The worst kept secret in racing? That would be the next rumor to float down the road. The news that Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George was putting together an IndyCar Series team for stepson Ed Carpenter has been common knowledge in...
The worst kept secret in racing? That would be the next rumor to float down the road.
The news that Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George was putting together an IndyCar Series team for stepson Ed Carpenter has been common knowledge in the IRL paddock over the last few weeks.
With the demise of Kelley Racing at the end of the 2004 campaign, facilities owned by industrialist Tom Kelley in northwest Indianapolis became available, as did a rolling stock of Dallara chassis with cradles for Toyota engines.
Sound like a no-brainer? The prospect must have felt that way to George, who announced today that he started Vision Racing LLC for Carpenter, a Menards Infiniti Pro Series graduate who began his IndyCar Series career with PDM Racing in the latter races of 2003 and competed with Red Bull Cheever Racing last season.
In addition, George also felt compelled to enter Jay Drake in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, another no-brainer after watching the 2004 USAC National sprint car champ work out one of Brian Stewart's Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone entries yesterday on Phoenix International Raceway's mile oval.
Drake will chauffeur a brand new Dallara while teammate Carpenter uses the Kelley stock, the team announced. Both cars will sport the #20 - 20/20 Vision - when they arrive at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season opener the weekend of March 4-6.
In building his squad for the Indy Racing League's tenth anniversary season, Tony George hired Larry Curry as team manager. Curry brought Tony Stewart to the IRL, a move that propelled Stewart to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup success after earning his League title in 1997.
"Over the winter," George explained, "I watched Tom Kelley trying to make a graceful exit from the IRL and followed his progress. I know Tom well and helped him get started as a team owner in our League in the first place. I saw firsthand the frustration as he offered his assets for sale. A few deals fell apart for him and, while some people wanted to buy bits and pieces of Kelley Racing, I knew Tom wanted to sell the entire thing.
"About three weeks ago," the IRL founder continued, "I began to consider buying those assets. It was a great opportunity for me and just a week ago we closed the sale of assets. The real estate will close soon," George said.
Realizing what a challenge it is to form a team at this late date, George expects Vision Racing to operate its first campaigns using primarily stock equipment. "There are various reasons why we did this: I believe in the series," which he formed in 1994 with initial competition in 1996. "I knew, during this off-season that we needed car count, too. I didn't talk with my wife about this idea at first but once I did she came around to it," he allowed.
Having "left the League in good hands with Brian [Barnhart, now IRL president], I looked for a new challenge. I will be part of the front office and leave the actual day-to-day running of Vision Racing to Larry and to Ed, so that my son can put that good (Butler University) education to work."
Carpenter, who has raced everything from sprints, midgets, sports cars to Indy cars will make his 19th IndyCar Series start when he lines up in the #20 Dallara/Toyota/Firestone challenger at Homestead.
Ed Carpenter finished second in Bombardier Rookie of the Year competition last season and 16th in the overall standings. By the time he gets to Miami he will have celebrated his 24th birthday; Ed's been racing in various competitions since he was eight years old.
While he won't have a management role in Vision Racing per se, Carpenter reminded all that he is "not one of those drivers who shows up on weekends. I'm in the shop every day so I'll be talking with Larry as we hire crew and build a foundation together," he added.
The prospect of going road racing in 2005, when there are three such IndyCar Series contests on the docket is a bit daunting. Carpenter did test with his former team, Red Bull Cheever Racing at Homestead late last year and has raced sports cars at Watkins Glen International, he stated. "I'll go with Jay to Infineon Raceway Sears Point when he tests there so I can learn the course. At least I've got a mental image of where the Glen goes," Carpenter laughed.
Although Vision Racing is coming out of the blocks very late, both Carpenter and Drake are accustomed to race meetings where they might get half an hour's practice before qualifying. "We have a lot to do in a short period of time to prepare for Homestead," Carpenter noted. "I look forward to building on the experiences I've had in Indy cars the past two seasons and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead."
Out of the IRL business for a period of time, for the past two years Curry has been working with Tony Stewart on his open wheel teams with drivers including Drake. Curry fully expects Stewart to stop by their shop when he's in town. He did allow that this "process is very different. Everyone here must believe in one another and Ed's going to be involved in every interview" they have to locate the crew members for both squads.
"This won't be a big team," according to Curry. "We just need the essentials to produce reliable safe race cars." Some of the people Curry has spoken with "had some prior commitments to fulfill so when we get back to Indianapolis tomorrow we'll shorten the list" from the 70 percent of crew left to be installed in the northwest Indy shops. He did emphatically state that, contrary to rumors engineer Tim Wardrop is not part of the team.
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series schedule should allow Drake to race many sprint contests again in 2005. "He might miss three or four," Curry said. With "very limited experience in road racing and zero at this level," Drake will take a Russell school to get some baseline for what's required in the MIPS' four road/street races. "This entire program will be a huge learning experience for me but having good equipment is a big part of anybody's success and I know we've got that."
Although the teams do not yet have commercial partners on board, that will be the primary concern for Tony George as he serves to get the squad competitive in a very short period of time. "We'll run pretty much stock stuff; we got the Kelley assets for a good price," George allowed.
He's still intent on securing sponsorships for others in the League - in addition to his own team - and really has not heard anything "one way or another" from the balance of IRL team owners concerning his new role. Carpenter noted his stepfather has "the thickest skin of anyone I know."
"I'm the front office," Tony George explained. "These guys are running it and I appreciate what's involved. The most fun I ever had was as a/driver when I was running Super Vee and winning races with my own team; it wasn't nearly as much fun being on someone else's team," he said.
"We know what we want to do and what we're capable of doing" at this late stage in the game, George advised. "We're 100 percent confident in Toyota and know they're as much up for the challenge as we are."
Vision Racing LLC has a "large task to get to Homestead and we've set realistic goals," Curry detailed. "We will be in Miami for the Toyota Indy 300 and Homestead-Miami 100 and we all look forward to working together."