Dan Wheldon and his car owner Bryan Herta meet with the media to discuss their incredible victory in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
Q: Dan, you're a winner for the second time of the Indianapolis 500. What in the world was going through your mind there?
DAN WHELDON: You know what, it probably is different to what you guys were thinking. On the radio with 20 to go, they said: "Listen, this is the deal. Some people are going to try to make it on fuel. You're one of the guys that can make it to the end. But you've got to go and you have to make sure you get everything out of the car that you possibly can."
So I said to myself at that point, "I'm going to move the weight jacker every lap to optimize every single corner, adjust the roll bars to be able to just maximize everything." I didn't have a problem. I was able to catch traffic perfectly without having to lift. They said that there was one person that potentially could make it, I believe. So that made me even more hungry. I started pressing the overtake that Honda brought to the series.
On that last lap I was trying to deal with bars between Turns 3 and 4. In the corner of my eye, I saw him [JR Hildebrand] hit the fence. I just carried on by. As Bryan says, you have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point, I knew it was mine.
Just extremely happy. I mean, this is obviously a very, very special racetrack to me. I love this racetrack. I love how the fans energize the Speedway. To think that I'm a two-time winner, I mean, Bryan, who has been a teammate and a good friend for a long time gave me a fantastic opportunity to win this race.
I think, as everybody will agree, he was very astute to collaborate with Sam Schmidt, and we can't forget those guys, Alex [Tagliani], Townsend [Bell], all the engineering guys and mechanics did a phenomenal job.
Obviously it was emotionally for me because of my close relationship with Honda. To win, I almost feel they're as big a part of my program as anybody just because they're always very loyal. You know, it was emotional for me, as well, to win for my wife and my family. I think my contract expires at midnight tonight (smiling).
I just knew when I started this race that I wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for not just myself, I didn't feel we had anything to prove, but for such a great group of people. You can think I'm giving you the media cheesy line, but it's not like that. The people that form this team, the relationships that we've all kind of bonded very quickly, has been extremely good. With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske's organization and Chip Ganassi. We've had a very, very quick car all month. I don't think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race. So that's a testament to the team.
So now when I'm on the beach with my wife and two kids, we can honestly be proud of what we've achieved together. Certainly my family back home. This is obviously a special race because it is the 100th anniversary. I'm honored to be the winner of this particular race.
I'm honored as well to represent the Alzheimer's Association. For everybody out there that knows somebody that's diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which is perhaps a lot more than people think, hopefully this made them smile. Certainly my thoughts and prayers to everybody out there that has that disease, the families associated with that person, it's truly an honor to represent them.
It's a fantastic day. I just love Indianapolis. I really do. I love Indiana. It's been so good to me, so good to my career. But to these guys for giving me an opportunity, it's tough to beat these big teams. This is a Cinderella story.
By the same token, it shouldn't be taken away from how smart these guys are, who they associated themselves with. Like I said, Sam has a fantastic organization, we work very well together. And the leadership of these two, and Allen McDonald, Rob Edwards and Sam Schmidt has been a great relationship.
Kind of quiet for me a little bit. I'm talking a lot, but just very, very emotional.
Q: Bryan, as a former driver, you've been given instructions, as well, like Dan received. What were your reactions to the last few laps?
BRYAN HERTA: There were several different strategies being played out there. We were on the strategy of Dario [Franchitti] had been going longer than us on the pits all day long. When we saw him coming in, it kind of made up our mind to stay out because we knew we couldn't beat him on fuel mileage. We had to try something different.
Dan has done such a great job. One of the things he did for us is bring an attitude and a belief we could win this race.
On paper, based on our previous effort, anything, on paper we really had no business believing we could win it. But Dan believed in us so strongly he made us believe it, too. I really think over the course of this last two weeks, he made the crew guys believe it, he made a lot of people on the outside believe it, because so many people were coming up to us the week of the race saying, We think you're going to win. It was so uplifting.
It's really his spirit that came across the whole team and made us believe we had a chance to win this thing. So when these strategies were playing out, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. But we knew we wanted to give this guy enough fuel to race to the end, just keep it flat. We didn't want to save fuel, we wanted to go race those guys. Somehow it all worked out.
MODERATOR: Steve, an interesting tactical race in many ways. How much pressure was felt in your pit area about that?
STEVE NEWEY: There was a lot of pressure in the pit area. A lot of double-checking and rechecking, recalculating our fuel figures. The guys were under a lot of pressure, made some great decisions.
Bryan is right – having enough fuel in the car to race hard, not have to save fuel. There was a few minutes there where I thought it might not have been the right decision, but thankfully it was. The guys did a great job. Great pit stops all day. For a one-off team to pull off the pit stops that we did is a real testament to their dedication and their hard work.
I'm so proud of the guys. Dan has been leading us all month long. He's a great guy to work with. I've been around a long time. Dan is one of the best drivers I've seen around here, if not the best. I really enjoy working with him. It's just been a great month. Can't say enough about how good it's been.
WHELDON: They're not telling you how much pressure I put on them in the prerace meeting. They're being nice about that. But I did have to remind them this is my one and only race and I expected very good strategies. They delivered on that (laughter).
HERTA: I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the technical partnership we had with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, all their guys, Sam, Allen McDonald, Rob Edwards, Don Oldenburg, all the crew. They welcomed us. Something that could have been viewed as a distraction by them, they saw that this is a benefit and we can really work together. They were very, very open with us in everything. Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell, Dan, they worked as teammates all month long. I think that absolutely made a difference to our program. We really have a big, big thank you to them, as well.
Q: Dan, if you could talk about the last lap for you. Pretty spectacular for us watching. We're smiling about your contract expiring at midnight, but what does this do to the potential here going forward?
WHELDON: That's one for the owners. I have to win because of that conversation when I landed in St. Pete (smiling).
My emotions? I didn't have any. Right up until the point that I passed JR, I didn't. I was so focused. It was one of those races where it was so competitive that you had to be on your game. And the wind seemed to be getting under the front of my car. If I wasn't on the same line every time at turn three, I would have to lift. I was catching bears, I wasn't focused on what was going on in front. I had the run on her through Turn 3 and 4, then pulled out.
When I saw him crash, I mean, I knew it wasn't serious. As soon as I knew it was not serious, there was a little smile on my face, I will say. From that point, it was just making sure that I didn't do anything silly. Then I think I got on the radio and started crying.
I'm not normally that emotional. But having been through what we've been through, being able to deliver this for everybody is certainly very gratifying. Proud of everybody. In terms of what it will do for the future, it will make me a happier person on the beach. In terms of more races, you'll have to ask these guys.
Q: Dan, it was mentioned several times during the race by the commentator that you didn't have a full-time IndyCar ride. Do you have any other possibilities in other championships? To the owners, winning the Indy 500, you have to carry on for the rest of the year. Can you give me an idea about your master plan for the rest of the year?
WHELDON: It was one of those offseasons where I did believe that I was going to get a full-time ride. I had that confidence. But, you know, come the end of January, things hadn't panned out as I expected. My management have got me in a position where I can be more selective, and I don't have to drive. It was important for me to put myself in a very positive situation.
I called Bryan to ask him about something else. We happened to talk about Indianapolis. I mentioned that I had a couple of options, if I believe, and asked his advice on that. At that point I think he said, 'Would you be interested in perhaps running for me?'
Bryan went and made a couple of calls. I said to him that it's obviously very important for me to feature very strongly. I'm not just saying this because Bryan is sitting next to me. I think anybody that knows Bryan will say this. He's a rarity in IndyCar racing. He's a man of his word. He's provided me an opportunity.
When he said that he would give me a fast racecar, I never doubted that. We pretty much wrapped a contract up soon after the conversation and started working on this program with him and Steve.
I just knew if Bryan said it was going to be a good deal, it would be a good deal. Like I say, you can see by the people that him and Steve have been able to put together why he is the person he is. I mean, they're a great group of people. It's not really like a partial program; it's like a full-time program with just one race because of the talent within the team. That shouldn't be underestimated by anybody.
It's not like we kind of just scrapped this crew together. There's some quality individuals there, certainly some people that I think are the best I've ever worked with. I've got to say, as well, the engineer that Bryan selected to work for his team has done an incredible job.
HERTA: Steve picked him.
WHELDON: Steve picked him. Sorry. Credit to Steve.
But to integrate so well with another team is obviously very important, and they did a great job at that.
Q: Is what happened to Hildebrand something that can specifically happen at Indy?
WHELDON: It can here. That's what's great about Indianapolis. It's bad if you're on the receiving end. It happened to me in 2006. I dominated the race. Got a flat tire about 20 laps to go. Then Chip and I argued for a lap if it was flat or not, and that cost us more time. Which if anybody knows Chip and me, I'm sure you could see that happening (smiling). You know, it's obviously unfortunate. But Indianapolis, it can bite you.
Actually, a couple of times on that last 20 laps, I was trying to get through Turn 2 quickly behind a couple of cars. I had a couple loose moments. I was actually forced really close to the wall by Kanaan. You just have hairy moments out there, and it's part of it.
That's why this is "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing:" You never know what's going to happen.
Q: This has been a month of the little guys. I was wondering if you had an opinion of why this month turned out that way. You've been a big guy. In particular, the underperformance of the Penskes.
WHELDON: When you say "a little guy," Bryan and Steve can correct me on this, I'm sure they're spending a lot of money on this race. We are a small program. But with the sponsors we've had, we've been able to put together a great program.
I can't thank William Rast enough, especially. Not only was it fast, it was a good-looking car. I have an excuse to wear jeans to the banquet tomorrow, as well, so it's perfect.
Somebody asked me this last night. I think the biggest thing with Indianapolis, the partial programs, it is a partial program, but, again, the talent is there. But what it allows you to do at Indianapolis is you have more track time. The simulation programs that the big teams work on, the fine tuning, the wind tunnel stuff, the shaker rigs, that's all well and good. But it allows the smaller programs the track time to be able to catch up a little bit.
Like I say, I don't think Bryan and Steve will say it's a partial program in terms of spending because I know they didn't partially spending, they were spending like it was going out of fashion. I think it's worth it.
I think, as well, the quality of drivers in some of the partial programs, Buddy Rice, Townsend Bell, there's a lot of talent. It's been an incredible 500. I would never have thought that two Andretti Autosport cars would be bumped. I know Michael. I think Michael does a phenomenal job. I guarantee that won't happen next year.
Q: Dan, in your career, have you ever raced a wrecked car to the finish line before or seen it happen?
WHELDON: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. So, no, probably not. I wasn't really racing. I mean, it was hard for him to keep up with me when he's got two wheels on his wagon.
Q: You have been through a lot together from being teammates in one of the biggest teams in the series to winning the race with a one-off team. Through all that, how has your friendship evolved and where does this rank in all those things?
WHELDON: Who said we were friends (smiling)? He's sacking me at midnight tonight.
HERTA: When Dan came to Andretti, or actually when I came to Andretti, Dan was already there. But he was the kid, the rook. I actually came in, kind of the old guy, the experienced guy. Then we had T.K., obviously, Dario came back after he'd been hurt. It became kind of the Four Musketeers.
We had a lot of fun together on and off the track. We had an opportunity, the four of us got together for dinner about a week ago. Literally we laughed till our sides hurt just reminiscing about those times.
So there was a bond that formed between the four of us during those years that will never change. It wasn't the reason that I brought Dan to the team or asked him to drive for us, not because he's my buddy. It's because he's, flat out, the best guy there is around this place. That is the reason we hired Dan Wheldon.
Our friendship is our friendship, and that will never change. But, obviously, this has been another bonding experience. It serves to bring us closer. Someday when we're old guys laying on the beach, we can still talk about this.
WHELDON: I agree with Bryan. He's been a great friend, always has been. With him being my boss now, it's not different because the amount of respect that, you know, I think Dario, myself and Tony always had for him. He was the unsung hero at Andretti Green. He was doing a lot of development for us, allowing us to go win races.
When he was allowed to race, he normally kicked our butts. It was nice when they put him back to work again.
What I like about Bryan is just his honesty. You can see he has this way of creating a very good atmosphere, which he probably doesn't even know that he does. But it's one of those that's fun to be in. He knows when you have to work. It's a pleasure to drive for somebody like these two guys sitting up here because they do create a good environment, but they're very dedicated to winning this.
One thing I'll tell you this about this guy is he will not do anything that is not going to be successful. If it's not going to be successful, he will have no part of it whatsoever. That's a true talent. I think, like you say, when you look at the people working in the organization, you can see that, too.
Q: Dan, do you think it will be difficult to sort of gear down mentally and emotionally on Tuesday, transitioning back into being a domestic man of leisure?
WHELDON: I'm sure I'll be back to changing diapers by tomorrow. My wife might let me off tomorrow morning, but tomorrow afternoon. The St. Pete twins, it would be great to take another Baby Borg back there.
It's one of those things that's difficult. I really feel I have the talent to be in a full-time seat. With all due respect, I like this team, I'm fed up with changing teams back and forth. I'd like to stay in one place and stay there for the rest of my career. But it is what it is, and I don't want to get frustrated at the things I can't control. It will actually give me more satisfaction while I'm sitting on the beach with my wife that I have a second Indianapolis 500.
People shouldn't forget what a great job my wife has done. It's very easy for you guys to just think that you can come back and win, but it's not the case. There's times where you do doubt yourself a little bit. Through all of this, she's been incredibly supportive, and she understands that this is all I've ever done. Racing is all I've ever done. She knows that racing creates the personality in me that she loves. So she was desperate to get me back out the house and in a racecar.
It's good to deliver for her, my two boys, my family back home, too.