Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Interview with Paul Diatlovich

Paul Diatlovich - Kentucky

First of all; thanks for granting me an interview with you Mr. Diatlovich. Please forgive me for not knowing very much about PDM Racing – as I only became familiar with your outfit during your 2007 Indy 500 trials and most recently from Junior Strous’s Indy Lights Season Opening Double-header victories at St. Pete in 2009...
Tomaso (T) So I’ve read from your Team Profile on pdmracing.com that you’re housed in the racing shop that AJ Watson built and still owns; how did that come about?

Paul Diatlovich (PD) I was the last employee of the famed Leader Card Racers. We were based out of the shop owned by the original Chief Mechanic for LCR A.J. Watson. I was fortunate enough to have befriended one of the greatest people in Motorsports Ralph Wilke. After he stopped racing he was nice enough to give us use of his support equipment for our IRL effort. Without Ralph there would never have been an opportunity for PDM to exist.

T) And the four Indy Car drivers you helped win Rookie Of the Year (R.O.Y.) honours with during 1986-89: Randy Lanier, Fabrizio Barbaza, Billy Vukovich III and Bernard Jourdain. Were they all with Arciero Racing - and you’ve gotta feel pretty good about pulling off such an unusual feat?

PD) Randy and Fabrizio drove for me at Arciero while Billy drove for me at Gohr Racing and Bernard at Andale. Four rookies in a row only shows masochistic tendencies

T) How did you get started in IndyCar racing? Was Arciero the first IndyCar team you worked for?

PD) Started out in 1977 for Rolla Vollstedt working on Janet Guthrie’s and Dick Simons cars. Went to SugarRipe with Jud Phillips after that.

T) And you’ve worked with a Who’s Who of drivers - prior to starting your own race team. Do you have a favourite overall?

PD) I have been absolutely privileged with working with some of the best drivers that have ever competed. I have also worked (tried) with some of the dregs. Favorite amongst them, no, the three stellar drivers are Sneva, Emmo and Sam.

T) Tom “the Gasman” Sneva is a sentimental favourite; since he was from Spokane, WA. When did you work with him & what can you tell me about working with him.

PD) Hardest most demanding driver I ever worked with. He demanded 110% effort from us but when he put his visor down he’d give us 120% in return: 1978-79.

T) And I notice Stefan Johansson’s name listed too – was that with Tony Bettenhausen’s team; were you chief mechanic for Stefan and what was it like working with him?

PD) Team Manager while with Stefan. Second time working with Tony.

T) How did you discover Sam Hornish Jr.? Or did he come to you – as I’ve heard he ran with backing from his father’s Trucking Company.

PD) He and his Dad came to PDM during the winter of 99 and we worked out a deal to test and run Sam up to and including the Speedway. We wound up attracting enough sponsor support and some more from the family business to run Sam for the rest of 2000...

T) I seem to recall Jimmy Kite trying to qualify a multi-coloured PDM Racing car with pieces from several different teams? Was that the racecar that started out as the Indy Colts car that the team nixed? Which I think Indiana Ice then replaced them on the sidepods? And did you ever discover why the car’s speed was down in a post-mortem teardown?

PD) Poor Jimmy got hosed. Car was the exact same car we ran the previous year and it wouldn’t go within 10 MPH down the straights as it had the year before. We had Z-Line on our sidepods after the colts said no.

T) Then you switched to American Spirit Racing, (ASR) which I believe was a separate project from Stefan Johansson’s American Spirit IndyCar team? Were you involved with Phil Geebler’s ’08 Indy 500 R.O.Y. effort or just the Cyndie Allemann FIL effort?

PD) No, we always have run as PDM. ASR contracted out to us to maintain and campaign the car for Cyndie. Stefan had nothing to do with it. By the way, Ms. Alleman is on my short list of drivers I would like to work with again. Real deal there.

T) And I’m told that your son Victor works as a Part-time PDM Racing Team member. Does he work on the Indy Lights program and is he still involved? And do your wife & daughter have the racing bug like you do.

PD) It’s no bug, a frickin disease. Yes, Victor works with us during the season; he is a full time student at Purdue. My wife does all the bookwork for the team along with travel and scheduling. Full time. My daughter likes racing but Softball is her forte’ (thank God).

Cyndie Allemann – Indy Lights

PDM Racing - Indy Lights2008: Cyndie Allemann
2009: Junior Strous
2010: Rodrigo Barbosa
2011: TBA

T) Would it be fair to say you’ve had mixed results in the Firestone Indy Lights Series? As obviously your High was Strous’s two victories, while I’m not sure if the car catching fire was your Low? How would you compare Allemann’s or Barbosa’s season vs. 2009?

PD) No, a very popular misconception in this business is that because we ran mediocre last year that the car or effort was different than that of when we won with Jr. It is not! We put in the same effort anytime we unload at a racetrack the only variable is the nut behind the wheel. Catching fire at Long Beach sucked but it happened. No fault of ours, no mechanical misdeed, just a fluke failure that should never have occurred. But this is racing so we paid the ultimate price with a DNF. No comparison between the drivers Cyndie learned listened and improved during the course of the season. Like I said real deal, if I could run her again I think she would turn a lot of heads. Rodrigo, not so much.

T) And how do you think Cyndie stacked up against Pippa Mann and/or Ana Beatriz? As I see that the Original “Swiss Miss” spent last year contesting the European GT1 series.

PD) See previous comments, she’d flat smoke pippa and give Ana a run for her money.

T) Apparently the funding for the season ran out both upon Allemann & Strous, while last year’s driver Rodrigo Barbosa isn’t coming back? How does the funding scheme work for your team? Is it up to the driver to bring the budget or is that something PDM Racing searches for?

PD) Both, since Rodrigo left we are scrambling to find the funding or the driver with funding to continue our program.

T) And according to your website – you had a very positive test at Nashville last November with Michael Ramies, a 19yr old Californian; who I’ve never heard about. Can you tell me a little more about him?

PD) Working on getting him licensed and funded for this year. Good basic instincts, malleable, and should do well if we can get the funding.

T) And how did you discover Michael; (Ramies) as apparently you seem to think he’s ready to compete in the Indy Lights this season – Sponsorship pending...

PD) Through a person that worked for PDM previously. He brought him to us knowing what we can do with a talented driver on a limited budget.

T) And do you enjoy being part of the Road-to-Indy Development Series – or do you still wish to return to the Big Cars? (IndyCar)

PD) Both for sure. I’ve had a lot of fun with the small cars but I do miss running a big car.

T) And I hear you’ve still got some Dallara Indy Cars at your shop. What will you do with them after 2011 and do you have any intentions of purchasing any new 2012 equipment?

PD) No big cars left. I would love to be in a position to get a new car and it all depends on the money.

T) And do you fancy yourself a bit like (either Dale Coyne or) Eric Bachelart – who seem to enjoy the role of discovering new talent and giving young drivers their break in IndyCar/ Indy Lights.

PD) We are better than either of those two. They only have run drivers with money; we have put up our money to run drivers with talent. If you point out that they are still running and we are not, yes, they are thanks to the CART payoff they received before getting here. Give PDM that kind of funding and we’d run for several years.

T) And I’m assuming you’re hoping to run Michael Ramies in this year’s Indy Lights Championship. Any new updates on where your program lies for 2011?

PD) Still looking

T) And lastly, I cannot leave without asking you a question about the legendary “Doctor Who.” (Tim Wardrop) Will he be back with the Indy Lights team as Engineer again this season and any funny stories you can share about him?

PD) Tim has been a friend and colleague for many years. You want stories and I’d have to start a journal.

Once again – Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope to see the No. 18 at the front of the pack in this year’s Firestone Indy Lights Championship...
You can read all about Michael Ramies Nashville Oval track test on the PDM Racing Homepage by clicking here...

Michael Ramies – 2010 Nashville Test

Michael Ramies
As I said above – I know virtually nothing ‘bout Messer Ramies, other then he’s a 19-year old Californian aspiring to become an Indy Lights racing driver this season... Yet I’d haveda say he’s got some good possibilities; as some Dudes named Rick Mears, Jimmy Vasser, Robby Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and Kevin Harvic all came outta California...

Michael Ramies participated in a Jim Russell race held in conjunction with the Indy Racing League at Sears Point Raceway; won the Skip Barber Western Regional Series and trained with Rob Wilson as an aspiring Gran Primo Piloto upon the USF1 young American hopefuls Shortlist. His About page claims his favourite drivers are some Cats named DER TERMINATOR, (Michael Schumacher) “Fredrico Suave” (Fernando Alonso) and Master ‘Zebb... ” (Sebastian Vettel) Whale that’s not exactly a bad grouping, eh? As this trio only have ten Formula 1 World Championships to their credit!

To read Michael Ramies full bio – click here.

Good Luck to both Michael, Paul & PDM Racing in 2011 – as hopefully they’ll have a successful 2011 Indy Lights campaign!

Kudos to Dave “CARPETS” O’Brien for setting up this interview & making it happen...