INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 5, 2004 -- The Gieblers of Oxnard, Calif., were not unlike many families with a pre-adolescent involved in sports. Weekend travel to events, disrupted meals, hours of practice and financial sacrifices were tolerated --...
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 5, 2004 -- The Gieblers of Oxnard, Calif., were not unlike many families with a pre-adolescent involved in sports. Weekend travel to events, disrupted meals, hours of practice and financial sacrifices were tolerated -- if not accepted -- to fulfill Phil Giebler's passion for driving go karts.
A decade later, fond memories of a father and son bonding by working together in a competitive atmosphere obscure any concerns there were about finances, school work or life decisions.
"Me and him would take off in the motorhome and the family would take off and we would travel to races," said Everett Giebler, father of IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series^Ù driver Phil Giebler. "It was worth the price of gold; it was memorable stuff. We were just having fun and racing and winning. We became a really fine-tuned team over the years."
Phil Giebler, who won the Homestead-Miami 100 in his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut on Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, began his driving odyssey when he and boyhood friend Patrick Long climbed in a $75 go kart at a local track. He was 10 years old.
Soon afterward, Pam Giebler spotted a go kart for sale for $350 in a local newspaper classified advertisement.
"I came home from work one day and Pam showed me the ad," Everett Giebler recalled as if it was yesterday. "We all jumped in the truck, looked at it and bought it."
Phil Giebler's karting career began as a recreational sport, but quickly turned into something more serious and competitive when his abilities surfaced. He won four U.S. Grand National Karting Championhips and more than 60 International Karting Federation-sanctioned events from 1990-95.
"Most of all, it was family-oriented," said Everett Giebler, a plumber by trade who emigrated from Germany to the United States when he was 10. "It wasn't like I came from a race car background. We just got a hold of the sport and enjoyed it so much. We looked at it as something that was a lot of fun, and it was competitive. It all fell into place.
"We didn't have the big budget, the big trailer, and the 10 engines like some of the guys we were competing against. I think that maybe made him be even better. We had to do without. We just didn't have the kind of money to do all that kind of stuff. I think that made him a better driver."
In 1996, Giebler signed with the U.S. Factory Tony Kart Team to compete in 125cc Shifters and Formula A.
"When he got sponsored by Tony Kart and they would send us around the world to then you started thinking that this kid could be a race car driver," Everett iebler said. "But, until then, we were just having a lot of fun."
The long and winding road
Like a road course, Giebler has taken a circuitous route to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Last year, he competed in four FIA International F3000 Championship events for David Sears' Den Bla Avis team. In 2002, he finished third in the Spanish F3 Championship (five top-5 and three top-10 finishes; one pole), and in 2001 he ran six races in the German F3 Championship (two runner-up finishes and a third) and two in the British F3 Championship at Silverstone.
Previous experience came in the Formula Palmer Audi Winter Championship, in which he won the 2000 championship, and the French Formula Renault (LaFiliere) Championship (runner-up finish).
He had been pointing to a Formula 1 opportunity since arriving in Europe in 1999. When Menards Infiniti Pro Series team owner Keith Duesenberg contacted his agent, Giebler altered his focus for the immediate future.
"A lot of that has to do with opportunity," said Giebler, who turned 24 on March 5. "I really wanted to see what it's like to race in America; what the oval scene is like."
Giebler quickly adapted to the ovals -- on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway during his one-day tryout with Keith Duesenberg Racing on Feb. 10 and the Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Feb. 29 race.
"Compared to Phoenix, which was my first test a couple weeks ago, you're hitting 35 mph faster than you do at Phoenix," he said of the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway with banking of 20 degrees at the top of the corners.
"So it was definitely an eye opener. Everybody I talked to just said, 'Just work up slowly to it.' After a few laps, you obviously get used to it. But it's pretty wild when you get out there and you're going 190 and you're on the high banks.
"It's a different feeling (from road racing). Your perception is so different. It was definitely an eye opener. I really had to try to figure out what I had to look for in the car and the data to see what the best way to get in a better car was. And in the race, being patient was a big part of it. Don't make any mistakes. And it paid off."
A bigger payoff would be a Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship, an IRL IndyCar® Series ride and an Indianapolis 500 victory.
"Those things are definitely on my list of things to do," Giebler said. "I've spent half my life preparing for something like this. Whatever opportunities come up in the future, I'll have to take all those one at a time.
"I'd love to race in the IndyCar® Series. Obviously, the Indy 500 is a dream race for any driver, anywhere they're competing. The very best are winning that race, and I want to be among those guys up there on the top. It's definitely something I have in my sights."
Strong showing in opener
Giebler's debut didn't start the way he planned. In fact, his No. 2 Western Union Speed Team Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone didn't start at the command. It was push-started and he began the race from the back of the field.
Giebler moved into the top five quickly, though, and passed Thiago Medeiros on the frontstretch on Lap 60. He won going away.
"I thought it was going to be a learning experience and I just wanted to get laps under my belt," said Giebler, whose crew changed the engine after qualifying (28.7975 seconds; 185.641 mph).
"Obviously, I was going for the win no matter what. But I didn't really think that after the first opening laps. I had to start in the back, and I had to work my way through. I stayed calm, and just kept a steady race. I just made my way up to the front slowly, and made my pass for the lead. It was a good start to the season, for sure."
Mom, watch me race
The Phoenix 100 on March 20 will be special for the Gieblers. It will be the first time Pam will watch her son race since his karting days in the United States. Everett Giebler says it will be an emotional reunion with recollections of how Phil's career got started.
"A day doesn't go by that I don't talk about him," Everett Giebler said. "He left (home) at 18 years old -- left his family and friends -- to go pursue his dream. A lot of guys who would do that route would be home in six months because they couldn't pick up the language or be discouraged. He stuck it out. I'm proud of him."
Said Phil: "My father was my mechanic, sponsor, team manager, driver coach and best friend. Everything I learned about dedication I learned from him. We learned about racing together and grew into a great team."
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Copper World Indy 200 at 4 p.m. (EST) on March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Phoenix 100 will take place at 2:45 p.m. on March 20. The race will be broadcast by ESPN2 on a tape-delayed basis on March 25.