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INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 17, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much and welcome to today's Indy Racing League conference call. We have two guests today with us. IZOD IndyCar owner/driver Sarah Fisher and the driver she recently hired to drive the races at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, Graham Rahal.
Thank you for joining us today. Sarah, we'll start with you. It's always a tough decision for the driver to give up the seat to their car, especially one that you own. How did the decision come up to step aside and put Graham in the car?
SARAH FISHER: I had two tests this winter, getting ready for the road courses and we're doing one-offs this year. We don't have a complete full schedule, and with that didn't -- the first test they didn't go that great.
So I went back to the hotel and just thought about it. And I reached out to Rick Dreiling over at Dollar General and said what do you think about this idea, and he was very supportive of it. And so we started discussing who was available.
And Graham was. So it all just worked itself out from there.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, it's been a pretty difficult offseason looking for a full-time ride but you're ready to go next week in St. Pete and driving for Sarah.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously, it's extremely exciting for me, and the call came from Andy O'Gara, Sarah's husband. When I got it, it was a complete shock. Things were looking really -- it wasn't looking good for us to make St. Petersburg or Barber.
And so obviously being that there was one race, other than the 500, I don't want to miss every year is St. Pete. So when the opportunity came from Sarah and obviously Dollar General for me, I just had to jump right at it.
Extremely excited and obviously very enthusiastic about everything that's gone on at or with SFR so far. And I think as we look to St. Pete and Barber, I think a lot of people are pretty optimistic.
I feel like we should have a pretty good run at both places.
THE MODERATOR: And you mentioned that, other than Indy, St. Pete is a place you really want to race. Obviously you won the pole there last year, became the youngest pole winner in IZOD IndyCar's history. In a similar situation where you missed the first race of the season in '08, you won the race down there and became the youngest race winner. What about St. Pete's suits your style?
GRAHAM RAHAL: You know, I'm not exactly sure, but I certainly hope that history repeats itself. I just -- I really love -- a lot of it has to be about the atmosphere, obviously the track. But when you go there, it's so -- it's so exciting to be a part of the event. It's just a great event. And the track suits -- I've always really, really loved street cars.
The track suits me well. And other than that, I couldn't tell you exactly. I just -- I really enjoy it. And just always, you know, feel really positive and excited going into that event. And that continues this year. In fact, I think I'm more excited than ever.
I feel like we should have a lot going for us, and we're obviously going to test here at the end of this week. So we'll see, have a good judge of the things to come pretty quickly. But feeling pretty good about it.
THE MODERATOR: Sarah, you're going to be back in the No. 67 Dollar General car for the race at Kansas; is that correct.
SARAH FISHER: That's correct.
THE MODERATOR: How are you going to prepare yourself? I know you're just going to be the team owner for the April races, but how are you going to prepare yourself to get back in the car for the race at Kansas?
SARAH FISHER: I think being able to pick up and go is difficult, and that's something that I face pretty much my whole ten years in IndyCar. But we're real fortunate that Jay Howard's program is allowing us to test at Kansas prior to the event. So as a team, as a whole, we'll be a lot better off going there for that particular event.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our guests today.
Q. Graham, if this was a game of musical chairs, were you really concerned when the music stopped playing you were not going to have any seat?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, as I said, I was pretty sure -- yes. The easy answer is yes. The more and more we thought about it, we looked at the way that everything had developed, unfolded throughout the off-season, it obviously looked as if we would be on the outside looking in, which it was obviously very frustrating for me.
But, yeah, I mean, things did not look good. And when Sarah, when I first talked to the team, it gave me -- you know, gave me a lot to be optimistic about. Because I know we're only signed for St. Pete and Barber, but who knows what's to come.
But all I knew was it was a great opportunity to go out there. But certainly when the music did stop, there were a lot of seats I thought I was going to have on a full-time basis.
And then last minute someone else jumped in. Last minute, something else happened where the sponsor disappeared or this or that. So, yes, it was a frustrating off-season, simply because we felt like we were so close to so many things.
And obviously for the first four months of the off-season thought that I had a done deal at Newman Haas. So the way things unfolded, looked like it was going to be a very tough year for us. But now, you know, I think everybody's put their heads down. Really my manager and myself and obviously we've been in touch with various teams.
So everybody's working really hard.
Q. Also you're both two proud natives of Ohio. I know that you had your own hero to look for when you were a kid, and that was your father. But how much did you really hear of Sarah when she was climbing through the ranks coming up, getting a ride with Derrick Walker at that time? Was she somebody from Ohio, kind of paid attention to? Because other than your father, I mean, like I said, you Buckeyes kind of stick together.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's kind of easy, truthfully, because Sarah and I joke around, I was at Circleville, Ohio, where we both kind of started.
So it's easy for us. I think the connections go pretty far back. Actually, one of the Fishers -- I don't know if Mike is your cousin, but he's worked for my dad and has for a long time.
And a guy who works for my family, Jason Temple, used to race go-karts down at Circleville. So for many, many years obviously known about Sarah and followed her, and certainly I think the local media is very proud of what we've done.
So it's pretty cool for me to sit here and be in this position. Although I signed my contract with Sarah and then she decides to throw on me that I have to introduce her to Jim Tressel, otherwise I'm not allowed to drive.
Q. Sarah, touch on the Ohio connection between the two of you.
SARAH FISHER: It's incredible. We really didn't think about it until after the fact, or at least I didn't. And talking with Rick and our partners and just what Graham has done in this sport as an athlete, as a driver, his contributions already at such a young age.
And then after we get done, I'm like, "Oh, by the way, he's from Ohio." It's really neat to have this team teaming up together and being able to go after the two races and being from the same place. I don't think you find it very often in sports. So it's a neat affiliation.
Q. Obviously both of you guys have made some important history in IndyCar series, Graham being the youngest racing pole winner and Sarah being the first female pole winner I belive in open-wheel racing. Since this deal, when you had time to yourselves, did you have thoughts in your head, like if we do our best and a few things break right, we could be rewriting the record books again?
SARAH FISHER: I think so. That's a big picture. Graham says it best that we're quietly optimistic. But the whole point of what we're trying to accomplish here is really big picture thinking with the team and where it's going. And trying to have a shot at having good results.
And I didn't see that as being a part of the big picture when I was testing at Barber. So obviously my team is a whole lot more important to me than my ego, and Graham's going to do a better job than I would have at the wheel for those two particular events.
So there's a hope that he comes away with that we're going to be proud of and they're going to shine no matter what. And it would be really great to rewrite the books. I think Dollar General would be really happy about that.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think I feel the same. And I think a lot of the credit has to be given to Sarah, I think, for the way that she's thought about this. And no matter what, no matter where I end up in the future, what happens, the way that the team has approached this situation, myself in particular, I think they deserve a lot of credit.
And I think that no matter what happens, we'll certainly try to do what we can to help Sarah and help Dollar General and the program as they move forward and who knows what can happen in the future.
As I said, I think this is a starting point, but I'd love to see where things go. And hopefully we can go out there and open some eyes and ears over the next couple of weeks, the next couple of races, and I think we've got a great opportunity to do so.
So I'm really looking forward to it, and, I don't know, has there ever been a female owner, race team owner that's won a race. So hopefully we can make something --
Q. I don't think there has.
THE MODERATOR: Not to my knowledge. I don't think there has been either.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Hopefully we can make something special happen, then.
SARAH FISHER: That would be great.
Q. A lot of thoughts have been made amongst the fan base, the lack of American drivers and sponsorship and all of that. From your perspective this offseason, what have you been getting from companies as far as their attraction to this series? Is it just -- what kind of obstacles are people like you facing? Is it just the economy, or is it other factors, like maybe the TV package that they're lukewarm on or some other things that we may not know about that a driver may know but fans and media may not? What's your perspective on that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'll tell you that we have had -- really only in the past month and a half is when we really started to search hard for sponsorship, because, like I said, before that we thought we had a done deal. But I would tell you we have created a lot of interest in IndyCar racing.
I think it's pretty impressive. I saw the TV ratings for the opening race of the year, and we're up 40 percent over last year.
I feel like IndyCar -- I don't talk to anybody that says no, there's zero interest, you guys aren't a good series anything like that. But the mindset nowadays has to be different than what it used to be. When we talk about the economy, you're just not going to go find a sponsor that is going to write you however many million dollar check just to be on a car. Doesn't work that way.
If you look at Dollar General the way they do it through all their associate sponsors, if you look at the target platform, very, very similar thing. Those types of models work, and those are the type of people that you have to find that can be a part of this.
So it's very different. But I think that we're on the rise, I really do. And I think with what IZOD is doing and also with Randy Bernard coming in, always been very outspoken about, he's a great guy, he's been extremely helpful, I think things look good for the future of this series and of this sport.
As far as American drivers, you know, I don't know how else to say it, although I was talking to someone the other day down here in Sebring at the 12-hour asking them why didn't they have very many American drivers, simply put, we've tested a lot of American drivers and none have been able to do the job properly.
And it's sad to say, but that's been the case and I think that people sometimes have the approach that it should just be given to you if you have good results and stuff.
The facts are you've got to work hard, never easy. Right now the Europeans, the Brazilian drivers, first of all, the results are there. Second of all, they have a lot of support whether it be their countries in some situations, whether it be sponsors from home, family, whatever it may be, they've had that support.
Q. Graham, your dad was here today at Barber to promote his Legends of Motorsports Series race they'll be having here in May. Over lunch he was telling some stories about you about how when you were growing up and he never really wanted you to get into race car driving and how he had to like -- he had to try to talk you out of it for a while and how he used to take you to sponsor dinners and you would sit there and be quiet, unlike other kids who would be saying when can we go home and so forth. He said there was never any doubt what you were going to become. Could you talk a little bit about that? What you had to do to convince your dad that this is what you wanted to do and what it was like growing up with such a famous father?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think my situation, other than having the father that I had, my situation is very similar to a lot of other drivers, the facts are that racing is dangerous and every parent wants their kids to be safe and, well, why go run around an oval 220 miles an hour, because, clearly, it's not that safe.
It took a lot of effort because with my dad, you know, it was like he knew firsthand how dangerous it was. And my mom did. And really the only way I could get him to let me go go-karting was my brother and I came up with this plan that we were going to go go-karting together and it was something we were going to do together and the family experience type of thing.
Well, my brother after basically the first event decided that racing was not for him. So very early on it was just kind of me going, and my dad made the deal with me if I got good grades I could go go-karting and go racing.
Fortunate to hold up my end of the deal, and from there I guess we kind of just went from one series to the next and continued on. But the initial part was the hardest. Once we got in and we got going, obviously Dad did whatever -- well, really I should say Mom, Dad, grandparents, my uncle, they're all still very much a part of what goes on.
But they all did what it took to help me be successful. There was never -- I was never really -- I don't want to say I was given the easy route -- but certainly there was no doubt that I had the best equipment, the best people around me, the things that I needed to learn from.
So obviously I'm very thankful for that. But I think from a very early age Dad exposed me to all those different things. So by now you're fairly used to it.
Q. Your dad says he's going to race his Lotus in that race here in May. Do you think there might be a little bit of friendly competition to see who comes up with the best finish in their Barber race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I don't know. Unfortunately I think he has it a little easier than I do. He'll try to tell me it's tough. But the thing is that my dad, he's just awesome, because he just -- we were talking about this the other day, talking about Michael Schumacher, they both love racing, and my dad, the series he's put together, I think he selfishly put it together so he could go racing all the time.
So that's just how he is.
Q. I understand you're going to be testing here on Friday; is that right?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yes.
Q. Sarah, seems to be like maybe a breakout year for you; seems like you're expanding, you have the Jay Howard thing and going to do some races, you're going to race, you're an owner. What do you expect from this year?
SARAH FISHER: It is for sure a breakout year for us. We're very fortunate in that we're the few IndyCar teams that keeps growing every year, but we have great solid partners, and bringing Service Central/Tire Kingdom on for Jay's program and even expanding that before it even hit the track to race at Kansas, as that program started up and then having Graham's interest in our program and the support of Dollar General there and our other partners and growing that program out to do something pretty neat.
It's just every day we take a step, my husband and I do, to grow this team. And we wake up every day thinking about what can we do today to make it better and to make it better and bigger and more successful.
And that's something that we see in someone like Graham. Graham wakes up every day as a race car driver and says to himself, "What am I going to do today to make myself a better race car driver and present myself with more opportunities."
As a racing team, we try to have that same thought process. So we're just very lucky. It could happen to anyone, then it all goes away at any point in time. We're having fun with the opportunities that we do get to have.
And I think you're going to see the whole entire of our team all the way down to the people who are only part time here even at St. Pete having a great time and having a great experience with our opportunity as a whole.
Q. Sarah, when you started to drive, did you ever expect you would be a team owner?
SARAH FISHER: (Chuckling) no, I didn't. And when I got here I had no idea the time commitment it takes. But, you know what, I'm having the most fun I think I've ever had in my career. I was in a Saint Patrick's Day parade just seeing the fan and people of Indianapolis cheering for the girl next door or the program next door to get an autograph and you're going to see at lunch and say hello. I really enjoy that and I really enjoy being in a position that people can look up and aspire to do what we do every day.
Q. Graham, I imagine you probably watched the race in Brazil for those of us who were there it was a wild deal. As far as street course races, how wild did it look to you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It looked pretty entertaining. I was telling somebody, but that's like I was just really bummed I wasn't there, because that type of track is right up my alley.
But you know, the thing is that for next year people have got to be optimistic, because I think I saw once they got the track fixed and everything, and if they can smooth it out, get rid of some of those bumps, there's plenty of passing opportunities.
And that's like -- that's a golden, you know, the golden ticket for road racing is that long straightaways with hard braking zones where people can get inside of each other.
And I'll tell you what, I don't know, as far as a road race goes, I don't think you'll find much more action overall, whether it be because of the red flags or whatnot. I mean, there was a lot of stuff going on. I thought it was pretty good. I'm just looking forward to racing there myself next year.
Q. And also as far as -- one of the problems we have with street courses that are on the series is that they kind of make them just a little bit too short, that you don't really have a lot of opportunities to kind of get the car through the gears like you might like. Do you think that a lot of track designers might have learned something from how well the racing was on this course Sunday?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think they're going to learn. It was funny, I was talking to a guy, Dennis Swan, who works for my dad, and Dennis has been around the sport forever.
And the recipe for good road racing is you gotta have long straightaways in the second-gear corners, or whatever it may be. Because you need those long braking points. If you have a track that has long straightaway followed by a very fast corner, it's impossible to do anything, because you don't have anywhere to get underneath anybody.
So I hope that people have learned from this. And that it will be in the future, we'll see more and more of these types of tracks. Because that's what -- I don't know. I just think it adds a lot of excitement and it's a lot of fun for the drivers to know, hey, if I get a good run off here, I've got a good long straightaway to make up some time and get by this guy. And a lot of places we go you have to hang on, because if you don't get a good run, you have no chance.
So I think it looked pretty cool to me.
Q. Graham, I'm wondering if you can say anything about what you might have going to line up a ride for after the two road races with Sarah?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you know, there's obviously -- there's a lot going on. There's been a lot of stuff that's been happening over the last several weeks. We're juggling a lot of different situations. And hopefully one of them is going to fall. Because obviously, as I tell everybody, Sarah has been great in giving us this opportunity for the first -- well, not the first two races, because obviously she's already got one out of the way, but for the next two, but then we need to look beyond that. Obviously we want to be -- we want to be full time.
And I could tell you, as I said earlier about all the sponsors, there's a lot of interest. We have a lot of interest. It's just trying to find something that's going to come together. And Sarah can tell you as well as anybody, trying to get a lot of money out of big corporations, it takes time.
It's rare that you find a situation that is one guy and you happen to hit the right guy that can hit that magic button and say go right away. It just doesn't happen.
THE MODERATOR: Sarah, I know you started a social media campaign to try to get Ellen to be in your book and invited her to the Indy 500. Can you give us an update on how that campaign is going?
SARAH FISHER: It's still going strong. I don't know -- she's got a lot on her plate, Ellen does, with American Idol, and obviously her show and maintaining a home life, we all know how that is.
And so, you know, we're still hoping that it works out. And just even to include her in the book that we're putting out at the beginning of May, I think that would be a feat in itself. But still working at it.
THE MODERATOR: All right. That concludes our conference call.
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