INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- On any given race weekend, there are thousands -- sometimes millions -- of people with their eyes on Tomas Scheckter. Every one of them focuses on different aspects of Tomas' performance -- from the mechanics on the crew, the...
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- On any given race weekend, there are thousands -- sometimes millions -- of people with their eyes on Tomas Scheckter. Every one of them focuses on different aspects of Tomas' performance -- from the mechanics on the crew, the engineers in the timing stands, to the fans watching in the stands above.
Kieth Fourie doesn't engineer IndyCars, hasn't changed a tire on the yellow #4 or worked Tomas through lapped traffic from the spotter's stand. But that doesn't mean he hasn't played a major role in the development of the Pennzoil Panther driver. His work took place years ago -- when he was Scheckter's first driving instructor back in South Africa. Fourie taught Tomas everything from what it meant when a kart was "loose" and "tight" as they made their mark on the South African karting scene. And even at eight-years-old, Scheckter was showing some of the same fearless characteristics that make him one of the Indy Racing League's most talented stars.
"Right from the beginning, he showed no fear of speed," Fourie said recently. "Tomas was absolutely dedicated to the program. He would give me feedback about the kart sometimes even when I didn't want it -- but when he had something to say, he was always right. He's got a wonderful mechanical feel."
Fourie worked with his own sons for awhile, but they grew older and were not as interested in hitting the racing circuits. It was at that point Fourie started to work with Scheckter and his brother Toby. Tomas was eight when he started karting and it didn't take long before he was climbing the ranks in his hometown of Cape Town and making a name for himself.
With a hint of laughter, Fourie recalls Tomas' first year in 100 cc go-karts, during a race in Johannesburg, South Africa, when the young driver had spun his kart on several occasions and was struggling to finish the race.
"I told him if he spins again we're packing it up and heading home," Fourie recalls. "So he goes back out, spins again, nearly takes the entire field with him, but never lifted and made it all the way to the flag. There was no fear in him."
Since then Tomas took home the 1995 South African Karting Championship and moved up the motorsports ladder through the South African Formula Ford series, British Formula Vauxhall, Formula 3 and Formula Nissan Championships. All the while, Fourie has been watching his former student learn and mature as he climbed the ranks.
"It's been very emotional for our family," Fourie admitted. "I basically have four sons after working with Tomas and Toby for so long. It's just been great to watch them. To see the professionalism of the Indy Racing League is just brilliant, and I'm very pleased that he's here."
Fourie was a racecar driver himself for over a decade in South Africa, racing "all sorts of bits and pieces back home." He raced everything from karts and Formula Fords to saloon cars on road courses and oval tracks. He was a championship winner himself, which has made it even more special to watch Scheckter succeed in America.
Now, he sees a much more grown-up young man behind the wheel.
"Tomas has matured a lot over the years," he said. "And yet he can still be a 23-year-old when he needs to be. I'm demanding, and a bit like A.J. Foyt because I want him to win every single race. He's poised for good things over here."
Panther Tracks: Fourie has been in attendance for both the Nashville and Milwaukee races, and will stay in the United States one more week as he prepares to watch Tomas go for his third consecutive pole position at Michigan International Speedway next weekend, and his second win at the two-mile oval. Scheckter won from the pole at Michigan in 2002.
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