AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s apparent already that INDYCAR’s new president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, has the right temperament, focus and skill set to serve him well in his new role with the sanctioning body, moving on from being the chief revenue officer for last two years.
Speaking with NASCAR Talk editor Dustin Long at this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event from Phoenix International Raceway, Frye is determined to translate some of his efforts in the past to make a healthier paddock and continue to grow the sport and avoid some of the turmoil that existed internally in the past.
“Once you build consensus and become consistent as a league, there will be times where you have to make decisions,” Frye told Long at PIR. “Whether it’s an 80 percent agreement or 50/50, or whatever, you have to make the call.
“You’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. But if as a league, you have to have respect, and they get it; they might not agree, but they understand why you’re doing it.
“The next time it could be the opposite end. The same group that might have previously not agreed before but respects it, actually agrees. As long as you’re all in it together, that’s the key.”
Derrick Walker, Frye’s predecessor in the role, had entered in 2013 with high hopes but struggled to maintain a happy paddock as the 2015 season went on.
A particular sore point occurred at qualifying for this year’s Indianapolis 500, where a series of accidents in the lead-up to qualifying led to INDYCAR deciding to qualify the cars in race downforce trim, a much higher downforce package that produced slower average speeds.
Frye will address race control as one of the elements of his new role, although he noted how challenging officiating is, regardless of the discipline.
“Officiating is very difficult, no matter if it’s NASCAR, NFL, whoever,” Frye told Long. “We’re going to try to eliminate some of the debate. Debate is good, but sometimes there’s too much debate about things that are black and white.
“We need to create a package the teams understand, and know what the consequences are for certain actions.”
Frye said one of the areas that will need to be explored further is race control within the race. Far too often this year, in-race incidents were subject to post-race reviews, and later post-race penalties issued on Wednesday.
“This is more during the game, during the race (we’d be looking at),” Frye explained.
He hopes to have personnel in place within the stewards system, which will continue, by the end of the year. He said it’s “hugely important” that a driver participates within race control, in his opinion.
“Drivers know better than most what’s going on,” he said. “You need a group with great knowledge. Consistency is being there every week. Maybe you have your core group, and a few alternates available if someone isn’t able to come.”
One of the other areas Frye has been able to re-establish is an increased dialogue with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) with regard to future races.
Frye’s presence was instrumental in getting Phoenix back on an IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005, and he hopes it’s the start of more ISC tracks returning in the years to come.
“We had a group that participated in a schedule committee, and I’ve been on it the last several years,” Frye told Long. “So somewhere in June, I didn’t understand why we weren’t doing more in particular areas of the country. So I called John Saunders of ISC and we went through some different ideas and scenarios, and he was enthused.
“We basically called (PIR track president) Bryan Sperber, and then Bryan and I started working through the process for how the deal could look. And Bryan and his group have been phenomenal. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from us, from INDYCAR; we’d been coming here for 40 years, but we haven’t been here the last 10.
“We were already doing business with them, and that was one of the things with my call to John was, ‘What can we do to make something happen?’ Say it’s 2-3 events going forward, and we can come up with some sort of formula. There’s a whole menu of different facilities throughout the whole country.”
Other elements Frye touched on during a wide-ranging conversation were a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 and potential tethers for wings coming on board in 2016.
There’s no announcements on either front yet, but said the presenting sponsor is something INDYCAR has been actively pursuing and attracted a lot of interest, as Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles told MotorSportsTalk back in May. Tethers, he said, fall under the day-to-day process of making INDYCAR safer in any way, shape or form.
On the whole, Frye said the product is good and building the sport from a people side is key to growth going forward.
“We have in INDYCAR, a great racing product. We don’t want to affect that in any negative way. That’s the first thing on the list,” Frye told Long.
“Part of this, coming from a racing background or perspective, particularly on the team side, our teams … we have some great teams, some great people. It’s very important to do the right thing with the teams. Some cost containments, and getting the teams more involved in the decision-making processes. That’s something I’ve always done.
“And from a team background it’s all about the people. As a league, we need to make sure we have the right people in the right spot, doing the right thing.”
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.
Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.
Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.
Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).
“It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.
“It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”
In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.
“We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
“We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”
Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).
In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.
It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.
“We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.
“We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”
Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).
It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.
“It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.
“Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”
NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).
TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.