PHOENIX, March 18 - Brandon Erwin of Denton, Texas accomplished his goal Sunday and finished his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series race, the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. What's more, the...
PHOENIX, March 18 - Brandon Erwin of Denton, Texas accomplished his goal Sunday and finished his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series race, the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.
What's more, the 25-year-old sprint car standout brought the McCormack Motorsports WorldBestBuy.com G-Force Olds Aurora #30 home in 14th place, 12 positions higher than he started the 200-mile/200-lap event.
The race was broadcast live on ABC.
Erwin is now second in the series' Rookie of the Year standings, behind Felipe Giaffone and ahead of Casey Mears and Didier Andre. Erwin's big moment of the race came on lap 20 when he spun in turn two. He ran over some of the track's curbing and some grass but somehow he kept the WorldBestBuy.com car off the wall. He quickly regrouped and brought the car into the pits under its own power, where the McCormack Motorsports team examined it, serviced it with four fresh Firestone Firehawk tires and fuel, and sent it back into the fray.
Although the event was Erwin's first Indy car race ever, he had no other miscues except for stalling on his second pit stop on lap 81. That stop was under yellow though, so it wasn't costly.
A subsequent pit stop on lap 127 went smoothly, Erwin went on to take the checkered, and his car didn't have a scratch on it as the McCormack Motorsports crew congratulated their young charge after the race.
"Relief!" Erwin said after removing his helmet, his thoughts tumbling out as fast as his smile appeared when he removed his headsock. "We finished a full race. I learned a ton out there. This is a tough racetrack. I spun once, but I collected my thoughts after the spin and we brought her home in one piece, which was our goal.
"I kept a level head," he added. "It was more mentally challenging than physically challenging. Towards the end there the car was uncomfortable to drive, but my body was fine; I wasn't getting tired.
"They told me the track was going to get greasy. I felt the car get loose, and I experienced what that's like. They told me to only go as fast as the car was capable of going, and I did that. Our Firestone Firehawk tires were great, but the track conditions made the car a real handful at the end of the race; I'm glad I didn't smack the wall.
"The restarts were a struggle. Third gear was not the gear to be in for restarts; I should have been in second.
"I've got to put tape around my ears so I can hear the radio better; lots of times I couldn't hear what they were telling me.
"I just let the guys go by me and let them race, and hopefully they'll respect me for that. Fourteenth isn't bad at all. Our goal was to finish and we did that, so I'm really happy!"
Team owner Dennis McCormack was happy too. "Brandon did a very good job and so did the entire crew," he said. "We came here to finish the race and that's exactly what we did. We had a very under-experienced rookie in Indy cars; going into the race today he only had 180 to 190 total laps ever in an Indy car, so he eclipsed that today. We got more laps on him and we're looking forward to Homestead."
In addition to McCormack, Erwin had two other terrific coaches here this weekend: Indy car legends Al Unser Sr. and Johnny Rutherford.
Perhaps the quote of the weekend was one exchange over the radio near the half-way point.
"Hey; there's no cushion out here," said Erwin, who is more used to sliding a dirt-track sprint car around Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas than keeping an Indy cars on the straight and level at Phoenix International Raceway.
"The cushion is that blue wall out there; don't use it," engineer Jeff Braun responded quickly.
Although Erwin kept a level head throughout the weekend, he did admit that the pre-race pageantry affected him. "I got chills when they were playing the trumpet for the national anthem and I saw the flag with my name on it at the starting line," he said, referring to Jesse McGuire's performance and the banners that sign-holders displayed beside each car on the starting grid.
"It was one of the best days of my life," he concluded. "We didn't set the world on fire, but we accomplished our goal and finished.
"We even got a new associate sponsor today in Big Daddy's BBQ Sauce," he added. "Dan Lloyd of Big Daddy's said he had never taken a picture with any other driver that he's sponsored, but he got his picture taken with me after the race, which was nice."
Erwin only got one qualifying lap in on Saturday because smoke filled his cockpit during his first lap and he wisely brought the car in.
"The smoke that we had in qualifying turned out to have been caused by a valve cover that leaked under the header," Erwin said. "A vent was closed and the smoke came into the cockpit. It really was a very minor thing, but they all said I did the right thing by coming in."
The series' next race is the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami presented by 123.com Americatel on April 8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.