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Rising Star Racing Breaking Down Barriers for Young Up-And-Comers

Josef Newgarden and Spencer Pigot stood together not just as Ed Carpenter Racing teammates at last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual at Detroit races but also as two drivers who have benefited from the Rising Star Racing program.

The braintrust of local businessman and devoted race fan Art Wilmes, RSR is in its third season of breaking down financial barriers by introducing potential investors to promising young, sponsor-strapped American drivers.

Newgarden, 25, had already arrived in the Verizon IndyCar Series when he agreed to assist Wilmes with RSR. Newgarden and Wilmes identified two new upcoming talents in Pigot and Neil Alberico, who is in his first Indy Lights season.

“I realized there are a lot of guys like Newgarden when he was coming up, there was no guarantee he was going to make it to IndyCar even though he was super-talented,” said Wilmes, 59, of Jasper, Indiana. “You start listening and meeting people and it’s very tough in any form of racing, open wheel particularly, where kids that have talent get stymied because they don’t have any funds.

“I thought, ‘let’s focus on the young guys. Let’s find one or two really talented guys that have a good shot to make it. They have to have all the attributes, to be marketable, good with business people, have to be fast, have to win, and they have to have a really severe need for funds.’”

Newgarden, who enjoyed a career-best third place in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, credits Wilmes for his assistance.

“It’s great to be a part of that program,” Newgarden said. “I love to help Art and hopefully groom the next American drivers. We need more of them. For me, it’s cool to be a part of it as a driver and Art has helped me in more ways than one. I’ve been lucky enough to stay here for four and a half years, but he’s still helped me.”

When told of Wilmes’ admiration for Newgarden’s talent, Newgarden says the man behind RSR has that affinity for all of the drivers. That inspiration drives the program.

“It’s all Art, at the end of the day,” Newgarden said. “He’s the guy that helps fund the careers. He’s an aid to young drivers. He’s let me be a part of the program, which is cool, from more of a mentorship role.

“Art is the man. He does it for the right reasons. He does it because he cares about racing and he’s passionate about IndyCar racing in general. We need more people like that in this sport.”

RSR (risingstarracing.com) promotes events to get potential sponsors introduced to the likes of Pigot and Alberico. Pigot is a 22-year-old driver from Orlando, Florida. He finished 25th in his first Indy 500 while driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and has since landed a job with Ed Carpenter Racing to drive in road course races.

“Art wants to get more Americans in IndyCar,” Pigot said. “Back a few years ago, there weren’t really too many. Now there are a few more. There’s a lot of good guys up there fighting for race wins.

“I still have a lot to learn and to get used to, but I definitely think I belong in IndyCar.”

Wilmes couldn’t be more sold on Pigot, who won back-to-back titles in the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights series the previous two years. Pigot finished 17th and 18th in last weekend’s Detroit races.

“Spencer is just a special talent,” Wilmes said. “I had the pleasure of watching his last two years, where he won consecutive championships. My image of Spencer is he’s the guy always running up front. I just enjoy watching him race. I like watching guys race, but he’s just a master when he’s out there. He’s very precise, very businesslike, very consistent and he’s very even emotionally.”

The other driver sporting the RSR star logo on his helmet is Alberico, a 23-year-old Californian making the jump to Indy Lights this season after winning four races and finishing second in the Mazda series last year.

“Josef sums it up, ‘Neil is just cool,’” Wilmes said. “I have to tell you, if Josef Newgarden thinks you’re cool, you must really be cool.”

Newgarden repeated that assessment of the California surfer dude, saying, “Neil is the coolest cat in the paddock. He’s one of the coolest dudes ever.”

And Alberico aspires to make it in IndyCar. It’s the only objective.

“I have no interest being anywhere else but IndyCar,” he said. “I love the series. I love the people.”

He’s genuinely appreciative of how RSR has helped his career.

“It’s like anything else, it’s the people who make the difference on a race team,” he said. “It’s the people who believe in you, the people who are behind the business and the driver. It’s the people who make it operate and make it run.

“Art is a very passionate person and a huge racing fan. It’s a big reason why Rising Star is so successful, because of the people behind it. Everybody works together toward that one common goal, racing and being successful in IndyCar.”

Alberico was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see the recent Indy 500. He hopes he’ll be able to join Newgarden and Pigot for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” as soon as possible.

“If I get an opportunity the next year to drive an Indy car, that would be a huge blessing,” Alberico said. “If we’re not in IndyCar next year, maybe the year after. If not the year after, then maybe the year after that.”

Wilmes gushes about how Alberico has the talent and marketability to be another RSR success story.

“I’m enjoying watching him in the process of moving up to Indy Lights,” Wilmes said. “He’s the guy when you have him in a group of RSR drivers, and people say at the end of the day that kid has got it all, Neil has got it all.

“Neil is probably going to be the easiest marketable person you’ll ever run across. He’ll be good for the (Verizon IndyCar) Series in more ways than one. He’ll win.”

Wilmes is a managing partner at Milliman Professional Services, an international consulting firm with an Indianapolis office. He spent 18 months attending races and developing contacts to launch RSR.

“Our strength is understanding how to do business,” he said. “It has nothing to do with racing. It’s how you do business and how you use racing to do more business. The strength that I have is I help people to understand.

“The American fans want an American driver to cheer for. Secondly, from a business standpoint, it’s easier to sell. Third, you’ve got to limit your outreach. We’re not out to save the world. What we’re trying to do is help just a few drivers to get into open-wheel racing. Finding an American driver, the kids are out there.”

RSR is in the process of identifying three more young drivers for the program. The more RSR star logos in an Indy 500 field, the better.

“I once said if we can get 33 starters with that logo on the helmet, then maybe I can retire,” Wilmes said. “Then I will have done something. My objective is to fill the field with those guys.”

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