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Scheckter Has No Regrets about Fast, Fearless Career in INDYCAR, Indy 500

Tomas Scheckter has been transformed from his roaring early days through the INDYCAR SERIES.

Oh, he remains the energetic, playful and entertaining son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, but he is now a father of a 3-year-old boy and wholly immersed in leading his family’s farming business southwest of London. And get this: The driver who stirred up INDYCAR in the early 2000s and completely frustrated Eddie Cheever as a 21-year-old rookie is now 40 years old!

Yes, it’s true. Scheckter is 40 years old, living in the English hamlet of Overton, working in an industry he never thought imaginable – more on that in a minute – and appreciating life away from the sport he once took by storm.

Even Scheckter, a natural at the wheel, is surprised by the turn his life has taken.

“I didn’t think I’d make it to 22 let alone 40,” he said, laughing, in a recent interview. “I drove every lap like it was qualifying, and there would be times I’d be going so hard that I’d come on the radio and ask, ‘When is this race over?’ They’d come back and say it’s not even halfway, and I’d be like, ‘You’ve got to be (bleeping) kidding me!’

“But I was young and the danger (of high-speed oval racing) was lost on me. I just wanted to win.”

Although Scheckter competed in 118 races over 10 INDYCAR seasons, he came and went like the blur he was in the cockpit. His first INDYCAR race, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was emblematic of that. He was quickest in Friday practice, crashed on Saturday and took a lashing from his team owner – Cheever – after their third-lap battled pushed Cheever’s car into the outside wall.

“Uncalled for and stupid,” Cheever said at the time of Scheckter’s aggression.

But that was Scheckter, and he acknowledges it. In 12 races in 2001, the South African-born rookie won three poles, posted an average starting position of 6.3, won a fiercely contested race at Michigan Speedway and led the most laps (85) in the Indianapolis 500. Yet, six of his races ended with accidents, including Indy when he was leading by more than 10 seconds when his Infiniti-powered car drifted in Turn 4 and slammed the outside wall with less than 30 laps to go.

Scheckter was so talented that Panther Racing hired him to replace Sam Hornish Jr. when the two-time series champion left for Team Penske because team officials felt Scheckter was the only driver available capable of beating Hornish. Scheckter proved that in the 2005 race at Texas Motor Speedway by holding off oval master Hornish in the final 10 breath-holding laps.

Scheckter’s INDYCAR tour spanned nine teams and netted seven poles. He led the most laps in his first two “500s,” but he scored only one top-five finish, a fourth in 2003 while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. As fast as he consistently was in races, one in four in his career ended with a crash.

For better or worse, Scheckter was usually attracting attention.

“I wish the old Tomas could go back and start again,” he said. “But you can’t. Life goes on.”

Scheckter left the U.S. after the 2011 season and never looked back. He drove in one sports car race at the famed Silverstone road course in England. He walked away after that win and for years he disconnected with the sport.

In racing’s place came the family business. Today, Scheckter runs the 2,500-acre Laverstock farm, raising livestock primarily for the purpose of producing raw pet food for their brand, Nutriment, the United Kingdom’s third-largest such producer. The company’s website said its mission is “to maintain a farming environment that follows nature as closely as possible, using 21st-century science with the most environmentally friendly farming methods available.”

Among the company’s best-selling items is buffalo mozzarella.

Scheckter does not just sit atop the company’s proverbial pit stand without getting dirty. Rather, he said he learned the business “from the bottom up,” and he literally is hands-on.

He particularly enjoys that most of the employees and people he interacts with know nothing about the fast lane he once ran in.

“No clue,” he said. “I don’t talk about it, either. I train to keep fit, and I work. That’s it.”

Does he miss racing and the adrenaline that accompanies it?

“No,” he said, firmly. “I feel blessed to have walked out of it (healthy), and like a lot of people I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore.

“For a while, I didn’t watch (INDYCAR) or anything; I was annoyed by it. But that’s changed. I watch it now, and I have a lot of respect for the guys who are doing it.”

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