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INDYCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 10, 2020
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's INDYCAR iRacing Challenge videoconference. My name is Kate Davis. I work at INDYCAR. I'm the director of communications.
Today we're joined by three athletes competing in this weekend's Chevrolet 275 from virtual Michigan International Speedway: Sage Karam, driver of the No. 24 Wix Filters Chevrolet; Conor Daly, driver of the No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet; and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 3 Nationwide JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
Gentlemen, thanks for joining us today. I'll kick it off with a question for each of you and then we'll open it up to the media on the line.
Sage is our resident INDYCAR iRacing expert. You won our week 1 race, but you're too young to have raced at Michigan, but you did race at Auto Club Speedway, which is quite similar. What should fans expect this weekend?
SAGE KARAM: I think from yesterday's race running we did, I think it's going to be a pack race kind of feel, kind of like Fontana was in 2015. But it's going to be exciting, that's for sure. I just think we need to stay off of each other, and we should be all right.
I think once it comes race time, I think it'll be a bit better. I think the guys will then know that the race is on the line and stuff like that. It's just kind of the same thing that's happened the last couple events. I think when we're doing these practice runs and stuff, we just kind of go out there, have a little bit more fun, and then when the race comes we turn it down 5 percent or whatever we need to to get through it all. But no, it'll be cool.
I think you'll see like in the beginning of stints when the tires are fresh and good, you'll see a lot of like three-wide action, and then as the stint goes on, the tires will start to wear a bit, guys will start battling some understeer, and I think you'll see guys more single file and it spread out a little bit.
But we're going to do another practice race with everybody today to see if we can work with some new weather settings and stuff to maybe make it a bit easier for us to race and stay off each other a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Conor, we know you're a big gamer, but up until recently you had not been a big iRacing guy. But in the NTT INDYCAR Series you typically have success at ovals. How has practice been going this week for you, and what should we expect from you this weekend?
CONOR DALY: Thank you. It's been fun, honestly. Michigan was actually the first track that we got on when this whole iRacing INDYCAR challenge was set up. They had Michigan and Watkins Glen as two practice sessions because we didn't really know what our first race was at the time. And we got on there, and it's been a lot of fun, honestly. Like the racing there, the track being so wide, so many different lanes you can use, and just yesterday the practice race, honestly I was really impressed with all of us. I thought it was going to be a lot more chaotic than it was, and the racing is crazy. Like it's very close. There was a lot of overtaking, but there was also -- it thinned out a little bit at times. Pitting for tires was super important. And you know, I don't know, I thought it was a lot of fun.
We ended up fighting up at the front for once. I know everyone is probably really surprised about that, but battling with Scott McLachlan for the lead, a lot of fun. So we hope to do that again.
But even if we're 28th, I'm still probably going to have a great time. That's what Michigan is all about, I think, and that's what this weekend is going to be all about.
THE MODERATOR: All right, last but certainly not least, let's welcome Dale Jr. who's joining us. You're the only driver here that has actually raced at Michigan International Speedway, obviously not in an INDYCAR but in a NASCAR. You have two wins in both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. How is practice going for you? I know you were a late entry this week. How excited are you to be participating this weekend?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Practice was a lot of fun, and I don't have any time in the car on the simulator. I've been on iRacing for a couple decades, but I haven't put much time on the INDYCAR, and obviously have no real-world experience, so there's a lot of learning and trying to understand why the car reacts the way it does and what creates those issues because some of them are realistic and some of them may be because of the sim or the tire model of the sim. Just trying to understand how to stay out of trouble. Keep yourself out of trouble was what yesterday's practice was about, and I'm looking forward to today, practicing some more with these guys.
I had such a great time when I went to the Indy 500 last year and I have so much respect for the guys that are in the field and the guys that we'll be practicing with and racing with this weekend. It's kind of fun for me to get to know their personalities a little bit and how they interact with each other was really fun yesterday during practice. I was just kind of sitting there listening to everybody go back and forth with each other, and it's kind of funny. I kind of understand that camaraderie and the back and forth that they have is really similar to what we have in the Cup Series, and they're all racers, you know, so it was -- you know, I just hope that I can stay out of trouble, and that's going to be the main thing early. There's two kind of trains of thought there, that you can go real hard and try to keep yourself toward the front if you can because there'll hopefully not be a lot of trouble up there, or if you're not able to do that, you've got to hope that you don't get caught up in anything going on in the middle or back of the back which is definitely probably going to have some action.
That's what iRacing is all about, just trying to know when to stay out of trouble and then when to push. The tires are going to fall off a little bit. The car gets real, real tight in some circumstances that's real challenging for everybody in the pack, and just knowing how to keep yourself out of trouble is the main thing.
Q. Conor and Sage, what, if any, attention has this brought you? Can this platform raise your visibility, and has it led to sponsorship either for iRacing or start of discussions on real-world opportunities?
CONOR DALY: Well, I guess I'll start. We didn't really know what to expect from it at first. Obviously we have this incredible looking U.S. Air Force car, and we want to put it out on the internet because they've committed to us in real life and they're willing to invest in me and our sport, and obviously in this difficult time in the world right now, we've got to give them as much as possible for being willing to commit to us in the first place.
I think we are honestly still in the early stages of figuring out how to make this work as good as we can.
The Twitch stuff is really kind of funny for me. I just did it two years ago just for fun because I play a lot of Call of Duty, and I play games, and I think sometimes we might say hilarious things, and I know Colton Herta and I play a lot, and some of the other guys, we've played a lot. We've played some Forza Motorsport, as well. It just gives you something -- it's all about building your brand, and if you have four different areas where your brand can build, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, that's more than, I guess, you're used to with just the Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram.
To add a fourth element to that, maybe I continue to develop a YouTube channel, as well, who knows. There's stuff that I think you'll end up doing during this time that will no matter what help you in the long run, and that's just what we're trying to do is when we do go back to racing. Maybe we've built a bigger fan base, we've built a bigger brand for our sponsors and the people that do support us.
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I agree with Conor. Just another point about the Twitch thing, the fans can see our reactions to certain events that take place, where before when we're inside the cars and stuff, they don't really get to see those things and hear what we say, and whether it's good or bad things, I think the fans like to make that first-person connection with us and seeing how we go about it. It's pretty interesting, you see different drivers, how they're handling these situations and stuff, and it's pretty cool.
I mean, I'll be the first to admit, I watch Conor's stream all the time because it's pretty funny when he's streaming these races, he gets on it pretty good with some jokes and stuff and he's always entertaining to watch. It's cool to see the personalities of some of these guys while they're racing.
Q. Dale, greetings from another neighbor in Mooresville. You never had a chance to drive an INDYCAR in your career, so in a lot of ways this is a little bit new. You were a master of the draft in a stock car. How is drafting different in these cars at Michigan in the virtual world than maybe the way the car is handled in your world in NASCAR?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, there's one thing, where two wide was pretty common all day long at Daytona and Talladega in a Cup car, three wide seems to be real common in the INDYCAR. Not only are you worried about the guy beside you, whichever side he's on, and the run you're trying to create off the car in front of him, the run the guys have behind you, but most of the time you might have two guys beside you, you get boxed in real easy, and then when the car produces the runs, you don't have something to do with it, you don't have a place to go, and you have to make that decision for yourself to not take it, and that's the hard thing to do but probably the best thing to do in a lot of situations is just to wait for another opportunity, another lap, another run.
Hopefully I have enough patience to do that. I definitely don't want to be the one to start any crashes. I'm the new guy. It definitely is -- I'm a fish out of water, and just being able to shift gears and have gear selection while you're drafting and trying to understand how to produce opportunities using that is really foreign to me, so I'm learning on the fly. All these guys have been really helpful, the ones I've reached out to have been very supportive, and it's a good group.
Q. And also when Harding Racing started a couple years ago, they chose No. 88 as a tribute to you. How excited or impressed were you when you heard that? And also Conor Daly is an alumni of a guy that's driven that No. 88 in INDYCAR.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I wasn't sure if that was really a tribute to me or they just liked the font. Either way, I know the guy over the team or owns the team was a fan, I suppose, but I loved it. I thought it was beautiful. It's a good-looking number and looks good on that race car. Looks good on their race car, and they've been able to develop that team and improve that team and it's great to see the success that they've been able to have. I love seeing it out there.
Q. And finally, bringing some more of your fans maybe to tune in tomorrow to maybe see INDYCAR for the first time, how important is that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well I think these guys have such great personalities, and they're even more diverse than what we have in NASCAR because they're from all over the world. I think that that's the real value in the series is the drivers and their personalities and who they are, and so I'm "fan boying" myself just being out there hearing them talk, hearing them interact with each other, getting to know them better. I've got a few friends in the series but certainly want to know the other guys and get to know the rest of them really well, so this is such a great opportunity for me to do that, and I think the fans are really going to appreciate getting the opportunity to see them on the racetrack, on the virtual racetrack throughout this break, to get to know them even more.
Q. Dale, you mentioned you have a handful of friends in the INDYCAR Series. I'd be interested to know who are some of the guys you've looked to for some help getting adjusted to the car this week, whether it was Jimmie who I know has raced the last two weeks and isn't going to be racing this week?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I reached out to Jimmie just to get temperature, get an understanding of his experience so far. But I have some guys in the iRacing service, customers that use the car a little bit to offer some advice. Rahal is a good buddy of mine. We've interacted over the last several years on a pretty regular basis. And Marco and me became pals over the last couple years. Simon -- you know, when I went -- Simon was on the podcast. Mr. Penske is going to be on the podcast Monday. I don't even know if we've announced that yet.
I just had such a great opportunity, like I said, when I went there to the Indy 500, being in a NASCAR, being a NASCAR driver for all these years, there's just no opportunities to go to these races. To actually be at the Indy 500 for the first time, my first INDYCAR race, to meet and interact with some of the drivers was a real treat for me and really got to see the series and the value in it and enjoy it.
I've met Conor a few times, great guy, going to ask him for some twitch advice here because I'm starting to try to figure out how to get Twitch going on my end, overlays and all that good stuff. So you know, it's an opportunity to sort of connect with some of these people and create some friendships.
Q. You talked a little bit already about some of the intricacies with drafting, running three wide through some of the practicing that you've done thus far. Is there any one thing for you that's been the hardest thing to adjust to or get the feel to jumping over from a Cup car sim to an INDYCAR this week?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, the way they had the aero modeled in the INDYCAR on iRacing, it's tough for me to understand what of that is realistic and what of that is exaggerated or whatever because the car will get real tight sometimes and I'm not quite -- I haven't quite really figured out why that happens and how to try to prevent that the best I can, whether it's how I'm positioned behind the car in front of me, if I need to offset my car to that car some way, somehow, but sometimes the car just takes off, gets real tight off of Turn 2 particularly, and trying to -- I think that's really going to be the thing I'm most worried about right now is trying to understand that and trying to avoid that.
Sometimes the car gets runs, gets -- you're able to just take off and get a run in the draft, and again, I'm not sure -- I want to know why. I want to know why, what produced that run and created that car to take off like that, because I want to be able to do it every time all the time.
Just trying to figure out what's going on there. I have zero real-world experience in the car, so I don't know what's real and what's not, what's real and what's iRacing. So I'm just trying to learn as fast as I can.
THE MODERATOR: Conor, Sage, you want to tell him?
CONOR DALY: No, because I have no idea.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know if he's telling me the truth.
Q. Conor, you talked about having fun and talked about building a bigger brand through this on Twitch, and yet it's been seen on the NASCAR side that interactions in iRacing can still have business and sponsor implications. How much fun can you have when knowing everything can still be dissected by sponsors, and how much of this is business versus fun?
CONOR DALY: That's a great point. I think that was really interesting obviously after the NASCAR race with what happened with Bubba. I mean, it's not like we're getting on the internet and going into like crazy mode. Yes, we're getting emotional and we're shouting at people sometimes, but only Will Power is the only one really insulting people, so I don't really know what else is going on. We're just all kind of having a great time.
But it's just one of those things where, yes, is it a business? Absolutely. Like we're still -- we are still wearing our sponsors, we're still -- we can't necessarily go out there and go super crazy. But yeah, you are going to get more emotional drivers or let's say emotionally reactive drivers on the internet when you don't -- like certainly Alex Rossi and Colton Herta in my discord, you can't see their faces. They don't know they're on camera or being recorded or whatever, so it's harder to kind of police yourself in that sense.
But you know, I think in the end, if you don't understand that, again, this is -- we are trying to entertain people, like this isn't something that -- I don't think anyone is going to get a job in a real race car after the iRacing INDYCAR Challenge, and I don't think for sure anyone is going to lose their job because of what they do on the iRacing INDYCAR Challenge, so you've just got to remember that, hey, like -- even me, I'm guilty -- like I said literally yesterday in the practice race, I'm trying to have a great time, I'm having fun. I got so angry that I got wrecked on the last lap. I was curious. I left the discord, I haven't talked to Colton Herta in 24 hours, I've been so mad at him, and honestly, I don't know why. Like I shouldn't be angry. But it was fun because you're racing for the lead and we are competitors. We want to win this stuff.
You've got to just compartmentalize a few different emotions when the camera is rolling, and then yeah, hopefully come out the other side still with your job and all your sponsors.
Q. What does this do for maybe your brand if you think about that like compared to maybe running the Chili Bowl?
CONOR DALY: Well, the Chili Bowl, I think that's, again, diversifying your portfolio. You're going to do something different, something out of your comfort zone. Simulator racing is out of my comfort zone, as well. But here we are. And I don't really mind. I think I'm happy enough with what I can do in an INDYCAR and what we have the potential opportunity to do this year with Ed Carpenter Racing and Carlin this year to where I can go and do that and enjoy it and also might it go well? No. Might it go like -- might it go great at some point? Yeah, that would be awesome. But yeah, just trying to learn different things and just trying to do as much as I can because you're only young -- I'm going to still call myself young, but you're only young once, so I'm going to try and live it up a little bit.
Q. Dale, I'm just kind of curious, INDYCAR is kind of its own little community, and NASCAR is kind of also its own little community. How much curiosity is there amongst the NASCAR drivers, what's going on in INDYCAR and vice versa? Obviously we've seen Jimmie try the iRacing a little bit, you're going to be a part of this. There's got to be some I would think.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's a ton. I think if you're a race car driver, you certainly -- you're watching other forms of motorsport and you're obviously curious as to how those cars drive and what they feel like and what the drivers are dealing with, are the cars comfortable, uncomfortable, how are they reacting to air and so forth.
I'm certain that all of the NASCAR drivers would really love to get that opportunity to understand everything there is about driving the INDYCAR, and I'm sure that the INDYCAR guys feel the same way about driving a stock car.
You see that curiosity -- I'm going to tell you right now, doing the double is not easy. People talk about doing the double and how cool that is. It is cool, but it is really, really hard because you're committing yourself to the entire month at INDYCAR and then you've got the -- you've got all the month of racing on the weekend in stock car and you're back and forth to meetings and trying to switch between profiles of how you approach the INDYCAR versus you driving the Cup car, and the fact that guys still do it with as much challenge as there is logistically and just trying to run well, the fact that guys are still trying to do that shows you that the curiosity is certainly there and people are trying to make it reality.
Q. For you, there's no other way for you to be a part of anything INDYCAR when it comes to being in the cockpit than the circumstances we all are dealing with right now, so in a weird kind of way, it's kind of cool -- maybe that's not the right word --
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, it is. It's cool. I love it. I might have been crazy enough to take up an offer to run INDYCAR in my 20s or maybe my early 30s, but I didn't have the guts for it. As I got toward my 40s I certainly don't have the balls for it today, but when I was -- when I heard that there might be an opportunity for me to get out there on a simulator -- I mean, I'm comfortable in the sim. I've spent a lot of time racing online, so I feel like I can hold my own with most of the customer base on there, and these are real-world guys. It's just such an honor, I guess, to be out there and on the track with them.
I never would interact with them any other way, you know. I probably hardly know any of them, so it's really cool to be able to be out there and just having fun. This is all really a lot of fun. There are some implications, and there are some business components to it, but for me it's a great opportunity to showcase Nationwide as a partner of mine that they've been a partner for a really long time, but it is also an opportunity to kind of wade in this pool and have some fun with these guys.
Q. Dale, once racing returns to normal, do you think sim racing will kind of be a way for retired drivers such as yourself to keep racing competitively and then maybe even current drivers to keep racing during the off-season?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I don't know what will happen once everybody goes back to racing in real life. Drivers are going to be so busy with that job that they're not going to have a lot of time to devote to any kind of a schedule on sim racing.
Sim racing is, for everyone, for the most part, sim racing is just a way to go in there and blow off some steam and have some fun at any time you want. When it starts to become something that's a bit scheduled, it loses a little bit of that sort of fun in the instance of just jumping in there and having fun and jumping on the surface and going at it.
But you know, so I think when these guys go back to their real jobs, they're going to be so focused on that. A lot of them are going to park the simulator, probably never use it again, but some of them are avid users of the service and will continue just to have some fun on there and enjoy it the way they always did. I don't know that we'll ever see -- and we might, I could be wrong. I'd love to be wrong, but I don't know that we'll ever see an official series with real-world racers that continues. That's managed by the organization bodies like INDYCAR or NASCAR.
Q. Sage, you obviously have a ton of experience on the sim; what makes iRacing better than other games such as rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa, stuff like that?
SAGE KARAM: I guess I just never really drove them all that much. I've been on iRacing since 2007, so like when it was in beta mode. So I've been a part of it for a long time. It's just kind of always been the one I feel like when you go talk about major sim programs, like it's always the top one people talk about.
I have all the other ones, but I've probably done like 10 laps on rFactor 2 and five laps on Assetto Corsa or whatever -- I don't even know what it's called. So yeah, I don't know. I've just been a part of iRacing for a while, and it's cool to see the progression of it, just from even just a few years back when you'd have world championship races that iRacing had put together and everybody would be running those, and now like the amount of money that's coming into sim racing, you look at the NASCAR world championship series presented by Coca-Cola, it's a $300,000 prize pool, which is like pretty incredible for sim racers, and Porsche just put together a $250,000 or $200,000 prize pool for their championship, so the money is starting to get pretty huge in sim racing, and people are starting to make a living more so than honestly a lot of real race car drivers are getting paid. It's pretty insane, the top guys.
Conor is -- I agree with Conor that no one is ever going to lose their drive by their performances on here. That's 100 percent true. But I don't agree with the fact that I think it can help you get in a ride because it can only help you running well and running up front, and I've already gotten calls from sponsors that have been past sponsors of mine, new sponsors that are wanting to get on board with this and are already talking to the team about what's after this and how do we get on the real car and stuff because they've seen how exciting this is. So it can only happen. But like Conor said, it's not going to hurt you. It's just for a fun thing. But it's been really cool to see how the racing world has embraced it, and like I said, it's really cool to see how it's growing. That's why I'm so into it because I'm not a full time race car driver right now, I'm part time in the real thing, so it keeps me busy, and it's something fun to -- it's something fun, but I also take it serious just because now it is starting to become -- you can kind of make a living off of it now. I'm trying to get to that level, and it's been a challenge, but it's been fun.
THE MODERATOR: All right, that's going to conclude our video conference today. Thanks to Sage, Conor and Dale for joining us, and good luck in tomorrow's Chevrolet 275. Please make sure that join us on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. eastern. Thanks, everybody, and have a great rest of your Friday.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports