When Duane "Pappy" Carter Sr. first raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1947, he had no idea his offspring would still be hurtling across the famous yard of bricks nearly six decades later. Though the 11-time Indy 500 starter and subsequent USAC Director of Competiton passed away in 1993 -- one year prior to son Pancho's last of 17 500's -- his legacy at Indy remains prominent. That legacy will receive an added boost on Friday as his 22-year-old grandson Cole tackles the Brickyard in the Futaba Freedom 100.
But before all this could become official, Cole first had to get his IPS rookie test out of his way. The team took care of that task with a successful two-hour test at Kentucky Speedway last Thursday. "It went really well -- we just went down and tried to get some laps in. We didn't really make any changes to the car; we just wanted to get some seat time in this type of race car. It was a real learning experience; the car's a lot different than what I'm used to driving, so it was good."
For a driver who started racing quarter midgets at the age of nine and has pursued the traditional American short track oval ladder system exclusively ever since, Cole's first experience in a rear-engined formula car left one key impression. "These cars don't hardly ever move compared to the cars I'm used to running. When you're (in a short track car) on dirt or on pavement, they tend to move around a lot because of the lack of downforce. The Dallara has so much more downforce, it just makes the car a lot more stable, and you never really notice you're running as fast as you are."
Along with his brother Dane, Cole has made his mark in USAC over the past five years, placing 12th in the national midget standings in 2003 and fourth last year, despite a foot injury benching him for three races. His efforts caught the eyes of his future team owners, who sought a good old-fashioned short tracker they could promote into IRL's fledging feeder series. "First I met John back in 2003 when we were both working with Panther Racing (where his dad guided Sam Hornish Jr. around the track for his two IRL championships). He just came to help at one of the races at the end of 2004 in Arizona. He came out again for the Copper World Classic and brought (team partner) Bryan Fisher with him to both of those.
"They just got to watch me run for a while, and they'd had an idea like this for a couple of years to put together a team and go run in the Infiniti Pro Series. They started talking to other people, one thing led to another and the ball got rolling. So here we are; we got as much financial support we could and got all of our friends involved, and now we're going to run this race."
The ARR team's philosophy emphasizes the importance of providing avenues for developing talented young American drivers into future Indy 500 competitors. Both Duane Sr. and Jr. used the traditional short track oval route as their means of getting rides at the Brickyard. But Cole's devotion to that same career path comes as an anachronism in a time where each passing year brings an Indy 500 lineup with more road racing veterans and fewer short trackers. "I think really the reason there aren't more drivers there is because they don't have the opportunities like they used to back in the 1970's and '80's," he admits. "Guys now that come from USAC usually all go down to NASCAR just because that's where the opportunities are.
Cole and company hope a good performance at Indy Friday will buck that trend, and in the meantime he will remain active in USAC this weekend by running his midget at Indianapolis Raceway Park Saturday for the Night Before the 500. "We were going to do a whole lot (more) racing this week, but now I've kind of limited my schedule a little bit to just the two. We'll go out and do the IPS race on Friday, hopefully have the car all ready for Saturday, then get back into the midget where I'm probably a little more comfortable and a little more adapted to. I'll try to not go down into the first corner and not lift like I've been used to over the last few days with the IPS car. I'm really comfortable in the midgets and have been doing that for a long time, so we should be all right with that. Going back and forth is something I'm not too worried about."
If ARR should run additional IPS races following the Freedom 100, would that impact Carter's ability to contend for the midget title? "We've looked at the schedules a little bit, and there are some conflicting dates. Last year we ran all but three or four races and ended up fourth in the points. We still don't really have all of the budget in place yet to run for the championship in the midgets again. But if we do end up running the rest of the season in IPS, we'd still only miss a handful of races and should still be up towards the front in the USAC midget standings. But things change, and I could pick up some rides in the other USAC series. Who knows where we'll be at, but if we have to jump on some planes to go back and forth and do what we'll have to do."
Although Carter will only enjoy two 40-minute practice sessions prior to qualifying his #77 Holiday Inn Express Dallara, the conservative words of advice from Pancho should serve him well during his Indy baptism. "He said you're not driving the car you've been driving, so just take it easy and be careful. Make sure you get a good finish, whether it be first or fifth, sixth, whatever -- to be there at the end will be the most important thing."
While Pancho and contemporary second generation driver Johnny Parsons are half-brothers, making Johnnie Parsons' 1950 Indy victory part of the extended family record, scoring a first 500 win for the direct Carter bloodline remains "the ultimate goal. Between my dad and my grandfather, they've raced there somewhere around 30 times, and the best they could ever do was a third place (with Pancho in 1982). It's just one of those places which has eluded the Carter family, so if I could win that race or any race there, I'd be estatic."
With only six individuals among the 19-car entry list boasting prior Freedom 100 appearances, a debutant win for Carter in the 500 support race may not be so far-fetched. "I think it's a definite goal. The people involved in this team are really excited about me driving for them -- it's kind of like a breath of fresh air for them, as they haven't been used to quite this kind of opportunity. Judging from the people I've raced with who have been in the Infiniti Pro Series, they've had success right away, so I think we should be able to compete right off the bat.
"It would mean a ton to me to go out there and win a race in front of all those people in the Month of May at Indianapolis, my hometown. Whether it would be the Indy 500 or anything else, to be the first Carter to win a race there would make my month and career at this point."