Pepperdine Alum Schmidt Returns To Race Three teams at California Speedway Sunday; Owner recognizes Southern California importance
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Sam Schmidt's yearbook from Pepperdine University didn't have any signatures reading, "Good luck in racing," but the former student figures he will see plenty of old college classmates when his teams run the open-wheel race Sunday at California Speedway.
"There were the three S's at Pepperdine -- sun, surfing and studying. For some students, maybe not so much of the third S, but you didn't hear a whole lot about racing, and I tend to think that is still the case," laughed Schmidt, whose cars will run in Sunday's Menards Infiniti Pro Series race at the 1.5-mile speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Schmidt graduated from Pepperdine with a major in Business Administration and an MBA in International Finance.
"Class work always came fairly easy to me, so I didn't spend a whole lot of time studying. In fact, I can't say for sure I purchased many books either," Schmidt said. "I wasn't a surfer but I did spend my share of time at the beach, usually in an 'observatory' role."
That lack of surfing time will, undoubtedly, be to the detriment of one of his drivers, Travis Gregg of Camden, Ohio. Following Sunday's race, Gregg is going to try surfing for the first time.
"There isn't a whole lot of surfing in Ohio," Gregg laughed, "so I figured this would be my first time to give it a shot. I asked Sam for some tips. All he offered was 'stay on the beach and act like you could go out there at any time.'"
"Travis doesn't seem to be the surfing type," Schmidt replied. "I'm just glad if he wants to try it, he is doing it now. That gives him almost five months to recover before the racing season starts up again.
"If nothing else, him going out there now saves us plenty in insurance premiums."
The race will be the last, at least for now, for the IRL cars at California Speedway, and Schmidt's last time to run in front of his old college buddies so close to Pepperdine.
"Hopefully we'll be back in Southern California in 2007. It's way too important a market to leave for long," Schmidt said. "We run Sonoma, and that puts us in the San Francisco market, but we need Southern California too.
"There is such a huge base of fans in Southern California, and I don't think they are all just stock car fans. From what I've seen, they like racing and they like open-wheel racing," Schmidt continued. "I'm not sure of all the ins and outs of the scheduling but it's important for open-wheel racing to be in Southern California if we are going to keep building interest."
Schmidt knows the marketing aspects, something his Pepperdine MBA has certainly helped him appreciate. Besides running three full-time teams in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, Schmidt is also founder of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. The Foundation was created by Schmidt to help individuals overcome spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders. Schmidt is currently recovering from serious upper spinal cord injuries suffered in a testing accident on January 6, 2000, while practicing for the season-opening Indy Racing League event at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. Further information is available at www.samschmidt.org or (317) 236-9999.