Bryan Herta Autosport's Don Lambert Wins Clint Brawner Award Chief Mechanic Guides Effort to Qualify 19-year-old Rookie Sebastian Saavedra SPEEDWAY, Ind. (May 28, 2010) - Knowing where he cut his teeth in racing mechanics, it's fitting that Don...
Bryan Herta Autosport's Don Lambert Wins Clint Brawner Award Chief Mechanic Guides Effort to Qualify 19-year-old Rookie Sebastian Saavedra
SPEEDWAY, Ind. (May 28, 2010) - Knowing where he cut his teeth in racing mechanics, it's fitting that Don Lambert be named the 2010 Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award winner. Still, Lambert, 43, earned the honor on his own merit.
Chief mechanic for the Bryan Herta Autosport entry that qualified rookie Sebastian Saavedra for this weekend's Indianapolis 500, Lambert is the 24th annual recipient of the Brawner award. Underwritten by Firestone Racing, the winner selected by the Clint Brawner Foundation recognizes an Indy 500 chief mechanic who "exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise" of its legendary namesake. Clint Brawner was chief mechanic on winning cars in 51 AAA- and USAC-sanctioned national championship races, and six season champions.
One of Brawner's prize pupils was Jim McGee, who went on to become a chief mechanic/ team manager marvel in his own right with Indy-car teams such as Newman/Haas Racing and Patrick Racing. It was at Patrick Racing where a young Lambert gained some of his most valuable experience under McGee. Lambert earning the Brawner award is akin to taking the Brawner "family" legacy to the next generation.
"I remember McGee talking about (Brawner) and I'm sure that's where Jim got a lot of his knowledge on how to build the cars," said Lambert, an Indianapolis na tive whose 22-year resume also includes working for teams run by Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal, Tony Bettenhausen, Morris Nunn, Adrian Fernandez and Tony George. "It took a little while to get Jim's trust in you, but once you did, he was always asking you to do things and you knew you had that trust. ... Jim was a huge influence in all the things I've done."
Lambert's ties to Firestone Racing are just as close. He was with the Patrick Racing crew that spent all of 1994 testing tires as Firestone readied its return to open-wheel racing in '95.
"We've known Donnie a long time," said Page Mader, Firestone Racing's general manager of race tire development who presented the award today along with Carl Gehlhausen, secretary/treasurer of the Clint Brawner Foundation, prior to Carburetion Day practice. "Donnie was an integral part of the Patrick team that tested tires for us back in '94, and we could see then that he had special abilities. He's been a solid chief mechanic for quite a while and is most deserving of the Clint Brawner award this year."
Bryan Herta Autosport is focused this year on a full-time Firestone Indy Lights effort for Saavedra and Stefan Wilson, with a "one-off" try for Saavedra at the Indy 500. Coaxing a 19-year-old rookie into the Indy field is difficult enough, but Saavedra's crew faced added stress and uncertainty when he crashed the team's only car midway through bump day qualifying last Sunday. With their driver being examined at the hospital and their car in shambles, Lambert's crew could only watch in astonishment as Saavedra was first bumped from the grid and then reinstated after two other drivers withdrew their previous qualifying runs but were unable to go faster than Saavedra's speed when they re-qualified.
Back in the 33-car field, the crew faced days of repair work to get the William Rast-sponsored entry operational in time for Carb Day practice today and Sunday's race. Lambert assessed the situation and kept the small crew focused on the task at hand.
"It was pretty extensive on the damage," he said. "It was a huge effort. Everybody came back in on Monday to get everything apart and figure out what we needed. I called all my favors in again at the carbon shop, the paint shop. We had to buy a new gearbox and Xtrac got in all the new parts Monday, and Emco offered to build it for us because the guy I had doing gearboxes has another job and couldn't take off time. ... Everybody's been head down (working), there hasn't been a lot of gabbing and talking ... That's definitely one of the things that got me this award - the guys I have working with me. Not for me, but with me."
Presented annually since 1987 by the Clint Brawner Foundation and sponsored by Firestone Racing, the Brawner award recipient receives a $5,000 check and plaque commemorating the honor. Lambert's name also will be inscribed on a permanent trophy housed inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.