The IndyCar drivers who qualified first through sixth at Long Beach on Saturday — Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — held a smile-filled news conference after the session, cracking jokes and laughing through several exchanges.
Here are five of the best quotes from the Fast 6:
Josef Newgarden, on how impossibly close to the wall the drivers get at Long Beach:
“It’s kind of like when you’re pulling out of a parking spot and it’s tight on both sides and you back up and you start to turn and you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to miss that car in front of me?’ And your nose is like right there.
“Like 50 percent of the time, I’m just like, ‘Well, I think I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I hit him.’ (Shrugs)
“That’s kind of what it feels like. All the time on every lap, you’re just like, ‘Argh, I could hit — or maybe not.’ Most of the time you don’t. That’s what it’s like for me. It’s kind of fun.”
Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud on starting alongside each other Sunday despite their incident at the start of last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix:
Rahal: “(Last year) was like a very minor love tap.”
Pagenaud: (Scoffs in disagreement.)
Rahal: “It’s going to be a lot harder to hit him when he’s next to me. So if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try really hard to do it.’
Pagenaud: “I think you were next to me…”
Rahal: “No, I was behind you and…”
Alexander Rossi: “It was like a torpedo.”
Pagenaud: “Yeah, a torpedo!”
Rahal: “That’s Power’s issue now, right?”
Will Power: “You behind me?”
Power: “The difference is I’m from Toowoomba, see, and we fight.”
Rahal: “I’m really not worried about you. I’ve got like 50 pounds on you.”
Pagenaud: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don’t get hit.”
Rahal: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could like take out everybody and I’ll be good.”
Simon Pagenaud, off to a poor start this season, on proclaiming he was “never gone” after he made the final round of qualifying:
Pagenaud (deadpan): “It’s just my ego coming out. I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right?”
Reporter: “I was wondering if you’re feeling unloved or ignored or if there’s something going on…”
Will Power, his teammate: “I have been ignoring him a little bit.”
Pagenaud: “Actually I have plenty of love, mostly from Will, a lot from Josef (Newgarden), too much sometimes. But no, I feel confident, so I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on maybe.”
Reporter: “Do you have a chip on your shoulder?”
Pagenaud: “A chip? Chips are for dogs, I think. So I don’t have a chip, no. It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire — and that’s not a bad thing.”
Alexander Rossi, responding to a reporter who said it was tough to pass at Long Beach:
“I don’t know how true that is. I don’t think it’s that hard to pass.”
Graham Rahal on why the drivers seemed so happy after making the Fast Six (final round of qualifying) but not winning the pole:
Rahal: “It’s not even the top six anymore. You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way. Obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.
“In my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning, 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long (almost two miles) with all the bumps and curves and this and that — nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think you should feel proud if you had a good day.”
Each week, I ask someone in the racing industry to explain how they reached their current position. Up next: IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye sheds some light on his career path. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
When I first knew of you, it was in the MB2 days. Can you take me back to the start? Did you grow up as a race fan or anything along those lines?
I’m originally from Rock Island, Illinois. My family, we owned a small garbage trucking company. It’s funny — I basically learned how to drive by driving a garbage truck, which is kind of unusual. I was always around mechanical things. I really liked cars and motorsports.
My dad’s company would bring stuff back to our shop — pedal cars and bicycles — and they’d fix them up and send them home. So at a very young age, I always had these cool toys. You know, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So it was kind of neat to have that stuff. I wish I still had some of it, because there was some cool old metal pedal cars.
I got very heavy into stick-and-ball sports and played basketball, baseball and football all through high school and then went to college on a football scholarship. I played football at the University of Missouri and it was a great time there.
My first job out of college was at Anheuser-Busch and I was a special event manager for the city of Chicago. That’s where I started actually meeting some people in motorsports. Through that, I met some people with Valvoline. And when I left Anheuser-Busch, they thought I was crazy — because things were going really good at A-B. But I wanted to go do this motorsport thing.
So when I went to Valvoline, I ran the NASCAR and the World of Outlaws program.
Was it tough for you to give up the football days, since you’d made it so far?
No. It was a great experience and I’ve got a lot of great friends still in college sports. I’m proud we were able to do that, but it’s a whole other level to go from there to the next level, just like it was to go from high school to (college). I got my degree and met a lot of lifelong friends, and that was enough.
So all along, were you thinking you wanted to do something in sports as a career?
Well certainly going to the University of Missouri, obviously Anheuser-Busch being in St. Louis at the time had a lot of influence on what was happening. A lot of Missouri alumni worked at Anheuser-Busch. So I got to meet a lot of friends there. And obviously A-B was a huge supporter and advertiser of sports. So doing the events in Chicago, you’d have everything from local street festivals to when the Rolling Stones came to town, you’d manage that type of stuff. So it was very unique and a pretty cool job for a 22-year-old coming right out of college. It was a great experience.
So you get to Valvoline and you’re working for them. How did the transition to the team side take place?
I started with Valvoline at the end of ’91, and that was right when they started sponsoring Mark Martin at Roush. And right after that, we put together the deal with Hendrick, which was Jeff (Gordon’s) rookie year (in 1993). That’s when we started the relationship. At that time, I would say it was one of the first B-to-B deals. Not that there weren’t others, but it was a pretty high-profile B-to-B deal.
My office ended up being at Hendrick Motorsports. I was based out of Lexington, Kentucky my first year with Valvoline, but I was never in Lexington, Kentucky. Where the old 25 shop used to be, there was a small building next to it and was called the “Bug Barn.” And the Bug Barn was where Harry Hyde used to work on his Volkswagens. It was pretty cool. So I took the Bug Barn and fixed it up and cleaned it up, and that became Valvoline Racing South back then.
I worked out of there for two or three years. It was very unique being around Rick all the time and being around Jack Roush all the time. Two completely different approaches to the way they do things, but two hugely successful people. So here I am, a 26-year-old who is learning through osmosis from two of the best in the business world and the motorsports world. So that was a really cool experience.
M&M Mars wanted Rick to start what back then would have been a fourth team. Or they were asking about a fourth team. And I don’t think there was much interest in it during that time (from Hendrick). Rick had some friends who were interested in starting a team, and obviously they had never done anything like that.
So he got me with them, and that’s how MB2 was started. We partnered with Hendrick Motorsports for the engines. I think at that time, people thought it was going to last for two or three years and it’d be something else, and we ended up lasting for 12. Which, to me, part of our success was our survival.
There were a lot of things happening at that time, and I look back at being 30 years old-ish around that time and basically starting a Cup team from scratch and hiring a 24- or 25-year-old crew chief — whatever Ryan Pemberton was at the time — and running it out of an 8,000-square-foot building with maybe 13 people at the time. And to think that team went and sat on the pole at the Brickyard in 1998 (with Ernie Irvan), it was the little team that could.
Really proud that @KyleBusch is running our scheme from 1998 @TooToughToTame this weekend. When we started the team in 1996 was a very young group that didn’t know what we didn’t know. Pretty obvious by these hats! Ha! Very proud of what we accomplished. pic.twitter.com/EJb55YaELq
It was a great experience. You speak of lifelong friends, and the guys on that team, a lot of them were with us for the whole 12 years, which is pretty cool. A lot of them had opportunities to go do something else and they stuck with us, and I’m forever grateful for that.
So as MB2 evolved, I can’t remember all that led into…
Yeah, the demise. I was trying to put that nicely.
The year before that, two of the partners I had in the team had sold to the other partners. And then the last original partner — the sport was getting bigger and bigger, and we were able to bring in Bobby Ginn. Remember, that last year it was called Ginn Racing. Same team, same people, just different name on the door.
A lot of things happened there that, looking back, it was good intentions, I believe, but it just didn’t work out. At that point in the industry, there was a lot of consolidation. So if you think about MB2 basically merged with DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007) who merged with Ganassi. So there’s probably still some MB2 DNA in Ganassi’s Cup team at some point.
But that was tough. That was a really bad time, because you were with this group for 12 years, and there were a lot of people who were with us from Day 1. I took their livelihoods and their families very, very seriously. I mean, I would go without before I let any of those guys or girls go without. So when DEI merged (with Ginn), I had the opportunity to continue — but there was no way I was going to without (everyone). If we all couldn’t, I wasn’t going to be one to stay. So I didn’t.
So then the Red Bull opportunity came up from there?
It was in August (2007) when everything happened. At that point, I did help transition it out. There was a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. At that point, I really thought I might go do something with Hendrick. And then I got a call out of the blue from Lee White at Toyota and he was wondering what I was going to do next. We talked for a long time, and he introduced me to the Red Bull folks.
With Red Bull, if Toyota had been where Toyota was now, things would have turned out differently. Was Red Bull ahed of its time? What happened in those years?
So their first full season was ’07. MB2, we merged with DEI in 2007, because I started with Red Bull at the end of 2007. Like you said, Toyota was in their infancy. Red Bull was just starting and expectations were pretty high. There was a lot of changeover at Red Bull, because Red Bull North America was involved and some things happened before I got there and next thing you know, Red Bull Austria is overseeing the team. So that was a unique experience.
It was amazing how I got started. I had this meeting with Lee (White) and the next thing you know, I get this call from Red Bull. They’re like, “We’d like you to come see us.” I’m like, “Sure. That’d be great. When do you want me to come?” They said, “How about today?” (Laughs) “Today?” Basically it was, “Come to Austria now.” It was cool.
So I got on a flight the next day, landed and went and met with them. This was a pretty cool, up-and-coming great company that one guy founded with an amazing story how he did it, and to meet them was a really unique experience.
So we talked, I get back to the hotel (after just having arrived) and they call me at the hotel and they’re like, “We want to do it.” It was like, “OK!” We started going through what could happen, I got home the next day, talked about it, we put it together and started about a week later.
I’m proud of what we accomplished there. They struggled a lot, obviously, in 2007. A lot. The next year, I think we got the thing pointed in the right direction. The following year (2009), we made the Chase and won a race. Then Brian (Vickers) got sick; that was for sure a setback when that type of thing happens. Getting Kasey (Kahne) that year was a great thing, a great experience.
But it was cool. The international business thing, I’d never dealt with that much and we got to be good friends with the Formula One team, which was cool. Those guys are still good friends. I would have to go to Austria two or three times a year, and we’d have meetings with Dietrich Mateschitz. It’d be Christian Horner, Franz Tost — and we’d go individually, but we’d kind of be in the bullpen waiting on our turn. There was a lot of lot of good collaboration with Christian and Jonathan Wheatley, the team manager, is a good friend.
You look back and it was a great experience. The only thing I’m disappointed in is I think we really could have made something of it. Red Bull Austria’s passion is Formula One, and rightfully so. That’s what they do. The NASCAR thing to them, they didn’t understand what we were going to need to do to take it to the next level.
They expected Formula One level results right away?
Well when we got there, our results were better than that team. If you think about it, this was before the championships. When I was at Red Bull Racing, the first year, (Sebastian) Vettel was still at Toro Rosso. I remember being in one of those meetings and they’re talking about Vettel going to Red Bull Racing, and there are guys on Toro Rosso he wants to bring with him and they’re asking how that works and is that OK? They’re asking me, and I’m like, “Absolutely. You want the driver to be comfortable, and if he’s got some people he wants to bring with him, let him bring them.”
Again, looking back on it, it was pretty cool. The first time we went to visit Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes (England), you expect F1 to be everything James Bond-ish. So we go to the factory, and part of it is very James Bond-ish and you’re overwhelmed.
But then you go to the back of the shop and there are guys bolting the car together. It’s like, “There are our guys.” It’s familiar. It’s just racing cars, right? A lot of those guys ended up coming to Homestead at the end of the year, and they were overwhelmed by how we did a lot of things. Like to them, they couldn’t wrap their head around 38 races a year. But think about it: They’re running about 20, but they’re going to countries. We were going from Charlotte to Martinsville. So I think that was something they didn’t quite understand.
How did the transition go from Red Bull ultimately to IndyCar? You had been in NASCAR over 20 years by that point. Was there any hesitation about trying that side?
It was exciting. When the Red Bull thing ended, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Remember, for a year, I did go to Hendrick and do what I could to help.
I had forgotten that.
They didn’t need my help in any way. But I had been around them for a long, long time and they’re great friends and I learned a lot of stuff from them and there’s great trust. They’re like family to me.
So it was a really cool gap year. It was like, “What do I want to do next? Do I want to keep doing the team thing?” The team thing is pretty tough. There’s no revenue sharing. You’ve got to perform on the track and off the track. And again, taking care of the families — I took that very seriously. So it was good to catch my breath.
Over that time period, I got a call from IndyCar wondering what I was going to do next. I talked to them and that’s kind of how it happened. So it was exciting. As with F1, I was very curious about this. A lot of the people in here I already knew — there’s crossover on teams and some manufacturer stuff. But it was also getting to meet Honda, getting to meet Firestone. I’d never really dealt with them. So I was very excited about the opportunity, and it’s been phenomenal to this point. If you think about every day, we’re able to do something to help it grow, to make it better. The approach we’ve taken seems to be well-received.
If you take into account what you’re doing with IndyCar now, how much do you draw from your NASCAR background? Is it more similar than different?
Oh, it’s way more similar. Again, what do we do? We race cars, right? Yeah, the cars look different. But there’s people involved, and at the end of the day, it’s all about the people who make the cars go fast. So it’s extremely similar.
The main thing is coming from a team perspective. Everything we do, we do to see how it affects the teams. When I first started in this role, one thing we tried real hard to do was to harness the power of the paddock. There’s a lot of really smart people here. Having them help us craft this direction, we came up with this five-year plan. So we know where we’re going, we know what we’re doing. The teams are all part of it. Now we’re just executing it.
Now the plan has actually expanded through 2026 with the engine program. So we know basically where we’re going between now and 2026. We’ve created this cadence with things. As soon as the season is over, we have a team manager meeting. At that meeting, it’s 20 percent about next year — and that’s more blocking and tackling stuff, procedural things — and the other 80 percent we talk about (two years from now).
So you always try to work a year ahead. You never want to obsolete parts, you never want to cost teams money that doesn’t need to be spent. Obviously there are things that happen throughout the course of a season you have to react to that might be expensive, but everybody gets it — a part failure or something.
But everybody was part of this plan starting in 2017 when we froze the manufacturer aero kits. This year, with the new aero kit, that car, everybody had input in it — even from a fan perspective, we put out drawings and renderings to get fans’ reactions and it came back very positive. So we’re like, “All right. Aesthetically, we’ve got our identity back. It looks like an IndyCar.” The manufacturer kits were great, but there was a whole different mindset to it. There was not an aesthetic thing to it, it was about downforce and performance.
This car is very much putting it back in the drivers’ hands, which is what we wanted. It has less downforce. We’ve got a new engine coming in 2021, which will be pushing over 900 horsepower. It’s funny, people ask: “What’s your niche?” Ours is “fast and loud.” And that’s OK — every motorsports series has its thing, and we’re going back to being fast and loud and these cars are hard to drive and cool to look at. And there we go.
You took quite an unusual path to your current job. But for people who would like to follow your footsteps someday, how would you recommend getting to where you are?
This wasn’t part of the plan, but if you look back, I’ve been on the sponsorship side, I’ve been on the racetrack side with IMS and IndyCar, I’ve been on the league side and then obviously the team side. So I think we’ve checked every box from a motorsports perspective.
We have interns who work for us who are phenomenal. They have the desire and the effort and they want to be part of it. You’ve got to be persistent. It’s amazing looking back — I never would have thought I’d be doing what I’m doing now. How does all this happen in your life? Things change, and I’m very excited to be where I’m at. We think we’ve got some good momentum, some good things happening. So just be persistent and don’t be afraid to do what you’re asked to do — and then do twice that. People will notice.
Shame on those of us who saw Scott Dixon disappear into a cloud of dust on Lap 1 of the Portland Grand Prix and thought his race was over.
How foolish. How absurd. After all, even casual followers should know Dixon is IndyCar’s MacGyver — able to escape seemingly any situation, even when it looks dire.
Dixon somehow — improbably, incredibly — salvaged a fifth-place finish on Sunday when his day looked screwed from the start. Not only that, he took advantage of untimely cautions and misplayed strategy that affected fellow title contender Alexander Rossi, allowing Dixon to actually extend his lead by three points — to 29 overall — going into the season finale.
These are the kind of things that only seem to happen to Dixon. If you described such a scenario to someone in IndyCar and didn’t attach a name, everyone would know you were referring to the driver of the No. 9 car.
“We got super lucky today,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to take those days.”
Drivers predicted a sketchy start to the race all week, and that’s exactly what happened. As part of a multi-car wreck on Lap 1, Dixon was shoved into the dirt and felt a significant impact — though he couldn’t see what he hit.
“I felt like I wanted to cry,” Dixon said of sitting there while the dust cleared.
He didn’t expect his left front wheel would still be attached when his vision returned, but there it was. And as it turned out, Dixon had the presence of mind to pull the clutch while the crash was occurring — allowing him to keep the engine fired.
While others left on a hook, Dixon somehow put it in reverse, told the safety truck to move and drove away.
“I couldn’t believe the thing was still going,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a pretty lucky day from that point on.”
But that wasn’t immediately evident, because he was tagged for a speeding penalty midway through his comeback and saw all the gains erased.
“I thought on that point, we were definitely on the out,” he said. “Crazy, crazy day.”
Again, though, it’s foolish to count out Scott Dixon. So when his team stuck to a two-stop strategy (the same as race winner Takuma Sato) and Rossi made three, Dixon got the track position needed to extend his points lead.
“Huge day for us points-wise,” Dixon said, then added with no apparent sense of irony: “This might be our lucky day.”
Meanwhile, Rossi looked a bit stunned in the aftermath of his good day gone bad. He had a faster car than Dixon, but was done in by circumstances not of his own doing.
Rossi quickly dismissed the suggestion the damage was minimized by losing only three points to Dixon heading into Sonoma.
“That’s a nice way of putting it,” he said. “It was a terrible day.”
With a large crowd of enthusiastic race fans in Oregon for today’s Portland Grand Prix — the first major-league race in the Pacific Northwest in over a decade — some of you have been asking a great question: Should NASCAR race at Portland as well?
I’m admittedly biased because I live in Portland. And obviously, I have a heavy interest in NASCAR since that’s where I spend most of my time. So you might think I’d be waving my arms and saying, “HEY NASCAR! CHECK THIS PLACE OUT!”
But actually, Idon’t think it would be a good idea for NASCAR to visit Portland International Raceway.
The track itself could probably put on a good show. It’s very short for a road course (1.96 miles) and has two long straightaways, which would favor NASCAR-style racing.
But the facility would have to get some major upgrades to meet the typical NASCAR standards.
There are no garages at Portland. Lower series like Xfinity and Trucks occasionally work from behind their haulers or under awnings, but Cup never does.
But I don’t even think Portland would be great for a Truck race (even though the series previously raced here).
Pit road, from what I can tell, isn’t long enough for a full NASCAR field and doesn’t have much room to expand. The safety setup — concrete walls, short runoff areas and low fences — look like a track which last hosted a major race more than a decade ago (which is actually the case here). And there’s hardly any on-site parking for fans — not to mention a lack of permanent bathroom/concessions structures.
The track is run by the City of Portland’s parks department, and it’s basically like racing through a nature preserve. It’s beautiful. And the asphalt surface itself is in fantastic shape.
But there’s just not a lot of the infrastructure NASCAR officials, teams, fans and media are accustomed to.
It works better for IndyCar, which races at several street circuits and has more experience showing up to places and setting up what they need to put on a successful race (hospitality chalets, race control, etc.).
That said, this event is shaping up to be a mega hit for IndyCar, so it’s understandable if NASCAR would want to race at an established circuit like Portland. But more of an investment would be required before that happens.
As an unexpectedly large crowd lined up for Friday’s IndyCar autograph session at Portland International Raceway, one of the first people in line to get Alexander Rossi’s signature was a young boy wearing NAPA gear.
It’s something Rossi has noticed more lately now that he’s frequently been in the spotlight — for various reasons.
“It’s been very cool for me to see from Year 1 until now — almost the end of Year 3 — the amount of people wearing my shirts and hats and wanting to talk to me at autograph sessions,” he said. “That’s really increased. So that’s a huge positive and something I’m happy about and something I hope will continue to grow as the years go on.”
If you’re a fan of Rossi, it’s more likely to be based off his racing style than his personality. That’s not to say he lacks in the personality department; heck, he competed on a reality TV show and co-hosts a podcast, so that’s clearly not the case.
Rossi’s moves can be controversial at times — depending on your view — but you can’t accuse him of settling for anything.
“He’s definitely gone after it and been aggressive and raced to win a championship,” Will Power said. “That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Winning the 100th running of the Indy 500 two years ago was a major accomplishment. But given it happened nearly right away in his IndyCar career and he was a virtual unknown to many American race fans at the time, it wasn’t something that launched him into stardom by itself.
But now, having found his rhythm with three victories in 2018 — after winning twice in his first two years combined — Rossi is on track to becoming one of IndyCar’s biggest stars.
“I love this championship and everything it represents,” he said after arriving in Portland for Sunday’s race here. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be here. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
It wasn’t always that way, because IndyCar was never the goal for Rossi. He chased Formula One dreams and ultimately made starts in five F1 races. But his home ultimately became IndyCar after getting an opportunity with Andretti Autosport.
These days, he’s hoping to be the next American who could carry the banner as a champion in the United States’ biggest open-wheel series — one year after Josef Newgarden did the same.
“I think it’s massive for the series (to have an American champion),” Rossi said. “(As) Americans, it’s hard to cheer for the French guy or an Australian guy. As much as we love them and respect them and admire what they do, Americans are patriotic people, right?
“Americans winning is a great thing for a growing fan base and hopefully inspires more young American racing drivers and go-karters. It’s a cool thing to be able to represent the U.S. in a U.S. series at U.S. tracks.”
If he pulls it off, he’ll have completed an impressive comeback. After the Toronto race on July 15, Rossi was third in the point standings — 70 points behind four-time champion Scott Dixon.
Three podium finishes later (two wins and a runnerup finish last week at Gateway), Rossi is down by just 26 points with two races to go.
Oh, and the season finale at Sonoma? It’s a double points race.
“Scott has been a model of consistency, as he always is, and he’s won a bunch of races nevertheless,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “Alex has been so flamboyant and just hitting it hard out of the gate that I think if it comes down to a dogfight at the end, he might have the edge. But we’ll see.”
IndyCar drivers are continuing to push back on comments made by retired Formula One star Felipe Massa about the American open-wheel series’ perceived lack of safety enhancements.
Massa, now the president of the FIA’s International Karting Commission, criticized IndyCar this week in the wake of Robert Wickens’ Pocono crash and Charles Leclerc’s close call with Fernando Alonso, in which Leclerc was saved by F1’s “halo” device.
“First of all, in his position with the FIA, I think you need to be a little more professional before lashing out like that,” Rahal said after a news conference promoting the Portland Grand Prix. “Second of all, the risk we take is different than the risk they take. Being wheel-to-wheel on an oval at the speeds we go, you’re always going to face these inherent risks.”
Sebastien Bourdais agreed and said others should be more careful about making comments when they aren’t in IndyCar to see what’s actually going on with safety.
“I can understand both sides of the story where you could think from afar what we do is overly dangerous and we’re not really doing everything we should do about it, but it’s not true,” he said. “It’s the challenge of getting cars safely around a superspeedway at 220 mph between two walls. That’s always going to be extremely complicated.”
Rahal noted despite Wickens’ serious injuries — spine, leg and arm — none were to his head. So the criticism about not having a halo for head protection, Rahal said, isn’t applicable in this case.
He added a halo wouldn’t work for IndyCars since they race on high-banked ovals.
“On the ovals when you look through the corner, like at Texas, you’re kind of looking up,” Rahal said. “If you’re looking straight, the halo would block a visual. It doesn’t work for us. That’s not a concept that works.”
Rahal noted the IndyCar windscreen — which looks like half of a fighter jet canopy — is still in development and “needs to be implemented.” But he added “it’s not that easy.”
“The biggest difference is we don’t build a new car every year (like F1),” he said. “So how do you attach that properly? How do you make sure it’s not going to just fall off in the case of an impact like (Josef) Newgarden took where the roll hoop went into the wall first (at Texas)?”
Bourdais said he’d put IndyCars to the test against F1 cars in many safety situations “and they’d be pretty surprised by the results.”
“There’s a lot of effort that’s been put on the safety side for IndyCar,” he said. “The places and the kind of racing we have is exposing us more, which is why we’re trying as hard as we can.”
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. This week, it’s a doubleheader: Andretti Autosport drivers Zach Veach (IndyCar) and Dalton Kellett (Indy Lights) visited Portland and explained their backstories as well as what the future of IndyCar’s ladder system could be.
Zach, can you tell us how you got to where you are today? I understand a pastor played a big role in you finding a ride?
Veach: I was 4 years old and I told my dad I wanted to be an IndyCar driver. He kind of giggled, because it’s like, “He’ll want to be an astronaut next week.” But I never changed my mind. At the time, he was a national champion of truck and tractor pulling, so I was constantly traveling around the country with him. It took me the next eight years to finally get him convinced. I told him, “If I don’t get started soon, it’s going to be too late.”
That really hit a chord in his heart, because he decided to quit his dream and sell his truck, his transporter, everything, so we could afford to buy a go-kart and go racing.
I started racing go-karts when I was 12. Through some hard luck and things, by the time I was 15, I got contacted by Andretti Autosport to join Sage Karam in USF2000. So that was my start on the Mazda Road to Indy. I spent two years in USF2000, one year in Pro Mazda, then I did two years with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights — in 2013 and 2014. I came close to winning the Lights championship in 2014, but had a mechanical failure at Sonoma, the last race, which kind of took a lot of us out of it.
Then 2015 was kind of a hard year. That’s when I broke my hand and didn’t have the sponsorship, so I was sitting kind of on the sidelines trying to figure out how to be in the sport. That’s when I started by broadcasting career and got to work with IndyCar Radio and all them.
Luck kind of came back into it. Brian Belardi saved my life and offered me a ride in Indy Lights for 2016. Had another close year — wins and almost won the championship but came out fourth — and then 2017 was just trying to find money again.
I was at the end of my rope, per se, and I was out of people to talk with, and I just had this gut instinct to call my pastor. He pulled me through some other things in my life and I was getting close to the deadline for the Indy 500. So I gave him a call and he gave me the connection to a local Indiana businessman.
Three days later, I had an Indy 500 ride. And about three weeks after that, we were working up the paperwork for my first full year in IndyCar with Andretti.
So there’s a lot of dark. There’s a lot of times when I really thought this thing wasn’t going to happen. But when you love something so much, you take every negative bit and you just keep pushing. I’m so thankful I did, because now I’m getting to live one of the best years of my life.
How close did you come to saying, “This is probably the end?”
Veach: I’d say three times. In 2014, after the Indy Lights year, I was basically all but signed with Andretti Autosport. We had a contract drafted up for me to run my first full year of IndyCar. And a week before testing, the sponsorship fell through and it all went away. So that was tough.
And then I broke my hand (in 2015) and thought that was it for me. And then after 2016, I really wasn’t getting things in place to go IndyCar racing after that and I thought, “Well, that was my last chance.” But I just didn’t give up, and I think that’s the key role. You have to stay present in the sport, you have to stay around. And you have to take time to talk to every single person, because you don’t know who is going to be the person to change your life.
That’s crazy, yeah. Even a pastor can be the one to change your life in racing.
Veach: Divine intervention. (Laughs)
So Dalton, how did you get started?
Kellett: Well let me hit you with the most Canadian racing background you’re ever going to hear. So I’m from Toronto, Ontario. The first thing I ever raced were these 90cc, two-stroke Arctic Cat (snowmobile) sleds called Kitty Cats — like for 3-year-olds. So my good friends and I, we used to race those on a frozen lake up in Canada around an oval our parents made out of milk boxes. So that was my first real race.
And then after that, I didn’t really do anything until I was 14. I always wanted to race. Those kids I raced the skidos with, they went off and raced go-karts. I was like, “Hey Mom and Dad, I want to race karts with Gary and Ryan.” After six or seven years of begging, they relented and let me get into it when I turned 14.
I raced go-karts in the Canadian scene for a bit, went over to Europe, raced there, moved into the F1600 championship in my last year of high school. When I went to university — I have a degree in engineering physics from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario — I raced USF2000 and Pro Mazda all through my Bachelor’s degree. Kind of bounced in between racing and school. And then I moved up into Indy Lights with Andretti once I graduated.
What’s the outlook now for you and what have you had to do to keep staying in the sport?
Kellett: Obviously right now we’re still focusing on the end of the 2018 Indy Lights championship. But looking forward, IndyCar is the goal. We’re trying to put a program together for next year. I just partnered with Ten80 Education, a STEM charity. We’re looking to kind of tie in an IndyCar program with those guys. We’re working on securing the (Indy) 500 first and then kind of going from there. There’s a possibility next year could be a bit of a piecemeal season — maybe a bit of IndyCar racing, maybe some one-off Lights races, maybe some sports car stuff. Of course, if a full-budget, full-year (opportunity) comes together, then that’s what I’ll be doing. But I think (mixing it up) is the more realistic outcome right now.
Both of you obviously took advantage of Mazda Road to Indy. It just came out Mazda won’t be sponsoring that anymore. Most of the people reading this are NASCAR fans, so could you give us a basic overview of what Mazda Road to Indy is?
Veach: Mazda Road to Indy was the first clear path for us young drivers to have a path to IndyCar. For me, I was part of the first generation to ever be on the Road to Indy. I was in the inaugural season of USF2000 in 2010. USF2000 was the first step out of karting, usually when you’re about 15 years old. Next step was Pro Mazda, which started out as Star Mazda at the time. That’s what I did when I was 17. And then Indy Lights, which is basically college ball — that’s the last step before you get to IndyCar.
So each step was so fundamental to learning. USF2000 is pretty much learning how to drive an open-wheel car. Pro Mazda, you learn more of your craft as you get a little more downforce. And Indy Lights, it’s all about learning how to work with an engineer and work with kind of a high-downforce car, as well as learning everything else you need to get that jump start into the IndyCar Series.
So without Mazda’s participation, how could that affect things for people who want to follow your path?
Veach: I hope something comes into place. It’d be great if we saw another manufacturer like Honda or Chevy — someone who already has that presence in IndyCar — come in and try to help the ladder system. I think everyone understands how important it is. We constantly have to have a flow of talent and new kids coming aboard. And I think people see it’s successful. Guys like Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, myself, we’ve all won at different levels and that allowed us to get to the next level and eventually to IndyCar. And that scholarship as well — it helps a ton for people to get their feet wet in IndyCar if you win an Indy Lights championship. So I really do think it’s going to continue to thrive under a new brand, hopefully, and continue to grow. Because to me, I think it’s the best ladder system in the world.
Is the way you came up going to be the way drivers come up the ladder five or 10 years from now?
Kellett:It’s hard to speculate that far in the future. Racing is obviously an iterative process — we’ll go through different iterations of support series and competition formulas and all that. But I think the big takeaway right now with this time of change on the Road to Indy is the formula Dan Andersen and their team has put in place clearly works, because we’ve brought guys like Zach, Spencer, Gabby, Josef Newgarden. Yes, the name may change and we’re all grateful for Mazda and their wonderful contribution over the last nine years, but I think that process and methodology will live on, because we know it works. We’re not going to throw away something that works. It’ll just live on under a different name.
I’m sure you get parents who ask you all the time about where to start their kids in racing. What do you tell them as far as advice these days?
Kellett: That’s always a tough question. Starting in go-karts is always a key way to get into it. That’s how I learned all my race craft. There’s other avenues: You could start at a racing school and then move directly into cars, you could start on the oval circuit — which I can’t really talk too much about because that’s not my background — but whichever way you want to go, there’s an entry point at the grassroots level. Even you don’t want to do it as a professional career, it’s a great family activity. Some of my best memories growing up were me and my mom and my dad camping at the racetrack, having barbecues at the track and racing go-karts. It was a lot of fun.
Veach: For me, it’s always been the Mazda Road to Indy if they’re in the karting ranks already. If not, I’ve always recommended Yamaha Junior Sportsman, because that’s where I started. But with the Road to Indy, it’s been nice to have that vision. When you have success and you’re so thankful to be in IndyCar, and I look back and I think, “What else could I have done differently to get here?” It definitely wasn’t a decision on which series to run, and that’s nothing I would have changed about my past. Each step taught me a lot. Granted, I learned the most in Indy Lights — that’s where I came into my own and started to thrive as a driver — but it’s the whole journey that taught me to be successful in any way.