-- Post-Race Press Conference Transcript --
As a champion here, now you've done it as a driver and an owner, what a feat in its own.
What I'm most pleased about, this guy to my right, Scott Roembke, who grew up here and this is his life, Indianapolis, especially. I am so pleased for him and for David, for the same reasons, being from Indiana, this is just an awesome achievement for our team. And while I appreciate it, and appreciate it greatly, I am more so pleased for Scott and Dave and the entire team, and of course Buddy, a guy that people wouldn't give a chance to, and here he is.
I think, I dare say, I believe that he dominated the race. I don't know how many laps he led, but he certainly drove around everybody when he had to. You know, just a fantastic performance.
I'm sitting in the motor home talking with Kenny Brack about his baby and he says, "You know, I think they are racing." We heard it might be Labor Day before we get this thing dried up. I go up there, I see Treble in the pit stop, he was talking to Bobby's dad, and I said, "Where did Buddy come out?" 16th. At that point I went outside for a little breath, and I said, well, this is going to be one of those things, be happy with a top-five, top-three finish.
And by the time I got back to the pits, my God, Buddy just would not stop, and it was eating everybody alive. There's something about it, it was I think preordained certainly. You could feel it. You could feel it from the start of the race. Buddy is a tough kid. He's a pretty tough guy. Please no, flash photos. (Laughter).
I just want to thank Bobby and David for giving us everything we need to put this team together. It was a total team effort and the guys at work we talked about this after the pole, all three guys worked together all month. I saw Roger going to the front today, when we told Buddy that rain was 30 minutes away and he was PA, he had to go; he went. He did just a great job.
And then I had to sit there and watch everybody else enjoy the spoils. Particularly the teams that did everything they could to try to keep Honda out when we were trying to bring them in.
And then for me today, to bring Honda their first pole position at Indianapolis and their first victory, I'm just so proud of that. And I'm thankful to them for bringing me back into the fold, allowing us the opportunity again, because, frankly, I never thought that would happen. And they should take great satisfaction from this entire month, this entire year, to be sure. As Scott said, they cleaned house this month, and I just can't -- they work hard, they are brilliant and they deserve it. So, yeah, the irony of the last ten years is not lost, and this somehow wipes out all of the frustration and all of the depression that Scott and I went through when everybody started winning with Hondas and we were on the sidelines. It was great, and my congratulations to them.
Sure enough, as Scott said, Buddy got the whip out, and, man, he put some moves on some people, brilliant restarts. I felt that irrespective -- of course, then I'm listening to the radio and the officials are saying, well, we don't think it's wet enough yet. I'm going: Like hell, it's wet! (Laughter) I think we ought to red flag this right now! (Laughter).
So, obviously every other pit was saying the opposite. It was a great race for us. It was great to watch Buddy because the guy just drove through the pack.
I don't know, for Scott and Bob and Dave up here, I know Scott and Dave and I have been talking since -- or Scott and Bob and I have been talking since '98, '99 when I started racing Atlantics there to try to put something together -- sorry, Dave, I didn't talk to you about it. But these guys were on the track. (Laughter). We were trying to sort something out, and things never quite worked out. They always said when the timing is right, things will come together, and we'll make something happen. I guess this was the right time.
We started off the season excellent. We had a good chance at winning at Homestead; we had a puncture, just circumstantial, just the way it is. We've had two good other runs at other facilities, and Honda finally got their first win at Motegi, and for us to come here, the long history Bob has with Honda and for to us get the pole for them for the first time and the first win is huge at the biggest race in the world. I don't know, I'm on equal footing with Bob to a certain degree, because I've won the Indianapolis 500 now, but he still has got championships and a lot more wins under his belt. So, keep trying to chase that.
We didn't know the full picture with Kenny, like how long he would be out or what have you. We need a guy who is going to lead this team and be a team player. I've got to tell you, I can't imagine a better -- a better guy for that than Buddy. We have been very, very pleased with how he has come into this team and really become the leader that we needed.
Another thing that I think that happened, we got a couple of breaks in traffic late in the run. I know Tony was close. I got by, I forget who it was, going into Turn 1; it was kind of a late pass, but I needed to make it to give myself that barrier. And Tony got bottled up so bad that I couldn't even see him anymore. I think that was also another cushion that we needed and it just helped. It helped to go back to conserving fuel like we did, and that was the whole thing. We knew it was going to be a lot of fuel strategy. Pit stops were going to be crucial and whoever made the least amount of mistakes. There were a couple close calls with some lap guys, and just the way it is. With the way the packages are right now, it's so close from top to bottom, you knew that was coming.
When Tony came out of the pits, I knew he had to be at least a lap down at that point. So if the rains would have opened up -- or the skies would have opened up with rains, then he's at least a lap down. He almost went down a lap earlier, too, but we had everything fall into place today, just it all kind of worked out.
The patch was a cosmetic change we needed to make for several of our sponsors in situations, but that's things that you have to do. It's not an issue. Nothing changed. I mean, it doesn't change my attitude. It doesn't change my approach to anything. It doesn't change my lifestyle, nothing. It's just a little bit of a cosmetic change. But I'm totally cool with it. Doesn't change my -- I guess my persona or anything. It might come back. We'll see. Bob's already talking about letting the hat come back, so we'll see what we can work on next. (Laughter).
RICE: I guess we're going to have to wait and see. I don't know right now. This is pretty crazy. Like everybody said, this is everything you work for, it's the biggest race in the world, and to be able to come here and not only sit on the pole, but to be able to win it -- obviously, now I know I led the most amount laps. I don't know, I think it's pretty cool.
RICE: Hopefully it gives people a little bit of a shot in the arm right now. Because there's a company, as you guys all know, Red Bull is trying to put an American driver search together. A lot of kids that are over there in that program are kids I've raced against and grew up with over on the West Coast. I wouldn't say that -- I mean, there's a ton of talent in this country. Obviously, Bob is one of them that's been pulling up from that, and there's some other people that have been doing it, but the whole thing is timing, I think.
Being given a chance, you know, there was a situation back in 2000 that I was in, and I think some people are quite aware of what happened on that deal, and they posed what they call the top Europeans versus the top Americans at the time. I sure didn't go in there and get spanked by any means of the situation at all. Things didn't happen for whatever reason; it was just not the right time. So hopefully this shows to some of the other kids and some from go-carts to circle track to whatever they are doing, that they can make it here and they can come here and win.
You know, obviously the European training ground is different than the American training ground. But there's so much influx right now back and forth with the Europeans coming here, and the Americans going over there and back and forth and now. There's enough intermeshing that I think the talent level has jumped up once again. When I go to the go-cart track to run with some of those kids and I haven't driven in a while, there's no way I can compete at that level now without training quite heavily to get ready for a go-cart. I think that there is a place for the Americans. I don't think they are overpowered by the Europeans, and I think that you'll see more young Americans coming up, but I think there's more than talented drivers -- more than enough talented drivers out there. Some just need to be given a shot, and hopefully timing will work out for them and they will be able to make it.
LETTERMAN: When I was a kid growing up in -- no, the answer -- do you dream about it? Sure. Do you ever think it's possible? No. When I was 16, I couldn't make a fist. So, there was not much I could do. As far as I think the first guy I saw drive this track was a fellow named Bud Tinglestad. Does Buddy remind me of Bud Tinglestad? I don't know. (Laughter) I don't know.
Winner's gap-toothed grin says it all
By Mark Story
HERALD-LEADER SPORTS COLUMNIST
INDIANAPOLIS - Chocolate parfaits are not as ooey-gooey sweet as this.
It begins, as the best sports stories do, with a little boy growing up with heroes and secret dreams.
In this case, the boy grew up just north of Indianapolis in the 1950s and '60s.
So in a metropolitan area that didn't have big-league baseball or any other major professional sport, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway became his sporting beacon.
After the long Indiana winters, he said, "It was like the world came to you," when the month of May brought the Indianapolis 500 to town.
Like growing boys do, he would occasionally fantasize about playing some role in winning one of the great auto races.
"Do you dream about it? Sure," he would say. "Do you think it is possible? No. I mean, when I was 16, I couldn't even make a fist."
So, he grew up, left town, landed in New York, achieved fame and fortune beyond all logical hope.
Yet, a part of the boy he had been remained.
Yesterday, it came out for all the world to see.
The little boy who grew up loving the Indy 500 co-owned the winning car.
Afterwards, he couldn't stop smiling his famous gap-toothed smile. Just kept saying, "What am I doing here? What am I doing here?"
Yep, it is exactly the kind of story America's king of snide -- David Letterman -- built a career sending up.
Except, in this case, the sentimental story is David Letterman.
The hoary old Indianapolis 500 -- long since left for dead in much of these United States -- turned out one of those storylines that reminds you why sports can, at its best, be genuinely uplifting.
Buddy Rice, a fill-in driver who has struggled to land/keep a full-time ride, drove the race of his life and became the first American to win Indianapolis since 1998.
In doing so, he made car co-owner Bobby Rahal a winner of the 500 as both a driver (in 1986) and an owner.
But what he did for the other car owner, Mr. Stupid Human Tricks himself, was even more impressive.
He made the famously sardonic David Letterman glow with giddiness.
After the race, winning co-owners Rahal and Letterman were brought into the media center.
As Letterman sat down, he picked up the name plate in front of him.
It had the Indy 500 logo and, in big block letters, the words "David Letterman."
He just kept looking at it, shaking his head and laughing uproariously.
"I haven't drank in 30 years," Letterman said. "But that's what I feel like. I feel drunk."
Yesterday's rain-delayed/rain-shortened Indy yielded other notable storylines, of course.
A sport -- open-wheel racing -- that desperately needs new American stars now has one in Rice.
With his baseball cap turned backwards and his brash feistiness, the Phoenix resident looks more like an X-gamer than a race-car driver.
But yesterday he drove with a ferocity that A.J. Foyt never exceeded.
Then there was poor, cursed Michael Andretti. It is part of his legacy how the Indy 500 cruelly tormented him as a driver, teasing him with victory only to find creative and painful ways to keep him from ever taking the checkered flag.
So, in the 500's 88th renewal, guess what owner managed to put three cars in the top four finishers -- yet not win the race?
"It was somewhat disappointing," Andretti said.
Which, as understatement, was on par with saying Letterman was somewhat ebullient.
Asked to name the drivers he idolized as a kid, he launched through A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Eddie Sachs and Rodger Ward; when he started naming the drivers from the British Invasion (think Jackie Stewart) I quit writing them down.
His association with Rahal began in 1986, after the driver won the Indy 500 and was invited on Letterman's then-NBC show.
"We became friends," Letterman said last night. "Every thing started from there."
The eventual business partnership that resulted peaked with a beaming Letterman savoring his association with an Indy 500 winning car.
Dave on his role in race-day decisions: "They pretty much pertain to the catering."
Dave, asked now that he had won Indy, if he might just buy a horse and go after the Derby:
"I've got some horses," he replied dryly. "They don't really run."
Still, drum roll please, the No. 1 reason why yesterday's Indy 500 will be in my memory for a long time:
The look of genuine wonderment and appreciation on the face of one of America's biggest celebrities after it was over.
"Tonight, I'm the luckiest man in the world," David Letterman said.
Like I told ya, it was downright sweet.