Friday, May 29, 2009

Mega Milwaukee Mile

I am here at the incredible Milwaukee Mile and am all ready to go for the race here this weekend. I had the opportunity to come test here a few weeks back. It was well worth it! After Indianapolis which was 2.5 miles, flat out at 190 mph, Milwaukee is very very different. The oval here is a mile long with very limited banking. As a result, you have to lift at both ends of the track. The track is part of the state fairgrounds and so there is one big grandstand down the front straight. That is very different to Indy which seats 300-350 thousand people. I am looking forward to getting back on track as it is more like a road course with two 180 degree high speed corners than an oval. Also, my race engineer won this race last year and made everyone else look ordinary. So I know I will have a good car and hope that my inexperience here and on ovals in general (this will be my 3rd ever!) doesn't hurt us too much. Practice starts tomorrow morning at 8:15 for an hour, then second practice at 11:30 or 12:30 for 30 minutes, and the last on track session for Saturday will be Qualifying at 2:30PM. There will an autograph session at 5:30 at the track with all Indy Lights and Indy Car drivers in the paddock. Sunday the pre-race starts at 11 with the Husar's House of Fine Diamonds 100 presented by Charter starting at 11:30. It will be 100 hard laps around this track and tire wear may be an issue depending on the weather. The forecast looks good at the moment, but this near the lake, things can change by the minute.

For a cool online article, check this out!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weekend of Fun

I sit here at the desk on Tuesday morning and just shake my head at the weekend I have had. My weekend really started on Thursday morning when my race weekend began. Then on Friday, after my race, I watched the Miller Lite Carb Day concert at the Speedway. It was 3 Doors Down and I like a lot of their music. I had to watch from afar as the crowd was enormous! I was too tired to fight my way to the front of the group and so I watched the concert and the entertaining crowd at the same time. Then I headed to downtown Indianapolis for dinner (Weber Restaurant) with my parents. I was very frustrated with the race result, but after talking through everything with them and listening to their perspectives, I was feeling a lot better about everything.

Saturday, I had lunch with my parents at Panera Bread. It was my first time eating there and I loved it. The only other experience I had with a Panera was through a fantastic diabetes blogger, Kerri Sparling. Her post Employee of the Month was a great story and a good introduction to a very tasty lunch place! We had about an hour to kill before they had to get to the airport for their flight back to CA. My mom wandered into Bath and Body Works while my dad and I soaked up the sun on a bench outside. We commented on the parking meters in the mall (Seriously? Pay for parking to buy things at the shops?) the growing humidity with the heat, the building thunderheads and the possibility of rain during the 500 on Sunday. My dad was happy to let me go to the race while he could watch it from the comfort of the couch from home (and fast forward through all the commercials). My mom came out after finding an appropriate thank you present for the wife of my tire guy (and yes 'tire guy' is an official technical team designation......sorta) who has been putting me up while I am staying here in Indy. We walked into Barnes and Noble as I was completely out of reading material and I found three books I hadn't read on the bargain priced aisle. Score! I tend to go through books like they are newspapers and while some people have pointed out that libraries do exist, my travel schedule makes that more complex. I packed my parents off to the airport and came 'home' and took a nap! I love days off when I don't feel guilty about taking a nap or just lounging around. I went out to dinner with the team principal and then headed in to Broad Ripple to see what the nightlife would be like on the 500 weekend. Also, I was planning on meeting up with some friends I went to High School with who had just graduated from Purdue. They came to see me race and were staying the weekend to experience the 500 up close. As they had been to school here for 4 years and had never gotten to Indy for the race, they figured they should in their last year. I called it a reasonably early night and headed home.

My alarm on Sunday went off early enough for me to watch the Monaco Grand Prix live. I have seen either the 500 or the Monaco GP the last few years, but never both on the same day (because of time differences or TV availability). This year I was determined to watch every lap of both. After the race, I grabbed my stuff and headed out to the Speedway. There was already traffic at 10AM- 3 hours before the race started and parking within 5 blocks of the racetrack was full! Walking through the city of Speedway towards the Speedway I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the event. There were people everywhere! The 5 lane street leading into the track (16th Street) was a sea of people. It was unbelievably cool. I knew the size of the grandstands and knew that they were usually full, but wow! I walked into the garage area and walked around on pit lane. The atmosphere was already electric and it was still 2 hours before the green flag. My team had arranged for some of its guests to be in a suite in Turn 2, right at the track side level. I walked out there and got ready for the start. Then I realized that Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP) was in the suite next to us with a group of players and their wives. Very cool!

The race was good and the crowd was amazing. In the last 5 laps, you could see the whole grandstand moving as people stood up for the run to the finish. It was like an ocean moving in all these different colors. I have been to great races and neat events, but I have never experienced anything as big as that. The sheer size of everything made the biggest impact on me.

Then I came home, went to bed early and slept over 12 hours! :)

Here's a photo from the suite balcony (and I think the big guy in the black in the foreground plays for the Colts...and if he doesn't he should!). Check out the full Turn 2 grandstand in the background:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Frantic Freedom 100

Today's Freedom 100 was a lot of fun even though I didn't get the result I wanted. We were pretty confident as a team heading into the race. My teammate was 6th on the grid and I was 7th. I didn't have the greatest of starts and lost a few spots early on. Then I avoided the spinning Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann moving me back inside the top 10 as we circulated under the first yellow flag. Then we went green again and I started to move begin to move through the pack when there was a two car crash ahead of me in Turn 1 involving Ana Beatriz and her teammate Gustavo Yacaman. They hit the outside wall and spun to the inside. I was lucky I could keep the car high and get past them. This put me 9th on the restart. After a short 3 lap stint of green, it went yellow for debris in Turn 4. On the restart, the car ahead of me, Andrew Prenderville, had a car failure and I was lucky to avoid him. This meant it took me a few laps before I caught Mike Potekhen. I then had a big tow down the back straight and went to the low side of him into Turn 3. I was alongside of him and he kept moving down the track towards me. I had to drop my left front tire below the white line and he kept coming. He finally moved so far down the track that he hit my right front tire with his left rear and because he was chopping down so aggressively, he spun across my front to the bottom of the track. The contact bent my steering arm and the car took off towards the outside wall. I managed to get it under control and bring it into pit lane, but my day was done.

I really think we had a car for the top 5 or 6 towards the end of the race. It was a shame but when we get some luck, we will be close to the front consistently at the end of the races. I am really looking forward to Milwaukee next week. It is totally different than Indianapolis and there is much more of a driver talent involved. Plus, we had a good test there and should have a leg up on some of the other drivers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Breaking the 200 MPH Barrier

Today was practice and qualifying for the Freedom 100 and the on track debut of the new color scheme. And it went really well! I had the fastest lap of the day in practice 1. The car was really good and felt awesome, especially running in traffic which will be very important for tomorrow's race. I could put the car wherever I wanted and run closely behind other cars at speed. Also, other people were having issues with tire wear on the right rear. But not me! We ran a full race distance on a set of tires and had no wear issues. I had a big tow to do the quick lap, but the fact I could run so close and keep the throttle wide open bodes well for the race. On my fastest lap, the lap time was 46.78 seconds, an average speed of 192.4mph. On that lap headed into Turn 3, I saw a top speed of 202mph!!!! I was telling everyone we had repainted the car into a 'fast' color, and sure enough!

Then we had qualifying in the afternoon. It went well, but wasn't without drama. I had drawn 21st in the order for qualifying out of 22 cars. So when I was ready to warm up the engine, the starter wouldn't work. So the crew guys said they thought they could push me. Well the first attempt- nothing. Second attempt with some engine starter fluid- it kicked over, but didn't start. The third attempt (with one mechanic fully out of breath, the spotter wheezing from an asthma attack and the other mechanic convinced he hadn't run that far since High School!) it finally caught. I kept the revs on the engine up to make sure it stayed alive. Then when it was time for me to take to the track, the crew helped push me to make sure I didn't stall it. I kept it running and had a solid qualifying effort. Two laps full throttle at the limit around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is definitely a great feeling. My times put me seventh on the grid. From there, I can have a really good race. I think that the last 10-15 laps is when it will really show who has a good car and who doesn't. That is when people will start moving forward hard or going backwards hard. It should be a great race and lots of fun!

I then went to a dinner with some people from my sponsor, Novo Nordisk. They launched the new livery of the car and it is great to have them on hand to show them the atmosphere of the Indy 500 up close. And the food was fantastic in downtown Indianapolis. Now I am ready for a good night's sleep and a great race tomorrow.

TV Reminder: The Freedom 100 will be shown live on Versus TV at 12:30PM Eastern (9:30 Pacific) as part of the Carb Day TV coverage.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fired Up for the Freedom 100!

I am so overwhelmingly excited for this race weekend. I spent all of today out at the racetrack and I cannot wait to get it all started. I went and looked at the new paint on the car at the workshop on Monday. I was a little afraid it wasn’t the exact right color, but once we got the car out in the sunlight and got the sponsor logos on the car to match, it is perfect. Also, the matching crew shirts showed up from the manufacturer today and they look so professional! They match the car and sponsor’s look perfectly. All in all it was a great day out at the track!

Let me start from the beginning…. I woke up to a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the meteorologists are predicting good weather through our race on Friday. I was whistling before I had left the driveway! I swung by a Starbucks to get a coffee and then out the Speedway. Today was Community Day at the track and so fans were out in the droves to attend both Indy Car and Indy Lights autograph sessions, pay some extra money to drive their own road car around the track, and wander through the garage and pit areas. The IMS museum had pulled a lot of the previous Indy 500 winning cars out to pit lane for display. It made me feel really safe comparing cars from 20 years ago to today! I digress- as I walked in from the car park I could smell the hot dog stand food, sunscreen and hear kids already having a great time. Not only was it a great day to be alive, it was a fantastic day to be at the racetrack…any racetrack would have been good, but since it was Indianapolis, it was very special. Then it was time for my autograph session and as always the line of people were very friendly, appreciative and always quick to wish each driver the best of luck. It always serves to remind me why we put on such a show. Don’t get me wrong- I love to drive for it’s own sake, but doing it for the fans adds another great element.

After the autograph session, it was lunchtime where I was informed the IRL had randomly chosen me for a drug screening. There were a whole group of drivers and crew members chosen and wasn’t a big deal. It did lead to an interesting conversation regarding diabetes, insulin usage and the fact that synthetic insulin is on the IOC’s banned substance list. I remember my endocrinologist, Dr. Anne Peters (a saint on earth!), talking about arguing Gary Hall Jr’s case to the IOC before his Olympic swims. As I understand it, she had to prove that she was only prescribing the insulin needed to bring him back to a level playing field and not an unfair advantage. I am not sure of the mechanics or chemistry in the body, but some people (without diabetes) operating outside the rules use synthetic insulin to bulk up somehow. So after a very interesting conversation regarding that, it was back to the team to oversee the new logos going on the car. And WOW was it looking good!

I headed back to the truck to organize the shirts for my crew. Also, sat in the front office and did a phone interview with for a print article in the next month. Then it was time to change into my suit, check the seat belt fit and make sure I was perfectly comfortable in the car. Then we pushed the car out to the pit lane and the ‘yard of bricks’ for a photo shoot. The emotion of a newly painted car pushing down the pit lane at Indianapolis with my name on the side was almost too much for me. It really was a very special moment.

Then it was back into street clothes and head to Macaroni Grill where I am writing this in the waiting area. My mom and dad have just landed at the Indianapolis airport (I saw their plane on final approach as I was driving out of the track) and are headed up here to eat dinner with me.

With all the work the crew has put in since we tested here a couple of weeks ago, I am very confident heading into the race weekend. We have done the best job we could so far and I believe we should be strongly in the top-10 all race weekend (well 'race week' as we race on Friday!).

Here is a decent photo of the car with me in it from my iPhone:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Headed for Indy!

(From the airplane yesterday)

I am currently on the plane flying from Los Angeles to Indianapolis (with a quick run through Dallas/ Fort Worth airport- literally!). I had an awesome week at home. I had some really good meetings with sponsors and investors keeping them up to date with my progress, my travel schedule and mostly how I’m feeling about the racing. The biggest talking point was what it was like to drive at Indy. My first impressions have not faded at all- I still think it is one the most special places I have ever driven. In talking about it, I still get goosebumps. I was also lucky enough to spend some time with my family on Mother’s Day, hang out with my friends and get out of the ‘office’. I went cycling and hiking, ate at a few places I had never been before as well as a couple old favorites I really miss when I am on the road. I also got some good rest and am raring to get back to the track.

I have been to ‘big’ races all over the world- Monaco Grand Prix, Macau Grand Prix, Long Beach Grand Prix, a Moto GP race. I have even been to qualifying at the 500 before, but being a part of the whole ‘Month of May’ is a totally different experience. Having a permanent credential that says Indy Lights Driver on it makes you a part of the action and it gives you a true idea of what the Indianapolis 500 is all about. The history, the racing, the spectators, the yellow shirts directing traffic with their whistles, the city getting involved- all of it is a huge part of the ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’. When I was in town for the test, I went to the mall to pick up a gift for my mom for Mother’s Day. In the candle store, the saleswoman asked if I was going to the 500! Now as I head back to Indianapolis for my race, I can’t wait to be a part of it all. My dad has had success at the Speedway with cars he designed and engineered; now I am ready to leave my mark as a driver.

There are a couple of other exciting reasons I am looking forward to the coming week. Firstly, one of my sponsors, American Diabetes Wholesale, is launching a Share-A-Story contest called GlucoStories on Monday. The people at ADW were so inspired by my story about continuing to race after my diabetes diagnosis that they wanted to share that story with the online community and see what other inspirational stories about diabetes are out there. The grand prize is a trip for two to my last race of the year at Homestead in October with airfare, hotel and the chance to see me race. There are some other really cool prizes and I am very excited to be a part of it. Join the race to put the most diabetes stories on the internet here!

The second reason I can’t wait to get this week started is that I will be unveiling a new paint scheme on the race car. The new colors were being put on the car last week and after the mechanics get the car rebuilt, we will be launching the new title sponsorship for the Freedom 100 and the rest of the season. Part of that sponsorship is custom designed crew shirts for my engineer and mechanics. I can’t wait to show it off and hopefully it is as fast on track as it looks on paper!

TV Reminder: The Freedom 100 from Indianapolis will be shown LIVE on Versus TV on Friday May 22nd at 12:30PM Eastern (9:30AM Pacific). For those of you that may be digitally recording it, it will be shown as part of the Miller Lite Carb Day on-track activities. (As a side note, it is called ‘Carb Day’ as it is the last day of practice for the Indy Cars before the Indianapolis 500. Back when the engines had carburetors, it was the last chance to tune the carburetors’ fuel settings. It has nothing to do with the carbohydrates in Miller Lite beer which just happens to sponsor the days festivities including a 3 Doors Down concert after our race.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Magical Matilija

So my crazy travel schedule has meant that I haven't been home a lot recently. In fact, before last Saturday, it had been before the Kansas race when I was last home and that was only for about as well week with the Long Beach Grand Prix stuck in the middle. Well this time is for just a week as well. I got home from Indianapolis last Saturday after testing at the Speedway on Tuesday and Milwaukee on Thursday. There were a few good reasons why it made sense to make the trip home this week. Firstly (and most importantly) I wanted to be home for Mother's Day last Sunday. My mom is such a huge inspiration and fountain of knowledge that I wanted to celebrate with her at home. Secondly, there isn't much going in Indy this week and my car would be in the carbon and paint shop (more on that later!). Thirdly, I was missing my dog!

So I got back to Camarillo last Saturday for only 7 days and the mad rush to do things I can only do at home started. Go out to eat at restaraunts that are only here in town, see and hang out with my friends, celebrate my friend Cory's birthday (my mountain biking partner from this video) at Bucca di Bepo, have breakfast and lunch meetings with sponsors here in the county....oh yeah and play with my dog! In amongst all of this, I was determined to take some 'mental health' time and do some fun stuff.

Well I got out of the office this afternoon and did exactly that. I went hiking up in the Matilija area north of Ojai. The weather the last few days have been overcast and kinda gross, but today dawned sunny and warm The temperature was in the low 80's when we started the hike. We walked for about 45 minutes up, found a nice shady place to rest, wading in the running creek and then headed back down. It was only about an hour and a half hike but it really relaxed me! The sage smelled fantastic and the views were amazing. It was an incredible hike and I can't wait to go back when I have 4-6 hours to hike in, have a picnic and hike out. Here are the photos from my phone:

A short note about the allusion I made earlier about my race car being in the paint shop. There will be a grand unveiling next week in the week leading up to my big race at Indy- the Freedom 100. Stay tuned!

Also, I found out today the the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 will be shown live as part of Versus TV's coverage of Miller Lite Carb Day from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday May 22nd.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Fastest Drive of my Life

I spent today testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Team PBIR #35 Firestone Indy Lights car. And WOW! It is racetrack I have watched on TV since I was a boy. I even remember talking my mom into letting me stay home from school on the Tuesday after Memorial Day one year to watch the Indianapolis 500 (it had been rained out on Sunday and Monday). The history here is awe-inspiring to say the least. This year's 500 will be the 94th annual and the IMS is entering into it's three year Centennial Era celebration. Tomorrow, May 6th, will be the official opening of Indianapolis 500 practice but today was the Indy Lights practice time.

As a racetrack, the Speedway is very different to all the other ovals. Firstly, it is longer, 2.5 miles long. Secondly, it has two long straights (5/8 mile each), 4 corners and 2 short chutes connecting Turns 1 and 2 as well as 3 and 4. So it essentially is a rounded off rectangle. It seats nearly 400,000 on 500 Sunday. The banking is also very flat compared to Homestead and Kansas. And since it is a lot older than the other racetracks, it also pretty narrow. As a result the sight picture into Turn 1 is like heading down a tunnel with all you can see is a white wall in front of you.

So today is the first time there has been any significant running since the winter. As a result, there was a lot of dust to start with and no rubber down on the track surface. A few years ago, they diamond ground the track and it has a lot of grip, but to start it eats the tires away very aggressively. We only ran 27 laps on our first set of Firestone Firehawks before we got to the canvas (cords) on the tires. Then since it was only 10AM, we sat around for a while until other cars had run and put some more rubber down. For an idea of how much fun it is to drive here, I am full-throttle the whole way around the track. 2.5 miles in under 48 seconds all day. My quickest lap was the last lap of the day. I had timed a big run on another car to catch a tow. As a result, I was in the top of 6th gear and did a lap in 47.25 seconds. That equates to 190.441 miles per hour average. On that lap, I saw 199 mph at the end of the back straight headed into Turn 3. That is the fastest I have ever gone in a race car. The only time I have gone quicker is on an airplane! When you are going that fast, you cover the length of an American football field every 1.05 seconds. That's fast!!! All in all, it was a great day and a wonderful first experience at the Speedway. I ended the day 7th and think that in race trim and even in qualifying spec, we solidly in the top-10.

I can't wait to get back here for the race, the Freedom 100, May 22nd. And to stay and watch the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 May 24th.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Quick Hello

The last week or so, I have been very busy traveling from Kansas to Palm Beach, Florida and then on to Indianapolis where I am now. In that time, I spoke at American Diabetes Wholesale's Diabetes Educator of the Year award brunch at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, made a new seat in the race car, got excited about testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tomorrow, read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and had dinner with an old engineer friend of my dad's here in Indy. And while that may not seem like a lot, it has kept me super busy! Plus all the flying has been down at awkward times so I have been getting to places late at night and getting on planes in the wee hours of the morning. I don't know why I book flights so early in the morning, other than the price tends to be right to fly at horrible times!

Now on to what I am doing at the moment. I am in Indianapolis as I mentioned earlier. I got into town on Saturday afternoon and went straight to the Team PBIR race shop up in Brownsburg. The shop is in a really neat industrial park with units from Kenny Bernstein Racing, John Force Racing, Pedregon Racing, Tony Schumacher's shop, BEAST, as well as a lot of junior formula teams. Then Sunday I went back to the shop in the early afternoon and trimmed the excess foam from the seat. Making a seat in the race car is quite a process and when I have time, I plan on blogging a rough how- to guide! Then I went and had a really pleasant evening with a friend of my dad's. He is an engineer for an Indy Car team here in town and he has a beautiful farm house just out in the woods. He also has two awesome Springer Spaniels- Katie and Jake. They are both very accomplished hunting dogs and are so much fun to have around. Their personalities are so easy to see!

Now I am heading out to lunch with another friend here in town before heading down to the Speedway. I am so excited about driving there tomorrow. I put it best in this article about Indy being 'hallowed ground.' It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

Here's a photo of me mid seat making: