Indy’s 100th:Winning is the Sum of Many Parts | Part II

Posted on Saturday, June 04, 2011 at 7:05 AM. Comments (0)

The People

Despite the money spent to make it happen and the money to be won, the Indianapolis 500 is a race of “haves” and “have-nots” and there are far more “have-nots” than “haves”.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

Dan Wheldon sharing the milk

The large teams, Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, and Letterman Rahal bring in millions to run their operations. The middling teams KV Racing, Dreybold Rhinehart and other lesser knowns struggle all the time to bring in fresh money to keep going. Then there are the smaller one- and two-car efforts that rely on drivers who pay for their ride with either personal fortunes or corporate sponsors. They struggle to make the show and pray for the winnings to cover expenses. Although 33 cars line up to race at Indy, they are not all equal. Better funded teams have better equipment, better drivers and far less stress. But they do all have one thing in common. They are there because they are competitive and they love racing. While everyone comes to Indy to make money, money is only part of the story.

Dan Wheldon’s win was a great story and gives hope to everyone in the paddock. The Penskes and the Ganassis know that they were not beaten by a better driver or better equipment. It was race strategy and execution that allowed Weldon to win. And one more thing, a small thing called luck. His good luck and several other drivers’ bad luck.

Wheldon is a sympathetic character. He is talented, telegenic, and has a great story. He was cut from a permanent drive at the beginning of the year by lack of funding. Indy was his one chance this year to be noticed and perhaps pick up a ride for the remainder of the season or sign a contract with a big team for next season. He has won before and he knows just how important it is that the stars align for it to happen again. In an interview last week, he explained that he had several offers to drive but it was important that he have a car capable of winning. Car failure or a low place finish could mean the end of his career.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

When his friend Bryan Herta, a respected former top driver, now team owner, called to offer him a drive, Wheldon knew this wasn’t a top team and he bluntly explained his situation and asked one question, “Can you give me a car that can win?” His friend knew that the question wasn’t about a car; it was about a team that could execute under pressure, a team that could field equipment that was capable of winning the 500 mile race. That meant a team that would always get the same quality parts and pit lane support as the big guys. Tires and engines are the key components and getting the right parts is crucial. Those parts only go to the teams that the manufacturers deem capable of winning. And everyone in the pits knows this and knows who those teams are.

In the Winner’s Circle, when Dan Wheldon thanked Firestone and Honda he meant it and he had good reason. And all the people in the pits knew exactly what he meant. They took care of him. He got top stuff. As for his sponsors, those whose money made it possible, he mentioned them and he made their year. People who have never heard of Rast jeans before Sunday might just support a company that put its name on the side of a car that went against the big guys. Lots of people and companies at Indy won with Dan Wheldon.

But the biggest winner was the Indianapolis Speedway.

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