The Menards Infiniti Pro Series, acknowledged as the stepping-stone to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series is growing by one participant at the next event on July 4th weekend at Kansas Speedway. Kathryn Nunn, wife of Mo Nunn Racing's Morris...
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series, acknowledged as the stepping-stone to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series is growing by one participant at the next event on July 4th weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Kathryn Nunn, wife of Mo Nunn Racing's Morris Nunn has started her own team in the Pro series, bringing World of Outlaws veteran PJ Chesson to the rear- engine ranks after a four-year stint in the upright sprints and Outlaw cars.
It's taken Kathryn Nunn a full year to put her team together and she is, apparently the sole woman team manager in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. "I watched the Pro series when my good friend Mieke's son Arie [Luyendyk Jr.] got involved. I talked Morris into watching some of the races and he agreed it was a good series."
The year's gestation of Kathryn Nunn's team actually came together very quickly as it barreled to fruition. "We got the (Dallara) car 13 days ago and we were seven days old as a team when we went to Milwaukee for the open test last Tuesday," she acknowledged.
The Pro series team is separate from Mo Nunn Racing's IndyCar Series squad, but Kathryn Nunn did scavenge junior engineer Brian Welling, who has been with the group for four or five years and is utilizing some of the talent on the IndyCar Series side of the team's shop, located next to Indianapolis International Airport.
She also hired away Butch Winkle from Marty Roth's Pro series team. Winkle won the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award at the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in May, a prize that rewards a crew chief's talents in dealing with personnel as well as equipment. Winkle presided over the Canadian's first stab at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this year.
Nunn asked Roger Bailey, executive director of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series for direction when it came time to hire a driver for her new team. "We did some research on sprint and dirt-track drivers and Roger introduced me to PJ at Indy. Morris liked him because he's a character and he likes that [in a driver].
"This is very exciting for me and for Morris; we like to take on new projects. We've got a lot of confidence in PJ. Morris is very impressed with him," Kathryn Nunn stated. "He liked how quickly PJ got up to speed and he liked the ability he had to generate feedback" once in the car last week.
PJ Chesson, 25 is a New Jersey boy who grew up in a racing family. This is the first time father Pete hasn't been the key guy in his son's career. Chesson started his racing in karts and motocross, moving on to sprints in 2001. He won a $100,000 prize by taking The Big One at Eldora Speedway that year and recorded three feature wins in World of Outlaws in 2002.
Also in 2002, Chesson made his first trip Down Under, competing in and winning the South Pacific Sprint Car championship. He ran six Outlaws races in 2003 with a best result of 10th at Knoxville. This winter, Chesson returned to the Antipodes with the same result as 2002, becoming the South Pacific Sprint Car champ a second time.
PJ Chesson called his first drive at the historic 101-year-old Milwaukee Mile "really cool. It's been a long time since I had a 'first time' in a form of racing and this is the first time I'm driving for someone other than family. Kathryn has organized a great group of people," he allowed, "and I'm just learning the car, doing all that."
Chesson logged 114 laps around the Mile but his day ended prematurely when he smacked the Turn 4 wall. "I was pushing the limits during the afternoon session," he noted. He damaged the right side and rear of the Dallara, "but it didn't feel like I hit that hard."
When he was a kid thinking about coming up through the sprint ranks, Chesson "never thought I'd be racing guys like Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell. Fifteen years later I was racing and beating them. It was every little kid's dream," PJ said.
While he believes he's a "better racer than tester," Chesson learned a lot in his day in Milwaukee. "It's easier to learn around a lot of other cars, but I just want to put up some good laps, work with the guys and get a good finish" at his first race next month in Kansas. "I just have to keep my nose clean."
PJ Chesson and team manager Kathryn Nunn had plenty of assistance during their car's baptism at The Milwaukee Mile. Driver Jeff Simmons, who finished 16th in his first IndyCar Series competition at Indianapolis this May with Mo Nunn Racing offered his services at the open test.
"We discussed questions I had from a driver's standpoint. He's a good kid, a great driver," Chesson said. Mrs. Nunn agreed adding, "Jeff graciously offered to come out and help us; he showed up first thing in the morning" and stayed with them throughout the long day.
"It was pretty easy to find information at the test," Chesson said. "Morris was there, as was Rick Mears. Rick was at my rookie test as an observer and I talk with him regularly on the phone about how a car works and the feel you have in the cockpit," Chesson said. "He's been very helpful and we spoke about 45 minutes after the test. I think the best analogy Rick Mears gave me was that 'car the whispers to you', whereas the sprint car screams!"
Shifting the race car was another procedure to get accustomed to during the Milwaukee test. "Stalling the car in the pits is the most nerve-wracking thing in the world," Chesson acknowledged.
"Shifting is new to me but it's pretty easy. The really weird part [about driving a Pro series car] is lying down in the race car with all of those head surrounds. I spent plenty of time practicing going through the gears when I exited the pits at Milwaukee."
It is Chesson's hope, and Roger Bailey's too, that other members of the sprint and Outlaw corps watch his progress with a rear-engine, lay-down car. "I hope others come from the short track/dirt world and that they'll watch. If I go well and have success here, you'll definitely see more drivers aspiring to this kind of racing instead of NASCAR."
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series begins its third year at Chesson's first race in Kansas. It won't come too soon for the young driver, who says he doesn't like to have too much time on his hands. "I think too much," he laughed.
Kathryn Nunn would like to add a teammate for PJ Chesson in the future but realizes that first she's got to get her new driver safely through his first Menards Infiniti Pro Series race.
"We realize we're a bit behind by starting so late in the season, but there's no pressure on PJ this year. We want him to get some experience, learn the cars and the tracks, get comfortable in the car and with his engineer. Next year we'll concentrate on moving" up the grid.
Is there an IndyCar test in PJ Chesson's future? It's his obvious goal to move up to the premier Indy Racing League series and, "If he does well in 2005 we'll be very interested to test him in our IRL," said Nunn, blazing new trails in the IRL paddock as the first woman team manager in the League.
"It's emotional to put a team together and I've got no time to think about blazing a path as the first woman" to accomplish this status. "I'm more concerned about growing this organization. It's taken a lot of planning to have PJ surrounded by good guys. He'll be okay after Kansas."