My Journey to the Brickyard
When I retired from Indy racing in 2001 it was quite an adjustment for me, because other than a few years where I may have had only a few races, I’ve always been focused on having a “racing season” since I started racing in SCCA in 1974. Whether I was racing as an avocation, or as a professional, it’s been the focal point of my life. But it is amazing how you can adjust to change, not easily, but eventually you can make adjustments.
One adjustment is it enabled me to focus more on the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation activities and programs and we expanded our driver development academy. We created a traveling exhibit on women in racing collaboration with The Henry Ford Museum. I continue to be a motivational speaker, make personal appearances, and serve on the Kettering University Board of Trustees. I also continue to go to racing events, some of my favorites like the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, as well as others that I haven’t been able to go to in the past such as NHRA drag races, quarter midget races, and short tracks – both dirt and pavement. This helps me stay current with the many types of racing and helps me keep track of some of the young, up and coming drivers. And I was honored to be invited to race a few times at the Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed in England, which are extraordinary events, and opened my eyes to vintage racing. What a delight to find out that old race car drivers get to race old race cars! Unfortunately since I never knew when I might get the chance to race, it affected my motivation to be as fit as when I was racing on a regular basis. Plus along with some aches and pains, I just didn’t feel like working out as much anymore.
Then in 2011 I was asked to be the Grand Marshal at the CSRG Charity Challenge event at Infineon Raceway and they were kind enough to make arrangements for me to be a participant – and race a 1977 Chevron B39 Formula Atlantic! It was like a dream come true! I remember watching those amazing cars race back in the 70’s when I was racing my Ford Pinto and Cosworth Vega in SCCA and saying to myself “boy, I wish I could race a car that like some day”. Well, some day finally happened! The car belongs to Chris Locke, who is an excellent vintage racer and is passionate about Lotus race cars, and has the Chevron as an “extra” car for him to hone his skills. It’s maintained by John Anderson Racing, which is based at Sears Point Raceway, so when I arrived I was fitted with a proper seat and off I went. I can’t say that I set the world on fire, but I sure was having fun. I hadn’t been to Sears Point Raceway in over 10 years, and it’s always been a tough track for me, but in vintage racing you go at your own pace. While there are some stellar drivers out there, everyone seems to take a few less chances with their cars. But I’m always hard on myself and want to either keep improving, or be the quickest. It was a really fun event and we all got along so well they invited me back for some future races. The next event was at Thunderhill (north of Sacramento, CA) and I qualified well and had 3rd, 1st, and 2nd place finishes. Boy did it ever feel good to have a win! In vintage racing there are no trophies, no podiums, and no prize money, but there sure are a lot of smiles.
The first race of the year is the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and I have so many memories of Daytona – including a couple of victories, it’s been one of my favorite races – I always go to that event. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and start the year off right! I was surprised to see Doug Boles, Mark Dill, and other folks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and when we started talking I realized they were there because this year Rolex Grand-Am Series, who sanctions the 24 Hours of Daytona, will be racing in Indianapolis in July as part of the NASCAR Brickyard weekend. So when I told them about my recent racing successes Doug Boles said, “You should race at our race in Indy”. And it only took me a moment to respond, and I immediately said to Doug, “that’s a great idea! Let’s make that happen!” So I started to talk with a few key people, including Mark Raffauf, the Chief Steward of Grand-Am. Everyone was excited and it was gaining momentum – and by the end of the weekend I had an appointment after the race and so began the journey of planning my come back to professional sports car racing!!! How exciting!!
So here’s just a summary of some of the details needed to put this together:
• Learn the Grand-Am Rules – including what cars are eligible in which classes, and which would be the most competitive,
• Determine what teams would be good candidates, and get their contact information,
• Contact the manufacturers that support those teams,
• Define the budget, and develop a sponsorship and marketing strategy,
• Work on a testing schedule,
• Contact and work with people at the race track, the sanctioning body, the manufacturers, and the race teams,
• Get in shape!! – improve fitness, including strength, endurance, and flexibility,
• Pursue opportunities for lapping days at Bondurant, karting, and vintage races to get as much seat time as possible.
Mazda Motorsports USA said they would really like to have me race one of their RX-8 GT cars and that they would check with their teams. Speedsource out of Coral Springs, FL agreed to prepare the car that won the championship in 2010, so it’s going to be a great car! And it’s going to be fantastic for all the fans to see such a wide variety of race cars speeding around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the road course! There will be Corvettes, Mustangs, Porsches, Ferraris, prototypes, and of course Mazda’s and many other types on the track racing for class victories!
I’m excited about doing this blog and sharing my story of preparation. It’s the 20th anniversary of my rookie year at the 500 (where I won Rookie of the Year) and I just turned 65, so a lot to be excited about, and a lot of work to get done! So you are now going to be able to see and read about what it takes to get ready for just one race.