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USAC Star Windom Eager To Make Amends in Freedom 100

So how long did it take USAC champion Chris Windom to get past being ticked off about last year’s Turn 2 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his first Freedom 100 practice in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires?

“Until now,” Windom said after Monday’s long-awaited return on track. “The whole year. Until I got to come back.”

That’s because the crash ended his series debut before it could begin. It was like a cruel joke.

“No kidding,” Windom said. “I think we made 15 to 20 laps. I still don’t really know for sure what happened. I lost it off Turn 2. I got in dirty air and probably got in and out of the throttle too much. It was just little stuff that I don’t ever get to practice on, and I tried to come and learn it all in an hour.”

He’s got a second chance with David Byrd and Belardi Racing to make amends in Friday's Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires. He will start 10th in the No. 17 NOS Energy Drink car after a two-lap average qualifying speed of 191.557 mph.

“I took it a little more cautious this time, but I’m still really confident,” he said. “I think we’ve got a car to compete for a win.”

The 28-year-old driver from Canton, Illinois, grew up dreaming of racing in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He came to the track for the first time at 7 and was a fan of two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.

Over the years, as Windom established himself as a short-track racing star, he grew to appreciate Tony Stewart for the Hoosier native’s ability to race anything, be it Sprints and Midgets on short tracks or Indy cars and NASCAR stock cars on the largest stages.

Windom hopes to measure up to Stewart someday. The winner of 2017 USAC National Sprint Car and 2016 USAC Silver Crown championships – among other honors – wants to prove he can race anything, too.

USAC has a storied history of producing racers who became Brickyard legends, most notably four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, three-time “500” winner Johnny Rutherford, 1969 “500” winner Mario Andretti, 1963 “500” winner Parnelli Jones and the two-time Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard winner Stewart.

“It’s awesome to be out here,” Windom said, after signing autographs for fans and taking a couple of pictures. “It’s definitely an honor to be able to come back here. For David Byrd and Belardi Racing to give me another opportunity to come back and having NOS Energy Drink come onboard to help with the whole package, you don’t always get second chances at stuff, so I’m definitely not taking it for granted. I’m trying to make the most of what I got.

“I definitely want to have a strong showing. I want to finish the race. I don’t show up to a racetrack unless I plan on trying to win the race. That’s definitely the goal. I’m not going to do anything silly to put myself out of contention before I can compete for a win. I’m definitely here to win the race.”
Windom admitted his learning curve is steep. His competitors in Indy Lights have started six races this season. Windom is still learning his car.

“It’s not so much handling the car, it’s just learning everything,” he said. “From just sitting in it, it’s completely different from how we’re used to sitting in race cars. I’m just trying to get comfortable.

“Learning the air is a huge key. You’ve got to learn how to race in the air, then time your passes. That’s all stuff I’m trying to pick up on as quick as possible because I obviously don’t get a full year to practice and do that.”

He noticed when NTT IndyCar Series drivers James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist crashed in Turn 2. Windom has quickly become aware that the IMS 2.5-mile oval can be tricky with wind effects varying in each corner.

“That’s the toughest thing to learn with these things,” Windom said. “The cars I’m used to, you can go in and have a bobble and just recover from it real quick. These cars, you’re not recovering from a bobble. You’re going to be in the fence before you know it. I’m just taking it in as fast as I can and trying to sponge up as much information from everybody and keep learning and hopefully go compete for a win.”

It was important for Windom to distance himself from what happened last time when he returned to testing last Monday.

“I definitely was anxious coming into the day,” he said. “After getting to run the first morning set, my nerves have calmed down. I’m trying to stay as relaxed as I can. You’re not going to be any better if you’re super nervous every time you get in the car. You’ve got to try to keep mentally calm and physically calm.

“If you’re not going to learn to forget stuff like that, you’re not ever going to probably make a very good race car driver. You’re going to have hiccups. You’re going to have crashes. It’s bound to happen. You definitely don’t forget about it.”

Regardless of what happens at IMS, Windom won’t stick around long. He has another race Friday night at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Indiana.

“After I’m done here, I’m going to run a 100-lap Silver Crown race,” he said of the Carb Night Classic. “I've not won that race yet.”

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