Hello, readers! I’m super stoked to finally be writing to you with news of my first win! We’ll get to all the mushy, gushy details in a bit, but first I need to fill you in on the week of the 500 and my first oval race.
I’m not a big planner. I like to do things as they come at me. But sometimes things come up that even I’m not full-on ready for.
I got a phone call on the Tuesday before the race from my manager, Steve Welk, at about 8 AM. That’s a bad start to any morning, but on top of that I had woken up with a wicked cold. The call was to inform me that I needed to be in Indianapolis the next day instead of the next night. Great… not! I quickly packed up all the stuff I thought I’d need: Helmet, suit, shoes, underwear, and all of the cold drugs I own. I made my way down to Eau Claire to pick up my lovely girlfriend, Maggie. Then we were off to Milwaukee, a five-hour drive from Birchwood, WI.
The next day we managed to make it to Indianapolis Motor Speedway at around 11 AM, just in time for our Mazda Road to Indy autograph session. My cold was in full swing as I was mingling with fans and signing hero cards. I apologize to anyone I may have gotten sick.
On Thursday morning I was back at IMS for the Mazda Road to Indy Summit. For me, the day was filled with eating DayQuil, blowing my nose, and driving one of the RaceCraft 1 Simulators. Again, I apologize to anyone who used the Simulator after me as you probably got sick. In between all of this, I managed to hear some very interesting talks from Josef Newgarden, Allen Bestwick, and also a fitness talk from Jim Leo of PitFit Training.
Finally Friday had arrived and with it more of being sick. But also, I was finally going to be driving race cars! The last time I had driven at Lucas Oil Raceway, things hadn’t gone so well. I really struggled with the concept of oval driving and also with the terror of driving in a circle really, really fast. I can’t emphasize enough how difficult and crazy oval racing is. Anyhow, I was determined to get the hang of it and master the art.
The first session went extremely well. I got up to speed fairly quickly and managed to stay consistent. In our second session I was able to start feeling the car a lot more instead of just worrying about not running into the walls. We made some changes during the session to improve the balance of the car, and then we tried a sticker set of tires. I had a good enough lap for 4th fastest! This was a huge improvement and a big confidence booster for me. In the final test session I did a full race distance run and had really competitive and consistent laps throughout. I felt ready for Saturday night.
On Saturday we had two more practice sessions. I used them to feel out both a good qualifying setup and a race setup. I was fastest in both sessions, which boosted my confidence even more. Then it was time for qualifying, which at an oval is a bit different because each car goes out by itself and does two timed laps, and the average of the two laps sets your position. I think a combination of nerves and missing the setup a bit set us back and put me in 6th for the start.
When the race got under way, I got a great jump on the start and instantly started battling for 5th with Clark Toppe. It took me about 14 laps to gain enough momentum to get past him. Once I caught up to 4th, I had a better feel for using the low line and got around in only two laps.
From there I was in the zone and my car was perfect. I ran down the top three positions and passed them within four laps! I then opened up a big gap and hit cruise control for the last 50 laps. It is crazy how slowly laps can go by when you’re in the lead. Steve was spotting for me and kept reminding me to take it one lap at a time.
It’s always a rush to win a race, but it’s even more of a rush to win your first race of a season or your first race in a new car! And it’s safe to say I’m even more of a fan of oval racing now. I seriously enjoyed the challenge of it, and the reward was pretty nice, too.
I have to say that this weekend wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if it wasn’t for the team at ArmsUp Motorsports, who kept working with me and getting my car working perfectly. My engineer John Walko needs a patent on his oval setup — it is freaking rad.
I’m excited to get to Toronto, but I also really enjoyed this break we had in June. I hope you all did, too. After this weekend’s race, I might even catch you all up on my down time. Spoiler alert: I live on a fishing resort in Northern Wisconsin, so fun and relaxation are at a maximum in the summer!
Thank you all for reading!