TEAM MANAGER LaMANCE CAN RELATE TO FOYT IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE By Dave Argabright indyracingleague.com Special Contributor CONCORD, N.C., April 15, 1999 -- When Tommy LaMance calls it wrong, he has his uncle to answer to. That wouldn't be...
TEAM MANAGER LaMANCE CAN RELATE TO FOYT IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
By Dave Argabright indyracingleague.com Special Contributor
CONCORD, N.C., April 15, 1999 -- When Tommy LaMance calls it wrong, he has his uncle to answer to.
That wouldn't be too tough for most folks, but LaMance is the nephew of four-time Indy 500 champion and racing legend A.J. Foyt. LaMance, 29, is the team manager for Foyt's two-car Pep Boys Indy Racing League team, which will field drivers Kenny Brack and Billy Boat in the VisionAire 500 on May 1 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
He has been groomed for this job since he was 16 years old, when he began working in his uncle's Houston shop. He swept the floors and cleaned parts, while Foyt carefully watched over him and personally supervised his transition from carefree kid to a mature, responsible young man.
"A.J. is my mom's brother, and my parents were divorced when I was a little kid," said LaMance, a husky man with a slightly hoarse, quiet voice. "A.J. was the father figure for me, he was the enforcer when I did something wrong, he was there to help me learn about things.
"I think A.J. had this job in mind for me before I really understood it. He and (general manager) Jack Starne, they have been a great influence for me over the years. They were very important in teaching me about things, helping me grow up."
Because he has been involved in racing from an early age, LaMance has learned to accept the stress and strains that come with the title of team manager. As he stands near the race car and carries on a conversation, he has one eye on the crew and their efforts. They, in turn, turn to him when there is a question.
"What about this oil, Tommy? Which of this do we use, Tommy? Where do we put this, Tommy?"
LaMance takes it in stride, pointing and nodding and giving brief, concise answers to each question they pose.
"We've got a strong group of guys, and that helps a lot," he said. "I feel the responsibility, but the key to my job going well is for others to be capable and free to do their job.
"A.J. has given me a lot of freedom to hire the guys I think are right for the job, and so far that has worked out really well."
Still, LaMance said, he feels the heat when things aren't going. Being Foyt's nephew doesn't matter at a time like that.
"Sure, when it's tough I'm under the gun, but that comes with the territory," he said. "I don't think A.J. cuts me any slack because I'm related to him.
"Really, maybe it is tougher for me, because maybe A.J. expects more from me. He is an intense person, and I'm more level with my emotions. A.J. carries the emotions of the team on his shoulders, he's the one who vents.
"But I do believe that A.J. always knows that I will make the best decision I can, with what information I have. I think he understands that sometimes you're going to be wrong with a decision. And all you can do is learn from it and go on."
Life as the nephew of one of America's greatest racers has been interesting, LaMance said. It has helped him understand and appreciate the roots of the sport, and for a young man he is very reverent about racing history and heritage.
"When I was a kid, I never really thought about coming to great racing places, because I didn't really know what they were," he said. "But as I worked with A.J. and spent a lot of time around others in the sport, I started to understand the stories, the people who were involved in racing all those years ago.
"Now, when I come to a track like Indianapolis, I actually get goose bumps every day when I go through the tunnel into the infield. I actually giggle, because I'm so happy to be there."
This season has been a trial for LaMance and his teammates, as they have tried to duplicate the Pep Boys Million championship effort they enjoyed in 1998 with Brack. They struggled at both Orlando and Phoenix, with Brack crashing at each venue. Boat soldiered to a fourth-place finish at Phoenix, leading 28 laps after a dismal qualifying effort.
"Last year, it seemed like everything we tried worked," LaMance said. "This year, it seems like everything we've tried has missed. It's hard to describe.
"The league is very tight right now, in terms of everybody being really, really close, and that makes it look even worse for us. We try something and lose just a tiny bit of performance, and we're in the back of the field. It's just too tight to slip, because one tenth of a second in qualifying costs you maybe 10 spots.
"But you have to keep trying different things. If you just do the same stuff every race, you'll get left behind. But you've got to make sure the things you experiment with are positive, make sure that they work."
Despite the team's on-track struggles, LaMance is a very happy person these days. During the winter he married his longtime sweetheart, Mary, and he is enjoying the transition to married life.
"Things are great now, as far as I'm concerned," he said with a laugh. "We need to make some progress on the racetrack, but we'll get that sorted out pretty quickly.
"I'm really confident in the guys we have right now, Billy and Kenny are really good guys and good drivers, they have good chemistry and they work well together. They are very different from one another, but they get along really well with each other.
"Winning the championship last year really pumped our team up, because it kind of proves that you can get the job done. From that point forward, you don't have to doubt that. So we feel more confident."
LaMance has a special rapport with Phil Spencer, crew chief on Brack's machine, and Craig Baranouski, who serves as the overall crew chief on both cars. In fact, LaMance and Baranouski have roomed together, lived together, golfed together and built a brother-like relationship that dates back to 1987.
"When we travel we always room together, we have for years," LaMance said. "Even if we bring our families, he and I share a room so we can talk all the time about what is going on, bouncing ideas off each other, sharing our thoughts.
"You'd be surprised how valuable that is, when you communicate that well. That translates into good things for both race cars, because on this team we share everything."
Today, as he approaches his 30th birthday in June, LaMance reflects about how racing has consumed nearly every waking minute since he was a teen-ager.
"When I look back, it seems like all the memories I have are built around the race track," he said with a smile. "The travel doesn't bother me, the stress doesn't bother me, it's just something I do.
"I've seen the good times, I've seen the bad times, and you have to learn to not dwell on either one. In this business, any practice session can turn into a bad day.
"You have to remember that it is a business, and you'll have to do it again tomorrow and the next day. Even if you win, you might have a party, but tomorrow, we have to get ready for the next one."
VISIONAIRE 500 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The VisionAire 500 starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) May 1. PPG Pole qualifying starts at 6:15 p.m. April 30. Practice sessions start at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 29, and 3:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. April 30.
On the air: The VisionAire 500 will be televised live, starting with a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) May 1, on SpeedVision. It's the network's first live broadcast of a Pep Boys Indy Racing League race.
FOX Sports Net will rebroadcast the race May 6. Check local listings for air time.
SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying live at 6 p.m. (EDT) April 30.
The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) May 1, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The Charlotte-area IRRN affiliate is WSOC-FM, 103.7, Charlotte.
The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a new partnership between IRL Online and broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
Tickets: Tickets are available for the VisionAire 500 on May 1. Call (704) 455-3200 for more information. Ticket information also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.lowesmotorspeedway.com .