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Journalist Bruce Martin gives racing fans an inside look at the exciting world of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in this fast-paced podcast, featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.

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Takuma Sato's Borg-Warner Trophy Unveiling

| E:Takuma Sato's Borg-Warner Trophy Unveiling

Today's inaugural episode features our host, Bruce Martin, interviewing Takuma Sato, Bobby Rahal, Michael Lanigan, Michelle Collins, and Doug Boles. Bruce was able to conduct these interviews on February 19th, 2021 at the Borg-Warner Trophy Unveiling.

Forty-four-year-old Takuma Sato is one of the most exciting drivers in IndyCar. His motto is "No attack, no chance." After seven seasons in Formula One, Sato joined IndyCar in 2010. On August 23rd of last year, Sato, this time under the ownership of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, claimed his second Indy 500 victory. In the interview on today's episode, he shares what it feels like to see his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy for a second time.

Bruce also shares his interview with Sato's team owner, Bobby Rahal, who was also a true driving legend of IndyCar racing. Rahal is a three-time cart series champion. He won 24 races in his driving career, most notably the 1986 Indianapolis 500.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is also co-owned by former TV talk show host David Letterman and south side Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan, a very interesting man in himself. Lanigan owns the Panama Canal Railroad outright. Enjoy our interview with him, also from February 19th, as he discusses his first Indianapolis 500 as a team owner.

The Borg-Warner Trophy is one of the most iconic and famous trophies in all of the world. It's right up there with the Stanley Cup in terms of recognition. When people see that trophy, they instantly know that it’s for the Indy 500. It's been awarded since the mid-1930s and the next guest is Michelle Collins, the Global Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Borg-Warner. She shares a little bit about the trophy and what it means to her company to have such a longstanding relationship with one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

The final interview on today's show is with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who talks about how challenging 2020 was, trying to operate the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that last year's Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Weekend was held without spectators. Boles also talked about his hopes for the 2021 Indy 500, which will hopefully have spectators if the Indiana and Marion County officials allow it.

Thank you for joining us today. Keep up with the latest IndyCar news by following Bruce on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 or visit SPEEDSPORT.COM

Bruce Martin:

IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to the inaugural episode of Pit Pass IndyCar, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar series. Our goal at Pit Pass IndyCar is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar series in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.

I covered my first race in the inaugural Michigan 500 as a sports intern for the Toledo Blade way back in 1981. Since that time I've been able to build a tremendous relationship with the drivers, mechanics, engineers, team owners, and series officials in both IndyCar and NASCAR. I’ve had the opportunity to cover races for brands like National Speed Sport News, NBC Sports.com, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports.com, ESPN SportsTicker, SPEED SPORT.

Additionally, for the past 12 years I have been part of national radio shows on ESPN Radio and FOX Sports Radio as well as television with FOX59 in Indianapolis as their racing anaylst.

But this show isn't about me. It's about the star drivers and the daring heroes of IndyCar. So let's drop the green flag on this inaugural episode, which is devoted to Takuma Sato's second Indianapolis 500 victory last August.

The 44-year-old Sato is one of the most exciting drivers in IndyCar. His motto is "No attack, no chance," After seven seasons in Formula One, Sato joined IndyCar in 2010. Sato nearly won the 2012 Indianapolis 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but crashed while attempting to make the race-winning pass over Dario Franchitti on the final lap.”

Although he moved on to A.J. Foyt Racing in 2013 he remained friends with team owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, and Michael Lanigan. In just his third race with Foyt's team, Sato became the first driver from Japan to ever win an IndyCar race when he won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In 2017, Sato had moved over to Andretti Autosport and became the first driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500, finishing first after a thrilling battle with three-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves. Sato returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2018. Since his return, he has won at Portland in 2018, Barber Motorsports Park and Gateway in 2019 and claimed his second Indy 500 win on August 23 of last season. Here's my interview with Sato from the Borg-Warner Trophy unveiling.

We're pleased to be joined by two time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Takuma Sato. On February 19th you had your face unveiled on the Borg-Warner Trophy for the second time in your career. You've been through the whole process, but to see it actually on the trophy, how cool is that to you?

Takuma Sato:

It's always a great honor to be here and a tremendous joy as well, as excitement. And this is just a fantastic event. Of course with this pandemic suggestion where it's a little different from the usual time but no, it's nice to see everyone in here.

Bruce Martin:

You've won two Indianapolis 500s since 2017, it's like I've written about you before in the past. It seems like the older you get, the better you become. Why is that?

Takuma Sato:

I don't know, I mean try to be working better all the time of course, as everybody does. But I think just to finish and with the team performers, everything come all together. So hopefully we can continue this trend and get momentum for 2021 too.

Bruce Martin:

People are going to remember the 2020 Indianapolis 500 for a long time because it was the only time it was held in August and also the only time it was held without spectators. But in a lot of ways it was a historic race and you being able to win under those circumstances, it's going to be remembered for a long time. So how do you feel about all of the circumstances that came together?

Takuma Sato:

Yeah, I think any wins I really appreciate it. Of course 2020 without spectators, that was one thing we're missing big time. I think a big missing from the sport but having said that, with that circumstance we were so fortunate just only to be able to race because of all the events that has to cancel for other sport. So I think IMS did an incredible job, IndyCar did an incredible job, and the sponsors can be commend, and happy for them and for me in particular, selfishly. I was so happy to bring Bobby, Mike and David up on the victory lane on that day. And that was like long, long waited and especially since 2012 I feel I owe the win for them. And it took eight years, but I was so happy that the entire team did just amazing job.

Bruce Martin:

The two fastest cars in the race were obviously yours and Scott Dixon's. Scott led the most laps. You had the fastest car and the track position when it mattered the most, at the end of the race. How much of a strategic race was it for you in those closing laps? Because you knew that you had to be up out front because you were the faster of the two cars at that point.

Takuma Sato:

Yeah, we knew we had a tremendous lead, a strong car during that race configuration as well as my arguing, yes who has got the fastest car we just don't know. In qualification, yeah we were third. But I know Dixon is always strong in the traffic as well as he physically had a fast car so how we going to beat him? And it has corporate, with the conditions and try to tune it for the final course and race. Well of course everybody does the same job, but specifically I work on that at constant rate on that part in particular for the last two stint and everything come together. So I am really appreciate all the boys did a fantastic pit stop, just no mistake. And my engineer Eddie Jones and what an amazing car he built and I'm just so, so proud of him.

Bruce Martin:

Over the last 20 years there has been drivers that have raced at the Indianapolis 500 that seem to have a certain knack for this track, whether it be Hélio Castroneves with his three victories, Dario Franchitti with his three victories, Juan Pablo Montoya always did very well here. Do you believe that Takuma Sato now fits into that category of there's just something about this speedway that clicks with you?

Takuma Sato:

We'll see. I mean only times tell. The one certain thing is just I love this race and I love to continue the challenge and I've been in a very competitive great package all together. So there is no reason why we cannot be and hopefully we will see some good surprise.

Bruce Martin:

Heading into 2021, you're back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, once again racing with your teammate Graham Rahal. What are your prospects for the upcoming season?

Takuma Sato:

Absolutely we are so pumped up. Graham, obviously we are finishing first and third in the 500, it was amazing effort from the team of course. But not only for the entire season we try to be a lot of stuff and we were competitive and Graham is obviously well known as he is also very competitive, never give up as well. So we will continue to work together, raise the whole level of the team and once again and hopefully 2021 we will go back to a normal-ish racing weekend again and hopefully we have spectators.

Bruce Martin:

What has the off season been like for Takuma Sato?

Takuma Sato:

I think it was as crazy as '17 of course. There was a little less physical event due to obviously COVID-19 suggestion but other than that it was like so busy every single days after and after. But it was only showing a great support from them, so I really appreciate all the fans and sponsors and whoever really make this happen. And now we come back in states and let's do another business.

Bruce Martin:

There has been some changes over on your team. I believe Eddie Jones is no longer the engineer. What's it going to be like working with a new engineer?

Takuma Sato:

Yeah, so it's fresh air, I think. Eddie has been always loyal and great for the team but even three years ago it was a plan that he was going to retire anyway, but we were able to manage to be together for the last three season. It was just amazing. And wishing Eddie great for the second life. But he's still somewhat involving with the team, which is very happy, and of course I've got Matt, a new engineer. Another English guy, actually. And we'll see. We are getting knowing each other day by day but we actually haven't gone racing together yet. So we don't know yet, but obviously I've got a great feeling and the team is in full support of that so I'm sure Matt will be melting into the team very quickly.

Bruce Martin:

2020 was your best complete season. Now you head into 2021 with a legitimate shot of contending for the championship. How important is that to you?

Takuma Sato:

It is very important to carry this momentum as well as I am very excited as well. So everything is in a good place. Now it is the matter of how we manage the things, and hopefully we can have another even better season.

Bruce Martin:

It's February 19th, snow is on the ground here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it's got to be a very heartwarming day for you because of the unveiling of your face on the Borg-Warner trophy. Your first victory was with Andretti Autosport in 2017. How different do the two faces look to you?

Takuma Sato:

This one is a little bit more shinier. I think it smiles better, I believe. No, there is no offense that '17 was still fresh and a great memory too. But two faces, I just can't believe it. I'm just such fortunate to be in this suggestion. So hopefully we have another big smile on it.

Bruce Martin:

As fellow driver Ryan Hunter-Reay once said, "The Indianapolis 500 is the gift that keeps on giving." You've had the ability to experience that twice. How fortunate do you feel to be a multiple winner of the world's greatest race?

Takuma Sato:

I just really appreciate really everybody's support and like you said, yes I'm really really fortunate to be in this suggestion and be part of organization. I'm proud of this, too. So yeah, we'll see where it takes us but obviously today is a special day for me as well as the team and I can see the fans and everybody enjoying. So that's most important thing.

Bruce Martin:

Two time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Takuma Sato, congratulations on your latest Indianapolis 500 victory and on having your face unveiled once again on the Borg-Warner Trophy and thank you for joining us today.

Takuma Sato:

Thank you.

Bruce Martin:

Next up on Pit Pass IndyCar is Sato's team owner Bobby Rahal, himself a true driving legend of IndyCar racing. Rahal is a three time cart series champion. He won 24 races in his driving career, the biggest of which was the 1986 Indianapolis 500 when he won a thrilling battle with Kevin Cogan and Rick Mears to win the Indy 500 that year for team owner Jim Trueman, who ironically was in the final days of his life as he was suffering from cancer. He was able to take Trueman to victory lane that day, giving him his life-long dream. The next week Trueman succumbed to cancer, but it will always go down as one of the more dramatic victory lanes in Indianapolis 500 history.

Bruce Martin:

Sato's victory in last year's Indianapolis 500 was also Rahal's second Indy 500 win as a team owner. His first came with Buddy Rice in the 2004 Indy 500. So let's hear from today's legend Bobby Rahal.

Bruce Martin:

Joining us now is 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who also is a two time Indianapolis 500 winning team owner, most recently with Takuma Sato last August. Here we are back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on February 19th they unveiled Takuma's second face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. It's got to be a very proud moment for you.

Bobby Rahal:

Extremely. Very pleased, very happy for Takuma, obviously. Very pleased for our team. We've worked hard over the last... since we came back in full time in '012 and with Takuma, actually. To become so close to winning a race in '12 with Takuma and then for him to go away, then come back to us, then of course win and finish third two years ago. So just really happy for the team, for the guys, and everybody that worked so hard. And of course Takuma just did a super job last year and just in both qualifying, being on the front row, and then of course in the race. So just couldn't be happier.

Bruce Martin:

When you reflect back on last year's Indianapolis 500, it was a race where he had arguably the fastest car in the race. Scott Dixon led the most laps. If those two cars were going to be judged on speed, they'd be one in one A many believes. Takuma was able to have the speed at the very end when he really needed it, but he was fast all day. Was that probably the smartest race you've ever seen him drive?

Bobby Rahal:

Hard to say because I think he drove very well in '17. But it was just one of those races that he just really ran at the front for most of the race. He might not have led but he was P2, P3. At one point I think he dropped back to like P6 but didn't stay there long. So yeah, he was able to stay out of trouble, he was able to run up front and I think the car, he and his engineer Eddie Jones just did a super job getting the car to be reactive to changes and we got lucky when Rossi hit us that we didn't bend anything. But aside from that it was really a trouble free race and that's what you have to have to win this race.

Bruce Martin:

What's it like when you look at that trophy and see your face and then two guys that you employ, their faces, Buddy Rice in 2004 and Takuma Sato last year. Is it almost kind of like a fatherly feeling that you get in some ways?

Bobby Rahal:

Oh, I don't know about fatherly, but clearly racing's been my life and here I am still at it in a different role than I was for many years, but the level of enjoyment and the level of satisfaction that comes with it is no less. And I just feel very fortunate that I'm able to be where I am. And so to see Buddy and see Takuma on there, it's nice to know that we helped those guys achieve something that is really like a dream. And for Buddy very pleased, obviously Takuma, and who knows how many other drivers we'll be able to put their heads on that trophy, too. And that's certainly a goal of mine is I don't think I can catch up to Roger in terms of team victories but we're going to try like hell.

Bruce Martin:

Speaking of fatherly, though, there's one more face you'd like added onto that trophy, and that is your son Graham, who is also your driver. Finished third in last year's Indianapolis 500. He's sometimes a real threat to win that race. How far do you see him away from being able to finally break through and get that victory for you?

Bobby Rahal:

Well, like you say, last year we were close with Graham. The year before very close, and he got involved in an incident, which was unfortunate, but I think clearly he's had the pace in this race and so again, everything has to click and he and his team have to do their job and... But you know as we continue to do everything we can to improve the team then everybody within the organization can benefit from it and certainly he can. So this May you said would he have a good chance to win the race? I'd say as good as any and so that's from my standpoint, that's my goal is to give our drivers the best opportunity to win and then come race day it's up to them.

Bruce Martin:

16 years' difference between your first Indy 500 victory as a team owner with Buddy Rice and last August's victory with Takuma Sato. How much was the feeling different?

Bobby Rahal:

Well, last year, completely different because there's nobody in the grandstands. Very odd feeling. It was just a strange... it was still the Indy 500, it was still a great race, it was just so unfortunate that nobody could really experience it in a popular way. And so for me, for all of us in the series, it was just kind of like the Twilight Zone. I mean, it was just... And yet it was still a great race, as good as any that they've had. So hopefully this year we will get back to the normal or close to normal and hopefully we can win another race in front of everybody.

Bruce Martin:

We'll be catching up with you from time to time this season, but as we enter the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season congratulations on winning the 104th Indianapolis 500 and good luck in 2021, Bobby Rahal.

Bobby Rahal:

Thank you, sir.

Bruce Martin:

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is also co-owned by former TV talk show host David Letterman and south side Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan, a very interesting man in himself. The man owns the Panama Canal Railroad. There's not many people that you can say own an entire railroad themselves, but Michael Lanigan does. His company also owns heavy equipment, heavy machinery, cranes, a lot of Lanigan's cranes have built some of the largest structures, skyscrapers in some of the biggest cities in the Unites States. But he's also a very interesting man and here's our interview, also from February 19th, with Michael Lanigan, who won his first Indianapolis 500 as a team owner last August with Takuma Sato.

Bruce Martin:

And now we're going to talk to an old friend of the show, it's team owner Michael Lanigan, who on February 19th was able to take part in a very special event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Takuma Sato's face was added to the Borg-Warner Trophy for a second time, but it's your first Indy 500 victory as a team owner. I know this has been a lifelong dream for you. How does it feel to see all this come together?

Michael Lanigan:

Well, it definitely is a lifetime dream and there's times over the last 28 years I thought it would never come, but we never gave up and thanks to Takuma's driving skill and the team did a great job and I'm savoring the moment until the next 500.

Bruce Martin:

And also the fact that came under very unusual circumstances. So far the only Indianapolis 500 to be held outside of the month of May. It was held in August of last year. But I know that you've worked your whole life for that, and you also have a very special bond with Takuma Sato, what is it about him and you that you're so close?

Michael Lanigan:

Well, I think we both have a lot of respect for each other and Takuma... We almost won in '012 with Takuma when he was trying to pass Dario Franchetti and I've never blamed him for that, quite frankly, because there's no rules on the last lap, obviously. And it was a thrill to get him back and the last two years he's come in third and first and he's just a classy young man with a lot of skill and just a great guy.

Bruce Martin:

When he returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, his dream, his goal, his mission was to take as he says, "my boys" to the Indy 500 that he believes that he threw away in 2012. To see that kind of determination in Takuma Sato, I mean what does that say about the guy?

Michael Lanigan:

Well first of all I don't think he threw it away. I mean, I don't think anybody on the team every blamed him for trying to win it. Was it a mistake? That's out of my league. But that tells you what kind of a person he is, though. And that he felt very bad about crashing at the end and it certainly was thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. One moment you think you're going to win it, the next moment you're in the wall, but that's racing, that's what it's all about. I mean, you go for the gusto and nobody remembers who came in second, so I was proud of him that day and I was a lot prouder of him this past August, though, I'll tell you that.

Bruce Martin:

And for a lot of our listeners that are just being introduced to you, your Indianapolis 500 mission began here in I believe, what, 1973? Or how did it all begin for you?

Michael Lanigan:

I moved down here when I was 20 years old and started a crane distribution company and first day I was at the track for practice, I got the IV stuck in me and this will be my 48th coming this May and 28th competitively. And it's just something that gets in your blood. I mean, this track has nothing but history and phenomenal history and it's the big enchilada. If you win this one, you've made it. And it is a bucket list and it's something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Bruce Martin:

And how did you get involved with IndyCar racing? I know that in the cart years you were involved as a sponsor with Mi-Jack, but eventually turned to team ownership. If you could bring us how that whole process began for you.

Michael Lanigan:

I started as a sponsor for Dale Quinn Racing in '92. And we had the left side pod for the 500 and the right cockpit with Éric Bachelart and unfortunately we were running a Buick stock block and the car lasted about seven laps. So we stayed with Dale for five years, probably, and then Éric Bachelart and I teamed up to start an Atlanta team. And we went to ChampCar and then IRL and then evolved into Newman/Haas with Paul Newman and Carl Haas and then about 11 years ago we got together with Bobby Rahal.

Bruce Martin:

You have a extremely interesting story of a lot of close friends. You were one of the executors for the great Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears which many of us consider the greatest NFL player of all time. You were also close friends with Paul Newman. It almost seems like you're the close friends with so many of the stars. Your partner on the team is 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and TV's David Letterman. So how does a guy from the south suburbs of Chicago get to be so influential with so many famous people?

Michael Lanigan:

Well, each individual scenario was different, but I'm a very lucky man. I mean, I got to know Walter when he was playing and if Walter was alive today he would tell you we started a company together in the early '90s that became very successful. And with Paul Newman, Paul and Carl asked me if I wanted to come on board and work with them and of course Paul Newman is the salt of the earth and is just a wonderful gentleman. Very fortunate to have known him and David is nothing but a classy individual that's a great guy to know. But they all had one thing in common. They're all normal people, they put their pants on one leg at a time and those are the kind of people that I like to deal with.

Bruce Martin:

And off the track you own one of the largest heavy industrial equipment companies in probably the world. You're also the owner of the Panama Canal Railroad. How do you become the owner of an entire railroad?

Michael Lanigan:

All you need is money. But we actually won the franchise in 1992. It went out for bids and they were privatizing a lot of the transportation companies down in South America and we were fortunate enough to win the concession and it's a wonderful project. Never in my life did I ever think that the family would own a railroad, but it's the shortest intercontinental... It's the only intercontinental railroad in the world.

Bruce Martin:

And your heavy equipment, your cranes have built some of the largest structures probably in North America. What are some of the more famous ones that your company's been part of?

Michael Lanigan:

Geez, just about everything, quite frankly, whether it be dams or high-rise buildings or bridges. We're in the process of using our equipment for the Gordie Howe bridge that's connecting Detroit with Windsor, I believe. I mean one good thing about construction, they normally need cranes and we're very fortunate that we're pretty good at it.

Bruce Martin:

And wrapping up here with Indianapolis 500 winning co-team owner Michael Lanigan, the 2021 NTT IndyCar series season is upon us. It's going to get a little bit later start than originally intended, but what is the outlook for your Rahal Letterman Lanigan this year? You've got to really feel like you've got a great shot to challenge for more victories and a championship and another Indy 500.

Michael Lanigan:

Well, I know we have a great engine program with Honda. We have great team members. I mean, we really brought in the best of the best over the last three years and our guys as far as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we excel here. Last year, a first and a third. I can't think of another team that's done that recently. But we're always striving to be the best. That's what Bob has in common with David and myself. We just want to win and you've got to have the right people. You've got to have the right drivers. You've got to have the right equipment, and you need a little luck.

Bruce Martin:

Congratulations on achieving your lifelong dream last August and winning the Indianapolis 500 and as a fellow driver Ryan Hunter-Reay once said, "When you win the Indy 500 it's like the gift that keeps on giving." So enjoy all the gifts that come with it and thank you for joining us today, Michael Lanigan.

Michael Lanigan:

Thank you very much. Sort of my pleasure.

Bruce Martin:

The Borg-Warner Trophy is one of the most iconic and famous trophies in all of the world. It's right up there with the Stanley Cup in terms of recognition. When people see that trophy, they instantly know that it’s for the Indy 500. It's been awarded since the mid-1930s and our next guest is Michelle Collins, the Global Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Borg-Warner. She shares a little bit about the trophy and what it means to her company to have such a longstanding relationship with one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Joining us now is Borg-Warner Director of Global Marketing Michelle Collins. Up next is my interview with Michelle Collins from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on February 19th, where Takuma Sato had his face unveiled on the Borg-Warner trophy for the second time.

I know that's very special to you because under your tenure he becomes the first multi-winner of the Indy 500. To see a guy as popular as Takuma to be able to be back on the Borg-Warner trophy, I know there's some challenges. I'm real good friends with your sculptor William Behrends to try to get the faces different from year to year. I know there was a lot of thought that went into it. What was it like to go through the whole process and to give a guy who loves this place as much as Takuma Sato a chance to be immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy?

Michelle Collins:

It's always amazing, and even if it's a multi-year winner the excitement and the adrenaline of it never changes. A lot of people think if it's somebody who's won once before and they win a few years later that we would just use the same face. That's not the case. It could be even a back-to-back winner and we would still do what we do. It's an important part of what we want to gift the driver, that experience. I don't think they ever get tired of that even if they've done it before. And we want to be able to do that and so it would not change anything. Come pandemic or anything else, we would still try to make it happen.

Bruce Martin:

And if you look at the faces of the multi-winners on the Borg-Warner Trophy, the four time winners and the three time winners, their faces look a little different each time. You look at Dario Franchetti when he won in 2007 he had a very short haircut. His last two victories in 2010 and 2012 his hair was much longer. When you see the level of detail and skill that William Behrends is able to put into what he does, how amazed are you at what he's able to do as an artist?

Michelle Collins:

I don't even have the words to describe him. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but his artistry is absolutely fascinating. And like you said, just the level of detail that he's able to capture, and even if it's only been a few years in-between wins, we see ourselves in the mirror, we don't see that we're aging, we think we look the same, but there are changes and he is able to capture that. He is just absolutely amazing, like I said, I can't say enough about him just as a person and also as an artist.

Bruce Martin:

With Borg-Warner being an international company that is all over the world, how much attention does the trophy and the Indianapolis 500 get whenever you travel around the globe and meet with other Borg-Warner companies in other countries?

Michelle Collins:

Yeah, that is such an exciting time for our employees. The trophy hasn't left the US that often but it has made its debut in France and in Japan and in England. But when we took the trophy to Japan the last time Takuma won Japan the colleagues there were so excited and even when he won this year I was texting with a few of them at whatever time of day it was, they were watching it on TV, they're just so proud. And it's neat to really have drivers from all over the world because typically they're from locations where we also have plants. So there's a lot of pride around it.

Bruce Martin:

And Borg-Warner is also involved with the NTT IndyCar series as the turbocharger supplier and every car in the starting field has Borg-Warner turbos on it. How important of a project is that, to be involved with?

Michelle Collins:

That's really exciting as well. Of course the people who work on that product and are involved with the race teams really take pride in that work. And it's something that we're excited to do and a compliment to the trophy.

Bruce Martin:

And as far, though, as no matter what time of the year, when you come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it's a special time. I know during the off-season the unveiling of the Borg-Warner trophy, the latest winner's face on there has always been greatly anticipated. How favorite of a moment is that for you?

Michelle Collins:

It's awesome. I enjoy doing it. It's something I never thought that I would have the ability to be able to do or the honor to do, so I really do not take that lightly and I'm just so proud to be a part of it on behalf of Borg-Warner.

Bruce Martin:

Looking ahead to 2021, the Indianapolis 500 to be able to have the opportunity to have spectators return after the race was held last year without spectators, how special is that going to be? Because I'm sure you really missed to buzz and the excitement that the crowd really brings to this event.

Michelle Collins:

It's such an important part of the day, just the excitement like you said from the crowd. It really builds kind of the air of emotion and ambience and really kind of the adrenaline rush of the day. I am very hopeful along with the track that they're able to have spectators and do so in a safe way, but I think everybody is really anticipating just being able to come back here, see the race, some sense of normalcy and just really looking forward to that.

Bruce Martin:

And I'm sure the one thing that you missed last year was the tradition of bringing the trophy the morning of the race out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, taking it on the lap around and then delivering it at The Yard of Bricks. Weren't able to do that last year. Hopefully we'll get to do that again in 2021. But just to have all that history and tradition, something where your company's been involved with since the mid-30s, how much did you miss that last year?

Michelle Collins:

I missed that a lot. Of course it was very exciting to be one of the few that were able to come to the race but that processional into the track is such a important part of the day and I was sad to not be able to do that. But we're hopeful for this year.

Bruce Martin:

Michelle Collins, Vice President Global Marketing of Borg-Warner, thank you for joining us today.

Michelle Collins:

Thank you.

Bruce Martin:

Our final interview on today's show is with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who talks about how challenging 2020 was, trying to operate the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that last year's Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Weekend was held without spectators. Of course that's very challenging for any professional sports and collegiate sports entity. According to Boles, the attendance figure for this year's Indianapolis 500 has not been determined yet how many spectators will be allowed in. They are hopeful to be able to let a large crowd in but of course that's going to depend on the local state government of Indiana and also Marion County health officials and the mayor of Indianapolis. Here's our interview with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles.

Bruce Martin:

Joining us now is Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles. Doug, February 19th marked 100 days from the 105th Indianapolis 500. It's always a busy time of the year in your position. How much busier does it get from this point forward?

Doug Boles:

Well, it gets a lot busier and hopefully this year it continues to get busier. Obviously we're dealing with the back end of this pandemic, we hope, and that things are going to get much better, but we're just really focused on getting the venue ready for fans here in May and see if we can have a more normal 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 than we did for the 104th.

Bruce Martin:

You kicked off the 100 days out with Takuma Sato's face being unveiled for the second time on the Borg-Warner Trophy after his impressive victory in last August's 104th Indianapolis 500. Hopefully it will be the only time the Indy 500 is held in August, but what's it like when you get to see a two time winner's face added to the trophy?

Doug Boles:

Well, it's always fun to see the drivers when their face is presented to them and they get to see how it looks. They've gone through the whole process to get it sculpted and they kind of have an idea but when they see it on that Borg you can see it in their eyes. It's just something different about it. And obviously Takuma's gone through that in 2017 but I was looking forward to see how excited he was to see the second one and compare the two and it's always fun to have a two-time winner or a multiple winner here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and there really hasn't been a better champion than Takuma. He's been fantastic to work with. He loves the Speedway. He's been a lot of fun to help us promote the 105th coming up. So we're looking forward to continue to work with him and certainly a very passionate champion about this event.

Bruce Martin:

A year ago at this time it was going to be a new dawn for the Indy 500. Roger Penske's ownership, Penske Corporation taking over ownership of the track and of the IndyCar series and the Indianapolis 500. Three weeks later the world changed and ever since then it's been meeting one challenge after another. How challenging has it been in your role, and do you almost feel like it's been groundhog day for you?

Doug Boles:

It does feel like groundhog day, for sure. I guess I feel sorry for Roger because he hasn't gotten to experience the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the ownership side and really going through it in a different way than he's done for the roughly 50 years he's been here. But also say it's good news that Roger Penske was at the helm through the last year because he's really allowed us to continue to move forward. The IndyCar series with the help of Jay Frye and frankly with the help of all the teams with Roger's leadership we got through a fantastic season last year. So I think a lot of those things... Maybe it wasn't the best time for Roger Penske to purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but for fans and teams and a lot of us it was the right time for him to purchase it. So we're thankful for that. Now I'm just looking forward to be able to open the gates and let him see what it's like when 300,000 plus people are in here.

Bruce Martin:

With May being a couple of months off and with the vaccination schedule as it is, we really don't know yet for sure what the size of the crowd will be. I've had a couple of interviews with Penske Corporation President Bud Denker, who says all different scenarios are being looked at. How many times do you go over those scenarios, add to, subtract, figure them out?

Doug Boles:

Oh, every day. I mean that's the hardest part of this is it is just continuing to try and guess, predict where things might be. One good thing about last year was we went through so many different scenarios. We've got a pretty good baseline depending on what the pandemic tries to throw at us in May. But we're still really hopeful that May this year can be more like a normal year than not. And like I said earlier, as we get a little bit later into May and as we get the vaccines out, as we begin to see the numbers come down, we are really really hopeful that we'll have a good May and a May with fans.

Bruce Martin:

Is the one thing that is so difficult in your position and Roger's position is the court of public opinion? For instance, the Daytona was held 30,000 fans. Turn on ABC World News Tonight on Monday and they just lambasted it for having that many spectators at a sporting event. It was all done safely. It was all done with precautions but is that kind of the one thing that you kind of look at? It's just like we're doing the best we can here.

Doug Boles:

Well, I don't know that we're looking at what outsiders say. What we're doing is we're working with the local health authorities and we're trying to do everything we can to put plans in place that keep our spectators and our teams and our participants safe when they come here to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500. So it's really not about the public opinion. It's really about what is the best way to keep people safe and when we make a decision it will be the decision that we believe is the right one given all the external circumstances related to the pandemic when we get to May.

Bruce Martin:

How are you handling ticket sales at this point, since the actual crowd size hasn't been determined yet?

Doug Boles:

Well, if people want to buy tickets they still can. We obviously aren't out promoting that really heavily till we know where things stand, but most people that have purchased tickets prior to March of last year just renewed those tickets. They just took a credit and they're ready to go. So if we were to have the race today we're still 180,000 plus people will show up for the Indy 500. So the challenge for us going to 30,000 like Daytona has done is how do you pick those 30,000? So we're taking our time and we're trying to be really hopeful that we don't have to worry about that and we can have as many fans as want to be here in May.

Bruce Martin:

When you look at the step-by-step systematic things that were done last year to have as many races as you did at the Speedway and to even welcome spectators back with the Harvest GP that was held in October, how satisfying was that when you were able to open the gates and let fans in last October?

Doug Boles:

Well, it was pretty satisfying, especially when Roger got to open the gates to let people come in through Gate 1 and see him interact with those fans. It was one of the highlights of the year, honestly. And it was fun to have fans here and there were a lot of really hardcore fans that were just excited to be at the Speedway and in a lot of ways it was frustrating that we didn't get to have those fans in August when we actually got to run the Indianapolis 500. The Indianapolis 500 is what makes this place special and it's the one race that if you are picking one a year that you can have fans, that's the one you want to have fans to. So even though we had folks here in October, which was nice, it still wasn't as good as if we could've had fans in August.

Bruce Martin:

I guess if you're looking for silver linings, one of them was it gave you time to do the physical upgrades that Roger had wanted to do without working around getting ready and being in a rush to have the race in May. Obviously you would have rather had it go off as planned, but how important was that to kind of get the construction aspect of it finished and how much more new construction might we see?

Doug Boles:

Well first of all, I mean we all know we couldn't have gotten through this last year as a country without thinking about silver linings. If you just focus on the challenge you had you wouldn't get there. So there's silver linings and opportunities that we've had really have helped us I think get through it. The changes that folks will see when they get here, a lot of them they didn't even when we were open October get a chance to see a lot of the things, especially the big board in the end field, some of the boards on the exterior. So a lot of the stuff will still be new to customers when they come through and then we're continuing to do some work. We've done a lot of the work on the golf course right now, continue to get some things done, but I think people will definitely notice a difference when they come in the venue for the first time since 2019.

Bruce Martin:

Last August there's an opening out on 16th Street where fans can look in and see the boards and there's a gap between some of the grandstands so they can hear the cars go by, maybe see the top of the helmets and see the action on the video screen. My guess is what, 1000, 2000 people were there on race day? You went out and joined them. What was that like to see that there's so many people that love this thing that even when they can't get inside the gates they still show up?

Doug Boles:

It says a lot about the event itself. The Indianapolis 500 is really more than just a race, it's about all those interactions you have with friends and family and it's the tradition of coming every year for the Indy 500 and for a lot of our fans even in May when we didn't have any cars on track they showed up on Memorial Day Sunday and then certainly in August a lot of those folks showed up and they just wanted to be around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and be able to hear the cars and be able to just show their support for what we were going through. So it was a lot of fun to be able to interact.

Bruce Martin:

2021 NTT IndyCar series you're going to have three IndyCar races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How important is that going to be because the third race of the schedule is going to be the IndyCar NASCAR double header in August?

Doug Boles:

I'm really excited about that. We got to have it last year with the Xfinity cars on the road course, and IndyCar on the road course, and then a couple in the oval. This year we're going to do all three of them on the road course. I can't wait for fans to see that. I think that the Xfinity and Cup race are going to be fantastic and obviously the IndyCar race we love here. So I'm excited for that. It's a new event. I think it's one our fans will really enjoy and I think it will help introduce some NASCAR fans to the NTT IndyCar series and some of those NTT IndyCar series fans will get introduced to NASCAR and hopefully we just create more race fans.

Bruce Martin:

And also after 25, 26, 27 years the NASCAR Brickyard Weekend is going to be... The Cup series is going to be taken off the oval, put on the road course. As we saw in the Xfinity series race last July, you get in those late race restarts and it's a free-for-all. So obviously you're probably expecting the same type of action when the Cup cars get out there, maybe even a little bit more Knock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

Doug Boles:

Yeah, I think so. The Xfinity race, especially the end of the Xfinity race here last year was really really exciting on the road course. The Cup race that they had in Daytona earlier this year was exciting. I think it will be exciting here as well. Little bittersweet, I love the oval and the oval is the thing that we're known for, but I think that weekend with all three of those series running on the road course is going to be a fantastic weekend. I can't wait to see who gets to say they're the first Cup winner on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bruce Martin:

And wrapping up here with Doug Boles, the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the unveiling of the previous Indy 500 winner's face on the Borg-Warner trophy is always something that a lot of people look forward to. It usually happens in December but because of the pandemic it's been moved around. It happened on February 19th this year. How important of a role is that for you to be a part of and also to continue the long history of involvement that Borg-Warner has had with the Indianapolis 500?

Doug Boles:

Well, so much of what makes the Indy 500 special are the traditions that surround the Indy 500 and obviously one of them is that relationship with Borg-Warner and that trophy that's 80 plus years old right now. And then getting an opportunity to see that driver when he or she gets to see their face on that Borg-Warner is really really important and it also reminds you that the next race is just around the corner. So it is one of those moments every year that we all look forward to because it just means there's another Indy 500 coming. We can't wait to see who gets to have their face on it next.

Bruce Martin:

I know you don't get to sleep much in May but have you been able to sleep much in the winter or are you kind of like a bear, when it hibernates you try to store up your sleep because you know that come May you're not going to get that much?

Doug Boles:

Well I work for Roger Penske now, who doesn't sleep, so you plan on trying to stay awake as much as possible and get a lot of work done. And I've done some volunteer assistant swim coaching this year, so my evenings have been filled with time around the swimming pool and I've just been trying to stay real busy. Sleep is okay but right now we have too much energy here and like I said Roger Penske, not a big sleeper, so the rest of us that work for him aren't either.

Bruce Martin:

Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for joining us today.

Doug Boles:

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Bruce Martin:

And that puts a checkered flag on the inaugural episode of Pit Pass IndyCar.

We want to thank all of our guests for today, including Takuma Sato, Bobby Rahal, Michael Lanigan, Michelle Collins, and Doug Boles.

Additional thanks to Borg-Warner's Michelle Collins and Steve Shunck, as well as Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles and the public relations staff, including Alex Damron and Suzi Elliott and IndyCar Vice President of Communications Dave Furst for providing us the opportunity to cover that event and record the interviews for today's show.`

We have plenty of interviews coming up on future episodes, such as Scott Dixon, the six time NTT IndyCar series champion, and also NTT IndyCar series rookie driver Jimmie Johnson. You might have heard of him. He is a seven time NASCAR Cup series champion. To hear those episodes, subscribe to Pit Pass IndyCar on your favorite podcast app.

This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive Producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and Edits were done by me. And Final Mixing was done by Will Pritts.

Learn more at Evergreen Podcasts.com.

Thank you for joining us today. Keep up with the latest IndyCar news by following me on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 and SPEEDSPORT.COM

Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.

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