars, we'd already have the groundwork in place that
we're laying this year. It would be a very attractive thing for
to us do. But obviously they're interested in performance. So
our goals are to qualify the first weekend and run in the top 10
all day, and everything seems to shake out after that last pit
stop, so that's kind of what we need to do to influence them and
have a good start. So with all those things considered, I think
Richie was a good choice for us because we have worked with him
on and off for the last four years. He has a great relationship
with the engineering staff and he knows when he gets in the car,
I mean he can go on down in there in Turn 1 and leave it flat.
Last year, I think he was flat the sixth time by and we only had
a hundred miles on the car before he started the race. This year
we'll obviously have a lot more time than that. But he gets the
job done and doesn't complain. I think you also have to look at
the fact that it's the Speedway, too, and there's clearly some
drivers that we couldn't take a chance on a rookie situation
because you either like racing at the Speedway or you can be
intimidated by it. Clearly he isn't, and we just need somebody
that's going to go out and stand on the gas. So that's what we
were looking for there this year. The Infiniti Pro Series side,
Travis obviously jumped in last year at Kentucky first race ever
in the car and got a pole. So from that point on we were
obviously looking to try and make a deal for him this year; and
the results so far have been exactly what we expect. So it's
just two different situations. I mean, unfortunately if we do a
really good job in the Infiniti Pro Series, we have to kind of
reinvent that wheel every year, which is a bit of a challenge,
but that's the nature of a support series.
Q: Sam, in the past when Arie was part of the Meijer/Coca-Cola
deal, they wanted him to run at Michigan, he ran at Michigan a
time or two. Is that under discussion for you to run this year
in the Michigan race?
SCHMIDT: I don't know, Brett Holiday is back in the back with
Coca-Cola. If we won the Indy 500, they would probably love for
us to go to Michigan. Chevrolet certainly wants to make a big
impact at Michigan. We really haven't talked about it in-depthly,
but we obviously aren't racing there in the IPS series. But
depending on the outcome of Indy, anything can happen.
Q: Are you open to that?
Q: Sam, as a team owner and not having Andretti Green kind of
budgets, do you think the new qualification rules play to your
advantage giving you more of an opportunity or less of an
opportunity, what's your thought?
SCHMIDT: I haven't really given it a whole lot of what I would
call strategic thought on the pros and cons. But obviously
there's no limitations as to how many times you can try a
chassis anymore and there's no limitations on how many times you
can qualify an engine. So it certainly would make it easier if
somebody got in a little bit of a panic or little bit of a
trouble the second weekend, maybe they had a problem the first
weekend, had to go to the second weekend, it would give you more
flexibility as far as utilizing chassis and engine combination.
Our goal is to qualify in the first weekend and not be involved
in any of that stuff. It certainly does open up things as far as
flexibility and number of cars and people that can jump in at
the last minute. For the guys that are running all month, I
don't think it makes that much of a difference.
GREEN: Let's throw that question to Richie. What about as a
driver, what do you think about the new rules for qualifying?
HEARN: I think it definitely would be better for TV and better
for the public. As far as for me, I think it takes a little bit
of pressure off because the limitations, once you go out, you
can re-qualify. I think there will be a little bit of strategy
depending on the weather if the weather changes from day-to-day,
from Saturday to Sunday. Saturday is not so good and Sunday's
really good, what do you do to get a better pit spot, things
like that. But really, I don't think the goals change too much.
I think what will change a little bit is that the shortened
practice schedule for the first day makes it more of a premium
to be out there right at the beginning. But your priorities have
always been to try to qualify on that first day so you can work
on your race setup and not worry about qualifying. I don't think
it changes so much but it does take a little bit of pressure off
knowing that you can get your car back out there, that car is
not, once it qualifies, it's not done type of thing. That was
always very stressful because you had to get two cars ready all
the time and be prepared because you never know what could
Q: Travis, you came in at Kentucky last year, now about nine
months later you're sitting here and you're talking about going
to the Indy, the Speedway, you're going to be driving in the
other race but still you're suddenly in the picture that
involves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What does that mean to
you as a young driver?
GREGG: It certainly means a lot. As a young driver growing up,
dreaming about running the Indy 500 is every racer's dream. Now
I got a chance to race on that track. So even though it's not
the Indianapolis 500, I still get a chance to race the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So it's really special, and I'm
looking forward to it. The whole month of May is just exciting,
and there will be a lot of things going on other than racing. So
that makes it kind of neat, too.
GREEN: Sam, talk about staffing, you have a pretty big crew to
maintain the three cars for the full Menards Infiniti Pro
Series. What have you had to do staffing-wise to prepare now a
fourth car which is for the Indianapolis 500?
SCHMIDT: I mean, yeah, luckily we're very fortunate to basically
– obviously this isn't – some other places you're going to be
stopping are going to have upwards of 60 to a hundred people but
we run this pretty much three-car effort on 12 full-time people.
We're very fortunate to have guys that are overqualified for the
Infiniti Pro Series, I think. We counted up the other day,
between Champ Car, IRL and IPS, there's guys with, I think we
have 14 championships in this building amongst our employees. So
we certainly have qualified people there. We're probably going
to bring in a couple more people to be able to help facilitate
the cars for the next month and then also at the Speedway. Then
we're obviously trying to run both of them on Carburetion Day.
So there will be a couple additions. But for the most part we've
got really talented crew chiefs on each of these IPS cars. We've
got plenty of engineers now. So it's a really good program. I'm
really excited about the caliber of the personnel to work on the
Q: Travis, what was your background prior to the IPS?
GREGG: Started out in karting, and I did a couple years of SCCA
Formula Atlantics, racing at Mid-Ohio and IRP, and basically the
past five years raced non-wing sprint cars on dirt, mainly
quarter-mile tracks with USAC and local tracks like
Lawrenceburg, Indiana, too.
Q: Sam, what do you see can be done to really make the Infiniti
Pro Series be a legitimate feeder series into the IndyCar
Series? Because other than A.J. IV, Mark Taylor had an
opportunity, but your driver from last year, Thiago, is walking
around without a ride. What do you think is missing to make it
truly a feeder Series?
SCHMIDT: Well, that's a good question. I think, unfortunately, I
think Thiago is a bit of an anomaly because everybody in the IRL
series knows he's got the talent, knows he's extremely talented.
But it just happened to be one of those situations so far at the
end of last year, which was very unlike previous seasons where
nobody really retired, nobody got hurt, there wasn't a huge
amount of shuffles of seats, et cetera, and there just didn't
get to be an opportunity for him I think because of that. But
clearly he is on the top of a lot of people's lists if somebody
does have a problem this year to get in a seat. Everybody I
talked to knows he has a tremendous amount of talent. I think
it's only a matter of time before he'll get an opportunity over
there. That would speak highly of the Infiniti Pro Series. I
think we could easily get to a situation where we could do a
couple more races without adding a ton to the budget to do it.
It would be really good for that series I think if they had a
couple more road courses, either that or possibly doubled up the
race weekends on road courses that we already have. But it does
need a couple -- it needs a little larger car count. There are
some series things that have to be dealt with to accomplish
that, but I think the owners in the IRL can understand who's
doing what over there and can recognize talent when they see it.
So it's kind of like a double-edged sword. There needs to be
enough fundings in the IRL to bring these drivers on, too, and
not require them to have to bring funding.
Q: Richie, going back to 1996, you're one of three drivers, I
think, that are still here from that race. Talk a little bit
just about it was the third race of the IRL and everybody was
scrambling, everything was new. Reminisce a little bit about
what went on that year.
HEARN: You're dating me a little bit because that was a long
time ago. But it was new for a lot of people, including us. Our
team came directly out of Toyota Atlantics into that.
Fortunately the equipment we were running was proven, it was the
previous year's champ car stuff, the '95 Reynard and stuff. But
those years, that year the speeds were pretty incredible. I
think Arie had the fastest lap of qualifying at over 240, and
even I did in the warm-up on the Carburetion Day, I did a 235
lap. So now we go around here like 225, and it was just a
totally different animal. But it was a lot of fun. I rate it,
even though I won Las Vegas that same year, I still rate that as
my biggest race of my life because I went a lap down early in
the race, just because I stalled it in the pits and we were able
to pass the leader at the time, I think it was -- I think it was
Buddy (Lazier) at the time and actually catch back up to the
back of the pack. And honestly, I think Scott Sharp spun out at
the end. If he wouldn't have spun out, we were on a different
fuel strategy than Davy Jones, and he would have run out of gas
and we had a chance at second and maybe catch Buddy. After that
race, you felt like you won it. Obviously we didn't, but third
place was pretty awesome. I'll never forget it. It was quite an
experience because it was new for the crowd and new for the
league, and there was so many new drivers there. I think there
was -- man, I don't know how many rookie drivers there were that
year, I think probably 15? 19, yeah. And there were some
questionable drivers out there, but they did pretty good, you
know, overall the race went pretty well. I'll never forget it,
that's for sure. You never forget your first Indy 500.
GREEN: Any more questions? We do want to allow ample time for
one-on-ones with not only Sam, Travis and Richie and Ida, as
well. What we'll probably do is keep Sam right here and maybe
have Richie and Travis go to that end of the transporters to
spread things out a little bit. But we have plenty of time for
one-on-ones. So take your time and make sure you talk to each
one of them. Sam, once again we appreciate you opening your
doors for us and good luck in May.
SCHMIDT: No problem. I'll tell you there is plenty of Coca-Cola
product over here if anybody would like anything to drink. If
you guys haven't got a CD or cassette, don't miss that
opportunity. On your way out we've got these Sam Schmidt
Paralysis Foundation kits, and make sure you grab one of those
on the way out, too.
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