Rahal Letterman Racing Wins the 2004 Indianapolis 500

-- 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.

It's obviously very sweet. People have asked me, is it sweeter than doing it as a driver; I think it's just different. There's nothing like crossing the Yard of Bricks when you're driving a racing car. And yet, at the same token, this has been just a great achievement for our team. Three in the top 10, I mean, I can't be happier. And Buddy, of course, drove the wheels off the thing, and Roger did a great job.

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.

David, we certainly enjoy your show at night and laugh at your jokes and antics, but we saw you right after the race was over doing an interview, and it looked like you were pretty emotional about coming back here and winning the Indianapolis 500.

Yeah, I don't even know where to begin. I don't belong here, first of all. I've been with this organization, I don't know, since '94, '95, something like that, and I want to be sure that I say good, smart things here about good, smart people. I want to thank everybody, because, you know, you work just as hard in the races that you lose as you do in the races that you win. I want to thank everybody in this organization, top to bottom, for the hard work they have done since I've been a part of this team. I couldn't be happier. This win today has so many interesting, worthy facets. Bobby touched on Buddy coming in, getting a good ride, and just, was there a stronger car in the field today; was there a stronger driver in the field today; did it look like a horizon job when they dropped the green flag. Then we went out and we had brunch and cocktails, came back, started it again.

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).

Well, Scott, you've got a hard act to follow. David touched on the fact that this has been your life and here you have a team, I want to accent the positives for starters. First of all, the two Andretti Green drivers who came in here finished second and third said the best driver and the best team won the race. They made absolutely to bones about that, and said, it didn't really matter if the race went back to green, the dominant car and driver won, and that's the great news. You had won the pit stop competition, and yet, one of the key moments was, in fact, there was a pit stop that just went a little awry, and you know the thin margin between winning and losing here that must have been a moment of heartache for you.

Well, certainly caught our attention. But, you know, it's a long race, and sometimes you can get away with making a mistake and other years you can't. Fortunately for us, we did stall on the one stop and went from the front to the back, but circumstances allowed us, I think it was quite obvious that we had the fastest car. And then, you know it became a race against Mother Nature, and timing that right, and we're just very thankful that that last pit stop sequence was allowed to cycle through and it didn't rain in the middle of that, or else that could have been a pretty big wild card.

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.

Talk more, Scott, about the situation with the race, at a moment that Bruno Junqueira came out of sequence -

Well, I worked for Jim McGee for a long time, and he always is pretty on the leading edge of those things and certainly looked like that might pay off for him. It would have been their victory to take, certainly but just glad that it held off long enough to let the cars that had been up front motivate the day cycle through. You know, I believe the right car won the race. I'm pleased to hear the comments from the Andretti Green team. They are tough competitors. And thanks to Honda. I think it was a pretty good whitewashing there at that point. If you didn't have a Honda, you weren't going to win today.

It's obvious this is a very special race for all three of and you all three of you spent a significant amount of time away from this event, just put it in perspective a little bit having gone through that to come back here and win.

For me, personally, leaving this, not being here was not a pleasant decision to make at the time. But, you know, we came back two years ago, and while we weren't obviously as successful, it was great to be back. This is, obviously, the most important race in the world, and, you know, you just can't help but feel that when you come out here on Race Day, the crowd is fantastic. And today, exemplified today when it rains and nobody went home that I could see, or maybe a few, but not many. And in the end, they saw a great race. So, you know, it was -- personally I'm very pleased not only that we came back two years ago, but that we focused our resources totally this year on this series and on this race, and I think that was an indication for the decision we made, because I think our performance as a team reflected the focus we were able to get by being in this series in total. For me, it's great to be back, and geez, to win it, as I say, it doesn't get any sweeter.

David, can you comment on that?

Well, I go where Bobby goes, and he tells me what we're going to do and I say, sure, let's do it. But obviously, in the beginning, it was a disappointment not to be here, like for Scott and myself and for everyone else who lives here. When you're growing up, I don't know what it is, I guess when I was a kid, there was Major League Baseball in Chicago and Cincinnati. But we didn't have anything here. So the Speedway became my Major League Baseball. Every month of May, the world would come to you. I can't begin to describe the magic that there was when you were a kid and you just tough it out through these long, lousy Indiana winters. I, of course, lived outside -- (Laughter). And then you get to go out to the Speedway, and there's just this excitement and this drama, and the place is sacred. The greats of the sport have competed here and given their lives here. I forget the question, but I -- (Laughter). You know, I haven't had anything to drink in 30 years. I feel like I'm drunk right now, I'm sorry.

Bob, this place has been a roller coaster for you as a team owner, and this year has been tumultuous, is it too soon -- you come back from 10 years ago, you came here as a team owner didn't even make the race as a champion and you swept the month.

Well, there was no question, it was a dream month. As I say, I take a great deal of satisfaction, no one has to point out the irony of where we were ten years ago and where we are today, particularly with our relationship with Honda. Ten years ago, or 15 years ago, I worked hard to try to help bring Honda into Indy-car Racing, and several years later, under very difficult circumstances, I had to make a decision to leave them.

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.

Bob, can you talk about what it was like watching the last 10 or 15 laps of that when you knew the rain was coming and all of those decisions were being made?

Well, as Scott said, we had been talking on the radio about the weather, and Bob saw -- his pilot is here and asked if we could get updates like every 15 minutes. Early in the race, said no problem, there's no rain coming. Then the call came, I don't know, probably an hour before the end of the race. And I said you know, there's a lot of bad weather coming and we think it will be here in 20 or 30 minutes; I think it actually took a little bit longer. I said to Scott, if you guys are going to go, now is the time, because especially after you led so easily in the beginning, to lose the race because of the rain, that would have been tough to swallow.

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.

If we would not have gotten the last rain, how confident were you Buddy could hold off the other drivers the last 20 laps?

I appreciate Tony and Dan Wheldon's honesty. The only thing that could have tripped it up would have been getting bogged down in traffic. But I think had there been a restart and gone green, I think the same guy would be sitting up here today.

Well, what do you say, there he is, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Champion, Buddy Rice. (Applause).

Thank you. I don't know what to say right now. First of all, I would like to thank all of the guys that are sitting up here. I had to fill in for Kenny Brack and it was not the -- not the best way you want to come in is filling in for somebody like that for what happened to him. He legitimately held a spot with such a top-rated team. So for me to come in and get his support and all of the help he's given, not only for the first part of the season and starting when he showed up in Phoenix and some of the testing, we had talked; and to come here this month and be a big support of the team for most of the month, was pretty cool, and to help the other drivers, as well.

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.

David, you talked earlier about what it was like to grow up in Indiana and to follow the Indianapolis 500, and we look at the variety of drivers and names and legends that have been born here, can you imagine in a better story, than the guy that's sitting next to you right now and Buddy Rice? Here is a guy who was out of work, he's kind of an all-American kid who has worked very hard; there's very few stories like this in real life.

Well, like I said, there are many facets to this tremendous victory, and I think Buddy alluded to this as well, the relationship with he and Kenny, I think, is extra special. I think there's probably nobody happier in this facility today than Kenny is for Buddy. Kenny is a tremendous man. He's proven everything he needs to ever prove in his life. And I think it's a great victory for Buddy, and the two of them have been very gracious about the situation.

What did you see in this guy, Bobby?

Well, I mean, I just -- I saw a lot of things. (Laughter). This is what happens when you wear your hat the right way around, Buddy. (Laughter). No, that's all right. I might even let him wear it backwards one of these days.

Dave said it's OK.

Going to a lot of the same races, watching Buddy in the Atlantic series, you don't win the Atlantic championship and not have talent. You don't win as many races as he did in other categories and not have talent. And it's just like anything for a driver, you want to be in the right environment, the right team. If you're in the right environment, you can really grow and blossom and achieve, and you can fulfil your destiny and the capabilities that you have. I just felt that -- and Scott, obviously, was very proactive about Buddy, as well. I think we both felt that we would do a great job for us, we would be a leader.

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.

After you got shuffled back to 16 on the pit stop, if you could go over your charge back to the front, what you had to do, if you had any close calls in traffic, because traffic really seemed to be incredible out there today.

Yeah, traffic was -- we knew it was going to be a problem. But there was no reason to panic. We were only halfway through the race. The skies were still clear. There was nothing at that time threatening, and we knew we had at least two more stops before anything was going to remotely happen with weather at that time. So, I wasn't concerned. There was no reason to panic. Maybe if there was 20 or so laps to go, 30 laps to go, last stint, you start getting a little worried. Scott Roembke made all of the right calls today on fuel strategy and what we needed to do. That played a major factor on that last stop with what we had to do, because obviously some other cars came in when we did. We stayed out longer and it seemed to be quite pivotal.

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.

You led a race-high 91 laps. In that last stint, that last pit stop, how did you feel when you had to come in with the dark sky, and then were you relieved when you saw the Andretti Green cars then having to do the same thing a few laps later?

Well, actually they pitted before I did. The Andretti Green cars pitted before me, yeah. That was the whole thing. Scott had made the right call on fuel, and what we were doing on that last stint, it looked like it was going to be green. The we knew the skies were coming, but the whole thing was as long as we charged and stayed out front, like they said, we needed to do we were going to be fine. We had the barrier, those guys had to come in and pit, we were still doing what we needed to on fuel strategy.

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.

I know you changed your hat around. Have we seen the end of the soul patch, too?

That's been like a big thing, too, between that and Under the Radar Program all month. (Laughter). Amazing. First off, I don't know how you can be underneath the radar when you are in the top eight, top five. Every day, we had the pole. We've been in contention for wins throughout the whole month.

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).

Buddy is very gracious, but Todd and Steve Dickson were the guys that called the fuel and strategy in the pits. Todd is the team engineer. We thought the car was pretty good. Buddy was flat on his second last, never lifted didn't lift again till the first round of pit stops. Steve was the guy on the radio with Buddy keeping him clean. Certainly those two were the guys steering the ship down there, and I was just making sure we were all in the same place. They deserve an ample amount of credit on that and they did a great job today for us.

Earlier in the week, you've been so calm about your approach to the race, and you said you don't necessarily see it being as life-altering, you would take the win if it came. Now that you've just visited victory circle and you're sitting up here, how excited do you find this particular race in particular, to be where you are?

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.

Just talk about the American race driver and how he's been kind of forgotten, especially at this place in the last five, six, seven years, and what this means to young American drivers.

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.

When you were growing up, did you ever dream of this moment being able to do something like this or did you just think of that as a wacky kid's dream? And also, what does this guy, does he remind you of any of the drivers that you used to call your heroes when you were a kid?

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.

Bud Tinglestad never wore his hat backward. (Laughter).

For all of us that remember Bud Tinglestad, it was a great run. To all of you, a hearty congratulations on a job well done.


Winner's gap-toothed grin says it all


By Mark Story


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.