With the news that Martin Plowman had secured a three-race deal with AFS Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports for his debut in the IZOD IndyCar Series, we approached him for an INDYCAR Nation exclusive interview. We talked about his upcoming debut at Mid-Ohio, the colors he'll be sporting, his involvement with the teams he'll be a part of, and exactly what's he doing to get ready for his series debut:
Martin, thanks so much for your time! First, how long have you known about this deal, and what did it take for it to come together?
MP: The deal started to gain momentum in May of this year at the 500. My manager Rick Gorne, Sam Schmidt, and I had a meeting to discuss potentially doing an IndyCar program together. We talked about basing the program around events that we all believed to be my strongest, and Sam was eager for me to do the Mid-Ohio race especially. He expressed his desire to expand his team to two full-time entries, and this is a small step he is taking to try to make that a reality. I have no idea what 2012 holds for me, but being a full time teammate to Tagliani would certainly not be a bad thing!
Was there a moment when it really hit you that your dream was going to be realized?
MP: I had been keeping my head down working since last September, and after coming very close to closing a deal at the start of this year, I learned that it wasn't going to happen. Because of that, I never let myself get too excited when this deal got close to closing. I became more of a realist, but definitely more determined to succeed.
Once the contract was signed, I still had a hard time believing it was real. The first time it hit me was probably in the media centre just after we released the news and seeing all of the kind messages from family, friends and fans via Twitter. It was overwhelming! I certainly appreciate the support from all of you guys!
Can you tell us a little more about the deal? It’s a joint AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports venture, correct? Are we going to be seeing the same sort of livery we saw on the AFS car earlier in the season, or something totally different?
MP: I don't know what the final livery will look like, honestly. I'm very excited to announce my partnerships and the final car design in the coming weeks. There is still a lot of work to do behind the scenes, but I know that we will see the famous red and yellow base colors of AFS combined with the sponsors. I'm excited to see the car finished.
Your deal also involves Kingdom Racing. How did they get involved, and what does that entail?
MP: Kingdom Racing has been around the IndyCar paddock since 2008, and is a group of passionate Christians who are using the excitement of racing to spread a message of Christ. I'm a person of strong personal faith, and when I heard the mission of KR, I was eager to help. We're just getting started with this new relationship, but we're really excited to see what we are able to do together in the future.
Obviously, your first IZOD IndyCar Series race will be at Mid-Ohio, where you won as a Firestone Indy Lights driver. How much does that help as you look towards your IICS debut?
MP: Mid-Ohio has a lot of sentimental value to me. There's no better place to make my IZOD IndyCar debut. Obviously last year was a dream weekend for me; everything just fell into place, and we not only won pole, but led all laps and won the race! But also in 2009 I finished in the top 5 in a struggling car. That was an achievement that I was proud of...and of course, it's where I met Nicole! Mid-Ohio has been good to me so far, so I would love to continue that good streak with my first IndyCar race there.
You’ve stayed pretty involved with the series while waiting for your opportunity to drive, giving two-seater rides and being a part of the Indianapolis 500 Centennial Tour for the troops overseas. Do you think that helped keep you “on the radar”, as it were?
MP: That's a question we'll never know the answer to for sure. Either way I feel that I did the right thing and I will continue to stay involved in this sport no matter what. Racing is my life; it's what I live for. Even though it may have been painful to watch from the sidelines sometimes, sitting at home and feeling sorry for yourself would not have achieved anything either. There are a lot of good people in racing. Most of them feel like family already. So I was prepared to fill whatever job was needed to be done to stay relevant and just pray that at some point I would get the call I was hoping for.
Is there a race on your current slate you’re looking forward to perhaps a bit more than the others, or are they all pretty much equal in your eyes?
MP: I think I will be looking forward to all of them equally. I've NEVER taken what I do for granted, but I think spending sometime on the sidelines made me realize just how lucky I am to do what I do and call it my "job". I know for sure that when I take to the track for my first test it's going to be a lot of fun and I intend to savor the moment.
After your test with Dale Coyne Racing earlier in the year, were you always pretty confident you’d secure a ride at some point in 2011?
MP: I was hopeful I guess, but never overly confident. I had had a great test with Dale. We were very fast straight out of the box and I was consistently faster than Bourdais, who I had a lot of respect for, so it was a confidence boost at the time to know that I had the speed. I was hopeful that someone would notice that and they did!
Most people reading this have never been involved in the process of trying to secure a ride in racing, especially top-level racing. Can you give us an idea of what the competition is like for a seat, and an idea of the overall experience?
MP: It's insanely stressful! What's that saying? "In order to achieve what you've never achieved before, you must be prepared to do what you've never done before." With sponsorship extremely tough to come by in any sport or charity, you have to become very creative. Sam was keen to give me a chance in his car, but as with everybody it takes money to run a car, money that team’s don’t have. My management team worked closely with Sam’s team, and together they worked all angles, creating B2B deals between our sponsors and leveraging them against their sponsors and vice versa.
In today’s sponsorship world you have to think outside of the box. Companies no longer sponsor you exclusively for exposure on the race car. They want to see a far greater return on their investment. In most cases that includes setting up meetings and promoting deals with other companies involved in IndyCar that they would like to do business with and make money from. Corporations usually use the golf-course as a way to do business with new companies, but because of the network of companies involved in IndyCar, it is far more beneficial to a company to be associated with a driver/team in IndyCar to make those business connections to expand their companies. It is essentially our job as part of the sponsorship to make those connections happen.
It seems as if the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights class is one of the more successful ones we’ve seen. You’ll be joining fellow recent Lights alumni such as James Hinchcliffe, Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra, and Charlie Kimball, all of who found rides this year. Have you talked with them much about how the transition has been for them thus far?
MP: I'm good friends with Hinch, Charlie and Seb, but honestly we haven't talked much about how they found the transition. Away from the track, we try to keep talk about racing to a minimum, but Charlie did warn me about how much busier you are off-track doing fan appearances and sponsor engagements, so I am mentally prepared for that.
How will you be spending your time leading up to your debut? Is it a pretty full schedule?
MP: I've been aggressively ramping up my fitness regime at St. Vincent Sports Performance. I just want to make sure that my fitness level is strong enough for a whole race. It is an unknown factor for me and the unknown can be worrying, so to make sure there will be no problems. My trainer Aaron has literally tried to kill me for the past 3 weeks! Next week I will start work officially at the race shop and get to sit down with my engineers. That's where the real work begins for me. Since time is against us, it is important to prepare aggressively as possible so that when we get to the first race the learning curve won't be as steep for us as a team.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.