CHAMPCAR/CART: Bryan Herta backgrounder

BRYAN HERTA BACKGROUNDER ------------------------ Residence: Dublin, Ohio Birthdate: May 23, 1970 Height: 5-11 Weight: 150 Personal Notes: Saw first race at Danbury, Conn., Fairgrounds in 1976 and determined to be a race car...

BRYAN HERTA BACKGROUNDER ------------------------

Residence: Dublin, Ohio Birthdate: May 23, 1970 Height: 5-11 Weight: 150 Personal Notes: Saw first race at Danbury, Conn., Fairgrounds in 1976 and determined to be a race car driver from that moment ... A bachelor ... Is currently an economics major at Ohio State University ... Enjoys golf, deep sea fishing and jet skiing.

In outward appearance, A.J. Foyt could not have chosen a more contrasting driver to himself than Bryan Herta, the defending Indy Lights champion who will drive Foyt's Copenhagen Racing Lola Ford-Cosworth in the PPG Indy Car World Series.

While Herta is slight of build and sporting a full head of black hair, Foyt is robust and his thinning brown hair is edged in steely gray. While Herta's jaunty gait fairly bounds with enthusiasm, Foyt's noticeable limp testifies to the pain and injuries he has endured. While Herta's rich brown eyes are framed by wire-rimmed glasses, Foyt's grey-blue eyes are still eagle-sharp in the cockpit.

But A.J. knows looks can be deceiving.

Conversation with the two men only heightens the contrast as Foyt's Houstonian drawl sparkles with colorful language used to emphasize a point rather than offend. Herta's measured responses are articulated without accent thus hinting at his well-traveled childhood that saw him live in the Midwest and on both coasts by the age of 10.

But A.J. knows that actions speak louder than words.

One man crowding, the other one approaching 25, what do they have in common? What they share is a gift -- an innate talent for driving race cars -- and an attitude of the mind. They share 'the feel' for a race car and the intense desire to win.

More than anything else, A.J. knows what it takes to win.

Winning. For A.J. the past glows with accomplishment, for Bryan the future is bright with potential. Together they believe they can make it happen with Foyt's Copenhagen Racing team.

Herta's road to Indy Car racing was amazingly short, unfunded and in some ways, fortuitous, considering that he lacked a racing heritage or one steeped in wealth, What he did have was unbounded talent, total dedication and great timing.

Having determined that he wanted to be a race driver early in life, Herta persuaded his father to buy him a go-kart. Six years in karts and six championships later, Herta enrolled in the Skip Barber Series in 1988 to win 14 out of 18 races and the title. That effort netted him a few free races in the Barber Saab Pro Series, which with the help of friends and creative maarketing, Herta parlayed into two full season of racing. The second year yhe won the championship by winning four races and finishing in the top three 11 times in 12 starts.

"All through this there were little bumps," Herta revealed. "I crashed a couple of cars, but we had friends, a lot of different people who pitched in to keep me going. I never would have made it to Indy car without them."

He used the $78,000 in purse money and $100,000 Career Enhancement Bonus to finance his entry into the Indy Lights series. Working with Brian Stewart and the Landford Racing team, Herta hit his stride by mid-season, but he knew that his sponsor wasn't returning and he wouldn't have another $178,000 to fund his effort.

About that time, Steve Horne, who had bowed out of IndyCar racing, contacted Herta about driving for the new Indy Lights team that Horne was setting up for 1993. Herta accepted.

From the start, of Horne's Tasman Motorsports Group was a title contender. Herta won seven of 12 races including the final four of the season. He won a record eight pole positions. And he won the use of a 1994 Lola chassis to ease his entry into the PPG Indy Car World Series.

Over the winter, Herta did some testing with the Newman-Haas team, but he still planned to drive an Indy car for Horne. Although Herta didn't have sponsorship for a full season of IndyCar racing, he hoped to drive in the Indy 500 which he entered with Horne's team. Delays in taking delivery on the 1994 Lola prompted Horne to contact Foyt about conducting Herta's Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway. Foyt agreed.

Only days before, Foyt had released his driver and was looking for a replacement. After working with Herta, Foyt believed he had found one and they worked out the details with Horne, whose sponsorship plans did not materialize after all.

After signing with Foyt, Herta commented on working with Indy's first four-time winner, saying: "It's a fantastic opportunity for me to come into IndyCar racing with a top team and especiallly to be associated with A.J. Foyt because I know I'll be able to learn a lot from him. There are so many mistakes you can make, but because of A.J.'s experience I think he can help me to not make as many mistakes. He can guide me and tell me some things to watch out for before they happen and hopefully keep me out of trouble."

Throughout his career, Herta has proved a quick study and even quicker to credit his mentors. In karting it was Hollis Brown, the noted engine builder who owns a kart shop in Southern California. In the Indy Lights series, Stewart gave Herta the chance to compete and to win which he did at Toronto in his rookie season. The following year Horne showed him how to dominate in the Indy Lights and opened the door to the IndyCar series, and ironically to Foyt's team.

Yet it is Herta's father, Tom, that the son credits with being the greatest influence on his life. Bryan reveals: "I'd say my father is my best friend. He never pushed me into racing, but he's always been supportive of me. He's always been there to help me out whenever he can. It's great to have him there because he's just there for me and I know it."

Herta's rapid ascent in the world of motorsports -- and his recent move into IndyCar racing with A.J. Foyt's team -- seems at first glance most fortuitous. In fact, Herta has often joked with his friends saying: "I lead a charmed life."

But A.J. knows you make your own luck.

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