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Indianapolis 500 Fly Over, 2017 - Photography by Jim Shulin

Indy 500 Wrap-up with Rick Pope (Chairman, TFO)

So it was only a couple of months ago that Ricardo Juncos purchased 4 Indy cars and decided to enter the 101st running of the biggest racing event in the world.  His team has great experience and has enjoyed great success in both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights circuits.  It was a logical next step although rife with daunting challenges – not the least of which is the level of competition and experience of most all the greatest racing teams in the sport.

Ricardo as it turned out, is incredibly humble and one of the most loyal people I’ve ever met … the epitome of both a leader and a team builder.  I realized the same about his beautiful Brazilian wife, Danielle and his father, son and relatives who made the trip from his home country of Argentina and from his residence in Florida.  Every crew member including his drivers were quick to welcome us into their wonderful family and glad to answer all of our “rookie” questions.  Only my partner, Tom Lydick has closely followed racing while Frank – Paul King (FP), Jim Shulin, Ronda Webb and I went to the event without a clue, but with great enthusiasm.

In a word, it was incredible.  Watching these team members work is worthy of a business leadership study … from 7 second pit stops to a rebuild of the 11 car that Spencer Pigot unfortunately wrecked during time trials.  The car was back on the track the next day which not only impressed us, but also was widely talked about by other teams.  That level of loyalty and commitment to success can’t be purchased.  I can’t resist a special shout out of thanks to Jayson Marksberry (COO), his wonderful wife Rose and Chief (retired) Mike Dove who all treated us like both royalty and close friends.  Mike of course represents TFO in the Great Lakes and is an incredible bass angler.  He is responsible for introducing us to the Juncos Racing team and we’re ever so grateful.

Friday morning started with a tour of the new “shop” … a 60,000 plus foot garage with bays, transport trucks, offices, lots of trophies  and even a simulation room where the different circuit cars can take laps on most every racetrack in the world.  The cars that actually race have downloadable information that can re-create running the track both at the shop and at the garage (Gasoline Alley) inside Indy Motor Speedway (IMS).  Each race is reviewed thoroughly by both driver and engineers immediately after leaving the track.

Next was the garage inside IMS – two bays with both Indy Light cars undergoing final inspection and pre-race preparation.  Apparently most of the Indy Light races are road courses – not ovals – and the driving skills and car performance are quite a bit different.  The lead driver, Californian Kyle Kaiser finished last but endured the race with an almost flat right rear time due to debris on the track from a crash in the first couple of laps.  That said, he remains the points leader for the Indy Light Championships as a result of his brilliant management of a crippled car … there are no pit stops allowed in this 40 lap/100 mile race.  Most of us watched the entire race from the pits and near the finish line.  To be 20 yards or so from these 200 MPH cars was awesome and Kyle was both humble and a true gentleman. Rumor has it that he’ll drive an Indy car soon and I’ll definitely be a fan.

Saturday was a day to enjoy the track, hang out in the pits and take in the IMS experience without any races.  It is a big place and is attended by something over 300,000 fans on race day.  We finished the day with dinner at Fogo de Ciao with Ricardo, his family, drivers and some of the crew.  It was a great opportunity to spend quite conversation with Ricardo, Kyle and Sebastian Saavedra who finished 15th in Sunday’s race.  Interestingly we talked more about fishing than race cars.

Finally, the big day arrived.  We started at the shop and were met with a police escort at 10 AM.  It was a good thing as it took nearly an hour to get to the hospitality suite inside IMS.  From there, we “fought” crowds of thousands of people and worked our way to the viewing suite, inside the track about a quarter mile from turn 4 where the long straightaway allowed for some of the most aggressive driving and passing going into turn 1 – just past the finish line.  The mass of spectators was beyond my ability to anticipate and the cars, with lap average speeds of 230 would scream into this last stretch at what must have been 240+ MPH.  Few prop planes cruise at such speeds.

Thanks to an inside room with bar, buffet and television, we could react to the crowd roar and run inside to see the crashes – at least one by Dixon (pole sitter) was horrific and amazingly, he walked away.  It was obvious that there were about 6 cars that dominated the field and the race was exciting to the end.  Throughout the race, we even had access to the pits and were able to watch the pit crews fuel, change tires and tweak car adjustments from about 20 feet away.  These guys were really good.  The smell of exhaust, burning rubber and the high pitched screams of Chevy and Honda engines literally reverberated throughout the track.

Bottom line, the experience was incredible.  Finishing both cars at 15th and 18th left Juncos Racing very pleased with overall performance and I will guarantee that this fine group of folks will be formidable competitors at Indy going forward.

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