Things are looking up for INDYCAR race control
It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about the start of a Verizon IndyCar Series season, but this year it’s actually happening.
A lot of the blame/praise goes to the hierarchy at the series’ headquarters of 16th and Polco, across the street from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Like many, I was dismayed by the resignation of Derrick Walker last year, but understood that he wasn’t given any tools or support to manage America’s premier open wheel racing series. Walker had some good ideas to move the sport forward; Walker had grand ideas for 2018 and beyond; he was met with denials of just about every positive promotion the former mechanic, engineer, team manager and team owner came up with. You’d quit too.
When Jay Frye got the nod to be the president of racing operations, I was pleased. After all, Frye’s been in the trenches at NASCAR, where he managed the Red Bull team that lasted a few years, then sank. Apparently you have to win to keep Red Bull moneys flowing, something Eddie Cheever Jr discovered when he worked with the energy drink in the last decade.
When Frye named Bill Pappas as vice president of competition and race engineering, that was another positive step for INDYCAR. Pappas, who has been in the this series as long as I can remember, primarily as a race engineer for winning teams – including Juan Pablo Montoya’s first Indianapolis 500 victory in 2000 – isn’t removed from current technology; he lived it last year as technical director for KV Racing Technology. Plus he has the big prerequisite of having schooled and lived in Indiana for most of his life.
Just before its two-day Test in the West on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) oval, INDYCAR finally announced a permanent, three-person group of stewards. The one thing that stands out in my mind about these three stewards (when Mark Miles announced them, he kept saying three stewards, three stewards, three stewards – I kept waiting for him to make the error of calling them ‘stooges’ but he never did), is their collective passion for the sport.
Max Papis still drives in a variety of series and will be competing in at least both of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup road course races this year. The balance of his driving schedule isn’t set in stone, but at least the Italian will have his time behind the wheel to keep up with current parameters. No one who’s ever had contact with Papis can doubt his passion for open wheel racing – heck, any kind of racing “You guys know well the love I have for the sport,” he said when his hiring was announced.
Arie Luyendyk, who still holds the one- and four-lap records for an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has been part of stewarding operations in the past. He drives the two-seater pace vehicle on occasion, coaches up-and-coming drivers (and those that need an extra bit of help, particularly on ovals) and is a huge cheerleader for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Finally, there’s Dan Davis. Davis is the former chief of Ford Racing and was with the company when it was heavily involved in CART and Champ Car, in addition to its work in NASCAR and NHRA. Dan has always had an innate love of open wheel racing and that hasn’t changed a whit. Frye decided he would be chief steward of this trio and he’s going to do an amazing job of working with the volatile Papis and the totally by-the-book Luyendyk. And yes, Dan Davis has a great love of all form of motorsport, but an especially broad adoration for open wheel racing and INDYCAR. “I am passionate for motorsports and I am passionate for open-wheel, and that’s why I’m here,” Davis proclaimed.
Two of the three stewards were on-site at PIR and learning more about the 22 teams, cars, drivers for whom they’ll be responsible. Their trial by fire (hopefully that’s not literal) begins next weekend on the street/airport circuit at the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, as the IndyCar Series begins its 2016 season.
By Anne Proffit